Thinking Out Loud

October 30, 2012

Andy Stanley Reveals What’s In The Secret Sauce

As someone who has been around The Church for a long time, I’m really not in North Point Community Church’s target demographic. But at 2:00 PM on a Sunday, you’ll find me watching a streaming broadcast of their morning service. Two reasons. First, I think there’s something exciting going on in that Atlanta suburb and because the technology allows it, I want to be watching to cheer them on. Second, there’s stuff about what it means to trust God that I still don’t think I’ve got right and I need to be told again and in new ways.

Andy significant landed on my radar eight years ago. I was doing a church plant and wanted to access video teaching content from another church that the other church wasn’t ready to give out. “Have you heard of North Point?” I was asked. “North who?”

Just about any survey of megachurches in the past decade places North Point in the top five. In addition to their own satellites in the greater Atlanta area, North Point Ministries has strategic partner churches across the U.S., in Canada, and beyond.

Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love To Attend (Zondervan) is Andy’s message to pastors who want a behind-the-scenes look at the church and know how (and why) they do what they do.

The book comes at a time that many are concerned that the megachurches are setting the agenda for the church as a whole in the Western world. But the North Point staff have spent enough time doing seminars to know that their methodology is of interest to medium-sized and even small-sized church leadership.

The church is mission driven. The book explains how that mission drives their vision; how it drives everything that they do. The vision, in turn, drives their model. Their model drives their programming. And their programming is radically different from other churches you have been part of.

There’s no men’s or women’s ministry. Most of their giving to local needs goes to secular agencies. Events or services are termed “environments.”Their children’s curriculum targets key narratives and doesn’t try to cover the whole compendium of scripture. Women help take up the offering (and do lots of other things, too.) Non-Christians serve in various limited capacities. You have to — without exceptions — record a 3-4 minute testimony video to be baptized. They avoid the phrase, “The Bible says…” Officially, the music selections on Sunday are termed “singing,” not “worship.”

Some of you are feeling your blood pressure rise.

Andy admits there are no chapters and verses for these policies. But before you get up in arms, or say, “See, I told you so…” you should know that much careful thought and prayer have gone into creating the North Point distinctives.

This is a seeker-targeted church. In its present form, North Point is more ‘Willow Creek’ than Willow Creek. Too many people think that means ‘dumbed down.’ Not at all. What Andy calls “putting the cookies on the lower shelf” does not preclude solid, often exegetical Bible teaching. I would contend that in status quo churches across the western world, most people would find the level of personal challenge at North Point to be much greater than they are presently accustomed to. Jesus didn’t ‘dumb down’ anything. He challenged people in terms of spiritual disciplines and in their understanding how the Old Testament puzzle pieces fit together to reveal Him. Trust me, some of you — some of us — wouldn’t be able to keep up to the pace at North Point.

This is a hardcover book for pastors, church leadership, and church planters that is going to resonate with anyone drive by The Great Commission. It’s not for everyone. But it’s a book that every pastor, church leader and church planter needs to read. There’s also much in personal stories including a section at the beginning that defines the relationship between Andy and his father, Charles Stanley.

Highly recommended.


Here’s a quotation from the book published today at C201

September 20, 2012

Eddie Kirkland CD — Kings and Queens

Filed under: music, Uncategorized, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:04 am

I  don’t know why bloggers are given so many books to review, but rarely given compact discs. Music is a powerful force and Christian albums can make a significant contribution in the life of a believer.  Today, we look at one that I hope more people will discover.

Eddie Kirkland is a key part of the worship leadership at North Point Community Church.  We’ve already looked at Here and Now, a song from the new album, Kings and Queens, which I think should be the anthem of every church.  And a few of the songs which follow it have an athemic quality to them, worthy of a big sound, perhaps even fuller than what’s here.  Or maybe it’s just that as a weekly viewer of the North Point podcast, I am hearing the congregation joining in even as I listen.

