Friday, January 25, 2008

I need a new name to drop

This is my lovely friend Mel (wearing a very 80’s dress). I’ve had several friends over the years who have made it into the music “biz” and several others who should have had they only given it a real shot (freaking Shaun). Mel is one of those whom I believe has real talent. She’s got a great voice, her writing continues to improve, and she’s not so ugly.

Recently Mel signed up on a site called My Slice which promotes unknown artists. This week she was informed that her tracks had received high enough scores to qualify her for a £15,000 grant to record an album. The only requirement is that she simply has more votes than the other contestants who have also made it in.

With that in mind, if you could take a minute to sign into and vote for Mel, your kindness would be greatly appreciated (and I might get a mention in the liner of her album!) All you have to do is:

Register your email with (or, if you're like me, that email you made up to collect junk email.
Go to the bit along the top that says 'showcases'
Select 'All Genres 2'
Select 'vote'.
Find Mel on the list
Click click click on her!

If there is anything on there that asks you to buy any shares or backstage passes, you don't have to and it will not effect her votes in any way.We’ve only got about three weeks to hype this, so your quick response would be really appreciated (and might get me a mention in the liner notes!) : )


Thursday, January 24, 2008

notes on salvation 4

Are We Making Disciples or Just Converts?

In Matthew, Jesus closes out his physical time on this planet by exhorting his followers to make disciples of all men. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a disciple is “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another”. In New Testament times, the Hebrew word for disciple would have been Talmidim, a term that, much like our modern day understanding of disciple, would have defined somebody who, not only understood the teachings or doctrines of his teacher or Rabbi, but a student who would have also had the commitment to, quite literally, live out the doctrines of his Rabbi or, to become like the Rabbi. This would explain Peter’s attempt to walk on water, just as his Rabbi had done. And while it is easy to pick and choose verses, as I have done over these related posts, that would support the idea of social justice being at the very heart and soul of Jesus’ doctrine, I feel confident in saying that an unbiased read through the gospels and the prophets will confirm Jesus’ words and my belief that all of the law and the prophets really do come down to loving God and loving our neighbour.

And so, for me, the idea of “just getting them saved” is a good one as long as it includes a full understanding of what, in my opinion, the gospel was meant to be; not just a moment of personal conversion, but a more encompassing reform of our culture’s morals, i.e. sense of justice, and the church’s theology. I fear, however, that when most of the church uses the phrase “just get them saved”, they are speaking of an understanding of salvation, born out of the great revivals where, like cattle, we herd people through a service, coerce them into repeating a prayer, and send them on their way, “saved” and ready to face eternity. Rather than Paul’s understanding of salvation, that it is a process meant to be worked out, this theology of salvation is much more convenient because it takes all the responsibility of social justice out of our hands and leaves us with only the responsibility of, at most, telling our friends about salvation from hell or, at the very least, inviting them to church so that our pastor can tell them.

In conclusion I believe that, just as Old Testament law was meant to govern social justice into action, so was the full gospel of Jesus. To bring it back to Wesley’s Means of Grace, the night of the last supper was meant to be an analogy of the gospel or The Good News. In one night Jesus summarized the entire gospel plan. However, the evening did not end with the drinking of the wine and the eating of the bread, meant to symbolize Jesus’ redemption of sins, it ended with Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, an act meant to demonstrate how God’s Kingdom on Earth had arrived and was meant to reverse the injustices that so many around the world were experiencing. Without this part of the story, God seems impotent and powerless to do anything in this dimension and outside the realms of a spiritual heaven, somewhere up above the clouds, where the streets are gold.

I also believe that, while their methods may have differed, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Barth would have rebuked much of our modern day theology of salvation and clearly encouraged the making of disciples rather than just converts. And for me, the making of disciples, or discipleship, has to include our part in fighting social injustice because without it we are only becoming converts rather than true disciples of Jesus Christ. And though, in the end, all we may ultimately be able to do is throw all of our good deeds at the feet of Christ and admit that we are not fit to wipe off His shoes, it is still our mission, not as converts, but as disciples, to have good deeds to throw.

(the end)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

notes on salvation 3

We're the plan
In my opinion, one of the tragedies of conservative evangelicalism is that it fiercely defends literalism when it comes to things like the creation story but seems to happily embrace a more figurative definition when it comes to things like Matt. 25:32-46.

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

What does it mean to do good works? For many Christians, their Sunday and even daily rhetoric seems to suggest that the Bible does not exhort us to “do” so much as it exhorts us “not to do”. In other words, “fleeing sin” or even acts of piety are the same as “doing good works”. This sort of religion and theology seem to be in direct opposition to the Bible and to the way that Jesus taught and lived. In fact, when considering this and then reading through the gospels, it becomes apparent that much of the modern day church has taken on an almost identical religion as that of the Pharisees, only different in that we acknowledge Jesus’ divinity. You could say then that we have split from the Pharisees and have developed a reformed Pharisaic doctrine.

