Christmas Nostalgia

I took a drive today through the town that I grew up in. Both my daughters, a 5 month old and 3 year old, were asleep in the backseat and I had some time to explore the places of great memory. It was raining today, a cold post-thanksgiving day. I drove by the house I lived in during High-School. No doubt many recollections flooded my mind. Mowing the lawn, sitting on the roof outside my bedroom in the middle of the night, getting the mail, eating dinners… Maybe most of all I remembered Christmas in that house. The electric candles that used to be in the windows, the smell of the natural Christmas tree that used to sit in that living room, and all the times with family eating pot roast, turkey and ham, drinking coffee at 10pm and watching the 1950’s version of Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Great memories of our lives lie in all these hidden corners and nooks of our history- the dwellings we once inhabited, and the places our minds wander often.

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Beyond Facebook Posts pt. II

But even though I have despicable human moments, I get snuggles from my oldest daughter daily. I have a marriage to a woman I’m madly in love with and attracted to- going on 12 years. We sing to our daughters every night. We talk about Jesus often. Not the fake religious Jesus that expects perfection, but the One that forgives us in our humanity when we believe and trust in Him, and the Pne who continually improves us from the soul to the exterior!

Beyond Facebook Posts

On Facebook i portray myself as Mr. family loving, super spiritual, rock n’ roller man. But inside my guts I’m one who struggles with being flaky and impetuous. I stink with details. I have a short temper and am bad with patience, but God is working on me. I still get mad enough and stressed out enough to hit a wall occasionally, or be short and rude to my wife or daughters. 

Lust

I struggle with lust more than I’d like to admit. I’ve been married faithfully and lovingly to my wife for 11 years, been off of porn for 13 years, never cheated physically on my wife and am wildly in love and attracted to her. But I do struggle with lust and am always one mistake away from disaster.

I’ve had numerous times where I’ve simply been deeply attracted to another woman, and struggled with it in my mind. Here’s how I’ve had to deal with it- I tell my wife I’m struggling with it. Then after that somehow God usually releases me from the intensity of the struggle. Thank God I have a wife who is not only beautiful and amazing but also a tremendous friend.

Matthew 5:27-30 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 

Confession…

I have a definite anger problem.  I occasionally lose my cool at my wife, and recently even got a little mad at my 3 day old baby daughter for waking me up at night.  I sometimes throw a mini tantrum to the point of slapping myself in the face.  I watched my 2 year old imitate me in doing that once and told her to stop, then recognized my hypocrisy and apologized.  

It’s important to say I haven’t committed acts of violence of any sort in the past 13 years of so- at least not since I was a junior in high school and picked a few fights with people here and there.

But this anger is a definite sin. No way to candy coat that.

James 1:19-21 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 

Doing “Church” Super-Bowl Halftime Show Style

A massive steel lion, dancing sharks and palm trees with faces, explosions, “fireworks”, and even a sparkling, flaming star resembling “The More You Know” TV ads.  No doubt, Katy Perry went all out as usual for the Super-Bowl half-time show.

It got me thinking.  The church in America is trying to reach our culture with what our culture is familiar with by competing with the entertainment industry and world of media to some extent.  At the core, there are good motives behind that.  As legit missionaries we should be trying to engage culture where it’s at, and not create some kind of time warp vacuum where people are stepping into the bizarro land of the 1950’s or 1980’s in order to meet with Jesus.  We need to live and breathe in 2015, because that’s the year we currently live in.  That’s the culture we’re engaging.  That’s the year that this article is being written, and in two years time, no doubt culture will rapidly change.

A common argument that leads to the kind of thinking we have in the 21st century is that the church should be the center of creativity and the arts, and shouldn’t be copying culture, but creating culture and being an influence. After all, the “church” as an institution was once this way, and produced amazing art like the music of Bach, and the art of Michelangelo.

But we need to learn lessons from our past as well.  Along with the church being a central institution of culture came a power hungry mentality that burned people at the stake, ostracized malcontents, and became greedy, corrupt and hypocritical.  At some points in history both the Catholic and Protestant churches have controlled cultures, and thereby the art produced within them had to be approved by the institutions to even become public. Hence, any underground art that disagreed with the church wouldn’t have been remembered in history.