Some of the songs themselves are hybrids mixing ‘horizontal’ thoughts with ‘vertical’ prayers and praise.  Looking at ‘side one’ so to speak we have “Part of the Solution” which speaks to our need to put ourselves into vulnerable situations in order to bless others –

I’ll be a light for the eyes that cannot see
I’ll be a voice for the lips that cannot speak
To the broken I will carry your love, whoa
I will be part of the solution

A similar anthemic quality is found in “Brighter Days.” The title song, cowritten with Steve Fee, really struck me once again the degree to which we have kingdom priorities upsidedown, and how it’s the last and the least in the kingdom that are deserving of the biggest crowns.

The riches found in heaven
Are crowned upon the meek
All the children, thieves and beggars
Stand above the kings and queens
The mystery of the kingdom
Is everything reversed
The hands that hold the treasure
Are the ones who live to serve
Heaven’s heroes are the last and least on earth.

There are eleven songs altogether with a very made-for-radio sound and thoughtful lyrics. Kings and Queens is available wherever you buy music.

June 20, 2012

Wednesday Link List

The fine print: By reading this link list I agree to actually click a few links and check out the stories, and not just scan the summaries and leave.

May 4, 2012

Why Albert Mohler Should Retire

…It’s a much more polite post title than the one I originally considered…

Another Evangelical leader has proven this week that when Evangelical leaders reach a certain age they seem to go a little bit off, not unlike bakery products that have a best before date, or as they say in the UK, a sell-by date.  And the manner in which they go a little bit off is to attack their own.

We have already mentioned here the travesty of Jack Van Impe insisting that Rick Warren has bedded down with Muslims to fuse some new brand of faith he calls Chrislam.

This time it’s SBC theological president Albert Mohler, Jr. on his blog accusing Andy Stanley as supporting gay marriage.

Well, first let me qualify that. Albert Mohler’s blog is not a blog in the sense most people use that term. There is no place for comments, for dialogue, for interaction. True, he gives an email address, but…

We begin with Christianity Today:

Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times [Jesus] seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”

That tension can be seen at North Point after sermons on remarriage after divorce, which people hate to hear but are glad they did, he said. It also exists for gay members, who have left predominantly gay churches for North Point because they want more Bible teaching, but are nervous about how welcome they’ll be, he said.

In trying to love like Jesus does, the church can also seem inconsistent and leave people wondering what they’re really about, Stanley said.

You can watch the sermon in question here, select part five (April 15th).

This is a good place to mention that Andy Stanley is considered one of the finest communicators in the United States.  He chooses his words very carefully, and he is what I consider a very wise man. He obviously wants to continue to living in the tension(s) he described that Sunday.

But while Mohler has Stanley in his sites from the very beginning, he couches his rhetoric with a vague academic church history lesson about megachurches in America. Apparently size matters, and not in a good way. Megachurches breed liberalism in Mohler’s view. Logically then, smaller churches should be fertile ground for orthodoxy. In some bizarre parallel universe, perhaps.

The Christian Post quotes Rick Warren demanding an apology from Mohler on this front:

A prominent evangelical’s recent blog headline – “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” – has irked Pastor Rick Warren, who is calling for an apology for the “sensational” title.

Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, sent a tweet to Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Tuesday, saying: “A TITLE questioning1000s of churches’ orthodoxy due to size is unChristlike.U need to apologize to pastors Al.” …

…Taking issue with the title of the blog, Warren commented: “@albertmohler Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”

In response, Mohler tweeted back: “@RickWarren Glad to hear from you, Rick. I would certainly not be offended by that title … In fact, I might use it. Megathanks.”

Where does Mohler derive such arrogance?

But church size is a red herring in this story.  As a somewhat biased fan of Andy Stanley, I had to weigh in at the CT piece:

I had been a consumer of Andy’s video teachings for at least five years prior to becoming a regular follower of NorthPointOnline about three years ago, and was watching live when this illustration happened. I think anyone who has had this type of exposure knows Andy’s heart and and tenor of his ministry.

Just as we’re told that Jesus’ parables should be interpreted only to say ‘one thing,’ so also should this illustration only be evaluated in terms of its primary purpose. You can’t condemn a sermon for what it did not say, or every sermon preached would have to contain a compendium of Christian doctrine and ethics.

Mohler described the resolution of the story Andy Stanley told his congregation. 

…He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.

