Up the (Willow) Creek: Chip and Dan Heath

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heath_brosIn the final post summarizing my take-aways from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, I want to take a quick look at Chip & Dan Heath’s session: Switch.

The Heaths, authors of Made to Stick and the upcoming Switch (available in early 2010!), address the question, “Why is change sometimes so hard, and other times so easy?”

Any sort of successful change, say the Heaths, “requires convincing the organization that change is the right thing.” Once we’ve done that, we move on to the next issue: Identifying what is working. The Heaths suggest that we first “look for the bright spots—the things that show that success is possible. Find what works and duplicate those things… Bright spots are proof that people are capable of solving their problems.” [Read more...]

Sunday Shorts (08/16)

Read the Gospels: JC is not PC

John MacArthur provided a brilliant editorial in the Washington Post this week abuot Jesus. Here’s the opening:

Let’s be brutally honest: most of Jesus’ teaching is completely out of sync with the mores that dominate our culture.

I’m talking, of course, about the Jesus we encounter in Scripture, not the always-gentle, never-stern, über-lenient coloring-book character who exists only in the popular imagination. The real Jesus was no domesticated clergyman with a starched collar and genteel manners; he was a bold, uncompromising Prophet who regularly challenged the canons of political correctness.

Read the whole thing here. Seriously, it’s fantastic!

Two-Kingdom Theology and Neo-Kuyperians

No, it’s not the plot of a new alien invasion film, it’s a post from Kevin DeYoung’s blog about the merits and dangers of two-kingdom theology and neo-Kuyperianism (of course!). Here’s an explanatory note from Kevin’s article:

In broad strokes, the two kingdom folks believe in a kingdom of this world and a kingdom of Christ. We have a dual citizenship as Christians. Further, the realm of nature should not be expected to function and look like the realm of grace. Living in the tension of two kingdoms we should stop trying to transform the culture of this world into the kingdom of our Lord and instead focus on the church being the church, led by it duly ordained officers and ministering through the ordinary means of grace.

On the other hand, neo-Kupyerianism (intellectual descendants of the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper) argue that every square inch of this world belongs to Christ. Therefore, his Lordship should be felt and manifested in politics, in the arts, in education, in short, everywhere. Because the work of Christ was not just to save sinners but also to renew the whole cosmos, we should be at work to change the world and transform the culture.

There’s some extremely interesting points made in the article, so do read the whole thing, but I found this point particularly helpful:

Perhaps there is a–I can’t believe I’m going to say it–a middle ground. I say, let’s not lose the heart of the gospel, divine self-satisfaction through self-substitution. And let’s not apologize for challenging Christians to show this same kind of dying love to others. Let’s not be embarrassed by the doctrine of hell and the necessity of repentance and regeneration. And let’s not be afraid to do good to all people, especially to the household of faith. Let’s work against the injustices and suffering in our day, and let’s be realistic that the poor, as Jesus said, will always be among us. Bottom line: let’s work for change where God calls us and gifts us, but let’s not forget that the Great Commission is go into the world and make disciples, not go into the world and build the kingdom.

Alright, go read the article at Kevin’s blog. And when you’re done, you can read a response article from the fine folks at White Horse Inn.

Out of the Archives: Keeping the 10 Commandments

Keeping the 10 CommandmentsJ.I. Packer is one of modern Christianity’s greatest minds—the author of countless books, including Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Growing in Christ, and arguably his best-known work, Knowing God. There are few men who are more influential theologically on Evangelical Christianity than Packer. So when I saw Keeping the 10 Commandments at the bookstore, I had a hunch it would be a worthwhile read.

Sufficed to say, I was not disappointed.

By many, the 10 Commandments are seen as irrelevant; as “rules” that prevent us from having any fun. In this short work, an excerpt from Growing in Christ, Packer shows us that these commandments are not rules to be followed; they are commands to be lived to bring us joy…

Read the rest of this review.

