Category Archives: Culture

A New Journey Begins

Church HDR

Church HDR (Photo credit: I_am_Allan)

After service yesterday I announced that October 20 will be my last day as the campus pastor at the Catawba Valley Campus of The Cove Church. This has been in the works for a long time. Four years ago I sensed God calling me to plant a church … pretty much out of nowhere. After spending 6 months trying to talk myself out of it, and then trying to talk Stephanie into it, I can honestly say it’s a desire that Stephanie and I have been prayerfully pursuing ever since. After a lot of prayer and conversation with my leadership at The Cove, we believe it’s time to move forward with the next step of this journey.

This is definitely bittersweet. On one hand, Stephanie and I are very excited about what’s ahead. Church planting is incredibly difficult, but it’s also an adventure – an adventure where we will see enemies of God become worshipers of God. I have been completely unable to shake the desire. And I’ve actually tried.

On the other hand, Catawba Valley has been my church for 2 and a half years. I’ve been able to cut my ministry teeth. I’ve seen people meet Jesus and get plugged into church. I’ve seen leaders rise up to new levels. On a personal level, I had my third child while there. God has done so many good things in, through and for us during our time at Catawba Valley that I could never recount them all in a blog post.

All in all, this is a good thing. Stephanie and I are pursuing what we believe God has called us to do, and the campus is getting a great new leader – Michael Strickland. Not only is Michael a great leader, he’s also one of my best friends.

A lot of people have asked about what’s next, which is great. So I want to give an update. There are several things on the horizon, here’s a brief summary:

  1. Assessment – Stephanie and I are going to Atlanta on October 24-25 to be assessed by the Launch Network. I’ve already completed their online assessments, and I’m currently working on a packet of assignments to be completed before we go. The Launch Network’s primary role is to assess and train potential planters. Far too many men have planted churches because they believed they were called, but no one confirmed their calling, so they failed. Others may have been legitimately called, but they weren’t trained enough to be successful. Launch (as well as other similar networks) is seeking to change that and to plant healthy and reproducing churches.
  2. Recommendation After the retreat, I will have a Skype call with a representative from Launch and they will give me one of four “grades.” Option A: I will be recommended to plant. This means they believe that I am indeed called to plant a church and I will move onto the training phase. Option B: I will be recommended with conditions. This mean they think I’m called to do it, but I need to read a couple books addressing some weaknesses they’re concerned about. Option C: They think I may be called to plant a church, but I’m not ready yet and I should assess again in 2 years. Option D: They do not believe I’m called to plant a church, but will make recommendations on where I may be a good fit.
  3. Residency If I receive the recommended or recommended with conditions score, I will be placed in a church planting residency. This means I will go on staff with a church planting church for approximately a year as a resident. Once or twice a month I will go to a Launch “hub” for training. This will involve everything from choosing the city, developing a clear and compelling vision, raising funds, developing specific competencies, and more. The rest of my time will be completing that background work.
    I’m also being assessed for a church planting residency through The Summit Network with The Summit Church in Durham, NC. They are an incredibly gospel-centered church and a real leader in church planting. Their assessment and residency are separate from Launch’s, but those two networks have a great relationship with each other. They have 4 phases of assessment, and I was recently invited into Phase 2. Basically I’ve made it past the first week of American idol … Jesus style. If I make it through their assessment process I will go on staff with them for 9-10 months to be trained, and they will send me.
  4. Plant Once the city is picked, I’ve been trained, the funds have been raised, and everything is ready … we will officially plant a church. This could be almost anywhere, but right now my desire is to stay in North Carolina. I want to plant in a college town, for a variety of reasons. Outside of that, I’m very open to wherever God puts us.
  5. Or … not If I am not recommended to plant, that’s where it gets a little tricky. We know that our time at The Cove is coming to a close regardless, so we are getting backup plans ready as well. At this point, our most likely back up plan is for me to go to seminary. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my heart is in ministry, so my next step may be intensive training as I work on a Master of Divinity. I’ve already started my application for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a grant to help cover the cost.

