Radical in the Truest Sense

Much has been said of David Platt over the last few years. Pastors have preached his message from Radical, and his follow up book Radical Together has generated a bit of a stir in the professional pastor world. As if that wasn’t enough for a mild-mannered expositor from Alabama, he recently launched the Multiply Movement which combines the efforts of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love with Platt’s message.

Since both Platt and Chan have received quite a bit of attention I don’t care to linger too long on the story of how Platt came to discover the radical idea, and how it has affected his church community (my favorite is when Christian bloggers accuse them of promoting a “works based” faith despite James admonition “Without actions, faith is useless. By itself, it’s as good as dead.”). Instead, I just want to say a few words about Multnomah’s The Radical Question and A Radical Idea.

Not a new book of any sense, this “two-books-in-one” item is roughly 100 pages of simple yet challenging stuff. The main themes of both of Platt’s larger works have been boiled down into a concise message. “Is Jesus worth your radical devotion?” Platt’s question lingers throughout the first 50 pages as he recounts stories that both embarrass and glorify the Christian Church, all the while consulting the Word of God in his analysis of the average American Christian. The second section of the book ponders that mystical concept of “a priesthood of believers.” He stakes his claim that all Christians should make disciples, and challenges the professionals (like pastors and church administrators) to equip the average person sitting in the stadium seating (or the pew, you get the idea) to be a part of God’s purposes in the places where they work and live and play.

Let me tell you a little about the word radical. It comes from the late 14th century and typically meant “of or having roots,” which was derived from the Latin word radix or “root.” By the 1650’s the meaning had shifted to incorporate the idea of “going to the origin, or essentials.” It was not until the 1920s that the meaning of “unconventional” arose, and this eventually transformed into the 1970s surfer slang meaning “at the limits of control,” (you can double check me here). In particular, I like how Noah Webster defined the word: “Pertaining to the root or origin; original; fundamental; as a radical truth or error; a radical evil; a radical difference of opinions or systems.”

I think it is in this Websterian sense (and that of the oldest uses of the word) that Platt is using the word. If his ideas are “unconventional” to Christians, it is only because they have bought into the wrong conventions (which is of course the occasion of the work).

Platt’s works are a necessary thing right now for American Christianity. While I would typically advocate for reading his longer, more comprehensive works, this little gem is a wonderful introduction. Maybe you’re not sure you buy into all this “leaving everything for Jesus” thing? This is a good place to start. Perhaps you think Christianity is archaic and too stuck in the culture? Platt has an answer for that in his tiny tome. In truth, this is an ideal primer for anyone who thinks their faith is lacking, or knows someone who may need that extra push to get off the bench of God’s purposes and into the game.

Give it a look, or give it to a friend. It will be money well spent.

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Making the most of it

Typically, when I blog, I’m writing about some concept I’m wrestling with, or some argument I lost or posting an occasional book review. Today, I’d like to do something a bit different. I want to tell you about a man I know.

Brian is my brother-in-law. He married my wife’s sister, Rachel, who has been one of my dearest friends for the last ten years of my life. When they got married, I felt blessed because I genuinely thought he’d push my friend (by that point my sister-in-law) to draw closer to Christ. Since that’s what I think a spouse’s primary purpose is, it was a good feeling.

Brian works at a bank. I don’t think it’s where he thought he’d be long term, but he’s happy there. He understands finances and federal statutes far better than I ever could. If anyone from my home town ever asks where they should bank, I send them to Brian. He is gentle, yet able to be firm (as I’ve personally witnessed as his two year old daughter and my two year old son duked it out over toys this Christmas). While I don’t live close to him any longer, I still get a strong sense that he is a good husband, father and employee living out Biblical principles in every aspect of his life.

On my most recent journey to Crestview, he shared a story of how a local woman needed help and he did what he could. He’d never met her. She was simply a customer at his bank who he had spoken to a few times over the phone. We also talked about how his bank will frequently process bills even if the client overdrafts. They don’t want people’s power to go out, so they process the electric bill as an act of good faith. He said something that struck me, “We probably shouldn’t, but we do.” And that is thing: there is much that Brian does that might seem foolish to the world, but he does it.

Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit,” (Matthew 7:16-17). And Brian is the kind of guy I frequently see bearing good fruit. He’s not perfect, but that’s not really the point. He has good roots, strongly planted in the foundation of Christ, and I think that’s something worth sharing.

I hope everyone knows a Brian. Someone who takes the phrase, “making the most of it,” and changes it from something negative to something that honors God. To Him be the glory.

A Little Bit of Hospitality

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The Paraclete Book of Hospitality is a wonderful, little gem of a book. It’s short 117-page exposition regarding the Christian virtue of hospitality is littered with insights from Scripture, saints, and a host of experiences. While not a theological diatribe about the doctrinal status of being a hospitable person, the editors over at Paraclete Press have none the less put together a brilliant introduction to what it means to exhibit this oft overlooked spiritual discipline.

Perhaps my favorite element of this book was the frequent connections made between Christians of the past, and those living in the world today. The theme of being welcoming is clearly woven throughout Church history, and this little tome does a marvelous job of highlighting that without inundating you with dates and places and hard to pronounce names. If you’ve ever wondered it means to have an open home, or if your curious as to how monastic practices can still serve as relevant tools in this technologically addicted society we call home, this is undoubtedly the book for you!

Of all the portions in the book, there was one chapter which stood out to me.

“Everyday there are occasions, simple moments when we can show hospitality to another person by giving ourselves away. But like every valuable spiritual lesson, this one takes practice and focused attention on our part,” (p. 38).

I had always thought of hospitality as “one of those things,” which if you had a natural inclination towards, could serve God’s purposes. I did not see it something to cultivate, a habit that needed to be formed. However, after reading this book, I am convinced that this practice is essential to living the Christian faith. One does not have to join a monastery to carry about the kind of things mentioned in this book, and I think that is exactly why Jesus talked about it as often as He did. There are no geographical limits on being hospitable.

What you believe

What you believe matters.

That is, if it causes you to do something about it.1

My old pastor used to say, “it’s easy to say I believe in the resurrection, because I’m not tested on it today.” This is a lesson I’ve taken to heart over the last few years, and I’m always glad for the opportunity to revisit it.

This past Wednesday, our college group was talking about why Christians should care about the environment (we used global warming as our starting point) and it brought about some good discussion. And I think the best thought that came out of the night was this: it doesn’t matter what you believe about climate change, do you believe your actions affect other people? Even in third world countries?

A friend came up to me afterwards and told me he had spent most of the talk trying to poke holes in my argument, and in my opinion, he found a couple of good ones that he should have brought up in the general discussion. It was a good moment because it reminded me that sometimes what I say is not necessarily how to live (or appear to be living). In fact, sometimes I say “we should be like this because Jesus said this,” and then I turn around and don’t do it. Paul deals with this very thing in his letter to the Roman Church, which means I’m in good company.

And this is one of the many reasons why we need good company and solid relationships in our lives. We all have blind spots. Acting like we don’t won’t change the fact. No matter how self-reflecting you may be, you still don’t see everything. That’s not something to be ashamed of. But it is something we must admit. After all, we’re designed to be relational.

I need someone to tell me where my blind spots are. We all do. Which is why I’m part of a community. One might say, I believe it will make a difference.

What community are you a part of?


1I am aware that there is often an argument about knowing versus believing (and many variations of the like). This post is less worried about being semantic, and more concerned about day-to-day living. Frame the discussion however you like from there.

A Year With Jesus by R.P. Nettlehorst

_240_360_Book_478_coverR.P. Nettlehorst’s A Year With Jesus is an interesting take on the daily devotional genre. Choosing topics that are easily universal to any brand of Christian, Nettlehorst examines what Jesus has to say on these issues, doing an excellent job of holding to the Gospels for his material. As his introduction makes it clear, this devotional’s main purpose is to serve as a relationship builder between the reader and their Savior.

