Thursday, March 21, 2013


Several of my college buddies should work for Daniel Tosh. They have the uncanny ability to scour the Internet and find the most obscure and outlandish videos. Recently, one of my buddies posted a video called Bibleman. My eyes and ears could only withstand a few minutes before I determined my soul might wither away. I assume this was just one video in an entire series. Even more disheartening is the fact it was put out by a church.

Here is, yet again, a case where the church, in an attempt to imitate culture falls short. The result is that they wind up excelling in mediocrity. Granted, I'm sure that's not the goal of any church, but sadly mediocrity is what most seem to offer. My hope is that this comes across as an open dialogue in how we can better proclaim the message of Jesus instead of a bitter rant directed toward the church.

We all realize that a copy is never as good as the original. Unfortunately, we have a difficult time grasping this truth in the church. We have ceased innovating and settled for imitating.

We attempt to imitate the church models of those more successful than ours. The books their pastors are writing become best sellers, their videos go viral, and their training seminars are well attended. All in hopes that they will offer some formula or three easy steps that will create the same buzz in our church. Herein lies our flawed thinking. To begin with, just because a church can draw a crowd does not mean it should be emulated. Nor is it a guarantee God is at work in that church. I can think of numerous things that will draw a crowd--none of which I want to see in the local church. Secondly, the makeup of every church is different, which makes our "why reinvent the wheel" mentality ridiculous. While we may not need to reinvent it, we should at least learn to adapt it to the culture we find ourselves in. What works in one church will not necessarily work in another. There is no formula!

If it's not another church we imitate, there's the culture whose coattails we so often latch onto. We ask ourselves "What in culture draws a crowd?" Once we reach a consensus on what that is, we attempt to "redeem" it and incorporate it into our ministries. To see this, you need look no further than our marketing, our music, and our message (how about that alliteration--I didn't even do it on purpose). Countless churches employ catchy slogans and sophisticated sales pitches in hopes to draw people in the door. Once they grasp their attention, the people are bombarded with repackaged goods the culture has already offered at a far superior quality. Upon closer inspection the creativity and innovation some of our music offers is lacking. It's the same stuff we hear on the radio with different lyrics--if rock tops the charts, our tendency is to transition our worship in the same direction. And when it comes to our messages, they seem to follow what's popular in Hollywood--The Walking Dead, Desperate Households, Biggest Loser, LOST, and Twilight are not just Hollywood hits; they are sermon series being preached in the local church.

Again, I'm not bashing any of this. There isn't necessarily anything inherently wrong with these things. Truth be told, I have had my part to play in all of this. God knows I haven't done any better in being counter-cultural. But here is the bottom line--following suit with the culture (or another church) doesn't make us excellent. It makes us redundant!

For this reason, I think it's time we free ourselves from the bondage of imitation by pursuing innovation. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting we adjust our doctrine or dogma (I am however, in part, suggesting we adjust our mission from behavior modification to life transformation--which is another discussion entirely). What I am suggesting is that we innovate our current models while incorporating Biblical methods. We need the revolutionary truth we posses to reshape everything we do--from our marketing, our music, our message (and our evangelism--I put this in parentheses cause it didn't alliterate with the rest). Following Jesus demands that we transcend culture rather than take our cues from it. Imitation runs the risk of elevating tradition and belittles the creativity and passion God placed within each of us. Through innovation, we rise above the prescribed cultural norms and best ignite the change and redemption that will inevitably reshape our world.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Sometimes distractions are a good thing. They allow us to to stop and rest. And, often times, it is those distractions that give us a fresh perspective. Every now and then at work I just need to step away. A quick five minute break from staring at the computer brings my productivity back to normal. However, more often than not, distractions are negative. They take our focus off the present. They keep us from what's important. They suppress our potential and inhibit us from achieving our goals. Distractions have the power to send us into financial ruin. They can get us canned at work. They have the potential to destroy relationships.

Distractions are everywhere we turn. For me, it usually comes in the form of television. This is part of the reason I got rid of cable several years ago. I knew without it I would be much more productive and active. Oh yeah, saving $50 a month was a bit motivational as well. While I thought I would miss cable, it turns out I was wrong; the withdrawals only lasted a few short weeks. That doesn't mean I'm not drawn to it when it's available. For example, I can be enjoying a show at my girlfriend's place completely oblivious to the conversation she is trying to have with me. I can even go to a restaurant for some one-on-one time with a friend and for some reason I'm sucked in to the baseball game on the screen above our booth. A few minutes in, I find myself wondering what I'm doing. "I don't enjoy watching sports on television. And I don't even like baseball." I think to myself.

I am distracted far too easy!

This reality is most obvious when it comes to my spiritual life. One moment my faith is vibrant and growing, the next I find myself stuck in a rut, walking the path of spiritual complacency. There are seasons of life where the devotional patterns I set up wane, almost to the point of non-existence. I get caught up in the books I'm reading. Working out takes priority. The draw of warm weather and sunshine beckon me outside. All the while my Bible and devotional books set on my night stand collecting dust. When it comes to prayer, it doesn't take much to distract me. The Internet on my phone. Just a few minutes of relaxation. A two and a half hour nap. But if I'm willing to fore go those distractions, my mind begins to wander to thoughts about what I'm going to have for dinner, the car that needs to be washed, or that friend I haven't talked to in ages. If I even attempt to fast, inevitably a friend calls and wants to meet up for lunch. Or that time in college I was doing so good, and not even thinking about it, took a few pieces of candy from my professors office.

This has led me to, what are now, some very obvious realizations.

