Saturday, June 21, 2008

Marcus Luttrell is the Lone Survivor

On several levels this is an amazing book. First of all, a large part of this book deals with what goes into becoming a Navy S.E.A.L. Needless to say it is some crazy stuff. The intensity, the discipline, and being pushed to the edge of insanity would be the best way to describe it. What they are put through would seem more appropriate for those who find themselves incarcerated. Yet as you read this section of Luttrell's memoirs, you realize that he is fulfilling his calling.

Secondly, this book reads in such a way that you need to stop and remind yourself that this is the real deal. It is not some Tom Clancy novel. This is very recent history that has significant implications in where we as a country find ourselves right now.

Thirdly, this book gives us a better grasp of understanding our enemies as well as our allies within their midst! The enemies in the war on terror are vastly different than anything else we have ever faced. It truly is a hatred that is hard to comprehend. But on the other hand, it was simply amazing to see the good guys within Afghanistan that committed themselves to the care and hospitality of Luttrell in defiance to the Taliban.

It is exactly when the book takes us over to Afghanistan, which is where it become problematic for me. Luttrell's team is sent out on a recon mission and while they are on their mission some goatherds come upon them. It is in this point of the book that the ethical, moral and spiritual dilemma explodes in Luttrell's brain. You see the logic of the soldier as he is confronted with the logic of faith. Luttrell states that "my trouble is, I have another soul. My Christian soul. And it was crowding in on me. Something kept whispering in the back of my mind, it would be wrong to execute these unarmed men in cold blood." Based on Luttrell's vote the team decided to let the goatherds go and within less than an hour the 4 S.E.A.L.s found themselves being hunted down by a Taliban army. Based on the title of the book, you can only guess what was the end result.

Now let me be the first to say that Luttrell is an amazing soldier. But as a pastor who has worked with teenagers for almost 20 years now it kills me to see our young men having to deal with all that this war has done to their generation and we will only know the severity of it all in decades to come. Luttrell is simply amazing in all that he has been through and has lived to tell about it. My concern is what will become of these guys 10, 20, 30 years from now. It is very difficult to see the struggle between what Luttrell has committed himself to as a soldier when it goes up against his personal faith. And also it is difficult to see the anger that wells up within him as he directs a lot of his rage at the "liberals". On several occasions he basically blames the liberals for putting him in the dilemma he found himself in instead of seeing this as the crisis of faith that he himself points out. He should be directed his anger out on God Himself. God is a big boy. He can take all of our pain, anger and frustration with life. He is a better person to direct those feelings at instead of the softer target of those known as "liberals". After all, David used God as a punching bag in many of his Psalms and in doing so, David often found hope after giving God a piece of his mind. Hatred towards people is always a bad motivator. It has a way of turning people into, well, people like the Taliban who are completely motivated by hatred. My fear is that if we confront violence with more violence we will be in a perpetual cycle that has the potential of spiraling out of control.

Now I know that God Himself has a special place in his heart for the soldier. We wouldn't have such great stories such as David and Goliath, Gideon's army, the conversion of Cornelius, David's mighty men, the Egyptian armies demise before Moses, etc. But is it possible that Jesus presents to us a new way to confront our enemies? One of my most favorite parts of the book was when the small village extended their hand of hospitality and care to Luttrell. There is something that happened within Luttrell where you can tell he fell for these people. A bond occurs between him and the children as well as many of the adults who endeared themselves to him despite the fact that the Taliban was threatening their lives for protecting Luttrell. Is there a way to fight this evil form of intense hatred with a love that is not only childlike but makes almost no sense in the midst of the enemy surrounding the village? The love of this village persisted in such a way that ultimately it is they who won this battle. A living, breathing Luttrell was the result of their efforts. Love wins. Again and again and again. That is the amazing story within the story of Marcus Luttrell.

Friday, June 20, 2008

unChristian: Too Political

A Lesson for youth groups based off of the book entitled "Unchristian" by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

The Issue: Too Political

The Perception: Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.

Questions and Quotes for Discussion:

Name for me who you think the top 5 Christians of all time would be.

We are in full gear for a political season that will have a major impact on your JH/SH years. The next president could possibly have that office all the way into your college years.

