September 15, 2017

The Secret Life of a Pastor

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
Just after I announced my resignation from my Pastor position, my wife and I got to have dinner with some friends from our church who reached out to us. We had a fantastic time with them talking life, science, faith, parenting, the Enneagram and a number of other things. My favorite moment though came about half way through dessert when the husband was sharing a story and at one point swore. As soon as he said it, he put his hand up to his mouth and apologized. There was a couple second pause and then he said, "Ahhh, you're not a pastor anymore! I can swear in front of you now."

It was such a funny moment, but as I processed it more, I realized it's the perfect example of the life of a pastor.

Consciously or unconsciously, people tend to put pastors up on this pedestal. I can't tell you how many times I've been having a conversation with someone and they at some point say, "I know I shouldn't be telling you this..." For many, there is this sense that you have to act a certain way, speak a certain way and only talk about certain things when you're around a pastor. The local group of clergy I have met with in my community will regularly share that when it comes to mental health issues, domestic violence or marital challenges, pastors are often the last ones to know there is something going on. Some people want to make sure their pastor doesn't figure out they aren't perfect Christians (Pssst...we already know that!!) and so we are regularly interacting with people who are less than authentic.

If that weren't tiring enough, the worse burden is the reverse: this expectation as a pastor that we, and our families, are supposed to be perfect. Far more often than not, this is a subconscious expectation. Sometimes pastors put it on ourselves more than our communities do, but even in the best of church communities (and thank God that my previous church was that otherwise I never would have made it there 10 years!), it's there.

The week after I announced my resignation, I had lunch with a friend in my church and as I sat down, he asked me how I was, and then before I could even answer he said, "I bet a lot of people take you for granted. All of us come to you to share our stuff and get help, but how often do we really just ask you how you are?" I almost started crying.

Even the amazing, loving people who have asked me that question over the years, being a pastor meant I always had to filter how I respond:
  • How honest can I be? 
  • Can I talk about the stressful day at the office? 
  • Can I share about the fight at home with my wife or my kids? 
  • Can I admit that the sermon really bothered me this week? 
  • Can I tell them I'm having a really hard time reading the Bible?
  • Or questioning what I've always been taught about gay marriage?
  • Or that I wish I could have just slept in instead of coming to church that day?
Then, when you have those moments where you decide to be more honest, you can find yourself being reminded of why it's such a risk to do so. An honest comment you make with a friend is innocently shared with someone else, who then goes and meets with the Senior Pastor to express concern over what the church is "teaching" about the subject of the comment. Then you find yourself having a one-on-one with your boss who needs to clarify what you believe. There is this feeling that you are constantly being read your rights: "Anything you say [post/blog/share/read/etc] may be used against you."

In many ways, being a pastor is very similar to being a therapist. Any therapist will tell you that it's important to keep healthy boundaries with the people they work with for the very fact that you're not friends, they are your clients. The big difference though is that a therapist gets to go home at the end of the day. They go to a small group with friends, they do social events on the weekend, and they can go to church (or not!) on Sunday. Then they head back to work on Monday. Even though they are guarded at work, they can usually be their full authentic selves in other areas of their life. By contrast, pastors don't get the other areas of life because we are constantly with "clients" at small group, at social events, and especially at church. And it's much easier said than done to find ways around that. In the end, our own personal and spiritual growth is what suffers the most in the process.

A couple grabbed me after service the day I made my resignation announcement and tearfully expressed, "I hope we can still be friends." I looked at them and explained that it's exactly why I'm making this decision. Being able to take the pastor hat off is going to allow me to actually develop deeper friendships, and that's exactly what has happened in the month-and-a-half I've been done as a pastor. People I'm getting together with no longer have a tinge of the "client" element, but now are becoming just honest friends and for that, I'm really excited and relieved.

July 12, 2017

Why I Stopped Taking My Kids to Church

Francis Chan speaking to Facebook employees
Photo: Beach goers form wall
About 6-months ago, I stopped taking my kids to church.

Like many families on a Sunday morning, we would wake up on Sunday, get breakfast and then we would go to church. We've been doing that since my kids were born (they are now 4 and 5), and especially given that I have been a pastor that whole time as well, we hardly missed a Sunday. But 6-months ago I hit a point where I just couldn't do it anymore. I reached the conclusion that continuing to take my kids to church just wasn't good for them or for their future.