So I would say that our efforts to compete with Hollywood in America for the sake of Christ are misdirected. For one, if I want to see a good concert, I’ll go to see U2 or the Black Keys.  If I want pyrotechnics, I’ll go and see Kiss…  are they even still touring?  But trying to recreate emotive, high-budget experiential realities within the church is honestly kind of silly.  We’ll never have the budget to pull it off like Katy Perry did at the half-time show. We’ll never really compete with entertainment at that level.  And churches of our era are blowing massive amounts of cash trying to compete with Hollywood, and never coming close, while people die of poverty, neighbors in our communities have real tangible needs, and the gospel of consumerism is creating a generation of experience addicted hypocrites that aren’t pursuing real discipleship, but instead hopping from church to church to find the most high quality production, when they should be looking for leaders to emulate that exude Christ-like character.

Now are fog machines and colored lights wrong?  Is having good musicians playing good worship music wrong? Is having a gifted speaker teach about God’s Word and a well-executed and produced worship service/experience wrong?  No, not at all.  We’re privileged to live in a culture where we can have people utilize their talents and passions to serve Jesus and the church as an organism and institution.

But when the church becomes a utilitarian organization that desires to market Jesus as a brand, utilize people’s giftedness while not caring for their souls, maturity or character, and peddles a cheap watered down gospel that is devoid of scriptural wholeness to a culture that knows nothing of who Jesus is and will easily accept a counterfeit version that is wrapped in a sparkling package, it is basically on the path to hell.  This isn’t the opinion of this writer.  It’s what Jesus was saying when He warned listeners; “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21-23)

To be a “worker of lawlessness” means to be a person who practices unrighteous things themselves, and leads others to do the same.  The danger that Jesus is talking of is the fact that one can appear in the public eye to have it all together for Him while secretly living a duplicitous life.  We, as pastors as ministry leaders, are in especially grave danger of this.  This is just a speculation and opinion, but I think many may come to the throne room from this generation of ministry leaders and say to Jesus on the day of judgment; “Lord, did we not have the most amazing Sunday services?  Didn’t we see people come to know you often because of them? Didn’t we have the tightest productions?  Didn’t we have 100% accurate theology and doctrine?  Didn’t we strike fear into the hearts of people to obey You?  Didn’t we make you relevant to a new generation?”  And Jesus will reply with the same words to some- “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

The point is this; Jesus desires our hearts and lives.  He wants to live in the hidden corridors of our souls so that we won’t need any mask of pretension to hide anything of shame.  He would rather that we be sincere, devoted followers of Him that have been captivated by His love and forgiveness to the point where we embody authentic, transparent lives of holiness and grace to a watching world, and pastoring a church of twenty people, than that we’re pastoring a church of thousands and live a life of inch-deep character where no one really knows our true darkness within, and the person behind closed doors.  In the age of social media platforms we are in extra special danger of becoming hypocrites.  Granted, there are amazing followers of Christ that will see tens of thousands of people meet Him through their ministries, and may pastor incredibly large institutions faithfully.  There are also missionaries who will labor in the Middle East, Europe, or maybe tough to reach areas in the U.S., and see very few people come to know Jesus.  But God cares for faithfulness.  We may be a fruitful tree that yields one healthy piece of fruit or tens or hundreds or thousands, but we never want to be a fake tree that yields plastic fruit of any kind, or even worse, a rotten tree that yields poisoned fruit.  (Matt. 7:16-20)

And when it comes to all the bells and whistles that we tend towards in the Western Church, we must be careful. We can’t allow our methods and presentation to supersede the pursuit of true biblical character.  May we pursue Christ with everything we are, and use everything that we’re given to glorify Him, help people to meet Him, and help those in the greatest need!

Let’s let Katy Perry do what she does best, and let Jesus take care of the rest.

Christ-Followers Are the Scum of the Earth!

Throughout history, the underground, the underbelly, the minority, and the remnant have always been the most potent force of change for the better.  I’m really into the study of counter-cultural movements.  It’s why I’m deeply interested in Jimi Hendrix, bands like Nirvana, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr., St. Francis of Assisi, John Lennon, and Sartre.  They changed the cultural norms and flitted in the face of the status quo to the point where everyone tried to copy them and birthed a status quo reversal!  It’s not that I resonate with the ethics of every person I mentioned (though some I deeply agree with!).  It’s more that I see how great change is always birthed in the underbelly.

