- I cannot say definitively that the Elevation Church coloring book was actually distributed to kids. The available evidence seems to support that the children's ministry designed the book without Pastor Furtick's initial knowledge. Some time later, the book was redesigned and this particular content was redesigned and removed. But even if the page is spurious, it still correctly portrays how "vision" is cast in many churches. And for me, it was seeing vision-casting portrayed in this way that shook me awake from my theological stupor.
- We need to define our terms. A number of friends pointed out that many pastors are referring to strategy when they're talking about vision. Unfortunately I think this is how the dangerous sort of vision-casting comes about. Many of us (myself included) think leaders are taking strategy, when they're really talking about the driving force of the church. Some leaders do mean "strategy" (i.e. how we go about accomplishing The Great Commission) when they talk about vision. But the way many contemporary evangelical leaders talk about vision and write about it in their leadership books, vision is the driving force of the church. It is why she exists. It is what wakes her up in the morning, and puts her to bed at night. And I still maintain that the driving force of the church (call it vision, call it purpose, call it mission or whatever) is The Great Commission.
- How did the Church get here? I don't have any hard data on this, but from my educated observations I think it's been the fairly recent push for pastors to read business leadership books. While I think there is some knowledge pastors can gain from business, we must never forget that the Church is not a business. It is the community of God. The Body of Christ. The Bride of Christ. In the business world, a strong vision is needed. The business needs to define its purpose and identity. This is not something that translates over to the church, though. Because I still maintain The Great Commission gives us our direction, our vision, and our mission. (And our identity comes from Christ). Making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ must be the reason every church exists.
Last week when I posted "Why I Am Not A Vision-Casting Pastor" I assumed it would cause some amount of controversy. I've had some wonderful public and private dialog with both supporters and critics of the post. From those conversations I wanted to offer some follow-up comments.
I'm not certain when I first came across the doctrine that the pastor of a church must cast vision to his congregation. It may have been in a book I was assigned during seminary. I certainly heard it from a number of pastors I served under. Whenever it was, though, I just accepted it.
It made sense. And successful mega-church pastors said it was important.
They even quoted the Bible to show how it was necessary: Where there is no vision, the people perish (Pro 29:18a KJV).
Now, I've never been a wonderful "vision caster" to begin with. So, I've never really done much "vision casting" during my fifteen years of ministry (eight years as a pastor). I wish it was because I was super-discerning, but it's not.
I just thought this was an area of growth for me. And then I came across the now infamous Steven Furtick coloring book from Elevation Church.
Once in a while it takes someone pushing the heterodox-envelope just enough to snap me awake. And this did it.
This "church is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steve"! Not so! The church is built on the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is built on the proclamation of the Gospel.
The moment I read this coloring book everything became clear. No matter how good the vision of the pastor, it is far short of the vision already given to the church by our Lord and Master.
The church already has a vision. It's called The Great Commission: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
So, what about all those verses about people perishing from lack of vision?
Well, this is a gross abuse of the text. The verse is ripped out of context. It doesn't mean the pastor should give the people his vision. Here's what the whole proverb says in the KJV: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Pro 29:18 KJV)
A rudimentary understanding of the Hebrew language illuminates this text even more. But without that, a simple survey of other good translations show us what God the Holy Spirit was communicating when he inspired this:
HCSB -Without revelation people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy.
NASB - Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
ESV - Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.
This text isn't talking about a pastor or leader casting vision. It's talking about people lacking the prophetic Word of God. Without God's revelation (the Word of God) sin goes unchecked. This is a proverb about the need to hear and understand God's Revelation - The Bible.
Proverbs 29:18a (only the first half) is often conflated with Hosea: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos 4:6a HCSB). But once again, the whole verse bears out what God the Holy Spirit was actually communicating: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from serving as My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your sons. (Hos 4:6 HCSB)
It is about knowing God. And how do we know God? Through his Divine Law. Through his Revelation. Through the Word of God. Through the Bible.
In both of these maligned verses the people are lacking knowledge of God's Law/God's Word. It is destroying them.
So, it's ironic that visionary leaders use these texts to justify gathering people around their vision, which will ultimately hurt the congregation. Because no matter how good the "vision" of the leader is, the Revelation of God (the Bible) is infinitely better.
