Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What's the Big Deal with "The Purpose Driven Life"?




The book was written back in '02.
Seven years earlier he was able to fill the shelves of bookstores with The Purpose Driven Church.
These books have been on my shelves for years, but for some reason, I've never read them. I've never even opened them. I don't know why, just never felt the urge to. Maybe it's because I had categorized it as another self-help book that belongs next to stuff about finding your best life and steps to a happy life with God. I'm turned off by books like that because they tend to water down the gospel to emotional uplift with theology that is more about expanding the pocket book and raising the gitty-meter than following in the ways of Jesus. They are more interested in Americanizing than discipling...but enough of that before I go on a longer rant.

I began working on a sermon yesterday for January 3rd and I've decided to preach on purpose. We all want to live with purpose and meaning. We want our lives to have significance.

So, I began thinking...a guy wrote a book that sold over 30 million copies. He made so much money off the book that he returned his 25 years of salary to the church and quit taking a salary, and I'm going to assume that his annual salary was a little higher than the average Church of Christ minister. Just an assumption. He and his wife "reverse tithe." Instead of tithing 10%, they tithe 90% and live off 10%.

AND ALL THIS BECAUSE HE WROTE A BOOK ON ONE WORD, "PURPOSE".
Not bad. I wish I would have come up with the brilliant idea.

He writes with great certainty. The opening words are as follows:
"By the end of this journey you will know God's purpose for your life and will understand the big picture--how all the pieces of your life fit together. Having this perspective will reduce your stress, simplify your decisions, increase your satisfaction, and, most important, prepare you for eternity."
Within the first few statements, Rick Warren was able to lure people in. He hooked them because he went after the desire of every one's heart...to live with purpose.

So, I picked up the book yesterday and I gave it a read. All 40 chapters. All 319 pages. I wasn't so much interested in personal reflection as much as I was interested in this question, "Why were over 30 million copies sold"?

The book was very basic and simple. There weren't innovative ideas. It was void of mind-boggling revelations about God. In fact, I don't remember ever thinking, "I've never heard that before" or "I've never heard it put that way."

It was a good book, and I could even recommend it to someone interested in spiritual growth.

This isn't a knock on Rick Warren, because I really like him, and it's not a knock on the book, but the fact that 30 million copies were sold tells me more than the content of the book. People want to live with purpose.
Are we presenting the gospel in a way that gives meaning to lives?
Are we living the life of Jesus in a way that redefines a purposeful life?

Just some thoughts.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Bible and Babies

It is necessary for me to begin my post with these words from Isaiah, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts."

I don't get infertility, and I need to be reminded of Isaiah 55 when I engage in the following conversations.

When Kayci and I began trying to have our first kid, it took about eight months before she got pregnant. Eight months seemed like forever. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and gratifying (sorry mom and dad if you're reading this), but it was eight months of delayed "periods" until Kayci would walk in the room and say, "Not this month, Honey."

But eight months seemed like eternity. It was enough for us to question if something was wrong with us. Were her eggs not fertile? Maybe something was wrong with me?

Eight months is nothing compared to people who have tried for ten, fifteen, twenty years. It is nothing compared to the men and women who have been told that they will never have kids.

And honestly, the Bible doesn't seem to offer much help here...at least when it comes to someone who suffered from infertility, only to remain infertile.

There are a lot of fertile people in Scripture. It seems that every one-night-stand results in a pregnancy:
Judah and Tamar: one night=conception.
David and Bathsheba: one night=conception.
If this were the case in Hollywood, the show "Friends" would have had been a show about pregnancy. Phoebe, Monica and Rachel would have looked like Jon and Kate Plus 8with a number of kids to walk into the Coffee Shop on the corner.

In Scripture, when we read about a barren woman, lights are flashing to make us aware that something is about to happen. Sarah, Rebekkah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth...they are barren, but their barrenness bears witness to God's ability to perform a miracle in the elderly. He speaks life into barrenness and the children become major characters in the unfolding drama of God's activity to redeem people.

I wish there was a woman in Scripture who was barren and she died that way...not because I wish depression upon someone, but as a way to give us someone to relate to who struggled with infertility yet they leaned on God's provision all the way to their death. Some people argued that God closed Michal's womb, but what we read is this, "And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death." I don't think it was because of God's wrath, but rather because "it" never happened again between David and Michal.

I had a friend whose wife did the "in vitro" thing and it didn't work. In our conversation I responded with something like, "Sarah was 90 when she was pregnant." For some reason (wink-wink), that didn't bring much comfort. His response was, "So you're telling me that in the year 2075, we can expect our first child?"

I witness so many teenage girls who are far from ready to nurture children who become pregnant. And then I think of a number of people who I am extremely close to, who are in healthy marriages with the desire, passion, and ability to raise children to the glory of God...and I can't help but pray, "God, why would you not want to place a child in this family where they will be raised in a home that has been dedicated to the Lordship of Jesus?" I know people right now who would give anything to experience morning sickness, backaches, and swollen feet just to have a baby growing in their belly. And all I get is Isaiah 55, "...my thoughts aren't your thoughts...my ways aren't your ways..."

For all of you out there, QUIT going up to young-married-folks with questions like, "When are you going to have kids?" or "You just turned 30. You're running out of time" or "Isn't it time..." because you have no clue what kind of salt you are pouring into wounds. You don't know how many of those people wrestle in prayer every single day over this.

I know that God has worked through adoption in some powerful ways and I praise him for that avenue. It is truly a beautiful thing.

For those out there struggling with infertility, may the God who spoke life into the world speak life into your barrenness. May the power of Jesus that was able to heal diseases by one touch, be upon you. I pray for God's favor to rest on you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Post Coming

I hope to have a new post up later today or early tomorrow concerning infertility. It's a topic that won't get off my mind.
However, no time to write now.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Video

This helps to put things in perspective.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Single Moms, Incarceration, Huskers

Props to single moms, I don't know how you do it.
My heart goes out to Kayci every Sunday morning.
I leave the house around 5:30 on Sunday's. I like to get to the office to pray and go over my sermon. Early service begins at 8 and late service begins at 11. This means that Kayci is on her own on Sunday mornings. She gets both boys ready, piles them in the car, and drives to church. Once she is there, she has to take Truitt to Bible Hour about 30 minutes into the worship service and then Noah usually needs to be fed at some point. So, she gets to enjoy only a few minutes of church. Some days she asks me, "Why did I go to church today?"
Thank God for people who have reached out to her. Sue Petrey called me one Sunday morning at 7 and she was ready and willing to drive to our home to help with the boys. Others volunteer their time to take Truitt to Bible Hour or to hold Noah during worship.
But for all you single moms out there, I admire you.
For all you church leaders and Christ-followers out there, go up to single moms and sincerely ask them what they need from you.
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My buddy James is going to prison for about 15 years. It's a long story and I'm not going to go into it on here.
James has a wife and 4 kids. His children will be adults the next time they see their dad in the "world".
I've never thought about this before, but what ministries/services are out there to adopt and/or take in the families of those who have been incarcerated?
There is a void here. Children need male-role-models. Women need godly friends.
I know of some great efforts when it comes to prison ministries, but what about their families?
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My Huskers had every chance to beat Texas on Saturday night. The "D" was outstanding. Suh gave one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. He was tossing around all-conference-offensive-lineman like they were high school kids.
An average offense from my Huskers would have won that game by 3 td's. But they didn't.
Statistically, Texas' "D" played great, but no one expected the Huskers "O" to do anything. They are awful. But Texas' "O" was averaging over 40 points and the Blackshirts shut them down. Every Texas point was aided by a 15 yard penalty...2 of the 3 should have been called.
When it came down to it, Texas made two plays when they had to have them.
Bo Pelini was the right hire. Defensive wins championships, and if they can figure out something on offense that works, they will be in the conversation soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Two Must-See Videos

How about this finish?



This one is for all you addicted sport fans!