If you’ve read this far, you obviously love Stephanie and me. I would really appreciate your prayers as we continue to pursue our calling. We know that God has his hand on our lives despite us, which is why we feel so confident in this pursuit. We have never been so unsure of where we’ll be going or when we’ll be going there. I’ve also never been so ok with being so unsure. So please pray for God to place us exactly where He wants us, to use us mightily, and to draw people to Himself through us. There’s a lot more to pray for, but that’s the big thing right now.

Also pray for Michael Strickland. He’s also stepping out on faith with a family in tow. Being a campus pastor is a great next step in ministry for him, but it can also be very difficult and discouraging at times.

Thanks for reading, I’m looking forward to updating you even more as our journey progresses.

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Think Before You Blame

Shift + Blame

Shift + Blame (Photo credit: Cyberslayer)

The conversation about Newtown has continued. There seems to be a natural human cycle. The first part of the cycle is shock. We’re angry, scared, confused, and generally upset. The biggest question is “why?” Outside of the fact that the shooting at Sandy Hook School was evil, we may never know why. Evil, by very definition, doesn’t make sense. Which is why the next stage of the cycle is the most confusing – blame.

The commentators have begun. Some blame violent video games, despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence that violent video games cause pe0ple to commit violent acts. Some blame poor upbringing, broken homes, excessive media coverage, weak consequences for committing crimes, and much more.

Misplaced Blame

Then there’s been a dangerous blanket evangelical response. Not everyone has issued it, but enough prominent evangelical leaders have to be alarming. It goes something like this: “We’ve turned our backs on God as a nation and now we’re reaping the consequences.”

I consider myself to be an evangelical. I believe the Bible is 100% true and inspired by God. I believe Jesus has been God for eternity. I believe that He entered human history for 33 years, lived a perfect life, died in my place for my sin, and was literally, physically resurrected from the dead. I believe we are born sinners and enemies of God and our only hope is to put our faith in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. However, I do not believe people are walking into schools, malls, and other venues to kill people because we have turned our back on God. Here’s a couple reasons why:

  1. Canada and Europe: Canada and Europe have similar media coverage as the US. They have similar access to violent video games. They also have weak broken families, and weaker consequences for most crimes than the US. Finally, those nations have “turned their back on God” for far longer and in a much more drastic fashion than the United States – yet they have fewer violent crimes. So you cannot say that God is allowing these violent crimes because we’ve kicked Him out. Canada and Europe have done it more than we have, and they don’t seem to be getting the same consequences.
  2. Moral Decline is Relative: Sexual sin, and a few other immoral categories, are much more socially acceptable today than in the 1950’s. However, the 1950’s were far from perfect. There may not have been a national push for gay marriage, but the way we treated minorities was reprehensible. If you were not Caucasian you were treated like a second class citizen – at best. That means that millions of people who are equal to me in dignity, because they are image bearers of God, were not recognized with equality. That’s the epitome of immorality. We’re not more immoral as a nation, we’ve simply exchanged acceptable sins.
  3. Violence has always been around: There has never been a time, in World or US history, that violent crimes did not occur. For example, during the “wild west” era of the 19th century violent crimes were far more prevalent than they are today. If anything, we are now living in one of the safest eras of US history.
  4. Following Jesus is Dangerous: Jesus told His followers to take up their cross, that means to live like you’re a dead man. Paul said, “I die every day.” While some of that was figurative language, the fact remains that becoming a Christian was one of the most dangerous things you could do for the first 300 years AD. All but one of the Apostles died violent deaths. The only exception was John, who survived being dipped in boiling oil. Early Christians were persecuted, shunned by families, exiled, and killed on a daily basis. Becoming a Christian was dangerous. So to suggest that putting your faith in Christ, even on a corporate level, is putting yourself in greater physical safety is absurd.