Is it acts of piety that God requires?

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6-8

What does it mean to not sin?

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if
you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash
and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the
oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the
widow. Isaiah 1:15-17

When we read these passages, and the many more like them, we see that we do not worship a God who is impotent or powerless to deal with or change our current circumstances, but a God of social justice who has very much put a plan in motion to oppose the oppressive powers of this earth. As Gary Haugan of the International Justice Mission said concerning God’s plan for fighting social injustice:

“It turns out that once again the answer from scripture is pretty
straightforward, it turns out that: we're the plan."

Monday, January 21, 2008


Many of you know that my wife and I have planted a ministry in North London and, as part of our ministry, we run after school clubs for young people. Tomorrow we start our first cell group for teenagers. We’re calling it Streetwise. The idea is that we’ll be discussing the wisdom that is needed to make it out of the streets.

First of all, let me say that I hope that’s true. I hope that we actually have the courage to discuss the wisdom that is needed rather than giving the canned answers that adults are supposed to give to young people; like if you’re being bullied, tell a teacher.

That said, we begin tomorrow with The Good Samaritan. In a multi-cultural (ethnic, race, and religion) neighbourhood, we felt like this would be the perfect start. And in a neighbourhood where everybody outside your culture is the enemy, I thought the below video would be a great discussion starter for this topic.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

hired guns

Last night I got a call from a friend whose church has decided that, as a staff member, he might not have the spiritual gifts that they’ve decided they need for his particular position. Actually, the senior pastor has decided this.

I’m constantly saddened by how much a church turns into a company when, among other things, it comes to their staff. Rather than working with and allowing for growth in the life of a staff member, many churches see their staff as hired guns (and, to be fair…) who were hired to do a job and, if they are unable to do that job in a manner that is acceptable to that particular church, the church has little hesitation in moving on to the next hired gun. To be fair, clergy often see themselves as hired guns. I know I did. So it shouldn’t be surprising that congregations have learned to see them like that as well. Still, there doesn’t seem to be much about our current outlook on the church and clergy that sounds very much like the kind of church that Jesus intended the disciples to plant.

I have to admit that, as a young youth minister, I was terrible at actually becoming a part of the fellowship. I had been mentored by a guy who saw himself as a hired gun (and, to be fair…) and whose goal it was to go into a place, build an impressive ministry, add another gold star to his résumé and then move on to the next rung of the ministry latter. In light of that, I took an almost identical path. I look back on the churches that I served in as a young youth minister and realize that I’m only in contact with one of them. Out of the other three churches I served in in my twenties, I’m only in touch with one staff member from one of those churches. The one church that I am in touch with almost doesn’t count as it was my wife’s college church before I was ever a staff member there. In addition, this particular church is one of those anomalies that almost wouldn’t allow people to come in and not be drawn into their fellowship. Still, I would have to admit that I have a lot more meaningful relationships at that church now, fourteen years later, than I did when I was actually a member of staff.

The bulk of that is certainly my fault. As I said, I simply never learned anything different. And, in looking back on that time, I definitely have to acknowledge that I truly missed out. I’d also have to admit that that lack of fellowship probably contributed to what became a pretty cynical outlook on the church as a whole. But, almost ten years beyond the last church where I served on staff, I think it’s also important to point out how bad churches can be at this. So let me share this encouragement…

I know that youth ministers (in particular) can be absolute punks. Too often they think they know it all and that you are lucky to have them as staff members. I realize that they often close themselves off in the youth room and make it very difficult to ever get to know them. And I also know that youth ministers often make the mistake of making the parents the enemy. I know that one too well. But please, if you can, remember that they are (often) still young people themselves and, while they may not know it, they also need mentors and people who are willing to disciple them.

I experienced this in the first church I ever served in. The worship minister there was a former youth minister who, in his God given wisdom, recognized that I was a nineteen year old kid who, though cocky as I could be, knew nothing and needed an advocate. While he could have taken the angle of having much to teach me, he instead took the angle of sticking up for me. When a parent or deacon would come in, guns a blazin’, Mel would stand in the gap, pound his fists on the table (quite literally on one occasion) and remind people that I was a young Christian. To be sure, I didn’t deserve that. But I have to tell you that he may be the only reason I ever survived that time and am still in the ministry, eighteen years later.

To any young youth minister (or staff member, for that matter) who might be reading this I would simply challenge you to find a mentor in your local church. You’ll not only find yourself growing through that relationship, and find yourself an advocate, but you’d be surprised how much that one act can endear you to a church.

The problems in this area are no one person or group’s fault. Ministers become frustrated with congregations that are unwilling to bend or move forward, and likewise, congregations sometimes become frustrated with ministers for the same reason. Sometimes ministers are visionaries or great administrators, but terrible at building relationships. Likewise, congregations sometimes treat staff members as nothing more than CEO’s or employees. It really is a matter of putting others before ourselves and doing everything we can to make it work. The church – an idea that is broken but full of world and life changing possibilities.