Nettlehorst’s observations are precise and fluid. His use of Scripture is commendable, and I found very little which might cause me to raise an eyebrow in skepticism. One of the most wonderful aspects, in my opinion, is the author’s use of translations. Often, when any Christian book is being penned, one translation is chosen in an effort to streamline quotes and references. As a student of theology, this often frustrates me as it can feel as though an interpretation hinges upon an English word rather than a Hebrew or Greek word. Nettlehorst dodges this altogether by showing no partiality to any one translation.

This book serves as an excellent starting point for anyone who is interested in getting to know Jesus. A new Christian, or a mature Christian who hasn’t studied the Gospels much, can greatly benefit from the words of Christ which serve as the basis for Nettlehorst’s book.

With those things in mind, I would strongly recommend this book on the mere basis of the Biblical Truths that it conveys. Regardless of my own preferences, Nettlehorst endeavors to remind Christians from whence they draw their name. And his book, A Year With Jesus, is an great resource for just such a journey.

The Farnsworth Problem

There’s no scientific consensus that life is important. – Professor Farnsworth

In last week’s Science & Faith lesson, I showed a clip from Futurama. The video is succinctly summarized in the statement above, and it is this idea that brings me to one of the greatest issues we face when we engage in the whole “science vs. faith” discussion.

Science does not, and cannot, determine the meaning of our life.

Now, there are good scientists out there who understand this, and routinely engage with various worldviews to figure out what life is really “all about.” And there are scientists out there who are very good at what they do, but lose sight of purpose when they try to draw meaning from their research. There is a third category I want to discuss, and I think it is far more detrimental. You see, there are Christians out there who demand that science determine meaning, and therefore refute science when it can’t. In essence, this last group requires science to tell us how things work, and at the same time why that gives meaning to the working. But science isn’t a worldview, it’s a discipline of study and research. Once a scientist explains the how, their job is essentially done. The why? That falls to the realm of faith.

The danger we often find ourselves in is this: we hold science to a standard that only belongs to the realm of faith. This is one reason why so many young people leave the church (and you can read more about this here). We have to learn how to interact with science, without holding it to the same standard as revelation.

I think this is such a critical component of studying anything that falls outside the realm of “the Bible.” If we believe that the Bible is a special insight into who God is, then can we really expect anything else to come close to that? I don’t think we should, even if we could.

I welcome thoughts.

What’s in a name?

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” – Matthew 1:20-23

Wk1.LongingNames matter to God. As a Church History teacher, its often difficult for me to deal with the “Saul converts to Paul” type of theology. It’s hard for me to look past the simple facts: Saul and Paul are the same name in different languages. Same with Peter and Simon.

But the overwhelming testimony of the Bible is that God is quite interested in giving each of His children a new name. Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, John the Baptist… each of them were given a name specially chosen for them by God.

See, He knew them better than they knew themselves. Gideon was a wheat farmer, but God knew he could be a brave warrior. Jacob was a liar, but God knew Jacob would never quit striving with Him. It’s a powerful thing to see ourselves through the eyes of our Lord. It’s transforming. It’s liberating.

And its amazing to see how this plays out in the birth of His Son. God tells Joseph (you know, the guy having second thoughts about Mary because she’s pregnant and it ain’t his kid)… God tells this guy that Mary’s child is important. More than that: He’s a savior. And then God gives Joseph a special task: name Him. Why? Because our names matter to God. And He knows what our true names are.

Worthless? No, God calls you a Treasure (Deuteronomy 26:18). Broken? God calls you Healed (James 5:16). I could go on, but I won’t clutter this thought with more words.

Tonight, tomorrow, this week, dwell on this question: what does God call you? What is your true name, that only He knows?

25 Days of Advent

Last year was the first year I fully immersed myself in the Advent season. If you’re not sure what that is all about, I would suggest starting here, or here, or here.