As a young pastor I spend time in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I want to better understand what my role as a pastor is. Paul doesn't talk about vision-casting. He talks about being a herald. One who proclaims the message of the Gospel (no innovation needed!):
Now, I think the local church needs to strategize how they can best fulfill the great commission. But this isn't vision-casting. The vision is always, always, always The Great Commission.
I'm a messenger. A herald. A preacher.
It's my job to proclaim what is written, correctly.
I'm not a vision-caster.
Summary: Dr. Duane A. Garrett analyzes the entirety of the book of Exodus in the latest volume of the Kregel Exegetical Library.
Review: While I consider myself a theologian, whenever I approach a commentary I first ask "How helpful will this be for sermon preparation?" I have shelves filled with massive tomes of theological data on books of the Bible. Unfortunately, though, scholarly information does not always translate into helpfulness during the daily task of preparing a sermon. Conversely, some commentaries focus so much on the application that they offer little insight to the original meaning of the text.
A cursory look at Garrett's A Commentary on Exodus initially led me to think this would be a commentary filled with technical data that was so extensive it would be too unwieldy to use as a weekly sermon aid.
After I began reading it, though, I'm glad to report my first impression was wrong. The introduction in the commentary is incredibly detailed. This is, of course, helpful for scholars, but not for my purposes as a pastor. In the introduction I received more data and understanding on the overall history and development of Egypt and her dynasties. Garrett gave readers an extended look at the dating options for the book. And while these topics are interesting, they can become exhausting.
Fortunately, the commentary itself is incredibly helpful. The data is laid out in a logical order, which allows the reader to spend time (or skip over) areas of interest. For example, Garrett opens the sections with a translation of the text, complete with extensive footnotes. I can see certain texts might cause me to spend time in those translations. Most often, though, I will skip over them and head to other areas.
I like Garrett's exegesis style. his sentences are concise, but filled with information. He packs quite a bit of data into a small space. He also rightly exegesis the meaning of the text to the original audience, but then will help New Testament believers understand how this text informs (and transforms) their walk with Christ.
Dr. Garrett also inserts appropriate excursuses throughout the commentary. I particularly enjoyed the excursus on why the ten plagues were not each a direct attack on specific, individual Egyptian gods (but were collectively an attack on all of Egypt's gods). His handling of the "hardening of Pharaoh's heart" difficulty was also very informing.
When the time comes to preach through Exodus, I am looking forward to utilizing this wonderful tool.
Rating: 5/5 (I loved it)
Find it at Kregel here.
Find it at Amazon here.
Cesar Romero likes it!
Note: I received a physical copy of this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.
I enjoy comics. Unfortunately, though, the standard female character is a hyper-sexualized version of current modern ideals. Ideals which, frankly, don't exist in the real world.
Enter Valiant Entertainment.
Note: Harbinger - Faith #0 and Unity #13 (pictured above). Both released in December 2014. Contrast these to other comics released in December 2014 (pictured below), featuring female characters.
While Valiant's comics certainly have their fair share of the "cheesecake" character-types, they also have something I haven't seen - Faith.
Faith is an "over-weight" hero. But she isn't a joke. She's a joyful, optimistic character that brings a tremendous amount of heart to whatever books she's featured in. The writers and artists consistently portray her as heroic (albeit inexperienced), kind, and beautiful.
Faith is among my favorite superheroes currently. (Which means, Valiant needs to make an action figure for my shelf!)
I am grateful for her existence in the comic world. Hopefully Valiant will influence other creative-types to portray heroes that look a little more like us fans who read these stories.
It's confession time. My family buys me way too much stuff for Christmas. I still have a cabinet filled with books and movies from past Christmases I'm still working my way through. This gift-giving on the part of my parents and my wife's family is out of control. It is complete and utter madness.
(And don't get me started on the kids' toys. My goodness!)
I also must confess that I am not the best gift-recipient. My wife has told me so. Every Christmas. For the past eleven years.
It's not that I'm not appreciative. I really am. I just don't know how I can possibly express the level of gratitude for the massive number of presents I receive.
Now, I'm sure I could go on and on about materialism, but I'm not. No, you see, this year I had a bit of a revelation. It's nothing original with me. But this year during the Advent Season (leading up to Christmas Day) I found myself simultaneously reflecting on the first coming of Christ, while longing for his second coming - the Second Advent. I was also very intentional of celebrating Christmastide - the twelve days after Christmas.
Once the gift-giving-frenzy concluded (which lasts from about December 20th-December 31st in my family) I found myself sorting through all my stuff. Once again overwhelmed. Once again realizing I had more things than I had time to use. And it hit me.