1. First of all, what political issues do you feel strongly about?
2. Secondly, if you could vote, who do you think you would vote for in November and why?
3. Thirdly, should Christians be involved in politics?

Listen to Fermi Project Podcast: Episode of unChristian featuring Mark Batterson

Did anything that Mark Batterson had to say jump out at you? Why do you think outsiders equate Christians with being Republicans? How difficult do you think it must be for him to pastor a church in D.C. where many people feel very strongly about both political parties? What about our church - do you think we are tied to a political party? The stereotype out there is that evangelical churches lean right and mainline churches lean left. Is that always true?

1. The Impact of Religion on Recent Politics

A. In the last two elections George Bush was very outspoken about his faith whereas his
democratic opponents did not. The results are obvious.

B. In this political season we have seen one very qualified candidate get eliminated more or less
because he identified himself with Mormonism.

C. Democrats have turned the corner in being much more outspoken about their faith.

D. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have had to distance themselves from religious leaders
they considered as friends and allies who have said things that were offensive to a vast majority of people.

E. And let’s not forget, it was a radical religious ideology that brought down the World Trade
Center that initiated much of where we find ourselves today.

F. It is a radical religious ideology that is influencing Iran’s government today and will have major
implications with the next American administration.

2. The Influence of Religion on Politics

A. Is there a connection between faith and politics? The Bible has a lot to say about issues related
to life, human dignity, the poor, marriages and families, just war, environmentalism, good vs. evil behavior, wise vs. foolish decisions, the influence of the Spirit of God vs. our own selfish desires, etc.

B. What is a worldview? What factors help to shape our worldview? How important should our
faith and knowledge of the Bible develop our worldview?

C. Do Christians agree on everything politically? So, is it possible that a biblical worldview can operate out of the Republican AND Democrat parties?

D. Should Christians align themselves with one specific party or should our faith rise above both
parties critiquing the positives and negatives of both sides against a Christian worldview?

3. Political Change vs. Spiritual Change

A. In Barack’s campaign you have seen, and will see up until November, the word “change”. Also,
McCain will work hard to show a difference (change) between Bush and himself, although Barack will argue against that (no change from Bush’s policies with McCain). What do you think he means by using that word? How does “political change” occur and how does that affect us?

B. Think of an issue you feel strongly about. If the government changed the law to go against what you believe would that automatically change you beliefs? Why? Example: my view on abortion.

C. What kind of change was Jesus interested?

D. How is the change that Jesus is interested in that different from the kind of change that comes
through politics?

4. The Bible and Politics

A. Matthew 22:21 - Jesus does not dismiss the importance of politics but recognizes our duty to
serve God and our leaders.

B. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 - Regardless of political parties or even faith, Paul calls us to pray, intercede and thank Him for those in authority over us. Bill Clinton was not treated like this by many conservative religious leaders, instead he was vilified.

C. John 18:33-40

1. Jesus’ kingdom is radically different from political kingdoms.

2. The political climate was used against Jesus to murder him.

3. Jesus was determined that he came to testify to the truth even in the face of death.

4. Pilate, the politician, questioned the idea of truth as his conscience is being battered by the
demands of the people who wanted blood.


Politics: Under the right circumstances help to create laws that will deter people from acting out in evil ways. The hope is that the law will change people from the outside-in. Although a law may cause someone to hold back from making a bad decision, it does not and will not change the HEART of a person. They can still hate as long as they do not murder. They can still lust as long as they do not rape or molest.

Faith: This is a radical change from within in which the Spirit of God transforms us from the inside-out. We willfully open ourselves up to God changing and transforming us to be more like him. The change begins within the heart of a person.

THE NEW PERCEPTION: Christians are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues.

Ichthus Festival 2008

Another Christian Music Festival has come and gone. And as you can tell by this picture where on God's green earth can you find an all-American teenage boy, a hippie, a ROTC, and a plastic lawn ornament from someones nativity set all having a great time together?!?!?! You won't find this at some Woodstock wanna-be lallapoloza, monsters of rock, angry-hate-the-world music fest. Nope. It is only through the sweet vibes of Christian rock, punk, hardcore, metal, rap, worship, contemporary all thrown into a blender and served up in Wilmore, Kentucky!

