The Shack – Don’t Hate.

I love this book, and have read it several times. It has had a bad rap in evangelical circles because a few well-known, and influential pastors have spoken out against it for various reasons. That bugs me a bit, because at least one of those pastors has admitted to not reading the book himself in a blog post about why the book is heretical. Interesting…seems to me that reviewing a book without having read it is a bit more dangerous than a novel about the a man who loses his daughter, and then has a supernatural encounter with the Triune God. I have had several friends “call me out” (Jokingly, of course) for reading the book as well. When I asked them if they’ve read it they replied, “no, but (fill in the blank of well-known pastor’s name here) said in a sermon I listened to online that it was heretical.” Wow. What a lovely culture we have created. People now think it’s ok critique (JUDGE) something based upon what someone else has said who has also judged that same thing based upon what they heard from someone ELSE. Scary.

That being said, I would encourage everyone to read this book for yourself. Yes, even if your pastor said you shouldn’t. It’s a wonderful book for many reasons. Whether you are just looking for a leisurely story, or to glean from the author’s deep insight of the Kingdom and God’s purpose for His Church you will gain much from this story.

Last night while reading I came across a section from one of my favorite chapters (ch. 12) of the book that I wanted to share with you…you will quickly see why I enjoy this book so much, and maybe these little snippets will coax you to read the entire story…

The main character, Mack, is having a conversation with Jesus about life, the Church, the Kingdom, etc.

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Mack, just asked Jesus about heaven…

“Mack, our final destiny is not the picture of Heaven that you have stuck in your head-you know, the image of pearly gates and streets of gold. Instead it’s a new cleansing of this universe , so it will indeed look a lot like here.”

“Then what’s with the pearly gates and gold stuff?”

“That stuff, my brother, is a picture of me and the woman I’m in love with.”

Mack looked down at Him to see if He was joking, but He obviously wasn’t.

“It is a picture of my bride, the Church; individuals who together form a spiritual city with a living river flowing through the middle, and on both shores trees of growing with fruit that will heal the hurt and sorrows of the nations. And this city is always open, and each gate into it is made of a single pearl…” He opened one eye and looked at Mack.

“That would be me!” He saw Mack’s question, and explained, “Pearls, Mack. The only precious stone made by pain, suffering and-finally-death.”

“I get it. You are the way in, but-” Mack paused, searching for the right words. “You’re talking about the church as this woman you’re in love with; I’m pretty sure I haven’t met her.” He turned away slightly. “She’s not the place I go on Sundays,” Mack said more to himself, unsure if that was safe to say out loud.

“Mack, that’s because you’re only seeing the institution, a man-made system. That’s not what I came to build. What I see are people and their lives, a living breathing community of all those who love me, not buildings and programs.”

Mack was a bit taken back to hear Jesus talking about “church” this way, but then again, it didn’t really surprise him. It was a relief. “So how do I become part of that church?” he asked. “This woman you seem to be so gaga over.”

“It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now-just doing this-and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships. You can’t build it. It’s my job and I’m actually pretty good at it”, Jesus said with a chuckle.

For Mack these words were like a breath of fresh air! Simple. Not a bunch of exhausting work and long lists of demands, and not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know. Just sharing life. “Bit, wait-“Mack had a jumble of questions starting to surface. Maybe he had misunderstood. This seemed TOO simple. Again he caught himself. Perhaps it was because humans are so utterly lost and independent that we take what is simple and make it complex? So he thought twice about messing with what he was beginning to understand. To begin asking his jumbled mess of questions at this moment felt like throwing a dirt clod into a little pool of clear water.

“Never mind,” was all he said.

“Mack, you don’t need to have it all figured out. Just be with me….”

“…I really do want to understand. I mean, I find the way you are so different from all the well-intentioned religious stuff I’m familiar with.”

“As well-intentioned as it might be, you know that religious machinery can chew up people!” Jesus said with a bite of His own. “An awful lot of what is done in my name has nothing to do with me and is often, even if unintentional , very contrary to my purposes.”

“You’re not too fond of religion and institutions?” Mack said, not sure if he was asking a question or making an observation.

“I don’t create institutions-never have, never will.”

“What about the institution of marriage?”

“Marriage is not an institution. It’s a relationship.” Jesus paused, his voice steady and patient. “Like I said, I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion,” Jesus said a little sarcastically, “and not very fond of politics or economics either.” Jesus’ visage darkened noticeably. “And why should I be? They are the man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about. What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three? Put simply, these terrors are tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control. People are afraid of uncertainty, afraid of the future. These institutions, these structures and ideologies, are all a vain effort to create some sense of certainty and security where there isn’t any. It’s all false! Systems cannot provide you security, only I can.”

