Church

9Aug

I’m Praying I Get Fired for This

Nobody wants to get fired.

I’ve never had the experience and most of me hopes I never have to know what it’s like.

But there’s another part of me that earnestly prays to be fired one day over one word: capacity.

I sincerely hope and pray that God allows me to be a part of a movement of his grace so powerful that it fills our church with so many people with so many different experiences, problems, and triumphs that I am simply incapable of effectively carrying the leadership load of such a movement and a change in that position is necessary.

In short, I’m praying to see someone else work me out of my job.

I love my church so much and want to see God do something mighty within her, something far more abundantly than I even know how to ask. I want something to happen there that exceeds my current ability so quickly that a change has to be made to keep the Gospel movement spreading at a rapid pace.

Everyone has their own leadership limits. Knowing those limits isn’t weakness; it’s wisdom.

Of course I am also praying to continue to grow in ability so that I can see that movement happen from my current position, but I’m convinced far too many churches, organizations, and companies become stagnant because they hit the leadership capacity ceiling of whoever is in charge and instead of making a change to help propel them to the next level they stay put and settle into complacency.

I care too much about my church to allow that to happen.

I first started thinking about this concept of capacity almost a year ago now. I got to spend a weekend at the Village Church in Dallas, TX and in one of the breakout sessions, one of their three Lead Pastors, Josh Patterson, spoke about their hiring process. He mentioned he looks at four C’s when interviewing new applicants:

 

1. Competency – Can you actually do the job?

2. Compatability – Will you be a good fit within the greater organization?

3. Core values – Are you trustworthy? Do you have good work ethic? Can I trust that you’ll do what you say you’ll do?

belegit

The first 3 C’s made a lot of sense to me and I had heard them before. The fourth one initially caught me off guard.

4. Capacity – Do you have the skill set to adapt and grow with the job as it gets more demanding?

 

Patterson said when they do annual staff evaluations, they can evaluate their staff’s performance very quickly with just a few questions, all centered around capacity.

  • Do you actually have the capacity for your job that you seemed to display when you were first hired?
  • Do you possess the capacity to continue in your current job as it has grown more demanding than when you first started?

Patterson later said that they have let people go almost every year of the church’s existence because of how they answered the latter question.

His reasoning is simple: Why let one person’ capacity, no matter how good or nice or beneficial that person is, limit the future of the organization as a whole? How much more true is this in a church where what’s at stake may not be numbers or member satisfaction but the very Gospel itself?

Although it would be hard to take, I sincerely hope to be fired one day because of capacity concerns. I will never stop learning or trying to lead to the best of my ability. However if that pink slip day comes, I can take great joy in knowing that God allowed me to be a part of something so much bigger than me, and by moving me aside it was able to continue advancing for the greater good.

I know my current leadership limits. While I am constantly working hard to expand my capacity, one person should never be a good enough reason to hold a good movement from continuing to advance further and further.

Whatever you’re most passionate about, it’s not all about you.

  • Some people are skilled enough to preach for 50 people but not 500. Some are skilled enough for 500 but not 5,000.
  • Some people are skilled enough to manage 10 clients, but not 100. Some are skilled enough for for 100, but not 1,000. You get my drift.

It doesn’t mean you’re less of a person, especially not in the eyes of the One who created you in His image. So rejoice in your weakness.

mostimportant

Seek to expand your capacity, but never try and be someone you’re not. God doesn’t need another version of someone else, which is why he made you YOU.

30Jul

Is Church Your Higher Power?

“A support group is my higher power.”

So claimed Julie Schumacher in her 2008 New York Times article.

Schumacher found herself rather accidentally actively involved in a Jewish women’s support group. Being the only non-Jewish woman herself she felt very out of place at first until she got to know the other women and heard the story that unified them all; all of them had “a teenager who has fallen apart.” See: 5 Reasons The Church Needs Youth Ministry

Alcoholism, drug-abuse, self-starvation, depression, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, etc. You name it, these women have been through it. All but one of the teenagers represented were away from home in long-term treatment.

Faith was the glue that held the group together, except in Julie’s case. She raised her kids as “compassionate disbelievers” and she self-identifies to this day as an agnostic. Her daughter is what initially brought her to this group of women. Julie’s daughter, before her bouts with depression and suicide attempts, was in the process of converting to Judaism. She was in Hebrew classes, learning all she could about the faith.

Julie marveled as the group progressed through some of the darkest experiences imaginable, all with a firm trust in God to be with them through it all. She formed incredibly close bonds with these women over the years and still counts them among her dearest friends.

But she still doesn’t believe.

Julie concludes her article, “Although I still don’t believe in God, I have come to believe in support groups…Fortunately our meetings aren’t only about commiseration. They are also – Christian metaphor here – about rebirth.”

For Julie, support groups are her higher power, her God, her salvation. She’s tragically mistaken. Julie, for all of her pain endured and burdens carried, has placed her hope where it does not belong. See: How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

 

For many Christians who fill the seats on Sunday, I fear it’s not much different.

