Explain the Trinity To Me

My church recently presented a sermon on the Trinity. It’s a thorough explanation of why we embrace a seemingly contradictory doctrine about the nature of God. If you’re interested in why we would believe such difficult doctrine this will be a great resource for you. I encourage you to listen.

Direct link

Why Is God So Angry?

Have you ever been confused by how seemingly angry God was in the Old Testament and how loving he seems now in the New Testament? Are we worshiping a repentant God who has decided to be nice now? Is the Bible talking about two different gods? Or is there a way to reconcile God’s love and God’s wrath?

I thought this was an excellent sermon dealing with those very questions

Direct link

Of First Importance

There is so much about this sermon that resonates with me.  If I had only one sermon that I could direct you to, this would be the one.  There are so many things packed in here.  What’s the most important thing to Christians?  What is the nature of faith and belief?  Why should we have confidence as Christians?

Direct download here.

Save Marriage Now

This sermon has everything you need to know about saving marriage in our contemporary culture.  It also has nothing to say about the debate on same-sex marriage.

It is quite simply a very powerful message about Jesus’ own thoughts on marriage.  It even addresses what Jesus thought of polygamy.  A topic I didn’t even know he specifically spoke about.

Take the time to listen to this sermon.  It will strengthen your marriage and improve our society.

Direct link here.

Put Your Money Where Your Bible Is

Evangelicals are terrible givers.  It’s a well known fact in Evangelical churches that the vast majority of attenders are not giving regularly much less tithing.  My church confronted us with this cold hard fact two weeks after Easter.  So much for the afterglow of the Resurrection.

In my church only 18% of the members give “regularly”.  Regularly was defined as at least $20 a month for and a total of $1000 a year.  To make matters worse, the top 20% of “regular givers” donate 85% of the churches entire budget.

Quite powerfully the pastor asked one section of the sanctuary to stand up which was roughly 18% of the people in the room.  He stated, “would we think it odd if these people were the only people in the room singing? Would the rest of you think you are participating?”  Then he had all but 20% of that group sit down.  He pointed out that if those people had the same attitude toward giving that the rest of the room had, the church would not be running.

We’ve never “passed the plate” in our church.  Instead, giving boxes were placed at the back of the sanctuary. With all of the abuses in the Christian world it was quite refreshing to attend a church that didn’t make the offering front and center. But if only 20% of the congregation is being transformed to view their money as God’s first in any meager way, something clearly had to change.  Our teaching pastor said, “we’ve tried the subtle approach, we’ve tried the ‘freedom approach, we’ve tried the winsom approach, but none of it’s getting through, so this week we’re going to go with the full frontal assault.”  They also made it quite clear that our books are open but if you didn’t trust them to spend the money well, then they need to find a place to worship where you do trust them.”

Have a listen to one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard on giving.

You can download the sermon directly from here.

My Easter Experience

I thought I’d share what I was up to while away from the blog and on Lent.

I want to first explain what Lent is about for me (and millions of Christians like me). I don’t practice Lent because I think it makes me more righteous. I don’t do it because I think God will like me more or give me a better place in heaven. I do it to make some extra space in my life to start preparing for Easter. If I were to give up watching sports for lent every time I would want to watch sports I would get a personal reminder that Easter is approaching and that something better than sports is going to be celebrated. I could then use that time to pray, meditate or read the Bible or at minimum spend a moment reflecting on the sacrifice that Jesus made for me. In addition, in a similar way to fasting, I learn discipline which I can take into other areas of my life. If I can control my body and give up something non-sinful, I can take similar steps to remove sin from my life.

Typically, Ash Wednesday sneaks up on me and I’m not prepared for it and haven’t given a great deal of thought to what I should be giving up. This is a benefit to the more liturgical churches, they give you a heads up about these things. Many Protestants have thrown the baby out with the bath water and want to avoid appearing “too Catholic” so Lent is not universally practiced. Many in my church practice Lent, but no announcement was made about it from the pulpit.

I often find that by the end of Lent, whatever I had given up no longer seems like such a big thing to give up anymore. The season is just long enough to make you forgetful of how familiar an item had been in your life.

