Sunday, October 30, 2011

Charles Colson on the Good News

Charles Colson on Ordinary Radical? You betcha! An excerpt from the Q Ideas blog ( as Gabe Lyons, author of "The Next Christians" and "UnChristian", interviews Colson. 

Gabe Lyons: Don't you think it really comes down to what a person's view of the gospel is or what the Good News really was about when Jesus came? I'd love for you to just share kind of how you would define what was the Good News—what is it that Jesus is announcing as He is on this earth about the Kingdom and what's to come.

Charles Colson: Well as an evangelical, the Good News is 1 Corinthians Chapter 15. The Good News is that Christ died on the cross for our sins and that we can be redeemed. That's the narrow definition that evangelicals embrace. I think we're wrong in that. I think we're too limited. What He did, particularly if you read His first words in Mark, the first 27 words He spoke in Mark were announcing the Kingdom. He said that the Kingdom of God has broken through history and that you will be seeing in My life, I believe Jesus was saying, a picture of the Kingdom yet to come.

And then in Acts 4, you see this incredible story of the community of believers coming together. No one was in need because they were sharing their wealth and they were praying and they were studying the Bible. They created a community that absolutely dazzled the world at the time of Jesus or after Jesus.

I'm one of those who believe that, while the Gospel most accurately defines the Good News as salvation, it actually goes beyond that. Catholics take it beyond it. Evangelicalism says that, "The defense of human life is a part of the gospel because man is created in the image of God." I think they got a pretty good point, to be honest with you.
I also think that when we think about Jesus ushering in a Kingdom as we pray—thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven—I think you see that the Gospel is a much broader context.
The Gospel cannot be a private transaction. It can’t just be Jesus and me. God didn't come, break through history, break through time and space, come in the person of a babe, the incarnation and then the whole salvation account. He didn't come just so you could come to Him and say, "Oh, I accept Jesus and now I can live happily ever after." That's not why He came. He came to turn the world upside down, which is why Jesus became such a radical.
I think we’ve missed that whole point, I believe. I think that's one of the reasons, Gabe, I lean on you to tell me what's going on with the younger evangelicals. I think that's one of the reasons that younger evangelicals think that the Gospel is just dried, dusty doctrine. If it is just salvation then I can go home and live happily ever after. Younger people are saying, "I want something more than that" right? Well if you see the Gospel in its fullness, it's a whole lot more. It's the most exciting radical revolutionary story ever told.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

3 Hard-Earned Lessons and Why I Resigned (Shaun King)

Such a powerful testimony and word that I had to repost. Thanks Shaun!

Some lessons you learn by reading books and blogs. Those feel great.

However, the most life-changing lessons are often learned through painful mistakes and brutal moments in valleys so low that you aren’t sure if you’ll ever climb out. Over the past year, I’ve been in that valley, and while I was down there, I learned some lessons that probably took a few years off my life expectancy in the process. I will be a better leader this day forward knowing these things. I want you to know them, but this is a blog and you’re so hardheaded that you’ll probably have to learn them the hard way, too. Here they are anyway…

(Remember – these lessons cost me a few fingers and toes so I hope you pay attention.)

...Start a thing as close to the way you dream it being down the road as you can.

For 10 whole years before I started Courageous Church, I dreamed of it being one thing, started it as another, then spent the next 3 years trying to get it back to the church of my dreams. I own this. The vision of my heart was for a committed community of people that first and foremost served God in radical ways in inner city Atlanta and in broken places all around the world. Sunday morning would simply be the time when those people came together to celebrate and honor God and invite others into our Monday-Saturday adventure.

Instead, I started a super cool Sunday worship service centered church with 700 people and spent the next 3 years begging thousands of people to help me be the hands and feet of God by fighting child trafficking and caring for widows and orphans. I was advised by the best church planting experts in the world to go this route, but in the end, it was my decision, and it was the wrong one. I sold my soul for church attendance in our first week and could never quite get it back. Whatever it is you are starting (a business, a new job, a church, etc.), you need to remain as true to your core vision from the start as humanly possible, or you may find yourself lost in an unfamiliar place so far from your dream that you don’t even recognize it. That’s me right now.