 

As churches adapt and change, newness can be exciting. I currently serve at one of those new, exciting-type churches, at least when compared to most others in our area. Generally speaking, people love our church. We don’t have a lot of the typical church problems. We don’t suffer from much division. We don’t struggle to get buy-in. We don’t have a lot of red-tape to go through to lead the way we feel is best.

There’s one significant draw back to a church like ours, and in some way it’s present in every church: some people love our church more than they love Jesus.

We are proud of the things we do right. We are far from perfect as a church but I have a quiet confidence that in many ways we are headed in the right direction as we continue to submit to God’s rule and reign over not just our church, but our entire lives.

Yet there’s this fear that church can become a higher power.

Lately it seems like one of the cool things to do in Christian circles is to try and separate Jesus from Church. Jesus is greater than religion, right? Certainly. But Jesus calls the Church his BRIDE, and I don’t know about you, but I would gladly die for my bride today, without hesitation, and I’m incredibly sinful. See: Can You Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Imagine how highly a perfect, sinless Savior must think of the Church to call her his BRIDE. So church matters, a lot. When people miss, I don’t feel the need to contact them and beg them to come. I want to contact them and mourn with them because they missed out on being a part of the bride of Christ when it gathers. See: I Went to Church Anyway

This weekend, all over the world churches will gather in the name of Jesus. I sincerely hope you find one and worship with everything you’ve got.

Be careful, or else you’ll find yourself only appreciating the things at church that Julie appreciated in her small group: the warmth of the people, the faith of mature believers, the atmosphere and the authenticity.

We work hard at my church to try and create an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. We don’t really have any rules. You can bring a crying baby in the worship center and spill your coffee all over the place, no worries.

BUT, don’t make church your higher power this weekend. If you love your church, talk about it! But make sure you talk about Jesus more. Love Jesus more.

I love my church because I love Jesus.

I love my church but I love Jesus more.

I want to be with people at my church but I want to be with Jesus more.

I want the approval of people at my church but I want the approval of Jesus more.

Jesus > church.

8Jul

How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

My favorite annual tradition might be my wife’s least favorite, probably because she does all the work.

Every year, she creates a coffee-table photo-book of all of our adventures from the last year. I don’t know about your life but ours at times is somewhat uninteresting. We love to travel but some years we don’t get to do that as much as we would like.

These photo books help us remember good days that would be easy to forget.

One book has a full page dedicated to a day spent in the park with our dogs. Nothing super eventful happened that day but it was a day we celebrated the simple things in life and I remember that day now even though it was rather uneventful and almost five years ago.

Another book has several pages dedicated to a night at my first church where we took our entire youth group of 12 students over to an 80-year old woman’s house and played croquet and grilled hot dogs. A lot has happened ministry-wise in my life since that night but I remember it because it’s in the book. Dozens of other nights just like it happened but I can’t remember them, and they were not that long ago.

Life is busy! Things get hectic and while we remember big vacations and fun road trips, we can easily forget the simple days and good but uneventful nights.

The same is true with faith.

We can remember the big events.

  • A life-changing week at camp, free from normal distractions.
  • A mission trip spent serving someone else.
  • A baptism, a public declaration that we belong to Jesus.

But what about all the other good, but uneventful days?

  • When we needed a friend to reach out and they did.
  • When we didn’t feel like going to church but went anyway and had a real connection with a real, loving God?
  • When what we read from Scripture that day was somehow exactly what we needed to hear.

If we’re not careful, those good but uneventful days are easily forgotten like days in the park or nights playing croquet with a dozen teenagers and an 80 year-old woman.

So then what happens when the good but uneventful days are forgotten and bad days come?

Dark days move in, like a 35 year-old kid who won’t move out of Mom’s basement. They’re here to stay. In those days we find ourselves asking, “Where is God?”

The feeling of doubt must be universal.

If you’re a Christian, you know that God’s grace is present and active but sometimes it feels like it’s at best expired, if it even exists at all.

Like a questionable carton of milk sitting on the refrigerator shelf long past its “best if enjoyed by” date, in times of doubt God’s grace seems like an outdated form of comfort that seems good enough for some people but never quite sufficient enough for others, for those of us with questions.

Real questions. The kind of questions that keep you up at night, wrestling with God in deep thought.

  • Why did ____________ happen?
  • Why does the world have to be this way instead of that way?
  • Why is there so much suffering?

My generation has often been turned away from church and faith because they feel the faith of their childhood and the status of the Church today simply does not allow room for their doubts and questions. We have made an idol out of theological certainty which suffocates any attempts to wrestle with God.

But we do have to arrive at some level of certainty. How?

4 Ways to Remember God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

1. Timehop – an app that reminds you what you posted on various social media networks that same day 1, 2, 3, etc. years ago.

I love social media. Roughly 10% of my articles are focused directly on social media. I love how it makes the world small. I love how it connects me with people from church throughout the week. I love how it connects me and my wife to our families that both live out of state.

My favorite thing about social media is the platform it allows people to create to share a message, and I love when people genuinely talk about Jesus on that platform. A few days ago, my Timehop brought up dozens of tweets and Facebook posts from students that I had reposted on my various social media accounts. The posts they shared were from a mountaintop experience, literally, that is still one of the most powerful moments of my spiritual life. I woke up not thinking about that time, about God’s grace on display. Yet Timehop reminded me.