With sincere Christ-Followers it’s always been this way.  I guarantee that the apostle Paul wouldn’t have gotten a book deal, or been invited to speak in impressive forums for pay & prestige.  It’s not that he wasn’t capable, but he wasn’t interested in notoriety for anyone except Christ, and was sacrificing all for that.  In fact, he was combatting people called “super-apostles” that were using their faith in Christ to promote themselves to celebrity status.  Paul was a misfit.  He did write most of the New Testament, so we wrongly elevate him to a celebrity status in First-World church culture- because we love celebrity.  But here’s what Paul said of himself in defense against people who were elevating celebrity over true discipleship…

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Cor. 4:8-13)

Paul was speaking harshly to God’s people in the ancient city of Corinth, who were obsessed with celebrity, status and influence.  Paul was showing the true way to influence- to lay down all for the sake of Christ who laid down all for us.  I think we as pastors need to learn to become like the scum of the earth- yes- even in American church culture!

How often are you willing to stand for what’s right even when no one agrees?

How often do you refuse materialism and greed even when it’s possible for you to partake all you want?

How often have you been willing to do the most lowly, undesirable job just to live as an example for those you’re serving with?

May we actually reflect the God of the Bible to a culture who is dying to see Christ-followers who actually seek to live like Christ.

Being Meek in an Anger, Result-Driven Church Culture

Angry Cartoon

There may have never been an era where the modern protestant, evangelical church (though it’s hard to know what to label it these days) in it’s most obvious American expression, looks more like a corrupt institution that is more obviously influenced by hip, entrepreneurial business “ethics” than what it needs to be according to scripture.  There are many great gatherings of Christ-followers all over the world- big, medium, little, underground, and mega-size, that are filled with richness, depth, and humble leadership.  But my concern in this post is with the trend I’m too often seeing in some organizations.  It’s sad to even see the downfall of great movements all because of a lack of humility, character and poise.

This is most obvious in the approach of leaders who desire to accomplish results through un-Christlike approaches of fear, control, guilt, force, threat, intimidation, bullying, and overwork.  This type of approach certainly gleans temporary results. But we’re now beginning to see just the front end of many churches that will rise up to great heights and flame out, because they are so result, innovation, and productivity driven, that they replace the sweetness and gentleness of Christ with these things and begin to slowly drift away from His heart.  There will be many churches that rise and fall in the next twenty years that appear to be the most impressive on the outside, but like an amazing mansion with an exterior of gold and rotting walls on the inside, these churches look the best on the surface but are inwardly rotting with many silent viruses- sickness of pride, stress, sin, burn-out and frenzy.  It’s sad to see it happening.  Never has there been a time more when “the meek” of whom Christ spoke of, are needed.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary talks about the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:5, which says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”, and states:

III. The meek are happy (Matt. 5:5); Blessed are the meek. The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to his word and to his rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs, and are gentle towards all men (Titus 3:2); who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of any thing else. They are the meek, who are rarely and hardly provoked, but quickly and easily pacified; and who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge one, having the rule of their own spirits.

If you’re a follower of Christ and find yourself as a pastor in a situation where there is provocation, anger, and impatience deeply embedded into the culture of the staff you work in- take courage and be gentle and loving.  As a pastor friend of mine once reminded me; “The Lord will lift up your head if you bow it”.  Be humble.  Be meek when no one else is.  It may be that the gentleness and love of Christ will act as a balm of healing towards the situation through you.  If you’re becoming overwhelmed by the culture and unsure of what to do next, I highly recommend reading Ed Stetzer’s article here.

Confidence Vs. Arrogance in Leadership According to Jesus

At the beginning of Jesus’ most famous address, He was recorded to say;

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10)

I thought it would be interesting to use write the negative version of this and see what it says to us.  For the sake of not being too severe, we’ll replace “blessed” with the antonym “unfavored” instead of “cursed.  With this in mind, these verses would say;

“Unfavored are the spiritually assured.  They don’t know the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Unfavored are are those who fail to mourn over their own flaws and sin, they won’t be comforted.

