What If It Was Your Last?

June 25, 2012 at 6:57 am

As a Christian, I live with one foot in eternity and one foot in the present (Ephesians 2:6, etc.). My position is secure(d). Not only that, I have an eye on the horizon because that day is coming when the trumpet will sound (Revelation 22). Though my feet tread through thorns and thistles, I know the day is coming when roses will no longer have thorns (maybe, maybe not, just bear with me here).

But let me be clear here. When I say that I have one foot in eternity and one foot in the present, that doesn’t mean that I’ve somehow checked out of this life or that this life doesn’t matter or that it’s somehow unimportant. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

I find this life flashing with glimpses of eternity. I’m constantly reminded that this world has worth. God said that it was very good (Genesis 1:31) and God tells me that I should be content (Philippians 4:11, Hebrews 13:5, etc.) in all things. Not just content, but thankful (Colossians 3:15). Every good gift comes from God (James 1:17) and I am continually and repeatedly reminded of not only how un-thank/grate-ful I am. I float through life as if I deserve. I deserve “more.” I deserve “better.” But in reality, every breath is a gift.

As a Christian, I believe that life is full of blessings that I either am unaware of or ignore. But life should be marked by gratitude. This should mark every moment with passion. Life should be marked by joy. Things will often not go the way I want. I will not always have a “win.” Life will often hurt. I will sometimes feel “afflicted in every way, (but not crushed) perplexed (but not driven to despair) (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Another way I’ve come to think about I almost hesitate in sharing because I myself find it kind of cheesy. Not like cheesy tasty puffs but chick-flick cheesy. What if we learned to live every moment like it were our last? Now, before you roll your eyes and say that I’ve gone all fluffy, think about it. What if not only eternity (as if that’s not enough) but death loomed at our doors (which it does)? What if you couldn’t count on another day? What if tomorrow didn’t come? What if you didn’t know when death would finally knock? Would you/I/we live any differently?

Would you enjoy that summer peach any more? Would you stop and soak in the sunset any longer? Would you sing along with the stereo in the car a bit louder? Would you try to resolve that argument or dig in a little deeper? Would you pray a little longer? Would you save a little more money? Would you hug someone a bit longer? Would you do the dishes any differently? Would you pull a little more joy out of that moment?

What if this moment was your last? Would you live any differently? What if eternity invaded the present with value worth celebrating?

Why We’re In Acts 29

June 22, 2012 at 9:43 am

Kristi and I just got back from Newport Beach, CA where we had the privilege of spending the past few days with church planters/pastors and their wives from all over the world at the Acts 29 Network Pastors Retreat. We had a great time in a beautiful city worshiping with friends and we met pastors, church planters and their wives from all over the world. It was a refreshing time and a great reminder of why we joined the network in the first place.

I have friends who swim in different theological streams than I do. I love this and want to respect their theological convictions, learn from them. But, invariably, I get concern from friends in other streams about Acts 29. Some of the concerns are based on individual personalities and others on cultural/theological issues. Some is legitimate and some of it is just silly. Back in 2009, I wrote on our church blog several reasons why we were aligning with Acts 29 and I wanted to revisit those today.

We planted a church because we want people to know Jesus. We want to make, mature and multiply disciples. We want to see the entire NW Valley of Phoenix transformed by the Gospel. We want to see Phoenix and Arizona changed. Beyond that, we want the world to know about Jesus. This isn’t going to happen through our church alone. And so we have partnered with other Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, Truth-proclaiming, City-serving churches around the world to plant churches that plant churches. Here are the reasons I wrote in 2009 that we were partnering with Acts 29:

  • Jesus-centered missionality

I realize that “missional” is a bit of a junk-drawer word (surely you have a drawer somewhere in your house where everyone puts everything?!), but at it’s base, it communicates the idea of living like missionaries in our immediate context. Living on and in God’s mission. Missions involves cultural engagement and lays the groundwork for evangelism.

Acts 29 not only understands and encourages this but does so from a Christ-centered framework, putting Jesus at the center of everything. This is key and must not be overlooked. Indeed, as Mars Hill Church says: “It’s All About Jesus.” To claim to be “on mission” without Jesus is simply a fool’s errand at best, and suicide at worst. Acts 29 understands that, not only is Jesus the embodiment of God on Mission, He is our hope and strength as He sends us in His footsteps (Matthew 28:18-20).

  • Vocal doctrinal commitment

It is a sometimes-tempting trap for many church planters to water down doctrine in the hopes of attracting more people. Acts 29 rejects such shallow options, understanding that, to open up your Bible at all and teach is to involve doctrine and we’d better strive to get it right. We only do disservice when we treat the things of God as though they’re merely self-help tools to get us our best lives. Acts 29 unapologeticaly encourages and empowers pastors to lead their people deep into the glories of Calvary.