It doesn’t have to be a mountaintop experience. Maybe it’s a quote from a sermon or a verse that you read at just the right time. If you posted it, Timehop reminds you of it.

2. Journaling

I have never been much of a journaler. At times I felt like less of a Christian because of it but there have been seasons of my life where journaling has played a huge role in my walk with Christ. The great think about journaling, especially journaling when you may not feel like it, is that you slowly build this library of personal testimony to the faithfulness of God.

Whenever doubt creeps in, you get to kick it to the curb because you can go back and re-read some of your old journals. You’ll remember trials you had forgotten because God overcame them. You’ll remember triumphs you had forgotten because there’s too much goodness in God’s grace to record.

3. Get together with people.

Was there a time in your life where you know you were close to God? Who was with you then? Who shared those times and places with you? Find them. Call them. Eat with them. Remember with them.

4. Watch/listen.

Do you have some type of media that recorded a time you were close with God? Maybe it’s a baptism video. Watch it. For me, I can remember the cheesy, “contemporary” Christian song that was playing when I finally decided to obey God’s calling on my life to pursue ministry as my vocation.

While you are unable to recreate that experience or time, you can remember what it was like to be close to God. You can use those tools to remind yourself what is really true.

“And when the lies speak louder than the truth, remind me that I belong to you. And when I can’t see past the dark of night, remind me you’re always by my side.” – Bret Stanfill, “Sons and Daughters of God”

29Jun

I Went to Church Anyway

We live in a broken world groaning for redemption (Romans 8:22).

Even though this is always true, it is evident some weeks more than others.

Over the last week or so our country has been engaged in nationwide debate, from inside the walls of the Supreme Court to the virtual walls of Facebook users.

The two arenas of discussion, race and sexuality, are obvious tinder for a digital firestorm because of their universal nature. It makes sense that everyone has an opinion even if some of their opinions do not make much sense.

While I was more pleased with the conversations I had in person last week surrounding these issues, I firmly believe in the purpose and value of engaging in these topics on the mediums we have available. Those mediums have changed and will continue to do so over time but right now, the Internet in general and social media in particular have connected the world in unprecedented ways.

Christians who leverage that opportunity and those mediums to discuss current issues through the lens of a Christian worldview can be missionaries like the apostle Paul, who reasoned with people in the marketplace for days upon entrance into a new city.

While there is definitely wisdom in knowing when to speak and when to be silent (See: Just Stop Talking), Christians should not fear engaging others with their various social media platforms as long as they are focused on getting it right more than being right. It’s true, Sometimes You Need a Facebook Timeout but sometimes you need to speak up.

“Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” – Proverbs 31:8

But what about when Christians cause problems by engaging others in conversations about current issues on social media?

The easy answer is something like, “The diversity of the Christians faith points to a diversity of opinions on various current issues.”

I guess…

But if we’re honest, doesn’t it feel more personal than that?

I wrote about my personal opinions regarding the Confederate Flag last week. The article took off, relatively speaking, as things that are written at the right time around hot button issues do.

I spent most of the next day responding to people’s questions and opinions (both supportive and critical). I didn’t necessarily care much what people felt about my opinions but I did care that people at least listen to the real opinions I gathered from black, Christian friends who are equally proud to be Southerners yet generally had very different experiences than the people I seemed to hear most loudly.

What was most frustrating was not people unwilling to listen to me but people unwilling to listen to them.

Some of these people were not just Christians but Christians in my city, and not just Christians in my city, but Christians at my church.

Most of the conversations went very well, and I was reminded how great the opportunity I have to pastor where I do really is. But some conversations did not go so well…my church might have shrunk last week, and I am okay with that because I honestly believe in what I wrote.

However, like it often does, Saturday night rolled around and my brain switched over to Sunday prep mode. I started running through the morning in my head. Logistics, set list, sermon, volunteers. etc.

One of my favorite parts of Sunday prep is praying for specific people to show up. It gives me chills to see people far from the Church and ever farther from God walk through the doors of our church on a regular basis.

Yet this last week I found myself struggling to want to pray, struggling to want to see some people I sincerely love but who also disagree(d) with me. Honestly, I think I’m right and I think they’re wrong but they feel the same way.

So Sunday morning comes, and I head to church. It would have been an easy weekend for me to miss. I was not scheduled to preach. I could have had a “stomach bug.”

But I went to church anyway. It had nothing to do with my job and everything to do with Jesus.

As I started to pray, even though I didn’t feel like it, a funny thing happened; I started to feel like it. I remembered that, for all the things that can divide us, Jesus is what unites us.

So I went to church. I shook hands and gave hugs and had a tremendous day. I was sincerely glad to see everyone, especially the people who disagreed with me most loudly because I know the list of essentials we must believe to be known and loved by the same God is small:

Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose again.

When I said those words from stage during our welcome time, I meant them with every fiber of my being. That’s what makes us sons and daughters of God. That’s what unites us.

We don’t need to agree on everything. As much as we all wish everyone thought just like us, we actually don’t need to agree on most things but we must agree on the Jesus things.