Note Mohler’s use of the word “celebrated.” This is where you see most clearly that you cannot trust what this man is writing. “Celebrated” is a calculated value-laden word which simply doesn’t describe the proper context.  At CT, I continued:

The reference to the TV show “Modern Family” was not giving endorsement to that type of family dynamic; the family in the illustration is simply reflective of the times, and the television reference immediately connected with the audience. That family is also a work in progress, an unfinished story in which the operation of grace and truth will hopefully continue to unfold.

Dan White, Jr. was another CT respondent who felt that Stanley was deliberately walking a fine line on this issue:

…Currently in our political culture of communication the non-negotiable’s are:  1. Define what camp you fall into,  2. Demonize anybody who does not fit squarely into your camp,  3.  Apply debate techniques not active listening and 4. Defend/clarify your position at all costs.  I believe this style of discourse is more secularism than it is biblical. 

I listened to Andy Stanley’s message.  He taught the principle that the tension of Grace and Truth sometimes makes things unclear, ambiguous and complicated.  Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times Jesus seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”   Listening to Stanley’s conservative critics, I’m not sure they see Jesus this way.  I’m not sure they’ve dealt with the way Jesus was perceived by his listeners. 

Jesus spoke in parables and in Matthew 13:34 he makes the point that “Jesus did not say anything without using parables.”   Why would Jesus indulge in short artistic fictional stories to convey such essential messages? Each parable would often end with the refrain “whoever has ears let him hear.” Each parable would often include a hidden message that would be accessible to some and confusing to others.  At one point the disciples share their frustration “Why do you speak in parables?” As if to say “Jesus why are you doing this? Your telling stories but nobody is getting your point, can you find a clearer more obvious approach?”   What the disciples did not understand was Jesus was intentionally enticing people into new territory.

Jesus was not offering easy answers and doctrinal points, he was inviting people into an interactive relationship. He said listen with your ears which meant listen to the deeper meaning.  Don’t listen for the literal meaning, seek deeper for meaning that requires a sincere effort of your imagination and a personal investment.

Is it ever Ok to be ambiguous?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes was.  Is it ever O.K. to come across unclear in order to lay the trust-bricks that relationships require?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes did.  Is it ever O.K. to not give a Yes or No to the “is it a sin” question because the history of the question is so convoluted with agendas?  I believe Jesus sometimes did for the sake of the larger mission and the loaded context of religiosity.  Sure this tension is a harder tightrope to walk.  Some call it the slipper-slope; I call it fighting for balance  This is the very reason why many are not comfortable with the third way of navigating through culture.  It’s much easier to just park firmly in an ideological camp and harp on your doctrinal talking points over and over.  Instead Jesus often models a way of being that is beyond what sin issue is served up to Him.

 Much of the conservative backlash to Andy Stanley’s presentation seems to be intoxicated with anxiety by whatever the hot sin issue is at this time…

There is one redemptive paragraph in Mohler’s conclusions:

Given their size and influence, the megachurches have an outsize responsibility. I am a member and a teaching pastor in a megachurch, and I am thankful for its faithfulness. I know a host of faithful megachurch pastors who are prepared to pay whatever cost may come for the sake of the Gospel…

On that, at least we agree. Where we differ is that I know of one faithful megachurch pastor who fails to make Mohler’s list. And we differ more violently on the need to make such unwarranted pronouncements.  Some opinions are best kept to oneself.

…I spoke with a pastor about this a few months ago who expressed his concerns about people whose ministry seems to be going along well and then they, in his words, “start losing it.” That’s when I wrote this piece about knowing when to quit.

One sure sign is when we start shooting at our own soldiers. If Mohler isn’t ready to enjoy retirement in Palm Springs, he should at the very least quit the blog that isn’t a blog.  The CT article concluded:

Stanley declined repeated requests for comment.

That’s the type of wisdom Albert Mohler, Jr. should have employed from the very beginning.


Update: Missed this one yesterday: For some additional commentary on the tension between grace and truth as it relates to this story, be sure to check out the article by Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk, and the 150 (so far) comments.

…What an incredible illustration of God’s scandalous grace in action. Yet Mohler misses this entirely. He misses grace in his headlong race to be sure that Andy Stanley understands right and wrong. Mohler writes,

…We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.

