Counter-Culture Community

The longer I do it, the more I see ministry as art. The choices we make, the people we love, the work we do, and the fruit we bear all coalesce into something that can be appraised and appreciated. If we have done it well, it can be beautiful. This inclination has drawn me to the biographies of the world’s great artists. So many of them have tragic stories full of anguish and struggle. Taken individually you feel sympathy, but when considered together you begin to see a pattern. The artists who are remembered are usually iconoclasts, challenging the establishment with what has to be called an obsession for their work.

Painters like Vincent Van Gogh didn’t just obsess over their art, but their vision for life itself. Van Gogh in particular—who was a Christian—was driven by a vision for a community of artists that would be reminiscent of the friendship and focus of the twelve disciples. His vision for the “Yellow House” was not just about artists in collaboration, it was about their lives being an extension of their art, all giving testimony to the glory and beauty of God in the world. Sadly, he is remembered for his mental instability, as his vision for Christian community never materialized and he spent his last days institutionalized and eventually took his own life. The difference between Van Gogh and the Parisian Impressionists was the idea of community which materialized for the latter and not the former. What Van Gogh never seemed able to create, iconoclastic artists like Manet, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Pisarro were able to find with each other. Other impressionists (and the surrealists that would follow) all stood outside the establishment, and with staggering dedication spent all their time, money, and potential on their vision—but they persevered because they had each other. The real tragedy of Van Gogh is that he didn’t live long enough to see his vision for life and art find a home in the hearts of others. He sold only one painting before his death (and now his works are almost priceless).

True prophets—people like Noah, John the Baptist, Francis of Assisi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin King—come along once in a generation. They stand seemingly alone against a raging current of cultural expectation. Most of us don’t have that kind of fortitude. We need another strategy if we hope to be counter-cultural. For us, that current is middle-class Christianity, ever insisting on safety, comfort, and security; it takes almost Herculean effort to resist it for long. The most radical believers I know either acquiesce over time or become a little crazy. So how then can we maintain a fully surrendered, radical, biblical Christianity in the midst of a cultural current of mediocrity and moderation? Unless you are a one-in-a-generation prophet you will need to take a page from these artists. If we can create a community where total surrender is normal, then we don’t have to feel crazy.

Perhaps the only way to be truly different from the world is to find a group of people that are the same as you. It is simply not sustainable to be different from everyone. This is why creating counter-cultural communities is such an important part of living sacrificially and for the kingdom. It is hard to relocate into the poorest part of your city when everyone you know is telling you that you are a fool for doing it. It is hard to give away your money when all your peers are hoarding it.

There is certainly beauty in the ordinary, but the kind of beauty that turns the heads of a lost and longing world must carry with it an extraordinary quality. For us to produce the kind of ministry that is ardent and artful—to do something great—we will need to find the right people and do it together.

Underestimating Friendship

In all our planning and strategy, sometimes we forget that the most potent tool we have for ministry is friendship. Making strong, healthy, and meaningful friendships with both a handful of people who aren't following Jesus and a handful that are could be the best kept secret for transformation and church growth. Overcomplicating things could just be an avoidance tactic, keeping us in surface relationships. The lack of real friendship allows us to hide our own pain, failure,  and confusion while also making us immune to those parts of other people's lives as well.

I think what I appreciated most about Hugh's heart and message this last week (posted here) is the profoundly simple reminder to just be with people. That making time for those whose hearts are hungry for God is the most sacred use of our lives. The image he gave of sitting every Sunday night, planning his meals and free time to build relationships that would express the kingdom, has remained with me. That kind of intentionality is at the heart of every life that is truly effective. I want to remember that both the currency and the treasure of the kingdom is people. They are the process and the outcome. People — and the relationships we build with them — are everything, and for that, we don't need much money (or even much time) as long as what we have is spent on people. And when some of our friends who are far from God finally find him, it can be the most natural thing to deepen that friendship even more in the pursuit of God together. Discipleship, like good evangelism, is based on friendship. Jesus commanded us to make disciples and friendship is the first step.

In three weeks we will all celebrate Easter together. We have again reserved the Tampa Theater so we will have plenty of seats for new and old friends. I can't think of a better time to rekindle friendships in Jesus name and to start being intentional now about a few people in your life who need to hear the good news. It could even be people who have drifted from God and need to be reminded, or people who have never really known the lengths that God has gone to in order to have a friendship with them. I want Easter this year to be a real celebration for us. I want us to stand and marvel at the cross and the empty tomb so that we might all together (even those who are far off) know the truth in the words of the hymn, "Oh the deep deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured boundless, free. Rolling as a mighty ocean, in its fullness over me."


