How Far Do I Have To Go To Be A Missionary?

June 30, 2009 at 9:45 am

81227_california_mission_wooden_crosSometimes it’s tedious work to discuss things. This is much moreso the case when dealing with “junk drawer” words. You know that drawer in your house where you put everything that doesn’t have a place? The same thing often happens with words. Divergent opinions will try to fill the same word with divergent opinions until it’s hard to define a particular word because nearly everyone using the word has divergent opinions about what the word actually means.

Sometimes this is intentional, like with the terms “emerging” and “emergent.” Proponents of these terms have very loudly called for dialogue over concrete definitions, intentionally keeping the definitions of such terms fuzzy to say the least. That’s fine and good for those within the “dialogue,” but quite frustrating for anyone outside wanting, maybe not to enter, but at least understand what’s going on inside.

Other times words attain junk drawer status by more unintentional means. In these cases, many people will agree that the word is good, but again, divergent opinions, well, diverge, thus making the use of a word like “missional” sometimes difficult. It has become, what Ed Stetzer calls a “wiki” word, something anyone feels the right to edit. Stetzer goes on to say that the word “missional” is “like a Rorschach Test for many people.” So should we just throw the word out (read Ed Stetzer’s three-part series here, here and here for more on the history of the term)? I don’t think so.

For many (myself) included, missional means participating in the mission of God (missio Dei), understanding that we are sent (John 20:19-21) to all kinds of people (Matthew 28:18-21) with a message (Luke 24:45-48) empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8).

In this sense, then, every believer is called to “missions.” If we are to make disciples of all nations, it’s shortsighted to set our binoculars off in the distance without starting at our doorstep. The mission field begins at our doorsteps. But many radically oppose the idea that all believers are missionaries. Consider Abraham Piper’s wonderfully concise post entitled: “Saying every Christian is a missionary can be downright offensive:”

Telling missionaries to India, for instance, that I’m also a missionary is like telling bereft parents I relate because my dog died.

Piper clearly sees a demarcation between some believers when it comes to missions. In his mind, some are missionaries and some are not and to say otherwise is “downright offensive.” Breaking cultural bonds in a foreign country with and for the Gospel is missions while doing it at home is not. But the issue is clearly muddy as the comments to that post demonstrate. If we’re all sent, then how is it that some are missionaries and some are not? Could it be that we have simply professionalized what we’re all called to do? There seems to be some consensus in the comments of Piper’s post that once you have to move a certain distance, make certain monetary sacrifices and learn another language, then you’re a missionary. But what about us? What about my family and I? We moved to another state to plant a church and reach a specific people. Are we missionaries? Are we at least “missional”? I’ve been told to my face “no.”

It seems to me we’re drawing lines where Scripture doesn’t over a word Scripture doesn’t use. While I appreciate Piper’s zeal to hold in esteem those who might make sacrifices many of us do not, I question his approach. At what point does someone “become” a missionary and who sets the criteria? And aren’t foreign missionaries doing in a foreign land what we’re all called to do anyways?

I wonder if part of the difficulty of the discussion is that we have professionalized what every believer is called to do. I have the utmost respect for those who are called to go to foreign lands. Many of my good friends have been called to the foreign missions field. But I have come to see foreign missions as an extension of missions in general. The “mission field” is those who don’t know Christ. “Missions” is the task of infiltrating a culture with the Gospel and that begins at home and extends exponentially across the globe.

I suppose that my questions for Abraham and others are: “how far do I have to go to be a missionary”? What sacrifices do I have to make before being considered a missionary? Is moving across several states enough? Who says? Should we distinguish here between “missions” and “foreign missions”? Is that even helpful? What significance, if any, is it that the U.S. now receives more foreign missionaries than we send? What is the relationship between “missions” and “evangelism” (In my mind, missions lays the groundwork for evangelism but that can be for another post)?

I’m not trying to attack Abraham or others, I’m just trying to wade my way through the mire. As a pastor planting a church, I use the word “missional” (read why here) and I encourage our people to think of their everyday lives as mission field. Am I wrong in doing so? In my mind, this goes beyond just encouraging people to “share the Gospel,” but to apply missionary tactics to everyday life. Could it be that we are all missionaries, just not foreign missionaries? What do you think?

(One of) The Great(est) Fallacies Of American Politics

June 29, 2009 at 6:49 am

mark-sanford-with-bush-010609-lgBy now many of you have at least heard a fleeting remark in the media regarding South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Sanford “went missing” for a couple of days. Sanford’s office said that he “went hiking,” which apparently was a lie. Apparently, he was visiting his secret lover in Argentina. As a friend of mind recently said: “secret trips to Argentina never end well.”

