Thursday, January 29, 2009

Six Things You Need To Start A Traditional Church

1) Money - Lots of it. One church-planter suggested it would take as much as $18,000 to get started.

Another pastor emptied his savings account and spent $50,000 of his own money to start his church and some have suggested it could be as high as $8 Million.

Of course, depending on the size of your church, and your paid stafff, your numbers may vary.

2) Trained Professional Pastor - At least one charismatic, credentialed teaching pastor and visionary is necessary if you want to start a church. Chances are if you're seriously thinking about planting a church this person is you. Go ahead and check that one off your list.

3) Worship Leader and Worship Band - They should be made up of talented, experienced and professional-level musicians and largely volunteers, except perhaps for the worship leader who may receive a minor stipend each month.

4) A Building - Whether you rent, lease or decide to purchase a building you cannot have a successful traditional church without a building large enough to grow into. Must have a nursery, children's Sunday School rooms, and youth area.

5) Volunteers - Lots of them. These will be the people who handle child-care, set-up, tear-down and clean-up, and ushering. You cannot have a successful traditional church without a small army of loyal and dedicated volunteers.

6) Marketing - A website is a given, but you might also invest in postcards, door-hangers, invitation cards, bumper stickers and outdoor signage to attract the unchurched, or those who are shopping for a new church. Let them know your'e there or you will die a quick, yet painful, death.

*Notice that nearly all of these things are focused on developing the Church itself. Almost none of it is directed at making disciples, developing the spiritual health of those alongside you, or loving people in the community.

Three Things You Need To Start A Typical House Church

1) People - At least one other person than yourself.

2) God - Be sure to invite the Holy Spirit every time you meet and then wait for Him to speak and lead you.

3) A Place to meet - It could be a living room, a park, a coffeehouse, or any place large enough for the people who gather.

*Notice that having trained leaders, volunteers, thousands of dollars and an army of volunteers is greatly reduced. Also notice that worship leaders, buildings and marketing are completely unnecessary.

Just thought I'd share this with everyone.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


For many years I was involved in christian music. First as a performer and songwriter, and then for about seven years as an employee for a christian music distribution company and then a director of distribution and sales for a christian record company.

Many of my favorite artists are specifically christian artists, but I do greatly enjoy music from what many would call "secular" artists also.

Several of my friends feel that listening to any music other than christian music isn't acceptable for a follower of Christ. That is their personal conviction and I am not here to argue against that if this is a decision that they feel compelled to make.

However, I have also observed that nearly every single person I know who feels compelled to listen only to christian music, usually on the grounds that it doesn't honor God and that it contains messages that are contrary to scripture, etc., are also very much interested in watching secular films and secular television shows and reading secular novels - all of which contain just as much unchristian language, violence, sex, innuendo and other secular material as any secular song one might (or might not) be listening to.

Again, I'm not trying to point any fingers here. I'm just pointing out an inconsistency that I haven't yet figured out.

I would certainly not encourage people to go against their personal convictions, or to listen to music that was blasphemous or offensive or hindered their walk with Christ. I guess I'm just confused about why we draw these lines when it comes to music and we don't feel compelled to draw these same lines when it comes to all other forms of entertainment.

Some might suggest that it's because the quality of christian film, television and fiction isn't anywhere near equal to the secular realm, and I would agree with that assessment, however the reason provided as to why one should not listen to secular music usually have little to do with the quality of the christian version and everything to do with the inherent evil-ness of the secular version. In which case, the quality, or the lack of quality, in the christian version isn't very relevant.

Anyone else have a perspective on this phenomenon? I'd be happy to hear it.

This question has always bugged me and most recently, when I mentioned on my Facebook page that I love "Rage Against The Machine", someone commented that they were "demonic" and I wasn't sure what to do with that statement...which is why I guess I felt the need to pose this question to everyone.

Thoughts? Comments? Rebuttals?

I'm all ears...


Sunday, January 25, 2009

If You Could Choose?