It Wrecked My Life

I moved to Memphis knowing that my calling was to do more than preach sermons on Sunday mornings. I felt a supernatural calling to be a voice for God in this city. So, when I moved here, I made a covenant with God that went something like this--"God, I need you to teach me how to love this city the way you love it. I want to mourn where you mourn, weep where you weep, rejoice where you rejoice, and love how you love."
It's been over a year and a half now, and I can say that this covenant has wrecked my life. It has transformed dreams, goals, motivation, ministry, vision, and the way I think about my checking/savings account. There are days when I want to go back to "normal"...normal being a life that seeks comfort, safety, and goals that serve to nurture my selfish desires.
However, maybe God is redefining "normal" for me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Dream-Day in the Office

Below would be a great morning for me in the office:

I walk into the office at 8:10 in the morning. I've already had a workout, prayer time, and a shower. I didn't shave so there's a little scruff. I have on jeans and the shirt I'm wearing was chosen because it didn't have to be ironed. Over one shoulder is my book-bag and in my hand is a cup of french vanilla and sugar with a little bit of coffee poured on top. It's Wednesday, which means most of my day will be spent in sermon prep.


As I walk in, Donna tells me that two people have requested urgent meetings with me that morning. One was a 77-year-old, long-time member at SVC. She was going to be by at 9:00. The other was a 23-year-old artist who just placed membership a few months ago. He was going to be by at 10:00. I sighed...two hours of study time has been replaced with "urgent meetings." But hey, this is ministry and schedules are always changing.

I go into my office and I pray for wisdom and discernment because I have no clue what these people are coming in for, but it doesn't sound like they're eager to talk sports or the weather. I better be in tune with God.


At 8:58, Donna pages me in my office to inform me that "Mrs. Sally" is here to visit me. She walks into my office and takes a seat in my comfortable chair. I tell her that I'm glad she has come by. We skip over the superficial stuff and she tells me there are some things on her heart that she needs to share. I tell her that I'm all ears.

"Josh," she says with nervousness and hesitation, "I've been in the Churches of Christ all my life. I'm a 4th generation member. For so many years we knew what we would get when we went to church. It was normal and predictable. We would sing the same songs, and even though we knew the songs in our sleep, we would still open the hymnbooks. The sermons would have 3 points and the invitations would be lengthy. Communion was done in silence. But...about 15-20 years ago things began to change. I don't even know where to begin...screens, powerpoint, newer songs and then more newer songs, sermons were no longer spent affirming the Church of Christ heritage, and occasionally we have been asked to sing during communion. Church is no longer predictable. We don't know what we're going to get."


Mrs. Sally pauses and takes a deep breath. "Go on, Mrs. Sally. I'm listening."

"Josh, our younger people are leaving our churches. I hear you talk about it in your sermons and I see it as I look around the auditorium. Some of them are going to other churches outside of the Churches of Christ, but some of them aren't going anywhere. This concerns me."

I agree, "It concerns me too, Mrs. Sally. A great deal."


Mrs. Sally gets a little choked up and a tear forms in her left eye.

"Josh, I need you to hear what I'm about to say. I want you and our worship leader, Kip, to do whatever it takes to reach the young people of today. I love the older hymns with all of my heart and I wish we sang more of them, but I want to learn to love the newer songs just as much as I love the older ones. I love to take communion in silence, but I see the way many of the younger folks light up when we sing a song during communion or are asked to share a word or two with our neighbors as we share the bread and cup with them. I'm not a big fan of videos during worship, but I see the way that the images and testimonies catch the attention of our visual learners. We need more of that, Josh. I want to encourage you and Kip to be creative. Take some chances. I refuse to be an older person who holds you all back from presenting the gospel in a way that reaches the young people of today. When you do something out of the norm, I'm going to be your biggest fan. It might not be a method I would prefer, but I'm going to choose to embrace it because I know that it is helping someone else connect with Jesus."


"Mrs. Sally, I don't know what to say. I didn't expect this."

We talked a few more minutes, and then I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving over our conversation.

I walked Mrs. Sally to the door, and while I hugged her goodbye, my next appointment was getting out of his car. I held the door open for Jonathan. I led him into my office and I pointed him to the same chair Mrs. Sally was sitting in. After we discussed recent movie releases, I asked Jonathan what brings him in today.

"Josh, I'm an artist. I love to draw, act, perform and create. I like stories that paint images. If you haven't noticed, artists aren't going to traditional churches anymore because they don't feel as if they have a voice. I'm here at this church, because you all seem to be attempting...in very small ways," we both chuckle, "to use images and creativity to draw visual learners, like myself, into a worship experience. I really appreciate that. I love when you and Kip use media-methods to lead us in worship. I love when you guys get creative with the Lord's Table. I really like the newer songs, because they seem to paint images...they use language that invite imaginative juices." We both laugh at the phrase "imaginative juices."

"But, Josh, here's why I'm meeting with you today. I need to confess to you selfishness on my part when it comes to worship. For over two years now, I've been so cynical of older people, especially those who seem to be so tied to Church of Christ traditions. I didn't think, and I still don't think, that they understand what is going on in the minds of younger people. For a while there, I would cross my arms anytime we would sing the older hymns. And, I had a sour attitude whenever we would be forced to take communion in complete silence because all of the older people seemed to be in the moment."

"Josh, I want to learn to respect and love the older people of our church. I want to learn to love the older hymns because I realize that those songs have touched people for decades. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I hope we never stop singing them. I want to learn to enjoy the days when we take communion in complete silence, because surely God is at work in those little moments. I realize, that at the age of 23, that I have a passion for creativity and for the arts, but I also realize that there is a strong call for unity throughout Scripture. I need to learn to love, respect, and to fellowship with the older people of our church."

Jonathan and I talked for another 30 minutes, and then after we prayed, I led him to the door.

I went back to my office and thought to myself, "Now, that is a dream-day in the office."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Brooklyn Tabernacle

Last night was my 2nd time to visit the Tuesday night prayer meeting at Brooklyn Tab.
For over 35 years they have created an atmosphere of expectation when it comes to calling upon the name of the Lord. We gathered for 4 hours with over 3000 people and we prayed, and when we were tired of praying, we prayed more. We worshipped, we engaged in powerful forms of intercession, we cried, we laughed, we rejoiced, we listened to a powerful message from Jim Cymbala from Isaiah 40, and...we prayed some more.
What does it say about a church that they have a prayer meeting that begins at 7:00 every Tuesday night...the doors open at 5:00...and there were people waiting outside of the doors at 4:45 to get into a 7:00 prayer meeting?
My row was made up of people who were white, black, African, Asian, and one girl who is from Pakistan who converted to Christianity from the Muslim faith 7 months ago.

There is so much swimming around in my spirit, but I don't know what to say.

Do we have a culture of prayer in our churches that goes deeper than prayers for knee surgeries and the need for rain?
Do we truly believe that there is a God who cares and who is eager to act with favor?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Work

It is 1:30pm and my brain is already fried. I have spent the morning talking with Chris Seidman about some of my favorite items of discussion: church leadership, justice, prayer, and college football.
Chris and I ate lunch with Randy and Pam Cope. Listening to the stories from Touch-A-Life is truly inspiring.
Now, Chris and I are going to jump into a few more hours of theology, justice, and prayer campaigns. I'm so full I'm going to bust!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blogging Grade

OK...if I were to receive a grade for blogging over the last few weeks, it wouldn't be too high. It would probably be better than the Elementary Math Reasoning course I took my sophomore year of college. In high school a "d" means that you fail. In college, "d" means done. But hey, what does a Bible major need math skills for? As ministers, we simply take a number and round up to the nearest hundred.

I'm tired. I think I might be overly committed. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving my life, but I do have a hunger for a greater balance.

Sunday morning was one of the coolest worship experiences I've been a part of. We had a special song sung by the praise team that Kip and Rachel knocked out of the park. It was dynamite. It set me up with 1st and goal at the 1.

Jim Hinkle shared a testimony about a tragedy in the Highland youth group back in January of 2005. Through tears, he told stories of God's faithfulness in the midst of great suffering. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Here's what is so cool about Lament--God has a resume full of moments when he has entered into pain and brokenness to love it and redeem it.

