Archive - April, 2012

Pardon me while I rant incessantly: Attractional, Missional and the ones left behind

Deep, breathy sigh…

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all the information I heard at Exponential 2012–the largest annual gathering of church planters in the world.

Four years ago, the missional church movement was beginning to gain momentum. It was right about that time when I read The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay and loved what they had to say about living out our faith through living in community with one another and serving the world. After all, the point and the process of my church, C3 (also known as the “mission statement”) is Love God and people, Live in community with one another and Serve the world, or more simply: Love, Live, Serve.

So I was very excited to see that Hugh and Matt would be conducting some workshops at Exponential this year. One of particular interest to me was Practical Tools for Moving Consumers to Missionaries and Small Groups to Missional Communities. (Consumers being people who typically attend “big church” on Sunday but don’t get involved in missions or small groups.) As it turned it, Matt Smay was not in the session. Brandon Hatmaker, pastor of Austin New Church and author of Barefoot Church tag teamed with Hugh Halter for this session. And while I greatly appreciated the point and their process for discipling people through missional living and serving the poor, at the end of the session, something was nagging at me.

Big time.

Because for me, the process was more about weeding out those people who just wanted Jesus on Sunday morning without delving into the bigger question of WHY that was okay to only want Jesus on their own terms. I left the session feeling like nominal Christians were someone else’s problem, not the problem of the missional church. I was in such a lather about the whole thing that I couldn’t focus on the main session which followed the workshop. Instead, I began to scribble madly in my notebook the following:

Rich Young Ruler

Process seems effective at weeding out those consumers who have no interest in becoming committed followers, but I don’t see much in the way of moving consumers into something more. I understand that it’s easy to label these people as Pharisees and wash our hands of them, but people who don’t think they need Jesus–or worse, those who think they have a saving knowledge and relationship with Jesus but don’t–are the ones who so desperately need Him!

Then there’s the resource issue. Had the rich young ruler said, “Yes, Jesus. I choose you and everything I own belongs to the kingdom”, how would that have played out?

How do we lead people with financial resources away from consumerism into discipleship? And if they’re stubborn and don’t want to move, do we let them go and just say, “Good luck with all of THAT?”

By giving up on them and calling them Pharisees, are we not doing some of the hard things that Jesus would have us do because they’re easy to demonize? What could God do with their resources if we somehow lead them to an understanding of what it is to give your life to Christ? Without telling them that God will bless them–because if we do that, we’re just selling them more consumerism. Maybe they won’t be blessed. Maybe they’ll be sifted. But because they have much they are expected to give much. Are they a lost cause? A nut too tough to crack and bring into the family of God?

Still feeling very unsettled (and needing to pee because I’d had about 2 gallons of coffee that morning), I excused myself from the worship center to find a bathroom. Guess who was manning a booth on the way to the bathroom? Give up? Hugh Halter, Matt Smay and Brandon Hatmaker. Lucky them.

On my way back from the bathroom, I stopped at the booth. It went something like this:

Hugh Halter: How are you doing?

Me: I’m very frustrated.

Hugh Halter: Well, bring it on.

I proceeded to unload on them what I had madly scribbled in my notebook. I shared with them that I live in a community where you can’t swing a bat without hitting ten or so churches. Churches filled with disciples but also with what they would classify as Consumer Christians. I expressed that I did believe in their process of making disciples through missional living, but wondered aloud about those who didn’t choose that path. Are they not worth the trouble? Do we have a process of reaching those who think they are found but are really lost? Does God value them less because they seem to value Him less? Brandon talked me down off the ledge a bit. He shared an email from a wealthy man whose life had been transformed by serving the poor, and I am grateful that people are being transformed by truly living out their faith. He also told me that we can’t change people’s hearts, only God can do that. In the end, Brandon gave me a free copy of his book. I’m sure it was only partly to get rid of this raving lunatic woman at their booth.

But I’m still feeling frustrated.

I still think we’re leaving folks behind. People who may be as close as a conversation over a cup of coffee.

And I suppose that’s gotta start with me.

What do you think? Are nominal Christians the burden of the “big church”?

Unpacking #Exponential 2012

You may have noticed my absence from the blogosphere this week. (Or not.)

I left Monday afternoon with my husband and our dear friends Jeff and Tamara (who also happen to be our pastor and his wife) bound for Orlando, Florida.