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Book Review: What’s He Really Thinking? A book that does the unthinkable: Encourages women to embrace men for being men.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Tim Keller Reflecting on Tim Keller’s session at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, Leading People to the Prodigal God

Up the (Willow) Creek: Harvey Carey Harvey Carey wants the church to do more than sit on the sidelines. He wants it to get into the game.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Kiva, Coffee, and Bono

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jessicaflannery_2_smallJessica Jackley, Kiva

The micro-lending phenomenon that is Kiva.org intrigues me a great deal, because I’ve honestly never been sure how exactly it works and if it’s really making a difference in the lives of people. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that it’s cofounder, Jessica Jackley, was part of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. If you don’t know, Kiva‘s mission is connecting people through lending to aleviate poverty. By providing microfinancing to entrepreneurs in developing nations, those entrepreneurs have the funding they need to make their business a success.

It’s a very interesting concept, because it’s very different from what we typically see. It’s not about aleviating poverty for people, it’s equipping people to do it themselves. I am very much a believer in development vs. aid (in the sense that we just throw cash at a problem and hope it goes away), and it’s refreshing to see that, so far in Kiva‘s case, it’s working really well. To date, more than 48 million dollars have been loaned through Kiva by ordinary people, and so far, 98.6% of this has been paid back in full. The secret, Jackley believes, is trust. “When you’re trust-based, you can get a lot more done. We believe if people are treated like we trust them, they most likely will [follow through.]” What Kivaand Jackley have seen so far is that entrepreneurs really are following through. Parents, now with a thriving small business, can buy clothes and pay their childrens’ school fees. It’s lead to improved health and better living conditions. It’s very exciting stuff.

Jackley is definitely a young lady who believes in the innate goodness of people—and that people actually want to give sacrificially (“It’s where a lot of our joy comes from,” says Jackley). I really have no comment on that point, sufficed to say that she has a very charitable attitude, and that it’s wonderful that Kiva‘s experiencing such phenomenal success.

What I see in something like Kiva is a great potential for those of us here in the developed world to love our neighbor in an exceedingly practical way, and one that we might not have otherwise.

andrew-rugasiraAndrew Rugasira, Good African Coffee

Andrew Rugasira’s session was Thinking Forward: Aid vs. Trade. The Founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, Rugasira, a graduate of the University of London (where he received an honors degree in Law & Economics from the School of Oriental and African studies), is incredibly passionate about seeing Africa taking a strong position in the world economy. He wants to change the perspective the world holds about Africa. And that means ending changing our mindset from aid to trade. Because, as Rugasira believes, handouts don’t develop people and nations.

“There is no country in the world that was developed by handouts—so why is Africa different? Africans are looking for the same opportunities as an American, English [or] Indian entrepreneur. [We're] not looking for a handout.”

The statistics are startling. Between 1970 and 2000, Africa received $400 billion in aid. And during that time, the GDP dropped and conditions worsened. Rather than making the situation better, it actually made it worse. 

“[Aid] creates a culture of dependency. It undermines the  integrity and dignity of recipient countries,” says Rugasira.

“Integrity is being truthful about what you need to do to get out of a situation.” Aid (in the sense that Rugasira is speaking of) completely undermines this. “People have lost faith in themselves. [They believe] that they can’t do anything. That help only comes from outside… [And we want] the opportunity to bring quality products to the market and help Africans help themselves.”

Rugasira’s message is refreshing. I often struggle with the question of how much good are we really doing by doling out billions of dollars a year in foreign aid. When some countries have as much as 40 percent of their budget coming from aid, you know there’s something wrong with the system. I think aid in the sense of emergency, life saving assistance is incredibly important and necessary, which is why I’m grateful for organizations like the Red Cross, World Vision and several others. But I think it’s necessary that we look to assisting the poor around the world develop the skills required to not only aleviate poverty, but transform their society. That’s why it’s good that organizations like Good African Coffee and even Compassion exist.

bonoBono

We all know who Bono is, love him or hate him. And depending on the church, you won’t be the least bit surprised to hear at least one or two U2 songs in the worship set.