This year, continuing on the path that God has invited me to be a traveler upon, I will be reflecting on various things concerning Advent and Christmas. As I grow in my own understanding, I hope that any who read this will mature alongside me.

With that being said, tonight’s post is about fellowship. This is a word easily tossed around amongst evangelical Christians these days, with some churches even adopting it as part of their name. But, much like the word compassion, it’s a word we seem to be out of touch with sometimes.

Dinner. Movies. Laughter. These things are very much a part of fellowship, but they are not the sum total. Depression. Fear, Doubt. Grief. Frustration. These things are also a part of having true fellowship. Not sure that’s right? Think about Jesus’ disciples: they’re followers, He calls them his friends, they abandon Him when he’s most in need, and then He cooks them breakfast. That’s fellowship.

There’s another element of fellowship amongst God’s people that I think if often missed: theological reassurance. I’m sure some will say, “huh?” But it’s really simple. The Bible tells us that certain things are true, and we’re to encourage people by reminding them of those truths. Take Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, for instance:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

It’s supposed to be uplifting to us that Jesus has come, and will come again! We’re supposed to think about it, soak it in, and let it find expression through our lives!

Advent invites us to that.

So as Advent is fully underway, and Western culture pauses briefly to acknowledge a King (even if most of them don’t know who He is), we rejoice that Christ will return. And we get to be a part of that.

Living Isaiah 58

I don’t want to clutter something beautiful up with a bunch of clanging cymbals and words.

You should watch this video:

Then you should read this:

Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention & strife & to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out
sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the LORD,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Whom will you serve this day? Just because the poor will always be with us, does that mean we should turn a blind eye to them?

May it never be!

When? Tonight!

I heard TobyMac’sCity On Our Knees” for the first time tonight. I’ve listened to it several times now, trying to let the words soak into my mind and my heart.

If you gotta start somewhere why not here, If you gotta start sometime why not now, If we gotta start somewhere I say here, If we gotta start sometime I say now…

It’s a pop song. It’s sugar coated, and simplistic. It’s not the kind of thing I would normally listen to. Still…something about this song calls out to me.

Through the fog there is hope in the distance, From cathedrals to third world missions, Love will fall to the earth like a crashing wave…

A pastor said recently, there is often great truth in even the simplest of songs (my paraphrase). He’s right. In fact, I’d say he’s directly on target.

Tonight’s the night, For the sinners and the saints, Two worlds collide in a beautiful display

This song is not just a call for action. It’s not only a plea to God to work in His people. It is definitely those things, but it is so much more as well. It is a standard. It is a conviction. In this song, we are reminded of the hope of Christianity.

It’s all love tonight, When we step across the line, We can sail across the sea, To a city with one king, A city on our knees

Forget for a second, if you can, all the silly rhetoric you hear in church about love. Ignore the impulse to lump this song into the category of “isn’t that ideal” like so many other Christian songs. Try, concentrate on the words, and absorb what is really behind this song.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:12-14)

It’s there. Imbedded in this sugary tune, Jesus’ heart can be seen. Not only is this song calling Christians to prove the apostle right when he wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” This song is a call for Christians to love God, to love the broken in this world, and to definitely love one another.

It’s probably that last one that trips us up the most. I think that’s why Jesus didn’t talk about it amongst His more casual disciples. He saved it for Gethsemane. He saved it for His friends. Jesus understood (among everything else in the universe) that it is sometimes hardest to love those who see us the clearest. I can give $20 to the homeless man downtown, and he will never know the depths of my selfishness and sin. God knows, but He forgives and sanctifies.

My brother in Christ? That’s a different story. We tell ourselves all kinds of little consolations to avoid really loving our brothers and sisters. “They should know better by now than to act like that.” Or maybe, “they’ll just judge me if they know what’s really going on.” There’s a million more excuses out there. We get frustrated with each other. We make each other crazy, but still, Jesus doesn’t leave us any outs: “This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:17).

No matter the issue, great or small, we have been given a spirit of unity. When are we supposed to live this calling out? Well, if we gotta start sometime I say now.