Typically throughout the year I get discouraged by what passes for Christian radio. Why have the buzz words for Christian radio become "positive" and "Safe for the whole family"? The Bible sure doesn't hold to these labels. When I get up the nerve to give some of the local channels a chance I get an image of Christ that is so shiny and happy and squeaky clean. The happy DJ's come across as perfect Christians. I worry if at times our idea of Christian radio is really having a deep impact or if it is just another deterrent to outsiders. It is these thoughts I struggle with until I come on out to Ichthus!

Every time I come out to Ichthus I am reminded all over again that there really is some amazing music out there that not only uplifts but also digs into the pain and struggle of life (normally the songs you never hear on Christian radio stations). I was encouraged by Mark Hall of Casting Crowns, I stumbled into the deep impact that the band Disciple had on their crowd as I came across hundreds of people praying after their concert, David Crowder made me explode with joy for our great God and for growing up in the 80's, Family Force 5 brought down the house and let us go absolutely insane, MxPx had me moshing until I sweat through the 3 t-shirts I had on, and Warren Barfield helped me to appreciate the ups and downs in my marriage. I ran into other youth pastor friends, students I have met at other churches and through Chrysalis, and I deepened my relationship with my youth group and my adult leaders.

Now deep down in my heart I wish that Johnny Cash and U2 would be at Ichthus but Cash has already made the trip to heaven and is singing for a much bigger audience and U2, well, I'll just wait until they hit the road again. In the meantime, I will also be looking out for Flatfoot 56 and Toby Mac since the weather did not cooperate for their appearance at Ichthus. Thanks to all who participated at Ichthus: bands, speakers, organizers and volunteers. Every year brings memories and encouragement for me. It is a great way for the students to end their school year and begin to look forward to all that the Summer holds: camps, mission trips, activities, vacations, etc. It is the perfect spiritual boost to kick start a great Summer!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Cudo's for Juno

I grew up in the 80's. During that time we had the films of John Hughes that helped to define a generation of Gen-Xers growing up under their Boomer parents. His movies brought a lot if insight into the way many teens of that generation experienced life. His movies had amazing characters, great plots, a wonderful sense of humor and depth that many of us related to as we grew up. It is with this experience in mind that I have been bothered by the lack of quality films that help teens through their experiences of growing up. It seems like so many films about teens today are about acting as stupid as possible, and how to get drunk and get laid. It is with the absence of any great,enduring teen films that all of a sudden Juno comes along.

This movie was amazing on many, many levels and I would hope that parents as well as teens would see this movie and use it as a discussion on several topics such as:

1. Sexuality: How has our culture gotten to the point that sex is seen as the next best thing to boredom? How have we failed the youth of today by not teaching a Biblical view of healthy sexuality as well as living out a loving, caring and nurturing marriage in front of our children? Why is the divorce rate in the church exactly the same as that of the mainstream culture? Why is marriage not seen as an exciting new stage of life to look forward to?

2. Family: It is scary to see all of the options that Juno goes through in dealing with her predicament before she final comes around to telling her parents. How can we create a culture within our families, church and community in which a teen who is in trouble or has made a mistake can know that there are caring, loving people who they can go to when they need help?

3. Life: Life is a beautiful thing even if it is an unplanned pregnancy. I love the advice of the step-mom in which one person's problems might be Jesus' blessing to someone else. I was almost kind of surprised by how the abortion clinic was portrayed but in all fairness, a culture of not taking responsibility for one's actions breeds a type of mentality. Granted, I know abortion is a complex issue but I loved the beauty and celebration of life all throughout this movie and the attitude that there had to be a better way other than abortion. The teen abortion protester even made me sympathetic towards the "protest community" of which I have never been a big fan of either. Her protest was rooted in the fact that she had a relationship with Juno as a fellow student and she approached Juno with compassion.

