Monday, January 20, 2020

Irresistible by Andy Stanley


By Andy Stanley
336 pages

Andy Stanley’s latest book, Irresistible, is a fascinating read. He has done his homework and has poured considerable thought into it. Despite it’s controversial tone for conservative Christians, his applications are worth considering. Personally I’m still processing the book and how I will change my approach based on what he says. Writing this synopsis is helpful for me and hopefully reading it is helpful for you.

The book is broken into four different sections:

Section one: Simply Resistible

In part one, Andy seems to be asking himself the question “Why are so many people leaving the Evangelical church in America? And why are we becoming so post-Christian?” So many in this country have a Christian background of some sort - they grew up in church, they have plenty of peers who are Christian, and they know the gist of Christian beliefs. So why aren’t they flocking to church?

Ever since the days of Constantine and Christendom, the church has tried to mix and match an “Old Testament” lifestyle with a “New Testament” one. In Andy’s words, “I’m convinced it’s the mixing, blending, and integration of the old with the new that makes the modern church so resistible.”

Mixing and matching old with new leads to a lot of confusion: posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms but not portions of the Sermon on the Mount, establishing priests in some churches rather than pastors, misunderstandings of terms like “annointing”, proliferating tithing over generous and sacrificial giving, and seeking dating advice from a pagan king with several hundred wives.

Mixing and matching can also lead to atrocious behavior from God’s people: the crusade of the 11th century, Christian leaders declaring natural disasters as proof of God’s judgment, and political campaigns based on God’s blessing on a particular nation. He writes “The most shameful and embarrassing chapters in church history were not the result of anything Jesus or the apostle Paul taught. Our most embarrassing, indefensible moments resulted from Christians leveraging the old covenant concepts.”

Jesus introduced something very new for those devoted to God. That newness is explained in great detail in the next section.

Section two: All Things New

Andy describes the practices above as trying to rebrand, repurpose, and retrofit the Old Testament into the church. But the church and the Christian life is a completely new way of living and honoring God.

He declares that the Old Testament is essentially an old “covenant”. And it was a covenant made between God and the nation of Israel. Sure, there are principles and stories that were recorded for our learning today, but following the old covenant is not our mandate from Jesus. For clarity, Andy states “I’m not suggesting the two testaments are not equally inspired. My point is they aren’t equally applicable.”

Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). Andy defines this fulfillment in these ways: “To bring it to a designated end” and “The old covenant is obsolete.” Practically speaking, he declares that the Ten Commandments have no authority over us. The OT law has no authority over us. The promises found in the old covenant are not our promises.

The Old and New Testaments are incompatible in application today. “The Old Testament is great for inspiration, but not application.” Andy also asks us to “resist the temptation to resolve theological, ideological, or ethical conflicts between the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.”

Instead of cherry-picking which OT principles we want to apply, and which ones we will shove away as commands we don’t have to follow anymore, Andy reminds us in the next section of our new ethic as followers of Jesus.

Section three: A New Ethic

The old covenant is concerned with vertical morality. Vertical morality “assumes God’s primary concern is how our behavior affects him.” It leaves us trying to remain holy, to separate ourselves from non-Christians, or having a personal walk with God that doesn’t involve other people.

Horizontal morality is the new ethic. Honoring God is equated with loving one another here on earth. Jesus asserted that reconciliation with a brother or sister comes before reconciliation with God (Matt. 5:23f). Loving God is inseparable from loving our neighbor (Matt. 22:39). Tithing is not nearly as important as showing mercy and justice to others (Matt. 23:23).

“Doing for others what one hoped others would do in return was so… so old covenant. Jesus instructed his followers to do unto one another as he had done unto them.” Jesus gives his followers a new command: to love one another. Loving others isn’t an additional commandment; it is a replacement for all other commandments. Even the big ten. “Jesus followers weren’t expected to look up. They authenticated their devotion by looking around.” This is far less complicated, and yet far more demanding.

Section four: A New Approach

The final section of the book is probably the most controversial for Evangelicals. In order to share our faith in the modern world of science and post-modernity, and draw back the young generations who have left organized religion but not necessarily Jesus, Andy urges us to adjust our approach.

First, he encourages us to stop leveraging “the Bible says.” Appealing to the Bible was effective when our culture was receptive and respectful of the Bible. The foundation of our faith isn’t an inspired book; for Christians, it is the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is what prompted the writing of the New Testament and the devotion of the early church.