Distractions never seem to come at opportune times. Almost always, they seem to catch you off guard. Sunday morning, on your way to church, an argument with your spouse comes out of nowhere. Fifteen minutes into morning devotions the phone rings. Finally, you've found some peace and quiet to pray and you doze off--no matter what time of day. You promise yourself not to miss a week of Lifegroup this semester and en route the car dies. Why? Because the Devil is an opportunist. "He prowls around like a lion looking for someone to destroy."

Good things often distract us from better things. I recall an occasion when I was pastoring in Wyoming. Several of the teens and I were taking a road trip to some sort of youth rally. Being the punctual person I am, I was annoyed at our late start. Determined to make up ground and arrive on time, I wasn't willing to stop for anything. About 30 minutes into the trip we passed a family in a mini-van broken down on the side of the road. I wish I could tell you I took advantage of that opportunity to show the teens what ministry really looks like; but I can't. Instead, my need to be punctual overshadowed my need to extend help and compassion. Even at the suggestion of some of the teens, I drove right by without giving it a second thought.

But, the biggest realization I have drawn is this: serving God has distracted many of us from knowing God. We spend our time serving, evangelizing, discipling, or any other -ing you can think of. At the core of all our doing tends to be a desire for His approval as opposed to a need for His intimacy. For me, there are seasons of life I fall into a trap where "doing ministry" becomes my focus. I read my Bible so I have something to preach or blog about. My prayer life becomes consumed with asking God to expand my boundaries and use my pastoral degree. I fill my time meeting with people, all the while waiting for the perfect opportunity to share my great spiritual insight. Shane and Shane penned lyrics that speak volumes to me and you on all our doing. "You can only go so far, until the bottom falls out. All my singing, smiling...dedicated to God. To be called by one Almighty God and take it for granted. Heard a rumor I guess, but I wanna know who told me so. Told me serving you replaced me knowing You."

To replace serving God with knowing God is to miss the point of everything He has done. The point has never been to work for or with God. It has always been--and will always be--to dive deeper into a soul-satisfying, intimate, father-child, eternal relationship with Him. God has freed us from bondage, not to serve Him, but to love and be loved by Him!

Monday, March 4, 2013


This colorful work of art is the culmination of 6 sessions of tattooing--totaling almost 14 hours of work. How much I paid, you may never know. Even so, I felt all the time and money was a bit justified. To some degree, sitting in that tattoo chair doubled as some of the counseling that got me through. If I was going to pay someone to hear me vent and talk about everything, I figured I should have something to show for it.

For this tattoo, I was certain of the meaning it was going to convey. I even knew where in Scripture I wanted the idea to come from. However, the exact details and how it should be executed were uncertain to me. So, I made the decision to turn my tattoo artist loose. I went into the shop, shelled out some cash for my deposit, and met with Nick to discuss the significance behind this work of art. I informed him I wanted this tattoo to represent the part God's presence had been playing throughout the previous 18 months. In short, I told him how I felt God was bringing order out of the chaos that was currently my life. We discussed how predominant that theme was in the creation account. Other than those two criteria, Nick was given free reign to create a masterpiece worthy of being displayed on my arm--permanently.

For the next several weeks I was antsy to see what he had come up with to represent this season of my life. When I came in to see the preliminary drawings, I was blown away. As we sat down and discussed his representation of the creation account and how it tied into my story, I couldn't help but think he had nailed it. He informed me that he read over the first few chapters of Genesis numerous times. It was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the serpent that stuck out to him the most. The serpent and tree would would represent the chaos I had been experiencing for the past several months.

When Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from that tree, it would set the stage for humanity to live in a world full of chaos. The consequences of that one decision would echo through eternity. It would even affect those that didn't have any say in that decision. No longer would life be the same. Humanity would have to labor away to sustain life. Pain, agony and sorrow would now be an experience the world would have to endure. Creation would no longer walk in communion with God the way it once had. That one bite unleashed an evil on the world that was never meant to be seen. To a lesser degree, that is where I found my life. In the midst of the pain, agony and sorrow of divorce I was trying to pick up the pieces and reconnect with God. Although divorce was not my decision, it would forever alter the course of my life. The circumstances surrounding my divorce would wreak havoc on future relationships. Anyone willing to risk dating me would feel the full weight of the damage that was done. My nonchalant attitude toward them would cause frustration. My lack of trust would be a constant source of tension. My difficulty expressing feelings would be downright annoying. My hesitancy to commit would cause hurt and anger.

But that was only part of my story!

Through all of that, God was working on something. Although I couldn't see it, from the chaos he was bringing order. I caught glimpses of it here and there. The positive change in my attitude. A new perspective. An undeniable heart of compassion. My increasing trust in God. The growth of my faith. I knew, if this tattoo was going to be an altar to the work God was doing, these things had to be included. Which is why, after some more talking, Nick incorporated Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam.' This, the season God seemed most distant, was the same season he was tirelessly working behind the scenes to bring me where I am today.

Every time I look at this tattoo, I am reminded of so many things. It reminds me that God is more than able to redeem even the most dire of situations. Today, years after my divorce, he is still redeeming and leveraging that pain for his good. Because of my experiences I have been able to walk with others going through divorce. It reminds me that I am truly blessed. Through this experience I have come to the realization that my life was never that bad; there will always be someone who has it worse. This tattoo reminds me of the persistence of God. Even though I had thrown my hands up in frustration, he saw me through it all. It reminds me of his abundant provision. At just the right time, God always brought friends and family who offered the encouragement I needed, a non-judgmental ear I could vent to, and support when I was spent. This experience has also given me a glimpse of the pain we put God through on a regular basis. But most of all, this tattoo reminds me of a God who will stop at nothing to rescue us from the hells of our own making. As Hebrews 4:15 informs as, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin."