Tuesday, December 24, 2013

TRUST, Part 1

Do you love God? I think many of you reading this blog would answer that question with a resounding "Yes!" So let me ask you a more pointed question, do you trust God? Before you answer that, here's a story.

A man was hiking in the mountains, alone. After hours of hiking, he reached the summit. Before making his way back down, he decided to take a few moments to take in the view. Thinking he could get a better view of the scenery below, the man walked right to the edge of the cliff. The closer to the edge he got, the more fragile the ground became. Then it happened! The ground crumbled beneath his feet and he fell down the cliff. It just so happens there was a tree branch jutting out from the face of the rock where he fell. In desperation, he extended his hand and grabbed hold of the branch. As he hung there reviewing his options, he began yelling, “Is anyone up there?” He was surprised to hear a voice respond, “Yes, this is God.” The man was greatly relieved, and quickly stuttered, “God, can you save me?” “Of course I can," responded God. The man, excited now, shouted out, “Great! What should I do?” The answer from above was not what he was expecting: “Let go of the branch.” After a long period of silence, the man replied faintly, “Is there anyone else up there?”

More often than not, we are that man! Or at least I am. I can't begin to tell you the number of times I have asked God for help, only to reject the hand he extends. I seek his counsel, but fail to implement his advice. I turn to him for guidance, but walk away confused. Why? I'm glad you asked. Allow me to be brutally honest. I have a difficult time trusting God!

I know this, because I have a difficult time trusting people. To be quite honest, a lot of the time it's easier for me to place my trust in things. Things do exactly what they were created to do--for the most part. Except technology. I trust technology less and less. And I have this suspicion we are heading toward a world that looks eerily familiar to the world in the movie i-Robot. But that's another discussion altogether. As I sit here, I trust that the chair will continue to support my weight. Pressing the keys on this keyboard, I trust that the computer will display the characters I am typing. I trust that the bottle of water on my desk will quench my thirst. All of these things I do based on trust. All without even giving it a second thought. But people are different.

People don't always do what they were created to do. They lie, they cheat, and they steal (which, in case you were wondering, isn't what they were created to do). That reason, in and of itself, is enough for me to second guess my trust in them. I lend something of value to a colleague and it gets returned in pieces. My trust begins to waver. I confide in a friend, only to discover those personal details are being shared with others, behind my back. My trust diminishes. I give someone my heart and they rip it out of my chest, toss it on the ground, stomp all over it, dig their heel into it, pick it up, and place it back in my hand, smile and walk away. The trust I had left quickly evaporates. The result is that I become jaded and trust no one.

If it's this difficult for me to trust the people around me--the people I see--how much more difficult is it for me to trust a God I cannot see? The answer to that is exponentially. It is exponentially more difficult for me to trust a God I cannot see. A being I have never met in person. Which brings me to an important thing about trust. It has to be earned; which is pretty tough when you can't see someone. Fortunately for us, God knows this. He knows that we will never trust him without proving himself faithful. That is why God doesn't just part the skies, and in a booming voice tell us to trust him. That is why he doesn't lead with the 10 commandments. He knows that won't work. Instead, he earns the trust of his creation. We see this play out in the Old Testament when he walks with Adam and Eve in the garden. He earns the trust of Abraham by making a covenant of blessing with him. God delivers his people from slavery, earning their trust again. All of this leads to the biggest demonstration of God's trustworthiness by offering his only son as an atoning sacrifice, doing away with the bloody sacrificial system once and for all.

Unfortunately, that isn't enough for many of us today. In theory, it's great; but in reality, we want to know if God is still worthy of our trust today. So, we look to him for personal demonstrations in our lives. Since the only tangible experience we have of God is the people created in his image--which just so happens to be everyone--this proves to be quite difficult. Friends and family let us down, and that reflects on God and affects our ability to trust him. The people who claim to follow God sway our trust one way or another by the way they portray him. The institutions that claim to represent him help us decide whether or not he is, in fact, trustworthy. As you see, our trust in God has far less to do with his faithfulness and more to do with our unfortunate perceptions. He's got his work cut out for him.

To think, we haven't even begun to address the fact that our lack of trust is motivated by fear. Fear that brings up questions about my self-preservation. Will God come through? I know he did last time, but what about this time? Can I count on him? Will he provide? Does he have my best interest at heart? Or is he just trying to get me to obey and fall in line? What will all of this mean for me, my loved ones, my hopes, and my dreams?

So, I ask again, do you trust God? And I’m not just talking about when things are going well. Do you trust him when it seems he's not even there? When everything isn't going as planned? When your marriage is falling apart? When your health is failing? When the finances come up short? When life isn't how you pictured it? How we answer this question is very telling. Because, according to Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, “It means more to God when we say I trust you, than when we say I love you; because trust is the preeminent expression of love.”

So, the big question that needs to be answered: Can I trust God?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


It's true what they say--God does work in mysterious ways! If you had asked me just a few years ago where I would be right now, I certainly wouldn't have painted a picture like the one I see today. Scratch that; it's not a picture at all, but an ever-evolving story. While the beginning and end have been written, I get the pleasure of co-creating the plot-line with my Creator. Through the ups-and-downs, the twists-and-turns, the story we are creating is one of adventure and hope. While life may not go as planned, and circumstances aren't always ideal, I have discovered I still have the ability to choose. Above all, I can choose which path my life will take. I can choose to get bitter or get better; I can choose to give up or get up; I can choose to hold on or let go; I can choose to "forget" or forgive. And while I have found the latter of each is always a much better way to live, that doesn't mean it's always my default choice. 

The story I'm about to tell you, as do all stories, begins with a choice.

I just graduated from college and before me were a limitless number of choices. However, the $20,000 in college debt loomed above like a dark cloud ready to release a torrential downpour if I didn't take shelter soon. In this case, soon was a 6 month period of deferment before I had to start repaying the loans. Seeing as how I had no money, and the only things I owned were a Dodge Intrepid inching toward 200,000 miles, a few pieces of dilapidated, dorm room furniture--purchased at Good Will--and a plastic set of drawers containing all my clothes, the number of choices I actually had seemed a bit more limited than I originally thought. 

So, the first choice I made was the same anyone in my shoes would make. I took up rent-free shelter in my parents basement. Considering I was getting married in a few months, it seemed the most prudent choice. Its' not like I had a job or any money that would afford me the ability to make a different choice. Besides, this way I could save money and start planning out my future. At least that's what I told myself.

Then came the choice to get a job. Due to the fact that church jobs I was qualified for were few and far between, I made the next best choice. With the help of my brother, I landed a job at the telecommunication company he was working for. While there wasn't necessarily anything wrong with the job, working at the help desk, doing Internet tech support wasn't part of my 5 year plan. The hours weren't that great, and most mornings I dreaded waking up and heading off to work. I'm sure being at my desk in the call center by 5 in the morning had something to do with it. Even the sun had enough sense not be up by then. But the paycheck made up for all that. Which was good since I wanted my choices to prove that I was financially stable.

Which lead to the next choice I made--to marry the woman I had been dating. Although you could argue this choice came almost seven months ago when I bought the ring and planned the details of my proposal over Christmas break. Either way, the wedding was soon and I would no longer be taking care of one, but two. Which meant there were many more choices I would have to make. Like trying to start a family. Buying a house. And eventually getting a divorce.

The problem with all of this is that I was unsure. I was unsure about what to do with my life or how I even wanted it to look. And when you're unsure, you don't normally make the best choices. However, due to the ever increasing responsibility, the choices I had to make seemed to become more and more urgent. For that reason, most of the choices I made were uninformed and haphazard, without any regard to the effects they would have years to come. In other words, the choices I made lacked a sense of desire and had little direction.