What I did not realize when Lent began was that I would be adding a time of fasting to it this year. My wife and I encountered a situation which became critical enough that we decided to fast and pray about it. We didn’t do this because we believed our prayers would be better received by God if we were hungry, but instead because it made space in our lives. We spent our time away from meals in prayer and when we felt our hunger pains we were reminded to pray to the God whose words we live upon.

4 weeks before Easter my church stopped their “regularly scheduled” programming and started a series in preparation for Easter. The sermon topics were on the binding of Isaac, finding new life in Jesus and the Passover Supper / Communion.

1 week before Easter they distributed “Seek Week” packets. The packets contained devotionals for every day of the week. In this way the entire congregation was reflecting on the same scriptures throughout the week. In addition, the sanctuary was opened for prayer services 3 times a day throughout the week (morning, noon and night). The evening services had a special emphasis on worship.

On Good Friday my family attended a special Good Friday service. As part of the communion element of the service, large wooden crosses were scattered across the room. Before taking the bread and the wine (we use grape juice) we were encouraged to write down on a piece of paper something that was keeping us separated from God. Then we could take a nail and hammer the paper to a cross. The sound of hammers and nails filled the room in a very powerful way.

Easter was held at an outdoor amphitheater at our country fair grounds. On a weekly basis our church has 5,000 people show up. This Easter we had 12,000 people in attendance. The Gospel message was delivered a couple of dozen first time decisions were made to follow Jesus after the sermon (Billy Graham style) Then we did something we’ve never done before. We had three large inflatable tubs filled with water at the base of the stage. A young woman came out and told the audience why she had become a Christian and the difference it had made in her life. She was then baptized in one of the tubs. The invitation was then extended for anyone who wanted to be baptized to come forward.

090412_0595This was something that had been announced in weeks prior to Easter and special baptism classes were held for those who might like to be baptized on Easter. But the invitation was also open to anyone on that day whether or not they had been to the class. About 150 people were baptized in each of the two services (300 total). It was exciting to see so many people “take the plunge”. (this picture was taken near the end of the service I attended).

Some people were excited and jumping up and down while coming in and out of the water.  Others were weeping and needed help walking away.

A key difference between our baptisms and Mormons baptisms is that we aren’t baptizing people into church membership.  Our church doesn’t even have a formal membership status.  Instead we’re baptizing people into the kingdom of God. Our little organization seems to be too tiny and petty for what people are entering into.  What’s always interesting about our Easter services is that not once is our church’s name mentioned.  In fact we hand out a 2 page list of area churches that we recommend people attend. It’s part of the way our church is trying to insure that Jesus is the only name lifted up on that day.

After the service we did the traditional American family get-together with lunch, Easter baskets and chocolate. Which is always good but no where near as exciting as the Easter service I had just attended.

What I love about the season of Lent is that it builds anticipation for Easter. If you start thinking and dwelling on a party for more than a month, it gets to be a big deal in your mind.  The increasing emphasis and events before Easter build to a crescendo.  I wake up on Easter Sunday excited both for what will happen on that day and what did happen on that day.

Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, and Mega-Churces

About 10 years ago I was shocked to hear my parents hated the movie “You’ve Got Mail”. As far as I could tell it was an inoffensive, bland and mediocre copy-cat of every other Meg Ryan movie. Nothing to love, but nothing to hate. It seemed the movie’s dilemma, of a small bookstore being threatened by a large national chain, hit a little too close to home. My dad is a bi-vocational pastor (that means he has two jobs) of a tiny country church in a growing suburban area. At the time my parents were feeling quite threatened by the great number of mega-churches that were overshadowing their long established family church of 50 people.

I attend ROCKHARBOR. A church that host between 5,000 – 6,000 worshipers of Jesus every week. When I first started attending, the church only had 1,500 people and rented space in the cafeteria of a local Senior Citizen’s Center. After a couple of years we were finally able to get our own location. We quickly doubled in about 9 months and then doubled again in another 12-18 months. Before we knew it we had become yet another Mega-Church in Southern California. After doubling the number of worship services offered over the weekend, the elders of the church decided to cap our growth at 6,000 and turned down opportunities for bigger venues and larger worship centers. We’re now focusing on ways to create more churches like us.