Everything else is secondary.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

25Jun

5 Marks of Godly Men

“Just be a man.”  //  “Man up.”  //  “Grow a pair.”

Our culture has lots of messages about what it means to be a man, both inside and outside the Church.

Marlboro Man

marlboromanFor forty years the Marlboro Man made men of all backgrounds want to take up farming and convinced them emphysema wasn’t nearly as important as being manly. (This man pictured, Eric Lawson, was the 5th Marlboro Man to die of smoking-related illness).

 

The Metrosexual Man

metrosexualMore recently advertising companies hammered home the message of the “metrosexual” man. This man was not too insecure to wax his eyebrows, dye his hair, and get a spray tan. He might not be able to bench 250 lbs. but he can discuss fashion and shopping with the best of them.

 

The Lumbersexual Man

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris is shown in a handout photo.The 21-year-old left-hander, who rose through three minor-league levels last year before making his major league debut in September, spends most of the off-season driving on the open road, camping in the mountains, and surfing on the ocean waves ??? all while living out of a 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia microbus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Katherine Williams

Photo Credit:  THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Katherine Williams

Lately the message has swung to the other end of the spectrum. The “lumbersexual” man is much different than his metrosexual predecessor. He has bigger muscles and a full beard. He wears flannel but it’s never wrinkled. His beard might look ragged but his hair never does. He’s the guy who cuts a steak not with the knife provided by the restaurant but with his own he whips out of his pocket like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

 

And that’s just the message(s) to men outside the church. Inside it can get just as muddled.

Just on my shelf alone are books like:

  • Manhood Restored
  • The Dude’s Guide to Manhood
  • Act Like Men
  • The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart
  • Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul
  • Recovering Biblical Manhood

All of these books are written by godly men and most are pastors. Some of the books are better than others but just judging from these books (and there are many more), manhood is something that needs to be restored, searched for, discovered and recovered. Clear as mud?

5 Marks of a Godly Man, John 3:22-30

To discover/recover/restore what it means to be a godly man, we can look to a very peculiar man from the Scriptures, John the Baptist.

1. Godly men are leaders who serve. (v.22-23)

John is at a crossroads. He has a group of followers because people tend to follow godly men. His crew sees Jesus and his crew baptizing people just like John. John is not sure of much but he knows who Jesus is. Yet none of that leads to him deciding to stop being a leader who serves. John keeps leading, keep baptizing, because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

Sometimes men think they have to choose between leading and serving. The Bible shows us that the only way to actually lead is by serving. The two are inseparable.

2. Godly men know all they have comes from God. (v. 27)

John was not caught up in the illusion of ownership. He knows what godly men know, that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. We might feel like we earn what we have because we worked hard for it and to some extent that’s true but at the end of the day, God holds your life and mine like a blank check. Whatever God asks of us is simply asking for what is already his.

Time, money, emotions – they all belong to God.

3. Godly men know what they’re not. (v.28)

John reminds his followers quite simply, “I am not the Christ.”

Godly men follow suit. They do not take credit for what’s not theirs. They do not pretend to be someone they’re not. Instead, they consistently seek to encourage and recognize others when they succeed instead of squash their success or take credit for it themselves.

4. Godly men have real joy. (v.29)

This might be the hardest one for most men I know. Many of us, myself included, had great men in our life who worked incredibly hard. The definition of manhood many of us received growing up was, “Work hard. Provide. Be faithful. Don’t show emotion.”

A lot of good will come from living a life like that. Yet John says his JOY has been made COMPLETE from pointing out Jesus to his friends. Joy leaves no room for eternal stoicism. Godly men aren’t afraid to be joyful because they cannot think of anything greater than pointing their wives, kids, friends, enemies, co-workers, etc. to Jesus.

5. Godly men decrease so Jesus will increase. (v. 30)

You ever heard a fisherman elaborate a story? All kinds of men are tempted in similar ways all day long. Godly men have no interest in puffing themselves up not only because they are keenly aware of their own flaws but because they are also keenly aware how Jesus has zero flaws.

Godly men don’t know everything, but they know they want to spend their lives making much of Jesus because they would make poor Saviors themselves.

What would you add to the list?

24Jun

Which Flag Will You Fly?

An astonishing amount of ink has been spilled about the Confederate flag in the last several days, and rightfully so.

This is not meant to be just another addition to that noise.

I’d like to talk specifically to Christians, those who claim to have been set free from the bondage of sin by the undeserved grace of Jesus “who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14).

Before we get to how all this specifically affects Christians, I’d like to address a few lines of thought regarding the Confederate flag I have seen tossed around by Christians in conversations, text messages, and social media.

All of the following statements were said/typed by white people.

1.) “It’s not hate; it’s heritage.”

heritage

If you sincerely want to claim the Confederacy as your heritage, by all means do so. However, have the intellectual honesty to do so with full commitment. Your heritage died when the Confederacy did, at the conclusion of the Civil War, which the Confederacy lost. Everything after the Civil War is a different history, one in which you simply cannot share if you insist on claiming a dead heritage as your own. (See: What This Cruel War Was Over)

If this is sincerely your claim, feel free to abstain from celebrating the Fourth of July, an American (not Confederate) holiday.