No, it seems we must come on Al Mohler’s terms….

[HT: Clark.]

September 21, 2011

Wednesday Link List

With so much to see in the Christian blogosphere, why would anyone want to spend time on Facebook?

  • There are always a significant number or “religion” stories at Huffington Post.  In this one, author Tim Suttle examines what he sees as the three failures of the megachurch movement.
  • I liked this article enough to make an e-mail forward out of it.  Trey Morgan lists seven things your children desperately need to hear you say.  Great for all parents, but I think especially for dads.
  • Okay, so about the t-shirt. I thought I’d tripped over an example of subtlety in evangelistic casual wear; a sort of, ‘our best efforts at holiness and righteousness are never enough,’ a la Andy Stanley’s How Good Is Good Enough?. Works for me. But alas, I had simply typed “Christian tees” and the designer is Andrew Christian. Still, if you’ve got the $38 US
  • There’s something about Mark Driscoll’s new website, PastorMark.tv, that has me wondering why this site seems to exist apart from the Mars Hill Seattle site.  Just wondering.
  • A link you may have missed in last week’s George Bush story, as it was added as an update on Monday:  A Tyndale University faculty member voices his opinions in a guest post to Christian Week.  However…
  • Surprise! The George W. Bush thing in Toronto happened after all.
  • Fifteen years in the making, but the final pages of the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned in 500 years is just about done. With more than 1,150 pages of text and 160 illuminations, The Saint John’s Bible now goes on tour.
  • The latest in a series of YouTube vids contrasting Christ-centered worship with me-centered worship parodies some of today’s most popular choruses.
  • Meanwhile, if your church has had enough of cell (mobile for my UK readers) phones going off during services, this one-minute YouTube video should make the point clear once and for all.
  • Let’s go three-for-three with videos: This downloadable youth ministry video clip contrasts storing up treasure on earth and storing up treasure in heaven. Actually you could use this Bluefish-TV clip on a Sunday morning, too.
  • Jenni Catron is Executive Director of Cross Point Church in Nashville (Pete Wilson) and discusses her personal discipline in approaching Sunday morning services, and her recognition that not everyone can muster the same enthusiasm.
  • But if you can’t make it to the service physically, you can always be there virtually, especially at North Point Community in Atlanta, where they’ve added three more broadcast times for the ‘live’ stream which includes baptisms and worship songs. Check it out at 9:00 and 11:00 AM and 2:00, 6:00 and 10:00 PM at NorthpointOnline.tv
  • In a somewhat depressing piece, Washington Times editor Julia Duin says that Evangelical singles are living a promiscuous lifestyle. Interesting paragraph: “Have you ever noticed how singles never get touched? It’s living in this bubble of no hugs, no physical contact whatsoever. Small wonder so many revert to pets… and professional massages. I once suggested to my small group at church that we give each other back rubs. I was looked at as though I had suggested we all get undressed. “
  • Readers at Rachel Held Evans’ blog ask questions of Justin Lee, director of the Gay Christian Network. (You can also read the 255 comments containing questions that were submitted.)
  • Back in May, I introduced you to the band, The City Harmonic.  The band is nominated for five Covenant Awards — Canada’s equivalent of the Dove Awards — and the video is closing in on one million views.
  • Speak German?  Hirten Barometer is a site for evaluating the performance of priests and ministers.  Just like Trip Advisor, only church service instead of hotel service. The clergy rating site apparently has it sights set on sites in English for North America.
  • And just before we sign off, thanks to regular reader Brian for sending us an actual lynx news story, with a valuable lesson about what happens to people who cheat.
  • I chopped the seasonal summer reference off this panel of Mike Morgan’s For Heaven’s Sake, but wanted to share the concept.  I wonder how many others think this is what a certain website is about?

  • Very lastly — as opposed to just ‘lastly’ — here are the results of the CNN Religion poll taken in the wake of Pat Robertson’s remarks that it is okay for the spouse of someone with Alzheimer’s to divorce that person.  This was as of 9:00 PM last night, but as you look at the numbers, you’ll have to admit they’re somewhat inconclusive. ;)

March 9, 2011

Wednesday Link List

I think we’ll start with a shout out to all the people who gave up social networking and blogs for lent. In which case, why are you reading this?