Not for Disney or Universal Studios, but to the largest church planters conference in the US: Exponential.

This is a return trip for the four of us. The first was four years ago when Convergence Christian Church was little more than a dream and a vision. Now, having just celebrated our 3rd birthday as a church, Exponential was a much different experience than it was back then.

Not only am I unpacking books, brochures and swag from the conference, I’m also unpacking all the things I heard there. Whereas four years ago I took everything I heard as (forgive the word choice here) gospel, I’m more discerning now and more likely to question. Which is not to say we didn’t hear some great ideas. We did.

But I also think there’s not one absolute right or wrong way to plant a church.

Anyway, still unpacking and digesting some ideas. Hoping to regurgitate some onto you next week.

You’re welcome.

Have a great weekend.

Why I hate writing, Part 12: Unpaid writing

Digital publishing has opened up opportunities for writers like never before.

In years past, literary agents and publishing houses were the guardians at the gate. A writer’s work was at their mercy. They decided whether a manuscript was worthy of being shared with the masses.

But all of that is changing. If you’ve got enough money, you can be a published writer. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. There are plenty of very talented writers who have now been given the opportunity to share their words with the world without having to pass the muster of an agent and a publisher willing to make investments in both time and money. And that’s a very good thing.

However, there are also many writers who perhaps publish before they are ready. Before their manuscripts are ready. And I wonder if they do their future work a disservice by offering a product that is substandard today.

Then there’s the matter of payment. Very few published authors make enough money at their craft to be able to write full time. To compound the problem, writing jobs such as weekly newspaper columns and short stories for magazines which used to garner writers payment for services rendered are now often written for free with the promise of “exposure to a wider audience”.

In the following video clip, Harlan Ellison has some very strong opinions about writers giving their work away. What do you think? Does working for free ever pay off, or do you think a writer should expect to get paid for his time and talent?

Warning: There is strong language in the following video which may be offensive.

The artist who follows Jesus

I came across a passage in a book I read a couple of years ago that beautifully reflected the heart of an artist who has chosen to follow Christ. “The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations of Faith”(1) by Timothy Stoner (yes, that’s his real name) has served as a much needed reminder that the God of Mercy is also the God of Wrath. May I never forget that!

Anyway, just a bit of encouragement for my fellow artists:

The artist who follows Jesus explicitly resides in the world and participates in culture in a truly unique way. She helps others pay attention to, take notice of, and celebrate the goodness of the good creation. She does not shy away from the dark and the broken, the sorrow and terror–but crafts it in such a way as to point toward hope. It is revealing a pathway out of despair and chaotic meaningless. Her work is a candle that flickers and flares.

Her art is for the good of the world.

She does it for the blessing of the world.

She is intent not on reinforcing the curse but breaking it. She has and is a gift. She is sent, like Jesus, to open the eyes of the blind, open the ears of the deaf, or give words to the mute. She is sent on a mission of freedom. Her mission mirrors that of her Savior. She is sent to break chains of despair, set at liberty those tied up with cords of emptiness, futility, and death, and bring sight to those who have lost the capacity to see. She is sent to give us the forgotten vision of the glory that peeks out behind the bush and branch and sea and life as it was meant to be. She sings and shrieks and falls to rise again, to give voice to what we’ve forgotten or refuse to hear.

She pours out her blood that a world may be saved.

She serves not always willingly or well but in her best moments, when she has forgotten herself, she serves.

Still, her loyalty is not here. She has had her idolatrous attachment broken. She is free to be in but not of . She is not slavishly loyal to the patterns, the values, the demands, and commands of a world in love with itself. Her eyes look up even as she looks out, and in looking around she sees through. She is not bewitched by appearances nor overly and permanently distraught. She has seen a city whose builder and maker is God, and she pines for the day when it will come here so there will be light forever.

And the light will be the love and the joy of her life.

She has this secret. Her heart has been captured by a lover who is out of this world. But He is coming back. She wants to make herself ready and her friends and ever her enemies , too. So she does her work as best she can and prays that it is good, that it will shine so brightly as to bring glory not to her but to Him.