Many days, it is simply Immanuel, this idea that "God is with us" that keeps me alive and ticking.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lament

Ok, blogworld, I'm preaching a sermon this Sunday from Psalm 13, the well-known Lament-Psalm.
I need your help, what voice does "lament" have in your corporate worship services?

The Gospels

Ed Dobson wanted to live one year like Jesus...following every Jewish command, keeping the Sabbath, eating kosher, loving enemies, praying the prayers Jesus prayed and going to the festivals Jesus would attend.
One of his goals was to read all four gospels once a week. At the end of the year, he only made it through them 32 times. Still sounds pretty good to me.
After his year-long-journey, he concluded that living like Jesus is extremely difficult.
A rabbi once said, "If you're a Christian and aren't reading through the Gospels every week, then you're not a very good Christian. How can you claim to take Jesus' teachings seriously when you spend so little time actually reading them?"
Chew on that one for a little while.

Friday, October 30, 2009

You Know You're Near an Extrovert...


You know you're near an extrovert when:

-You sit down on a plane and put earphones in even though you can't use electronics yet. It is supposed to be the nonverbal sign that you are not available for any form of dialogue. But then, you notice the person walking down the aisle who is commenting on every ball cap and t-shirt they see on complete strangers, "Hey, are you a Yankees fan? I can't stand them but I respect them. Hey, are you from Colorado? I noticed the Yellowstone shirt. I have a 2nd cousin who is from there." You cross your fingers hoping he doesn't have the assigned seat next to you. Then, he sits and completely ignores the fact that the ear pieces are in the ears and your eyes are down.

-You're at the bank filling out a deposit slip when the person walks in singing about how great the day is even though it is 10:20 in the morning and it has been raining for 3 straight days.

-You're friend calls you at 10:35pm to tell you about something that happened 4 days earlier.

-You're at a restaurant peeing at the urinal and someone walks in and begins smalltalk while standing 2 urinals away--"How was the food? Did it hit the spot? This place is awesome!"

You're________________

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Professional Complainers...and the NBA

Check out this piece by Mike Cope on professional complainers. For all church leaders, these are 3 paragraphs that will bless you.

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The NBA begins tonight. My Mavs take on the Wizards. They should get their first of 58 wins for the season. They will enter into the playoffs as the 4th seed and will get knocked out in the 2nd round.

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From the book The Tangible Kingdom:
When I walk into Starbucks, I don't think about coffee. I ponder the lives of everyone I see. I wonder about their spiritual journeys, their highs and lows...and where they look for direction in their search. My initial assumption is that in any room full of people, very few know Christ. I ask myself how I could get into their lives or how a conversation might begin. I don't see them as projects--that wouldn't go very far. I see them as souls the Lord loves who simply haven't seen or heard an accurate message about the Kingdom. I always feel confident that I may one day be talking with them about life and God. Oddly enough, this seems to happen all the time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sabbath

God gave the 10 Commandments for this reason--they are to teach a bunch of slaves how to be human again. They are gifts; not heavy burdens.

The first 3 commands are directed to God:
1) No other gods before God.
2) No idols.
3) Don't misuse the name of the Lord your God.

The last 6 commands focus on human relationships.
5) Honor mom and dad.
6) Don't murder.
7) Don't commit adultery.
8) Don't steal.
9) Don't bear false witness against your neighbor.
10) Don't covet your neighbor's stuff.

Don't miss the significance of the 4th command, "Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy."
The Sabbath Day is the gift from God that holds commands 1-3 and 5-10 together. Sabbath keeps us rooted in God and oriented in relationships. It becomes the bridge...the connection between God and people. It keeps us balanced.

In Ed Dobson's book The Year of Living Like Jesus, he wrote that before Americans lose sleep over having the 10 commandments in courtrooms, they need to take some time to consider how they are doing at keeping the commands. Most of us neglect at least one of the commands regularly, especially Sabbath-keeping.

God gives reminders throughout Exodus concerning Sabbath-keeping. As the people of Israel opened up the instructions for building the tabernacle, #1 was to keep the Sabbath. God knew that these slaves had lived in Egypt for hundreds of years where they spent every day building things with bricks. Even though they were oppressed, they had produced good stuff...buildings, palaces, statutes, etc. Slavery had made them into brick-builders, and they were good at it.
The reminders are found in: Exodus 23:12-13, 31:12-18, 34:21-24, & 35:2-3.
Why so many reminders?
Because God was fearful that His people would take their brick-building-practices to a new land, and if they weren't careful, they would consume themselves with building new stuff and forget where they came from.
And you know how the story goes...they forget!

Could it be that in Genesis 1, God isn't just showing himself as a creative artist, but that he is also teaching people how to live? Seriously, did God really need to rest after 6 days? He didn't even break a sweat. God spoke words and creation happened.

Here's the ultimate question for us, if we take time to rest, do we really trust that God will/can keep things going?

Sabbath is about trust, rhythm, and reminding ourselves of the story we live in.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Living Like Jesus

I returned from Louisville, KY late yesterday afternoon. Rick Atchley took a few young ministers to Bob Russell's retreat center. My soul is full. After pastoring the Southeast Christian Church for four decades, Bob has earned the right to lavish wisdom and grace upon young preachers like myself. For three days I became a sponge!

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Last week I finished Ed Dobson's The Year of Living Like Jesus. A couple of years ago, Ed Dobson read A.J. Jacobs book The Year of Living Biblically. Jacobs tried to follow the OT word for word the first six months of the year, and the NT word-for-word the last six months of the year.
From Jacobs, Dobson (Ed, not James) thought it would be interesting to try to live like Jesus for an entire year. An absurd thought, right? He found it to be a daunting task.
A Jewish Rabbi once told a Christian, "How can you call yourself a Christian while not reading the gospels every single week? You claim to follow Jesus, but you rarely spend time reading about Jesus."
Dobson's book wasn't thrilling, but it was inspiring. He spends too much time trying to dress like Jesus, eat like Jesus, and pray like Jesus. But the one thing that was challenging was the fact that living like Jesus is difficult. It's counter-cultural.
Who knows, maybe we should give it a try.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This Week

I'm going to be out of pocket until Friday.
I love preaching at SVC!
Go Angels!
Cowboys need some serious help. Please join me in praying for them.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scattered Thoughts

Here's a blog I wrote a while back describing why I am a Husker fan. Check it out here.
For the first time in a long time, Pelini has the Husker defense playing like the blackshirts of old. They've only given up four touchdowns through five games. Next Saturday vs Texas Tech will present a challenge.
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I will never cheer for the Yanks or Notre Dame. NEVER!
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My ideal day: 83 degrees with a 5 mph wind during the day...58 degrees with a slight breeze throughout the evening. Memphis doesn't really fit the description.
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This question has no agenda whatsoever...but what do you think the average teacher should be paid in America?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Psalm 23


This was part of my sermon prep yesterday as I prepare to preach from Psalm 23. I spent some time with my buddy Jason Taylor at Court Square in downtown Memphis holding the sign as we engaged in conversations with people walking by. It made for an interesting evening.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Psalms

I need some help here:
Do you like the Psalms?
What is your favorite Psalm, and why?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Scripture as Travel Agent and Tour Guide

When I decided to become a committed follower of Jesus someone told me, "If you want to mature in your faith you need to read the Bible." So, I started to read.

I had an uncontrollable desire to devour the Word. I needed the Word like a "drunk" needs a drink. I wanted the Word to get inside of me. I found Scripture to be more compelling than ever. It was like fire in my bones.

But, I quickly ran into a problem. No one had ever taught me how to read the Bible. They only told me to read. The first few months, I found myself reading to defend church practices and traditions. My parents didn't teach me to approach Scripture in such a way; I guess it was just part of the church culture I grew up in or something like that.