A few weeks ago I read one of Eve's (my 15 year old) poems from the stage. A few of you asked me about it. So, although I don't quite have all of it, here is the excerpt I read, posted here.

A powerful fleshing out of creativity, compassion and desire sparked by mission.


Crucible is back on this weekend.

The building is still in process (bathrooms, offices and classrooms are unfinished, there is no AC yet, etc.) but the city has granted us permission to meet on Sundays while we finish it up — and we're excited.

We start our first Sunday in our new building with what will be the first of four series from the book of Genesis. This first series, THE MAKER, begins with the nature of God and the origin of all things.

Come a few minutes early this week to make sure you figure out where you are going, find parking, and other things we haven’t thought of yet. It is going to take some time for us to figure out how to use the space and to run Crucible inside of it, so please be patient and gracious with us. I fully expect at least one or two things to not work or to give us some problems, but if we are all light-hearted and flexible it will be fun.

Our address is 1925 2nd Ave in Ybor. We are close to the corner of 2nd Ave and 22nd Street, Adjacent to IKEA.

See you Sunday.

Final Budget Total

Beloved Community,

I knew I was asking a lot when we set the budget this year. In the end, our job is to faithfully steward the money our community pulls together; whether that is $500 or $500,000. I know that for many of you this is the first time you have ever made some kind of giving commitment, and for others it was a stretch to commit the amount that you did, but I think for all of us it is a joy and a liberation to give to something we know will honor God and bless the world.

It is my joy to annouce that, as of this morning, our small community has pledged to give $615,000 in the coming year. This is the most money we have ever committed and it is a massive confirmation of our love for each other and for the God who gives us all we have.

Again, thank you to all who have promised. Now we can get back to the work each of us has been called to do. As you stay faithful to these gifts we will continue to thrive.

Personally, I have found that setting up an electronic funds transfer that comes out of my account each month is the easiest and most certain way to keep the commitment that I make in giving. So if you are interested in setting that up with us, here is the information you need to do that.

I love you all and I am ready to get back to serving alongside you for the glory of the name of Jesus.

New HUB News


It does not look like we are going to be able to meet for Crucible in our new building this weekend, so spread the word about that.

In every phase of our growth as a movement we have been nomads. This is nothing new for us, and it reminds us that we are not defined by the place we meet but by something that cannot be touched or measured. We are a part of an invisible reality that has more to do with the place we occupy in the heart and mind of God. We are something because he says we are, because of the way he sees us.

Still, some encouraging news about the new HUB: We had a meeting with the city today and it looks very promising that they will allow us to use the space next weekend (even though it is still not completely finished), we just have to scramble to get some things in place for you guys. If all goes according to plan, we will be able to have our first service next Sunday, February 9th — but stay tuned. 

Finally, if you haven’t already, today is the last day to pledge. Take a minute and do that so that we can count your giving commitment with everyone else.

Thank you for your prayer and patience. 


"He Is Close"

Our Core Sundays were again a beautiful and formative time. Thank you to everyone who participated. I was particularly moved this year by Kenny's painting and Brad's poetry. I asked Brad if I could post his poem, so here it is...

Connecting with Core Sundays Online

If there is anyway for you to physically be there the next two Sundays please do. But we know that there are some extenuating circumstances and lots of UNDERGROUND people scattered around the country so we will be live streaming the event.

Also, for locals, we are offering a round table discussion style event to unveil and explore our budget (and money priorities in general). These budget dinners are free but you have to RSVP online. You can do that here.

Finally, we want to offer an online pledge option this year. If you can't make it in person to the final Core Sunday celebration or you just are ready ahead of time to make your pledge we would love for you to do that here. We would like to get everyone to pledge online ahead of time but for those who don't (and even those of us who do) we will still use the paper pledge cards as a symbolic gesture of our personal commitment.