Over the years I had become accustomed to the belief that this is how life was meant to beThat pursuing my dreams was no longer an option. That my wants and desires were required to take the back seat to responsibility. That somehow, being an adult meant joy and fulfillment always had to be secondary. That growing up meant I had to choose between living a life and living a life of significance.

Looking back, I see that many of the choices I made were for the wrong reason. I can't begin to tell you how many choices I made out of necessity. Moving in with my parents. Settling for a job I didn't particularly care for--not just once, but three times (that I can currently remember). Then there were the choices I made out of obligation. The choice to get married--because that's what you do when you've been dating someone for an extended period of time; especially right out of college. The choice to try to start a family. The choice to purchase a house. Each of these choices I made required other things to be put on hold. Things I wasn't ready to let go of.

Inevitably, all these choices lead to resentment. I didn't like where my life was headed. Every morning consisted of a Starbucks run--where uttering a word was no longer necessary for my grande white-chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso to be made. Pulling out of the Starbucks parking lot, I finished my 3 minute commute to work where I would spend the next 8 hours, my fingers mindlessly pecking the keyboard while my glossy eyes stared at the screen in front of me. From there I would go home, eat dinner and sit in front of the television to unwind before heading off to bed. Just so I could get up and do it all over the next day. Because I now had to pay for all the wrong choices that had enslaved me.

I felt trapped. Trapped at my job. To quit would spell financial ruin. The loss of income would result in the loss of the house, the car and my excellent credit score. To take that new job was risky. Packing up and moving was irresponsible--even though it was my dream job. At least that's what I was lead to believe since it came with a much smaller paycheck and required moving across the country. Then there was my marriage. If I'm at all honest with myself, I had some doubts about this marriage. Nobody knows this, but I almost broke it off after we were engaged. I was unsure marriage was the right choice at the time, but I chalked it up to a case of 'cold feet' and trudged forward. From the beginning, there were indications it wasn't going to work out; I was just too blind and too stubborn to see them. But again, I made the choice, so I lived with the consequences--good and bad. Which eventually lead to the choice to get divorced. While it was a tough choice, it was a choice that, according to her, needed to be made to 'right the wrong we made five years ago.' Then there was the house. It walled me in--literally and figuratively. To sell after the market went south would be a financial disaster. And uprooting myself in the middle of the divorce would essentially be giving up and she would win. So, I continued to make choices I didn't want to make, but felt I had to.

I have a feeling that's where most of us find ourselves. Feeling trapped. Trying to make ourselves believe this is what life is all about. That these are the responsible choices to make. Please understand, I'm not saying every choice I made was wrong. I'm not suggesting that getting married right out of college is a terrible idea (but it might be). I don't think buying a house because it's cheaper than rent is a bad choice. Neither am I advocating for skipping out on responsibility. Sometimes taking any job is the best choice because bills have to be paid. But that choice starts long before the bills are even due; and begins with choosing not to incur that debt in the first place. All I'm saying is those weren't the choices I was ready to make. And they weren't the right choices for me at the time. For where I was at in life. For where I wanted to go. And for what I wanted to do. 

I believe there is a different way. That life can be much more. That we can find joy and fulfillment. If only we would have the courage to make different choices. To take our time, assess the outcome, and make good, informed choices. To stop allowing others to dictate the way our lives need to be lived. Because, in the end, the choice is ours. We can continue to make choices out of necessity. We can keep letting society dictate the trajectory of our life. We can continue to buy into the lies the media tells us. We can always settle. Or we make the difficult choice to do what is right--for us. Where we have been. Where we are. And where we want to go. That's what I'm doing. And I have to tell you, it's much more enjoyable making these kinds of choices.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Obviously, Jesus has a great disdain for hypocrites. Reading between the lines isn't necessary, because he makes his angst for them quite apparent. He says things like: "You hypocrites!" "You whitewashed tombs!" And my personal favorite, "You brood of Vipers!" And just in case you are wondering, that's not a term of endearment. I'm certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'd be sleeping on the couch (at the very least) if I referred to my wife in that manner.

Just as obvious, is the world's belief that all Christians are hypocrites. Like Jesus, they don't pull any punches. They confront us. And they call us out. I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard the term thrown around in a discussion about Christian morality. I know for a fact a number of individuals have accused me of being a hypocrite. And I'm certain I've even made the same accusation about some of my fellow believers.

But this raises some important questions.

How do we define hypocrisy? Is this the same manner Jesus defines it? Or, when Jesus uses the term, to address the religious elite, is there a nuance we don't quite see? And of course, the question that begs to be answered, are all Christians really hypocrites?

Let's begin by clarifying what we mean by the term hypocrite. But, before we do that, allow me to tell you a story. A story about an individual whose hypocrisy was blatantly obvious.

After hours of studying for my upcoming finals, I decided a study break was in order. I made my way across the parking lot, got into my car, started her up and began the short trip to Quik Trip. I took a right turn to pull off campus--I tell you that so you know I had the right-of-way. At the same time, across the street, making a left-hand turn was a blue Ford Taurus. Of course, the driver was in a hurry. I know this because he rolled through the stop sign, made a left-hand turn and cut me off. Being a ministry major, I reacted appropriately by tailgating him. By the end of the first block, I was so close that I could read all the bumper stickers adorning the rear end of the beat up Taurus. My eyes were quickly drawn to the bottom right corner of the trunk. It was there I couldn't help but notice the plain black sticker with white, block letters stating "I would rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford." The irony was too great. I burst into laughter, let off the gas and let him pull away.

Somewhere along the line, this guy made a decision that contradicted his belief--which just so happened to be there for all to see, on the back of his rusty, blue Ford Taurus. Apparently, it was more important to get from point A to point B in a timely manner, than to push his Chevy Cavalier numerous miles. Undoubtedly, this is the way we define hypocrisy in this culture, in this time--to act in contradiction to your stated beliefs or feelings.

When someone makes the statement that "All Christians are hypocrites!" they are claiming that they have witnessed Christians acting contrary to the teachings of Jesus. And if this is the hypocrisy they speak of, they are absolutely correct--all Christians really are hypocrites! I won't deny that fact. We stumble. We fall. None of us has upheld all the commandments. None of us has perfectly embodied the teachings of the rabbi Jesus. All of us do things contrary to not only what he taught, but even what we believe. All of us fail to love our neighbor. All of us struggle to forgive those who have wronged us. All of us fall short of the standard Jesus lived out. You get the picture--we all act contrary to the standards Jesus calls us to uphold. We make mistakes. That’s, in part, what it means to be human.

This is something we should embrace rather than avoid. By embrace, I mean own up to it. Admit that we are powerless over our flesh in and of ourselves. Recognize that the only way we will truly live as Jesus lived is by continually falling forward through effort and grace. Perhaps then the world would stop viewing us as hypocrites. Maybe we should take a note from Paul's book--literally. If anyone had a past to shy away from it was this guy. Even with his colorful past and his continual shortcomings, he displayed honesty and vulnerability. Not once did he shy away from the truth of who he had been and who he was. He accounted for all the hypocrisy in his own life, not because he was proud of it, but because there was power in the humility of owning it. Admitting his hypocrisy, Paul, in Romans chapter seven, said: “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things.”

I would make the case that doing what we don't want to do doesn't make us, or Paul, a hypocrite. It makes us sinners! Sinners in need of a savior. And therein lies the confusion. We have blurred the lines between the two. They are not entirely synonymous. And it is of utmost importance we make a clear distinction between a sinner and a hypocrite. Afterall, Jesus didn't necessarily equate sinning with hypocrisy; because he knew all of us would sin. But he clarified that we don't all have to be hypocrites!

