Friday, May 27, 2011


LOVE WINS: A  book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. 
by Rob Bell

This book has been the source of so much controversy. All the wild-eyed critics (and some of the really trustworthy ones as well) did a great job of making me want to purchase and read it as soon as possible after being released! J 

I have enjoyed reading and studying up on the difficult topic of “hell” in the past and find this book consistent with many of the books and mainline perspectivies I have read before including Brian McLaren’s The Last Word and the Word After That and C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. My conclusion is still that I don’t know what I believe about hell! But I also am convinced that Rob Bell is not a heretic as there is nothing in this book that is too different than what the hero of the modern Christian apologetic C.S. Lewis teaches. Varied conclusions about theological perspectives are certainly fair, but throwing stones and labeling heresy is not fair this time.

Another thing to consider from my perspective…I don’t think this book should be taken too seriously. Or at least definitely not in the way many are taking it – as if it were an attempt at a theological textbook. “Love Wins” is more like prose or poetry or ramblings and questions from a thinking heart. It’s just Rob Bell’s style. This is his attempt to paint the picture of what the Gospel truly is all about – the love of God.

Finally, the reason why I loved reading the book and would recommend it to others is that Bell puts into writing the very questions I have asked and wrestled with and stewed over all my life about “heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived”. Perhaps he asks the questions better than some say he answers them, but I give him credit for asking them. I guess it makes me feel like I am not alone in questioning what everyone else around me says. I also love the tone of the book that ultimately God is still God and he can do whatever he pleases, but in the end we can cling to the hope and promise of the gospel that “Love Wins”. 


The book AND is lighting a fire under many of my friends, colleagues, and fellow leaders at Crossroads Friends Church. It’s sort of starting a revolution of passion and re-commitment to the core of the ministry we feel called to.

Some of my favorite quotes and concepts:
Context should stop you in your tracks on a regular basis and propel you to find out every little detail you can about a person, avoiding assumptions or preconceived notions about what they want or are looking for….So how does a missionary get the context? We do it by becoming friends with people. 55

Engaging culture isn’t as much about doing evangelism as it is incarnating the presence of Christ in every relationship we form. 58

…Missionaries start the discipleship process much sooner…I internally believe that I’m now in a relationship where they are going to be watching my life, picking up on my values, and giving me opportunities to encourage them toward my way of life. In other words, early in the engaging culture process, discipleship and conversion begin.  When Jesus called the first discples and actually begin his discipleship process, they weren’t exactly going to church as we commonly conceive it… Their process of conversion was simultaneous to their process of discipleship. 62

If you want your existing church to successfully engage the culture, you don’t begin by telling your people to engage and then bring ‘em to church. You must start by creating a new environment for them that provides a better way to witness to the culture and is the best way to see the kingdom lived out in concrete ways. The incarnational community that forms can then go out together and will eventually form the bridge between your cultural engagement with the world and the corporate structure of the church. 66

A consumer is not a disciple and a disciple is not a consumer! 75

People don’t need most of the stuff we give them. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between providing too much and the immaturity that develops when people are given the chance to overindulge. 81

God knows that fifty committed apprentices will out-serve, out-love, out-sacrifice, and out-faithful two thousand fans, but along the way you will take hits and you will start to wonder if things wouldn’t be easier if you could just provide church services for people. 87

Pastoring is as much about protecting the flock as it is about growing a flock. It’s about pushing them and challenging them instead of pandering to them. Ultimately, it’s time for leaders to be consumed in a struggle against consumerism. 88-89

It’s alarming how many churches act as though people will just become like Jesus through osmosis or through a sermon they heard…stop assuming people will just grow without an actual process. They won’t. 97

Jesus raised the bar on the front end and lowered it once he had the hearts of the people. 118

Keep in mind, however, that both sides of the missional movement (modalic and sodalic)  have significant tension. The grass really is not greener on the other side! If God calls you to stay and serve the existing church, then serve! If God calls you to take a risk and start new works, then do it! But never make the mistake of thinking that one calling is better than another. Both are necessary for God’s balanced church to emerge. 148