“Woah!” was all Mack could think. The landscape of how he, and just about everyone he knew, had sought to manage and navigate their lives was being reduced to little more than rubble…

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It’s just keeps getting better and better. Not sure if you noticed it or not, but there was a section in there that I can see why it would “threaten” the power and control some have over others through the institutions they have started and are in charge of. What the book is suggesting threatens to “reduce that to rubble”. I can see why the book is “warned against” inside the walls of institutions….

I hope you will get the book and enjoy the heck out of it. It truly is a touching story, one that will bring tears to your eyes, and new life to your heart. If you have any comments regarding the book, or this post please refrain from sharing them if you have not read the book (in FULL). If you have, and feel the need to share then please do. I am sure the book is not “theologically perfect”, but what is. We have the Holy Spirit in us to discern truth and untruth. There is a lot of TRUTH in this book. There is also some things that may need to be read with a “grain of salt”, as in any book you read that is not the Bible. Enjoy!

Removing [More] Ignorance…

“Ignorance often breeds unnecessary fear and violence.” (p.74 Chandler, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road)

I hope the thesis of my last post was that we, as Western Christians, need to get out of our comfort zones/”Christian Bubbles” in order to engage people who are different from us. Specifically, how can we go out of our way to encounter Muslims, and allow the Spirit of our Savior, Jesus, to show Himself? First, we must burn away the false pretenses we have in our minds about those who are different from us; during this conversation we will focus on Muslim, but you can apply these principles to any situation where differences exist…

In response people who say, “I hate Islam”, Mazhar asks, “What Islam do you hate? There are so many expressions of it…I cannot afford to hate Islam, or anything. For me, hate connects with fear, desire for revenge and unforgiveness.” (p.74, Pilgrims)

I doubt any of you who read this blog would really say you “hate” Muslims. However, our actions, whether conscious or not may speak hatred louder than we may think.

“Christians are in danger of repeating harmful periods of history when the West has gone to war on the Muslim East to conquer, physically or spiritually, in the name of God. Muslims rarely hear “Good News” from Christians; instead they feel targeted as enemies of a new war.” (p.74, Pilgrims)

The book I am currently reading right now is called “Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road“, by Paul-Gordon Chandler. It’s a wonderful book, and is helping me to remove quite a bit of the ignorance in my life regarding Islam. It is currently touching on some major issues that we do not have time to go into (Mainly, how our Western view & practice of “missions” & “missionaries” MUST change, and will soon, if not already be ineffective in the world.)

The book has also touched quite a bit on war…

“In the war in Iraq, both Western Christians and Arab Muslims prayed for God to give their respective side victory-seeing it as a moral or holy war.” (p.73, Pilgrims)

Ouch. Think about that for minute. Are we so arrogant to think that God “sides” with OUR country as opposed to an Eastern Country? If I’m not mistaken, Jesus Christ Himself was born and raised in the East. Not to mention the Christian Church was birthed THERE, and spread from THERE to HERE. Who do we think we are, really? I’m not sure God “sides” with any particular country, or region of the world at all…I think He might want all to know Him and the power of His resurrection, but I could be wrong…

“The most beautiful part of the Gospel…the cross…became a weapon used against us in crusader’s hands (Crusader in Arabic means “cross-bearer”). The cross, where God had embraced humanity, had become a sword.” (p.74, Pilgrims)

I hope this causes us all to stop and think about how our country approaches war, and engages in battle with others for the “freedom” of our “Christian Nation”. Put yourself in the shoes of the countries we’re waging war war against and think for a moment what they must perceive about us…the thoughts that come to my mind are far from a gracious, loving, Savior God whom I’ve found in Jesus.

“The Christian West is often seen by Muslims as generally immoral and supportive of a regime which they perceive as having for decades humiliated both Muslim & Christian Palestinian people.” (p.73, Pilgrims)

We’ll stop here for today, but will continue later this week with a short story of my visit to a local Mosque here in Las Vegas…I hope you will all begin to open yourselves up to beginning a relationship with someone who is different from you-Jesus did it….A LOT. We do it…A LITTLE, if at all.