You see, a sinner is a person who falls short from time-to-time, all the while striving to be more Christ-like. On occasion, we all act in contradiction to what we truly believe. None of us will ever perfectly live out each and every one of our beliefs, on a consistent basis, in any arena of life; especially when it comes to issues of faith. Let me reiterate that none of us will perfectly imitate Jesus 100% of the time. I'm not condoning that fact, nor am I condemning it. Accepting the forgiveness he has offered, does not make us perfect; it just makes us sinners who have accepted his grace. And just because we fail to consistently follow the example Christ has given us does not make us hypocrites. Nor does it invalidate the truths his life put on display. I know many individuals seeking to genuinely follow in the footsteps of Jesus, all the while failing miserably. Yet each and every time they pick themselves up, admit their shortcomings and continue right where they left off. They trust in the Holy Spirit to convict, change, and empower them to grow. They believe, by grace, that tomorrow they will be closer to living like Jesus than they have been today.

A hypocrite, on the other hand is a person who purposely deceives others. A person who attempts to live two lives simultaneously--one in public and one in private. They practice sins on a routine basis and when confronted lie about them and remain unrepentant. They appear holy, all the while disregarding the reality of their own sinfulness. They put on their Sunday mask, only to remove it the moment they get in their car and leave the church premises. They point out the faults of others, and yet fail to see their own. In order to elevate themselves, they deprecate those around them. They deny the grace that has been extended them to those they encounter. They, according to Jesus, take meticulous care of their outer appearance while ignoring the rotting mess that is their soul. This, it seems to me, is the way Jesus defines hypocrisy. Which is clearly different than the way we define it.

The moment we, as sinners, downplay our own sinfulness, in order to emphasize our own righteousness is the moment we become hypocrites.

It is these types of individuals, Jesus tells us, aren't really his followers. In Matthew 7, he makes an important clarification: “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven.” Their failure to recognize their own inadequacy to save themselves through outward obedience, sets themselves against true followers of his and exempts them from the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Understand that I didn't write this to excuse all our failings as Christians. Know that I don't condone all of our behavior; nor do I expect you to. By all means, hold us accountable. Call us out. But offer us the chance to own our faults and seek out forgiveness. On behalf of those of us that have failed to exemplify the life of Jesus, I apologize. For the times our actions and attitudes have turned you away from God, I am sorry. We will stumble. And we will fall. Sometimes flat on our faces. But to label all of us hypocrites isn't entirely accurate. Even Jesus didn't hold his disciples to that standard of perfection. It is my hope that you will no longer take the actions of a few to judge the whole. Furthermore, I hope you have gained some insight into the difficulty it is to follow the only man to have walked this Earth without sinning. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


According to one of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, "The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." Which is just a much more eloquent way of saying that the world thinks we’re a bunch of hypocrites. Chances are, if you have attended Church for any period of time, associated with anyone who claims to be religious, or lived on planet Earth, you have heard this accusation thrown around. Maybe you've even made the claim yourself. Truth be told, it’s an all too common accusation thrown at Christians.

To be quite honest, most of the time, the claim is warranted. I have a friend who wants nothing to do with Jesus because his father, a very religious man, was active in the local church but behind closed doors was abusive. Another friend continues to distance herself from anyone associated with the church because of their judgmental glares about her lifestyle choices. Bombarded, by the media, with news of scandal after scandal surrounding church leaders has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some of my closest friends. I have relatives that label Christians as hypocrites because time-after-time their trust has been broken and their feelings were hurt by the arrogance of a pastor. And I can list countless individuals I know (some former pastors), who despise the Christian faith because, to them, it seems to be the most unforgiving, judgmental religion on the planet. So, the label 'hypocrite' may not be too far off.

Whatever their reasoning, I understand. I, too, have personally encountered the hypocrisy they see in our communities of faith. And if I'm at all honest, the number of times I have been the hypocrite who has turned others away are too numerous to count. I lead a small group at my church where I talk about the importance of community, and yet I find myself too busy to make time for others, bear their burdens, or enjoy their company. I am part of accountability groups, stressing the importance of authenticity, all the while keeping my own secrets tucked away in the darkest corners of my heart. I preach sermons about denying yourself to follow Christ, yet I own two vehicles--one of which is a BMW, have multiple televisions and a closet full of clothes. I stress the importance of being a good steward (with everything, not just money), yet I have been known to enjoy a $5 cup of coffee. Many Sundays I haphazardly recite the lyrics to numerous worship songs about giving God my all, while simultaneously creating a mental check-list of everything I need to accomplish once service is over.

Does that make my a hypocrite?

According to this individual, it does. "The problem with [Christians] lies not only in an oft-noted failure to practice what they preach, but an equally pronounced tendency to ignore what the Bible itself, preaches. Christians practice what can only be described as ‘selective morality.’ What they like, they cling to and shove down other’s throats; what they don’t like, they ignore vehemently. That which is palatable and acceptable is supposedly applicable to all; while that which is obnoxious, inconvenient, or self-denying is only applicable to those addressed 2,000 years ago. Their hypocrisy is so rampant that even the validity of calling oneself ‘Christian’ is in question.”

By these standards, all Christians are hypocrites! Every last one of us has ignored parts of the Bible that seem a bit too difficult, too inconvenient, too extreme. We, like the experts in the law of Jesus' day, constantly rationalize our own interpretations of his words. In order to justify our actions (or in-actions), we tirelessly search for even the smallest loophole--surely that man isn't my neighbor, giving to the poor would only enable them, evangelism isn't my responsibility as an introvert, as long as I don't idolize this it's okay, or Jesus was speaking metaphorically, he doesn't expect me to do that.

But I’m going to pause for a second here. Just in case you feel that you have managed to meticulously uphold the teachings of Jesus, I offer you an out. If you, like the rich young ruler, honestly believe "I've obeyed all these commands since I was young," then by all means stop reading. Go about the rest of your day. Listening to another hypocrite would only prove to be a waste of your time.

Now, for the rest of us. I think there is more to this whole hypocrisy thing than meets the eye. Perhaps our view of hypocrisy isn't the same as Jesus' view. Maybe the way we define hypocrisy, is not the way Jesus defines hypocrisy. Perhaps the lines have been blurred between being a sinner in need of a savior and being a hypocrite.

Which we will get to soon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


If I'm at all honest, I was less than excited for the gathering that was about to take place. I got the sense it was going to turn into more of a business meeting than anything else. Which is part of the reason I still hadn't committed to attend. To top it off, I had other important things to check off my to-do-list. The lawn needed to be mowed. My laundry had been sitting unfolded, in the dryer for the past three days. And I hadn't read the book sitting on my night-stand in almost a week. Now seemed like as good a time as any to knock those things out. But, there was the whole matter of dinner. I had to eat sometime and my fridge was full of condiments...just condiments. For that reason, the offer of a free meal was enough to rope me in to the meeting. So, I obliged. I drove myself to the restaurant, pulled into the parking lot, made my way to the door and let out a deep sigh.

Just inside the front door, I joined seven other guys waiting for our table. Eventually, we were ushered to a room separated from the rest of the diners by a barn-style door. Each of us took a seat around a large, round table. We placed our orders and the sound of chatter filled the room. It wasn't long before our meals were placed before us and the silence set in. Once we had cleaned our plates, the silence was broken with a "this is why I brought you all here" speech. Over the next twenty minutes, the discussion focused on some big decisions facing the church--decisions that could make or break it's momentum. The biggest decision being how to embrace the rapid numerical growth we had been experiencing, while staying community oriented.

But then it happened. Just as I thought, the discussion transitioned into more of a lecture on how the church was intended to function--like an organization. Permit me to vent for a minute, but this view of church doesn't sit well with me. It makes me defensive. It sets me on edge. This sort of discussion makes my stomach churn. And that is why I can empathize with those who have such disdain for "organized religion." When we talk about the church as an organization, I can see why so many people become disenchanted. It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that they get the idea church is all about numbers and money. Of course, when this is the picture we paint, they are lead to believe the church is just another business that needs to be lead and managed. Another entity solely governed by democratic procedures and committees bound by capitalist tendencies.