What we have here is another politician caught in an adulterous affair and the lies that entangle every such affair. It seems that everyone has an opinion on such matters and they fill every available airwave with said opinion. I was listening to NPR a couple of days ago. They hosted a couple of “political analysts” who were opining about the scandalous affair. Both analyst said that they have an extremely high tolerance for such things because, after all, we can “compartmentalize” our lives and what a politician does in his/her personal life does not affect his political decisions.

One commentator went on to say that, though he had a tolerance for such “foibles,” he was hesitant to turn a blind eye to Sanford’s situation because it wasn’t just a “sleazy” one-night thing, he had actually fallen in love and that negatively affected his judgment.

There’s just so much wrong here, not withstanding the idea that some affairs are more acceptable than others, and that our personal lives are somehow less important than our “professional” lives, I want to specifically touch on the idea that we can compartmentalize our lives, as though who we are in one area can be completely separated from the rest of our lives. This idea was, perhaps made most apparent in the Clinton/Lewinski scandal of so many years before. Many of his defenders used this same slogan as his defense, that just because he was guilty of marital infidelity, that didn’t mean he couldn’t run the country well enough.

But is this really the case? What is it that has led us to believe that someone can be a liar and a cheat in one area of their life and yet be trustworthy and dependable in other areas of their life? The Bible reminds us that a liar is a liar is a liar. We are whole people. We are not compartments. Jesus Himself drove this point home with the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34:

How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

It is utter folly to believe that we can separate our lives into compartments that remain isolated from one another. We don’t live this day in everyday life, why do we find it acceptable for those in the public eye? It’s time we not only held our politicians accountable, but also ourselves. We let our politicians get away with such things because we ourselves don’t take them seriously. A liar is a liar is a liar and a liar can’t be trusted.

Your words reveal your heart and your heart affects every area of your life. Let’s begin with ourselves, making sure that we strive for honest consistency with the help of the Spirit in every area of our lives. Only then, let’s stop tolerating personal lies in our public officials.

Music Saturday

June 27, 2009 at 8:34 pm

In honor of Wilco’s new album and the passing of Jay Bennett, here’s a some of Bennett-era Wilco tracks. First, “Cars Can’t Escape:”

Here’s “California Stars:”


The Weekly Town Crier

June 26, 2009 at 6:29 am

towncrier2Hey man, what’s the scuttlebutt? I don’t know, what’s the Town Crier rambling about? I don’t know, let’s find out:

Be my friend on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter.

And while you’re out there scouring the world-wide-web, you’ll need some good music. Join eMusic, we both get free music and everyone wins.

Read as Kem Meyer shares 7 marketing myths to stop believing.

Browse this list of the “Top 10 Most Nauseating Rip-Off 1980s Cartoons.”


See TOMS and Element teaming up.

See two museums, one for dummies and the other for signs.

Read about Mikhail Gorbachev’s album of romantic ballads being bought for $164,940.

R.I.P. Ed McMahon.

R.I.P. Farrah Fawcett.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson.

Make a blank bible.

Read as Ron Howard confirms the Arrested Development movie.

Read about Spike Jonze, David Cross and Will Arnett joining forces, to make Increasingly Poor Decisions.

Read as Paste proviles Jay Farrar.

Read Barna’s “Spiritual Profile of Homosexual Adults Provides Surprising Insights.”

Read about MuteMath’s new LP.

Read about Zhang Yimou Remaking the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple.

Read about Steve Jobs’ liver transplant.

Read about Kodak discontinuing Kodachrome.

Read as Christianity Today considers “Why the arts matter even during a recession.”

Read about French President Sarkozy speaking out against burkas.

Read about M. Night Shyamalan considering ‘Unbreakable’ Sequel.

Read about the man caught trying to smuggle 250 tortoises.

Read about the autopsy revealing the cause of Jay Bennett’s death.

Read about the Census Bureau’s finding that “Exurban Growth Greater than Central Growth.”

Read as John Piper apologizes for being a jerk and explains why he doesn’t have a television and rarely goes to movies.

Get free paint while supplies last.

Read Pitchfork‘s review of the new album from Tortoise.

Read this survey of America’s megachurch goers.

Read as Paste catches up with Thurston Moore.

See the reverse graffiti project.

Read as Neue asks “When Does Relevance Become Irrelevant?”

Browse as PopMatters considers the most memorable albums of 1999.

Read about reading the online, graphic novel version of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Read Michael Spencer’s SBC roundup.

Read Mary Mohler’s prayer for pastors’ wives.

Read Peggy Noonan’s thoughts on Twitter, Iran and revolutionary tools with baby names.