Budget Dinner(s) Q & A

Because we value transparency in our use of money (both in our giving and our spending) we always make our Network budget available to everyone. Each year, I have presented the budget and opened the floor for questions.  Typically there are very few, which I attribute to three possible factors. 1) We are already on board and all of our questions have already been answered. For most of us, this is not the first UNDERGROUND budget we have seen and supported and because the changes from year to year are not major, peoples questions or concerns have already been addressed in previous years. 2) There are too many people in the room. It could be that the size of the gathering makes some of us reluctant to ask a question. 3) We don’t really care about this kind of thing. Some of us just don’t worry too much about how the money is spent, we trust the leaders making the decisions and feel good about giving because we know that God is in it...

A Plea for you to Join us for Core Sundays

I wish I could personally invite every one of you to Core Sundays. They're that important to me. I still believe these two gatherings are the most important of the whole year. Core Sundays are so critical because, in a very real sense, everything else we do is built on them. This is certainly true financially  as the destiny of the years’ work is inextricably bound to the commitments we make together at this event — but I think in a less obvious way, the gathering of ourselves in one space, to be consecrated, to imagine, and to invest our hearts as a covenant community together is something almost otherworldly. It is a taste of the primal church that once was, as well as the kingdom that will be. We stand together before God and say here we are, we are yours, and we are for your work. Use us. Love us. Make your name glorious in and through us. And then we put (figuratively of course) all that we have on the table. Our gifts, our time, our money, our relationships, we commit again to participating in something that is greater than the scope and focus of our own lives. We will have to make that commitment over and over throughout the coming year, in a hundred ways by ourselves and in smaller gatherings, but this one  with all of us  has a kind of gravity. It anchors us together, holding us to the things we most hold dear.

In battle, when military forces engage an enemy, they are often scattered and disorganized by that engagement. Being in the fray almost always means a fragmenting and separating from the rest of the army. That is why, over time, in any battle there will be the need to regroup. This standard military maneuver means finding each other again, getting back in the same space, hearing the voice of the commander again, so that the soldiers can be redeployed.

Isn’t this what we need too? From time to time, regroup as a community, catch our breath, regather with the lost members of our company, remember our strength, hear the voice of our savior/leader, and be inspired to engage again?

I think it is.

Please, if you can, join us for at least the two Core Sundays on January 19th and 26th. Those are the most important for me. You are free also join us for one of the optional gatherings: the Awards Breakfast on January 12th, or one of the budget dinners (January 20th, 22nd, and 24th). I will send more about the budget dinners later.  

Planning to be there yourself is my first request. Helping us spread the word to everyone else (who may not read this) is my second. The general rule of thumb is: if a person considers themselves a part of the UNDERGROUND, or if they are a core member of an UNDERGROUND microchurch, then these events are for them.

Memory. First 7, Day 7.

The longer I do ministry, the more I have come to see the correlation between spiritual growth and memory. Worship is grounded in the remembering and rehearsing of the deeds of God. Gratitude, patience, and generosity are all connected to remembering when we ourselves were without. Humility, the chief of all virtues is only possible if we remember where we have come from, and ourselves at our worst. Mission is anchored in remembering the poor and the lost, and the burning heart that God has for them. Faith is built by remembering the times that God has come through for us; fear and doubt is rooted in forgetting the same events. Even friendship is build upon memory. We experience intimacy because we remember each other, and what we have walked through together. In that way, forgetting is the great enemy of our souls. Even forgetting our mistakes is, well, a mistake. How can we honor the work that God has done in and through us in this week of fasting? We have to refuse to forget. We have to plan to remember. I would encourage each of you to take the time to write out some of your experience, and some of what God has taught you or called you to. Maybe you can share that tonight when you break your fast together with friends or family. Maybe it is something you can do after the fast has ended.

Joy. First 7, Day 6.



Once while musing on the extent of his sufferings, Paul came to this conclusion: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It was for the joy that was set before him, that Jesus endured the cross. Chesterton said the great secret of Jesus, and of the Christian, is joy. Paul noted that though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Take a moment to really note your inward condition - are there changes in you? Do you sense a growing seed of joy inside you? I do. It is not like our sacrifices for Jesus are for nothing. On the contrary, Jesus makes a promise to us that he will replace our sorrow with joy. This sense I have had growing is what I am trying to lay hold of in the last two days of the fast.


As you may be noticing some weight loss, mental clarity, or maybe just a feeling of satisfaction at having come this far, a word of advice: be happy about it. That is not why we fast, but it is a metaphor of the reality that following Jesus will bless us. When we lose our lives for his name's sake, we find them. When we die, we live.” Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies,” Jesus said, “it will not bear fruit.” God does not watch us waste away, he fills our hunger with good things.