See: What a White Man Knows about Racism

kkk

2.) The Confederate flag’s original intent was never meant to be racist.

We can argue about the original intent of this flag, but that’s not my interest. I am deeply concerned with the flawed logic in this statement.

Regardless of its original meaning, it’s current and functional meaning is hate.

Take the well-known “God Hates Fags” agenda of Westboro Baptist Church, for example.

fred

Using this same “original meaning” thought process allows you to only be upset at their misuse of the word “faggot” which originally meant a bundle of sticks.

definition

Regardless of original or intended meaning, a “faggot” is not recognized as a bundle of sticks and the Confederate flag is not recognized by many people as anything but a symbol of racism and hate. (See: Why We Can’t Say Racism is a Thing of the Past)

The functional meaning of these words, no matter how grossly inappropriate, takes precedent over their antiquated, original/intended meanings.

 

3.) It’s my right to free speech.

It’s my right! You’re correct. While I applaud states, organizations, and schools that have removed the flag from an organizational level, I would never applaud the dissolution of one’s personal right to free speech, regardless of how evil and hateful I feel the expression of that personal right may be.

However, the whole “free speech allows me to spew hate speech” line of thought sure sounds like an avoidance of the problem. Passing the buck.

When we (Christians) insist on our personal rights regardless of what that means for others, we become Cain killing our brother in the garden of Eden then asking God, “What?!? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is YES. We are our brother’s keeper.

Christians, we have a higher allegiance than to our country.

Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and we serve a King who reminds us that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) and we are to live as aliens and foreigners in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

I’m asking you to consider forsaking your America-given right to use this flag and embrace your higher, God-given responsibility to love and care for your neighbor.

Do you love your neighbor? Do you KNOW your neighbor?

Christians, I’m asking you to consider the possibility that you only really get to fly ONE flag with your life.

I’m asking you to consider the possibility that if you choose to fly this flag on your truck or shirt or Facebook profile, you might be simultaneously refusing to fly the flag of Jesus.

But don’t take it from me. Over the last few days I’ve had conversations with over 40 of my black friends. I asked them all the same question, “How does it feel to see the Confederate flag? What is that like for you?” All of them live, or have lived, in the South and most of them are Christians. While their answers were all extremely similar, the most heart-breaking answers are listed below:

How Black (Southern, Christian) People Feel When You Fly/Post/Wear the Confederate Flag

Seeing the confederate flag honestly stirs up fear in me, that wherever I am or whoever has the flag up is a threat, that I am unsafe there or with that person. I understand that people say it’s the flag of the south, etc, but I don’t think people take into account what the flag really means and represents. Like they don’t want to accept or acknowledge the FULL truth of honoring such a flag. At face value, I consider whoever waves that flag to believe the values of the confederate flag 100%.”

“When we think about southern heritage, we must remember that the Confederacy was fighting to preserve a way of life, which was their right to have black slaves for farmers which was the primary economic engine of the south. So if the Confederacy had won the civil war, where would black people be today? There is a high likelihood blacks would still be slaves, not considered human, still considered a commodity to be bought and sold, and we would most likely accept this as the norm of society.”

“Anyone who asks does the racial divide still exist in America, needs to only look at their local church. How many blacks are in the area versus who attend your church? Churches are some of the most segregated places in this country.”

“From a southerner perspective it represents arrogance, a refusal to allow anyone to tell us to do anything we don’t want to do. From a racial perspective it cares nothing about what me or my family thinks or how we feel. In certain environments it creates feelings of fear for the safety of my wife and kids.”

“Flying the Confederate flag, or posting it on Facebook, conveys an attitude of longing for a time to return again where black lives weren’t valued. That one flag reminds me of all the times racists raped black women, dehumanized black men (only calling them ‘boy’ or ‘N-word’) and treated black children like pests to be exterminated. It represents with pleasure every evil the South could create against any and all black people.”

“It forces me to pay more attention to my surroundings. I have to stay cautious even if it’s as simple as stopping by a store to fill up the car. The flag itself has history attached to it, that’s what people are most afraid of…you never can tell who is friend or foe.”

“When I see it flying in the back of a truck, I simply do not believe the driver when he says he’s just celebrating ‘heritage.’ He’s taunting me. He’s taunting us. He’s even taunting the police.”

“I would never do anything to harm the American flag. I don’t understand anyone of any race that would do such a thing. But there is nothing good about that Confederate flag. How would white people feel if I drove around with a Black Panther flag in my truck? I would never do that because it is so ignorant. How can people not see the same ignorance in the Confederate flag?”

 

You are your brother’s keeper, and your brother has spoken. Will you listen?

 

Which flag will you fly?

1Jun

Reading Proverbs

“The one that speaks much, is much mistaken.”
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
“Do not ask. Do not say. Everything lies in silence.”

All three of these sayings speak to the same virtue: knowing when to speak and when to be silent. All three are proverbial statements yet only one actually comes from the book of Proverbs. Can you tell which one?

The first saying was penned by Benjamin Franklin.
The second saying is Proverbs 10:19.
The third saying is from a fortune cookie.