These gifts are a shadow of eternity.
More than I deserved, more than I earned, more than I could ever express proper gratitude for, these presents are metaphors for the rewards I will receive in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
None of those rewards are deserved, either. Yet, God will lavish them upon me, and all his children. It will be more than I can handle. Far beyond my imagination.
My family Christmas is a small glimmer of that ultimate reality.
Even so, Come Lord Jesus. Come.
Summary: The People, The Land, and the Future of Israel is a series of seventeen essays exploring the Jewish people, and the land of Israel within God's plan for the world. The essays survey the entirety of the Bible text and also explores issues of interpretation and historical understandings of the Jewish people within the Church.
Review: In the interest of full disclosure, I went into this book as a progressive dispensationalist, so I fully expected to find myself in agreement with much of what was said in this book.
Not only did I find myself agreeing with the vast majority of this book, but most of the essays filled in the gaps of my knowledge. My hat is off to Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser's editorial skills. The book follows a natural progression and for the most part, every single essay rises to a rather high scholarly level.
The People, The Land, and the Future of Israel, coincides with a 2013 conference of the same name. In fact, each chapter features multiple "QR codes" and website links to video presentations and testimonies from the conference. This makes the incredibly robust book even more informative.
The essays are separated into four categories: Hebrew Scriptures; New Testament; Hermeneutics, Theology and Church History; Practical Theology. I appreciated this grouping because it tells a narrative as the data from the Torah through the present day is examined. Over and over Israel and the Jewish people are affirmed throughout the Scriptures as God's covenant people. The Church has not replaced Israel - even though there have been long periods of time where believers thought this to be true.
Additionally, the authors and editors are careful to avoid losing focus on the biblical narrative. Over and over again, The People and The Land are portrayed as chosen because of God's character. Because of God's faithfulness to his people.
Even in a scholarly context, it is beautiful to see God's unconditional hesed portrayed.
Some of the essays are more interesting than others. Some are more engaging. A few fell flat. Overall,
The People, The Land, and the Future of Israel is a great resource for understanding Israel's central place in God's plan... both in the past and the future.
Rating: 4.5/5 (I loved it)
Find it at Kregel here.
Find it at Amazon here.
Note: I received a physical copy of this book for free in exchange for an unbiased review.
I came home tonight a little later than usual. I carried in pizza as my wife managed the kids. Last night's episode of The Voice was streaming on Hulu in the background.
I'm not much of a TV watcher. But I was tired, so I picked up my son, sat on the couch and started tickling him.
Then I saw the Kingdom of God break through on national television.
Craig Wayne Boyd took the stage and sang "The Old Rugged Cross." As I bounced my son on my knee, I found myself slowing down. Then just holding him. Then I clutched him.
I can't quite explain it. The performance was technically wonderful. The orchestra was spot-on. But there was more there. Even more than the passion in Boyd's voice.
Toward the end of the song, I could barely contain my tears. I tried not to talk. And then, after the performance coach Pharrell Williams asked Boyd, "Going through everything that you've gone through to get yourself here at this place, I have a question for you. What does it feel like to be at the top of your game, and to surrender it to God in front of the whole entire world?"
I don't know anything about Craig Wayne Boyd, but that's exactly what he did. He took all his own fame and glory - and he handed it back to God. Back to the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what Christians do. This is how the Kingdom of God breaks through into the kingdom of the world.
This is shining the Light of Christ in the darkness.
As this was happening it was time to eat. So we sat down. My wife, daughter and I began to pray. I thanked God for the food, for our family, and then I tried to thank him for seeing the Kingdom of God shinning on The Voice. But I couldn't. My words caught in my throat. I tried to push through it and found I could not. I started weeping uncontrollably.
My wife finished the prayer with the thoughts of my heart - thanking God for letting this song bring him glory before the world.
I wept for several minutes.
My daughter laughed at me "Daddy crying." (She's 2. And simply could not understand what was happening to me.)
To be quite honest, I don't know what happened to me. I wasn't sad. I wasn't even happy. It was the glory of the Lord. I caught a glimpse of his glory. Of his fame. Of his Kingdom.
It was just a glimmer and it overwhelmed me.
We are in the Advent season, where believers celebrate the first coming of Christ while eagerly awaiting his Second Coming. At the first advent the Kingdom of God was inaugurated. At the second the Kingdom will be consummated. In between we see moments of the Kingdom of God here on the earth all the time. This was one such moment.