I think I am actually enjoying the hunger. It is a constant reminder of Jesus. But what I miss (which I think is good) is eating as fellowship. I have missed meetings over meals and dinner time at my house. You might already be planning your end of fast meal. That is good, if you think about who you want to share it with.  For as sure as we fast we know we will one day feast. Fasting is rare; feasting, community and joy are the norm for us.


For that reason I am suggesting that we all break the fast at 6pm on Tuesday (the seventh day) and if it is possible, to break the fast with others. Have a time of prayer and celebration with your household, your micro church, someone. Also, I might suggest if you have not been, to take some juice today and tomorrow, to prepare your body for food again. And when you do, enjoy it.

Clarity. First 7, Day 5.

Clear water usually denotes purity, movement, and health. Murky water is still water, it's just water plus other things; things that cloud and soil, darken and dim. Our lives have additives, lots of little things that confuse us about our motives and our desires. Clarity comes when we are reduced down to who we really are and to what really matters to us. Clarity comes through discipline. The gospel writers say that Jesus left his desert fast in the power of the spirit. Weakened by his battle with the Devil and his lack of food, Jesus leaves his fast in the power of God and the certainty of his mission. His next move was to unveil his calling at his home town’s synagogue. Jesus purified the waters of his soul in that desert. There was nothing left in him but the power of God and the clarity to know what had called him. Fasting is a discipline that always brings clarity. Think about it, for 30 years Jesus waited, but it was not until this extraordinary time of fasting that he finally knew, this is the time. Don’t be surprised if you start to think and see things more clearly than you are used to. Not just spiritual things, even our senses can become heightened when we fast. Our eyes, ears and minds are clearer. The waters are being purged and clarity is a byproduct.

Habit. First 7, Day 4.

In theory, fasting is about abstaining from food — but the truth is, doing without food is not as hard as we thought. The harder thing to shake is the habit of eating. There are just moments where our minds and bodies expect us to stop and eat. I have not really wanted to schedule as many meetings this week because I wonder, if we don’t eat, what will we do? We rely on the habit of eating to frame our lives. There have been other times when I have come home and just wondered, what do I do now? Not only are we breaking a habit, but eating is a ritual for us and stripping it away leaves us with a void. It reminds us that even the most essential things about our lives (eating, sleeping, relationships) are not greater than God. We cannot ultimately live without them, but they are not as important as we have made them. We are denying and disciplining our bodies for the apprehension of a deeper reality. While fighting the Devil, Jesus remembered, “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” We are keenly aware today that we live on bread. Are you also more aware now that you also are sustained and nourished by every word that comes from the mouth of God? Every time you think to eat, try reading the words of God and see if he meets and sustains you. You should be finding that the time you had spent eating is now free for praying, reading or just slowing down. Enjoy the gift of that time and find your way back to the food that only God can provide.


Strength in Weakness. First 7, Day 3.

Feeling physically weak can be one of the greatest spiritual blessings. There is, as Paul described, a war being waged between our flesh and our spirit. This week, the spirit is winning. In his darkest hour, Jesus could not count on his friends to stand watch and pray with him for even an hour because “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Most of our lives are spent capitulating to the demands of our bodies. This makes our bodies strong but our spirits weak. Most of the time we suffer from strong, considered, and carefully tended bodies. We dress them just so, wash them, and feed them as soon as they demand it — but what about the more eternal part of us? There is a correlation between the physical strength and the spiritual weakness that we feel.  When we talk, we say we are a body and we have a soul, but isn’t it closer to the truth that we are a soul and we have a body? You may be feeling better than earlier in the fast but still very weak. Try not to overexert yourself (obviously) and make adjustments for a less capable body, but at the same time recognize that spiritually you are gaining strength. You should be able to pray a little longer than you usually do. You should be feeling a little clearer than usual, and hearing from God might be easier as well. Take advantage of this time of physical weakness, and drink in the benefits of the growing spiritual strength. Try to spend some extended time in prayer. If you feel unsure of what to do with the time you usually spend eating: Pray.

Ask God for deliverance from sins that you have always struggled with. You may find new strength to break free. I recommend also praying the Lord’s Prayer. Not necessarily word for word, but praying out of the spirit of each line all throughout the day.

Hang in there; His strength is made perfect in your weakness.

Repentance. First 7, Day 2.