Honestly, for Bono’s part of the Summit, I’m not sure even how necessary it was. It didn’t really add anything except a bit of Bono. There was one great line thrown out in his interview with Bill Hybels, though, so perhaps that’s the reason he was there. In speaking about the Church’s sudden ramp up to assist the poor, particularly with HIV/AIDS treatment, Bono said, “As a person who’s really giving off about the Church, you have completely ruined it for me, because the Church has done incredible things, and… I’m taken aback. I think we referred to it [the Church] as the sleeping giant, but I didn’t know the giant could run that fast. And there’s no doubt in my mind that had the church not woken up on the issue of AIDS, we would not have two million Africans on retro-viral drugs. That simply would not have happened.”

That was a nice, albeit backhanded, encouragement, I suppose. It was enjoyable to see Bill Hybels get a few digs in at Bono for not being involved in a local church.

And that is my big take-away from Bono’s session at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Wess Stafford

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wess-staffordWess Stafford is the president of Compassion International. For those who don’t know, Compassion works through the local church in developing countries to share the gospel while providing for the needs of children living in poverty. It’s also an organization I’m privileged to work for (out of the Canadian office). For literally the entire time I’ve been at Compassion, I’ve always heard people tell me how much I need to hear Wess speak, and how I really need to read his book. So for me, it was very interesting to see Wess speak at Willow Creek during his session, Leveraging Your Past.

In this session, Wess addressed the question of how do we leverage the pain and hurt in our lives for the ministry?

If anyone’s not heard his story before, it’s heartbreaking. The son of missionaries serving in Africa, Stafford, along with the children of several other missionaries serving on the continent, suffered horrific physical, mental, and spiritual abuse. As he put it, “We were little sinners in the hands of an angry god.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Dave Gibbons

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david-gibbonsDave Gibbons is the founding pastor of Newsong Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-site, multi-continent church based out of Irvine, California, and the author of The Monkey and the Fish. His session, Thinking Forward: Third Culture Leadership, addressed developing a church that’s contrarian—one that embodies the Great Commandments to love God and love our neighbor.

Gibbons is a charming, charismatic speaker, and I was extremely interested in what he had to say about becoming a “third culture leader.”

What is a third culture leader?

According to Gibbons, it’s a leader with “a mindset and will to love, live and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort.” To love people, especially when it’s hard. Because it’s easy to love people who are like us, but “it’s beautiful if we love someone whose unlovable.” And we need to change our focus to loving the unlovable. To focus on the misfits, rather than the masses. Because, Gibbons contends, “it’s the misfits that lead a movement.” [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Harvey Carey

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harveyHarvey Carey is the Founder and Senior Pastor of the Citadel of Faith Covenant Church in Detroit, Michigan. Citadel of Faith is the fastest-growing multicultural church in the region. Carey’s lecture, Against All Odds, was, personally, one of the brightest spots of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Carey brought a very different flavor than everything that had come before. He preached, and he did it with passion and style.

It was awesome. In fact, along with Keller, Carey was one of the brightest spots for me in the entire conference.

Carey shared the story of starting Citadel of Faith and the challenges that he faced. Planting in the “poorest zip code of the poorest city of the poorest state” in the United States doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Yet his church has seen phenomenal success, growing to 800 members in six years.

More importantly, the people are active in seeking both the redemption of their community and reconciliation between Caucasians and African-Americans. Ironically, because white people were returning to the neighborhood, nine churches called Carey to task, informing him that they were “going to collectively come against you.”  When faced with this level of opposition, Carey believes that you know that “God is getting ready to show up.” [Read more...]

Book Review: The Prodigal God

The parable of the prodigal son is one of those stories that everyone knows: A man had two sons. The younger of the two approaches his father and demands his inheritance, despite his father being very much alive and well. He leaves his home and spends all he has on reckless living. As a famine hit the land, he finds himself in need, and gets a job feeding pigs. While longing to eat the pig’s slop, he begins to pine for his father’s house, remembering how well even the servants were treated. So , he returns home, prepared to ask forgiveness and for a job, but his father goes much further than anyone expects—He welcomes him back into the family, and throws a party to celebrate the son who was lost, but is found.