(1) Stoner, Timothy.
The God who smokes: scandalous meditations of faith
published by Navpress, 2008

Parting is such sweet sorrow

A mix of pride and sadness came over me yesterday as I watched the Space Shuttle being piggybacked on a 747 to its final home at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas

As we say goodbye to an era, I hope and pray that we as a nation do not abandon the desire to do great things because there are great things yet to do, and to once again boldly go where no man has gone before.

Dried up paint and the GSA

My son does not have hobbies. When something sparks his interest, it becomes an all-consuming passion. For proof of this, you need only look in our attic: Several Rubbermaid containers housing Thomas the Train Engine and all his friends along with bridges, wooden train track and other accessories.

Then there was his Yu-Gi-Oh phase. At first simply collecting cards and watching horribly predictable anime on TV was enough, but soon he was spending his Saturdays at Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments.

Then came Warhammer: a tabletop wargame where two or more players compete against each other with “armies” of 25 mm – 250 mm tall heroic miniatures. The remnants of this last hobby have yet to make it to the attic. They’re in that in-between place also known as the closet.

His propensity towards enthusiastic immersion in interests isn’t necessarily a bad thing. His drive to be the best he can be at whatever interests him has helped him become good at both football and French horn.

But with football season over and the school year winding down, my son has found a new passion: Paintball.

If you or someone you know has ever played paintball, you know that it is not a cheap hobby. It’s expensive enough if all you ever do is play with the rental equipment provided by the paintball place, and it only took a month of Saturdays for my son to come to two realizations: 1) He wanted to become a professional paintball player, and 2) He would never achieve this goal using rented equipment.

His allowance covers the cost of his weekend paintball games, but soon he began asking for extra chores around the house to earn money for paint pellets, a mask, protective jersey and pants. Oh, and a gun. But that’s a whole other story…

The first chore I relinquished to him was a no brainer. With the exception of two 9 month periods over the past 15 years, the job of changing out the cat litter box has been exclusively mine, and frankly, I don’t know why I didn’t give him this job sooner. But as disgusting as it is, it wasn’t going to earn him the kind of disposable income he was seeking. He needed a big job, and after thinking it over for a couple of days (which may or may not have included his constant nagging), I finally came up with one.

Some of you may know that in my non-virtual life I’m sometimes a painter–walls, canvases, etc. If paint will stick to it, chances are I’ve painted it. Over the years, I’ve managed to amass quite a collection of acrylic paint–you know the kind–the little 2 to 4 ounce bottles they sell in the craft store? Yeah, well I have about 500 to 600 of those, many of them either nearly empty or dried out. And since I’ll soon be painting a couple of murals, I’ve needed to assess what I have, and who better to go through 500 to 600 bottles of paint than my darling son? Better him than me, huh?

He was eager to get started and even more eager to get it over with and get his $20. My instructions were clear. He was to check each bottle, first by shaking it. If he couldn’t hear and feel paint sloshing around inside, he was to open the bottle and check to see if the paint was dried out. Good paint was to be returned to the color coded 2 gallon ziplock baggie from whence they came. The duds went into a large garbage sack.

This system worked fine for the first 50 or 60 bottles of paint. But then he decided that if he didn’t hear the paint sloshing around, he wouldn’t bother checking to see if there was paint inside. He simply assumed the paint was dried out. This resulted in a whole lot of full bottles of paint which had never been used being tossed in the garbage. It also resulted in him having to start over again and some mild grumbling. The job was eventually completed, but this time under my watchful eye.

I hope that this was one of those teachable moments for my son. I know it was one for me. Because you see, even though my son cares for me, he cares absolutely nothing about painting. To him, those bottles of paint were just things to be sorted or discarded. He couldn’t understand, as my daughter would, being a fledgling artist herself, that those bottles of color represented the elements of a sunset or an ocean teaming with life, a poppy flower or a puppy dog. How could he know that? And why should he care? Painting is my passion, not his.

There’s no attachment to something you take no ownership in.

Which is why I’m not particularly surprised to hear of the recent scandals surrounding the General Services Administration or GSA. To be honest, I’ve never paid much attention to who they are or what they do, or rather what they’re supposed to do. According to Wikipedia:

The General Services Administration (GSA) is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies. The GSA supplies products and communications for U.S. government offices, provides transportation and office space to federal employees, and develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies, and other management tasks.

It’s bad enough that an agency created in-part to develop cost minimizing policies for the government is so brazenly wasting taxpayer money, but to mock us all in the process? It makes my blood boil.