  • The centrality of the Church

While the doctrine (and practice) of the Church is under attack from nearly every direction (including many who profess faith in Christ), Acts 29 stands on the principle that the Church is at the center of God’s redeeming Work. It is for the Church that Christ laid down His life (Ephesians 5:25).

  • The importance of family

It’s often been said: “As goes the home, so goes the church.” And yet, it’s quite common for many ministers to pour themselves out so much in ministry that they have nothing left for their families, which should be their primary ministry. Acts 29 not only understands this, they call their pastors/planters to first be family men before pastors. This is often sorely overlooked to the detriment of everyone involved. I am humbled to be part of a network that takes family so seriously.

  • Calling Men to Be Men

I was never a jock and I cringe a bit when I see masculinity defined primarily in athletic/competitive terms. But, it doesn’t take long in most churches to realize that more women participate in church life than do men. Acts 29 is intentionally calling men to be men, to be sacrificial leaders, to be humbly bold, to lead their families and the church. This is much needed in our culture.

  • Kingdom over Denomination

Acts 29 has members across the denominational landscape. I see this as a tremendous strength. Acts 29 strives to put the Kingdom over our differences (as important as they may be). It’s much more difficult to strive to work across those boundaries than it is to hide behind them. What’s even more difficult is to firmly hold certain doctrines in a closed hand while holding others in an open hand. I am honored to be part of a network that puts the unity of the Kingdom above the differences of denomination.


Three years later, I would only add to that list. There is a zeal for evangelism and a heart-desire for diversity in this network that I haven’t always seen in my other church-life affiliations. There is a growing emphasis on international church planting and there is a very real desire to pursue humility and a winsome approach to reformed theology that I myself have not always pursued. I am thankful to be challenged in this area.

I am more encouraged now than ever to be part of the network. We have a lot to learn, but, by God’s grace, we are trying.

An Introduction To (GCM) Missional Communities: Aiming For The “Sweet Spot” (2)

June 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

As I mentioned on Monday, I seem to find myself having variations of the same conversation over and over again. I’m not complaining. In fact, I enjoy being forced to present ideas in a variety of angles, being forced to whittle them down until they’re concise and clear.

One of the reasons the Church of the Cross family organizes itself around missional communities, or as we sometimes call them, “gospel communities on mission” (which we’ll talk more about today) is that we are convinced that we should, as much as possible, place people in contexts where change is likely to occur.

By no means are we saying that we can really make people change. God does that. However, we do believe that local churches should do as much as possible to encourage and facilitate that change in people’s lives. We believe that this change is more likely to occur when we place people in the “sweet spot,” the intersection of Gospel, Community and Mission.

I’ve never been a big sports guy, but I did play tennis for several years growing up. In tennis, as with several other sports involving making contact with a ball, there is, on the racquet, a “sweet spot.” There is a spot on the tennis racquet where, you know it when you make contact. The ball responds better. You have more power and control. You can hit the ball across the net with just about any part of the racquet; even the frame. But when you make contact with the sweet spot, it is better. You’re still playing tennis if you’re just getting the ball over the net, but you’re not experiencing the fullness of the game without learning to connect with the sweet spot.

Likewise, in envisioning what a missional community is, it helps to envision another sweet spot. This time, it is not a place on a racquet, but the intersection of three life-factors: Gospel, Community and Mission. It might look something like the overlap of three circles. As much as possible, we are looking to facilitate the life of the missional community within that “sweet spot” (the little white space where all three factors intersect).

This means that each factor is not negotiable and, as much as possible, all three at the same time are necessary. If we take away just one factor, the entire dynamic changes and it is no longer what we’re looking to foster. For example, if we remove Gospel, leaving Community and Mission, we have the possibility of some good being done in the world. We might have something like the Peace Corps or the Scouts. We have people coming together to serve but but not out of gospel motives so it can’t produce the sweet spot missional communities strive to exist within and we’re less likely to see real, lasting life change.

Take away Community, leaving Gospel and Mission. We might have a street preacher, “out in the world preaching the word” but it is often removed from daily life and it is often done in isolation. Or we might have a great short-term missions trip. You and your friends are going to change the world in a week and you come back with the church-camp high and you feel on top of the world but as the rhythms of real-life begin to pull you under again, chances are that most of those relationship you thought would last forever have deteriorated; that long-term shared communal life is just not there so it can’t produce the sweet spot missional communities strive to exist within.

Or take away Mission, leaving Gospel and Community. We might have a truly moving gathered worship experience or a moving and challenging group bible study. But if mission is removed, the external-focus is taken away, it will, by default, be inward focused so it can’t produce the sweet spot missional communities strive to exist within.

Gospel, Community and Mission are non-negotiable for missional communities. But it is not enough simply to have all three; we are looking for their intersection and the space it creates, you cannot have a missional community without all three Gospel, Community and Mission being present. When all three are present and the “sweet spot” of their intersection opens up, we believe that people are more likely to be changed into maturing and multiplying disciples.