Without even stepping foot in the church we can see that some churches concern themselves, far too much, with self-promotion and growth. We see that they exist to compete with every other church--vying for a bigger share of the market. Their focus has shifted from people to programs, projects and budgets. Which, it seems to me, is why numerous churches have become content stealing sheep instead of finding the ones they have actually lost.

There are also the churches that seem to milk every dollar they can out of their constituents. Passing around the offering plate every time the doors are opened. Churches that charge to use their building--not God's. Churches that nickle and dime the people who's tithes and offerings have purchased each and every brick. Churches claiming that by donating a certain amount of money to purchase new blades for the aviation department's helicopter, will result in the outpouring of God's blessing in your life. While I wish I was exaggerating that example, I'm not! Churches that chain off the entrance to their parking lot because of events taking place nearby. A gesture made worse by the fact that they post sings informing event attenders that use of their parking lot will cost $5 a vehicle. Churches that would rather make a few extra bucks than graciously extend the use of their facilities because they are simply tools for ministry. Luther took offense to similar tactics used by the church--selling indulgences--because he saw it as exploitation of both church goers and the poor. All this money talk gets me wondering. If Jesus proposed the same challenge to churches today as he did to the rich young ruler--sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor--would they oblige, or would they too walk away downtrodden because of their great wealth?

While I don't want to come across as judgmental, these tactics don't belong in the church. With these kind of experiences in mind, it's easy to see why people view the church as just a big box store pedaling religion. And to be honest, I can't really blame them. The unfortunate thing is that this has resulted in droves of people turning their back on Jesus because they don't realize that's not the church he came to build--a church like the one we find in Acts.

In the stories of that early church I see a community united in love. A body that is vibrant and full of life. A gathering where the Gospel was unabashedly proclaimed--not easy to swallow self-help advice. A community where Jesus really was Lord--not a governing hierarchy. A people who gave the Holy Spirit room to move because they weren't constrained by traditions, set lists, transitions, and schedules. A church that, according to Scripture, was adding thousands daily (which in a culture that didn't count women, translated to many more). A church that collected money not to build their own kingdom, but to build the kingdom of God by meeting the needs of the community--understanding everything was a gift to be shared.

I get the feeling Jesus wouldn't care much for the "organized religion" of today--afterall, he didn't think too highly of it in his day. I'm certain his goal was never to establish a non-profit organization. I doubt he was concerned with building a well-oiled institution. And I don't think his focus was to create a smooth running ecclesiastical machine. Numbers didn't impress him. Money wasn't a motivating factor. Bricks and mortar didn't constrain him.

Jesus came to turn our understanding of church--and pretty much life in general--upside down. He came to establish a church that was to be a beacon of hope for the underprivileged, the abused, the burnt out, the lost, and the religiously bankrupt. A church that would be a catalyst to save us from ourselves. A church called to turn the world upside down. A church where the last were first and the first were last. A church that came not to be served, but to serve.

Perhaps the church isn't an organization. Maybe it isn't even an organism. I wonder if the church is just...the church. And maybe the church, like Jesus, defies any label we try to impose upon her. When functioning in all her beauty and grandeur, there has never been and will never be anything quite like the church. But that can't take place as long as we think Jesus came to establish some sort of organization.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


I haven't posted anything for a while as I've been in a bit of a writing slump. That and things have been a bit hectic with several big life changes happening in the next few months. So, I give you this...a sermon I preached several months ago. And this way you don't even have to read anything.


Friday, August 9, 2013


One Sunday morning, I was facilitating a discussion with the teenagers in my small group. The students were engaged. Most of them voiced their opinions. Some of them even backed their views up with Scripture. Others defended their stance based on personal experience. The discussion was going well, but we had veered so far off course I wasn't sure how to make our way back to the original topic. Usually this didn't bother me, because those seemed to be the times their perspectives were broadened the most. But I could see things were beginning to get heated. The students were divided and beginning to make things personal.

I interrupted the students in hopes of bringing them back to the point at hand. It didn't help. The open dialogue on truth had taken a turn for the worse. It was now a full on assault in which denominational pride resorted to church bashing and religion hating. I knew that if I didn't intervene soon, all hell would break loose--the Crusades would be re-birthed and someone might get burned at the stake. After a while, my frustration got the best of me and I opened my mouth long enough to let a few unfiltered words fly. No, I didn't yell, swear at them, or lose my temper in any manner. Had that been the case, I'm sure the backlash would have been much quicker and less severe.

There, in the middle of what used to be the sanctuary, I told that small group of teenagers they could find truth in the Qur'an. As you might have guessed, I now had their full attention. With about 30 eyes staring back at me, it was time to offer an explanation. For the rest of the morning I unpacked that statement to those impressionable minds. As I began to wrap things up, I made sure to drive home the point I was trying to make--there is plenty of truth outside Christianity if we are willing to see it. As our time drew to a close, they gathered their pens, Bibles and cell phones to head to church with their parents. I knew this wasn't going to end well for me.

Not to my surprise, their parents and the church leadership were appalled. They couldn't believe I would make such a statement (they obviously didn't know me that well yet). The backlash consisted of angry phone calls from parents and an adult supervisor in my small group for the next month. In the end it all got sorted out, and I got to keep my job.

Sadly, this scenario plays out on a regular basis in Christian circles. Whether you choose to believe it or not, there is truth to be found outside Christianity.  If we have an open mind, we will see truth everywhere we turn. Science has given us vast amounts of truth. We have found truth in the business world. Even the world of sports can teach us some valuable lessons about truth. Music proclaims truth ('secular' and Christian alike). And as hard as we find it to believe, there is truth to be gleaned from other religions. Please understand that in no way am I saying that all religions are equal. Nor am I saying they all lead to the same God. What I am saying is that if you have an open mind and look a little closer, you can find truth just about anywhere.

This is a pretty tough pill for us to swallow as Christians. With our claims of exclusivity, we think we have cornered the market on truth. I assure you, I'm not second guessing the claims of Christianity. Nor do I think there is anything wrong with making some of the exclusive claims we do. In actuality, every religion (whether people admit it or not) makes their own claims of exclusivity. So, the two--religion and exclusivity--go hand-in-hand. That's why it really isn't possible to adhere to more than one religion. Christianity claims Jesus is the only way to salvation. Hinduism and Buddhism are exclusive in the sense that adherents must deny foundational beliefs of theism. Judaism requires believers to earn salvation by virtue of their deeds--which are clearly laid out in the Torah. Islam teaches monotheism that sets itself against Christianities doctrine of the Trinity and claims of the divinity of Christ. While these are wide brush strokes that over-simplify each of these religions, you see that each have some sort of exclusive claim.

Rarely do I hear people bashing other religions for their claims. Which leads me to believe the problem with Christianity has little to do with it's exclusivity. I get the sense the world doesn't care much about the truth we claim to have because of our approach. In college, I had a professor whose mantra in class was "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I think this was his way of getting us to rationally discuss things instead of personally attacking each others views. While I hate cliches, there is a lot of truth to this statement. And that's the problem when it comes our defense of the Gospel. The methods we use to perpetuate those claims reek of intolerance, egotisticalism and closed-mindedness.

Many of us have made it our mission to perpetuate and defend the truth of our faith. As someone in favor of a proper theology, a correct hermeneutic and a logical apologetic, I get it. People need to know the truth and we should stand up for what we believe. When my faith is scrutinized, I tend to be just as protective of that truth as the next guy. While that may seem like a viable approach for a religion that claims to have the absolute truth, I'm here to tell you it's not. There is a right and wrong way to proclaim the truth. Becoming closed off and defensive when our beliefs are put under scrutiny is not the way to go...unless you fear what believe isn't really true. Because in the end, the truth has nothing to hide and will make itself known.