  • We kick off with a few quotations from an interview U2’s Bono did with a Johannesburg radio station last month, along with a link to an audio file of the entire program.
  • The Rob Bell release date for Love Wins has been moved up by two weeks to March 15th, less than a week away!  Mars Hill Bible Church in Granville, Michigan has made no official comment, but on Sunday, parishioners were told that church staff are supportive and excited about the book’s release.
  • However, Jon Rising suggests that there’s a whole other controversial book releasing at HarperOne — the same day — and traces links to advance reviews of Miroslav Volf’s simply titled Allah: A Christian Response.   The publisher blurb helps define the book’s hot spots.
  • A young Christian woman tells her Christian father that she is gay. We’ve all heard stories like this, but what does that actually look like?  How does that play out exactly? John Shore takes what is, to many of us a very abstract concept, and spells out what that really looks like in many families in his fictional Smith Family Chronicles; episode one and episode two already complete with more to follow.
  • A couple of strong stories at Christian Week (three actually, and we’ll give each one its own bullet!). First a piece on how urban poverty is not a downtown thing anymore but is hitting the suburbs featuring the director of the Yonge Street Mission.  (In fact, urban downtown areas are reconsolidating into a very upscale vibe.)
  • Next, a piece about the relationship between the church and political debates sparked by Billy Graham’s statement that he regrets the times he waded in on political issues.
  • Last in our CW hat trick — and I don’t expect my U.S. readers to get the full impact of this, but here this is huge — Crossroads, Canada’s largest Christian television ministry gave InterVarsity Christian Fellowship five of its Circle Square Ranch summer camps.  No strings attached.  An outright gift from one ministry to another.  They become part of the ministry of IVCF as of the first of April.
  • I find it interesting that many of today’s younger preachers are the subject of condemnation by older ones because the younger ones don’t do expository (verse by verse) preaching.  But Andy Stanley really rose to the occasion in this series on Acts titled Big Church.
  • Okay, it’s not that Facebook is solely responsible for one in five divorces as originally reported in 2009; but it is definitely accelerating the process.
  • Spent about 40 minutes on Sunday night enjoying a mini-concert by an artist who is quite established here in Canada who needs to be shared with the rest of the world.  Check out Greg Sczebel’s website.
  • Got baggage?  Know someone who’s got baggage?  Check out this short video at GodTube.  Also at GodTube here’s a music clip from Christy Nockels from the new album Passion: Waiting Here For You.
  • Looking for some good news online?  Here’s a site with a difference: My Miracle invites readers to post stories of God’s intervention in their lives.  Maybe your story.
  • Got a question for The Pope?  He hits the Italian TV airwaves on Good Friday for a little bit of Q & A in a pre-recorded program.
  • Several months ago, this blog ran a piece on modesty for girls.  Now here’s a modesty test for your preteen or early teen daughter from Dannah Gresh’s Secret Keeper Girl website.
  • If you’re reading this Wednesday morning or afternoon you can still catch our contest from Monday to win a copy of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
  • Here’s another one from Darrell at Stuff Fundies Like featuring all your favorite types of church songleaders.
  • And speaking of same; here’s CT’s list of the Top 27 All Time Favorite… Hymns?  That’s right, all scientifically calculated using books which contain them that nobody actually uses anymore.  This could be the very last such list.  (Click the image to see the chart clearer as a .pdf)
  • Our cartoon this week recognizes that today is the first day of Lent, which every good Evangelical knows is the _____  ____s before ________.  (Betcha we caught a few off-guard.) Bad Sheep is the product of Jay Cookingham who blogs at Soulfari, You can also click the image below to check out Lambo and Chop’s merchandise.

February 24, 2011

Thinking Out Loud – Anniversary Edition

I remember years ago participating in a discussion about the “emerging” internet where the main concern ran something like this, “How are they ever going to get enough content to keep those websites supplied with fresh material?”

How indeed?

In 2011, a better question might be, “How does one find enough hours in the day to read all the sites they are subscribed to or have bookmarked?” I figure a typical week lands me on about 1,000 different types of internet sites, and I don’t consider myself a heavy online user. Every single person reading this actually has a completely unique internet experience weekly.