The last forty years of Sunday services, biblical sermons, safe childcare, affinity-based small groups, and programs to fit any need are not producing a strain of Christians that have significantly changed the culture. 162

God’s people have sometimes had to struggle through questions of where to gather, how to gather, and what to do when they gather. The “church service” as we know it today is not a God-ordained “must have”. 169

People get weary of church services when they realize that their participation isn’t necessary for it to continue. 172

Yes, singing together is still a meaningful experience for a large section of the existing church population, but you’ll find that as your church reaches deeper and deeper into the culture, this experience will be perceived as weird for some and nice for others, but surely not the most important reason they gather in a church service. Use this as an opportunity to expand their understanding of worship forms as well as ways of participating in worship as a lifestyle. 183

The gathering should not pander to consumeristic tendencies but should be a place to call people into a bigger story of giving their life away…The gathering should be the most pliable, flexible, and adjustable aspect of the church…Gather in a way that makes them want to GO. 185-188

The church is beautiful when she is sent, and the sent church will always be beautiful when she gathers in a way that highlights and complements her sending nature. 188

If spiritual leadership is anything, it is a journey of death and a journey to death. One journey is an inward dying to ourselves, our concerns, our ambitions, and our pride, and the other is a preparation for our actual, physical death, where the only thing that matters is what we’ve left to those who will follow us. 205

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hawk Marathon

The Lawrence Trailhawks put on their second annual 50 mile/Marathon trail run on the North Shore trails of Clinton Lake. Last year I really wanted to run the 50 but I had already registered for Fargo Marathon that day. I had been looking forward to running this event all year. This is honestly one of my favorite places to run in all of Kansas! These trails are in incredible shape and there is really no mud to speak of. This year the event was held on honestly one of the most incredible running days of the year – the perfect conditions of cloudy, strong north breeze, and unseasonably cool for May. I loved every second of it! My marathon finish time was 5:17 but I have to admit (though I have never done anything like this before) that included nearly 18 minutes of 'talking' at one of the aid stations...

Due to the fact that I had run a marathon, 50 miler, or 100K just about every weekend for the last 8 weeks, I decided to just run the marathon so that I could spend some quality Saturday time with Sarah before returning home. I hadn't really decided that I was going to do that for sure until ¾ the way through the first loop so I had to technically 'drop down' to the marathon, though thankfully I was still given an official marathon finish. Leaving the course after only completing the marathon was psychologically difficult for me – kind of like being the first to leave a really fun party!

I only wiped out once during the 26.2 but landed on my water bottle actually so it didn't hurt too much. I loved the course and the extra hills added in to increase the mileage and all the generous aid-stations and the really friendly Lawrence Trailhawks everywhere you looked! I enjoyed meeting a few new runners and running with some old ones as well, including running with Danny Miller most of the first lap. I was basically not sore at all when it was over and looking forward to participating in another Hawk event in the future.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When Helping Hurts

When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor And Yourself
By Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone interested in truly helping and making a difference in the lives of people affected by one of the manifestations of poverty. It is a very thorough, fair, honest, and at times uncomfortable and very challenging summary of what it means to help someone/a community and how by trying to help you often hurt them and yourself. This doesn't have to be the case. There is another way. This is such good news. But it's not easy and takes a very intentional process. One of my favorite books related to missiology and a 'must-read' for Mission Team and Outreach Team members and really anyone longing to make a sustaining difference. The following will be a long list of some of my favorite, and I believe most helpful, quotes and concepts, mostly verbatim:

Personal piety and formal worship are essential to the Christian life, but they must lead to lives that "act justly and love mercy" (Micah 6:8). 41

The evangelical church's retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not—as many have asserted—to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor. While the rise of government programs may have exacerbated the church's retreat, they were not the primary cause. 45