The biggest issue people seem to take offense to is the fact that, as Christians, we've fooled ourselves into believing it's our beliefs that make us a better person, not our behavior. It's as though we read through the Bible, make note of all the truth it contains, but miss the picture entirely. We have all this knowledge and truth filed away, but it doesn't transform who we are.

Sometimes I wonder if our ego has gotten in the way. Perhaps it's time we take inventory and ask ourselves the tough questions. Are we seekers of truth or defenders of belief? Are we more concerned with being right or loving others? The differences are paramount. If truth is as important as we make it out to be, we need to prove it by being the incarnation of the Gospel.

Friday, July 26, 2013


I have never been one to avoid confrontation or back down from a fight. In grade school, this resulted in more visits to the Principal's office than I can count on both hands (and feet). On two separate occasions the public school system finally had enough and my fighting resulted in more extensive disciplinary action. At first, they thought forcing me to attend counseling sessions, with others like me, during recess for several months would take care of the problem. Eventually, the threat of missing recess took it's toll and my attitude changed enough the counselor deemed she no longer required to see me. Upon my release, I did my best to keep my temper in check. The threat of missing recess was enough to keep me in line for my last few remaining years of elementary school. Any fight would have to happen after hours, off school grounds. However, once I walked through the doors of that elementary school for the final time, the lessons I learned were threw out the window.

Walking across the threshold of the middle school doors, I found it necessary to make my presence known. It didn't take long for my attitude to resurface. After a few minor altercations, my temper flared up again and resulted in yet another fist fight. This time, while riding the bus, another student sitting directly behind me decided he wanted to test my patience. Honestly, I think the argument started because he wouldn't give me a stick of gum. To everyone's surprise, the altercation escalated quickly. I had enough when he reached over the seat and began choking me out. At that point I threw a right jab directly at his face. The moment my fist connected with his right eye he loosened his grip. As I was ready to throw the next punch, the bus came to a screeching halt. Bob, the bus driver ran to the back of the bus, separated the two of us, and proceeded to the school where we were met by the Assistant Principal. After a short meeting, which my parents were required to attend, I was required to do a week of ISS (in school suspension), kicked off the bus for two weeks, and ordered to participate in anger management classes.

For several more years my attitude went unchecked. I continued to walk around with a chip on my shoulder until college. At that point, my confrontational attitude began to evolve. I realized using my fists to get my way or defend myself from the harassment I received for being short was no longer a viable option. While some of this had to do with the realization that fighting wasn't helping my faith or my future, I still had trouble backing down from confrontation. However, being a ministerial student, I started to allow God to work on my attitude. In the mean time, my fighting evolved. It's nature transitioned from physical confrontation to academic debate. I found it much more enlightening doing battle with words. I dedicated myself to memorizing Scripture and studying theology to debate and defend my religious beliefs. To be honest, defending God, discussing Scripture interpretations, and debating theology seemed much more befitting an aspiring pastor. At least these things wouldn't land me in any sort of legal trouble. The more I read and studied, the more passionate and opinionated I became about who God is and how He envisioned the world. With a similar zeal as the McManus brothers in Boondock Saints, I made it my personal mission to wage war against others who opposed the God I had grown to know--just to clarify, my zeal lead to heated debates, not mob-like killing. I took a stand against some of the traditional ways we had done church had portrayed God. The more others opposed me, the more righteous my indignation of the church felt.

Jump ahead several years. I am now 30 and have discovered that while I still have some disagreements with how we, as Christians have portrayed God and the way we go about church, there is a lot I am uncertain about. Furthermore, I'm seeing that some of these battles I placed myself in are futile and are still the wrong ones to fight. Just the other night, doing some soul searching and reading I stumbled across a devotion discussing the truth that some battles don't belong to us. 2 Chronicles 20:17 begins with the words "You will not have to fight this battle." It goes on "...stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you." While I realize this passage was dealing with a very different group of people facing a very different set of circumstances, there is still truth for me (and you to gleam). Before I move on, let me give you a brief synopsis of who and what this verse is addressing. Here, God is talking to King Jehoshaphat and the Israelites. They're about to be attacked by three enemies: the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Meunites. Being King, Jehoshaphat was obviously worried about how his people would defend themselves. And God, knowing exactly what he was thinking informs Jehoshaphat they won't have to fight this battle; this battle belongs to God. Which is the exact thing God has been trying to tell me.

All of these years, God hasn't needed me to fight for him. He doesn't require that I come to his defense. It has never been necessary for me to prove his existence, squash theories of evolution, know whether he will return pre-, post-, or mid-tribulation, or anything of the sort. While it is important for me to know what I believe and why, I don't have to make anyone else see things the same way. While it's vital that I know who God is and what he has done and continues to do in my life, it's not my job to prove that to others. None of this is to say that our hermeneutic is unimportant, or that theology is worthless. Nor am I objecting to a healthy discussion of these topics, as long as we can--to paraphrase Paul--"agree to disagree."  Having competing paradigms of the world and God shouldn't keep us from breaking bread with one another. Again, while these topics may not be the main point, in no way am I belittling their importance. However, it has never been our duty to partake in these battles to win others to our world view. God can (and will) defend himself, prove his existence, and work things out. We are given a glimpse of this reality in the book of Revelation, where we see that God redeems all things and love wins.

The fighting I should be doing is what was modeled by Jesus. A man who, even when his life depended upon it, didn't become defensive. A man that didn't resort to debating theology. A man, who, I'm not even so sure put too much focus on defending God. What he did, and what he calls me to do is laid out plain as day in Scripture. There, jumping off the pages in red, the words of Jesus call me out on my self-imposed righteousness. They tell me of the necessary battles for me to fight. He says to "Love my neighbor." To "Love my enemies." To "Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, shelter the stranger." To "Care for the widows and the orphans." Clearly, these are the battles Jesus was concerned with. These issues he was most passionate about and cared to fight for dealt with justice, mercy and equality. Which are the issues I must fight for.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


I'm intrigued by the story of Jacob. Given Jacob's ancestry, he should be destined for greatness. But from the beginning, that doesn't seem to be the case. During birth, Jacob seems to have some intrinsic feeling that if he isn't born before his twin brother Esau, he will not have his proper place in society. That's why he's grasping Esau's heel when he comes out of the womb. From that day on, his entire life is characterized by drama. I get the idea this, in part, was due to Jacob's feelings of inadequacy--afterall, it's usually the first born that's held in highest esteem. Time and again, we see that Jacob will stop at nothing to make his way to the top. He lies, cheats, and uses people to gain the standing he feels belongs to him. While Jacob thought his determination was a noble trait, others viewed it in a much different light. They saw him as a ruthless liar and a master manipulator.

Sadly, when I look back at my life, I see that I have a lot in common with Jacob.

To begin with, there are seasons of my life I committed to make things work without any dependence on God whatsoever. Like Jacob, I have been guilty of lying, cheating, and manipulating to gain my rightful standing. Worse, not only have I been guilty of this with others, but I have even attempted to try these tactics on God. There's also the reality that both Jacob and I have feelings of inadequacy. For years I have tried to deal with them, but they continue to surface. Mostly, those feelings of inadequacy stem from the time God called me to a life of ministry. In spite of those feelings, I wanted to live a life that amounted to something more than selfish pursuit, so I accepted that call. But, you should know that, in the beginning, I didn't fully embrace it. Just a few months later, I did everything I could think of to disqualify me from what God had planned for me. I dove head first into a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Actually, I have no musical talent and zero rhythm, so it was less a life of rock and roll and more a life of drugs and sex. But even that isn't a proper description, because I only chased women, smoked pot and drank. That characterized the early part of my high school career, which only changed once my wrestling match with God began--which is where we pick up the next part of Jacob's story.