This defensive approach didn't last very long. It wasn't very fun for me. I didn't have the time or energy to waste on things like lifting hands, worship styles, instrumental music or how to "do" church right. I found it to be strange how we had defended certain practices/traditions with verses that actually had nothing to do with the subject we were defending. Does Ephesians 5:19 really defend accapella music? Does Acts 20:7 really mean that if we don't take communion on a Sunday, we sin?

I began to learn a very important truth that has stuck with me for years now--how we read the Bible is just as important as what we read.

You can take the approach of reading the Bible for information only, but this approach will leave you arrogant. It's not appealing to me.
The approach of reading the Bible as a means to load up the arsenal to defend a set belief system is taken by many, but this will leave you spiritually unhealthy and relationally unfriendly.
You can read Scripture as history, but you will become like a gnostic whose spiritually is distant from a God who has chosen to invade every generation with His presence and power.

I hear a lot of stats on how our younger people are biblically illiterate, and there is much truth to these stats. Honestly, (some of you aren't going to like this) I think the reason that many of our younger folks (40 and under) don't read the Bible much is because they don't like the way they've heard the Bible read by their parents, Sunday school teachers, or preachers growing up.

Scripture can be interpreted as a Travel Agent, whose purpose is to point you to a destination. They make the plans and then send you on your way.

Or, Scripture can be read as a Tour Guide, whose purpose is to lead you on a journey while teaching you about life.

Surely there is the place for the Travel Agent, but right now in my life I choose to engage Scripture as a Tour Guide. I need the Word of God to teach me about life. To release me from bondage. To act in formational ways. To perform in ways that declare that the Word is still alive. And, ultimately, to invite me into this glorious story.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

ACU Summit

I was in a mentoring group a few years ago with Jack Reese, the Dean of the Bible Department at ACU. They had just hired Brady Bryce as the Director of Ministry Events, which meant that Brady would be the visionary and director of ACU Lectures. During the interviewing process, Jack said that Brady and his wife Donna expressed concern over "leaving ministry." Jack responded by saying, "Brady, we don't want you to leave ministry. We want you make this your ministry."

With that said, Brady is an exceptional minister who just happens to be the Director of Ministry Events at ACU. The vision and direction he has brought to ACU Lectures, now called ACU Summit, is outstanding.

I was honored to be a participant and a recipient of this incredible event last week. Two of my favorite people in the world, Mike Cope and Josh Graves, keynoted and were phenomenal.

In my opinion, ACU Summit is one of the best events in the Churches of Christ.

I was able to connect with a number of people who have influenced my life in incredible ways: Troy Robertson, Kevin and Sarah Campbell, Josh Graves, Luke Norsworthy, Wade Hodges, Randy Harris, Rick Atchley, Chris Seidman, Barry and Collin Packer, Chris Fields, Josh Kasinger, Lauren Cunningham, Garrett Sublette, Mike & Diane & Chris Cope, and Aaron Metcalf. I might have left off someone, but there was a lot of connecting and it was awesome.

I had the privilege of preaching at Highland Church of Christ. It felt like home. I preached in front of friends, mentors, and professors. This church nurtured us early on in our marriage and they taught me how to be a Spirit-led minister who isn't afraid to take risks for Jesus.

My trip to Abilene was refreshing in so many ways, but I missed the SVC family and I am eager to preach the word tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back in Memphis

I'll have more to write about ACU Summit and my trip to Abilene later.

I'm preaching on spiritual disciplines this week and I'm curious, what are the disciplines/practices that sustain you in your faith journey?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guilty of Compassion?

I will never forget the event that occurred one night before a football game when I was a freshman in high school. My 3 best friends and I would gather at a home for a healthy pre-game meal which consisted of Jack in the Box cheeseburgers with curly fries and a large Dr. Pepper…just the right about of protein and carbs to boost the energy level.
We were sitting in the kitchen of a house. Three of us looked like freshman…we had about 18 hairs on our sideburns and chins and we let them grow out as if it made us look more manly. The other friend looked as if he had been shaving since kindergarten. The guy was huge. While three of us still had squeaky voices; the other one was basically getting into rated R movies without them checking ID.
This one day, a verbal spat began between one friend and our manly friend. Their disagreement turned into raised voices and sarcastic outbursts and finally the biggest friend stood up and pushed the other friend into the stove with his head hitting the built in microwave. The two of us who were spectators just sat there stunned. Then, in his low voice he said, “If you say something else, you’re going to get a smack-down.” (That’s the G-rated version of what he really said). The other friend, still holding his head from the collision with the microwave opened his mouth after being warned and said, “That’s real cool. You’re a real friend.”
That’s all my big-buddy needed. He stood up and began to swing. Punch after punch after punch. My other friend turned and covered his head with both arms as his body received blow after blow from the fists of an oversized freshman.

And I was so stunned that I just sat there. I was frozen as I watched one friend treat my undersized friend as a punching bag. I did nothing.

Check out these words from Obadiah…yah, you heard me right…Obadiah:

Because of the murderous history compiled against your brother Jacob,
You will be looked down on by everyone.
You’ll lose your place in history.
On that day you stood there and didn’t do anything.
Strangers took your brother’s army into exile.
Godless foreigners invaded and pillaged Jerusalem.
You stood there and watched.
You were as bad as they were.
You shouldn’t have gloated over your brother when he was down-and-out.
You shouldn’t have laughed and joked at Judah’s sons when they were facedown in the mud.
You shouldn’t have talked so big when everything was so bad.
You shouldn’t have taken advantage of my people when their lives had fallen apart.
You of all people should not have been amused by their troubles, their wrecked nation.
You shouldn’t have taken the shirt off their back when there were knocked flat, defenseless. And you shouldn’t have stood waiting at the outskirts and cut off refugees,
And traitorously turned in helpless survivors who had lost everything.

I texted a preacher-friend in Fort Worth last week and I asked, “Have you ever preached Obadiah?” His response was, “No. It sounds like a Star Wars character and I’ve seen all 6 of the movies like 14 times.”

Here’s what you need to know about Obadiah, since most of you have never read the book:
Jacob and Esau were two brothers who were at each other from birth. They became bitter rivals, and though there were attempts at reconciliation, the resentment towards one another was handed to generation after generation.
Jacob was ancestor to the Israelites.
Esau’s ancestor to the Edomites.
This rivalry was like the hatred between Yanks and Red Sox, Cowboys and Eagles, Lakers and Celtics, and Grizzlies and __________.

There was a long history of war and violence.

Here’s why Obadiah was written, when Israel was taken into captivity in 721BC by the Assyrians and again in 586BC by the Babylonians, Edom stood across the fence and watched. They did nothing.

This is why this message today is so real to what is observed every single day in school hallways and cafeterias, in the streets of our cities and in the slums across the world.

People look across the river at the oppression of others and they do nothing. And, it’s not always because we’re bad people.

Jesus tells a similar story that sounds a lot like Obadiah. In fact, I wonder if the story Jesus tells came from his recollection of this lesser-known prophet. The story is told in Luke 10 and it is known as the Good Samaritan.
Sound familiar?
The people who should have stopped to help because their relationship with God involves them in the cares of the world, don’t! They just keep walking. In other words, they look across the river (or road) and do nothing.
The person who stops breaks every barrier that had been set up by society, but the person didn’t care. It was the right thing to do.

I don’t know what this means for me. Should I care about the AIDS epidemic in Africa? How about the genocide in Darfur? There are the brothels in India? Or the broken down public school systems in our inner-cities?
I know I can’t solve world hunger, AIDS, or the healthcare crisis. But in the words of Mother Teresa, “If you can’t feed a million hungry people, feed one,” keep ringing in my ear.

What does this mean for churches?

I know this…if I’m guilty of something in this life I want it to be that I have deliberately chosen to be on the side of compassion.

A Difficult Task

I love the story of Scott Williams. He played in the NBA from 1990-2005. He never averaged over 7.6 points a game. He was never a starter. But he did get a few rings while playing with the Chicago Bulls.
After a game when Michael Jordan scored 60 points, a reporter met Williams at his locker and said, "What will you remember from this night...a night when Jordan scored 60 points?"
Williams quickly responded, "I will always remember this as the night that MJ and I combined for 62 points."