But why should they care? It’s not their money, right? They didn’t earn it. They’re not personally invested in its management. They were simply put in charge of spending it.

What could possibly go wrong with that scenario?

Multi-tasking and the death of manners

I sit in a darkened theater watching previews for the coming attractions. Once those are over, a familiar reel appears on the big screen, this time its star is The Lorax rather than Kung Fu Panda. But the message is the same: Please silence your cell phones and don’t send text messages during the movie.

I let out an involuntary sigh as several audience members reach for their phones to silence them. I sigh because of the necessity of the Public Service Announcement, I sigh because people should know better than to walk into a theater without first silencing their phones and I sigh because I know, based upon past experience, there will be at least one member of the audience who will disregard this request. I’d like to say I was pleasantly surprised that no one within my line of vision texted during the movie, but I can’t.

Two days later…

I wait in a long line at Starbucks. I check email while I wait but quickly put my phone away when I approach the head of the line. I give the barista my order–Venti, regular coffee–pay for it and move aside for the next customer to place their order. Since plain coffee is a simple order, the barista hands me my cup almost immediately. The morning rush is still in high gear. I find a place at the bar and wait for the traffic to die down at the sugar/cream station. My position gives me a view of the line of customers as they approach the register. The vantage point is behind the baristas and slightly to the right. I settle in and resume checking my email until…

A woman walks in and makes her way to the end of the line. She is one of several customers, and I wouldn’t have noticed her had she not been carrying on a rather loud phone conversation about potential candidates for a job opening at her company. Seemingly unaware of the 40 or so other human beings in this rather small Starbucks, she was completely engrossed in her own world. As she moved up in line, she removed her debit card from her purse with not so much as a pause in the conversation.

Now she’s at the front of the line, and she did what I fully expected her to do but hoped she wouldn’t. She said into the phone, “Just one second, Sue”, then proceeded to dictate a Chai Tea order so complicated I couldn’t repeat it if I tried. The barista repeated the order back to her, but midway through, the woman was back to her conversation with Sue, nodding impatiently to the barista. A few minutes later, Chai Tea in hand, she was walking out the door without so much as a thank you. Still with that damn phone in her ear.

The gentlemen seated next to me with the laptop and I exchange glances of silent and mutual disapproval. Multi-tasking run amok.

Another involuntary sigh from me as I sip my coffee and recount a quote from Charles M. Schultz which I find myself repeating all too often lately:

“I love humanity. It’s people I hate.”

Or possibly my abbreviated version:

“People suck.”

Probably the latter.

But just as my faith in humanity resumes its downward trajectory before 9:00 in the morning, I spot a new customer.

Among the crowd of business people and stay at home moms, he’s hard to miss, even though he doesn’t give the impression he wants to draw attention to himself: tan slacks, starched white shirt, red tie, boots and cowboy hat. If that’s not enough to draw your attention, the silver star of the Texas Rangers on his chest and the holstered service revolver on his right hip surely does. From the back of the line, he greets the baristas by name, shaking off their suggestions that he needn’t wait in line. Once through the line with coffee in hand, he makes his way over the end of the bar where I’m sitting and stands there. Every now and then he’ll engage in conversation with one of the baristas, but he’s cognizant of the morning rush, and only talks to the staff between customers.

I hadn’t intended to stay at Starbucks for as long as I did, but I was curious why this Ranger was still there. He hadn’t taken a seat. He just stood there waiting. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me.

“Are you waiting on an order for the whole department?” I asked.

He smiles and shakes his head.

“No. I’ve known these folks for 10 years. My job keeps me busy and far away. I just wanted to come in and catch up with everyone.”

In the span of 45 minutes,

I’ve witnessed a woman so self-absorbed in her own world that she couldn’t put her phone down long enough to acknowledge another living, breathing human being talking to her or to say thank you to said human being for not screwing up her ridiculously complicated fancy tea order…

And I’ve seen a man worthy of attention shy away from it. A man who could get all the free coffee he wanted but instead insisted on paying for it.

As I walked by the ranger, I wished him a wonderful day and I thanked him.

I was out the door before he could ask why I was thanking him.

“Why, for restoring my faith in humanity, sir.”

Building a Life out of Words

Whenever someone asks me to review a book they’ve written, I approach the task with an equal mix of flattery and trepidation–flattered that my opinion of their work means something to them and wary that I won’t be able to write a glowing, positive AND honest review.