....People LOVE to hear about radical change.

Political campaigns based on radical change win. Books written about radical change sell. Sermons on radical change boost Sunday morning attendance. The idea and thought of change is exciting to people, but mistaking that excitement for an actual willingness on behalf of those people to change now or later could be a miscalculation. I found out the hard way.

In March of this year, I announced I was preaching my last sermon series of all-time. For the next 8 weeks, I preached the most radical, game-changing sermon series ever entitled “Disciple.” Our average attendance was its highest ever. Our average offering was the highest ever. Excitement was its highest ever. Man, I was pumped!!

Then, almost literally the day we jumped into change, all types of stuff started falling apart. People left in droves. Scores of people started falling through on leadership commitments they made. Systems starting failing. Attendance was down. Offering was down. Excitement was down.

I had no idea that zero correlation exists between how much people love hearing about change and their actual willingness to make it. I then made a series of gross errors that really cost me dearly based on what I incorrectly assumed was a desire for people to change when, for most people, what existed was just an interest in the topic on a theoretical level. Here are some of the errors:

  • I seriously overestimated how excited (or even willing) people were to actually do the things I was talking about.
  • When people left our church saying they did not support the changes, I did what I never do and helped talked them in to staying. I meant well, but this was so dumb of me. These folk stayed but never earnestly fought for the vision because, as they already stated, they don’t believe in it.
  • Change sounds pretty but actually looks ugly, feels like hard labor, takes time, and pushes every limit we have. I had said that the changes I was suggesting could take 3 years to really nail down. Few people objected when I said that because we hadn’t actually changed yet. When I took a private poll just 3 months after we made changes, over 85% of people stated that they wanted to go back to the way things used to be. Our board did as well. I overestimated how willing folks would be to deal with the ugliness of it all.
  • These miscalculations also took an enormous toll on my family and me, and it was at this point that I decided that I could not lead the church back to a place where I had no heart, vision, or stamina to go. The death of Pastor Zach Tims shook me up in such a way that I didn’t want to ignore my own warning signs before it was too late, and I ended up losing my family (or my life) in the process.
....Few disciples of Jesus Christ actually exist in the world.

I’m not even saying I am one and nobody else is. I have to fight the battle for my own discipleship daily. What I am saying is that church attendance, Sunday morning services, sermon-listening (or even sermon preaching), song-singing, hand-clapping, amen-saying, and all of the things that “Christ-ians” have lifted up so high look so little like Christ himself that I am utterly convinced that we are completely off base with what discipleship means.

Considering all of this, I think I have given up on church as I knew it. Big buildings. Huge crowds. Few disciples. I’m not with it. It’s inefficient and just doesn’t feel right with my soul. This is not a rejection of big buildings or huge crowds but an indictment on how few disciples are being made in the process of it all. A better way has to exist.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Being Present: Reflections on Catalyst 2011

Catalyst 2011, a conference geared towards emerging Leadership (primarily Christian), had the theme: BE PRESENT. My first thought when hearing the theme for this conference I would attend with some of my co-workers was: how cliché and trendy. Yes, in a world filled with 24-hour news, smart phones, and social media, to revolve a conference around “being present” was a pretty easy target. Yet no matter how easy the target, was still a message I needed to hear and I am guessing most people that attended needed to hear.

As primarily a visionary leader who lives a lot of life in the abstract and future, I really needed this conference to help recalibrate me. I needed to hear other accomplished visionaries and leaders say that “being present” was important. I was not disappointed. Like I mentioned, I live primarily in the future. I am always thinking about the next step. Planning. Coordinating. Detailing every singe move and possible outcome. This has actually hindered me at times in my ability to truly lead because I either become uber-focused on the task (at the cost of people) or when the path gets blown up I am left paralyzed in knowing how to move forward.

I have looked ahead for the next big opportunity, passing by the ones right in front of me.
I have looked ahead for the time Judah would take his first step when he was just starting to crawl.
I have looked ahead to the trip to the restaurant when I was eating at home.
I have looked ahead to retirement savings while passing by the guy who could have used a few bucks today.
I have looked ahead to Asia while still living in Philly.