Second, he asks us to start calling the Old Testament something else. As he argued earlier, the OT is actually an old covenant; a covenant made for ancient Israel. Andy uses less misleading terms like “the Jewish Scriptures” or “The Hebrew Bible” and he calls the New Testament “The Christian Bible.”

Tangible reasons for these suggested changes in our approach are given in the last chapters: “Our faith doesn’t teeter on the brink of extinction based on archaeology or the history of the Old Testament. Anyone who lost faith in Jesus because they lost faith in the historical and archaeological credibility of the Old Testament lost faith unnecessarily… When skeptics point out the violence, the misogyny, the scientific and historically unverifiable claims of the Hebrew Bible, instead of trying to defend those things, we can shrug, give ‘em our best confused look, and say, ‘I’m not sure why you’re bringing this up. My Christian faith isn’t based on any of that.’”

Before tearing Andy’s approach apart, I suggest reading the book in its entirety first. The cost of the book (both financially and in time spent reading) is well worth it.

Monday, January 6, 2020

10 Lessons from 10 Years of Ministry

Two weeks ago I reflected on ten years of marriage with my incredible wife. What many folks do not know is what happened the week after our wedding day. After a brief honeymoon in the Blue Ridge Parkway, Anna and I loaded up our Chrysler Concorde (aka. “The boat”) with all our possessions and moved to Salem, Indiana. In December of 2009, at the ripe age of twenty-one, I began my first full-time pastorate.

I have learned a lot of lessons about ministry in the last ten years. Many of those lessons were learned through mistakes or winging it. Church ministry, like many professions, is a series of on-the-job-training experiences. You learn as you go! And I still have a lot to learn.

I will be forever grateful for other pastors who have taught me lessons along the way. What follows is a list of pastors and lessons I’ve learned from them over the years. There are many more men and women I could have mentioned; yet for the sake of brevity here are the top ten:

#1: Slow and steady wins the race. (Mark)

Mark was my pastor for five highly formative years of my life during graduate school. For nearly three of those years I had the privilege of working with him on staff. Mark has been a pastor there for over a quarter of a century.

Terms like dependability, faithfulness, trustworthy, selflessness, and integrity come to mind when I think of him. I’ve never seen Mark overreact. I’ve never observed him worry visibly about church finances. I never heard him raise his voice. He is rarely in a hurry and doesn’t make decisions out of fear or hype. Great pastors are steady plodders who stay the course and remain faithful to Jesus and their congregation in the daily grind.

#2: Shooting the breeze with people isn’t a waste of time. It’s actually the best use of your time. (George)

Most of my meetings with George have started with a long banter about “stuff” going on in one’s personal life. We talk about family, weekend plans, books we’re reading, and personal things. He often gets stuck in the hallway shooting the breeze with people. People come before tasks with George.

I’ve learned from George that shooting the breeze isn’t a waste of time; it’s the best use of my time. That is how we develop trust and build relationships. And if you don’t spend time getting to know people on a personal level, you will be ineffective in working with or leading them. Plus, people are really interesting!

#3: Evangelism happens best when we go and serve rather than merely inviting people to church. (Phil)

This is probably a no-brainer for you. But is was not for me. I grew up in Baptist circles, and evangelism was typically associated with inviting people to church or a program at the church building. Christians were encouraged to live godly, evangelistic lives beyond the walls of the church, but organizing an evangestic effort was always centered around the church building.

Dr. Phil was my mentor for two semesters of graduate school. During one of our meetings I was picking his brain on evangelism and how to organize and equip our church to do it. He told me: “There are two basic ways of doing that - inviting people to an event, or going out and serving the community.” Sounds crazy, I know, but I hadn’t really thought of that before. I could organize a church-wide effort, beyond the walls of the church building, and it could serve an evangelistic purpose?

A few months later, our church cancelled an annual event that brought in a couple hundred people, and instead we sent dozens of volunteers to the school next door. The school was hosting a fundraiser and they gladly allowed our church to run concessions. Several hundred people passed through concessions and saw an army of volunteers wearing church T-shirts, and they ate and talked with us. It was fun, way easier than running our own event, and I believe more effective at showing the community that our church cared.

#4: Be aware of church politics; but don’t play the political game. (Ray)

Just like any workplace or organization, that we have to maneuver politics. There are hidden rules, power players, and unspoken expectations. The same is true in churches. In most churches, the little old lady who sits in the back holds more influence than the elder board and staff combined. It’s her words, her connections, and her history that carry weight.

Ray has helped me see many times over that it’s foolish for pastors to operate as though church politics aren’t at play. However, playing the politics game is counterproductive. I’m not a mafia boss; I’m a servant of Jesus Christ and an equipper of his church. 