In days to come, well flesh out a bit more how some of this might look in the life of a local community but for now, I just want to paint some very broad strokes of what a missional community (as we understand and practice them) is and isn’t. Though it may look different for different missional communities, I have come to believe that some attempt to place people within this sweet spot is part of what a missional community is always aiming for.

An Introduction To (GCM) Missional Communities: Considering Contexts For Change (1)

June 11, 2012 at 8:04 am

I seem to find myself having variations of the same conversations a lot. I’m not complaining, it just interests me. More often than not, the conversation is with other pastors who hear about “missional communities” and want to hear more. Church of the Cross, where I serve, organizes itself around missional communities (or, we also call them Gospel Communities on Mission) so I find myself explaining this quite a bit. This is great because it has forced our own church family to be clear about what we mean and what we don’t.

Part of the problem, though, is that “missional communities” has become sort of a “junk-drawer” term. Lots of homes have that drawer (we actually several) where you throw everything you can’t seem to find a place for. It is common for words and terms to take on similar status, adopting definitions (sometimes even contradictory definitions depending on who you talk to) along the way until no one is quite sure what the term means. This can be quite frustrating for someone who just wants to understand.

So, I want to take a few posts here and explain some of the things that we mean when we talk about organizing ourselves around gospel communities on mission (missional communities). I am not pretending that these are the only ways to undertand these terms or that we speak for everyone using the terms, just that this is what we mean.

The first thing to consider is the expectation of Scripture that God’s people will grow. This seems rather self-evident but consider the reality: we understand and accept the notion that: “oh, he’s just a baby Christian” and that someone can remain a “baby Christian” for a very long time. My wife and I have four boys. If any of them didn’t grow, we would be extremely worried and we would take drastic measures to make sure that they started growing as expected.

The Bible talks about salvation as a “new birth,” (John 3:1-15) as being “born again” from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1-11). Peter says that, “like newborn infants,” we should long for that which will help us grow (1 Peter 2:2) and Paul says that we should not stay like children forever (Ephesians 4:1-16). This is common sense. People grow, they change, they mature; and the Christian life is no different. We are expected to grow, change and mature.

This means that part of the role of the local church is to create a context in which growth and change in the Christian life are most likely to occur. By this I am not saying that we can guarantee anything or even that we can make people grow in the Christian life. But I do believe that we should encourage growth as much as possible.

Another way to say this might be that we are called to make, mature and multiply disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). An apprentice sits under a master, watching, learning and doing until it is time for them to go do it on their own, hopefully taking another apprentice along with them. We call this process of helping each other change, helping each other “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13)” discipleship and if it is not at the center of our churches, something else will be.

I can’t find anywhere in Scripture where we are commanded to plant churches, but I can find where we are called to make, mature and multiply disciples. So we must ask ourselves: how well have we done at discipleship, at helping people grow, change and mature more and more to reflect Jesus and, if we haven’t done all that well, what (if anything) might need to change in order to place people in contexts where they are more likely to experience the change the Gospel (the good news about who Jesus is and what He’s done) expects of us.

We believe that people are more likely to experience Gospel change as the events on the church calendar are stripped away and the Truths we discuss are applied in everyday life and people are equipped to help each other (Galatians 6:1) experience God’s change in their lives. So we have intentionally cleared much of the traditional church calendar and focused on our Gathered Worship, our Missional Communities and what we call DNA (Discipleship/Nurture/Accountability) Groups and tried to move away from our Gathered Worship being the engine that drives our life together as a church.

This does not mean we don’t preach or value preaching. This does not mean that Sunday is not important or that we don’t strive to do it well. It just means that, it is common for churches to use Sunday as the thing around which they organize and energize people and we view Sunday as a gathering of people who have tried to live out the Gospel scattered throughout the week. It means that Sunday is a family reunion rather than a performance. It means that we believe that change is more likely to happen when people are asked to really live out what the bible says rather than simply learn more.

I realize that I haven’t defined or described much about missional communities yet. But it’s important to see that we organize the life of our church family this way, not because it’s a new fad but because we are sincerely pursuing the growth, change and maturity that God has in store for us. Your church may do it differently and that’s OK as long as the goal is spiritual maturity and multiplication rather than a big church.

Over the next few days, we’ll flesh out more of what a missional community is and isn’t. For now, I just want to say that it is the organizational principle for a local church that we believe is most conducive to seeing real, lasting change in people’s lives.

New Music From Calexico

June 5, 2012 at 10:33 am

Being an AZ native, I love AZ music and no band symbolizes that better for me than Calexico. Hailing from Tucson, Calexico fuses experimental indie rock with mariachi bands and spaghetti western flourishes. It sounds like home to me.

The band just announced that their new album “Algiers” will be out in September on Anti. They also debuted the new video for the single “Para”:

  • Visit Calexico’s official website
  • Purchase Calexico’s music for yo’self