For Mark, the gospel begins with John. It begins with a voice crying in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord." It is a voice that calls for turning, for repentance. The way to Jesus has always been a way that begins and is sustained in repentance.  As you finish your second day of the fast you may be feeling your own stubbornness, and your own weakness. On the one hand, your body may be fighting you a little; aching and complaining. Your body is literally going through detox as it cleans out all the toxins you have stored up. Similarly, you may be finding it harder to be kind, or patient or generous. Denying ourselves and trying to pray in this way can really expose us for the self-serving people we really are. There are spiritual toxins in us too. This point in the fast is the perfect occasion for confession and repentance. Confess the weakness you are feeling in your body, and ask God to show you more of the weakness you really have in your soul. Rest assured, a broken and contrite heart is what God desires — and a steady diet of repentance prepares the way for Jesus to come. Don’t be afraid to really cry out to God. He hears you and is working through each moment you are fasting, tearing down our delusions, shining his light on us, and reminding us that without him we are nothing.


No. First 7, Day 1.


What an important word for those of us who are used to getting our way. Jesus understood the power of that word. He was a master of self-denial and actually said that anyone who would follow him must also learn to master saying no to themselves. Jesus once fasted for 40 days and nights, and at every turn he marshaled the strength of God in the word no. He said no to food, even though he was hungry and resisted the tempter with the words, “man does not live on bread alone, but from every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” After that temptation he had to say no to others things too. Maybe we struggle with sin because we are not practiced at saying no. Maybe we do not grow or move forward spiritually sometimes for the same reason. What we say no to is as important to who we are and who we will become as what we say yes to, maybe more. As you move from the end of the first day into the second, I am reminded of the kind of strength the spirit gives. It is the strength to say no to our whining bodies and in so doing to say yes to God and what he has for us. We have to be able to master these first couple of days of the fast, simply pushing back the appetite so that we can move on to greater things. Don’t be discouraged if at first you have trouble praying. You are doing an important work in these first couple of days, just saying no. Greater challenges lay ahead and if we cannot bring our flesh into submission to Jesus we will never get there. Take heart everyone, and stick with it.

So close... Year end giving numbers

Thank you. 

As another year comes to a close I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you to all of you who gave sacrificially this year. I ask alot of you (which is fitting for kingdom people) but I never take you for granted. I know that every gift, both big and small, that was given from a place of conviction and sacrifice is more than just money for the cause, it is a gift received by God. (Click through to read more.)

A Resource on Fasting

In the gospels, Jesus’ disciples are criticized for not fasting while the Pharisees and John’s disciples gave themselves to fasting. Jesus responded that as long as He, the Bridegroom was with them, there was no need to fast. But there would come a day when He would be physically taken away from them and on that day they and we, his disciples would fast. We fast in order to draw closer to Jesus and remind ourselves of our exclusive need for Him...

How to choose your First Seven Fast

Will you consider joining the UNDERGROUND community in our first seven fast? For the first seven days of 2014 we are inviting all our people to practice the discipline and joy of fasting and prayer.

Everyone can participate in some way. Food is the most obvious, but that can be tricky for people who work physically strenuous jobs, or others of us who have health challenges that might make it unwise.

So how can you participate?
If you work physically taxing job you might consider not eating after dark. Or you might consider not eating at all but taking some calories through a nutrition shake like Ensure or some other liquid option.

Or you could fast from someting else entirely, like media, entertainment or your phone. The key is to feel it; to notice that something is missing and hopefully even creating a little time in your life because it is. The dual realities of being hungry but also unoccupied by eating creates an amazing opportunity to pray. Still, to only fast and not pray is the worst kind of spiritual mistake. You get all the drawbacks but none of the benefits. So, dont forget to turn this season of denying yourself something from earth into a season of asking for something from heaven.

But if you have never fasted before, dont try to go for 7 days. Try for the first 1 or 2 days. If you have done shorter 1-2 day fasts before why not set a goal of the first 3-4 days. This way you are growing and challenging youself.

But please remember, this is not a contest. you dont need to feel any guilt or inadequacy about taking on a shorter or different kind of fast. Fasting for seven days is not necessary to be loved by God or a part of the UNDERGROUND. It is just a challenge we are issuing to inspire us to pray and to remind us of our dependence on God for the coming year.

I have a genuine sense of anticipation about this year, that we are going to need to be sharp and deeply connected to Jesus to sieze its opportunities and face its challenges.