I live a lot of my life in the future.

I realized at this conference just how big of an issue this has been in my life. My work. My family. My friends. My growth and development. My call. All of it. I am always looking to the future.

There were many brilliant aspects to Catalyst. I heard from seasoned leaders of the church, non-profits, and major businesses to grassroots innovators and a 21-year old single woman who has adopted 14 African children…and everyone in between on effective leadership. Maybe I will blog about all of that…but the earth moving point for me as it has to do with this particular idea of “being present”, the most impactful moment of the entire conference was this…

One of the speakers, shared about a young man who was electrocuted in a baptismal during a Sunday church service. This man’s future plans, whatever they might have been, were at that moment dashed. The speaker shared what was to be the sermon the man was going to give after the baptism. It was about “being present”. There were references to loving those in front of you now, doing the little things now, and various pleas like that…but the one line that stays with me was the line that had most to do with my situation. This line was this: “Wipe the nose of your 3-year old, because one day he will wipe it himself.” I just about cried….I think you get the point.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” He also says that we don’t know the future and to live for the day. There is a lot that could be said about passages along these lines of “living for the day”. I will save the exegesis and just note that Jesus says this (above) right after he talks about taking care of others first, not storing up treasures on earth (i.e. wealth), and not worrying about our lives in what we will eat, drink, or clothing we will wear (all basic necessities).  Jesus says this to highlight that He will provide (for basic needs, not necessarily luxurious desires), and that truly only He can provide for us and the world. He says this to get us present in the day, because we are not promised tomorrow. So why live in the future. We may not have it. Jesus is beckoning us to be fully present in the day. It is there that we will find Him. It is there that transformation of ourselves and our world happens, when we are totally engaged in the here and now. Totally invested and vested in now.

I come home from Catalyst a changed man. I come home to wipe my 3-year old’s nose. 

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Global Economic Justice (Scott Bessenecker)

Scott Bessenecker is the director of InterVarsity's Global Projects and Global Urban Treks. He has written numerous books that have impacted my life and calling, including, "The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor", "How to Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior", and "Quest for Hope in the Slum Community: A Global Urban Reader" to name a few. He blogs at the Urbana site
When God gave instructions in the Old Testament for the flourishing of his people, he laid out not only moral and ceremonial laws but civic laws as well, including specific economic principles that would characterize his people. The economic laws God established were designed to keep the gap between rich and poor very small. It included debt forgiveness on a seven year cycle and a radical redistribution of land every fifty years. He meant for the leaders of his people to insure that the poor were protected and cared for and not taken advantage of. There were strict penalties for exploitation of the poor and dire warnings of his judgment should these laws be ignored. In fact, it is as easy to trace God’s judgment of Israel to the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable as it is to the worship of foreign gods.
Isaiah 3:13-15

The LORD takes his place in court;
he rises to judge the people.
The LORD enters into judgment
against the elders and leaders of his people:
“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?”
declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
Israel disregarded the economic laws of God, they enslaved others, paid unfair wages, allowed the rich to accumulate land and disregarded the cry of the poor, therefore God sent them into exile. In fact the number of years of exile correspond to the number of sabbatical years that Israel ignored.


This expectation that Israel would operate an economy which was good for the poor did not only apply to the “insider,” the poor Jew. The foreign, non-Jew living in Israel is singled out by God in the Old Testament law to be especially careful not to exploit. That is to say God is not only concerned with the economic well-being of his people, but for those Gentiles among his people.
God, in fact, told Abraham that his intention was for Israel to be a blessing to all nations. God’s flourishing State would not only reveal his character and glory as his people lived out a standard of justice and economic health, but this flourishing would spill over to surrounding nations. Even in exile God commanded his people in Jeremiah 29 to seek the prosperity of their enemy, for in the prosperity of Babylon, they would find their own prosperity.
So the flourishing of the nations would be advanced by an obedient Israel and God’s judgment would be aroused by Israel’s disregard for economic justice.
It is not only God’s people who are judged for injustice, oppression and exploitation. Both Jonah and Nahum preach against the evil of Nineveh, capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. It was a city of incredible wealth gained through violent warfare, slavery and oppressing a class of serfs who kept the elite in finery. God’s judgment (not just of his people but his judgment of the nations) is a picture of his white hot passion for those who are economically excluded and exploited.
Even in the New Testament, James writes to believers in his epistle that the rich should weep and wail because the wages withheld from the laborer had reached the ears of the Lord. The simple fact is that God will judge and oppose those who exploit the poor – whether they know him or not.
God’s “will on earth as it is in heaven” does not include hundreds of millions suffering malnutrition while hundreds of millions suffer obesity. It does not include nine year old girls who are forced by to lie down underneath ten men a day just so their families can eat. And it does not include men and women made in his image who labor 12 or more hours a day and are still unable to earn enough to live on. This is not a picture of “his kingdom and its righteousness.”