For many of us, that’s about where we stop. The wayward son returns home and there is much joy. Timothy Keller in The Prodigal God reminds us that the parable doesn’t end there—and we have much to learn from the older brother who remained behind and was seemingly obedient to his father.

In this short work, Keller lays out the essentials of the Christian message, the gospel, and how this parable helps us to understand the Bible as a whole. The whole of the Bible is really speaking to two kinds of people: The “reckless spendthrifts” (the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary definition of “prodigal”), licentious sinners, the broken and wayward—the younger brother of the parable—and the self-righteous, religious folk who try to earn their way into God’s grace through morality and strict obedience, but no joy—the elder brother. And more often than not, we’re both at the same time.

Keller rightly asserts that while Jesus was neither on the side of the irreligious nor the religious, “he singles out religious moralism as a particularly deadly spiritual condition” (page 13).

Jesus, Keller says, shows us that while one son stayed and the other left, both were lost. And while the younger realized that he had lost his way, we’re left wondering about the elder son. Jesus doesn’t finish the story. Why does he leave it on a cliffhanger? “[B]ecause the real audience for the story is the Pharisees, the elder brothers” (page 28, emphasis mine). In doing so, Jesus is pleading with the Pharisees to understand the real message behind the parable: That their strict conformity to rules with no joy—their religious moralism—is blinding them to the reality of their own hearts. That for those of us who have a tendency toward the posture of the elder brother, we must be careful that our careful obedience to God’s law doesn’t “serve as a strategy for rebelling against God” (page 37). We must not obey to get things from God, or begin to think that He owes us because we, like the elder brother, “have never disobeyed!” While the younger brother’s rebellion is “crashingly obvious,” says Keller, “the elder brother who is more blind to what is going on” (page 47).

Keller redefines lostness, not simply as irreligious or licentious behavior, but also as a bitter resentment, joyless servitude, and a constant lack of assurance of God’s love. This lack of assurance is particularly devastating as shows us that we do not seek God’s love, but the affirmation of others. Those of us who lean toward the elder brother mentality can’t always see just how damaging our condition is, and “desperately need to see themselves in this mirror” (page 66).

From here, the subject shifts to the gospel. We can be free of our younger and elder brother tendencies as we “gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother [Jesus]” (page 89). In Jesus, we have hope that we can return home to the Father, and that we, too, can rejoice in the new creation when He comes again.

What I appreciate most about The Prodigal God is that in it, Keller doesn’t let me off the hook. He shows me my tendencies (I err on the side of the elder brother—shocking, I know), but doesn’t pat me on the head and say, “There, there… you’re a pain, but God loves you anyway.” He doesn’t call me to pull myself up by my spiritual bootstraps and do better.

He points me to the gospel.

There is no question that Timothy Keller is a pastor who deeply loves people and loves the gospel. And he knows that it’s only the gospel that will bring us to repentance, empowering and enabling us to live transformed lives.

The Prodigal God is a sobering and impassioned reminder that the gospel is “not just the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life” (page 119).  Through the gospel, we can be freed of our younger and elder brother tendencies, and respond rightly to what God has done—with joyful obedience, faithful service and confidence in our status as His children.


Out of the archives.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Tim Keller

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tim-kellerTim Keller is the extraordinarily gifted pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and author of The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and the upcoming Counterfeit Gods. I’ve greatly benefited from Keller’s writing and was looking forward to hearing what he had to say.

Keller’s session, Leading People to the Prodigal God, was in large part a summary of The Prodigal God. This is by no means a bad thing, because the book is excellent.

“The thing that shocks ministers is the high level of spiritual deadness in congregations,” said Keller. A tiny amount of people do anything, as far as service and giving are concerned. There’s a great deal of back-biting, and territorial attitudes within ministry.

“Spiritual vitality is still the big problem.” It’s a problem because people are trying to be their own savior.

“There are two ways to be your own savior. One is by being very, very, very bad [and just doing whatever you want]. The other is by being very, very, very good.”

