Magic, Marketing, and Jesus

The Decisive Ball - Magic 8 For Organizations

The Decisive Ball – Magic 8 For Organizations

Impressed!  Which is a rare feeling for me.  I walked into my office this morning and discovered two very cool pieces of marketing on my desk.  The first was this sort of Magic 8 Ball for Businesses and Organizations.  Decisive is a new book by Chip and Dan Heath who also wrote Made to Stick and  Switch – two incredible books that every leader needs to read.  

Decisive is exactly what the title says… it helps people figure out who to make decisions effectively.  In outlines wonderful tools that any group or organization can use.  The Decisive Magic 8 Ball provides a wide variety of these principles and tools to help make decisions.  Truly, from a marketing standpoint, this ball is MAGIC!  What a cool toy and I got it for free!

Fantastic book marketing

Fantastic book marketing

The second piece of marketing that impressed me this morning was David Kinnaman’s new book You Lost Me.    Packaging was tremendous.  It included an invitation to a live signing event.  I can sign up for the event via EventBrite.  

This too was MAGIC!  I disagree with Kinnaman on a lot of things – but his organization gets marketing.  They do it really well.  

Most churches, on the other hand, do NOT do marketing all that well.  Obviously, there are some that do, but most do not.  I think the reason is this – most churches forget that people need MAGIC.  In a world full of advertising and messages, people want to enter into an experience that lifts them out of their lives, provides a message relevant to everyday life, and that provides them power and inspiration to go back to their lives with something they did not have before.  In other words – M A G I C !  

I had about 10 different tasks to do as soon as I arrived in the office – I put them all on hold to open these packages.  What MAGIC will we allow people to experience so that they will put their lives on hold to hear about a life and world transforming message?


Athens & God

It’s almost 6am in Athens. I can hear the humm of cars outside as morning approaches. Really that humm has been there all night never really letting up. Athens has been going all night as cars drive a key circle in the road way system here. Reading the news for the past many weeks and months, I wondered what I should expect when arriving here. Reading Luke’s account of Paul’s visit to Athens from nearly 2,000 years ago(Acts 17:27ff), I also wondered what I should expect. Paul’s first observance was feeling disturbed by the number of idols he saw throughout the city as the people attempted to make the presence of the gods real to everyday life.

Rather than worried that they didn’t believe in the ONE, true God, Paul’s message to the Athenian philosophers was centered around the fact he worried that they didn’t know that God was truly present all of the time, everywhere and that they didn’t need to make carved images to feel and see the presence of God in their lives. Paul stated to them at the Areopagus on Mars Hill, “God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live and move and exist. As some of your poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore, as God’s offspring, we have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold… image made by human skill or thought” (Acts 17:27-30).

Paul wanted the people of Athens to know that God was present all of the time in all places in EVERYONE. God is present because we are all God’s offspring. WE are the presence of God. We are God’s reps here on Earth. No need for carved images to have God show up, instead, we are to be the presence of God by how we live our lives.

As I consider the beginning of my journey here in Athens, I wonder how a message of hope like Paul’s can come into our day when Athens seems to have very little hope– at least as observed on my screens over the past many months. Do the people feel far away from the presence of God? Do the people feel far away from one another? Can they see themselves as the offspring of God that can accomplish creating a new day, a new future, and a new world for themselves?

Predestined 3: Characters, Plots, and Scripts on the Stage of Life

Like many raised in the church, I grew up thinking that I must discover God’s will and plan for my life. God’s sovereign will seemed to be very specific, involving very detailed plans of everyday life as well as the large decisions of life. This divine plan had to be sought out daily in prayer, reflected over while pouring over the Holy Scriptures, and always seemed like something that was just out of reach. Does God want me to go to this college or that one? Does God want me to go to college at all? Should I go up to the clerk at the gas station and “tell them about Jesus?” These were the kind of things that consumed me growing up and I find that many Christians are still consumed and anxious about such questions.

Along the way I have given up such a view of God and life. In the previous two posts, I have sought to explain a very different understanding of God’s Sovereignty and the idea of predestination. Whereas in the past many have considered finding God’s will as a scripted life, I have characterized it as the unscripted life. Rather than some script that one must discover each new page, or some sort of cultural script that defines certain accomplishments, possessions, and circumstances as happiness or success, the Jesus follower must live an unscripted life. In the second post, I described the kind of things that our human will and volition should be pointed towards– that of stewarding ourselves and the process of continually putting off that which burdens and keeps us from living a full life and opening ourselves to the new things that we encounter while following behind Jesus.