My friend Brent had an interesting question this morning in house church. He said, "If you had a choice between never having pain or trouble in your life versus experiencing these challenges but doing so with Jesus alongside you- which would you choose?"

Of course, none of us has this choice for real, but it does make me pause and ask myself if I could choose to be pain free for the rest of my life, but live my life without Jesus, would I choose that? Or would I prefer to have a life of trouble and pain while knowing that Jesus would be with me all the way?

Honestly, I think I would choose to endure pain and suffering in my life and walk with Jesus through it hand in hand. Of course, the good news is that this is my life - whether or not I choose to agree with it or not.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

OBAMA & JESUS (A Speech by Obama about his faith in Christ)

On June 26, 2006, Barack Obama gave a speech on faith at Jim Wallis's Call to Renewal conference, laying out a critique not only of the Religious Right but of the secular left. He argued that while Democrats should support separation of church and state, they needed to be more welcoming of believers and the proper role of faith in the public square.

Full Transcript:

Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference. I've had the opportunity to take a look at your Covenant for a New America. It is filled with outstanding policies and prescriptions for much of what ails this country. So I'd like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you've given so far about poverty and justice in America, and for putting fire under the feet of the political leadership here in Washington.

But today I'd like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we've been seeing over the last several years.

I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; and we can raise up and pass out this Covenant for a New America. We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won't have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

I want to give you an example that I think illustrates this fact. As some of you know, during the 2004 U.S. Senate General Election I ran against a gentleman named Alan Keyes. Mr. Keyes is well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

Indeed, Mr. Keyes announced towards the end of the campaign that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama.

Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously, to essentially ignore it. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, and his arguments not worth entertaining. And since at the time, I was up 40 points in the polls, it probably wasn't a bad piece of strategic advice.

But what they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take Mr. Keyes seriously, for he claimed to speak for my religion, and my God. He claimed knowledge of certain truths.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, he was saying, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.

And so what would my supporters have me say? How should I respond? Should I say that a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? Should I say that Mr. Keyes, who is a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope?

Unwilling to go there, I answered with what has come to be the typically liberal response in such debates - namely, I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can't impose my own religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois.

But Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer did not adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and my own beliefs.

Now, my dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we've been having in this country for the last thirty years over the role of religion in politics.

For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait. At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

And I speak with some experience on this matter. I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I.

It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma.

I was working with churches, and the Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me. They saw that I knew their Book and that I shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me that remained removed, detached, that I was an observer in their midst.

And in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well -- that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.

And if it weren't for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church.

For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope.

And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship -- the grounding of faith in struggle -- that the church offered me a second insight, one that I think is important to emphasize today.

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts.

You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values.

And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice.

Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's I Have a Dream speech without references to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical, though. Our fear of getting "preachy" may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.

After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.

Solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturers' lobby - but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we've got a moral problem. There's a hole in that young man's heart - a hole that the government alone cannot fix.

I believe in vigorous enforcement of our non-discrimination laws. But I also believe that a transformation of conscience and a genuine commitment to diversity on the part of the nation's CEOs could bring about quicker results than a battalion of lawyers. They have more lawyers than us anyway.

I think that we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys. I think that the work that Marian Wright Edelman has done all her life is absolutely how we should prioritize our resources in the wealthiest nation on earth. I also think that we should give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished.

But, you know, my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.

I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology - that can be dangerous. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith. As Jim has mentioned, some politicians come and clap -- off rhythm -- to the choir. We don't need that.

In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that.

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.

Some of this is already beginning to happen. Pastors, friends of mine like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes are wielding their enormous influences to confront AIDS, Third World debt relief, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious thinkers and activists like our good friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality.

And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you've got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don't need and weren't even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate.

Across the country, individual churches like my own and your own are sponsoring day care programs, building senior centers, helping ex-offenders reclaim their lives, and rebuilding our gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

So the question is, how do we build on these still-tentative partnerships between religious and secular people of good will? It's going to take more work, a lot more work than we've done so far. The tensions and the suspicions on each side of the religious divide will have to be squarely addressed. And each side will need to accept some ground rules for collaboration.

