Shadows instead of Substance

I think that in places like Northern Virginia and Las Vegas it’s easy to just believe that we have this great spiritual relationship with God, that we are great Christians and we are doing great things for Christ just based on sheer numbers.

Have you ever been to a church with ten thousand members?

It’s impressive to say the least: The building size, the streamlined six services every Sunday. It’s hard not to look at their success and think that they’ve got something good going on. However, in talking with the director of FREE International he expressed his hesitation to partner with a mega church because they have enough resources to take all of your work, label it, copy right it and go on a book tour with it…all the while the real issue is being left in the dust of their success. They didn’t want the substance of being committed they wanted the shadow of it… they wanted to look like they were outreaching. I wonder if that is the kind of culture which reigns in mega churches…there are so many people and so much money, but no one is really making that much of a difference.

We’re seeing a shift in church today. The mega church culture of the 1990’s is waning into the emergent church culture of the 2010’s. It’s not about numbers in service, it’s about numbers in home groups. It’s about having a mission, it’s about discipleship. I love this movement, I love discipleship and mission. I feel like this is closer to Jesus and his teaching than anything else. This, however, doesn’t make the distinction between substance and shadow any less relevant. Sometimes I wonder if we are satisfied with living the way Jesus lived or just looking like we do.
It’s easy to do some fun outreaches every once in a while, talk about that cool missions trip you went on, but never invest in real relationships with the people we are serving. It’s outreach drive by style. It takes so little commitment but looks so good when people ask… Really, though, if we were honest we would know that there is a substance which is lacking in this form of outreach, a substance which we so desperately need if we’re going to offer something to a world of the lost.
In truth it matters little how many church services we attended or how many people we got in our small group. What matters is how many disciples we made. How many people did we love and serve in a way that transformed their lives? Substance requires all of our life…not just the compartment labeled ‘outreach’ or ‘ministry’. The cost is higher, certainly. But do we really have a choice?
The hard part is that people don’t necessarily know that they are, in fact, settling for shadow. Perhaps they have never seen substance to know that they are missing out on the fullness of Christ. This makes discipleship, community, and deep, intentional relationships so important. People can’t imitate what is not given to them as an example. If you don’t invest in deep, intentional relationships then the people who you lead won’t either. If you don’t make your life about the substance of commitment and intentionality in effectively reaching the lost and committing to their lives than the people following you and your community won’t either.
It is definitely a process, this giving up shadow for substance. It can look bad to the Christian community when a leader takes off the shadow and reveals that there is a short coming in the area of substance. Let’s be careful to invest wisely the energy and resources God has given us. Let’s give our leaders grace and encourage them as they take off the shadow and reveal the substance. But most of all let’s make sure that we aren’t settling for shadows in our own lives and ministry when we could be working humbly towards substance.


The Most Astounding Fact

Don’t Blame it On the Goose

We have all experienced it. The phenomenon of staring wide-eyed at a clear night sky, soaking in the starlight, and reflecting on the brittleness our lives – Moments that can’t be put into words.

Awe. Beauty. Inwardness.

I remember one of the first times I ever prayed. I was 15 years old, and I was drunk.

My friend and I had stayed out late and were walking up and down the beach searching for an adventure. All of the sudden, there came a moment when I was by myself. My friend had ran up the beach a little, and I found myself standing in front of the ocean and underneath the most magnificent night sky I have ever seen.

It felt as if I had been blown backwards into the sand. I was caught off guard. I had been on that beach for at least three hours before I had noticed the radiance of the sky. How was this possible? Was I really so distracted and preoccupied that I missed the heavens? Then came the prayer. I’ll paraphrase, but I’m sure it went something like this:

There has got to be more. Purpose. Meaning. God? Something.

Prayer comes out in many ways. That night it came out in an awakening or a realization of my humanity. I was inwardly expressing an awe for life. At the time, I would not have called this reverent moment prayer. But as I look back, there is nothing else that I can call it.