Just like everyone else who has watched from a distance, I’m upset about the tragedy in Newtown. I hate that people will kill innocent children. I want violence to end.

I’m also a Christian pastor who wants everyone I encounter to know and love Jesus. It’s an endeavor I’ve given my life to. But I want to reach lost people, not blame them for their influence on our country. So please, don’t blame Friday’s tragedy on a nation that has “turned its back on God.” People don’t turn their back on God, we’re born with our backs turned on God. It’s our job to point them to Jesus. Blaming people for a posture toward God that they are born with is not going to help anything.

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Why I’m (almost) Apolitical

Republican vs. Democrat 2012

Republican vs. Democrat 2012 (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

It’s definitely election season. Every other Facebook post and TV commercial is declaring the glories of one candidate and the atrocities of another. Some people love this season, others hate it. In college, I was fascinated by politics. I was a history major so it lined up well with my studies. The tension and the competitive nature of it was thrilling for a 21-year-old aspiring intellectual. However, over the last few years I’ve gotten less and less interested in politics.

To avoid misunderstanding, let me clarify. I care deeply about many of the issues politicians champion. I vote, and am glad to do so. I believe freedom is one of the greatest things America has going for us right now, even though I think we abuse it. The difference is that I put virtually no hope in the political process. There are several reasons why, here are 3:

1) Politics Makes Enemies out of My Mission Field

I have one overarching goal in life: to see lots of people meet Jesus. Any other goal in my life is simply a building block of that larger one. This takes building relationships with people who don’t know Him. Most non-Christians are going to disagree with my political views because they have entirely different goals. If every conversation with a non-Christian friend turns into a political debate, I’m wasting time that could be used building the relationship, or talking about Jesus.

Those debates would do little more than push away the very people I’m trying to reach. I’ve watched a lot of debates. I’ve watched politicians debate on TV. I’ve watched friends debate the merits of their favorite candidate. Never once have I seen anyone put their faith in Christ as a result of one of those debates.

2) Jesus Never Talked Politics

Jesus paid his taxes and said everyone else should too. Peter and Paul both said to obey the government, even the wicked governments they lived under (that sanctioned the murder of Christians). Paul even took it to the next level and said to pray for them. Peter once said “we must obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29 ESV) but that was because they were ordered to stop talking about Jesus on their own time. So unless the government forbids you to talk about, and follow Jesus, that doesn’t apply to you. That’s about as political as the New Testament gets. If the New Testament doesn’t address politics anymore than that, I have a hard time doing it myself.

3) Jesus Wouldn’t Fit in any of the Political Parties

I grew up believing that the Republican party was virtually an extension of the church. To be fair, it was largely because Republicans were far more likely to be pro-life (a position I still hold firmly) than were the Democrats. It was an admirable move that many evangelicals made to stand up for the rights of the unborn. After all, aren’t we called to care for the least of these?

However, over time, an underlying belief that the Republican party was God’s party grew and grew. It may have been largely unstated, but it was there nonetheless. In the Old Testament, when Joshua was on his way to “attack” Jericho, he was approached by an angel. He said, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” The angel said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord” (Joshua 5:13-14 ESV).

This angel didn’t want to be associated with Israel anymore than the people of Jericho. Even though Israel was God’s covenant people, they were no more perfectly aligned with the nature and character of God than a pagan nation that did not know Him. If that’s how God responded to Israel as they began to conquer Canaan, why would he get anymore excited about a particular American political party?

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Hunger Games Review

The Hunger Games (film)

The Hunger Games (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I watched The Hunger Games. Since it’s such a cultural phenomenon I decided to write about it. I’m not a movie critic so I will focus less on the movie itself, and more on what it says about human nature – which is a lot.

Overview (Spoiler Alert)

The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic United States, which is no longer the United States. It’s now Panem, a nation divided into 13 districts. Over 70 years prior to the setting of the movie, 12 of the 13 districts rebelled against the government and lost. To pay for their rebellion, each district has to send a male and female “tribute” (teenagers chosen by lottery) to fight to the death in what becomes the annual Hunger Games. The games are televised and are as popular in Panem as American Idol once was in America.

