Monthly Archives: August 2008

Reflections on Saddleback Forum

Kudos to Pastor Rick Warren for providing a civil exchange. I think he did a good job not to be a political expert. His questions seemed fair even though they did hit on a few hot button issues of importance to the evangelical community. Generally, I thought Pastor Rick avoided the media circus approach that other debates or forums have encouraged. This format allowed the audience to contrast both candidates as they addressed virtually identical questions.

I actually believe both candidates did a good job of appearing personable and at-ease on issues of faith, leadership and wordview. The big difference is how the two men answered the questions.

Obama took a thoughtful approach trying to keep from alienating various people in the audience. He never really tried to self himself to the crowd like McCain did on many occasions. Obama seemed more postmodern in that he avoided specifics in many instances. Some critics believe this was his way of ducking the questions. I disagree. I think it reflects his worldview, which is one of collaboration and avoiding the appearance of extremes that cause polarization. He was clearly trying to portray himself as a moderate – the kind of leader who considers all sides and stays cool and calm during any situation. And Obama seemed to succeed on this point. The only major exception is the Supreme Court justice question where he showed a very liberal attitude toward court appointments.

McCain by contrast was very direct in his answers.  He was much more personable than I remember him in the past. McCain used a number of stories to give his arguments a human face. He didn’t come across as a maverick who shot first and ask questions later. He talked liked an informed leader who spoke from a lot of personal experience. 

Some Obama supporters have suggested that McCain secretly heard all the questions, which gave him an advantage. I don’t believe he lied about it or heard the questions. If that could ever be proven, it would seriously harm his credibility. Both of the candidates were provided some of the questions ahead of time to prepare. Another point to consider is that Obama went first, which means that more people probably heard him than McCain. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t have the patience to last through two hours of political discussion. Let’s be real honest most Americans were doing something “better” on a Saturday night than watch two politicians talk to a pastor. Thus, I don’t believe it will have much affect on the election.

The good news is that I believe the process clearly contrasts the leadership styles of the two candidates. It helped further develop my opinion of the two men. One is a very direct, strong leader who generally knows what he thinks about things. The other guy is more of a community organizer who leads by building consensus and alliances. It seems to me that Rick Warren did what he set out to do which was to give the country a chance to understand the two leadership styles of the candidates. Both leadership styles have their strengths and weaknesses.

Given all the chaos and problems in the world right now, I would rather have a guy who has the experience and already knows mostly what the right call is in most situations. I personally believe McCain is more that guy than Obama.

I think Obama failed to understand that his subtle arguments would seem like political dodge ball to the average American. We don’t like anything that smells of political spin or bull. McCain just came out as the straight shooter. And that is why his answers seemed more genuine to many viewers.

I believe that both men are Christians who do care about the issues and want to see things improve. They simply have very different leadership styles and attitudes about what needs to be done to turn this country around. 

One question that I would have liked to see both men answer was, “Describe a time when U.S. military action or foreign policies has backfired and caused more problems despite our good intentions. Why do you feel our actions were a mistake and what do we learn from this episode?”

Here are some news sites that had various takes on the Saddleback forum.

08 Campaign Goes to Church

Pastor Rick Warren wil moderate a civil forum tomorrow featuring both major party candidates for the U.S. Presidency. It is a historic event that will focus on social issues, the worldview and leadership style of the two candidates. In some ways I am looking forward to hear what both men have to say. I am worried it will be nothing but a big photo op where each candidate will strive for “unity” instead of truth. As a journalist, I am frankly not sure that Rick Warren will ask tough questions. But I hope that I will be proven wrong.

Check out the discussion at

“Church Is Dead”

Emergent thinker Tony Jones wrote in The New Christians, “In the 20th century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church.”

Jones’ new book is one of the resources that I have to read for an upcoming class this fall on missional evangelism. I don’t know where I stand on the whole Emergent movement. I am not ready to castigate postmodernism like many fundamentalists. But at the same time I do believe that some things are too sacred to toy with just so that we can be relevant. I don’t always trust new things. And I find something comforting about ancient traditions, practices and theology.

What I do know is that Jones hit on an important point. I agree that conventional forms of doing church are suffering a disconnect with both God and people. I don’t know if denominations and institutional Christianity is dead. But it certainly is in flux.