4. Relationships: This movie I believe adequately portrayed all relationships in a way that showed that no matter what, there is no perfect relationship. We are all flawed human beings. Juno and Bleeker were young teens who made a stupid mistake and are trying to live into those choices. Juno's parents are divorced and she expressed feelings of abandonment towards how her mother walked out on them. The adoptive parents, although looking like the perfect couple at first, ended up being another painful source of abandonment and grief to Juno. If one thing came out loud and clear from Juno's dad and step-mom it was that relationships take a lot of work and there are rules and boundaries to making it work. I absolutely loved her dad and step-mom in this film.

I was also equally excited to see the last name of the director: Reitman, Jason Reitman that is! The son of Ivan Reitman who was also another director who struck quite a bit of fame during the 80's with my generation! My hope is that this is only the beginning for Jason as he comes from a family of fun storytellers and was most-likely raised on the same teen movies of the 80's. I hope he has discovered his niche with Juno!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The New Christians 2

In this chapter Jones sees the emergent church and the establishment church through an allegory of the frontier of the West in contrast to the established settlements on the Eastern seaboard. He brings up 3 Dispatches in explaining the Emergent church.

Dispatch 3: The gospel is like lava: no matter how much crust has formed over it, it will always find a weak point and burst through.

A basic reading of the Gospels show that Jesus did not play by any one's rules but the Father's. And ironically that really upset the status quo in the religious establishments of his day. But all throughout history we see time after time when religion becomes domesticated, institutionalized and bureaucratic, somewhere along the way God brings something or someone along to break through the crust and breath new life into the body of believers yearning for more than what the institutions are offering. We even see this prior to Christ as the prophets call out to the nation of Israel to let them know that God wants obedience over the sacrifices, their hearts rather than their token offerings. I do believe that we are at a time when a thick crust has hardened over the church as we know it and in considering all of the seismic shifts that have been occurring within the world, new life is going to break through in ways that we can not imagine or control.

Dispatch 4: The emergent phenomenon began in the late 1990s when a group of Christian leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith.

The is no doubt that in my experience growing up the Bible was interpreted through a very modernistic mindset. The Bible was systematized and explained very scientifically as if the truth could be like a pure diamond with no flaws. But it wasn't until I entered into college and took Dr. Ellis's history classes at Lorain County Community College that I began to discover deconstructionism. As we looked at various times of American history and read many books, we discovered that with every single book there will always be bias. There is a particular filter or grid in which the author interprets history as well as how the reader interprets the book for himself. It is the same when a community studies the Bible together. Their micro-narrative of that community will have specific ramifications for how they look at Scripture. I noticed this in a huge way when I moved from North East Ohio ( a very strong liberal, Catholic, blue collar area) to Lynchburg, Virginia (a very militant conservative, fundamentalist area). There were times when I was shocked by the massive differences in how the faith was lived out by those two communities both using the same Bible.

Dispatch 5: The emergent movement is not exclusively North American; it is growing around the globe.

Jones believes that the DNA of this movement comes from "the golden era of American youth ministry" during the 70's and 80's. My youth group experience was during the early to mid-80's. It was fun to belong to a large youth group and have many of the experiences I had growing up. I even learned a lot, both good and bad, as I turned my back on it all my Senior year. Ironically, over the course of 3 different colleges and a seminary education, I ended up in career youth ministry. Although I do see that postmodern thought has influenced the emergent church I really had to think about the implications of this emergent movement possibly being heavily influenced by those of us who have come out of "the golden age of youth ministry." Did the church accomplish what it had hoped through the establishment of youth ministry or did youth ministry evolved into something else? Did the advent of youth ministry inspire the new thoughts and ideas that would break through the crust that was hardened over during the end of the 20th century by the establishment church? Either way, it is exciting that with today's technology and the new forms of communication, this is definitely a movement that has long reaching influence all around the world.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The New Christians 1

In the preface of his book Tony Jones instantly has me intrigued with this quote,"Many in church leadership today - not to mention everyday believers - feel that the church made a wrong turn somewhere in the twentieth century. At the dawn of a new century, the emergents are one of the few groups offering a way out of this mess, and lots of people are listening." Jones then opens up his book on the Emergent church by first of all giving a cursory glance back on the old country that is being left behind as he reflects on the 20th Century.