What is a Proverb?

So what is a proverb? What makes the second saying all that different from the first and third, which say essentially the same thing?

Proverbs are wisdom statements that teach us about life and the way in which we should live it. Proverbs are not universally true like other types of Biblical genres. For example, when God makes a promise, it is universally true. When God said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5) there are no exceptions.

Yet we can all think of exceptions to some Proverbs. Take Proverbs 15:22 for example, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” I know of a few people who have built businesses from the ground up, with little to no help. They make decisions alone, and always seem to make the right one. I also know of a few times when someone got too many opinions and it led them to make the wrong decision.

Even though there are some exceptions, the proverb is generally true. People generally make much better plans when they seek and heed wise advice than when they attempt to make those same decisions alone.

The question remains, what makes the proverb different from the Benjamin Franklin quote or a fortune cookie saying expressing the same sentiment?

Proverbs >

Proverbs are greater than Benjamin Franklin quotes and fortune cookies because they teach us more than simply what life is like. They teach us who God is, the source of all wisdom.

Every proverb should be interpreted through the lens of Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The same sentiment is expressed in 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

While they definitely speak to practical areas of life like appropriate expression of emotions, business ethics, family relationships, guidance/planning, openness to advice and even physical discipline, the reader should not miss the fact that all that practical advice is rooted in the main idea of Proverbs: true wisdom begins with knowing God. Proverbs scholar Tremper Longman III points out the deeply theological nature of the book, “Proverbs is not rightly understood if it is taken as a book of practical advice with an occasional nod of the head to Yahweh. The book is thoroughly and pervasively theological.”

Jesus in the Proverbs

You don’t have to be around our church for long to know that we’re all about Jesus. Everything we do, but especially how we read the Bible, is very Christo-centric. So how do the Proverbs point us to Jesus? Allow me to suggest two ways.

First, Proverbs is a book of sayings firmly in the Wisdom tradition of the Bible. (other books in the Wisdom tradition include Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and James). Since the linchpin to understanding the book of Proverbs lies in our understanding of the nature of God (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10) and our understanding of God hinges on our ability to know Jesus (John 5:23-24, John 17:3,22, Colossians 1:19, Hebrews 1:3) the Proverbs point us to Jesus because Jesus is the ultimate source of wisdom. He is wisdom.

The Proverbs also point us to Jesus because they actually fail in universally leading us to wisdom. Like we saw earlier, there are exceptions to the proverbs. They are not meant to be read as universally binding statements of wisdom. Jesus, however, is meant to be understood as the ultimate, universal, never-failing wisdom in a very futile, foolish world.

19Feb

On Prayer: Pews and Plastic Tables

Do you remember where you were September 11, 2001?

I remember everything about that morning. I remember one of my best friends making a joke about planes and buildings that almost made me throw up in the hallway. He didn’t fully understand what was going on until that evening.

I remember feeling fear for the first real time in my life. Uncertainty. Hopelessness. Confusion.

Over the next few days, as some level of clarity arose, those emotions of uncertainty and fear gave way to anger and honestly, hatred. The current ISIS situation feels somewhat similar. Our enemy is not necessarily a country, but an organized group which collectively knows no country or flag.

My most formative memories of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 were not images of brave men and women running into a building as everyone else ran out or of the wreckage of a plane crash in a Pennsylvania field. Those images are vital for us to remember but they were not the most formative for me.

The most formative memory for me took place in a wooden pew.

Our church gathered for prayer the next night. We were in anguish. The pain in the room was thick.I grew up in a church of mostly senior adults, many of whom served in World War II.

The same hands that helped stamp out Hitler’s evil now held mine as we prayed together.

Over 13 years later, I had a similar experience. Yesterday our church gathered together to pray.

Our hearts were wrung out with sorrow after spending the week wrestling through not just another ISIS video, but one depicting the simultaneous beheading of 21 brave Christian men, “people of the cross” as they are referred to in the video.

Just like we did over a decade ago, the people of God gathered to pray. To plead. To groan. To mourn.

Some things have changed.

I traded a pew for a white plastic table. I understand more about the world now but much of that understanding actually stems from realizing I don’t understand all that much, especially evil like this.

Yet many things have not changed.

God’s ear is still inclined toward his people in the place of prayer. I love that image. Much like a little kid filled with anticipation, on the edge of his seat, God is actively peering over the guardrails of heaven waiting and longing to hear from us, his people, especially in the times when we don’t quite know what to say.

 Eventually the impossibility of prayer becomes possible as you sit with the community of faith. We read over the 21 names together.

21 Read over the names a few times.

Maybe you’re like me and many of them are difficult to pronounce. That   does not make them less significant.

Think of the families of each martyr. Wives who are now widows. How many children were orphaned in a matter of seconds? 65? 80? 100?

#15 is who breaks my heart the most. “Worker from Awr village.”

Worker, we may not know your name, but the Lord does. Your Creator, who you now see face to face, KNOWS you.

Pray God would be made known loud and clear to the brokenhearted families of these 21 brave, godly men.

 

Question: What prayers have you been praying this last week?

 

Recommended Resources:

What ISIS Really Wants – If you’re unfamiliar with ISIS, this is an incredibly detailed article from the Atlantic. I would encourage you to block out the 20 minutes or so it takes to read it. Maybe take a few sittings to get through it all.

A Call to Pray for the Persecuted Church – Sarah Bessey

A Biblical Meditation on the ISIS Execution of 21 Christians – The Gospel Coalition

17Feb

What Christians Can Learn from Cross-Fitters

It swept through like a plague, infecting so many.

When our group of friends first started hanging out together, it had claimed no victims from among us.

But slowly and surely it lured them in, one by one. Some of them used to make fun of it. They laughed at the culture, the cost, and the attire. But then something happened…

CrossFit happened!

 

I’m not pro or anti CrossFit. I can’t really be anti-CrossFit because yesterday I woke up early to do some core workout exercises and I’m pretty sure I pulled my core. I think that’s a thing. I guess I can be pro-CrossFit since I have a couple of Physical Therapist friends who stay busy at work seeing CrossFit athletes patients.

On a more serious note, CrossFit has been really interesting to watch as it swept across the country. It has clearly helped lots of people get in shape and achieve fitness goals they failed to attain otherwise.

As I stated in my very first article, I firmly believe that Jesus sought to learn, understand, and redeem culture. Practically, this means Christians can sometimes learn from culture how to grow in our faith instead of constantly seeking to change the culture to become more like us. As Christians, we can learn a few things from CrossFitters.

4 Things Christians Can Learn from Cross-Fitters

1. Dedication

You know what I’m doing at 5 A.M. every morning? Sleeping! I don’t skip any mornings, either. 5 A.M. every morning, fast asleep. I’m dedicated to my craft.

CrossFitters take dedication to a completely different level, though.

After they experience CrossFit, they completely change their routine so they can go to an intense, long workout class at 5 AM. They change their diet. They go to bed earlier the night before so they don’t miss out.

So why aren’t we as Christians as dedicated?

How many times do well-meaning Christians miss church on a Sunday simply because they overslept? We make it to work every morning by 8 A.M., 9 at the latest five days a week. Why do we struggle to make a 10:45/11:00ish service one day a week when CrossFitters can make a 5 A.M. class every day of the week.

Maybe we should be willing to change our routine. Maybe we should go to bed earlier on a Saturday night so we don’t miss Sunday morning worship. I’m guilty of this even as a pastor. When I stay up too late on a Saturday night, I know I’m not giving God my best on Sunday morning. Even though I’m there I might be more inclined to go through the motions during music or not be as attentive during the sermon.

How would the Church be different if everyone on our team was as dedicated as CrossFitters?

2.) They talk about it…a lot.

I have only met one person in my life who was doing CrossFit that I did not know did CrossFit. It is much more common that I discover people in my life who I am surprised to find out are Christians.

CrossFitters love talking about CrossFit! I’m so glad they do, because if they didn’t, Internet gems like these would not exist.

CF4CF5CF3

The apostle Paul talked about Jesus a lot. Maybe he would be annoying to be around today, too. But I think that has a lot more to say about us than him.

What would the Church be like if Christians talked about Jesus like CrossFitters talked about CrossFit? See: Stop Evangelizing in Starbucks

3.) Progression

There’s a progression into the CrossFit world, a path to move from outsider to insider.

  • You go to the elements class to try it out.
  • You buy a month.
  • Start making friends.
  • Buy a tank-top that scoops down just north of the belly button.
  • You start thinking Reebok is a relevant brand again so you go ahead and buy the CF Reebok shoes.
  • Before you know it, you’re hooked.

One might argue that a CF’er is only really a CF’er based on their progression. There is no rush and the path is not exactly the same for each CrossFitter but the goal is always progression.

There is a progression for Christians as well. This progression is not as natural or clear cut. Not everyone goes through the same process. The goal is always to simply become more like Christ.

For some that might mean giving up some habits that have long held residence in their heart. For others it might be becoming more proactive in areas like generosity or encouragement.

If you’ve found a Christian who is no longer progressing, who has hit pause on the journey of becoming more like Christ, you have found something but it is probably not a Christian.

We never fully arrive yet we’re always progressing. Sometimes we move forward faster than other times but we’re always progressing. Sometimes we take a few steps back but then we reconnect with grace and keep progressing.

4.) Teamwork

I get why people love CrossFit. It’s the same reason I would love it if I ever tried it: teamwork. It’s a lot cheaper to work out on your own at home. Even a good gym membership in my city is half the cost of CrossFit.

But CF’ers know something Christian need to be reminded of at times: we’re better together.

The same thing that makes CrossFit great is what makes the Church great. Yet here the Church has the upper hand, even though it’s not a contest.

The Church’s unity is not just unity forged through pain and trial, although that is a powerful bond. No, the Church’s unity is founded by Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and forged through pain and trial.

The Church is not some random collection of people gathering in the same vicinity to worship once a week.

The Church is teamwork. The Church is knowing you’re not alone. The Church is knowing you have friends on the same journey you’re on: progressing to be more like Christ.

 

Question: What else can Christians learn from CrossFitters?