Table 2.1 p55
If we believe that primary cause of poverty is…then we will primarily try to…
A Lack of Knowledge                   Educate the Poor
Oppression by Powerful People    Work for Social Justice
The personal sins of the poor        Evangelize and disciple the poor
A lack of material resources          give material resources to the poor

3 Relationship Factors into a holistic life: Relationship with God, Self, Others, and with the Rest of Creation. Poverty exists when any one of these three is broken. 57-58

Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings. 62

Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do more harm than good. 64

The economically rich often have "god-complexes," a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority. 65

Very central point: one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich—their god-complexes—and the poverty of being of the economically poor—their feelings of inferiority and shame. The way we act toward the economically poor often communicates—albeit unintentionally—that we are superior and they are inferior. In this process we hurt the poor and ourselves. 65

Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. … Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work. 78

Caucasian evangelicals in the United States, for whom the systems have worked well, are particularly blind to the systemic causes of poverty and are quick to blame the poor for their plight. Evangelicals tend to believe that systemic arguments for poverty amount to shifting blame for personal sin and excusing moral failure. 93

A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. The failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm. 104-105

Relief: the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis; to stop the bleeding; ie the Good Samaritan.
Rehabilitation: seeking to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions; beings when the bleeding stops; key element is to work with the victim as they participate in their own recovery.
Development: the process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved—both the "helpers" and the "helped"—closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation; not done to or for people but with people. 104-105

One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make—by far—is in applying relief situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention. 105

It is helpful for your church or ministry to have a set of benevolence policies in place to guide decision making when working with materially poor people. These policies should flow from your mission and vision and be consistent with a biblical perspective on the nature of poverty and its alleviation. …the reality is that only a small percentage of the poor in your community or around the world require relief; …including the severely disabled, some of the elderly, very young, orphaned children, the mentally ill homeless population, and victims of a natural disaster. 108-109

Avoid paternalism. Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves. 115

Paternalism comes in a variety of forms: Resource Paternalism (pouring financial and other material resources in which the real need is for the local people to steward their own resources); Spiritual Paternalism (we do have much to share out of our knowledge and experiences, but oftentimes the materially poor have an even deeper walk with God and have insights and experiences that they can share with us, if we would just stop talking and listen); Knowledge Paternalism (when we assume that we have all the best ideas about how to do things); Labor Paternalism (occurs when we do work for people that they can do for themselves); Managerial Paternalism (our being prone to take charge, lead, 'produce', and "get something done") 115-119

Consider Assets-Based Community Development (ABCD)…which puts the emphasis on what the materially poor people already have and asks them to consider from the outset, "What is right with you? What gifts has God given you that you can use to improve your life and that of your neighbors? How can the individuals and organizations in your community work together to improve your community? VERSUS Needs-Based Community Development which focuses on what is lacking in the life of a community or person, asking the questions "What is wrong with you? How can I fix you?" 125-126

Poverty alleviation is about reconciling people's relationships, not about putting bandages over particular manifestations of the underlying brokenness. 128

Never lose sight of the goal: reconciling relationships is the essence of poverty alleviation. 130

The North American need for speed undermines the slow process needed for lasting and effective long-run development. 131

Participation is not just a means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right. 145

And while the STM team is in monchonic high gear, the receiving culture is in polychromic mode, working at a slower pace. Getting the job done is less important than being together and getting to know one another. This can quickly cause frustrations for the STM team members, as they watch the seconds tick away while little is getting "done". It is not long before many of us start to look down on our polychromic brothers and sisters, quickly deciding that they are inept or even lazy. And then the paternalism kicks in. We take over and do everything because otherwise it just won't get done, at least not before the two weeks is over, which would be a disaster from the perspective of many STM teams. 168

At a minimum, the principle of participation implies that the community, church, or organization that receives the STM team needs to be the primary entity deciding that should be done, as well as how it should be done. Even more importantly, they need to be the ones requesting the team. 171