This Sunday I have the difficult task of preaching at a church where Randy Harris and Jerry Taylor have preached the last two weeks. Have mercy on me!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mother Teresa

"If you can't feed a million people, feed one."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

The call came last Tuesday afternoon. It was an editor from a newspaper based in Little Rock. I had never heard of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. My first thought was that it was a small community newspaper that would be read by Fred and Ethel over some coffee and a pancake at the corner cafe. I didn't know that it was THE newspaper of Arkansas.

They called because there was a church in North Little Rock called The Summit, a Southern Baptist Church, who took part in a "reverse offering." Somehow, the Senior Pastor found the story from my blog back in July and they decided to do it at their church. The Gazette interviewed the Pastor and he told them that he got the idea from a church called Sycamore View in Memphis and that the minister's name was Josh Ross. So, they called me for an interview.

The story ran on the front page. They said they weren't going to put up another story of a bombing but instead they wanted to highlight some good news. I thought that was pretty cool.

Since then, K-LOVE has run the story on their website. All glory to God.

The Spirit that invaded the church in Acts 2 and Acts 4 continues to multiply its grand idea of a shared community. Other churches inspired me and now churches are being blessed through something that seemed to have been so simple to the early church. We are given much...and we give much.

Some Speeches Transcend Party Lines

Today a speech will be given to students in schools throughout this nation that I hope is given by every president annually. Reagan and Bush #1 gave similar speeches to encourage kids to make good choices in life and say no to drugs, and today Obama gives a speech encouraging teens to stay in school, to stand up against the bullies, and to understand that the decisions you make now will determine the future of our nation and our world.
There are certain speeches that just transcend party lines. These speeches are not promoting "liberal" or "conservative" agendas. Instead, they serve to pave paths to take each day seriously because the future depends on it.
Sometimes it seems that an allegiance to a particular party trumps any form of good that might come from the other side. Such an allegiance gets us away from the respect, honor, and commitment to prayer that Christ-followers are called to in the NT.
I'm saddened by parents who feel the necessity to take their kids out of school for such an occasion, or to take the time and energy to write school administrators to boycott such events. Such decisions are usually based on fear, and fear is rarely a good motivator. However, we do live in a free country and parents have the right to such action.

I'm constantly reminded of the words penned from the hands of two apostles: Paul and Peter. And keep in mind that Peter and Paul wrote during the times of some of the most brutal and godless emperors who ever lived.


Romans 13:1-7, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment...for the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them--taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to who revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due."

1 Timothy 2:1-2, "First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions..."

1 Peter 2:13-17, "For the Lord's sake accept/submit to the authority of every human institution whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right...honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor."

Friday, September 4, 2009

When "No" is the new "Yes"

In his book Pilgrim Heart, Darryl Tippens offers some reasons to say no:

  • When yes is really about building one’s material wealth or enhancing one’s ego, rather than advancing a good or essential cause; in other words when yes is about me
  • When yes hurts those you love
  • When one’s yes is prompted by an automatic, uncritical response, rather than the product of self-examination, prayer, and discernment
  • When one finds oneself growing weaker and weaker, spiritually speaking, the more one does
  • When one finds oneself fulfilling a lower good, while sacrificing a higher one
  • And when one finds, at the end of the day, one is becoming someone he or she doesn’t even like.

How do you practice saying "no" in your own life?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day of Jubilee Follow-Up

Back in July I wrote about one of the most powerful worship experiences I've ever witnessed. You can read about it here.

This morning an anonymous letter was sitting in my box. Here's what it said:
Recently your congregation celebrated a "Day of Jubilee" in which your leadership invited those members in need to take what they needed. At that time, I did not want to take/receive what I needed to make it through the week because I knew there were people who needed it much more than I did.
God works in mysterious ways, and I humbly received $125 for my family, which was greatly needed, and put to use for bills and supply to finish the week. We now humbly return what was blessed unto us and increase it ten times told, in hopes it can bless someone else.

The envelope was stuffed with cash. Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Feast

You need this book on your bookshelf.
Josh Graves has graciously allowed me to join him on this two-year journey of publishing his first book. I've read through a number of drafts to the point I could quote most of this book in my sleep. Yet, every time I read it, I want to preach it. What I love about The Feast is that Josh doesn't write from a secluded office with a laptop on a desk covered with commentaries and scholarly work. He writes from lived-experiences. This book was birthed from walking the streets of Detroit.
The Feast is now available on Family Christian Bookstore's website. Click here to purchase.

Click here for a brief intro to the book.

Another reason (small reason) to buy this book is that Josh trusted me to write the Study Guide. The following is the first paragraph of the Study Guide:

The Feast attempts to create a hunger for a holistic spirituality that is rooted in the Jesus-Story. This is a move away from institutionalism and the temptation to compartmentalize the faith journey. Instead, it offers permission and a desperate invitation to yield to God as he cultivates imaginations that will rethink what it means to walk alongside neighbors and strangers as we embrace the character and nature of Jesus.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Prophetic Name-Calling

I'm reading Frank Viola's From Eternity to Here. He reminds me of a profound truth in Scripture--the Bible begins and ends with a wedding.
In Genesis 1-2, the wedding is between a man and a woman. Revelation 21-22 ends with a new wedding. A bride (the church) comes down from heaven adorned for her husband.
In Genesis, the woman is created out of the side of a man. In the NT, the bride (the church) is created out of the side of Christ.
Forgive me for footnoting Genesis 3 through Revelation 20, but the mission of God throughout Scripture is about restoring a marriage. It is a love-story full of drama, betrayal, intimacy, forgiveness, separation, and sacrifice.

The prophets are aware of this God-intended-harmony. While priests did their work on the sacred places of temples and synagogues, the prophets worked in the margins. They proclaimed in the market places and street corners.
I read through Jeremiah on a vacation a few months ago. Needless to say, it was depressing. But I was struck by his uncanny ability to call a spade a spade. He was fully aware of the relationship that God desired with his people, yet he saw the way they lived.
Catch this language in Jeremiah 3:
If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?
You have polluted the land with your whoring and wickedness.
You have the forehead of a whore.
She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree.

This kind of language will get you sent to the Principal's office. I laugh every time I read, "forehead of a whore." You could be sued for such a vocabulary. It is not the lingo used to gain friends. Yet, it is intentional and purposeful.

Here's what Jeremiah is saying:
"You people are getting in bed with everything in this world but God."
"You are becoming intimate with everything but God, who is your maker and lover."
"You are sleeping with trees and stones and worthless idols while neglecting your true love."

I think Paul is borrowing from Jeremiah when he writes this in Colossians, "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed." In other words, "Quit playing the whore with everything around you."

I begin this day with this prayer, "I am prone to live a life of whoredom. I chase after earthly things for daily pleasure and future security. But something inside of me tells me that this is all a chasing after the wind. I was made for something greater than this. God, just as you delivered the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, deliver me from ungodly intimate encounters with this world. Help me to engage the world around me as one who is living in response to my connection with you. Let the same power that lifted Jesus out of the grave be in me today, and let your love flow through my veins so that I will be full of you."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pictures

Noah arrived on dry land yesterday at 11:39am. Everything went so well that we were home this afternoon. God has showered us with blessings. All four of Noah's grandparents have already spoiled him beyond measure. We've been prayed over by nearly every person who came to visit us. I've received close to 200 text messages congratulating us and thanking God for a healthy delivery.
Below are a few pics.





Friday, August 21, 2009

Noah James Ross

Noah James entered into the world at 11:39 a.m. The doctor thinks he'll running a 4.4 40 yard dash by the age of 12. He's 21.5 inches and weighs 7lbs 15oz. Mom and Noah are doing great. We'll have pictures soon.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

August 21, 2009

I don't think I've ever had to wake up at 3:45am, but I will tomorrow.
Kayci is scheduled to be induced in the morning and we have to be there at 4:30am.
Reality has set in today. Within a few hours I am going to have two boys.