Today, this blog enters year four.

I have mixed feelings about that. I’m happy that this blog has become a voice albeit in a crowded room of voices all talking at once. I’m continually amazed — and somewhat humbled — that hundreds of you show up here every day, many just to see what’s been posted recently.

But these things were never set up as one-way communication. You hear people speak of “blog community” and I think there certainly is one, but increasingly the comments I moderate have absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the blog post; they’re actually written in the hope that readers will link back to their own blog.

And then of course, there is the fact I am denied full participation in this very same blog community.

Some time back, someone masquerading as me posted something or did something that got me completely blocked from commenting at many of my favorite blogs. Even people I considered online “friends” like Pete Wilson, or people I’ve been reading for years before starting my own blog, such as Trevin Wax; the comments I leave (which are indeed appropriate and rather insightful) simply never appear.

Furthermore, if I log off WordPress, and attempt to leave a comment at my own blog, it is blocked.

It’s ironic because one of the things I found early on when I started this was a great deal of acceptance, so I’m highly sensitive to the present rejection. But online this can take many forms. For example, I’ve also been blocked from the chat room at my online church, North Point Community. Though I continue to faithfully watch NorthPoint Online every Sunday at 6:00 PM, and encourage others to also, my IP address apparently is blocked from participating in the after-sermon discussion. That’s like being told, “You can continue to attend our worship services, but you can’t be part of a small group.”

Not sure why.

There was a woman — I think it was a woman, but people use aliases in their comments — who was going through a hurting time and the discussion moderator was nowhere to be seen, so I recommended a book to her; a perfectly acceptable book, but one not written by Andy Stanley. Maybe that got me banned. Who knows.The clergy establishment sometimes gets really possessive when lay people start acting pastoral.

So look out, everyone. I’m a rebel. I’m a radical. I’m dangerous. Keep your daughters locked up.  I’m James Dean. (But in a George Costanza sort of way.)

Actually maybe I am sure why. Maybe like Hosea, God is allowing me to identify with all the other people out there who have felt rejection; including those who have been rejected by the church.

Back to the birthday party.


This is post number 1,454.

There is much to be thankful for today. I actually oversee seven blogs now, of which the latest, Christianity 201, has arrived on the scene since we celebrated this time last year. It keeps me humbled. Very humbled. While some endeavors in the Christian life remind you how far you’ve come and what you have accomplished, C201 reminds me of how far I’ve got to go.  Jesus set the bar rather high. A handful of you also read my book industry blog, Christian Book Shop Talk. It will celebrate a third birthday in August. Yesterday’s post had someone suggesting bookstores are going the way of record shops and video rental stores. Sigh. In that setting, I get to be a voice in an increasingly empty room.

Then there are the off-the-blog discussions.

Some of the best things that happen as a result of all this online activity are never seen online. And to the guy who drove an hour to the bookstore where I work only to find out I wasn’t there that day: Next time, get the staff person to write down your name. Better yet, let’s book it a day ahead, okay?

Anyway, I want to thank all of you who read, who write comments and who allow me to do the same on your blogs. To the latter group, you’ve really stimulated me to increase the time I spend reading Christian books, for which I am grateful.

As iron sharpens iron, so one blogger is sharpened by another. Even when they block his comments. (Couldn’t resist.) Many of you have also caused me to rethink some things that really matter. I’ve also enjoyed the benefits of being kept accountable.

Finally to the caricature artists who charcoaled me into a corner with the Joyce and Beth thing: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and ignorance is bliss. (And if you love something, set it free…) I’m sorry that I what I call information you call judgment, but that is, if you’ll pardon the turnaround, your judgment. Keep enjoying their books by all means, and keep loving people who prefer to be taught by others.

Closing thanks Mrs. W., the world’s best proofreader and editor (though usually a day after I’ve already posted something) and to all my sources, especially BDBO (you know who you are, but nobody else does) and the religion news pages at CNN and USAToday along with Canada’s Christian Week and Darryl Dash. And thanks to readers who send Wednesday Link List suggestions. And to Trevin and Pete and even Jon Acuff: Let’s prove to the world that it’s all about grace, okay?