While I've already laid out some of the work that progressive leaders need to do, I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do -- some truths they need to acknowledge.

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles.

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example.

We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God's test of devotion.

But it's fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason.

Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion.

This goes for both sides.

Even those who claim the Bible's inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages - the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ's divinity - are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life.

The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.

But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase "under God." I didn't. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.

So we all have some work to do here. But I am hopeful that we can bridge the gaps that exist and overcome the prejudices each of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don't want faith used to belittle or to divide. They're tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that's not how they think about faith in their own lives.

So let me end with just one other interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:

"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you."

The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of the Republican agenda.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor went on to write:

"I sense that you have a strong sense of justice...and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason...Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded....You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others...I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

So I looked at my website and found the offending words. In fairness to them, my staff had written them using standard Democratic boilerplate language to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

Re-reading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in fair-minded words. Those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

So I wrote back to the doctor, and I thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own - a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

And that night, before I went to bed I said a prayer of my own. It's a prayer I think I share with a lot of Americans. A hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It's a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come. Thank you.


Monday, January 19, 2009


*Interviewed professor and author G.K. Beale yesterday about his book, "The Temple and the Church's Mission'. Should be published early next month in my [Subversive Underground] newsletter. Some might end up in my book-in-progress about the Church (as yet untitled).

*Grooving to sounds of first single from new U2 album "No Line On The Horizon" releasing March 3rd. The single, "Get Your Boots On" is a Led-Zep influenced chunk of fuzz slathered with a bit of pop and infused with soul. I've listened to it 4 times today already.

Check it yourself

*Looking forward to the Inauguration and praying for our new President.

*My youngest son, David told me that one of his friends said, "I hate Obama" and his response was, "Jesus said to love your enemies". So proud of my son.

*Visited Griffith Park Observatory with the family on Saturday. Marveled at the awesome creative power of Almighty God, and the blindness of so many to His Glory.

*Saw premiere episode of BSG last night and can't wait to see what's next.

*Waiting breathlessly for season premiere of LOST on Wednesday. Best show on TV.

*Planning to watch the original version of "Solaris" (not the Clooney remake) on Tuesday night.

*Nearly done reading PKD's "Now Wait For Last Year" and planning to tackle Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" after that.

*Considering seriously a revisit of my sci-fi concepts after an encouraging chat with friends last Friday concerning my "Hard Video" story. Still unsure about when and how.

*Realizing that everything in my life is a gift. God really loves me. I think I love Him too.

*My wife is my best friend and my hero. Without her my life would really suck.

*Back to work now. Must listen to U2 single many, many more times today.


Friday, January 16, 2009


A few months ago, after reading an article in Wired Magazine about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Eternal Sunshine", "Being John Malkovich", etc.), I had an unusual thought. More like a question in my head really, but with a deep resonance like someone was tapping their finger against the tuning fork in my soul.

The question was, "What would you do if you weren't writing your weekly [Subversive Underground] articles?"

I put the magazine down. I sipped my coffee and rolled the question across the pallette of my mind. "What would I do...?"

The question took root in my soul with such a deep force that I had to stand up and walk around. I found myself heading for the front door and soon I was walking across the green grass on my front lawn and down the sidewalk and across the street.

"What if I didn't write my newsletter each week? What would I do instead?"

I've been writing my weekly e-newsletter for just about three years. The original intent was to have an excuse to write something on a regular basis and setting up a subscription feed to send my articles to helped motivate me to sit down and write something of substance - because people were expecting it to arrive and if they didn't get it I would be letting them down.

After 3 years I would have to say that it worked. Every week for the last 3 years I've sat down and written articles on discipleship to Jesus, God's heart for the poor, the Gospel of the Kingdom and my adventures planting a house church in Orange County.