Let’s be clear here. Jones is not saying that The Church is dead. No that would be brash even for him. The Church belongs to Jesus. And He is eternal life. It will never die. The Church extends beyond the building and even the people. It is the body of Christ throughout the world. It is the most powerful force on the planet because its life comes from Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that our ways of doing church and being the church reflect God’s intent. Sometimes we got it right for a while but stray from God’s best. There are times and seasons in history. Things change, and our methods and practices may need to change with it.

Here are some questions that I will seek to answer over the next semester as I wrestle with how best to do church and be The Church.

1.) Is institutional Christianity dead? What can churches do to respond to the current angst and disconnect that has taken place for many Christians?

2.) How does the church process through the tug-of-war between liberal and conservatives interests?

3.) Is it the methods or the theology that need to be rescued?

4.) Why are so many people leaving institutional churches for home churches or small groups? Will this trend change as some people become disillusioned by these new expressions of faith?

5.) Is the real problem church or something deep within us? Maybe our expectations are off? Maybe our abandonment to God needs work.

Awestruck by God

Have you ever looked at the sky or a mountain scene and been blown away by the grandeur of what you saw? I know that I sure have. I will never forget standing at artist point between Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. The view is incredible. Here is a sample of what I mean…

Mount Baker Artist Point

Mount Baker Artist Point

Mountains are gigantic. They seem to transcend time and remind us of the power pent up under the surface. We feel so small compared to these behemoths.

But that is nothing compared to the majesty and might of God. Scripture tells us that God measures the universe within the span of His hand. That’s one big hand.

Pastor Tim from the Hanger spoke at The Mix last night. He delivered the essence of the Gospel in a very raw and in-your-face fashion. It was awesome. He said one of the big problems is that we don’t understand how incredible the cross really is. We think that a mountain scene shows us the power of God when the most incredible thing that God has ever done is send Jesus to die on the cross. While God speaking all things into existence is amazing, it is far less stunning than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

It is the cross that has restored a broken relationship and redeemed creation. It is the cross that reveals the depth of God’s love. When people asked for a sign, Jesus said that no sign will be given them except his death and resurrection. The cross is the pinnacle of human history. It is mas grande!

No mountain. No ocean. No prehistoric dinosaur bone should seem more significant. It is the empty tomb where we find everlasting life.

Are you awestruck by Jesus? I know that I sometimes let the Gospel lose its impact. I become deceived by material things and fail to keep the cross in its proper perspective. There is nothing bigger than a God who gave it all to save me and you.

Jesus' death on the cross is mas grande!

 This is love…

Does God Ever Trick Us?

I recently asked the above question at the youth group where I am a volunteer leader. The students and leaders brought up some interesting points. First of all, it all depends on what you mean by trick.

Here are some interesting definitions

Scripture certainly shows us times where God tests people or allows them to think one thing when the opposite may be true. We struggle with the concept of God as a trickster because such an act implies deception. Numbers 23:19 tells us that God is not a liar. Then how could God be both holy and a trickster at the same time?

The Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah, accused God of deceiving him as he lamented his beating and public humiliation for preaching God’s call to repentance. In Jeremiah 20:7, the prophet said, “You pushed me, deceived me, induced me or tricked me (depending on your translation).” The Hebrew word here means to “delude, entice, persuade.” It seems to me that Jeremiah’s expectations were wrong not God’s promises or actions. Jeremiah thought one thing, but God meant something entirely different. Jeremiah thought that God’s promises meant that no harm would come to him. But God simply meant that he would deliver Jeremiah and would never leave him alone. 

Sometimes we hear what we want to hear not what God really said or meant. This tends to be the biggest problem when it comes to being disappointed with God. It is not that God lies to us, but our expectations sabotage our joy. I was recently talking with a friend named Jake Mason about this story. Jake said, “There is a big difference between expectations and expectancy.”

His comments really made me stop and think. Expectations are dangerous because they tend to set us up for disappointment and disillusionment. Expectations focus on our wants and desires with a specific timeline and details that need to take place. Expectancy is a general hope and belief in the promises of God without the specifics that usually accompany expectations. Expectancy causes us to look to God and believe for a godly end.

Most people I know tend to suffer from either one extreme or the other. Either they expect too much or don’t have any sense of expectancy at all. Both are ditches on God’s road to life. Expectations are basically premeditated resentments. A lack of expectancy means that we go through life without ever hoping or striving for something better – we accept what comes along without ever actualizing our faith to produce change. Both are dead ends. Which one tends to characterize your life?