*”Charcoaled me into a corner” — I couldn’t say “painted” because caricature artists work in chalk or charcoal, so that would be mixing metaphors, and “chalked” lost the coin toss.

February 21, 2011

Billy Ray Cyrus and Andy Stanley: Contrasting Quotes on Raising Kids

Yesterday morning at North Point, one of the largest churches in the U.S., pastor Andy Stanley defined their Christian education strategy for children in a single sentence.  As I watched online, I quickly typed the quote into an e-mail so I wouldn’t forget it:

“We are not just babysitting children; we are planting an anchor very deep in their hearts so that if  they drift, they will not drift far

~Andy Stanley 2/20/11 (italics added)

What a contrast then, when this morning I read an Associated Press story from earlier in the week. Apparently the ‘anchor’ wasn’t there for this kid:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Billy Ray Cyrus says the Disney TV show “Hannah Montana” destroyed his family, causing his divorce and sending daughter Miley Cyrus spinning out of control.

In a December interview published in the Feb. 22 issue of GQ Magazine, Cyrus said he wished the show that launched his daughter to pop stardom had never happened.

“I hate to say it, but yes, I do. Yeah. I’d take it back in a second,” Cyrus said. “For my family to be here and just be everybody OK, safe and sound and happy and normal, would have been fantastic. Heck, yeah. I’d erase it all in a second if I could.”

Cyrus and his wife, Tish, filed for divorce in October. They have three kids together – Miley is the oldest – and two from Tish’s previous marriage.

Billy Ray Cyrus said when he asked about the rumored video footage of his daughter smoking from a bong at her 18th birthday party in December, he was told it was none of his business. He refused to attend the party, saying it was wrong to have it in a bar.

Cyrus, a native of Flatwoods, Ky., had his own success as a country singer beginning in the early 1990s with his huge hit “Achy Breaky Heart.”

Cyrus says in the interview that he tried too hard to be a friend instead of a parent to his daughter. He said he is scared for Miley and compared her current path to those of other stars whose lives ended tragically, including Kurt Cobain, Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson.

“I should have been a better parent,” Cyrus said. “I should have said, ‘Enough is enough – it’s getting dangerous and somebody’s going to get hurt.’ I should have, but I didn’t. Honestly, I didn’t know the ball was out of bounds until it was way up in the stands somewhere.”

He said his entire family was baptized before leaving Tennessee for Los Angeles to protect themselves from evil, and he believes Satan is attacking his family.

“It’s the way it is,” Cyrus said. “There has always been a battle between good and evil. Always will be. You think, ‘This is a chance to make family entertainment, bring families together …’ and look what it’s turned into.”

Sidebar 1: Andy may have said, “when they drift,” but it’s not a given that kids will “wander” when they enter their teen years. The message will be online later in the week if anyone wants to check this.

Sidebar 2: Canada’s largest newspaper, The Toronto Star, ran the AP Cyrus story without the second-to-last paragraph. Wouldn’t want to bring religion into the story, would we?

Related post at this blog:  Pattie Mallette and Justin Bieber

February 11, 2011

Andy Stanley: Err on the Side of Grace

This blog post first appeared at Christianity 201

In addition to having my feet firmly planted in two local churches, I’ve also been “attending” Andy Stanley’s church online every Sunday at 6:00 PM for the past six months. This week, Andy preached from Acts 15:

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
18 things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

Verse 19, the last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. In typical Andy Stanley style — you should listen to the podcast* if possible — he contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

This is easy to say, but harder to do. Most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle. There is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and launch out into something that is costly, or difficult. Consider John 6:

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time? Or is each referring to something different?


One of the best articles I’ve ever seen that summarizes the contrast is a little booklet by Stuart Briscoe titled This is Impossible. If anyone knows where the text is uploaded I’d love to link to it here. In the meantime, here’s a short summary by Adrian Rogers.

UPDATE: The booklet is available as a free .pdf download from Stuart’s ministry, Telling the Truth.

*The Andy Stanley sermon is currently here as a free download for a few more days, it’s the February 6th message, which I think is part four or five of the “Big Church” series.