Over the last year, I've been doing a lot of research, reading, and study about Church, faith, and spirituality. One of the biggest conclusions I've come to is that the way we talk about Church is absolutely crucial to the way we understand it, and more so to how we participate within a community.

Most people who call themselves Christians have heard sermons or read articles that talk about the important fact that Church, according to the Bible, has nothing to do with an organization, a building or a program. And yet, think about how you use the word church. More often than not, it refers to one of those three things:
You pass an impressive cathedral and you say to your kids, "Check out that church." 
You have your church clothes that you make sure you wear every Sunday. 
You're rushing around on a Sunday morning trying to get out the door and yell, "Come on, we're late for church!" 
You listen to a pastor tell you about her church and explain what the church believes. 
You find out your co-worker is also a Christian and so you ask, "Where do you go to church?" And when they tell you they aren't going to church anywhere you question if they are even a Christian...
Buildings. Programs. Organizations. Our western culture has hijacked the term church to refer to these things, but they are not Church. And what's more, talking about Church like this actually undermines what it actually is. Over my years as a pastor, I've spent plenty of time with my pastor-friends lamenting about the consumer-driven mentality that has become church and Christianity in America, but then we continue to talk about Church in a way that, in my growing opinion, only encourages and teaches that consumer mindset.

When I read the Scriptures, and specifically as I have dug through the book of Acts, Church is all about people. It's about diverse people coming together, serving together, giving to one another and talkings about Truth and life and faith and Scripture and trying to figure out what it means to live as an image of the Divine and to bring heaven on earth. Church isn't something that you go to, or watch, or attend; it is something that you are a part of.

In fact, taking it a step further, it is impossible to go to Church, to leave Church, or to be unChurched. You can go to a cool building. You can leave an organization. And you can decide to stop going to a program, but Church is so much bigger than that.

Earlier today I read the incredible story about the 80 or so people who formed a human wall/rope to rescue a number of people who had been ripped out to sea because of a powerful rip current. It brought tears to my eyes to read about so many people from so many different walks of life joining together to bring life to these stranded swimmers. My immediate thought was: THAT is what Church should be like!

The work wasn't just left to the professional life guards.

The rescue wasn't scheduled or arranged.

It wasn't convenient or safe for those who formed the wall.

This diverse group of people chose to all come together, where they were, to bring life to those who needed it.

This is why I stopped taking my kids to church. Instead, we wake up, we go get bagels for breakfast and then we go to Grace Farms (the property where our faith community meets). And when my kids comment that we are going to church, I correct them. "Nope, we're going to Grace Farms. YOU are the Church. It's impossible to go to Church." I don't want my kids growing up thinking that Church is just this thing we do on Sundays. Instead, I want them to know it is something that they are a part of 24/7/365 and that the Divine invites them to participate in bringing about heaven on earth wherever they find themselves.

June 6, 2017

The Myth of Independence

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Thanks to technology, humans are more "connected" than ever as we can talk in real time with someone on the other side of the globe. And yet at the same time, we are more disconnected than ever.

Our dependence has shifted from tribes and families to government and markets. As author Yuval Noah Harari points out, we "are defined above all by what [we] consume." We have bought into the myth that everything we need can be purchased: health, faith, safety, sustenance, happiness, everything

The importance of being an independent individual has become the god and priority of our culture and it impacts everything we do. We spend twelve plus years in schools teaching us everything we need to know to take care of ourselves and provide for ourselves. Parents teach responsibility and, to a certain extent, long for the day when the kids are out of the house. The digital market tells us we don't even have to interact with other people because Amazon Prime will have it to us in two-days. Even the way we practice our religion is often built around going to a meeting, service or study to consume rather than participating in the communal Church.

It's no wonder we have a hard time with community and relationships...

Think about all the things we're not supposed to talk about in our culture: politics, religion, money, the shadow self (i.e. our dark sides), "bad" emotions, etc. We don't talk about them because they, we have deemed, are all "individual" or "personal" issues. So we often choose to not go there, and honestly, more often than not, we spend time finding and building communities that contain others who think and feel mostly the same way we do. And as soon as someone deviates, one of two things usually happens:
  1. We separate from that person by either pushing them out of the community or we leave the community to find another that will simply support and hold up what we have determined to be true.
  2. We confront the person and place the emphasis on "converting" the other to adopt the view that we have deemed to be "right". We create an "us versus them" mentality, where we dig in our heels and do everything we can to "win".
No one wins when we live like that. We end up with hundreds (if not thousands) of "friends" on social media but find ourselves wrestling with loneliness because we don't feel known. We buy and consume more, because if we just have X, maybe the feeling will go away. At some point, we need to understand that money can't buy deep and meaningful relationships. Simply put, the pursuit of independence always lands in the same place where the Divine declares "it's not good for the Man to be alone."