After receiving one book a year or so ago and realizing I couldn’t possibly in good conscious write a positive or even passing review, I made a personal decision that I would rather not write anything at all than write a bad review of something a person has devoted so much of their life to. (For the record, the author of this book is not anyone I’ve ever heard of or had any personal interaction with. It was sent to me by a well meaning publicist who probably assumed because I was a Christian I would give an automatic glowing review for a fellow Christian.)

When I received a request from Shawn Smucker to review his latest book, “Building a Life out of Words”, I was again flattered and wary. I’ve not read any of Shawn’s previous books, but based upon what I’ve read from him online, I know him to be a talented writer. But what gave me pause was the title of his book.

What I’m about to say will probably not win me any friends in the writing community, but here goes.

I’m not a big fan of writers writing about writing.

Unless they’re of the caliber of Stephen King, Steven Presswood or E. B. White, I consider (probably unfairly) whether they have the gravitas required to give advice about the craft of writing or a writer’s life. And yes, I know I’ve written several stories about writing, but I’m just a blogger. Furthermore, my writing posts are primarily from the viewpoint of the reader, not from that of someone who claims to be an expert in the field.

However, a few pages into Shawn’s book I realized that I had been wringing my hands for naught, because Building a Life out of Words succeeded in accomplishing one of the most important goals (for me, anyway) of compelling writing:

Show, don’t tell.

Shawn doesn’t tell you that you will fail and be rejected, he shows you his own failures and rejections with a raw honesty and humility that I rarely ever see in the written word.

He doesn’t tell you the importance of a supportive wife and family, he shows you how his wife Maile believed in what most spouses might consider a silly pipe dream with stories of sacrifice, loyalty, love and understanding that, even now as I think of them make me want to give that woman a giant hug.

But I don’t want to give the impressions that this book is just about the difficulties of life as a full time writer. Shawn also shares his victories–big and small–and reminds us that perseverance is every bit as important as passion, regardless of whether you aspire to write, paint, perform, run your own business or (insert dream job here).

Using first person narrative, personal journal entries and stories contributed by other writers and bloggers, Building a Life out of Words is less of a blueprint of how to write full time and more a reflective and encouraging handbook for anyone who feels like the life they long for is beyond their grasp.

The book is peppered with encouraging quotes from Shawn, all worthy of clipping and pasting onto your refrigerator, but it was his closing words that I found most encouraging:

This is what I hope for you. Not that you would be known as “that person who gave up their job to do what they loved to do.” As good as that sounds, and as exciting as that would be, that step is just the beginning of a wider, deeper, richer story.

I hope that you will be known as a person who lives. Really lives. Someone who makes decisions, not based on what’s expected, but on what’s possible. Someone who does things, not because everyone else is doing them, but because it’s what you want to do more than anything else in the world.

Now that would be a life worth living.

– Shawn Smucker

Got a dream life waiting?

I dare you to move.

Shawn Smucker is the author of several books, and is currently living out of a forty-five foot trailer, traveling the countryside with his wife Maile and their four children. You can catch up with his comings and going at

You can order Building a Life out of Words here.

Pardon me while I rant incessantly: The Hunger Games

No, wait…

I’m not going to rant incessantly about the movie.

I LOVED the movie.

You know how book snobs like me always say “Oh, the book was SO much better than the movie”? I can honestly say that the movie captured the book better than any adaptation I’ve ever seen. Moreover, Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the Katniss Everdeen was so compelling I actually left the movie liking the heroine more than I did had I just read the book.

I’m not going to write a review about it, either. Although if you want to read a fabulous analogy of it, you should hop over to my friend and award winning author Amy Sorrells’ place. She wrote a great one: What’s so great about The Hunger Games?

No, no. I’m good with the movie.

What’s angering me are some of the reviews. Reviews which focus on Lawrence’s appearance. Apparently, she’s too heavy to play Katniss Everdeen.

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet, 2011 Ocscars

Oh, yeah. She’s a real fatty, isn’t she?

In a perfectly executed backhanded compliment, Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote about Lawrence:

“Lawrence is one of those performers the camera loves; her appearance alters in different scenes and shots — lingering baby fat shows here, she resembles a Cleopatra there — and she can convey a lot by doing little. An ideal screen actress.”