Read as Steve Earle talks about his tribute to Townes Van Zandt.

Browse as Paste lists the best music of the year (so far).

Read as PopMatters considers the continuing legacy of Uncle Tupelo.

Read as PopMatters reviews the new album from Wilco, Wilco (The Album), closing: “In the end, they may be their own worst enemy: they’ve not only set the bar unreasonably high for everyone else, but also for themselves.”

For Freedom

June 24, 2009 at 10:07 am

freedomSurely many of you have been following the goings-on at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention. There were motions against Pepsi and against carrying Mark Driscoll’s books in Lifeway stores. There, was of course, the success of the Great Commission Resurgence, but such successes often seem to get overshadowed by what the convention is against rather than what they’re for.

Sadly, this seems to be par for the course for many Christians. I recently came across someone who was essentially rebuking people for saying that Heath Ledger did a great job in his role as the Joker because he acted in Brokeback Mountain and his personal life was a shambles. In our struggle to pursue holiness, many of us have taken our personal struggles and placed them on the consciences of others. Many of us have elevated our personal dislikes to sin and our personal successes to holiness. But it’s not enough for us simply judge our own holiness, many of us have come to believe that no one is holy unless they’re holy like us. And the true test of holiness is how much you oppose and withdraw from, the most holy people of all, of course, don’t watch or listen to anything “secular,” and cocoon themselves in white-washed Christianity, throwing rocks at everything and everything outside of their little bubble.

But does refusing to say that Heath Ledger was a good actor because of his personal and professional choices really make someone more holy? No, it does not. Does saying that, since the Harry Potter series deals in magic, then Christians should boycott it and J.K. Rowling must be a Satanist mean we’re closer to God? No, it does not? In fact, the farther we go down these roads, we find, not the joy of salvation, but the weight of legalism. No one and nothing is good enough, so we must retreat from more and more, becoming more adamant and more vocal against everything and everyone.

One of the obvious problems with this approach to holiness is the simple fact that we end up distancing ourselves from the very people Jesus spent His time with, the very people He came to save. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and reminded us that it’s the sick who need the physician (Matthew 9:12). How is it that in our attempts to be holy, we find ourselves actually condemning the actions of Jesus Himself? We distance ourselves from the very people Jesus spent His time with, the very people He sends us to and in extreme cases, we actually erect false rules that would exclude Jesus Himself from many of our churches. What a needlessly heavy burden we so often choose to bear.

But, God tells us that the Truth sets us free (John 8:32). The Bible is full of Exodus imagery, with salvation being the new and better Exodus, freeing God’s people from slavery to their true taskmasters of sin and death. Paul goes so far as to say in Galatians 5:1:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The power of this verse is that it operates in our lives on a couple of different levels. One, we have been freed from the bondage to the sins that once held us captive. In Christ there is power to overcome the vices that once clung so tightly to us. Like Lazarus coming from the tomb, we can and must remove the grave-clothes of our former lives. So there is no need for us to live as we once did, in slavery to sin, don’t go back to it, because you’ve been freed from it! But there is also the broader, more implicit sense that in Christ, we have found freedom, why then put on any slavery except to Him (Romans 6).

And let’s be honest, anyone who’s lived with legalism knows that it is anything but freedom. Christ has set us free, why then should we go back to slavery? Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30), why then do we insist on weighing ourselves down with needless rules, regulations and judgmental spirits? Of course, some will say that what I’m saying that the freedom Christ brings is the freedom to sin but of course, this isn’t the case. Paul himself says in Galatians 5:13:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

1 Peter 2:16 adds:

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants[a] of God.

Freedom is not not a license to sin, but to be free. Let’s be clear, the freedom that Christ brings may, in fact look different for different people. For one person, it may in fact be a sin to touch a drop of alcohol. That person should abstain. But that person should not apply his personal conscience on to others. As D.A. Carson so eloquently puts it: “The moment you tell me drinking is a sin, I say ‘Pass the Port!’”

Much of the trouble here is that we are surrounded by so many areas that are open to conscience and open to interpretation, so-called “grey areas.” What’s sin for one person may in fact not be sin for another and instead of developing and testing our consciences, it’s much easier to cast judgment on everything and everyone, following rules and regulations.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36)

Cultivating the “Blog Instinct”

June 23, 2009 at 11:28 am

instinctIt seems that everyone and their mother has a blog. Whether or not it is a fad remains to be seen, though it has encouraged and challenged many people to express themselves and their views in ways they had previously never imagined. This is both a blessing and a curse. Everyone now demands the right to be heard and everyone is convinced that their opinion is the right one. And in the midst of this, I blog. I don’t update nearly as much as I used to and there are many reasons for that, none of which is the point of this post.