I am continually persuaded that God’s will is about character rather than circumstances. Such character involves a death to the old ways of life and putting on the life-giving traits of the Spirit. In my last post, Jason Thomley commented on how this process is described in Jeremiah 1 where God gives Jeremiah the two-pronged vocation of tearing down and planting. In Colossians 3, Paul describes this two phased process (that one could probably break-down into much more detailed steps). First, Paul starts out with the primary goal: Set your mind on things that are above (v. 2)! This is like the two greatest commandments of 1) Love God & 2) Love Neighbor that some of you lifted up in your comments on the last post. But like most of us, we look at Paul and say, “Yes, that’s right, seek the things that are above… okay, but how do I do that and what does that look like.” The same sort of thing happens when Jesus gives the two greatest commands in Luke 10. A religious scholar sly asks, “You have answered correctly, but who is my neighbor?” Just as Jesus provides the story commonly known as the Good Samaritan, Paul lays out some key ideas of what it means to set one’s mind on thing above. In verse 5, he says that we must put to death fornication, impurity, passion, and evil desire, as well as, get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. Then in verse 10, he says that we must clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience while bearing with one another and forgiving one another and having love and thankfulness and peace, and letting the Word of God dwell in you while you sing to God. In verse 18, Paul he gives some practical steps for households. I’m sure if he wasn’t working with parchment or papyrus scrolls he might have written more and got more detailed.

What is God’s will? I might not be able to give a full answer, but I do know that it starts with character– with putting to death many things in our lives and clothing ourselves with traits that open up our spirits to Spirit of life.

Faithful Stewards & the Unscripted Life

When we give up the illusion that we can control our lives and destinies, when we forsake the idols of self-worship and being self-made gods, when we depart from the way of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, we have the chance to live by trust on the road of the unscripted life. This is the journey of following Jesus who is out in front of us forging the way to a place we cannot even imagine.

In my last post, several of you asked plenty of questions and made several statements about choices, plans, being responsible, and free-will. In my language, these all revolve around the idea of faithful stewardship. Instead of attempting a “how to get there” kind of life where we use, abuse, manipulate and scheme, the Jesus journey is one where we consider who we are, what we are carrying, and how we journey. First, it it is to be a light journey where we let go of a lot of baggage and burdens. This is a continual process as we are distracted, tempted, and even good-intentioned along the way to pick up plenty of stuff that we eventually find that we must set down. Second, it is journey where certain resources are vital and necessary. How will we use those resources and plan for their best use along the way? Third, along the way we find ourselves encountering all sorts of opportunities… circumstances to use gifts and talents, to love and be loved, to give and to receive. We look and find ourselves in possession of so many different gifts. We encounter persons and circumstances along the way where these gifts can be used. Plans, choices, and free-will were meant to be used in faithful stewardship along this journey.

Small Government, Military, and Colonialism

By and large, many conservative “believe” in having a smaller federal governement. This, of course, is stretching the use of the word “believe.”

When you look at spending, the Republican party since 1980 has added more money to federal deficit. The federal government expanded under Reagan and G.W. Bush than at any other time in the past 60 years. Still, just about any conservative you meet will talk about how they value a smaller federal government, spending limit, etc.

Of course, the military, which is where a lot of this deficit came from, is not considered as a part of this “big government.” Although the military ultimately answers to the Big Chief and the Pentagon commanders and the Department of Defense are the biggest expenditures of the executive branch of the government, most conservatives do not consider the military as part of an expanded federal government.

However, in the eyes of the globe, this is precisely how the American federal government is expanding, and how “big brother” finds his way into everyone’s lives. In fact, our reach is so far and has so much influence over trade policies, interational disputes, etc. that many call our government imperialistic. Although we are not technically colonized other nations in the classical sense, it seems that we have in many ways colonized many, many places on the globe.

Many citizens here in the United States will speak about how great of a country we have, sing the virtues of the USA, and talk about patriotism and spreading democracy. They will speak about a grand history of liberation, wealth, and freedom. However, when put under the microscope, such ideas seem to be distorted. In its history, this land never belonged to “us.” In fact, the whole land from Atlantic to Pacific was inhabited by Native Americans tribes. We took the land and kept taking the land even up through the 20th century.