I’m both surprised and not surprised at the criticisms people have of Mega-Churches. Like any large entity they bring upon themselves a lot of attention and scrutiny. To be sure there are problems and challenges from having such a large congregation (as there are problems and challenges with every sized congregation). Often I hear that people can’t conceive of having any sort of community in such a crowd of people. How do you get to know anyone? Because of this obvious problem I think Mega-Churches as a whole actually do a much better job of forming community. People have to be intentional about it and Mega-Churches have extensive networks of small groups to make this happen. I have been in just about every size church and I can honestly say that I have never experienced authentic community quite as well as I have since I’ve been part of ROCKHARBOR. The way my small group over the years has sought to “love one another” has been nothing but inspiring. That is probably not true for everyone who attends. With a congregation as large as it is, it’s easy for people to slip in an out without being known. But for those who want to be in community with other believers, I think it is a vibrant place to be.

Another criticism I hear is that the preaching must be watered down to bring in that number of people. The cynic scoffs that people only show up in those numbers if they are hearing a feel-good message that leaves them content with their current lives. That is certainly true of some Mega-Churches. I think it’s also true of a proportionate number of smaller churches. I think one of the reasons my church has grown so much is precisely because it challenges people to pursue holiness and righteousness and to leave the brokenness the world offers behind. If you doubt me, go to this link and type either “sex” or “money” into the search field.

In all of my years as a Christian, I have never met as many new converts who have genuinely changed their lives as I have at ROCKHARBOR.

The third critique I often hear against Mega-Churches is that they don’t follow the New Testament model of house churches. I think this is an often spoken statement that doesn’t at all consider the environment of persecution that the New Testament churches existed in. Take a look at these passages from Acts.

Acts 2:41
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 4:4
But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

It seems to me that the early church was a Mega-Church and would have continued to grow as one if it had not been for the stoning of Stephen and subsequent persecution.

One of the beauties I think Mega-Churches have to offer is the ability for people to focus on their gifts. Those who excelled at preaching and teaching are allowed to focus on it and don’t have to figure out budgets. Those who excel at mercy can devote their time to it and don’t have to set up chairs and print programs. Those who excel at art can focus on it and don’t have to mind the nursery. Excellence can be sought and achieved because all the parts of the body are present. In fact, once again looking at Acts, the apostles set up deacons so that they too could focus on preaching. Very few people could preach with the passion and knowledge of Peter, so he was allowed to go on preaching while others took care of the widows among them. In the same way, very few people can preach with the excellence that our teaching pastor offers. So we allow him to continue to focus and develop that gift instead of pretending we all have it.

I don’t by any means think that the Mega-Church model is the only right model for a church. I confess that there are a great many problems with it. But in the same light I don’t think there is anything holier about small churches. Both fill culturally relevant ways of worshiping Jesus, and that is what I think all churches should be judged on. How well do they worship Jesus and transform people to be more like Him? I hope to see a greater number of Mega-Churches AND smaller churches as long as they both serve Christ.

You Can’t Trust the Bible

There’s a number of issues about the reliability of the Bible and the accuracy of traditional Christian doctrine that have a way of poking their head out here on this blog. If you’d like a fuller view on Evangelical answers to these questions, you can listen to this lecture series. They do a good job of listing the problems and giving an answer for them. It’s my view that there is great reason to believe that we have the right books in the Bible and that our core doctrines were not based on mere political process.

Why (and how) should I believe the Bible to be the word of God?
Part 1

Part 2

What about all those transmission errors and contradictions in the Bible?

Part 1

Part 2

How did they choose the books that are in the Bible? And didn’t they just vote on it?

Part 1

Part 2

If you’d like to directly download the audio files, you can go here.

Dealing with History

I was asked on another blog:

In your experience, in the Evangelical community, how has Protestantism dealt with it’s past? From my understanding, Catholicism and Protestanism hasn’t had a clean slate either. While historically, facts are given, how does that affect membership, say of someone who questions whether an organization with such problems be from God, and how does Protestantism reconcile those instances in history?