“Laughing With” – Regina Spektor

If you don’t listen to Regina Spektor’s music then you are missing out on an incredibly talented artist. My wife introduced me to Regina’s music a few years back and I thought it was really weird; I didn’t like it at first. Now I think it’s brilliant. Her latest album has an incredible song on it that you MUST hear….The video & lyrics are powerful, and posted below. (Regina does not profess to be a Christian that I know of, which makes this song even more touching)

Regina Spektor Laughing With lyrics

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one´s laughing at God when they´re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one´s laughing at God when it´s gotten real late
And their kid´s not back from the party yet
No one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one´s laughing at God when they see the one they love
Hand in hand with someone else and they hope they´re mistaken

No one laughs at God when the cops knock on their door
And they say we got some bad

news sir
No one´s laughing at God when there´s a famine fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they´re ´bout to choke

God can be funny
When told he´ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious
Ha ha
Ha ha

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one´s laughing at God when they´ve lost all they´ve got
And they don´t know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize that the last sight they´ll ever see
Is a pair of hateful eyes
No one´s laughing at God when they´re saying their goodbyes

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they´re ´bout to choke

God can be funny
When told he´ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughing at God in a hospital
No one´s laughing at God in a war

No one´s laughing at god when they´re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one´s laughing at God
No one´s laughing at God
No one´s laughing at God
No one´s laughing at God
We´re all laughing with God

Whew, We’re Not The Only Ones…

As I was reading in Mark 9 I was comforted to know that we are not the only ones who constantly spit on the cross by refusing to fully accept the sacrifice that Christ made on it for us. We are not the only ones who seek to “supplement the cross” in our pursuits to please God & earn His favor with our good deeds/works. Three of His “best students” seemed to be bent towards that same brokenness as well…

At the beginning of chapter 9 Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up on the mountain with Him. Then, something supernatural happens. Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white, and Elijah & Moses appear before them talking to Jesus. Check out our brilliant friend Peter’s response…

5Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

7Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Peter has a supernatural encounter with God, and look what his FIRST response is…He immediately wants to DO something for Jesus. It’s almost like he wants to impress Jesus with his good idea. (Although confining Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to a shelter does not seem like too great of an idea to me) God the Father has to yell at Peter from the clouds to get him to shut up and listen; by then it’s too late…

8Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

I wonder what would have happened had Peter kept his mouth shut, watched, and listened? Instead, he immediately feels the need to work, to do, to perform, & earn the favor of Jesus. Jesus wanted them to experience, and witness that wonderful happening. I wonder if Peter missed out on something powerful that he needed to hear. (If he did I’m sure Jesus filled him in later – Peter did, after all, end up doing some pretty neat stuff in the kingdom=)

I also realize that this is before the cross, so the disciples have a reason NOT to understand/accept it at this point; it hasn’t happened yet! So, we can cut them some slack here. We, however, can’t use that same excuse…

How often do we bypass the, “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” part because we are too busy trying to impress Jesus with our grand ideas of kingdom growth strategery, and performance based lifestyle? Do we often miss out on something God may be trying to teach or show us because we’re busy trying to show HIM how good we can be for Him?

“Christ, thank you that you have grace, and patience for us even when we fail to grasp even the most basic principles of your life.”


Word on the Street…

I received this comment through an email from a young guy who has been exploring what it looks like to live in Gospel Centered Community in one of our I.G. families over the past couple of months. This was his response after me giving him a hard time about being so quiet during worship gatherings. It is very refreshing, and encouraging to hear things like this:

“I feel like I’ve been able to mentally understand the core values and purpose of Christianity, but I’ve rarely ever felt spiritually close to God. I can give some theologically correct answers and I try to live by them, but the basis of my action feels more like a rigid conviction rather than an overflow of the love God’s given to me. I see in the I.G. family an authentic heart for God’s people, and I hear stories of the Spirit moving in everyone’s life. So, I figure that most of you have greater experience at engaging God and people in a way that has more depth than mere intellectual explanations. Yet I am unsure of how to make such a thing real in my life. I relate to Kierkegaard in that way.”

The purpose of posting this is not to boast in anything that we have done as an organization, or I.G. Community. We simply feel that the above statement is a beautiful picture of fresh perspective from someone who is new to “organic church”. I think this would have been his/her response to many other Organic/Simple Churches as well…To God be all of the Glory.