In the thirty-second chapter of Genesis, we find Jacob trying his best to make amends for some of his past. Too cowardly to meet his brother face-to-face, Jacob sends others ahead with lavish gifts. But God has something different planned. That night, Jacob has an encounter with an angelic stranger. The two wrestle through the night until the sun breaks the horizon. At this point, the angel (or God depending on translations), realizing Jacob will not let go until he receives a blessing, dislocates Jacob's hip. Jacob, the deceiver, then receives his new name: Israel, which means "struggles with God." The blessing Jacob begged for is then bestowed which provides some clarity. Realizing what transpired, in verse 30, Jacob informs us "[He] saw God face to face, and yet [his] life was spared." After all these years, Jacob finally learns the lesson God had been trying to show him.

The wrestling match I started with God in high school didn't end nearly as quick as Jacob's. While his eight hours probably seems like a lengthy amount of time, it doesn't hold a candle to the eight years my wrestling match spanned. All because I (like Jacob to some extent) spent much of that time trying to make things work on my own. That's why, after college, my inadequacy grew exponentially. Even though my friends and I graduated from the same university, with the same degree, I was left in the dust. Many of them accepted their first job in the church the weeks after receiving their degrees. I, on the other hand, worked for a company doing Internet tech support. The next few months I became discouraged and disillusioned as I saw both their careers and their ministries take off. I felt God had let me down. I did exactly what he had asked, yet the blessing I hoped for wasn't coming.

Once I accepted my first job in the church, I thought things would change. But they didn't. Seeing the passion, joy, and fulfillment my friends had was too much to take. All these things still eluded me and, to be honest, it pissed me off. That's when resentment set in. I began to resent my friends for the opportunities they had. I started to resent the success that came their way. But most of all, I began to resent the call God had given me. A call that, for me, didn't come with much clarity. While many of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do--lead worship, plant churches, teach the Bible--I didn't have a clue. All I knew was that God wanted me to give up my plans, in order to follow him.

Eventually I got burnt out and took a break. For several years I kept ministry, the church and God at a distance. Slowly, my need and desire to get involved in the church and to pursue my calling came back. So, that's exactly what I did. I started volunteering in various ministries at my church. In time, more and more opportunities came to plug in and discover what I was most passionate about. I was helping out with a youth group and getting to speak there. Then, I jumped at the opportunity to lead a lifegroup. And eventually I got to preach again on Sunday mornings. Things were looking up. I was finding joy and fulfillment. I began searching for ministry positions in the church again. I talked to different churches, and had several interviews. At one point, a church even called and asked for my resume. Although nothing panned out with any of those, I kept pressing on. In just a short while I began to get frustrated with how things were playing out again. The final blow was a church that told me I wouldn't be considered because I was young and single. That's when my old friends inadequacy and resentment paid another visit. I saw myself heading down the path I had just come.

But all of that was about to change.

One evening, alone, in the living room, my wrestling match with God finally came to a head. I stood there and literally yelled at God. Not once did he yell back. He didn't even speak a word. But at the end of all that yelling, my throat now hoarse, my struggle with God was over. He won. In the stillness and quiet of that moment, the blessing I had been begging God for was being poured out. What I received was nothing tangible. No job offer came. I didn't receive any more clarity about my calling. But, what I was given was just as valuable. That night God gave me exactly what he gave Jacob--peace and contentment!

I was able to see that my problem was never really with God. All along, the problem had been my skewed expectations. Because I had set aside my original hopes and dreams and was doing my best to follow God, I felt like he owed me. I didn't think a job in the church was too much to ask for after all I had done. Finally I was able to see that God owed me nothing. I began to see that he obviously envisioned things differently than I had. And I was finally able to accept that. I realized that while the ministry I was doing didn't always happen in the church, or even look legitimate to others, I was doing ministry. God was giving me opportunities to do what I was most passionate about, but because it wasn't coupled with a paycheck, I didn't see it.

Do I know what God wants me to do? Sort of. Do I wish it came with a paycheck? Some days. But I see how not relying on a paycheck has given me some freedom--like starting a lifegroup in a bar. Am I hopeful something will come of it? Most of the time. Do I still have struggles with God? Absolutely! But isn't that what it means to have faith?

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Last summer I took a trip to Las Vegas--yes, I went to Sin City--with 12 other guys. The trip was planned under the premise that it would be a birthday present for my younger brother who just happened to turn 21. In addition to that it was also a late Christmas present for my father. I assure you, nothing sketchy happened other than the one run-in we had with security at the Aria. I guess there was that guy who offered, unsolicited might I add, to sell us some coke. I like to tell myself he worked for the casino and was offering to take our drink order, but something tells me it wasn't Coca-Cola he was offering. Other than those two incidents, it was your average vacation. We relaxed by the pool, walked the strip, had dinner at some of the upscale restaurants, rode the zip-line down Fremont Street, hit up a few black jack tables and even walked away with a decent amount of cash from one of the craps tables (I can attest to the fact it is possible to come home with just as much money as you left with).

One night--the same night we happened to encounter security--we lost a few members of our posse. In hindsight, it was pointless to even attempt sticking together with a group that size. Even more pointless was searching for the few individuals who wandered off time and again. Yet that is exactly what we did! In search of the rest of our party, a friend and I were approached by two men wearing, what I would assume were high dollar Armani suits. I know what you're thinking, but neither of these individuals was the one that offered to sell us some of his product. These guys were handing out VIP passes to one of the premier night clubs in Vegas. Now, I'm not the night club kind of guy, but being sociable I conversed with them for a minute or two, took the passes and put them in my front pocket and continued on our search. A few minutes later my friend mentioned that he overheard someone in the group talk about hitting up the club. In a last ditch effort to locate the others, we made our way to the club.

Through the casino, up the escalator and around the corner we spotted the front door of the club. It was then I realized we might have a problem. In order to get to the front door, we had to be ushered past the red, velvet rope by the two men standing guard. Had this been Sioux Falls, we would have simply handed the bouncers our IDs and made our way in. But Las Vegas runs a different ship altogether. Given the fact we were in one of the swankiest hotels on the strip and the two men standing guard looked like they defected from the secret service, I was certain we would be turned away long before making it to the front of the line. Even so, we found the end of the line where we would spend the next few minutes annoyed our group couldn't stay together. Finally, upon reaching the two bouncers we extended our VIP passes (which we quickly realized weren't VIP passes at all--just a marketing scheme to get suckers like us to consider their club) to the men standing guard. They proceeded to look us over exactly one time. No more. No less. Upon making their assessment, we were informed the club didn't cater to our type. I guess a green, v-neck shirt, cammo shorts and sandals didn't appear affluent enough to afford anything the club had to offer. In their defense, their assessment was spot on.

On the trek back to our hotel, at the opposite end of the strip, I had a good deal of time to think about what had transpired. That's when it dawned on me, our churches operate a lot like that night club.

Allow me to explain.

For starters, the church thrives on exclusivity. As an institution, it spends an awful lot of time and energy differentiating between the "in" and the "out." This is best illustrated by the terminology they employ. Those "outside" their membership are referred to as the lost, the unsaved, the secular, and the pagan--all of which seem to have very negative connotations. Of course, nobody in the church would ever refer to themselves in such a manner. That's why they are the saved, the elect, or God's chosen people. Some churches make it very clear that you do not want to be on the outside. For anyone that happens to find themselves in that category, the disdain some churches view you with is quite obvious.