While The New York Times took the blunt albeit equally snarky approach:

“A few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss, but now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission.”

A Daily Mail article chronicled yet more ridiculous observations:

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir points out Miss Lawrence’s ‘well-fed’ body in the film, with the notion that her frame inherently renders the actress as too fat to play a realistic Katniss.

Referring to her body shape in a similar vein, Variety’s Justin Chung wrote that any evidence of the movie’s supposed hunger in the poverty-stricken District 12 ‘barely even seems to register.’

Further still, in what could be considered blatant sexism, Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffery Wells calls Miss Lawrence a “fairly tall, big-boned lady” who is too big for her romantic interest Josh Hutcherson.

In an interview with Seventeen Magazine published in April, Lawrence talked about weight issues and Hollywood:

“I’m just so sick of these young girls with diets,” Lawrence told Seventeen. “I remember when I was 13 and it was cool to pretend to have an eating disorder because there were rumors that Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie were anorexic. I thought it was crazy. I went home and told my mom, ‘Nobody’s eating bread – I just had to finish everyone’s burgers.'”

What I find glaringly ironic (to me, anyway) is that by criticizing the actress for not starving herself into the typical and acceptable body type for a Hollywood actress, critics of Miss Lawrence serve as a real world re-creation of the elite, chosen ones who populate the Capitol in The Hunger Games story…

making themselves look equally ridiculous in the process. Who are they to decide what is acceptable?

I hope the groundswell of backlash against these petty reviewers from the legion of Hunger Games fans continue and that its heroin, Katniss Everdeen aka Jennifer Lawrence becomes the new poster child for young girls currently starving themselves in a vain attempt to attain the unattainable, unhealthy bodies of so many Hollywood actresses.

You go, fat girl!

The cross turned upside down

image courtesy of

I don’t know what your writing process is, if you have a process, but there are many times when what I end up with bears little resemblance to my original idea for a story. With Easter Sunday approaching, I’ve been thinking about the cross.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of the type of cross you would typically see in a Catholic church as opposed to what you might find at a Protestant church. I’ll probably still write about that some day, because I think both are important and telling symbols. But in the back of my mind, I kept going back to a sermon series Jeff preached called Not A Fan. Specifically, one sermon called “The Comfortable Cross”.

The Not a Fan series (based on a book by the same name) was first presented at Southeast Christian Church by Pastor Kyle Idleman. There is also a small group study that goes along with the sermon series. If your church is looking for a small group study, just click on the link for more information. I highly recommend it.

The following is a portion of the sermon notes. Some of the thoughts are from Jeff, others from Kyle. But to be on the safe side, Jeff said to go ahead and credit Kyle Idleman for the following content in its entirity:

In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about how the world sees the cross:

1 Corinthians1:18
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For those living in the first century the cross was the ultimate symbol of weakness. For many, then and now, the message of the Gospel – that God came to earth in the form of man and was crucified – is complete foolishness.

So, why would God use a symbol of torture, of death, of weakness to save the world? I suppose the idea of the cross seems more appealing to us because it’s no longer used to execute people and we’ve dressed it up. We are used to seeing the cross as an ornament, decoration or a piece of jewelry. But if a First Century Jew came in and saw an illuminated cross hanging from our walls – they would think we were sick. Imagine people walking around with a guillotine hanging around their neck or an electric chair dangling from their ears.

For the Jews, the cross was a symbol of weakness. Actually, that sentiment wasn’t limited to the Jews. I want to show you a picture of some graffiti that was found in a Roman building dating back to the 3rd century.

This crude depiction of Jesus on the cross with a donkey’s head was found in a building near the Roman palace. The caption scrawled at the bottom says in Greek—“Alexamenos worships his god.” This was done to mock Jesus and one of his followers—perhaps a Roman soldier or pageboy who was a believer. Apparently, making fun of Christianity is nothing new. The cross is foolishness and weakness to the world.

And I think that’s actually God’s point. That’s what makes the cross so beautiful. God takes what, from a human perspective, is foolish. He finds the least likely symbol for love and life and says, “I’ll use that.” God takes what the world says is foolish, demeaning, and shameful, and says, “Watch this” and turns it into the power of salvation.