Begging the Question

The video above is amazing and I love what the narrator Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say. I’m sure he would personally dislike where I’m going with this (even though he is quite elegant and honest about faith), but there is the question which I feel is being begged in this video. I think it is the same question which is begged during the moments we feel when we marvel at the astounding complexity and symmetry of the universe.

Here is the question: Why?

The universe, vast and chaotic, produced us. And here we are. Here we are asking the why questions. These why questions entail a longing for purpose, meaning, value, and freedom. We want to know who we are. We want to know our place. Tyson says himself,

You want to feel connected. You want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant.

Consider this: I believe we are connected. I believe we are relevant. And I believe we are participants in an orchestra that is bigger than ourselves. But this connection is not merely to what is physical. We are not just relevant to the material universe. From the center of my being, I believe there is more than meets the eye. There is more than the universe.

We all innately believe at some level there is purpose to life. There is meaning. There is value. There is freedom.

I believe in these things.

But why do I believe in them? Where did they come from?

Is it possible that there is a designer?

Could there be God?

And could that, in fact, be the most astounding fact?

Love God With All Your Mind (part 1)

A New Series

Recently there has been a concept that I have longed to expound upon.  It is a big topic that God has been revealing to me in a number of different ways.  So, I believe I am going to do a few of posts looking at this topic from a few different perspectives. Directly, this concept comes from the mouth of Jesus in one of his most weighty statements in scripture:

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment“. – Matthew 22:36-38

Part 1

One of the greatest failures of the church today has been the ability to produce thinking Christians.  Christians who ask the “why” questions and who investigate the reasons behind why they believe what they believe.  I have found that a common notion of non-believers is that Christians are operating on blind faith alone, chasing after some invisible god.  This is a sad notion.  Yet, I must humbly admit that I can see why it has ground.

Now do not get me wrong (or get mad at me) =] .  I am not taking faith out of anyone’s equation.  Without a degree of faith how is anyone supposed to honestly pursue God?  But I think if we are very honest with ourselves, we could admit that asking ourselves tough questions isn’t our cup of tea.

Why I Bring This Up.

Can I be vulnerable for a second?  One thing that has enrageed me a great deal in my time studying has been when I watch Youtube videos of people, from young high-schoolers to elderly scholars, blaspheming the name of God essentially for self-liberation.  But it is not their comments against God that upset me, it is their comments about Christians.

Here is one of the most well spoken examples I could find:

 So did this guy list 5 logically sound arguments against the existence of God or did he spout off about  how his experience with Christians has been a disgusting one?  Here he is again with a bit more of an argument.

Now is any of the historical data that he is reading even remotely accurate?  Do you know? Lets see what this girl has to say about her faith?

In this 15 year old girl’s deep philisophical conclusion, did she provide compelling evidence against Christianity?  Did she dismantle the great scholars of the past disproving a loving God? NO, she just asked questions in an environment that scorned critical thinking and pushed her away.  Should the church, who claims to be in relationship with the most intelligent being in the universe, be afraid of this kind of thinking?  As I am writing this I can feel myself pulling us away from my main point a little bit, so let me bring this back around.

The Challenge

This post is meant to be a driving force for you to go out and learn.  To use the incredible and powerful brain that God gave you and ask yourself the tough questions.  Learn what atheists and other worldviews are saying about your beliefs.  Find the questions that are leading people away from their faith and inspiring them to come to the rash conclusion, “maybe God just doesn’t exist”.

Loving God with all of your mind means challenging yourself.  It means not just settling on what you hear but going out to investigate.  You investigate by going out to learn about the amazing topics of philosophy and apologetics.  It  includes learning about other religions and worldviews that you do not believe.

This is a challenge.  There is an intellectual emergency in the church.  How many people are we going to let slip by becuase we are afraid or unable to speak up with a rational defense.  Today, Christians have an incredible case for Christ.  Are you informed?  Here is the challenge: To love God with your mind by understanding why you believe what you believe.

You can check out my resource page to get a good start. Happy Learning!