I want God to blow me away tomorrow with His creativity and holiness. I want to be fully aware of his abiding presence. I also want to be a witness to every doctor and nurse who walks into our room. I want God to use every moment of this delivery to glorify himself.

August 21, 2009 is a special day for my family. My parents will be in Memphis as they celebrate their 33rd anniversary.
My sister was baptized on the 21st of August around 20 years ago.
And now Noah will make his arrival on this special day.

Please pray for us tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Noah

Today, I told Noah that it is time to come out of the ark. His mother is ready for Noah to receive the twig.

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Check out this post from Kayci's blog. SVC threw us a shower and they were very generous and gracious.
My mother flew in from Dallas to attend and it was great having her here. One of the funniest moments of the shower was having some of the middle-aged women (Stephanie Taylor and Donna Davenport) attempting to guess the age of my mom.

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Noah received his first email last week. Here it is:
Noah,

I don’t know if this is your first email or not, but I want to be one of the first to welcome you into the world. I prayed for you this morning, and your sweet mother, and your devoted dad. I pray that your arrival will be pleasant. There are so many folks who are excited about your arrival. I pray that God will shape your life and you will be a Godly man like your namesake.

Like the first Noah, let me be the first to warn you that you are entering a world full of folks in rebellion to God’s will. You must be in the world, but not of the world. I pray you will love people and seek their salvation. I know this is getting pretty heavy for a guy not even born yet.

I hope I get to be the first one to take you on a horse ride. I look forward to that day. I hope to encourage you in the days ahead.

May God bless you,

John French

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where is the Light and Salt?

John Stott hits it on the head with this quote. He calls us to back to our purpose for existence.

Our Christian habit is to bewail the world’s deteriorating standards with an air of rather self-righteous dismay. We criticize its violence, dishonesty, immorality, disregard for human life, and materialistic greed. “The world is going down the drain,” we say with a shrug. But whose fault is it? Who is to blame? Let me put it like this. If the house is dark when nightfall comes, there is no sense in blaming the house; that is what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is “Where is the light?” Similarly, if the meat goes bad and becomes inedible, there is no sense in blaming the meat; that is what happens when bacteria are left alone to breed. The question to ask is “Where is the salt?” Just so, if society deteriorates and its standards decline until it becomes like a dark night or a stinking fish, there is no sense in blaming society; that is what happens when fallen men and women are left to themselves, and human selfishness is unchecked. The question to ask is “Where is the Church? Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing our society?” It is sheer hypocrisy on our part to raise our eyebrows, shrug our shoulders, or wring our hands. The Lord Jesus told us to be the world’s salt and light. If therefore darkness and rottenness abound, it is largely our fault and we must accept the blame.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel

If you want a book that will deepen your faith, read Richard Stearns The Hole in Our Gospel.

On second thought, don't read this book because it will mess up your life...but so will the life and teachings of Jesus. I'm always looking for ways to pray with more expectancy, to love with more compassion, and to care for the least of these with more regularity and intentionality. This book will open up a whole new world for you. I'm just warning you, "Beware!"

When our churches become spiritual spas in which we retreat from the world, our salt loses its saltiness, and we are no longer able to impact the culture. (Stearns)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Who Names Who?

I didn't choose my name. If I did, it would have been something creative and unique like Cash or Jet.

My dad was Roderick the IV, but he decided to be the last one because of all of the ridicule he received as a child. I'm glad. Roderick wouldn't have fit me very well.

Joshua Louis was the full name given to me. It soon became Josh for short. My grandmother is the only person who still calls me Joshua.

Throughout my life, I've received a few nicknames. Early on in high school it became "rabbit" because of the way I maneuvered my way around the football field. At the age of 18 I was given a nickname that stuck, "Boss Ross." I wasn't bossy; it just rhymed, "Josh da Boss Ross."

I find it interesting that God seems to take great delight in naming (or renaming) people. My buddy Jonathan Storment blogged about this recently.


God changes Jacob's name to Israel.
Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter.
Saul's name becomes Paul.


What's really interesting is when people give God a name. You see this throughout the psalms:
"You are my strong tower."
"You are my refuge."
"God is my salvation."

Jesus does something very interesting in the book of John, he begins to name himself. We know them as the 7 "I Am's."

But this isn't the first time that someone from the Trinity names himself.

Back in Genesis 3, God doesn't name a human being and he doesn't change a name. He names himself. God gives himself a name.


At the time, Moses is concerned that the Israelites are going to ask for God's name and he won't have a sufficient answer. Moses needs a name that will serve as undeniable proof that he has been with God.

God's answer is this, "I AM who I AM. I AM has sent me to you." This name would serve as proof that God had empowered Moses with a message that would lead to their deliverance.


God gives himself a name at a turning point in His people's history. The name "I AM" conjures up feelings of stunning holiness.


In fact, Exodus 3 is only the 2nd time that the word "holy" is used in Scripture. The first time comes in Genesis 2:3, "So God blessed the 7th day and made it holy." God spoke the first 6 days into existence with profound creativity and wonder, but only on the 7th day did God label with the word, "Holy." (Now, that is for another post)

The 2nd time the word "holy" shows up in Scripture is in Exodus 3 at the burning bush. God tells Moses to take his sandals off because the ground is holy. Then, it is on that holy ground that God lays out his plan to perform the greatest act of deliverance in the OT.

The holiness of God is used to set the stage...to lay the foundation...for God's justice and liberation.

When we think "holy," we think about silence, reverence, and meditation. This is all good because there are places in Scripture that affirm this.

But holiness is also used as a sure sign that God is about to do something so big that we might just need to brace ourselves for the impact. Holiness is an invitation to join God in his liberation and deliverance in the world. God reveals himself, and then he leads us out of that place in order to join in actions of kingdom-significance.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Few Nuggets

Soledad O'Brien is my favorite reporter on television. She works for CNN and does special reports. Last summer she hosted "Black in America" and it was excellent.
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I am grateful for the cool summer. Actually, my pregnant wife is the one who is really grateful.
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I want to learn the power of this, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
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I'm not a big fan of "forwards." People can quickly lose their "forwarding" credibility with me. If anyone attempts to send me forwards that demonize or demoralize people of power, it automatically goes in the trash.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Wedding Dance

One of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Noah James

Dear Noah,
Your due date is August 26th and I can't wait to see you. I'm writing you a letter that you might never read, but it's my way of getting a few thoughts out there.
I remember thinking the same thought before your brother Truitt came into the world, but it's amazing how much I'm able to love a piece of God's creation that I've never seen before. There are nights when I roll over in bed and I place my hand on Kayci's belly just so I can pray for God's Spirit to rest on you. I plead with Him to give you dreams and visions for His work in this world. I want you to know right now that I don't care what you become when you get older; I care about who you become. I want to point you to Jesus in a way that it is so captivating that he will become your breath of life. I want your faith to far exceed mine. I hope to demonstrate a prayer life that taps into the presence and power of God. I don't want you to know Scripture so that you can get a sticker for memorization or become a member of the 66-Club for knowing all the books in the Bible. I don't want it to be a distant book like other history books that line the shelves of libraries. I want Scripture to come to life inside of you. I want it to be relevant. I want it to shape your imagination in ways that you feel the same sand Jesus walked on. I want you to experience the same joy Jesus had in befriending sinners and social outcasts. I want you to always lean on the side of compassion so that you will love the poor the way God loves the poor.
I don't care if you are a Republican or Democrat or even if you choose to live out your adult life in America. More than anything, I want you to be a sold-out follower of Jesus who is not afraid to take some serious risks for him. I want you to feel empowered by your parents to do some daring things with your life. I want to make a covenant with you and Truitt, just like I did with your mother on our wedding day, that I will pray for you every single day.
I hope that the day never comes when I will have to die for you, though I would do it without even having to think about it. But know this, I will choose every single day to live for you.
I want you to know that I am far from a perfect father, but I will try my very best to love you with every ounce of my being.