27Jan

Even GQ Knows Porn is Bad

Pornography Usage Statistics – Updated February 2014

  • Right now 30,000 people are watching porn.
  • More than 20% of all Internet searches are for porn.
  • Americans watch more porn than any other country in the world.
  • 70% of the spouses of porn addicts meet the criteria for a post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.
  • 83% of college males and 57% of college females have seen group sex online.
  • 32% of college males and 18% of college females have seen bestiality online.
  • 18% of college males and 10% of college females have seen rape or sexual violence online.
  • 71% of teens have done something to hide what they do online from their parents (this includes clearing browser history, minimizing a browser when in view, deleting inappropriate videos, lying about behavior, using a phone instead of a computer, blocking parents with social media privacy settings, using private browsing, disabling parental controls, or having e-mail or social media accounts unknown to parents).

I have written about porn several times before. There are links to those articles at the end of this one. I guess I’ll stop writing about it when I stop hearing about how Satan is using it to cripple the Church.

I’ll stop writing about it when I no longer see my own failure as a high school and college student in the faces of the men I get to walk through life with now as they share their struggles with me.

The direct connection between our porn consumption and the bolstering of the sex slave industry is now irrefutable, both inside the Church and outside of it. Praise God that it is now a well-known fact that every time someone clicks on a porn video the sex slave industry is strengthened.

That “18-year-old” you think you’re watching is likely 15, legally unable to consent in many countries, including our own, to what is happening to her.

“Fighting human trafficking and then watching porn is like protesting a corrupt politician but then donating to his campaign.” #refusetoclick

Everything written thus far is all 100% true, proven facts. But they’re facts published and promoted by Christians and Christian organizations, which makes perfect sense to those inside the Church.

But what about those outside the Church? What about those that would say Christians are being too oppressive, that by crying out against porn we are actually limiting the full expression of human sexuality?

Below I’ve posted some of the most overwhelming evidence of the destructive nature of any level of porn consumption, all from sources outside the fold of Christianity.

“Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” – U.S. Department of Justice

“I have also seen in my clinical experience that pornography damages the sexual performance of the viewers. Pornography viewers tend to have problems with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Having spent so much time in unnatural sexual experiences with paper, celluloid and cyberspace, they seem to find it difficult to have sex with a real human being. Pornography is raising their expectation and demand for types and amounts of sexual experiences; at the same time it is reducing their ability to experience sex. – Dr. Mary Anne Layden, PhD, Psychotherapist

“Research reveals many systemic effects of Internet pornography that are undermining an already vulnerable culture of marriage and family. Even more disturbing is the fact that the first Internet generations have not reached full-maturity, so the upper-limits of this impact have yet to be realized” – Dr. Jill Manning, Sociologist

As helpful and informative as this information is, it is not what caught my eye this week.

A survey of 73,00 Reddit users did.

Sam Deford and his team over at www.projectknow.com polled an internet community called “NoFap” a large online community of Reddit users committed to abstaining from porn and masturbation. There is no emphasis or leadership from any faith system in their group.

Deford analyzed the group’s answers to questions about their experience with porn and masturbation and the research is startling. I won’t recount it all here but the short story is this:

an online group of 73,000+ people are united by nothing else other than their shared experience that pornography and masturbation are woefully unsatisfying and have serious, damaging effects on them as human beings.

As of 1/27/15 the NoFap community has nearly doubled in size, currently boasting a membership of over 138,000 users.

The story caught the eye of GQ writer, Scott Christian. Christian has a great article based on Deford’s findings and lists in his article on GQ (!?!) 10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.

1. For those addicted to porn, arousal actually declined with the same mate, while those who regularly found different mates were able to continual their arousal. It’s known as the Coolidge Effect, or novelty-seeking behavior. Porn, after all, trains the viewer to expect constant newness.

2. One in five people who regularly watch porn admitted to feeling controlled by their own sexual desires.

3. 12 percent of NoFappers report watching 5 or more hours of Internet porn every week. 59 percent report watching between 4 and 15(!!) hours of porn every week.

4. Almost 50 percent of those on NoFap have never had sex in their lives, meaning their only experience with intimacy is purely digital.

5. 42 percent of male college students report visiting porn sites regularly.

6. 53 percent of the NoFappers developed a regular porn habit between the ages of 12 and 14. An alarming 16 percent said they started watching before they were 12.

7. 64 percent report that their tastes in porn have become more extreme or deviant.

8. Among 27-31 year olds on NoFap: 19 percent suffer from premature ejaculation, 25 percent are disinterested in sex with their partner, 31 percent have difficulty reaching orgasm, and 34 percent experience erectile dysfunction.

9. After committing to no masturbation/porn, 60 percent of those on NoFap felt that their sexual functions had improved.

10. And 67 percent had an increase in energy levels as well as productivity.

So there it is: The anti-porn movement is something Christians should absolutely whole-heartedly embrace. But it must start first in our own hearts.

But be encouraged, we are not alone in this pursuit. Others outside the faith are exposing the lie that porn peddles.

While many sources are pointing us away from porn and its destructive nature, only Christians can point toward the only real hope, Jesus.

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