Monday, May 11, 2009


Stephen Ambrose, noted author of Band of Brothers, Undaunted Courage and D-Day, was a historian with a Ph.D. Prior to his death from lung cancer in 2002, he served as a professor of history at several universities. But he was soundly panned by colleagues for his "pop" (short for popular or populist) approach to dispensing history. His books put history into the hands of the common people. Many history professors didn't like that.

It is often true for various disciplines (science, psychology, etc.) that the "experts" come up with their own language and protocol to insulate their high level information from the outsiders. They view their industry, and the attendant knowledge reservoir, as proprietary. They don't like it when someone comes along and puts the cookies on the lowest shelf. They don't want to make it easy on the followers, but hard. Shoot, they paid a price for this information! Everyone should have to pay the price (right?).

Religion is not only not immune from this urge toward exclusivity, but perhaps the most susceptible to it. Jesus fought the proprietary nature of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes. He ended up being crucified, and his loudest detractors were not secularists, but religious-types, who saw him as an affront to their industry. I would suggest that the Great Reformation was Martin Luther (and others) putting the scripture into the hands of the common people. I would suggest that the current Reformation is putting the ministry into the hands of the common people, and you can expect that the "religious elites" are not going to like the populist approach of groups like CTK and others.

Populism is the stuff of movements, like the Quickbooks craze. Here's what Clayton Christensen said about Quicken: "Quicken dominates its market because it is easy and convenient. Its makers pride themselves on the fact that the vast majority of Quicken customers simply buy the program, boot it up on their computers, and begin using it without having to read the instruction manual. Its developers made it so convenient to use, and continue to make it simpler and more convenient, by watching how customers use the product, not by listening to what they or the “experts” say they need. By watching for small hints of where the product might be difficult or confusing to use, the developers direct their energies toward a progressively simpler, more convenient product that provided adequate, rather than superior, functionality….Intuitʼs disruptive Quickbooks changed the basis of product competition from functionality to convenience and captured 70 percent of its market within two years of its introduction."

If you make your sermons understandable, you make it easy for someone to start their own ministry, and you make it simple to get into a small group, you are going to have a popular ministry. Many churches just flat out make it too hard. But I'm not suggesting you take a populist approach because it works. I'm suggesting you take a populist approach because Jesus did. Jesus did not call us servants, but friends. He said, "Everything the Father has revealed to me, I've revealed to you." He didn't play peek-a-boo with his vast insights. He didn't even make people enroll. He just gave Himself away. Like our leader, our goal is not to make it difficult for people to get into the kingdom of God. We must be people of the easy yoke, the light burden. Our goal is to put the cookies on the lowest shelf where everyone can get at them.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


The first and great commandment is the first and great commandment because it is the first and great commandment! "No other gods before me." God has to be first. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he pointed to commandment #1, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength." In other word, God first.

When God is first, the other commandments come easier. When God is #1, you don't want to take his name in vain. When God is #1, you want to take a weekly sabbatical with him. When God is #1 it radically affects how you relate to others. You don't want to lie, cheat, steal, covet or commit adultery or murder. When you counsel people, it almost doesn't matter the issue, the cure is commandment #1. When someone says, "Pastor, I'm having a challenge with my teenage son" the reply could be, "Let me ask you first, in your parenting, is God #1?" If someone asks me about how they can get along with their boss, I might reply, "As an employee, is God #1?" Interpersonal challenges can be symptomatic of a much more fundamental issue: God is not first.

Recently a young man asked me for prayer because he was having difficulty finding a job. I asked him if God was #1. He admitted that God has not been first. I told him that God had to be the first priority in his life. But his follow-up question was, "If God is first in my life, will I get a job?" That's a fair question, and one that many will ask. I told him that God needed to be #1 because God needs to be #1, period. No matter what our circumstances in life, God has to come first. I also told him about the story of Job, and how Job was dedicated and yet was brought through some challenging times. But all things being equal, there is an interplay between putting God first and our needs: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." This is a principle of provision, that we can count on God for physical things, when he can count on us for spiritual things.

At CTK we have tried to narrow our focus to "Love God and Love people." But if you really want to narrow it down, just put God first.