Monthly Archives: September 2007

Rethinking Church?

The Wittenburg Door, a Christian parody magazine, recently carried a fictional interview with Rob Bell. The Q&A piece made some great points even if Rob Bell didn’t say them. Actually, some of my favorite comments sound like Rob Bell.

Just in case, you have never seen a Nooma video or heard about Bell, he is a preacher from Michigan. He founded Mars Hill Bible Church, which has become one of the fastest growing churches in the country.

Bell has used some very orthodox practices to grow Mars Hill as a fellowship. He is more widely known as the voice in the Nooma DVD shorts. These are high quality messages that present Biblical teaching in a very relevant, thoughtful narrative.

I have pulled a few of my favorite questions and comments to highlight some of the great themes in this parody. Maybe comics and filmmakers are the prophets of our generation?

Wittenburg Door: You talk a lot about storytelling – reclaiming the art of preaching.

Bell: Preaching is one of the original art forms, kind of the original guerrilla theater.  A sermon was an electric event; Martin Luther King Jr. changed the whole shape of American culture with a sermon. John Wesley out in a field in England, the Hebrew prophets…Originally, the word ‘sermon’ meant you’d have no idea what was coming next. 

{Chaille: The best sermons are those that challenge you to look at the diamond of truth in a new way. Those are the words that I remember. That is why so much of modern preaching is easy to forget.}

Door: The Church hasn’t always been kind to artists. Especially one bringing electricity.

Bell: Our assumption is that Church is where you say the things that have to be said. So people will speak but say, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that in church.” Well then, where would you say it? To me, it’s the place where you would push the furthest. A faith community should be the place with the most honesty and vulnerability and prophetic culture.

{Chaille: Words after my own heart. Bravo!!!}

Door: Asked about Christian art.

Bell: I don’t believe in Christian art or music. The word “Christian” was originally a noun. A person, not an adjective.

Door: Sometimes the issue of the poor gets lost in all the left vs. the right crap in this country. How do you cut through that?

Bell: The issue is not saving the poor – it’s saving us.

{Chaille: The “fake” Bell makes a point that the moment we start to see ourselves as above others, it becomes hard to love and truly serve them.}

Door: Actually, your church is one of the hottest churches in America.

Bell: I don’t even know what that means. I know there’s a woman in the second row in the second service that has cancer for the third time. I know there’s a single mom named Erin who needs a place to live. I know this guy who just got custody of his kids and he’s trying to figure out how to be a single dad. So to me a Church is real people trying to figure it out. The word hottest isn’t really a word I associate with a community of Christians. For my wife and me, it’s very important that we live as close as possible to a normal life in our city. So words like hottest and up and coming are not reality and not a place to live. It’s a dead end road.

{Chaille: The above point hits on one of the problems with many “Christian” things in America. We want to be where the action is. We want to be known for being alive when really many of the things we prop up as having arrived are actually quite dead. If we value something for being popular or attend a Church just for what we get out of it, are we really living like Jesus?}

First Day of School

Very interesting…. that’s how I would describe my first day of seminary education. I learned a lot and came away with even more questions than answers.

Here are some quick reflections from Day 1.

  • There were as many women in my classes as men. No commentary… just an interesting factoid.
  • The William Morton Smith library ( is beautiful. It has quickly become my new favorite place to be. It also makes me think that heaven will boast a library that makes this one look like a dilapidated, rural shack.  
  • I talked today with Herbert who is studying to be an Episcopal priest. As we discussed our backgrounds, I developed an appreciation for his love of liturgy and tradition. I think one of the best things about Episcopal services is that they actively kneel at times throughout the service. We all need to kneel a little more because sometimes we can forget that the Church is primarily about God not us.
  • Seminaries are full of fancy words that seem to separate people and build up a wall between clergy and the congregation. I wonder if this is really necessary. What is the real motivation? It is about respecting tradition and scholarship? Or do professionals tend to favor big words, such as “exegesis,” just because we like to feel important or smarter than most? WWJD?
  • Exegesis looks like a good thing. But I can see that it easily could be abused. As a Christian, a scholar has to first come under the authority of Scripture before criticizing it. Proper examination of the text is critical to correct application and transformation. Anyone could easily be tempted to come over instead of under the text. Thorough study should guide us to deeper revelation of God. It allows us to enter the text. As the handout I received today stated, “Exegesis functions most appropriately when it allows the text to master us.”
  • The “Q” question and the Synoptic problem. I liked the joke that Dr. Frances Taylor Gench told today in class. She recounted a classmate who responded during her ordination examine that she had “No problem with the Synoptics.” I feel the same way. While textual criticism is interesting to discuss, much of it is just hypothesis. We could spend forever on the outside of the cup and miss the whole point of cleaning the inside.
  • I read the latest copy of Sojourners ( while at the library today. The cover story described the emerging sanctuary movement where churches are stepping in to aid and defend illegal aliens. The government has failed to address this problem. It is great to see Christians doing something about the issue. But I do wonder how we balance God’s call to honor the laws of the land with His heart to help the poor and disadvantaged. This is a tough issue. And I am just not sure where I stand on it.
  • The greening of the Church – Sojourners also ran an article on how environmentalism is creeping into churches across the country. I have a lot to say on this topic since I write about environmental issues. More will come later.
  • In one of my classes, a professor made the case that it is “a little scary” that some Christians today claim to receive new revelation, visions and dreams from God. Obviously, she believes that all of that stopped when the canon of Scripture was closed. I tried not to smile to give away the fact that I disagree with her opinion. I may have been the only person in the room “crazy” enough to believe that God still speaks individually through prophecy, divine dreams and private revelation. I would never put any of those things today on the same level as Scripture. But that doesn’t mean God can’t use them to commune with His people. It takes great hubris to tell God what He can and cannot do.