16 year old Katniss Everdeen goes to the Hunger Games as a tribute from district 12, but she wasn’t picked by lottery. Her younger sister Primrose was picked, and Katniss volunteered to go in her place. Through skill, attitude, and cunning Katniss won. There’s only one problem. She won by outwitting the government and game officials, and they don’t like being outwitted. The movie ends by contrasting the victorious Katniss with the angry President Snow of Panem.

What The Hunger Games Reveals About Us

The movie roped me in from the very beginning. I loved Katniss, I was annoyed by her co-tribute Peeta, and disgusted by the very idea of The Hunger Games. I hoped that, somehow, Katniss would be able to put an end to them.

I’m not going to play the “there are so many parallels to the gospel” card that so many people played with the Matrix in the late 90’s. However, there is no denying that Katniss is no ordinary film protagonist. You love Katniss because she sacrificially gave her life as a substitute for someone else. Also, she and her trainer Haymitch seem to be the only two people in the entire movie who are in touch with reality. Ok, maybe Lenny Kravitz too.

Finally, even though Katniss does kill in the Hunger Games, she’s never vindictive. Whenever she killed it was out of justice, self defense, or to protect younger innocent tributes. She even tricked the corrupt government and game officials into allowing her to save Peeta’s life at the end. This was in stark contrast to some of the other tributes who formed alliances, killed for pleasure, and mocked their victims’ pleas for mercy.

The popularity of Katniss’ character reveals a deep desire for Christ in us. We are drawn to people who sacrifice their lives for others. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). We have a need for an honorable hero who can also outwit evil. Who can enter an evil and tainted world without becoming tainted as well. We are drawn to characters who don’t give into self-promoting fame. So is Katniss like Jesus? No. Jesus is way better. However, the character traits that make Katniss a hero and that we love are shown perfect in Jesus Christ. If you like Katniss, you’ll love Jesus.


The Hunger Games is extremely controversial. After all, it’s about senseless violence between teenagers. Some of the controversies I understand, and others I don’t.

First of all, The Hunger Games is marketed as adolescent literature. So part of the target audience is 12 year old girls. This means that 9 and 10 year old girls will read it to be cool. Apparently some middle school language arts teachers have even read it in their classes. I wouldn’t want my children to be reading a book or watching a movie that violent at such a young age. I certainly wouldn’t want them reading it in school, instead of under my guidance.

The controversy over it’s violent narrative structure is unnecessary, however. It shows teenagers engaging in senseless violence, but that’s not the same as promoting it. The senseless violence is clearly portrayed as just that – senseless violence. The host, Game Maker, and television audience on the movie are all moronic villains.

If anything, the portrayal of the audience on the film shows how wicked people are. Like that audience, all of us are quick to flock to something exciting just because everyone else is. We’re quick to call something good when it is actually evil. Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s the way we are by nature. Less than 2,000 years ago ancient Romans were flocking to the Colosseum to watch Gladiators kill one another. Since the Hunger Games TV Host and Game Maker are named Caesar and Seneca respectively (ancient Roman names), Collins is obviously trying to compare modern human behavior to ancient behavior. As much as we may think we have evolved to become gentle and civilized, we have not. As a friend of mine pointed out, the audience was obsessed with their own external beauty to the point of looking grotesque, but inside they’re still wicked. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Perhaps the controversy surrounding the Hunger Games is that it forces us to look into the mirror far too closely. While the audience may serve as a caricature, it only emphasizes the reality of who we are. Left to ourselves we want to look beautiful, even if we are actually wicked. We want excitement and pleasure, even if it costs others their lives. Left to ourselves, we are so unaware of how wicked we are that evil will entertain us without being aware of it.

