May 22, 2008

Sympathy to Steven Curtis Chapman

I just found out that SCC's family was involved in a tragic accident yesterday. Apparently his youngest daughter was killed when she was hit by a car her older brother was driving. As you can imagine, this has to be an extremely painful time for them. Please take time to say a prayer for them today. Pray that the God of all Comfort will surround them during this time of intense pain.

I became a huge fan of SCC when I was in college in the late 80's and early 90's. He has profoundly influenced my my walk with God.

I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt - A Book You Need to Read

I just finished reading this book by Vince Antonucci. I received it in the mail a few weeks ago from my involvement with the Catalyst Filter. I was intrigued by the title and the raw honesty in the first few pages, so I decided to give it a try. It was an honest and interesting read.

The subtitle of the book is "Replacing Souvenir Religion with Authentic Spiritual Passion." The purpose of the book is to challenge the reader to run from inauthentic Christianity that is full of cliches, fake smiles, and phony faith. Instead, the author challenges us to run towards a life of abiding in Jesus and letting his life flow through us.

The premise of the book was a girl named Emily that the author saw one day. The little girl was wearing a t-shirt that said "My parents went to Florida and all I got was this lousy t-shirt." It started him thinking that most Christians are wearing shirts that show a false and inauthentic form of Christianity. Antonucci brings a fresh perspective to Christianity. His father is a professional gambler and his mother was Jewish. He grew up in the northeast with no exposure to the message of Christ. He stumbled across Jesus through an encounter with an old preacher on television that intrigued him. He began to read the Bible and gave his life to Christ. No "Four Spiritual Laws" tract. No "turn or burn" presentation. Just the life transforming power of the Word.

Antonucci traces his spiritual pilgrimage as a new Christian in his young adulthood. His writing is laced with sarcasm at the weirdness and phony personas that most Christians try to uphold. He appears to have serious ADD because as he starts to illustrate a point, he diverts to a two page story or rant that has little to do with what he is talking about. At other times his stories of his family or the strange things that happened to him serve well to illustrate his points. He tells of trying to throw up out a car window at 65 miles per hour only to have it come back in and hit his wife in the face. He also tells of chasing his dog through the neighborhood only to chase him into the road to be hit by a car. All in all, his stories are amusing and informing.

Antonucci pastors Forefront Church in Virginia Beach. His passion is to be a church leader who leads people who don't like church. He is definitely different. The verdict is still out on how well of a leader he will be, but his voice is a welcome addition to the movement that is crying out for Christians to become more authentic. This would be a good summer read. Pick it up.

May 13, 2008

Obeying God's Voice

Do you ever have those times when you sense God is telling you to do something you don't want to to, something inconvenient, and you have that battle of whether or not God was telling you to do it? Henry Blackaby calls this struggle in Experiencing God a "crisis of belief." Let me tell you something that happened to me this morning...

I left home for work. I had to be at a staff meeting in about 20 minutes. As I turned on a road not too far from home, I saw this guy running down the side of the road with a gas can. It was about 1/2 a mile from where he was to the next gas station. I was right up next to him, pretty much past him, when I saw the gas can in his hand. Until then, I wondered why he was running because he was in jeans and a work shirt.

As I drove past him, I sensed, I should stop and help. Then I thought of all the reasons not to: I had to get to work, I would have to turn around, someone else would probably stop and help, etc. I was comfortable to see a person in need and keep on driving. Ironically, I was listening to worship music on my ipod and singing praise to God at the time. I thought "How ironic that I am singing 'Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation..." while I was letting someone in need pass right by me. I thought about Jeremiah 29:13 when God says, The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." I also thought how much I am like the Pharisee and the Levite instead of like the Samaritan.

As a matter of fact, most of the time I am very comfortable being a Pharisee. It fits my personality much easier. It's a whole lot easier to know the rules and expect people to live up to them than it is to love God with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself. Love is inconvenient, and costly, and time-consuming. I wear the Pharisee garment so much I have become very accustomed to it.

So what did I do...I heard the voice of God clearly say, "You will sit there and sing to me and see your neighbor in need and tell me that it's too late, someone else has already picked him up. What a loser." (God really didn't say that last part, I think I did. So I turned my truck around in the middle of heavy traffic, waited at the red light, and went back. I told God the whole way that he wouldn't be there, and wouldn't you know it, he was. I pulled up and said, "Hey, need some help?" I gave him a short ride to the BP, waited on him to fill his can, and then gave a short ride back to his truck. It took about 8 minutes of my day. 8 lousy minutes. How sad is it when I struggle giving 8 minutes to God to serve my neighbor? He was very thankful and I was very ashamed.