And that’s exactly what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 1:18. But now take a look at what he goes on to say just a few verses later in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25…

1 Corinthians 1:22-25
22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Who else but God could take a cross that represented defeat –
and turn it into a symbol of victory?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented guilt –
and turn it into the symbol for grace?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented condemnation – and turn it into a symbol of freedom?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented pain and suffering – and turn it into symbol of healing and hope?

Who else but God could take a cross that represented death –
and turn it into a symbol of life?

No one else could. But He did. What may seem to some like the ultimate moment of God’s weakness was in reality the ultimate moment of God’s strength. And here’s why that matters. Here’s what I don’t want you to miss. This is our one point for this lesson, and it’s so important, it’s the only thing you need to get from this morning:

What God Did For the Cross, He Can Do for You.

So, when you are the weakest, you are exactly where you need to be for God to be the strongest. The upside down truth of the cross is that when you are weak – you are strong. Look at

1 Corinthians 1:27
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

It’s not that God used the cross in spite of its weakness – he chose the cross because of its weakness. God does that with people too! He seems to use the most unqualified individuals to accomplish his work. Think about the people whose stories are recorded in Scripture: Abraham was old, Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive, Joseph was humiliated, Moses stuttered, Gideon was poor, Samson was proud, Rahab was immoral, David had an affair, Elijah was suicidal, Jeremiah was depressed, Jonah was disobedient, John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least, Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered, Martha worried a lot, the Samaritan woman had several failed marriages, Zacchaeus was unpopular, Thomas had doubts, Paul had poor health, and Timothy was timid.

The Bible is a long list of imperfect misfits who discovered that weakness is strength. God uses the most unlikely of people to get his job done. Just like he used the cross—a symbol of weakness and death—to show us true strength and life, He can use us. So, God do for us what you did for the cross.

Though it seems backward to us, God teaches us that when we think we’re strong we’re really weak – but when we acknowledge our weakness and humble ourselves before the Lord we put ourselves in a position to receive His strength. Paul talks about how this truth applied to his life in…

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Now I don’t know anyone who naturally delights in their weakness. In fact most of us go to great lengths to disguise our weaknesses. Like when you’re on a job interview and they ask the dreaded question, “What’s your greatest weakness?” How do you answer that?

I’m guessing that you’re thinking, “Well, you don’t tell them your weakness! Because if you do, they aren’t going to hire you.” You don’t say: “I’m never on time – I constantly procrastinate – I have trouble getting along with coworkers – I am not sure how to turn on computer.” You don’t say that.

But you have to say something. So, what do you say? You try to come up with a weakness that sounds more like a strength, right? “I can be a little bit of a perfectionist.” Or, “I tend to be a bit of a workaholic.” Why do we do that? Because, in our world—in our economy—weakness isn’t strength. Strength is strength.

There are like 2000 self-help books published every year that communicate the message, “You can do it.” “You have what it takes.” “Look deep and find the strength within yourself.”

But God’s Word says strength comes when we realize our weakness.

Do you remember the story of Alexaminos from earlier? I’m sure to some he looked weak and foolish. But if you go into the next chamber in that same building, you will find another inscription—written in a different hand, and different language—Latin—not Greek. It simply says,

“Alexaminos Fidelis.” Aleximinos is faithful.

His belief was the subject of a joke that has endured on a wall for some 1800 years. But that many years later—here we are halfway around the world, talking about the faithfulness of this follower. What was put on display as weakness has been remembered as God’s strength.

Do you wonder what the life of Aleximenos looked like? Although we aren’t given that information, we can read about the life of Paul, and he spoke about what it means to live this way in…

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

And that brings us to today, and a question that will test our desire to be followers: Will you, like Alexaminos and Paul did before us, imitate Christ and trust God enough to let your weakness be His strength?

Practically speaking, if your answer to that question is “Yes!” then I challenge you to memorize Galatians 2:20 this week.

Fans are full of talk, but still rely on their own strength at the end of the day. Fans hedge their bets. They want a comfortable cross that allows them to maintain a level of control and glory and strength and accomplishment and pay scale and trophies and approval that meet a standard that has been set by them.

But it’s only when we surrender the standard that our weakness can be displayed as God’s strength.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I hope you all have a blessed and wonderful Easter weekend. Many thanks to my pastor and friend Jeff Hogan at Convergence Christian Church for allowing me to reprint a portion of his sermon.

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