Design the trip about "being" and "learning" as much as "doing". Stay in community members' homes and create time to talk and interact with them. Ask local believers to share their insights with team members about who God is and how He works in their lives… 175

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: The 360 Leader

Sometimes you just have "that book" that you don't finish for the longest time. You might start it and then start other books and get way more excited about the other books. I don't ever remember spreading the reading of another book out as long as this one, but, oh well. Late this past winter I finished the book by John Maxwell called "The 360 Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization". I found it to be a good book and had great concepts that I really benefited from for studying. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

The reality is that 99 percent of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization. 1

Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. 7

…as you move up the ladder, you may even find that the amount of responsibility you take on increases faster than the amount of authority you receive…in some ways leaders have less freedom as they move up, not more. 15

The greater your desire to receive credit and recognition, the more frustrated you are likely to become working in the middle of an organization. 29

Leaders don't like change any more than followers do—unless, of course, it's their idea! 65

If people disagree with the vision, it's often because they have a problem with the person who cast it…people buy into the leader, then the vision. 66

Leading isn't about controlling, it's about releasing. Good leaders give their power away. They look for good people, and then invest in them to the point where they can be released and empowered to perform. 117

If you don't put in the work, you always eventually get found out. 130

The next time you are in a meeting with your boss, pay attention to the way you handle the presentation of your point of view. Do you state it clearly as a contribution to the discussion? Or do you hammer away at it to try to "win"? Trying to win your point at all costs with your boss can be like trying to do the same with your spouse. Even if you win, you lose. 141

Don't let a great idea get rained on because you picked the wrong day to introduce it. 142

By making yourself better, you make others better. 156

Few things increase the credibility of leaders more than adding value to the people around them. 165

If you want to influence your peers, become their cheerleaders. 166

It's been said that great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others. That's what gossip does. It makes people small. 183

A bulldog can beat a skunk in a fight anytime, but he knows it's just not worth it. That's also the attitude of 360-Degree Leaders. 184

One of the worst things leaders can do is expend energy on trying to make others think they're perfect…It's a crock…we need to quit pretending. People who are real, who are genunine concerning their weaknesses as well as their strengths, draw others to them. They engender trust. They are approachable…" 206

The people who work alongside you know your weaknesses, faults, and blind spots. If you doubt that—and you have great courage—just ask them!...When you make mistakes, admit them and quickly ask for forgiveness. Nothing is more disarming, and nothing does a better job of clearing the decks relationally. 207

Relationship building is always the foundation of effective leadership. Leaders who ignore the relational aspect of leadership tend to rely on their position instead. 213

Leaders who tend only to business often end up losing the people and the business. 218

The teacher who browbeats you and tells you how ignorant or undisciplined you are isn't the one who inspires you to learn and grow. It's the one who thinks you're wonderful and tells you so. 220

Experience alone isn't a good enough teacher—evaluated experience is. 235



“Good” and “Evil”

"The line between good and evil is not drawn between nations and parties but through every human heart." -Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Lincoln Marathon

Yesterday was my 26th marathon in my 14th state. I was the pacer for the 3:55 group at the Lincoln Marathon in Nebraska. It was a really nice day and a really fun course with lots of really friendly and grateful people. My time according to the website was 3:54:19. I was following a very intentional strategy to finish just under 3:55. I felt good about the finishing time and especially all of the people who met their goals in the group that I was leading. I had a group of several dozen sticking with me through the half marathon split off and then it went to around 15 or so through 20 miles and then 8 or so that stuck with me all the way to mile 25 when they felt confident to go ahead and finish strong. Four of the most memorable people I ran with included a first time Boston qualifier, a 1st time sub 4 hour marathon on her 8th marathon, a first time marathoner and an older gentleman who finished 30 seconds behind me for his first sub 3:55 finish as well. It was a huge event with, according to what I heard, 11,000 in the half and full altogether. The finish line was on the 50 yard line of the Tom Osborne Stadium on the University of Nebraska Campus in Lincoln.