Then there's the fact that churches go to extreme lengths to separate the two groups. In an effort to keep "pure and holy," the church has created an entire Christian subculture. There's the ever popular Christian book store. Christian coffee shops. Christian schools. Christian media. And they have even created their own Christian clothing--a.k.a. witness wear (instead of Do the Dew, its Do the Jew; are you kidding me?) This has only served to isolate the church from the "different"--the ones they were called to reach in the first place. I've seen this in action when a church board voted to keep a mentally handicapped individual out of their building because he was a distraction to their Sunday morning service. But, I realize this doesn't describe every church. There are some that have sought to buck this trend. They put a great deal of focus on "seeking and saving the lost." However, when they intermingle with the outsiders, it often seems as though they hold themselves in a much higher regard. Not only that, but they also have a tendency to be closed-minded and the propensity to feel superior--as if they are the only ones with something valuable to offer.

And lastly, the church, like a night club, has a niche audience. If we are being completely honest, churches usually attract the like-minded (that wasn't an insult). This is evidenced by the fact that we categorize churches with labels like: Seeker Sensitive, Emergent, Urban, Young Adult, Traditional, etc. Furthermore, I'd venture a guess that you won't find may competing world-views amond a single church's congregants. Which means it is highly unlikely to walk through the front doors to be greeted by a culturally, ethnically, or theologically diverse group of people. And we can't overlook the fact that, from week to week, the programming changes very little, if any. To mix things up and stray from tradition could prove to be detrimental to the "in" crowd. 

How quickly have we forgotten the church exists for the "out" and not the "in."

I guess this is nothing new. I understand the perfect church doesn't exist. And I realize no one church can reach everyone. But is this the way it has to be? Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day any time they used this same approach. He informed them it's the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy (Matthew 9:12). And just in case that message wasn't clear enough, later Jesus went on to say that "[He] came to seek and save the lost." (Luke 19:10). Perhaps this has something to do with Paul "becom[ing] all things to all people so that by all possible means [he] might save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22).

So, why do we continue pedaling the Gospel as a VIP pass to get through the red, velvet rope segregating the church from the rest of the world? Jesus never intended the Gospel to serve as a line of demarcation. It was his plan that the Gospel would serve as an offer of hope--especially for those on the outside.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

JESUS, Part 5

Who then is this Jesus? That's a great question. One that, in actuality, is kind of difficult to answer. Afterall, we can't cram Jesus into a box. He fails to conform to any particular mold. And it's tough to represent him with any label. Even so, the following is my pathetic attempt to do so.

While there are many who would paint Jesus as a Mr. Roger's type, I don't have the same view (an idea I briefly discussed in another post). Reading through the accounts of his life, I get the idea Jesus is less like Mr. Rogers and more like Robin Hood. To begin with, I assume blue cardigans weren't very popular in Jesus' day. Then there's the fact that Mr. Rogers seems just a tad too politically correct. A little too nice. And to top it off, he lacks a certain passion and enthusiasm for real life. I don't really see those being the overarching qualities of Jesus. Let's not forget that Jesus is much more outspoken than Mr. Rogers. He's a bit too abrasive to live in Mr. Roger's neighborhood. That's why Jesus, to me, seems more like the Robin Hood type. He champions the cause of the 'least of these.' He comes to the rescue of the down-and-out, the less fortunate, the oppressed, the humble and the outcast. Jesus takes from the religiously rich and lavishes his grace upon the religiously poor.

You may have already realized I'm not painting a picture of Jesus we often see preached on Sunday mornings. However, that doesn't mean he isn't the one described in Scripture. The Jesus I have discovered has more to say to each of us than I ever imagined. This is the Jesus I wholeheartedly believe in. The one that has transformed--and continues to transform--my life. The one I have discovered is really worth dropping everything to follow! Furthermore, he is much more encompassing and empowering than I was ever taught growing up.

Whether you agree or not, know that my point isn't to coerce you to buy into the Jesus I am about to describe. The conclusions I have drawn here are the result of a journey of discovery I have been on over the last several years. While I hope you will have an open mind about what I have to say, I'm not so naive to think that a blog post will coerce you into changing your mind. If all the content to follow does only one thing, I hope that it drives you to see what Scripture actually has to say about Jesus as opposed to some church, denomination, political party, etc. In other words, let this serve as an encouragement to discover, for yourself, who Jesus is.

First, we have Jesus the man. While there is some debate as to whether or not Jesus was fully man, I have no debate. He lived and breathed just like you and me. He experienced everything we experience today. He walked this planet bound by the same limitations as the rest of us. But we must also address the fact he is fully God. Biblical evidence more than supports this claim, as do a vast majority of scholars. Feel free to disagree, but know this is where I stand.

Reading the Bible, we will also encounter Jesus the miracle worker. The Bible records 33 miracles of Jesus. You might say that 33 is not many. But to you I ask one question; how many miracles have you performed recently? None? Let me give you a broader time frame to work with. How many miracles have you performed in your life? Have you ever changed water to wine (not grape juice or Kool-aid; a monkey could do that)? Have you ever healed a man who had been lame most of his life? How about a man born blind? Better yet, have you ever raised anyone from the dead? I know I sure haven’t! And let me make it clear these were in fact miracles, not just coincidences. Nor was Jesus some mystic sorcerer. He was, in fact, a miracle worker! And let me remind you that these are only a few of the miracles the Bible recorded. John tells us that the Bible didn't even come close to recording the many things Jesus did. He goes so far as to say that "if they were all written down, the whole world could not contain the books that would be written."

Then there's Jesus the environmentalist. Granted, environmental degradation wasn't a pressing issue in Biblical times; but I sense Jesus had more to say about our treatment of this planet than we might realize. If we take a close look, there seem to be some assumptions we can make based on his teachings and actions. Often times we find Jesus secluding himself, living close to nature. Many of his parables, we will find, are drawn from the laws of nature and the environment. He even had power over nature itself--i.e. calming the storm! It is unlikely, to me, to believe that Christ, who loved God so deeply didn't love all that his father made. In my research, I have yet to hear Jesus say "It's perfectly acceptable to trash the planet!" Evey choice we make should contribute to sustain the environment--which in turn, sustains human life. Through our actions, we should make choices that contribute to the feeding, housing, and clothing of our fellow human being. Don't tell me Jesus wasn't concerned about our treatment of this world God entrusted us with. So, we don't have to guess what position Jesus would take when it comes to this planet we inhabit. It seems quite obvious he was for a much more committed stewardship of the earth. Exploitation--whether that be people or creation--is a sin.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a humanitarian. He regularly fought for the widows, the orphans and the outcast. Jesus contributed much to making individuals aware of their identity and their dignity. He fought for the recognition of human rights and their corresponding duties. It only makes sense to me that his followers would do the same. They would take a stand against injustice, no matter who it offends. They would support the humanitarian cause by involving themselves through an active involvement in civic, economic and political life. Through the witness of their charity and faith they would offer a valuable contribution to bringing forth integral human development and the right ordering of human affairs. In all their actions they would make a conscious choice to pursue justice. If we are going to follow in the foot steps of Jesus, he establishes the fact that it must lead to a far greater respect for humanity.
Now we come to Jesus the rebel and political activist. Chances are, there have been few (if any) times you've heard him referred to in this manner. Truth be told, the message he proclaimed had major political overtones. On more than one occasion, Jesus directly opposed the Roman empire. Although Jesus did encourage his disciples to pay their taxes, he didn’t always agree with the Roman political system. It was not uncommon for the Caesar's of his day to proclaim themselves as divine. The title "divi filius," translated as "son of the divine one," along with the titles "savior" and "bringer of peace" were often associated with Augustus Caesar. For Jesus to stake claim to the same title--"the Son of God"--was clearly in direct opposition to their headship.  Knowing this, you understand why the Romans had it out for Jesus. And it makes a little more sense why the entire empire turned a blind eye to the crucifixion of the innocent Christ.