Unfavored are the arrogant, they won’t inherit the earth.

Unfavored are those who think they’ve quenched their thirst and fulfilled their hunger for righteousness, for they will never be satisfied.

Unfavored are the merciless.  They won’t receive mercy.

Unfavored are the impure in heart.  They won’t see God.

Unfavored are the unnecessary conflict causers, they won’t be called sons of God.

Unfavored are those who never take any heat for what is right.  They don’t know the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I didn’t want to write this to be negative and condemning.  But I think that spiritual and personal arrogance are a definite problem in the church these days- especially among leaders- of which I am included.  We need to be held to task by the words that Jesus says, and consider the implications of not abiding by them.

Our culture has eyes on us and many who don’t follow Jesus have an idea of His character, and probably too often wonder why we don’t wish to emulate Him.  Ours is an era where swagger, entrepreneurialism, innovation, and leadership are highly prized, and of course this is a passing phase like any other that will last no more than a few years at best.  All these things are good things to some extent, but if they become the end of our spiritual and personal pursuits, we will be left as hollow shells when the fad passes to another set of criteria.  We need a deeper connection to the Vine that is Christ (John 15)

If we decide now to truly follow Jesus and submit to His ways, rather than be “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, and by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14), we will ascend to a maturity that is beyond all the trends, fads and passing inconsistencies that our culture throws at us and the church so quickly adopts and obsesses over, at the loss of seeing the whole picture of all that God can do in our lives.  We will display not only strong leadership, confidence in Christ, innovation and creativity, but also humility, gentleness, graciousness, and desperation to truly know the real Risen Christ.  This is something our culture desperately needs to see us doing.

My Heroes Are Rejects

We live in a celebrity addicted culture in America.  Social media presents a plethora of heroes that saturate all of our minds, whether they be rock stars, movie celebrities, writers, artists, pastors, CEOs, youtube phenomenons, or world leaders, we all naturally cling to heroes.  We even live in a culture that immortalizes those that are no longer alive by being able to present their entire archives before our very eyes.  We all need heroes.  On a human level, I personally love John Lennon as a musical hero, Timothy Keller and Erwin McManus as pastoral, theological figurehead heroes, and also Tom Hanks as a movie celebrity hero (mostly because of his role as Forrest Gump the biggest fictional idiot genius of all time in my opinion).

But this obsession with heroes lends itself to danger when it comes to being a follower of Christ, especially for those who have a large platform of influence.  Of course I don’t personally have that kind of platform, so I can’t begin to understand the temptations and issues that come with that.  But I do know how our Master and Savior Jesus Christ answered the eternal enemy in these matters:

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’” (Matt. 4:8-10)

The temptation from a platform that is given to point people to Jesus is to dilute the gospel with saccharine and use one’s public image as a way to gain Facebook followers, Twitter likes, website hits, sermon views, and attendees.  It’s to live duplicitously and present a false public image that doesn’t fit with the person behind closed doors.  This is a version of the devil’s temptation- to offer us as Christ followers “all the kingdoms of the world”.  We would never go so far as to say that we would bow down and worship Satan to get more influence.  But essentially, we are getting in bed with him for a little kiss when are motives are distorted and not entirely centered on pointing people to Christ in every possible way.

This is why I’m trying to adopt rejects as heroes.  They are the street ministers, the missionaries, the martyrs, the unseen. They are those that may never have a spot in the limelight or a book deal, but what they do have is integrity before the King of Kings that seeps down into the very core of who they are.  They will forsake all, they will give all, they will lay all down at the altar in order to give Jesus honor.  They are advocates, they are leaders of leaders, they desire to raise others up above themselves to shine more than them.  They live in ghettoes, suburbs, third world villages, and rural farmlands.  They are willing to see the beauty of God’s creation in the eyes of prostitutes, sex slaves, drug addicts, forgotten ones, lost ones, greedy and despondent ones, those that think they have it all together, and those that are shattered to their very core… They won’t sell out the integrity of the gospel for popularity and celebrity for a moment, and join our Messiah and Redeemer in shouting at the enemy of souls; “Be gone Satan!  For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”