No doubt there have been many historical scars in the past of mainstream Christianity. Be it the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials and numerous tele-evangelist scandals there is a lot of ugliness in our past. My own church, which is only 10 years old, is not without its blemishes. Our founding pastor admitted to having an affair with a married woman and was released from ministry about 5 years ago.

So, why are Protestants resilient in their faith despite all of these nasty things? I think there are a number of reasons. The first is that we place our faith in Jesus not our organizations. We attend our churches just as a way of worshiping Jesus. If we discovered that our church or denomination was corrupt, we would go on worshiping Jesus, we would just do it somewhere else. We view the church as a means to Jesus, but not Jesus’ means to us. We grant our churches with some authority, but believe in a more personal and individual authority that comes directly from Christ.

We expect to occasionally encounter sinful men in our churches. It really doesn’t affect me personally if Martin Luther hated Jews. My life and my faith have been profoundly impacted by his (and others) actions, but they are not centered around him. My life is centered around Jesus. So where I find Luther preaching truth about Jesus, I embrace him. Where I find him teaching falsehood, I reject him.

Another reason is that we don’t grow up believing a whitewashed version of events. We don’t control the information. When we learn about the Crusades, we learn both the good and the bad about them at the same time. All of the facts are there and we don’t (and can’t) pretend to believe in a “faith promoting” version. So we never have to wrestle with the difference between what we’ve been taught and what the facts actually are.

When contemporary scandals happen, we air them out. We expose them to light and go out of our way to make sure people know what happened and how. When a pastor has a moral failing it for sure can be devastating to a congregation. But the disappointment they feel is directed at their pastor, not at God. Evangelicals are guilty of putting people on pedestals, but when they fall off we recognize that it wasn’t God who put them up there.

I think this is a chief cultural difference between Evangelicals and LDS. We are not under the notion that God is directing the everyday operation of our churches. We for sure want to be following God’s will and seek after it, but we also know that there are many decisions that are made in our churches which are just people using their best judgment. LDS to some extent MUST believe that their leaders are specifically appointed by Jesus. In varying degrees LDS hold that every direction and appointment is coming via the direct authority of God. So when men fail (as they always will) the disappointment follows the chain back up to God.

Hey! Who’s In Charge Here?

I hear frequent questions from LDS about the Protestant view of the Priesthood. “Who exactly has authority in your church? And Why?” I think those are valid questions and concerns. Particularly from those that come from such a well established hierarchy. Another questions is “Why only paid ministers?”

This week my church’s teaching pastor taught on both of these issues. Bear in mind, he wasn’t approaching the subject to answer LDS objections. He was explaining the role of authority and ministry to his own congregation who are already in agreement with him on a number of other things that LDS would object to. But I think this is a pretty good explanation of the Protestant view of the Priesthood and church authority.

I hope you’ll listen to it and come to a deeper understanding of us.
A Community of Ministers

Exciting Prayer

Yes, I put those two words together.

This week my church has been participating in some special prayers times concerning the future of our congregation. We have been meeting every morning from 6-7 and every night from 9-10. Last night was the first time I have been able to go. It was the most exciting prayer meeting I’ve ever been a part of.

Typically prayer meetings I have been a part of have looked like a bunch of people hunched over with a lot of murmuring. You quietly pray for an hour on one to three topics and feel drained afterwards. Last night the format was totally different. We stood, we sat, we yelled, we sang. At one point half the room sang a praise song while the other half prayed out loud. It was really powerful. At times we prayed for a topic for no more than 45 seconds, other times we would pray for 10 minutes.

I’ll say something that is typically taboo for Christians to admit. . . But I don’t really like to pray. Honestly there are times when I would look forward to flossing more than I look forward to praying. It’s hard for me. I pray often and daily. But if someone were to say to me, “hey let’s get together and pray for a couple of hours”, you’d probably have to drag me there (or manipulate me with lots and lots of guilt). Last night, really primed my pump. I’m excited to return tonight. Yes I AM EXCITED TO GIVE UP MY FREE TIME AND PRAY.

A Little About My Church


My church, RockHarbor was on the front page of the Orange County Register on Easter morning. They wrote a pretty good sized article on us. We spend a lot of time talking about the LDS church on this blog. Here’s an opportunity to learn something about my church for those who are interested. Feel free to critique.