Verses cited are NIV2011 unless otherwise indicated.

August 12, 2010

Steven Furtick: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God For the Impossible by Steven Furtick, the pastor of the rapidly growing Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC.   The title, releasing another “sun significant” day, September 21st from Multnomah Books,  is based on Joshua’s prayer in Joshua chapter 10.  “There has never been a day like it before…” (vs 13 NIV)

This is a book about prayer, and it’s a book about faith, and mostly, it’s a book about praying prayers of faith, or what he calls audacious prayers.   As such it’s a title that will inspire next-generation Christ-followers to stretch their faith in prayer; a book that might be given to a teen or twenty-something and/or someone who is new to the family of faith.

The author quotes Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire early on and in many ways this book stands in that tradition of — and I hate to use this word because it can diminish the impact — books on prayer that are truly inspiring.

But beyond the reading process which I began several days ago, I decided to dig a little deeper to, if you’ll forgive the nameplay, see what makes Steven Furtick tick.

The book begins with the story of Elevation Church filling the Time Warner Arena in Charlotte the year on Easter Sunday; a dream planted in Steven Furtick’s heart just four years earlier.     Reports ranged from attendance figures of 10,000 to the figure on the Elevation Worship Blog, 11,600.   (It also lists the worship pieces that morning; of the eleven, six were from Hillsongs.)

I decided to watch the service online, but presented with a range of sermons, decided to jump into something else, only to find myself watching a guest speaker, North Point’s Andy Stanley.   In the process of trying to ascertain where Furtick and Elevation fit into the larger map of American Christianity, Andy Stanley came as a bit of a surprise.

That’s because — as my reading of the book and eventual viewing of the Easter sermon and two other sermons convinced me — Furtick’s message and style seems to fit into a long line of Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition.  For the Time Warner Arena occasion, he donned a suit which, combined with the dynamics of the arena, couldn’t help remind me of Joel Osteen.

But I’m not sure that Furtick would welcome the comparison.   I decided to dig into his blog; not just current entries, but ones from its beginnings in the fall of 2006.    He considers Craig Groeschel and Perry Noble mentors, and there’s nothing in his church’s core beliefs that hints of Pentecostalism.

Maybe it was just the Easter suit thing.   Or the traditional invitation at the end of the messages.  Or having the congregation stand for scripture readings. Or the “Amen Corner” on the website.

…Or maybe it’s part of our fallen nature that anytime someone has a faith-stretching, big-believing message we want to categorize or pigeon-hole that person with a “Charismatic” label, instead of recognizing that this is what it means to follow Christ as the early disciples understood it, and as we’re reminded in a story early in the book, Christians in the third world or persecuted church understand it today.   In fact, in some places Furtick would challenge the prosperity or claim-it message of hardcore Charismatics.

In the end, I have to conclude that Steven Furtick is a hybrid.   His next-generation appeal might earn him the label Emergent Charismatic.   Neither adjective is fully accurate here — how about Missional Pentecostalbut it’s the best I got because Sun Stand Still is a Spirit-filled message of classical Biblical faith, but it’s a 30-year-old’s fresh take on a classic Old Testament passage that any young person should enjoy reading.

The book will energize your prayer life no matter where you are on your journey with Christ.   If you want to dig in to more of Elevation online, you’ll find some powerful and passionate preaching with a wisdom beyond Steven Furtick’s years.

Reviewer’s Notes:

  1. Thanks to Norm at Augsburg Canada (Multnomah’s up-North distributor) for the advance copy.
  2. Elevation’s online sermon server gets you a full-screen, high-def video sermon every time, that downloads quickly provided you’ve got the bandwidth. Clearly among the best I’ve seen.   I don’t see an audio option.
  3. Given the aforementioned appeal to younger readers, I gotta seriously question Multnomah’s decision to release this in hardcover at $20 U.S. ($23 CDN)   I hope initial sales don’t discourage those involved, because this is a natural title for paperback first edition. UPDATE:  This will release in paperback at $14.99 US/$16.99 CDN.  They must have been reading this blog!!
  4. If you click on the “comments” section for this post (below) you can watch the promotional video for the book featuring Steven’s ever-changing hairstyles!

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