As Tony Jones looks at the horizon behind him he makes two definitive statements, called dispatches in Chapter 1. He states:

Dispatch 1: Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the various flavors of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciates the contributions of all Christian movements. (p. 8)

Our church, Epiphany United Methodist Church in Loveland, Ohio did a sermon series a year ago about different denominations. Now growing up in a fundamentalist, evangelical past I wasn't sure where the pastor was going with this. It was my experiences in the past that something like this would be an opportunity to blast the mainlines, Catholics, and charismatics. But instead, Doug took this sermon series as an opportunity to celebrate what we can learn from the emphases that other denominations bring to the table when you consider the entire body of Christ. Needless to say, it was an awesome series.

Dispatch 2: Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality. (p. 20)

I have studied church history enough to know about the great divide during the 20th Century between the fundamentalists and liberals. Most of my experiences in churches has been of the Conservative evangelical flavor. I heard my share of sermons demonizing youth culture, Hollywood, rock music, and anything that actually seemed interesting to me. Needless to say, I grew up with a lot of guilt! In fact we had to reject modern culture and immerse ourselves in the counter-Christian culture. You know, that sub-standard, vanilla flavored, bland, boring thing that Christian culture produces when it tries to entertain ONLY a church audience. I actually remember being frightened into saying the "salvation prayer" after a showing of "A Thief in the Night" which was the 70's version of Tim LaHayes amazingly awful "Left Behind" movies. And I also remember one guy at our house who came over for a haircut from my mom ranting about how terrible it was that Amy Grant would dare to sing a "secular" song with Peter Cetera who was the lead singer of Chicago. I remember looking at the guy thinking he was crazy because I didn't understand why Amy Grant should be forced to entertain ONLY US CHRISTIANS!

In the youth groups that I have been a part of it always seemed like the most important thing was to create programs in which we can somehow trick people into hearing the "plan of salvation" and get 'em saved! After they say the pray, sign the card, which was a kind of guaranteed ticket to heaven, our work was done! Unfortunately, no assimilation would occur, no discipleship, no follow up, no caring for the needs of those we manipulated into saying "the prayer". When I was alone with my friends we would often talk about if this was really effective at all and are people really beginning a new relationship with God or are they just repeating some prayer for "fire insurance" under the false pretense that we encouraged, that if you just say this prayer you will be saved. The culture was to be feared and we were to "separate" and wait for the rapture to take us ragtag bunch of Christians home to be with God. It was a very depressing and weak eschatology that drove the evangelical church.

It wasn't until I took a very nervous step into the Methodist church that I discovered some new thoughts and ways of thinking. Mind you, God had to really humble me to enter into the mainline churches. I really had an arrogant view of the mainlines as I was growing up. But it wasn't until the fundamentalists and Baptists told me to find another job that I was finally willing to consider some other alternatives I would have never really considered in my younger years. Now, within the Methodist church I have discovered this thing called "Social Justice" and a view of culture that is transformative instead of condemning and hopeless. Needless to say, this has been like an awakening for me as I discovered a new eschatology that brings hope and courage and God's love that is much more holistic.

But the mainline is not above criticism here as Tony points out some of its glaring faults. During the industrial age,big business and monolithic bureaucracies were the forms that our culture created in the areas of work and industry. Sadly to say, I see that this is a big problem within the church I am in. In the evangelical churches once I was hired I was considered an official pastor. But as I came to the Methodist Church I got the label of Director of Student Ministries and that really bothered me at first. A mere title, I know. I believe that I have been called by God to be a youth pastor. Titles that people put on my door really do not matter. But after some time I did want to pursue becoming clergy within the Methodist church for a variety of reasons. It has been shocking to me to amount of bureaucratic red tape and overbearing process that has been created for someone to serve as a pastor! So many of those coming out of seminary, and not even seminary trained adults for that matter, are realizing that all it takes to start a church is a vision, persistent and passion and with that anybody could pretty much do it, from the gifted to the insane! If the mainline wants to survive they will need to seriously reevaluate the monolithic government that has been created in their denominations.

I am excited about this new thinking outside-of-the-box that Jones is presenting. Instead of accepting that 20th century Christianity was the way it has always been, he is presenting new and fresh ideas that will hopefully shake the foundations of the church and cause so many of us to rethink church, evangelism, discipleship, culture, etc.