In reality, independence is nothing more than a myth that we tell ourselves. As independent as you may feel you are, someone paved the roads you drove on today. Someone designed the car you drove, someone else put it together and someone else sold it to you. Another person handled the loan at the bank so you could buy the car and someone else processes your payment each month to keep track of the debt and what you owe. Someone grew or raised the food you bought. Someone else drove and delivered the food to the store you shop at. Someone else unloaded the truck and others stocked the shelves. Someone else checked you out (or fixed the self-service register because the scale got messed up). Do I need to keep going?

Real community is not developed simply by doing things together or seeing the same group of people regularly. It's developed by being vulnerable, open, and honest. It's being ourselves and talking about all the deeper things that shape our views, values, opinions, and beliefs and loving others as they do the same. And it's not found in our similarities, but in our differences and our decision to love and appreciate those differences instead of condemning them. 

As you go about your day, remember that you need other people, and more specifically, people who are different than you are. Take a moment and think about all the things you did (or will do) today, and then do what I did in the paragraph above. Think about the numerous people who were involved that make your "independence" possible. Embrace the fact that we are dependent on others to survive and that the Divine says that is "very good".

May 25, 2017

Jealous of My 5 Year Old

Last week we spent some vacation time in North Carolina, and although the weather was amazing and warm all week, the ocean was quite cold. The very first day, I got close enough for a wave to hit my feet and immediately retreated further up the beach. My son? He could have cared less about the temperature of the water.

Every single day when we got down to the beach, that kid was in the water and playing in the waves. As I watched him the first day from the beach, I was overcome with this proud moment of, "That's my boy!" The smile and laughter and joy and playing without a care in the world just brought tears to my eyes as I took such delight in watching him.

I realized that the reason I was so proud of him in that moment and was delighting in him so much was that he was fully and authentically being himself and he didn't care what anyone else thought.

Prior to going in the ocean on that first day, I tried to talk him out of it:

"Buddy, the water is too cold. Are you sure you want to go in? Why don't you just play up on the beach with your sister? You know you're going to be alone in the water, right?"

There was no talking him out if it. Regardless of the discouragement and the rejections he received to join him in the water, he was going in the water and he was going to love every minute of it.

As I watched him, my joy shifted to another emotion that surprised me: jealousy. I realized that I wished I had what he did in that moment. This child-like faith that didn't care about anyone else and was solely set on just being the best version of myself that I could.

Let's be honest, once we get past our early childhood years we become easily focused on all the external voices and what they say about who we are and what we should be. Rather than just diving into the water of life and being our authentic selves, we spend so much time on the beach looking around, listening to the voices, being concerned about what others would say if we decided to go in the water. Misery loves company, and those who decide they would rather fit in, follow the "rules", and live out of fear don't want to be standing on the beach alone.

You know the water is too cold?

Are you sure you want to go in?

Just stay up here on the beach.

No one else is going in.

As I stood watching my son and feeling these contrasting emotions, I felt God challenge me and ask, "Why do you care so much what others say? Just be the person I created you to be. Get in the water!"

I am trying more and more to do just that...and it's hard. The voices and the critics can be so loud at times. It doesn't help either that my personality is so image driven and so I care deeply what others think. I have always grown from the idea of turning my critics into my teachers: What can I learn? How can I grow? What is constructive in what they are suggesting?

I think that is a really important posture, however as I grow in self-awareness and as I learn more about what my Creator has to say about who I am, I am learning some critics are critical for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you. They don't have a clue who you are and because of that have zilch that they can teach you. The best thing you can do with these critics is to learn the importance of the delete button.