Friday, January 18, 2008

notes on salvation 2

For many Christians their understanding of the gospel is rooted solely in eschatology. Eschatology is defined by The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine as “the doctrine of the last things”, often identified as “resurrection, judgment, heaven and hell”. So in much of the modern day church, The Good News or The Kingdom of Heaven speak of eternal life and eternal life speaks of life in heaven after we die. However, Jesus defines eternal life as such:

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus
Christ, whom You have sent.” John 17:3

If this truly is the literal definition of the phrase eternal life, which is used to describe The Good News or The Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus and, as a result, the Apostles were preaching about, then it, along with Luke 4, paints a very different picture of salvation for us. Suddenly, when we read the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18 and Mark 10, we get a sense that Jesus is not condemning rich people to hell but simply pointing out that our possessions sometimes get in the way of us experiencing the eternal or fulltime presence of God because, rather than leaving our possessions and, quite literally, hanging out with God, our time is spent focussed on and looking after our stuff.

If we then take Jesus’ definition of eternal life and use it in reference to all of the places in the Old and New Testament that speak of The Good News or the Kingdom of God, we suddenly get a sense that God is not asking us to wait it out until this planet eventually spins out of control and he comes to take us up to heaven, but that God is building His Kingdom here on earth, that he is inviting us into communion with him here and now, that a time is coming and has now come where it no longer matters where and when we commune with Him and that we no longer need a priest to commune with God on our behalf. God is inviting us to become a part of His Kingdom here on earth and that, to be a part of His Kingdom, we must look after each other.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

a break in the action

A friend just finished up an article on his blog in which he asks the following question:

As much as I love the precepts of the emerging church, I wonder how well some of these ideas would work in a non-white American culture.
That got me to thinking that the so-called emerging church movement (of which I reluctantly consider myself a part) is, in fact, VERY white! Am I wrong about that? I can't think of a single minority author or even minority speaker who are a part of the emerging church movement.

That's got to mean something.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

notes on salvation 1

...or, 'They just need to get saved and then they would be alright.'

Well I’m back from the States and it’s been a while since I’ve written. As usual, it’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, just never quite sure where to start these days. One thing I will mention is that we’re beginning a new chapter in our local youth ministry and I’m very excited about it. After a couple of years of building bridges in the community, we actually begin our first “cell group” for teenagers next week. I feel confident that, out of the fifty to sixty teenagers that we have contact with, not one of them is a Christian. Many of them are Muslim, and a few are Buddhists. So it will be a very exciting new journey as we try to find a bridge building way to share the gospel.

With that in mind, I recently wrote an essay on salvation. The topic I was given was ‘They just need to get saved and then they would be alright. Discuss.’ In the essay I actually discussed the ideas of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley (I’ve decided that I’m a huge fan…more on that later) and Karl Barth, and then my own ideas which I based, I believe, on scripture. I thought I’d post that last section (I’ll actually post it in several sections over the next few days) as a way of getting the blog ball rolling for this new year. I’d be very interested to hear other’s thoughts. Is my theology off base? Agree/Disagree? Is John Calvin really the ogre I think he is (Shaun)?

Who is Jesus? Most evangelicals would respond by saying that Jesus is “savior and Lord”. A few, if given time, might add that He is also “an example” of how we should live. Yet, when reading about his example and describing it in sermon, far too many seem to skip over his ministry as an example of how we should live.

In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus sets the foundation for the next three years of his ministry when he gets up and reads from Isaiah.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he
went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The
scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place
where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he
has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to
proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to
release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the
attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on
him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your

John Wesley suggested that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, as summed up by Matthew, provides the clearest guide as to what William J. Abram calls “the moral center of gravity of the Christian faith”. In this sermon (Matthew 5:1-48) Jesus exhorts us to let our light shine before men that they might see our “good deeds” and praise our God in heaven. How do we let our light shine? By doing good deeds. Jesus further exhorts us to forgive our enemies and that hate is the same as murder. He further encourages us that those who realize their need for God, who mourn, who are humble, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are merciful, whose hearts are pure, who are peacemakers, and/or those who are persecuted for trying to live out any of the above merits, will be blessed.

With all of this in mind, Jesus seemed to be clearly concerned with not only a spiritual healing and salvation, but also a physical one. How else can you explain all the time he spent healing and raising people from physical death? One could argue that Jesus did it simply to gain the attention, trust, or even faith of those being healed or witnessing those miracles, but one must also acknowledge that, at the very least, Jesus acknowledged mankind’s desire for physical healing and affirmed that need and desire by, in fact, physically healing them.

(to be continued)

(Incidentally, this is not a Salvation Army blog and the thoughts and ideas expressed here are, in no way, meant to represent the thoughts and ideas of The Salvation Army. It is an independent blog written and maintained by a Christian who just happens to be a member of The Salvation Army church.)