Fun Times at Family Christian Bookstore

The other day I was alerted to another book written by two teenage boys about not settling for the status quo but doing great things during their teenage years. Well it just so happened that I was near our local Family Christian Bookstore in the afternoon and I thought I would stop and see if this book was available. Now I have to say that whenever I go to Family Christian Bookstores I typically come out discouraged, disappointed and at times angry that this is what Christian scholarship has dwindled down to.

As I first entered in through their doors there is a huge table of "patriotic" t-shirts and America stuff. And every time I see this, I seriously have a huge problem with this. The whole "God Bless America" campaign just comes across to me as so conceited, arrogant and ignorant. I would feel so much more comfortable if all this stuff said "God Bless the World" or was somehow much more inclusive of people of every nation. Afterall, that was the challenge that Jesus gave us in the Great Commission to make disciples of the world. And in all honesty do people really think that God has a vested interest in blessing the United States? Really, think about it, did the first century Christians have togas that read "God Bless Rome"? Now I will go on record first to say that I love the fact that I have grown up as an American and more specifically a die-hard Ohioan. Yet I can not help to think about the way so many in our country abuse our environment, hoard their wealth, abuse people for their own gain, and market their greed, sex, and violence all around the world. Me personally, I am more concerned about God's wrath on America. We very well might be heading in that direction. Yet when I walk through the doors of Family Christian Bookstore I get the very loud message that Christianity is first and foremost unquestioning patriotism to our country that is God's new promised land. Let us not forget that we gave the presidency to a "professing" Christian and look at what he did to our government and our country. He certainly has me rethinking the Clinton years again. Many of us were good at vilifying Bubba, and his personal life deserved the criticism leveled at him, but he ran the government better than what we got now!

Then my next issue with what is considered a"Christian" bookstore these days is the massive lack of any real scholarship. You would think that Joel Olsteen is the best thing since Paul wrote the book of Romans because anywhere you look you see that shiny, happy Texas grin sparkling right back at you everywhere you turn. In fact, previous to this visit, I was looking for a section on Christian history and at a cursory glance I did not find a section like that ANYWHERE. Then when I asked the clerk behind the counter she look at me with a dazed and confused look not sure where to direct me. I gave up and walked out angry again with the drivel called Christian bookstores. Apparently that must not sell as much as smiley Texans who want me to be a Better ME, or sappy, poorly written books that interpret the book of Revelation literally. Believe me, the Left Behind series had absolutely NOTHING to do with serious Christian thinking other than to manipulate fear to make a buck. And to add to the humor, Falwell dedicates a building to the guy as if his name should be associated with higher learning. I would hate to be LaHaye and have to stand before God and to have to explain his thinking behind those shoddy books based on highly suspect theology that preyed on the fears of Christians that should know better.

Anyhow, as I was visiting this store looking for this book on teenagers (I'm a youth pastor so books like this intrigue me), God smiled on me and gave me a delicious treat during my visit to the bookstore. As I waited in line I began to overhear a conversation that some guy was initiating with one of the store clerks. He was not standing there to buy a book but to sell his wares. It turns out that this guys was a real life ghost buster. I am not saying that he is a priest who performs exorcisms. I mean a "who-ya-gonna-call" GHOST BUSTER! He claimed to be a demonologist and a expert in the paranormal. The poor clerk behind the counter was not amused but was trying really hard to be polite. Just so you know I am not pulling your leg here, as I pulled out of the parking lot, sure enough there was a ghost buster van in the parking lot with all their information plastered on every side of their van. The website is! Enjoy! It is a delicious site! The fact that they take themselves seriously and somehow seem to financially support this line of work amazes me. But what is scary is why he would think a Christian bookstore would be a place for him to "sell" himself. If I recall we are to be a people of love where perfect love drives out fear. Paul specifically tells us that we are not to conform to the substandard patterns of the world but our MINDS are supposed to be transformed! For centuries the Christian faith has produced some of the greatest intellects, artists, musicians, philosophers and theologians, but when you walk into just about any Christian bookstore you would NEVER know that. In fact some sham paranormal ghost buster thinks this would be a great place to get some business.

Thank God for! At least they cover all the bases from the pathetic to the profound.