This is where spiritual practice is so helpful. If you don't have time in your day to meditate, pray and talk with your Creator about who you are in the Divine, you need to make that time. Keep a journal of the things that God teaches you about yourself and go back to it when you start to doubt yourself or your critics become too loud. Spend some time reading the first three chapters of Ephesians which over and over and over again talks about who we are and doesn't tell us one thing that you need to do. Distance yourself from relationships that place your worth in something else that you need to do or become to be fully accepted, and instead surround yourself with people who will embrace you for who you are, which brings loving and constructive criticism towards growth and wholeness.

Above everything, get in the water! It might feel cold at first. It might be a little uncomfortable. Once you fully dive in though, you will find a joy and a fullness that can't be matched anywhere else.

How do you tell the difference between a critic that's constructive and a critic you need to just ignore?

What helps you ignore the crowd that may discourage you from being yourself?

What practices have you found to be helpful in connecting you to the Divine truth about who you are?

April 26, 2017

Donald Trump's First 100 Days

Telling God's Story by Peter Enns
In case you've been hiding under a rock, on Saturday Donald Trump will have completed 100 days as President of the United States. With that, critics are coming out in droves to point out that Trump will have the worst approval rating at 100 days of any President since 1945, that he has failed to meet his own standards for what he said he would accomplish in this time and that all he has done is prove he shouldn't have been in this position in the first place.

What is interesting to consider is that despite the many critics, the vast majority of the people who voted for Trump in the first place say they would vote for him again if the election was repeated today. More than that, what the linked article points out is that "62 percent [of those who voted for Trump] say he has been better than expected, with one-third (33 percent) saying he has been “much better.” Yes, I know many Trump voters who had low expectations as they cast their ballot for Trump mainly because they really didn't agree with what Clinton would have done if she won. Regardless of where the expectations started, it's safe to assume that many in this study had positive expectations of a Trump presidency, and they are saying that so far he has exceeded expectations.

How can the responses be so opposite? How can one group of people be looking at Trump and starting social media campaigns to say he should be impeached and another group be looking at him and say that he's been better than expected? Obviously, there are numerous reasons for this: spiral dynamics, political beliefs and opinions, intelligence (as cited by both sides!), etc.

In all of this, I keep coming back to one point that I think is easy to overlook: it's easier to outsource the responsibility of making our world better than it is to look at ourselves and take personal responsibility to do it. Put another way, it's easier to look at Donald Trump and critique his last 100 days, than it is to look at how YOU have done in your last 100 days? And this is really nothing new. Most people know the story in the Bible of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. I love the point that Peter Enns makes in Telling God's Story (a MUST read for parents!!) about what God is doing here:
In truth, the Israelites were not freed from “service” when God brought them out of Egypt. They were transferred from one form of “slavery” to another. God was forming them into a people who would reflect the image of God to a fallen world. That is the point of the Law. “When you enter Canaan, be like this. Don’t do what they do. You are to be my representatives. You are to be a blessing for the nations." (emphasis added)
What do the Israelites do in response to this responsibility of being the image of God in the world? They make a golden calf to represent God and begin to worship that. They shift the responsibility to something else.

They do the same thing in 1 Samuel when the Israelite people beg to have a king just like all the other nations around them. Instead of reflecting the image of God, they want to reflect the image of everyone else. More so, they wanted one person to represent them, to be the image of the nation of Israel, to be able to speak for everyone. Again, they shift the responsibility to something (or in this case someone) else. So they pick someone who looks great on the surface for this important position who inwardly ends of being arrogant and self conscious and not having the first clue about what it means to lead, especially in a Godly way. (No correlation to our time whatsoever...) Needless to say, it doesn't end well.

Then later, Jesus comes on the scene who was the perfect image of God and he taught how we should live as images of the Divine and what is the response? He's killed in exchange for a system and a religion that the people would rather hold on to as the image of God, rather than taking the responsibility for it themselves.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Yet, here we go again. Rather than take on the amazing responsibility that God has given us to reflect Divine love and justice around the world, it's so much easier to just elect someone to do it for us. (And I say that to everyone regardless of who you voted for.) There are a lot of things that are broken in the world that we live in. There are many things that we could be doing better as a nation and as a country. But Donald Trump is not the one who is going to make that happen. And neither will the next person elected or the person after that.

You are. YOU! Me. Your neighbor. The homeless guy down at the corner. Your coworker. All of us. 

Yes, we should talk about Trump's first 100 days. With as much political propaganda that is throughout the New Testament, following Jesus absolutely means getting involved in our local and federal government and figuring out ways together to make things better. But more than that, we need to take a good, long look at ourselves and ask if we are taking the responsibility that has been entrusted to us.

How have you done in your last 100 days?

How have you done in your role of spouse or significant other? What kind of friend have you been? Son or daughter? Parent? Employee?

How have you done in reflecting the image of the Divine in the world around you?

All of the things that you want to see happen politically, what are you doing in your every day life to do what you can?

Have you helped those who were in need? Have you fed the hungry? Clothed the naked? Taken care of the widow and the orphan?

What can you do in your next 100 days as an image of the Divine?

April 19, 2017

Rob Bell is a Heretic!

If you follow me on any of my social media accounts, you'll know that I share a lot of quotes. I read a ton, from a wide variety of authors and fields and I'm regularly finding things that resonate within me that I want to share with others. But the other thing you'll notice, especially in the last year or two, is that I rarely ever cite my source.

For some of you, that annoys you. Sorry! Some have Facebook messaged me and cited your frustration and asked why I don't cite my source and I thought I'd explain why in a blog post.

As I started regularly sharing quotes from things I was reading, I found that more often than not, many of the comments on the post reacted more with the source than they did the content. Quite frankly, I got sick of comments about "Rob Bell is a heretic, " or "Be careful with Dallas Willard," or on and on with why I shouldn't be reading or sharing what I was.

So I stopped citing my sources most of the time and a really funny thing happened. The same people who were commenting and bashing the author or expressing fear about who I was reading, actually started commenting positive things about the quotes. Literally, there was a person who expressed her warning and caution about my reading Rob Bell one week and then a couple weeks later, simply by taking Rob's name off of the quote, commented how much she loved the quote I shared and that we needed more religious leaders saying stuff like that!!

Within our Western culture, we spend a good deal of energy idolizing people, in both good and bad ways. This is especially true within the church. Whether we want to admit it or not, unconsciously, and even at times consciously, we don't really put our faith emphasis on the Gospel of Jesus, but on the Gospel of Person A. We look to our pastors and our spiritual leaders to have all the answers and to have faith all figured out. And once we identify who we want to follow, we then begin to segregate the rest of our relationships based on this person's theology: Christians and non-Christians, sinners and recovered sinners, truth tellers and false teachers, and Godly and heretics. Anyone who fits the mold is in, and anyone who doesn't is out.

We tell ourselves that we're protecting our faith, that we're being wise and being careful about what we're taking in. But in reality it's solely based on fear, and that doesn't lead to any kind of growth but actually stagnation. And stagnation is another word for death.

The term used for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is "paraclete" and when you dig down to the meaning of that term it suggests "one who comes to walk alongside of us." Walk alongside of, not stand there with us. Our faith is supposed to be moving, growing, taking different shapes and evolving. And the only way that happens is by embracing diversity. That's what the entire beginning of the book of Acts is all about. Here was a faith that was reserved for the Jews, that was all about only certain people having access to the Temple and to teaching, but Christ's death and resurrection changed that. Pentecost is all about many different people hearing the message of Love in their own language. And that was only the beginning as the story of Jesus spread all over the known world and invited many different people and backgrounds to join in this new kind of community. That's why most of the New Testament was even written: how can people in these diverse communities get along, love another and join together around the truth of Jesus!

The fact of the matter is that even the people who we may disagree with on a number of things, still have things we can learn from them. And if you can't read or interact with someone that you disagree with because it's going to destroy your faith, well, you may want to double check what you've placed your faith in because it's not Jesus.

Instead of being quick to label a person or to shut down a conversation or a book because of fear, lean in to it. Ask what you can learn. Be honest about your feelings of fear and be open to the fact that you may be projecting something on to a person that shouldn't be there. Train yourself to interact with people's content and emotions and life experiences and enter into a faith journey with them.

April 5, 2017

The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness

Often times, I can't help myself. My brain works in such a way that I always find myself asking questions and being skeptical. In some ways, this is really good, but in others it sometimes comes as a curse. I often find myself as the odd man out or feeling like I'm alone on an island because I feel like I'm the only one thinking what I'm thinking. Once again, I often find myself fearful to speak up out of fear of being rejected or criticized. So, continuing with this theme lately of kicking fear in the butt, I want to share my private email exchange I just sent to a friend:

We've been talking a bit lately about LGBT sexuality and I've been doing a lot of reading about the subject from a Biblical perspective. I've been purposefully reading things that are contrary to what I have been taught growing up because I want to be challenged and I want to make sure that what I believe is truly what I believe, and not just some shallow idea that I'm regurgitating. In that, my friend sent me this blog to read as I processed it, I found myself getting more and more angry...