I don't tell this story so that people will say "Matt's such a great guy for helping that dude." Truth is, most of the time I pass people on the side of the road, homeless people looking for help, and just walk right by. After a few seconds, the Spirit quits speaking and I can keep my 8 minutes for myself. It's the easy thing to do. I tell this story because I found out the hard way today that obedience brings peace. When we stay sensitive to God's voice, then we conform closer to Christ's character. I only hope from now on, I follow through sooner.

May 7, 2008

5 Church Leaders You Need to Know About

One of the things I spend a lot of time doing is watching what other churches are doing and listening to other church leaders. I have loved going to events like the Catalyst Conference and listening to the Catalyst podcast because it gives me exposure to a lot of these leaders.

For the past decade, much of the church culture in America has been influenced by leaders like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. We have also felt the continuing impact by long-term leaders like John MacArthur, Jerry Falwell, John Piper, and many others.

Here are the Top 5 Church Leaders I am watching and listening to:

1. Andy Stanley - Pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta. Most of you have probably heard of Andy Stanley. In my opinion, he is the most influential voice of the new leadership of the church in America. Andy is a brilliant communicator and has a real way of bringing Scriptural principles to real life and still be true to the text. He is probably my favorite communicator to personally listen to. I am always challenged by his message as well as learn tons from how he communicates. Andy founded North Point about 12 years ago. Now, his church is listed as the number 7 church on Outreach Magazine top 100 churches. North Point has three multi-sites in the Atlanta and several strategic partnerships around the south. Andy is also the lead communicator every year for the Catalyst conference and speaks at many other leadership conferences each year. Andy is the primary voice on leadership for church leaders and is following John Maxwell as the lead voice in that area. I'm an avid reader of Andy's books. My favorites have been "The Best Question Ever" and "Communicating for a Change".

2. Francis Chan - Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. Francis Chan has had a fast rise over the last few years. He's been closely networked with Louie Giglio and the Passion movement and has appeared in several conferences lately, including Catalyst 2007. Francis is an intensely passionate leader and speaker. He has a strong desire to lead his listeners to be passionately in love with God. He brings a freshness to the church world that is overly consumed with growth strategies and expanding campuses. Francis and his church do not appear on the largest or fastest growing lists or on the Church Report's most influential leaders. However, this guy is providing a voice that will be heard loud and clear in the years to come. His website is and his website for his church is If you haven't heard this guy's podcast, you have to get it now. Trust me.

3. Craig Groeschel - Pastor of LifeChurch.TV. This guy is intense and creative. I heard him speak at Catalyst this last year and was very impressed. He has an intensity in preaching coupled with a strong prophetic tone. LifeChurch is listed as the 5th largest church in America according to 2007 Outreach Magazine's Top 100 list. LifeChurch.TV is known for its aggressive multi-site strategy with 13 video-venue campuses in 6 states. Groeschel is a prophetic leader and much of the creative force at lifechurch. He also led the church to provide a website that provides all of the resources of LifeChurch free to church leaders.

4. Mark Driscoll - Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mark Driscoll is a rising voice for the missional church movement. He founded Mars Hill several years ago with a vision to reach the unchurched in one of the hardest areas, the Pacific Northwest. Mark is a big believer in Expositional Preaching and sound theology. He was aligned early on with the Emerging Church movement because of his missional strategies. However, he has pulled away from many of them because of his concerns with the errant theology of men like Brian Maclaren and Doug Pagitt. Driscoll's book "Confessions of a Reformission Rev" is probably in my Top Ten books I have ever read. Driscoll is my kind of man. He is vocal and passionate about what he believes. He has a strong belief that the church should be missional to the community and also provide a sound theology. He has been known for controversial statements, but they are hard to argue with. If you don't know this guy yet, you need to get on board fast.

5. Mark Dever - Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Not many of you will have heard of Dever. He is the rising voice for evangelical Calvinists today. Dever has a strong passion for reformed theology and expository preaching. He has closely aligned himself with several well-known church leaders like John MacArthur and John Piper. Dever has a strong concern that much of the church in America has sacrificed sound preaching at the altar of pragmatism and growth. He, along with Piper, C J Mahaney, and Al Mohler, has started a bi-ennial gathering called "Together for the Gospel" that is attracting many young, evangelical church leaders that are embracing reformed theology. Dever has written several good books including "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church", "The Deliberate Church", and "The Gospel and Personal Evangelism".

This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe it is a balanced one. There were many other people I have found an affinity for. However, these are 5 that I think are making a strong impact and will have a larger impact in the future. What are your thoughts?