I can't help but wonder:
Who are you going to look like more--your mom or me?
Will you be a righty or a lefty?
Will you like Toby Mac as much as your brother?
What will be your first word? (it's okay to say "mommy" first. She's still mad at Truitt. HA!)
How will you want to invest your time and energy in this world?

There are a few decisions that have been made for you: you will not be a Yankee fan, an Eagles fan, or a Giants fan. Try it, and we'll put you up for adoption. HA!

For 8 months we have watched you grow. Your work-out routines have become more frequent and powerful. They keep your mom awake at night, and when she tosses and turns it keeps me up. But I see it as a way that God is preparing me to hang out with you during the night while your mom gets rest after feeding you.

About your mom, she is a Proverbs-31 kind of woman. She makes me want to be a better Christ-follower, and she is going to pour her life into raising you.

I'll see you in a few weeks, buddy. Until then, you might want to stay off of mommy's bladder.

PS--If you want to get in good with your momma from the get-go, you better come early. She's tired of carrying you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Relational Pong

When I was in college we engaged in all forms of prank-wars. It was all about fun and one-upmanship. What began as fun became a war of out-doing someone else. The pride inside refused to allow someone else to "out-prank" you.
For example (I'll keep it rated PG):
We had community bathrooms and it wasn't unusual for someone to steal your towel while you were showering.
The next day you would hide a half-full gallon of milk in his dorm room.
When we moved off campus as juniors, one of our buddies stole a trampoline from a girl's house. The next day, her friends stole our dog.
Then, towards the end of that year, things got a little out of hand.
My roommate Jacob was a hunter. After killing a turkey, he cut off the turkey claw, stuck it in an envelope, and mailed it to Hailey.
A few days later, some brownies showed up at our house. It wasn't unusual to have cakes or brownies in our home. Three of us were in serious relationships and we always had people over. My friend Jay and I were cutting into the brownies when we were unable to cut through a piece. After working at it for a few minutes I picked the brownie up, only to discover a cooked turkey claw.
Back and forth...back and forth...

Throughout life we engage in all different forms of relational pong (an image used by Rob Bell). It is called revenge, retaliation, violence, one-upmanship, eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth.
"You put something into my court. I'll put it back in your court."
"You hit me. I will hit you harder."
"You kill one of mine. I'll kill one of yours."
"You bomb me. I'll bomb you back."
"You said what about me? Well, you're a ___!"
"They wrote what about me? I'll write something back."

We engage in relational pong.
Marital pong.
National pong.
Racial pong.
Political pong.
Social pong.
Religious pong.
Theological pong.
Blogging pong.

Where does it stop?

Jesus entered into a world that operated out of an "eye-for-eye...tooth-for-tooth" mindset. In the OT, forgiveness was something that God did. There doesn't seem to be a continual charge or expectation for humans to forgive humans. The result was disastrous. Fathers turned against sons and sons against fathers. Brothers killed brothers. Friends killed friends.

Jesus comes and says, "It stops with me. It stops at the cross. It stops at a cross-shaped life."

If anyone had reasons to strike back, it was Jesus. Yet he came saying things like:
"If someone hits you, turn the other cheek."
"If someone steals your coat. Give them your cloak."
"If you want to become one of my disciples, you must deny yourself, and take up a cross daily, and follow me."

The Christ-paradigm, or the Christ-pattern, is all about death and rebirth. It is about death and resurrection. As we enlist ourselves into this pattern and rhythm of life, we drop our swords, we loosen our tight fists, and we transform hate speech into something more redemptive and liberating.

I'm convinced that the call of Jesus is, "Stop with the relational pong. People in this world will not come to know me by your persuasive arguments and/or dominate force. They will be drawn to me because of the way you love each other."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dear ESPN, we are "favred-out"

Dear ESPN,
I'm writing out of desperation on behalf of all the American people and others around the world. Is there anything you can do to convince Favre that retirement is his friend? We are "favred-out." Coming out of retirement once is forgivable...twice is border-line ridiculous...three times and beyond is a sure sign that someone is unstable and incapable of making rational decisions. We all loved Brett. He was a proven winner. He was honest about his addiction to pain pills which modeled authenticity in a world of cover-up and isolation. He cared for his wife during her fight with cancer. We admired him for his competitiveness and passion for life on and off the field.
But enough is enough.
Please do something. We can't take it anymore.
An ESPN Addict,
Josh Ross

PS--Can you send Justin Timberlake to meet with Favre again? They seemed to have connected as can be seen below.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Forgiveness?

What's the deal with forgiveness?
Center stage in the OT is God's graciousness to forgive.
What we don't see in the OT is the expectation and challenge for humans to forgive each other. Revenge and retaliation dominate stories.

Enter Jesus.

As Scot McKnight points out in his book The Jesus Creed, "Forgiveness gets a new shape with Jesus."
Jesus holds nothing back:
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
"Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."
"So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
"Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

Philip Yancey is right, "We live in a dog-eat-dog not world; not a dog-forgive-dog world."

I'm preaching on forgiveness this week and I'm consumed by questions:
Are we supposed to forgive and forget?
Does God forgive and forget?
Why is forgiveness so hard?
How is forgiveness taught?
How do we prepare our children to be forgivers?
How is forgiveness about letting go of power?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day of Jubilee

I've never witnessed anything like it. It was bizarre and it was risky.
After preaching from "The Lord's Prayer" with a focus on "Give us this day our daily bread," I ended the sermon by pointing people to the communal function of this prayer. We've often interpreted this phrase as a call to personal reflection about our willingness to trust in God to provide. There is a sermon there; it just isn't the way this prayer functions.
Jesus teaches us to pray, "Give us..."
Jesus teaches us to pray with the world.
The church in Acts 2 and Acts 4 seemed to have been formed by these words of Jesus. They met each other's needs by selling land and homes. They grew because they knew how "to do" compassion.
My prayer this week was that Acts 4 would come to life at SVC today.
And...it did.
We had two baskets up front. Mark Taylor (a good friend and a minster at SVC) was holding one and Stoney Ramsey (a dear friend and a man of compassion) was holding the other. God provided me with $3200 in cash, and I had divided it into 4 piles of $800--2 for the 2 baskets in early service and 2 for the 2 baskets in late service. Then, I invited people to give whatever cash or change they wanted to give, because today we were going to take care of one another.
Then, it got bizarre. Very bizarre.
We have members like many of you do who are struggling with needs. Do they pay for healthcare or do they buy food? Do they pay off credit cards or do they pay the utility bill? Do they buy school supplies or new clothes for the kids?
I invited all who were in need to come and to take handfuls of money. (I know...it sounds crazy, right? I know of a couple of churches who have done something similar, and I was inspired.)
I rebuked the spirit of pride, embarrassment, fear, and shame. We have created a culture where we are unable to say, "I am in need." Needy people are often looked down upon as if they don't work hard enough, or they haven't managed money well, or they just haven't been blessed by God.
I begged those in need to not deprive people from the joy of giving. I pleaded with them to not deprive God of providing for their daily necessities.
And, it happened.
Within the first verse of the first song, people were waiting in line to drop money in the baskets. I was shocked to witness how many people were carrying cash. I had people coming up to me afterwards saying things like, "I never carry cash, but for some reason I went to the ATM yesterday."
I will never forget the lady who came forward with a handful of change and said, "This is all I have, but I want to give it." It was the story of the woman who gave her two coins lived out right in front of me.
We had people dropping checks in the baskets with the "Pay to the order of" left blank. These checks were for $50, $500, $1000 and the memo read, "Acts 4".
As people were putting money in the baskets, others were coming to take money out. There were plenty of tears and even more laughter. Widows were provided for. The needy were taken care of. The people who cried on the way to church today because they didn't know how bills were going to be paid went home rejoicing in the providence of God. We witnessed the power and activity of the Holy Spirit.
We gave away every single penny. We refused to count the money, but I'm assuming we gave away close to $10,000 today. I sent the basket of change home with a 20-year-old college student whose grandmother needed the money.
I am so proud of our people at SVC. I get to preach in front of people every Sunday who have surrendered their lives to the Jesus-story. They teach me something new every week.
Today, at SVC, it was a day of Jubilee. We were leaping for joy because the presence of God was alive and active.