Then there is the problem of slavery and racism. Up until the early 1970s, blatant disrimination was rampant. Even now, passive forms of discrimination still function towards African-Americans. Then there is the issue of immigrants– legal and illegal. At some point, “we” began thinking that this land belonged to “us.” Although a majority of Americans claim to be Christian, this idea of the land belonging to “us” seems to be very anti-biblical– especially since “we” took the land from the Native Americans.

Put these things together with dozens of botched military activities, economic programs, and international policies, and what you get is not a benevolent nation with great actions of compassion and justice. Instead, you have a nation that was founded on killing and stealing, who has oppressed an entire skin color of people, and who still govern out of fear from the “other.” Indeed, perhaps we should be afraid of the other. Eye for an eye seems to be the ideology of the day. We took, stole, manipulated, oppressed, and killed. Perhaps, we will reap what we sowed. Perhaps, we sowed in unrighteousness and will reap more unrighteousness.

To be sure, there is another side of the story shared here. There are plenty of good deeds, good policies, and good people trying to do good in the world– in the past and now in the present. However, the story that I have shared is rarely shared (in my opinion of course). Perhaps some will feel that “we need to focus on the positive.” This is just a stunt of words to prevent us from taking a sobering look at the oppressive policies and manipulative actions being done today.

I am always amazed at how we are willing to be 100s of billions of dollars in debt for a war on the other side of the world, but we would be unwilling to spend $500 billion in deficit on education. I can hear someone saying right now, “Well, we should not be in deficit for any reason– military or education.” That same person will scream, shout, and send a letter to his congressman when a “liberal” suggests spending that much on education, but will call it patriotic when we shoot a smart bomb that destroys an entire neighborhood halfway around the world.

I’m tired… very tired of the rhetoric and contradictions. I’m tired of people who call themselves Christians who sanction or at least turn a blind eye to “collateral damage” (a nice phrase for murdering innocent people!!!). I’m tired of Christians who believe in a large military apparatus that literally is in every region of the globe– this is far beyond national security. I’m tired of Christians who say they believe in stewardship who continue to elect officials who wasted money in deficit spending. I’m tired of Christians who say they are pro-life and yet advocate for larger military budgets. The United States has committed the very worst atrocity in the history of the planet– two nuclear bombs dropped on two cities full of innocent people– including many, many children!!!

And yet, I will be the one who is questioned for writing this post. American Christians from the evangelical tradition question my faith– in fact many don’t even question… they believe that I am really not one. The first Christians sacrificed their lives without weapons in hand– that is the true sacrifice. Just as Jesus told Peter, “he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” It’s time for us to listen to Jesus. We must be Christians who live in America rather than American Christians. And in the end, this will actually make for a better America. The best way to be patriotic is to be Christian because it will make our communities better places which will in turn make a better nation which will in turn create a better world.

We Are Moving To Chicago!

I found out this past week that McCormick Theological Seminary will be giving me a $25,000 scholarship each year to attend their school (tuition is $11,000). I will be pursuing a joint MDiv/PhD between McCormick and University of Chicago. Sarah and I will be moving their this summer where she will be looking for a job in Marriage and Family Therapy. McCormick is in Hyde Park surrounded by University of Chicago.

I visited McCormick back in February to interview for the scholarship and had been anxiously (a very big understatement!) waiting to hear if I got the scholarship. This will allow me to truly focus on my studies and really dive into research. My two areas of focus are liturgical studies and Christian ethics/moral theology, especially in the intersection of the two.

I will also be pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It takes three years to get ordained in this denomination, and the PCUSA has the most difficult ordination requirements of any Protestant denomination in the world. This makes them a very educated crowd. Since I have been working at a PCUSA congregation during the past four years, I have come to have a deep respect for the wide-range of theological perspective, an inclusive set of social ideas from conservative to liberal, and wide-spectrum of worship elements from emergent to traditional to contemporary to Gregorian chants and Taize services. I even like the Book of Order— the Presbyterian rules for how a congregation and the denomination should function!

I’m very excited to be pursuing ordination. With my attendance at McCormick, I am able to see a glimpse of how my life over the next five years is going to play out. That is very refreshing!