So we love the movie because we need a Katniss. But we need so much more than Katniss. Katniss lived in luxury while training for the Hunger Games, Jesus had nowhere to lay His head. Katniss is cynical and hopeless about life, Jesus came to give hope and a future. Katniss killed to save her life, Jesus laid down His life … and then came back.

For another review of the film from a Biblical perspective, watch this:

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Academy Award

Image via Wikipedia

It’s easy to read things like: “those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship” (Isaiah 46:6 ESV) or “with their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction” (Hosea 8:4b) and laugh at those ancient fools. Aren’t you glad we’re past that? We know better than to bow down and make sacrifices to little statues, we know they can’t do anything for us … don’t we?

Every year hundreds of actors, directors, writers, producers, musicians, and more do exactly that. They sacrifice their relationships, their dignity, and their lives trying to get a little golden statue that they believe will validate their existence. Being able to display it in their homes is a status symbol. If I have this statue I’ve proven myself … I’m somebody … I’ve made it in this world … I’ll be accepted.

The problem is that it doesn’t work. In fact, it has done the opposite for many. After winning the Oscar, many actresses lost their marriages. It’s become so common that they now call it the “Oscar love curse.” Achieving their idol has truly led to destruction.

It doesn’t stop there. Every year millions of every day people try to get into reality shows so that they can be like their favorite celebrities. If I can become a celebrity I’ve proven myself … I’m somebody … I’ve made it in this world … I’ll be accepted.


Maybe you’re not trying to become a celebrity, but you’re sacrificing something to get what you believe will make you somebody. Your hope is in the promotion, the affection of a co-worker, or the house with curb appeal. You’ll do anything to get it – it’s become an idol to you. You’ll give up on time with your family, manipulate others at work to get ahead, or act dishonestly to be noticed. You believe not getting your idol will be a tragedy. You believe that, if you get it, you’ve proven yourself … you’re somebody … you’ve made it in this world … you’ll be accepted.

But the tragedy isn’t missing out on your idol. The tragedy is getting it. “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them” (Jonah 2:8 NIV). Jesus said, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36 ESV).

There’s nothing wrong with winning an award. There’s nothing wrong with being famous, getting a promotion, falling in love, or having a nice house. But if it’s ultimate, if you’re willing to sacrifice your life for it, it becomes an idol – and you’re worshiping it.

Jesus = Better

The good news is that you’re already somebody … you’re already accepted … because Jesus died for you. Tim Keller says the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is “that you are more sinful than you ever realized, but you are more loved and approved in Christ than you ever imagined.” So if you know Jesus, you’re already somebody … you’re already accepted. If you don’t, chances are He’s pursuing you and you’re running away from Him.

Idolatry is not dead, but it does kill. Don’t turn away from God’s love for you, don’t forfeit your soul, don’t cling to idols. Trust Jesus … He’s better.

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21st Century Apollos?

There’s a good chance you’re one of the 13 million+ people who has seen the video below. If you haven’t, take the next 4 minutes to watch it:

The poet’s name is Jefferson Bethke and there’s no denying that he loves Jesus. He doesn’t stop there: he loves the church, wants to care for the poor, and follow Jesus with his life. I watched another video of him on YouTube speaking to Middle School students. He was honest, vulnerable, and his theology is pretty solid. He’s building a platform, and he’s using it to make much of Jesus.


As you might expect, he’s had criticism from all over the place. The first I saw was shared by a friend on Facebook who hated the video. This blogger totally blasted him from the point of view of a cynic who hates the gospel. That’s to be expected, and I’m not upset at a non-Christian for not liking Bethke’s video. However, I believe many will find it appealing enough to at least ask questions.

Then I saw some criticism that was far more frustrating. A well-respected Christian blogger went through his poem with a fine toothed comb and nitpicked every phrase he said. Any time Bethke said something that was remotely wrong, or could simply be misunderstood, this blogger criticized him – sometimes harshly.