This seemed to catch the crowd’s attention—the reality that those who are outwardly obedient may be just as hopelessly lost as those who openly reject and mock the gospel. “The ‘good’ boy [in Luke 15:11-32] is lost not in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” He’s lost because he’s trusting in his performance to give him right standing with his father. [Read more...]

Sunday Shorts (08/09)

Plant a Church or a Campus?

Over at Evangelical Village (another blog I occasionally contribute to), Matt is asking a very important question: What are the benefits of planting a church versus planting a campus (ie multi-site)?

Weigh in on the discussion here (although ignore the second comment; it’s just weird).

35 Reasons Not to Sin

The Harris Brothers (founders of The Rebelution) stumbled across 35 reasons not to sin. They’re well worth thoroughly reading and meditating upon. Here’s one of that I found particularly revealing:

Because sin glorifies God only in His judgment of it and His turning of it to good use, never because it is worth anything on it’s own.

Read the entire list here.

The Gospel in 10 Words or Less

Trevin Wax, Kevin DeYoung and 10 others are attempting to summarize the gospel in 10 words or less. The approach each is taking is very interesting, with some summarizing the entire storyline, with others addressing specific doctrines that make the good news good news.

Read the responses here.

Out of the Archives: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor

memoirs-carson“Ordinary” pastors don’t usually get press. They don’t speak at conferences. They don’t write books. Their ministries are on the whole fairly average. They work hard, they faithfully serve the flock God has entrusted to them, and generally go unnoticed.

Tom Carson was, by all accounts, an ordinary pastor. Yet, he was a most extraordinary man.

Tom worked in the most difficult missions field in Canada (Quebec), striving to make in-roads for the Gospel with its Francophone population… Read the rest of this review.

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Everyday Theology: “God wants your best life… Now!” God doesn’t want you to be happy, healthy and wealthy at the expense of your holiness.

Making Assumptions Exploring the dangers of making assumptions about the character of God.

Daniel Akin on Preaching Great questions you need to ask when preparing to preach from Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Up the (Willow) Creek: Bill Hybels The first post in a series reflecting on the recent Willow Creek Leadership Summit and the challenges made by the faculty

Up the (Willow) Creek: Gary Hamel

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Gary Hamel is one of the world’s most influential business thinkers and was the second speaker at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Overall, I think he had some really great points, particularly in terms of seizing the opportunities that exist in the current economic climate.

“In an environment of increasing change, [one that is] less and less about extrapolating the past, you’re either moving forward or you’re falling behind,” said Hamel during his session.

To unceasingly fall behind is to embrace entropy as an organization.

This is a very profound statement. As leaders focus on the opportunities that are presented by shifts in the global marketplace and culture, there is a great opportunity for positive change, provided that one resists the temptation to become convinced by denial—to believe that everything’s fine and if we just ride things out, we’ll get back to the old normal.

Hamel presented the audience with a continuum of the cycle of change: [Read more...]

Up the (Willow) Creek: Bill Hybels at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit

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I’m at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit this week (Forest City Community Church here in London is one of the satellite locations), and I thought it’d be fun to share some nuggets from the summit with y’all. I don’t know if I’ll be writing about every session, but I will start with the first, featuring Bill Hybels.

Hybels is actually quite an engaging speaker. Very passionate and obviously loves the church. Say what you will about the whole seeker sensitive, smoke machine, laser light show scene he’s associated with, but he really cares about the health of the church and people meeting Jesus.

His talk centered around leading in the new reality—how do we navigate the waters of ministry after being slammed by the “rogue wave” of the recession. Great encouragement from Hybels: The recession gives the church the opportunity to truly be the church to each other and the community, what he calls “the Acts 2 dream.”

“There is nothing like the church when the church is working right. Nothing like it in the world!” exclaims Hybels (to which I say a hearty “Amen!”).

What I think Hybels brought to the table was something extremely important for leaders to be considering in engaging the new reality: Is my organization up to the task? And am I? [Read more...]