Now, I'm drained. I'm going to sleep.

PS--I wish you could have been at the bank with me when I cashed a $3200 check. I handed it to the lady and I said, "Mam, I need a bunch of cash, preferably in all 20's." She laughed. I told her that it was for a day of Jubilee. Before I knew what was going on, I was explaining to the workers at Bank of America what Jubilee meant for God's people. They couldn't believe that there was a church that was going to give money away to people on a Sunday morning. The workers at the bank went home knowing about the power of God in Acts 4.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Give us this day our daily bread"

These words are piercing me this week. When I begin to feel like I have a clear understanding of the meaning, Jesus turns my attention to another component behind these 7 words.
The plan today is to go with a friend to eat lunch at a soup kitchen in downtown Memphis. I'm eager to converse with people about "daily bread" who don't interpret this phrase from a white, middle-class culture.
Here's what I'm convinced of this week:
-This phrase takes place within the larger context of the Lord's Prayer. The danger in preaching the Lord's Prayer over 6 weeks is that it is easy to lift a phrase or verse out of the context. I don't want to do this.
-This verse is more than just simplifying one's personal life. The "us" means that we pray this prayer with other people.
-"Bread" is a theme throughout Scripture.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Kingdom of God

In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray a very earthly and political prayer: "Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven."

Jesus taught his followers to pray this prayer during the reign one of the greatest empires this world has ever known. The Roman Empire would promise you a life of peace and prosperity if you would sign on to this phrase "Caesar is Lord." It was an allegiance with benefits. It could promise you a life of security, your children a good education, and land for you to live on.

It is in this surrounding culture and context that Jesus teaches people to pray, "Your Kingdom come."
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The story of Jesus is loaded with “kingdom” language.
In Matthew it is “the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In Luke it is “The Kingdom of God.”
In Mark it is 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
All four gospels (especially the first 3) join in great interest to present Jesus as the King of an upside-down Kingdom…a Kingdom that would have no need for a president, dictator, or Prime Minister because Jesus alone could hold the title.
There would not be a need for a palace, mansion, or capital, because this Kingdom was going to flourish on street corners, market places, inner cities and suburbs.
There would not be the need for leaders of self-defense because this kingdom would win people over by truth clothed in love and compassion.

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At times the word “kingdom” has been reduced to the church. There are those who have believed that the Kingdom came at Pentecost and that Acts 2 was the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.
For those who hold this interpretation of “Kingdom,” when they say that we are attempting to grow “the kingdom” they are simply referring to “growing the church.”
Kingdom=church
Church=kingdom
This interpretation claims that the Kingdom points to Acts 2 (we’ve often read our Bibles as if Acts 2 is the ultimate climax of the NT)
Actually, the Kingdom points to Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t point to Acts 2, but Acts 2 points to Jesus

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It is interesting that Jesus never defines the kingdom.
We are people who like concepts defined. We want elaboration, certainty and definition. After all, we are recipients of the enlightenment period...an era of reason and learning.
But Jesus never defines the kingdom. He only offers hints, analogies, metaphors and images. In Matthew 13, he tells 7 parables concerning the Kingdom, but not one time does Jesus say, "The Kingdom of God is..." It is always, "The Kingdom of God is like..."
Here's what we know about the Kingdom from Luke 17, "The Kingdom of God is among you...it is within you."
The Kingdom of God is greater than any kingdom we can imagine and we are invited to swear our allegiance to it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Steven Curtis Chapman

Steven Curtis Chapman has blessed people all over the world through his gift of music. He is a man of integrity, compassion, and deep faith.
After losing a daughter to a tragic accident, he and his family continued to embrace Jesus as the giver and sustainer of life.
This award was not about pity. It is about honoring a true artist.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Back in Business

After traveling on and off for 3 weeks, I hope to have a little "normality" this week. We won't be leaving Memphis again for a few months.
We had a blast in Dallas this past week with my family. We get together one week a year...usually in the summer...and this year we just hung out at my parent's place.

On the "to-do-list" this week:
1) Sermon prep
2) Writing a study guide for Josh Graves' book Jesus Feast.
3) At least 8 appointments with certain people or couples.
4) Build a swing set for Truitt.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Jesus' Words on Family

Mark 10:29-31
“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecution—and in the age to come eternal life.”


There are two lists here.
The first list includes what some of the disciples had left behind:
-House
-Brothers
-Sisters
-Mother
-Father
-Children
-Fields

The second list consists of what the disciples will receive "now" in this age as rewards:
-Houses
-Brothers
-Sisters
-Mothers (notice the plural)
-Children
-Fields
-Persecution

The 2nd list one addition and one omission.
The addition is "persecution." Who wants that?
The omission in the 2nd list is "father." Is this an intentional move by Jesus?

Could it be that in an age when fathers were seen as the centerpiece of the family, Jesus suggests that God becomes the Father overall? If so, the role of the dad is to usher their children into God’s family.

Jesus isn't destroying family structures.
He is promoting a larger family of the community of believers.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Learning How to Fight

We have not been taught how to fight well. There IS such thing as healthy conflict.
Too often when we find ourselves in disagreements we immediately enter into defense mode. We don't listen well, because we're too busy formulating our next argument. We enter into fear-mode and our mouths and hearts don't line up.

What are we afraid of? That the other person won't come to see things the way we do? Or that maybe the "thing" we are arguing for with such passion might actually be wrong?

We can be right about a certain subject or belief, but in the moment of conflict we can become wrong because we fail to allow the character of God to manifest itself in us.

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Acts 15 is a pivotal chapter in the NT. The church has come together to discuss the issue of the day--must one be circumcised to be saved.

Some of the Jewish Christians had made this into a heaven/hell issue.

Acts 15 is a chapter that teaches Christ-followers how to enter into healthy disagreement. Persuasive doctrine doesn't drive the chapter. Instead, persuasive testimony drives the chapter. This is a story about the church catching up to the mission of God. God has proven that he is working among the Gentiles (outsiders) and now the church is needing to catch up to God.

The resolution given in the chapter (15:19-21) is all about relationships. Three of the four "rules" that come from the meeting are about table fellowship. The table becomes the place of unity, relationship, and Spirit-filled community.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Lord, Teach Us to Pray"

In Luke 11, the disciples make a request, "Lord, teach us to pray."
Think about this--the disciples have been Jesus for a while now. They have seen him heal, teach, drive out demons, raise the dead, calm storms, and they have witnessed him taking part in night-long prayer vigils. These disciples were Jews, which meant that they had been taught spiritual disciplines since their youth. They knew about prayer. Yet, here they are making a request to learn one of the basic principles of faith.
Jesus uses this as a teachable moment. He gives them a new way to pray.

If we ever cease to make this request, our spirituality will plateau...it will become stagnant. We never graduate to the level of, "Lord, I've learned how to pray."

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Truitt is at a praying stage. We are trying to pray with him throughout the day--not just before meals and bedtime. We don't want him to equate prayer as the warm-up exercise for chicken strips or as the official sign that it is bedtime. The former can easily become a prayer with little meaning and the latter can become a miserable prayer because it means that fun is over. (Don't misunderstand me--prayers before meals and bedtime can be formative).

This morning, Truitt woke up at 8:30 and we brought him into our bed to play for a few minutes. Before we got up to eat breakfast, I said, "Truitt, let's pray over mommy." Together, we placed our left hands on Kayci's belly and our right hands on Kayci's head and together we prayed a prayer for God's blessing and mercy upon our new son and Truitt's new brother. We prayed for God's hand to upon them both. It was a priceless moment!

Friday, June 5, 2009

An Interesting Metaphor for the Church

Evangelist Luis Palau captured the nature of the church in an earthly metaphor. The church, he said, is like manure. Pile it together and it stinks up the neighborhood; spread it out and it enriches the world.