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah , and He will reign forever and ever! - Revelation 11:15
Last week the latest iteration of VeggieTales - VeggieTales in the House - was released on Netflix. Its release has grieved me greatly.
Not because of the show. No, the new show is excellent. It features the uber-talents of Doug TenNapel and Michael J. Nelson. (Two of my favorite living creative-types).
The show features wonderfully updated versions of the vegetables. More than that, the stories are engaging and rooted in biblical truths.
So what's the problem?
The problem has been the way believers have responded to this show. Just head over to the official facebook page and spend a few minutes looking at the comments. They're ugly. They're incessant. And they're petty.
Believers have accused the creators of "ruining their childhood," "being on drugs while designing," and being "disgusting tools."
Most of the comments are not this accusatory, but there are hundreds of hundreds of people whining constantly about the redesign.
If this is what Western Christianity has become - spending our time and emotional energy complaining about cartoon designs - then we are doomed.
This same energy could go into a variety of other things (reaching out to the poor, advocating against modern-day slavery, evangelizing our community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ). But if this is how we choose to respond to an issue that doesn't really matter - we're in trouble. We're the Church of Laodicea whose works are utterly useless and disgust our Lord.
Remember: Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much. - Luke 16:10 HCSB
(This was cited on one of the new VeggieTales in the House episodes)
If we can't show grace and Christian charity in this situation, we most certainly won't when the larger issues bear down on us.
This past year has been a living nightmare.
It was also an emotional hell. This is the backdrop of the "Snow and Ash" story appearing in The Crossover Alliance Anthology: Volume 1.
***Spoilers beyond this point, grab a free copy before continuing***
Late last year my wife and I accepted the placement of a little foster child. We'll call her "Hummingbird" here.
She was placed in our care because we were considered a "pre-adoptive" family. When Hummingbird came into our home, we were told the adoption would be relatively short.
It wasn't. We just adopted our daughter this past week.
We loved Hummingbird from the moment she stepped foot into our home. She was about sixteen months old when we met her. Initially, the visits with her biological parents were difficult, but manageable. We were just getting to know our daughter, so her mood swings seemed normal.
But pretty soon, the agency moved her visits to a location which required a four hour commitment, twice a week. The visits were an hour and a half each, but my travel time became almost two and a half hours. I lost a full day worth of work every single week.
The trauma to my little girl was far worse though.
I would tell Hummingbird that we were going to a "visit" as we got into the car. She rebelled. She scream. She cried. Every single time.
Then I'd have to drive with her for a prolonged period of time for the "visit". I tried to make these experiences as easy as possible. I told her she would have fun, then I would pick her up and we'd go home again to see mommy, and Daisy & Duncan (our cats). The drop offs varied, but I often had to peel her off my leg to coax her to her biological parents.
Several times she managed to climb up my legs into my arms, and clung to my chest.
To her, I was her daddy. I was the man who was supposed to protect her from those who would harm her. I was supposed to shield her from pain and trauma.
But to the State of Michigan I was little more than an over-glorified babysitter.
I had no rights. I could not make decisions about who could see her and who could not. The State put me into a damnable position: Take her to these visits where she would be traumatized twice a week, or have her removed from the only mommy and daddy she's ever known.
Hummingbird was a self-confident, bold, joyful and happy little girl before these visits. When she was returned to me after an hour and a half, Hummingbird was scared, timid, clingy, sad and depressed. On the way home, I often pulled over into a parking lot so I could take her out of her car seat and let her hug me as she soaked my shoulder with tears and snot.
Twice a week.
Most people in my life cannot understand this horror. I hope they never do.
Over and over, family and friends would tell my wife and me, "God is on your side. This will all work out. She will be yours." But they did not sit in court hearing after court hearing. They did not see the court's obsession with reunification. They didn't talk to caseworker after caseworker about the possibility of Hummingbird going back to the biological parents' care. Or relative placement. They didn't live under the microscope of agency visit after visit in our own home. They've never been in a situation where they couldn't tell their traumatized daughter that they would never leave her. At any moment she could have been removed from our care.
And God... well God wasn't doing much for this little girl. I prayed over her every night. I pleaded with God in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ every day. I laid both of my hands on Hummingbird and blest her moments before each and every visit: "May Yahweh protect your heart, soul, mind, and strength. May He protect you where I cannot. May He fight for you where I am powerless. In Jesus' Name. Amen."