#5: Pastoring is more than a career; it's a calling. (Doug)

Doug was my youth pastor from seventh grade to graduation. I observed him like a hawk, asked him endless difficult theology questions, and spent countless hours with the man. He and his family built a foundation in me to follow Jesus, love my wife, raise a family, and pastor God's church.

Doug has been a reference for me a few times while candidating for a pastorate. He has shown me many times that church work is not a series of career steps or a process of building a resume. It is a calling. 

#6: It’s OK to rest. (Roger)

Roger is the most hard-working man I know. And he’s my father-in-law, so I know him pretty well! Despite his intense work ethic, he has taught me a valuable lesson over the years: it’s OK to rest.

Pastoring is a job about relationships. And people frequently need you. In my first years of ministry, I was discouraged with how many people were having issues and the urgency they displayed. I learned from Roger that I cannot help someone fix an issue within a day that has taken them five years to create. Most “urgent” needs can wait. It’s important to maintain time with my family, time to take care of myself, and time to rest. 

#7: Try stuff before you change stuff. (Larry)

Larry is one of the most initiative ministry leaders I’ve ever met. He shoots straight and speaks candidly. I hitched a ride with him during a seminar and was fascinated at some of his stories.

Like many leaders, I get good ideas all the time. Only a small percentage of them actually end up being good… And most of them need to be forgotten! When launching a new idea, there are two approaches: One, you can map out a flawless strategy, pitch a three year plan, and announce a new way of doing ministry. Or you can take the easy approach; just try it! Announce that you’re trying something for two months or so. Most people will go along with a trial run without fussing. If it works, walla, you launched your idea. If it flops, say “We tried it, back to the original way!” and nobody minds. 

#8: Family and community involvement is usually greater than church attendance. (Mike)

Mike is an enthusiastic, innovative, entrepreneurial pastor. During the few interactions I’ve had with him I always learn something. The greatest lesson I learned from him occurred late one evening in Wyoming.

He was asking about my church and how I was trying to shepherd the people who were coming. A family was skipping mid-week programming to attend one of their son’s sports practices. I was bemoaning their lack of commitment and asking Mike for advice. To my surprise he said “I can see why you’re concerned. But I see that a little differently. I’m happy they are spending time together as a family and are out in the community.”

I had never thought of it that way. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing godly about being so busy that you rarely have time to attend worship services or invest in your church family. But there’s also nothing praiseworthy about being so busy with church programming that you rarely have family time or you are unable to be involved with the unchurched in your community. 

#9: Trust is gained over years of small things. (Max)

Max was my pastor from boyhood through college. I didn’t have a whole lot of interaction with him, but I observed him from a distance. And everyone at the church - staff and attender alike - spoke very highly of him. In fact, the folks of PBC would have followed that man down into the valley of the shadow of death if that’s where he said they needed to go.

Through decades of faithfulness in the small, mundane things, Max earned the trust of his congregation. People didn’t love him because he could preach, pray, or lead; they loved him because he was a man of integrity. A man who cared about them and held their best interests in mind. 

#10: Transitions happen. (Unknown)

I forgot who taught me this, but it definitely makes the top ten: transitions happen.

There are few things more discouraging in ministry than seeing someone you depended on or someone you personally discipled walk away from your church. Especially if they left because they were upset about something. Pastors take that very personally. When this happens it has been so helpful to remember that everyone leaves at some point. People pass away, people move, and some feel it is right for them to just leave. No matter what caused them to leave, it was bound to happen at some point, for some reason. Instead of lingering in discouragement, focus on the new folks coming in.

Monday, December 23, 2019

10 Lessons from 10 Years of Marriage

This week was a significant week in the Schatz home. Wednesday marked 10 years of marriage for Anna and me! My wife compliments me in so many ways. I couldn’t have been more lucky and blessed to find this woman.

We’ve been through some incredible experiences together and I’ve learned a lot about love and life together during our years together. Of all the lessons I’ve learned, here are my top ten:

#1: You don't get to know your spouse in a book.

I’m an avid reader. Whenever faced with a new challenge, my go-to is finding new books on the topic. So shortly after marrying my new bride, I devoured every book I could find on marriage. Most books I found tended to reword the same information and repackage the same stereotypes.

Before long, I was treating Anna like all the books said I was supposed to treat her. I assumed that she had the same needs, the same thoughts, the same habits, and the same desires as the women all those authors talked about. But she doesn’t! I’ll never forget the day Anna said, “I’m not those women! You have to get to know me, not them.”