In 1972 the University of Chicago dropped the requirement for a history of Economics course for its graduate students of Economics believing that Economics is a hard science and has little to do with the humanities. Many others followed suit. This shift marked the conclusion of hundreds of years of the field of Economics drifting away from its relationship to philosophy, sociology, or ethics and becoming what it is today – mathematical utilitarianism: the multiplication of wealth without regard to what is just and good and fair for all.
The results of this divorce of ethics from economics can be seen in the US debt crisis as well as the ballooning gap between rich and poor. We have taken Economics out of the school of the Humanities and in so doing we’ve made the field less humane. We have given our governments and banks and corporations freedom to multiply and spend wealth without any ethic.
For those who are in right relationship to the Creator of the universe, for those who have the mind of Christ, for those who are filled with the Holy Spirit, there is a responsibility to strive for the just rule of God on earth even before our own welfare. Economic justice is a sign of the kingdom of God, which is why news of this kingdom is so good to the poor.


So where is the “plunder of the poor” today? Is it in our houses, the houses of both believers and unbelievers (after all, judgment must begin with the house of God – I Peter 4:17)? Is it in our wardrobes or our retirement accounts? What does it mean for us to adopt God’s heart for the poor and to strive for kingdom righteousness in our world? What does it mean for us to suffer as a result of pressing these kingdom issues in a twisted world?
For the IFES student movement in Sierra Leone, it has meant graduates giving one or two years of voluntary service in poor rural communities, taking jobs in education or health care that few others want. For some InterVarsity US students it has meant saying no to the American dream of a large home and multiple cars and moving into the high crime, high poverty neighborhoods of US cities or slum communities of the developing world. In making their homes among the marginalized, these young graduates have not only seen many come to know Jesus and helped to usher in kingdom change to their neighborhoods by adding their voices to the voices of their poor friends, but they have encountered deep transformation in their own walk with Christ. It has been an act of worship and an experience of sanctification.
For others it has meant moving into the halls of economic power to stand up for the excluded. Dr. Marek Panfil is a graduate of the Warsaw School of Economics and came to Christ as a student. He was worried that to be a faithful Christian might not be compatible with his pursuit of economics, that he should pursue more noble, spiritual causes.
Then, in Romans 16 Marek came across Erastus, the Treasurer for the city of Corinth who sent his greetings to the brothers and sisters in Rome. Here in the Bible was a high ranking economic official. Perhaps his faith might apply to his field. Marek, has a very strategic role in the economics of copper and silver in the country of Poland. His Christian faith allows him to challenge a debt mentality among corporate and government leaders and to champion corporate social responsibility. He is striving to see kingdom righteousness brought to bear in the economics of metal.
Which of us are willing to strive for the kingdom as residents inside the neighborhoods of the poor, forsaking the good life as defined by your culture? Which of us are willing to strive for the kingdom inside the boardrooms and government offices of the powerful, forsaking bribes, corruption and the lure of wealth?
We as believers must bring the redeeming message of Christ’s salvation to rich and poor, turning men and women from evil and selfishness and calling wickedness to account. We must walk alongside those who are uneducated, marginalized and oppressed and those who are educated, powerful and oppressors (whether witting or unwitting). We must seek kingdom justice both at the level of the human heart and the level of the city treasury, presenting to the world an economic ethic that reflects a just God and his righteous kingdom.