And people continued to say, "God wouldn't let her be put back into a situation like that. Don't worry."
But the reality is, God does allow people to go through horrible things. Even very frightened, very little girls.
I trusted that God was all powerful. And believed that he was in control. I believed he had a plan. But his plan might have very well been that Hummingbird be shown the grace and gospel of Jesus Christ, and then be placed back with her biological family to begin a long process of redemption for them. And God's plan might very well have involved terrible abuse of our little girl so she could be a harbinger of salvation.
This was the backdrop of "Snow and Ash" in The Crossover Alliance Anthology: Volume 1.
I, like Erik, did not want to become a father. Not like this anyway. I found myself having to bear the majority of these burdens and it was terrible.
In the story Erik declared himself an enemy of Christ. During my own torment, there were moments where I was furious with God for not intervening. For not putting a stop to this all at once. It felt like Jesus had become my enemy. And in modern literature, I noted, there are not too many people who see themselves as enemies of Christ. Typically, a person gets angry at God, then walks away and becomes a functioning atheist. But if I'm being very honest, there were moments where I felt if I lost Hummingbird, I would be angry at God for the rest of my life. And even though I knew he was stronger than me, I would be his enemy for the rest of my days. Hence, Erik opposed his people's conversion to Christianity.
Finally, the scene where Honey Bee is forcibly taken from Erik, was the scene that first appeared in my mind. It was how I felt twice a week. I could fight. I could pray. But in the end I was utterly powerless to help my daughter. When it came down to it, any number of thugs could take my daughter and there was nothing I could do.
And yet, in the story God was still in control. Even Honey Bee, though she was abused greatly, could see a higher purpose in the pain.
I wrote "Snow and Ash" at the Darcy Library of Beulah. It was downhill from the location of the visits for Hummingbird. I initially went to the local McDonalds to wait for the visits to be over, but I was harassed and stalked at that location, so I found this hidden away library.
I love this library. In fact, it is the best small-sized library I've ever seen.
I hope I never go there again, though. It would be too traumatic for me.
After prying my daughter from my leg and handing her trembling body over for the "visit," I would go down to the library, pull out a composition notebook, and write.
I also listened to the Beowulf Soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri. It put me in the viking mood I needed to be in. But this too, is something I have no desire to revisit. I love this soundtrack, but it dredges up deep trauma for me.
One more thing. The author picture featured on the Crossover Alliance page for the book is a picture I took on June 3, 2014 at Douglas Park in Manistee, MI. I took this photo moments after parental visits were suspended. I knew my wife and I still had a long journey ahead of us. (And we did. It took six months of battling to adopt our daughter). But for Hummingbird, the trauma was over. As far as she would be aware, victory was accomplished on that day.
So while that place is called "Douglas Park" to me it will always be called "Yahweh Yireh," The Lord Provides. He rescued my little girl on that day.
Summary: Nineteen year old Monica awakens after a devastating car crash, only to discover she is now thirty-eight, she has spent almost two decades in a coma, and life moved on without her.
Review: Admittedly, this is not a go-to film for me. In my limited time I will typically seek out a speculative film that I've missed over the last two years.
Leaving Limbo is great, though.
It's a micro-budget film. The screenplay is based off a stage play, which means the entire film is character driven. Give me a film like this over a million exploding space aliens any day. (Or the latest Left Behind offering.) Because of the limitations of the budget, the characters must become central, and they really do in Leaving Limbo. I cared about most of them, and wanted to follow their journeys.
The film is not perfect, though. Some of the comedic beats were off just enough to rob the scenes of the intended humor. The opening "back in the 80's" scenes did their best to "de-age" the actors, but the lack of budget shows clearly here. And while I found the Christian themes to be well inserted into the story, there were a couple of impromptu Bible studies between Monica's dad and niece that just felt painfully forced.
Other than these issue, the film is quite wonderful. Most of the acting, particularly by Mandy Brown, is top notch. The musical score fits nicely into the film. It neither underwhelms, nor forces itself into the narrative. The music simply heightens the emotion of the film, as any good score should.
The story itself has some predictable elements, but also has some twists and turns to keep the audience guessing.
Overall, I liked this film and I'm happy to support it.
We need more character driven films like this.
We need more Christian-themed films that explore the quiet but painful moments in life.
Rating: 4/5 (I Really Liked It)
Find out more about the film here.