One of his biggest criticisms was Bethke’s use of “religion” as a catch-all word to explain self-righteousness and hypocrisy within the church. Granted “religion” is a neutral word in the Bible, in American culture it works to describe our man-made (and pitiful) attempts to please God with works righteousness. What might seem like sloppy theology here, is actually good contextualization.

I’m all for good theology. I study it in my spare time. I believe understanding the nature and character of God is vital for a believer, and I don’t think Bethke would deny that. However, I also understand that prose is different from poetry.

Prose seeks to carefully define and explain points of truth. Poetry seeks to use the beauty of language to illustrate truth. Both are important and good. In this video Bethke is not speaking as a master theologian through prose, he’s proclaiming the beauties of Christ as a poet.

Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila

Is the theology in Bethke’s poem perfect? No. I don’t think he would claim it is. However, I think the way some evangelical bloggers have virtually attacked him is more dangerous.

In Acts 18:24-28 a famous new preacher named Apollos pops onto the scene. He was passionate and good. He knew a lot about Jesus, but was missing some critical information. When a couple named Priscilla and Aquila heard him they wanted to help, but they didn’t do it by telling everyone the problems with his theology. They approached him, talked to him, and helped him be more accurate.

What was the result? “He greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27b-28 ESV).

Better Response

The Resurgence was the one group I saw respond to him appropriately. First they posted his video on their site saying it was “pretty good.” Then their director approached him, encouraged him, said they wanted to support him, and offered to send him some study materials. What a refreshing response.

I’m praying for God to raise a lot more Jefferson Bethke’s who look for creative ways to make much of Jesus. Men and women who meet culture where it is and bring people to Jesus. I also pray God brings along more people who will encourage and support those Jefferson Bethke’s – instead of criticizing them. Which one are you?

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Before You Yell at the Cashier

English: An artificial Christmas tree.

Image via Wikipedia

I love Christmas. I love the cold weather outside, the decorations at home, giving my kids presents, and all the time with my family. I look forward to Christmas all year. However, it’s easy to forget one simple fact. Christmas isn’t a requirement. The Bible doesn’t even use the word.

To go even further, Jesus never told anyone to celebrate His birth (which didn’t occur on December 25). Don’t get me wrong, I think celebrating Christmas is a great idea. His birth was miraculous and should be remembered – but we completely miss the point when celebrating Christmas becomes a rule we check off our list and enforce on others.

Even though Christians aren’t required to celebrate Christmas, many of us get upset at people for saying “happy holidays.” We talk about it on facebook. We make sure to remind everyone that “I say ‘Merry Christmas,'” as if that’s what saves us. We get mad at the rumors of Obama having a “holiday tree” – even though he’s our president, not our pastor.

Paul told the Colossians “Let no one pass judgment on you … with regard to a festival” Colossians 2:16 ESV (emphasis added). When it comes down to it, Christmas is a festival, and we’re not called to judge someone based on how they celebrate it … if they celebrate it.

Different Perspective

I understand the importance of keeping Christ at the center, but we get off base when Christmas is the only time of year we set aside to do it. Isn’t it hypocritical to make a bigger deal out of Jesus for one month of the year than the other eleven? How many of us are sticklers about “keeping Christ in Christmas,” but cheat on our taxes in April?

Here’s a different idea. Instead of getting mad at someone for sending a friendly “Happy Holidays” your way, consider the possibility that they’re not a Christian. If they’re not, it’s much better to use it as an opportunity for the gospel, instead of getting offended. Getting angry at them for it will accomplish nothing. I’ve never seen anyone fall to their knees in repentance because they were wowed by a Christmas greeting.

What you say to strangers at this time of year is a poor indicator of where you stand with God. It’s possible to say “Happy Holidays” and love Jesus, just like it’s possible to say “Merry Christmas” and hate Him. If your favorite December greeting is the best way you can express your faith, your priorities need evaluating.

So if you celebrate Christmas, enjoy it. If you don’t, I won’t hassle you.

*Here’s a great post on the same topic from the guys at 9 Marks … I hope you enjoy

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