What’s interesting is that, as I blog less and less, I’ve actually found myself thinking about blogging more and more. Part of the reason I blog is to cultivate the personal discipline and habit of filtering all of life through the Gospel. This has never been a pulpit for my personal rants, I don’t share a ton of personal information here, I don’t even link my blog from the website of the church I pastor. Instead, it has always been about the intersection of theology and culture, trying to help people, including myself, understand that the Gospel has something to say about every aspect of life. This blog has been some of my steps in the journey of that exploration.

But it’s not always easy. Creative people often speak about the coming and going of “the muse,” that creative spark that sometimes comes in floods and others in dribbles. I’ve come to recognize that this blog is dependent on something similar, something I’ve come to think of as the “blog instinct.” It’s difficult to describe, perhaps a bit like dancing about architecture, but let me give it a shot.

In order to accomplish the mission of this blog, the writer (myself and sometimes my good friend Adam) must be immersed in the Word and swimming in culture continually seeing the relationship between both. It is coming across a cultural artifact and naturally, instinctively seeing the implications. When Adam posted his piece the other day “Who’s To Blame for Homosexual Stereotypes: Gays, the Military, and Unfriendly Fire,” my first thought was that he had a great “blog instinct.” He heard a piece on NPR (I wish I had kept track of how many pieces I’ve written either directly or indirectly about NPR pieces) and his mind began to flesh out some of the implications. Sometimes the blog piece is more gospel centered than others, but the point is always to help us think about what’s going on around us.

Too many of us (including myself) simply float through life unconsciously. We get in the car and end up at our destination and oftentimes, don’t even remember the journey to and fro. We get in the car and just space out and far too often, that’s exactly how we live our lives. We’re not present in the moment and we’re certainly not thinking critically about what’s happening around us. This is the “blog instinct,” seeing something and immediately turning it over and over in your mind’s eye, filtering it through the Gospel, coming out the other end with timeless truth in a timely manner.

We don’t always succeed at that here at Holiday at the Sea, but at least we’re trying. I love the dialogue, the interaction of the blogosphere, I love being exposed to and challenged by a wide swath of perspectives, but ultimately, I blog to continue to force myself to keep these instincts sharp. I often say that part of my job is a pastor is to raise up leaders behind me. In a sense, to work myself out of a job, and I often think of blogging in a similar manner. If this blog can help others to think critically about applying the Gospel to all of life, then maybe the day will come when it’s no longer necessary (please don’t read that as me thinking this blog is more important than it is). But until then, let’s all keep sharpening the blog instinct.

The Weekly Town Crier

June 19, 2009 at 8:15 am

hftc2-town-crier-2-ftWelcome, welcome, welcome, to the Weekly Town Crier. You know how it goes, click, link, browse. See what’s here, see what’s there and everything in between.

Be my friend on Facebook.

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And while you’re out there scouring the world-wide-web, you’ll need some good music. Join eMusic, we both get free music and everyone wins.

Browse this collection of unique bookcases.

Read as Al Mohler consider “why Twitter.”

Read about Stephen Baldwin’s foreclosure.

I stole your images, put them back or I will call a lawyer.

Read about the student who went undercover, as an fundamentalist at Liberty University.

See bookshelves.

Watch as a pastor from TX named Matt Chandler wins the Jimmy Fallon air drum challenge.

Read Ed Stetzer’s interview with Tullian Tchividjian.

Read as BreakPoint explores why Christians should read fiction.

Read as Christianity Today (for women) explores the idea of “hooking up.”

Find out how to hear the exclusive new Sufjan Stevens track.

Love Dare for the iPhone, yes, there’s an app for that.

Read as Neue considers “A Way to Draw More Christians Back to Church?”

Read this profile of Passion Pit.

Read this interview with Bat For Lashes.

Browse the 2009 Lollapalooza schedule.

Browse this collection of Tom Waits covers.

Read this interview/profile with/of Band of Horses.

Help Polyvinyl Save 10,000 Records From Destruction.

Read as profiles mewithoutYou.

Read Justin Taylor’s piece on World magazine choosing the ESV Study Bible as the book of the year.

Help fund adoption by ordering a print from Jason Kovacs.

Order “Over the Grave,” the new collects of Isaac Watts’ hymns from Sojourn.

Browse as Collin Hansen suggests summer theological reading.

Read the A.V. Club’s interview with Animal Collective.

Browse as the A.V. Club notes its favorite music of the year so far.

Read Paste’s profile of the Avett Brothers.

Read the Las Vegas Sun’s interview with Jeff Tweedy.

Browse NPR’s Summer mixtape.