Because of these articles I've been able to formulate my thoughts on these issues and self-publish two books, with more on the way, and I've heard from many people over the years about how my articles have encouraged them in their own walk with Christ. I've developed a sort of Internet Ministry of sorts, completely by the Grace of God, and I'm thankful for all of it.

But now, this question comes to me like a whisper and asks me to consider something radical - what if I let it all go?

Running this by a few of my friends I received mixed reactions. Some want me to transition the newsletter into a different direction, others encourage me to let it go and see what God does next. At this point I'm still not sure what exactly will happen when the final [Subversive Underground] has been sent and I am free from this self-imposed obligation to write something for 276 subscribers - mostly strangers from various places around the globe.

But, in many ways, it's the question that intrigues me. "What would I do?" I've thought about changing the newsletter to focus on others who are living subversive lives and serving others by doing a series of interviews. I've thought about asking my readers to share their thoughts with each other and open up the newsletter to everyone else to tell their own story. I've also thought about just challenging my readers to live more subversive and practice a life of service for the good of others and then turning off the lights and letting it all stop. But, honestly, I still really don't know yet what to do next.

Last week I sat at my keyboard and I really didn't feel like writing anything. I wished, out loud to myself, that the [SU] were already finished, but then I took a deep breath and prayed for inspiration and out came another article. So, maybe there's still a bit of this left in me for now?

Even more than the question itself, what I think inspires me most of all right now is the one who is asking me that question and the finger of Him who is tapping that tuning fork in my soul, sending out those reverbations of new possibility. What does God have in mind? Where is He leading me next?

I think the answer to that question isn't something I need, in my own finite creative mind, to dream up. I think it's more about obedience to the One asking me the question. Am I willing to let go of a list of 276 people who are reading my words each week? Am I willing to start over again with nothing? Am I willing to risk anonymity for the sake of the Gospel? Would I really abandon my tiny internet Kingdom to pursue the King of Glory and the Kingdom of God?

In my heart of hearts I know what I have to do. I know I need to lay it all down. I know that Jesus set an example for me that I need to follow. I have to let go. I have to say "Yes". I have to follow that whispering voice. Because He's my shepherd and I can't resist Him.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. — John 12:24

Right now I can't think of anything better than letting go in order to discover His perfect will.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Just wanted to share a fascinating article I found today. Atheist Matthew Parris explains why Christianity is necessary to turn Africa around as a nation.

Here's an excerpt:

"Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

"Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

"And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete."


Saturday, January 03, 2009


About 3 years ago my wife Wendy and I felt called to leave our on-staff position at a local church we'd help to plant with friends and start a house church where 100% of the offering could go to the poor.

Yesterday I read a story in the newspaper about a church in Schaumberg, IL that did the same thing. How awesome!


Illinois church puts emphasis on giving
By Sophia Tareen
The Associated Press

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. - The members of Waterfront Community Church attend weekly services in a high school auditorium. Their contemporary Christian music rock band practices at someone's home. And the pastor relies on a laptop and Starbucks for an office.

The nondenominational suburban Chicago church operates on a shoestring budget and under an unusual financial setup so it can stick to a mission: Give 100 percent of offerings gathered from the collection plate to those in need.

"We found how little we know about the people around us," said the church's pastor and founder, Jim Semradek. "We started asking around, 'What are the needs of the community?' When you present that need to people, they're very responsive. People have very generous hearts."

Churches typically use at least part of the money collected at worship services for administrative costs, including heating the sanctuary and paying the pastor's salary.

Waterfront is instead funded by eight sponsors; half attend the church and the others are outsiders who support the mission. Their combined contributions, along with some fundraising, pay for renting the school auditorium and salaries. In addition, several of the church's nearly 200 members donate their services as accountants and financial planners to make it all work.


*What really amazes me is how they managed to give 100% of their offering to the poor and to touch their community in awesome ways without becoming a house church. Pretty cool.

I'm very glad we've got our house church going, but it's interesting that they found a way to make it work with financial support and fund-raising.

It gives me hope as more and more Christians decide to invest in the Kingdom and in people around them with tangible blessings.

May the tribe increase!