Let the games begin :)…

So the party began

While at a worship service tonight, the crowd was challenged to write a thank you note to Jesus. I have so much to be thankful for that I was not sure where to begin. I stopped and listened to see what came to mind. I felt urged to read Luke 15:22-24.

 Here’s that passage from the New Living Translation of the Bible.

Luke 15:22-24 – “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

The above pasage is from a well known story about the prodigal son who returned home to find love and acceptance from his father. The son returned after squandering his family fortune by living a wicked life. This wicked son returned home in full repentance. He did not even wanted to be called the man’s son. Instead, he asked to be treated like a hired servant.

But the father would have none of that. He completely restored the wayward son. It didn’t take him long to do it either. The father is the hero of the story as he quickly restores his son.

The Holy Spirit reminded me tonight that God has treated me just like the father did his two sons in this story. I believe the robe represents the righteousness of God that covers our sin so that we are recognized not for our shabby clothes (sinful past) but as royalty, part of God’s family. The ring is a symbol of authority. As Christians, we have spiritual authority on this earth against evil powers and lying spirits. The sandals prepare us for whatever lies ahead in our journey. Sandals protect our feet. If you have ever done much hiking, you know that protecting the feet is key to climbing a big mountain. I believe the sandals represent God’s Word (the Bible) and his personal revelation to us.

The father throws a party and prepares a feast to celebrate this great homecoming. God does the same thing when one sinner repents. I love the last line of the passage, which reads, “So the party began.”

God invites us to a big party. People who think that being a Christian is boring or void of life miss the reality of freedom from sin and the peace of knowing God. Coming to Jesus, that’s when the real party begins.

Freedom of Irrelevance

Are you free when nobody knows your name? How do our reputations impact and limit what we will do in public? When do expectations become prisons or never ending invitations to perform up to a high standard that we can’t maintain? Do we have to become of no reputation so that we can be identified with Christ?

I have been thinking about this as I mull over teachings by Jason Upton on Jesus and leadership. Jason made the point that there can be freedom in irrelevance when we get beyond our own reputation, skills and dreams. When it comes down to just Christ in us the hope of glory, that is when we become free to be all that God has designed us to be.

It’s not that the Christian should be irrelevant. No, it’s coming to the understanding that Jesus is the only one who makes us relevant. He is our source, not anything in us. We embrace God’s design for our lives at the same moment we give Him glory for all our talents and abilities. We let go of any soulish desires to control things or feed our own ego. Life transcends us so that we can be free to really live.

The moment we begin to think we have a reputation to protect tends to be when we become useless to God. Fear creeps in and holds us prisoner. But God desires that we would be free by finding our relevance in Him.

Jesus and Leadership

Jason Upton ( has put out a series of teaching CDs. One that I recently picked up covers Jesus and leadership. Jason questions the wisdom of viewing Jesus as our CEO. He makes some great points about why this analogy just doesn’t work.

For starters, Jesus is not replaceable. There is never anyone any better, smarter or more loving. He will not down size you just to make a buck. He is not scared about what others say about Him. He is not a people pleaser.  Unlike corporate CEOs that have to worry about public perception and a company’s stock price, Jesus is only concerned with pleasing His Father. Jesus modeled for us freedom in leadership. He understood that you can never really please the people for long. Eventually, they will turn on you. The crowds turned on Jesus and He is and was perfect.

Jason said, “Jesus never created a mission statement, but He knew who He was.”

Jesus’ mission was wrapped up in His character and communion with God.  And while there may be nothing wrong with having a clear mission, sometimes we lose sight of who we are even if we think that we have a concrete mission statement. You can read all the self-help books in the world and know every leadership principle taught by John Maxwell or other mgt. gurus, but if you don’t know Jesus, everything else is meaningless…a chasing after the wind. Without Jesus, you can’t truly know yourself or God’s design for your life.

Beyond cleansing us from our past, Jesus sets us free to live outside the slavery of sin. Too often even great leaders today get shipwrecked by their soulish desires and fears. Jesus brings peace and a sound mind to know how to fight even the unseen enemies. He never got worried or anxious in dealing with demons. Neither should Christians.

Getting to the core of the issue, Jason asked, “How can you live for Jesus if you don’t really know Him?”

At the end of the day, I guess that is the real question. It is not what we do or who we are. The real secret to our success lies in who we know.  

Do you know my King?