I.G. Vegas = Eight Months Old…

It has been eight months since Intentional Gathering’s first permanent presence in Las Vegas. It has been quite the ride. We have seen the Lord do some amazing things. He has taught us much. He has begun forming some beautiful Gospel Centered Biblical Communities here in the city, and used I.G. Vegas to influence to birth of new “missional communities” in other parts of the country. Over the past eight months we have been continuously reminded of some of the core principles we learned at the birth of our journey of that began two years ago in Texas…

1) If we EVER think we have “it” figured out then we have fallen victim to pride, & self-righteousness. We will soon lose all ability to hear from the Holy Spirit, and the ability make proper changes in order to stay effective in our pursuit of seeing the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth.

2) Every “missional community” IS, and MUST BE different. There is NO formula. Gospel Centered Community centered around mission MUST happen naturally, and cannot be forced.

3) We must not spend precious time, energy, and efforts trying to rally believers around our “cause”, “model”, or “way of doing things”. We MUST pursue making disciples, and adding NEW believers to the Body of Christ in order to grow the Kingdom of God. As we pursue making NEW disciples Christ will grow His Church. Amen.

Here’s a quick video of some things that have happened over the past eight months in Vegas, and some upcoming opportunities we have as an organization…

Desperation Blog…Part 2

A couple months back I posted an entry titled, “The Godless: A Desperate Generation”. Though it is not entirely necessary to read before this entry, it may help you to see what sparked the thoughts below…

In the past few months I have been almost convinced that it is impossible to be desperate for God in America because of our lack of need for Him in regards to basic provision. My mind has shifted gears in the past few weeks, though I still strongly believe that it is MUCH more difficult to grasp a desperation for God without needing, and relying on Him for the provision of our basic needs.

I have realized that anyone, in any country, who takes the scriptures seriously, lives them out, and denies themselves daily, can begin to understand what it means to be desperate for God in a physical and Spiritual sense. If I truly live the scriptures, and take them seriously then I will be without some sort of fleshly need, or desire. I will have need for God’s provision in my life. Because desperation for God has not been modeled for many of us in our lives we will have to pursue it more intentionally, and with everything in our being. As we deny ourselves of fleshly desires we will quickly be made desperate for God, His presence, and provision in our lives.

If you are married, and truly seeking the scriptures/living them out in your marriage then you certainly know, or are learning to be desperate for God. If you are not married, that’s okay, you should still keep reading. At the core of the Gospel we see this idea of denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following after Jesus. (Matthew 16:24) This is a daily denial of self, which goes completely against everything in our being. This poses a question: if we are not desperate for God, are we truly denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus as the scriptures call us to? A second core principle of the Gospel is the idea of putting the interests of others before ours, having the attitude of Jesus. (Philippians 2:4-5) Second question: if I am not desperate for God on a daily basis I am basically saying that I have this “flesh”, “denial of self”, and “other’s interests before mine” thing figured out. That thought breeds self-righteousness, and arrogance. Scary.

I know many people who seem to have it all together. They have the right answers for everything. They have the best, most eloquent responses to all of life’s situations. They read all the right books, and spend large amounts of time studying scripture. This intrigues me, especially when very little of it is translated into life practice. It seems to be mere head knowledge. Ironically, many of these same people think very often about themselves, and very little about others. At the core there seems to be a lack of desperation for God. Maybe an even deeper root is the absence of the realization that NEED to be desperate for God should exist!? In our sin nature we have been deceived into thinking that a “good Christian” is someone who has it all together instead of someone who is daily crying out in need for God to save them from themselves.

I have learned lately that I am an extremely selfish person. I will probably be learning this more and more as I get older, lasting until the day I die. This has manifested itself in the relationships I have with friends, as well as my marriage. The Lord is making me desperate for Him to choke out my fleshly, selfish desires, and put my wife’s/others interests before mine. That is, after all, what I’m called to as a husband, and believer.

Some other questions that have crossed my mind in reference to this subject of being desperate for God:

Is my lack of desperation for Him, which we have seen can be translated to a lack of denying myself, and putting the interests of others before me, be hindering me from involvement in the growth of the kingdom? Ouch.

How many kingdom opportunities am I missing out on as a result of my lack of desperation for God, and my focus on self?

As Christians, when will we stop thinking it’s all about us, our walk with God, our time with God, our community, our church, our faith, our righteousness, our accountability, our sin, our forgiveness, etc. and start focusing on how those things can empower us to bring light/life to dark/dead places? (Take the focus off of ourselves, and our interests in order to redirect that energy to the focus on the interests of others)

Thanks for reading. I would enjoy, and greatly benefit from any insight you all have on these thoughts.