Marriage books are helpful. But nothing replaces the need to get to know your spouse the old fashioned way: time together.

#2: Hardly anything good about marriage comes naturally; it requires a lot of time and effort.

Marriage is great. I love being married! But I have to work hard at it. If I always acted out what came naturally, I would be much more grumpy, short-tempered, and demanding. A good marriage requires a lot of sacrifice, service, and practice.

Whether it’s parenting together, balancing your budget, determining family values, or a good sex life, everthing about marriage requires practice and effort. It doesn’t happen “naturally.”

#3: Assume the best.

Every married couple has arguments and gets frustrated with one another. You don’t always see eye to eye and you have to live together even on your worst days.

When your partner is frustrating you, remember this: He/She is not a jerk. You probably are just misunderstanding each other. Try putting yourself in their shoes and ask “How do they see this from their perspective?”

#4: Just spend the money.

When things are tight I'm tempted to not invest money in my relationship - anniversary gifts, date nights, trips away - but every time I just book that hotel or click the “buy now” button I'm always glad I did.

Some of our favorite memories are from family trips to Great Wolf Lodge, overnight getaways to San Antonio, dining at the top of Reunion Tower in Dallas, or watching a broadway in Manhattan. All of these experiences made me cringe before handing over the bank card. But looking back at pictures, and laughing about the memories made it worth the expense.

Don’t act extravagantly, and live within your means (or even better - below your means!), but just spend the money every now and then.

#5: Share everything.

One key ingredient in good relationships is time. Talk about everything with your spouse. Share your frustrations, joys, memories, stories, fears, anticipations, and such with them.The more you get to know each other, the closer you’ll become.

#6: Nobody wins when you play communication games.

All of us on occasion play communication games. Instead of admitting when we are frustrated, or saying what we need to say, we try indirectly getting our point across. I’ve certainly been known to use sarcasm, verbal jabs, silent treatment, subtle hints, and avoidance when disappointed.

Stupid communication games like that never work. Even if you end up getting what you want, it’s because your partner feels guilty or pressured or just annoyed with your behavior. Indirect approaches always make matters worse; they never get your point across. Communicate plainly and fairly!

#7: Build up your spouse in front of others.

Whenever someone feels insecure or unsure of themselves, they tend to use their words to build themselves up… and tear others down in the process. One reaction is to talk negatively about other people to take the focus off of themselves. Tearing down other people in order to make yourself look better is ironically unattractive.

Build up your spouse in front of others. Few things can boost your partner’s self-esteem than speaking highly of them in public.

#8: Friendship > Romance.

Every marriage needs both romance and friendship. If you aren’t friends, your marriage will be pretty dull. If you aren’t attracted to each other, you’ll end up just being buddies who happen to share a bedroom.

While your relationship requires both, friendship has to be the priority. If you aren’t friends with your spouse, the romance will begin to fade. Being able to laugh with each other, joke around, share hobbies, and have fun hanging out is key to keeping romance alive.

There’s nothing quite like being in love with your best friend; and there’s nothing quite like being loved by your best friend.

#9: Let the little annoyances go; but never let the big stuff fester.

Every human on this planet has an annoying habit, quirk, or mannerism. Furthermore, each of us acts impulsively on occasion. Or says something insensitive. Or forgets something important. Or does something selfish. If your spouse commits a little annoyance, just let it go. It’s not worth your energy to make them feel guilty or apologize for something minor.

On the other hand, it is definitely worth your energy to bring up the big stuff. If your spouse does or says or ignore something that deeply hurts you, you had better speak up and confront the situation. Otherwise, all the little annoyances will become magnified and drive you nuts.

#10: Free your spouse to pursue his or her dreams.

Lots of things get in the way of pursuing dreams: money, time, obligations, skillset, lack of connections, etc.

You can’t run after everything you want to do. But if anyone is going to believe in you, it should be the person you’re married to. So whenever you can, do that for them. Remove as many barriers to your partner’s dreams as you can. Even if one of those barriers is their own self-esteem.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Part 3: Justus' Story

A Community Announcement

Hi, I’m Justus. Our neighborhood in Rome is a friendly community. Good neighbors. But there’s this house down the street from me where some people have started gathering on the weekends. They’re meeting at Marcus’ house – some of you have met Marcus, he’s a cool guy. But he’s gotten into this strange religion lately and he’s been acting really weird. Everything started a couple months ago.