But it wasn't only Rome that had great disdain for Jesus' outspoken, rebellious demeanor. Jesus certainly had things to say about the established religious institution of the day. You can't read the Bible without taking notice of Jesus' rebuke and condemnation of many of the Jews religious practices. He had a blatant disregard for many of their rules and regulations. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, associated with sinners, touched the unclean and defended the cause of the non-religious. Jesus makes it clear the kingdom many of the Jews were trying to establish stood in opposition to his. Loud and clear, Jesus let them know that the ideas of equality, justice, mercy, etc. are key in his kingdom.

You see, to the Romans and the Jews, Jesus was no Mr. Rogers. Afterall, nobody would ever crucify Mr. Rogers. Through his confrontation, Jesus made it clear that political activism today is worthy of our time and effort. However, we must note that he demonstrated that power doesn’t have to corrupt. Because the power of the cross is more powerful than any lies and pride and cruelty. That’s something many of us could use to hear today.

Because Jesus was crucified, many would have you believe he was a pacifist. I have to admit, there is a plethora of evidence that lends itself to this idea. He demonstrated that by the way he lived. Jesus clearly lived a life of grace. He showed us the importance of forgiveness. He even made a somewhat cryptic statement about turning the other cheek. He emphasized humility and meekness. "Blessed are the peacemakers." he tells us. Jesus even pleads for us to "not resist him that is evil." And in the face of unjust accusations, Jesus laid down his life for the greater good. Which, I'm certain has something to do with the title Prince of Peace we attribute to him.

But I can't read through the New Testament and claim his life was solely one of peace. He came, in part, to serve as a catalyst that would begin to usher in heaven on earth. So that means when ungodly atrocities (war, hatred, violence, murder, etc.) are being done he took a stand and got involved. Jesus did things a true pacifist wouldn't dream of doing. He called out the pious and the religious on their BS. On numerous occasions, Jesus blatantly defied the Pharisees. Rather than turning a blind eye to the pending murder of an adulterous woman Jesus intervened and saved her life. There's also the scene he created in the temple--not only did he overthrow the tables, but he also made a whip of cords and drove the responsible parties out. That doesn't scream pacifist to me. As disciples, we are called by Jesus himself, to imitate this way of life--to do justly. Which goes hand in hand with humility, peace and mercy. Which means Jesus wouldn't be an advocate for arming every person. Nor does he justify violence begetting more violence. What he does advocate is treating others fairly and equally, all the while having respect for their humanity. 

All of this leads me to a few important conclusions. First, it is clear to me that our preconceived notions of Jesus need to be rethought. Second, it's obvious any labels we try to place upon him are inadequate at best. The problem is that we try to make Jesus fit neatly into our boxes and labels, but reality is he doesn't.

While Jesus is a friend, a comforter, a healer, a  provider and a judge--among other things. The fact remains that Jesus is so much more. He is something very different. He is something wholly other! Those who realize this understand that Jesus is a peacemaker that gets angry from time to time--only because he needs to. They understand that he respects every individual but still offends--because we need to change our thinking. They understand that while he has all the answers, he still responds with questions--because we need to decide in our own heart. They understand while he is all loving he may come across as sarcastic--because our attitudes are not right. The reason Jesus is this way is summed up quite well by Max Lucado "[Jesus] loves [us] just the way [we] are, but he refuses to leave [us] there." Jesus has a better offer for life than we are currently living.

I have a theory as to why we rarely see anyone paint these pictures of Jesus. These pictures are not easy or safe. To see them means we are accountable to much more than the eternal soul of the individual. With these pictures come a much wider range of responsibility. One that embraces not just eternity, but today. They prove our temporal actions have eternal implications--especially if we believe God will, in fact, make all things new.

Monday, April 15, 2013


"Quit trying!" is the advice my father gave me the other day. After opening up about the job hunt with the church--sharing my frustrations and disappointments--those were the last words I expected him to utter. Considering how supportive he has been over the years, even when he didn't understand or even disagreed with what I was doing, I was taken aback. If you knew the faith journey he has been on these last several years, you would likely be just as shocked. When I first left for college to pursue my ministerial studies, my father, who was not a Christian at the time, was the one who supported my decision. I remember him telling me "If God's calling you to do this, you better do it!" And it was this supportive, encouraging attitude I have heard from him, until now.

It's safe to assume "Quit trying!" was not the response I was looking for. As you likely know, that's not the type of advice most parents give. They tend to be more compassionate and encouraging. They push and challenge you to keep striving in order to reach your goals. "Keep pressing on!" "Give it time!" "Don't give up!" would have seemed more apropos. But, with an outsiders perspective, my father took a different approach.

After tossing around his advice most of the night, I decided it would be best to let it sink in and sleep on it. The next morning, with a clear head and a fresh perspective, I realized he has a valid point. Now, I understand "Quit trying!" doesn't sound like the best advice, but sometimes it's exactly what we need to hear. Not only can that be the best resolution to a certain situation, but it even has some Biblical undertones.

Read Acts 16:6-10 and you might see what I'm talking about.

"Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had told them not to go into the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed for the province of Bithynia, but again, the Spirit of Jesus did not let them go. So, instead, they went on through Mysia to the city of Troas. That night Paul had a vision. He saw a man from Macedonia in northern Greece, pleading with him, ‘Come over here and help us.’ So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, for we could only conclude that God was calling us to preach the Good News there."

This is, in a way, identical to the situation I had found myself in. On some level this story, more than likely, resonates with you as well. You have been seeking God in everything you do. Desperately you have been trying to follow His leading. But every step forward only seems to be followed by two steps back. Whenever you step out in faith, you encounter an impasse. Inevitably, every attempt to follow God leaves you more frustrated and confused than the last.

Although they keep pressing forward, this is exactly where I imagine Paul and Silas find themselves. Take a moment and attempt, with me, to put yourself in Paul’s shoes. Having been in direct opposition to the supposed Messiah, Jesus the Christ, the last thing you planned to do was proclaim his message of forgiveness and hope. Yet, after a surprising encounter with the risen Jesus, sharing the Good News becomes not only your passion, but your way of life. The Holy Spirit has overtaken you and at the risk of life and limb, you set out on a journey to take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. So engulfed with this new calling, you become almost oblivious to everything around you. Determined to stop at nothing to reach the finish line, from time-to-time you seem to misread the leading of the Spirit. For this reason, all these attempts to move the Gospel forward result in the intervention of 'the spirit of Jesus.' What that means or how that worked I'm not sure. But it seems God took a different approach than he had been with Paul. The subtle hints weren't getting through to Paul so God took a more direct approach and stopped him dead in his tracks. Only then was Paul able to press forward and continue with his calling to spread the hope of Jesus.

If you, like Paul, Silas and I, are continually trying to do something or go somewhere and nothing seems to work, perhaps it's time to quit trying. Now, I want you to understand that to quit trying is not to be misconstrued with giving up. While they seem similar, there is a fine line that differentiates the two. In this case, to quit trying means you purposefully relinquish control. You set aside your dreams, your agenda and your time table. You stop trying to force things or make anything happen. You make no more spur of the moment decisions. You quit trying so God can work. You wait for Him to direct your steps. To reveal your next move. To make things happen. To bring things to fruition. All on his time table. You haven't given up because you open yourself to the possibility God has something else to show you or somewhere else to take you--that you were unable to see because you had on blinders.

On that note, I pose some questions to ask yourself. Exhausted? Tired of trying to figure out God’s will for your life? For this week? For tomorrow? For today? That's exactly where I'm at. And chances are you will find yourself there soon. My advice then is to just quit trying and give God the control He desires. It's easier said than done, I know. But it usually yields the best results.