Just like you guys do in your community, every Friday evening in my neighborhood everyone comes outside and we play music, we drink, people bring food, and we just have a good time. It’s really good for the community for all the neighbors to be a part of it, you know? We bless the food in the name of Diana, then we burn some incense for Saturn and Juno, we say the national anthem, and then we do our chant to the god Jupiter. I love Friday evenings – it’s the perfect end to the work week and it’s good to see the neighbors and hang out. Plus, that’s what keeps us in good favor with Zeus. But Marcus’ household stopped coming a couple months ago. The first time I assumed they were sick or something, but they haven’t come out for 8 weeks now.

I bumped into Marcus the other day at the bathhouse, and I tried to keep it casual. I asked him how his crops are doing this year. We had a late start for spring this year, so he said the harvest is a little low but he was trusting God to meet his needs. I said, “Tell me about it. I’ve been slaughtering goats left and right for Diana to send some sunny weather.” But then he said, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore.” I thought, What do you mean you don’t do that anymore? Don’t do WHAT? And he said he doesn’t sacrifice to Diana anymore. After pressing harder, I found out his family doesn’t worship any of the Roman gods. Not Jupiter, not Apollo, not Vulcan – none of them!

I didn’t know what to say, I mean I’ve never spoken to an actual atheist before. I don’t understand how someone can just stop worshiping the gods. How does he expect his crops to be watered, how does he expect his kids to survive childhood, I mean the guy has gone delusional. So all I knew to do was to say bye, so I turned to walk away and said, “Hail Caesar, lord and god!” And then he nodded his head. I waited for a moment for him to say it back to me, but… nothing. There was this awkward silence.

Then he muttered, “Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable saying that anymore.” I said, “Saying what? Hail Caesar?” He said “Well, the ‘lord and god’ part. I follow Jesus now, the man from Nazareth who was crucified a few years back. He’s my only ‘lord and god’ now. Not Caesar.” I was pretty furious and confused at this point, so I just walked away.

The neighbors and I have started doing some digging. It turns out these people that meet in Marcus’ house call themselves “the way”, whatever that means. And we found out they’re doing some crazy things in there.

For instance, last week I bumped in to one of the families that goes over there. He seemed nice enough; he introduced me to his kids and he was holding this woman’s hand who I assumed to be his wife. But then he called her “sister”. Hmmm… I wrote it off as a mistake but then she called him her brother! Yeah. And then I found out they called everyone else in the house “brother” and “sister”. They must have some kind of… I don’t know. I don’t want to even think about what they’re doing. Man, those poor kids.

And that’s not even the worst part! We think they’ve become cannibals. We saw them on the patio the other evening drinking blood. We assumed it was wine, but then we heard them talking about that Jesus character. They were saying you have to drink his blood and eat his flesh to be his follower. Everyone did this prayer thing and started drinking it! It was disgusting. Then we heard one of them announce something like “This is my body, broken for you. Eat in remembrance of me.” So we high-tailed it out of there! I’ve never seen anything like it.

Anyway, here’s what we’re doing about all this. We are openly shaming Marcus and his household. I think this insulting and public shaming will knock some sense into his head. If he doesn’t come around, I’ll be forced to tell the governor about all this. A guy got whipped the other day for blasphemy against the gods. I don’t want Marcus to get that kind of punishment, but you can’t go around ticking off the gods – they’ll rain down Hades on all of us!

An Update

Hello neighbors, this is Justus again. Thanks for coming to this gathering. You are all here to discuss the situation with the house down the street – the group of Jesus-followers who meet in Marcus’ home. We’ve all participated in shaming and humiliating him so he would stop worshiping Jesus and come back to being a good Roman citizen. I now have an update for you:

Last month while Marcus was away on business I took action. My sons and I tore down the fence around one of his fields and let our cattle roam around in his gardens. The animals absolutely demolished his crops. It was a mess in there! And I left it that way.

Well last month Marcus knocked on my door. He said “I know what you did to my garden, and it really hurt my family. However, our other fields did surprisingly well this year and we ended harvest with a little extra. I brought over several boxes of vegetables for your household to enjoy.” And then he said “I’d really like to sit down with you some time and talk about this whole ‘conversion’ thing. I think that if I explained what my new God, Jesus Christ, is all about then you would view me differently.”

Neighbors, I was so thrown by his kindness that I did just that. We shared several meals together and he explained the gospel – that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, resurrected from the dead, and was seen by 500 people after doing so. He even put me in contact with some of the first-hand witnesses. I’m a Jesus-follower now. And I owe my eternity to Marcus. Had he responded in anger or had he just run away from us I would have never heard him out. And now, he’s my brother.