Honestly, it's a piece like this that makes me angered and embarrassed about the Church.

First, after reading the source material from Huffington Post, I feel like the blog is completely hypocritical. If the blog was written the same way but about Scripture, it would be labeled as proof texting, taking things out of context and making conclusions that the original text didn't make. No conservative Christian would have stood for that and it would be discarded for not being fully honest. Yet, for a Christian author to take a secular article and do exactly the same thing is ok? I argued this in a another blog recently, but if we as followers of Christ want to stand for Truth, then we have to be more consistent in how we handle truth. If we aren't going to handle material honestly and above reproach, then we have no business pointing our finger at the "lies" that other people are telling. 

Second, I think this blog completely places the emphasis on the wrong syllable. It comes across as condescending, demeaning and condemning. I feel like they could have just written, "The gay communities' loneliness, depression and anxiety is their own fault and no one else's." (In essence, it's basically what the first two sentences that starts the piece says...) And by the last paragraph, the way I take it is that our job as Christians is to tell these gay men their sins and convince them of the lies they have been living by. This quickly gets in to dangerous territory...

In contrast, what I heard in the original piece is a cry for help:
  • "We're lonely and don't have many real relationships."
  • "We're struggling to find love and acceptance."
  • "We feel like we have to constantly hide, even with legal rights being granted."
  • "We're wounded and hurt and we're stuck in a cycle of wounding others to "protect" ourselves?"
  • "We're buried in shame because we can't be vulnerable, ever, because we'll be ridiculed and shut down."
If we're honest, these cries aren't any different from the ones that you and I have found ourselves saying as well at different seasons in our lives. More than anything, the original post is a reminder that we're all human. We have different issues, different journeys, but at the core, we're all created in the image of God and know that "it's not good for the man to be alone."

More so, as much as these cries for help are echoing throughout the gay community itself and the secular world, I would venture to guess that they even more impact the Church. If someone in the LGBT community can't talk to their gay friends; if they can't talk to their atheist friend; then they sure as heck aren't going to talk to their Christian friends or talk to a pastor. By starting the conversation with "their lifestyle is wrong," it slams the door in their face and creates extra hoops of shame for them to get through if they ever actually want to experience the Love of Jesus.

I feel like it would have been a much more loving, productive and helpful piece to ask: 

How can we as Christians can come alongside our LGBT friends, neighbors and co-workers? 

How can we be listening ears? 

How can we be compassionate? 

How can we by sympathetic to their hunger for relationship, belonging and worth? 

How can we make sure we're not building extra boundaries that are keeping them from God and the Church? 

How can we authentically invite them in to our communities where all of us are asking questions about the best way to live our lives in light of Christ and the Resurrection?

As long as we continue to place these questions second to the question of whether the lifestyle is right or wrong (and yes, that discussion is important!), we are only going to continue to feed in to the loneliness and separation of these men and women from the love of Christ. Yes, there is a time and place for, "go and sin no more," [and oh by the way, side note: that quote, and story as a whole, wasn't even in the original text of the book of John but was added in later......] and frankly we all need to hear that refrain for any number of things in our lives. But that refrain needs to follow love, compassion, rescue and acceptance first, rather than starting the conversation.

March 22, 2017

I Drank My First Beer

This past Saturday, at 33 years, 6 months and 21 days old, I drank the first alcoholic beverage in my life.

Up until that point in my life, I had chosen not to drink for a variety of reasons. The fact that I'm a pastor by occupation actually had little to do with my decision (I have zero Biblical issues with drinking responsibly). The biggest factor hinged on some mental health background in my family. I had always said that given a potential biological disposition to mental health issues, coupled with the fact that I know I have an addictive personality, I have often expressed a worry that if I ever drank too much, that I would be an angry drunk. When you add in the fact that I have never smelled an alcoholic drink that was at all appealing, I've chosen to completely stay away.

Over the past 6 to 9 months though, I've been doing a lot of soul searching and a big topic that has come up again and again is fear. Specifically, I have an internal drive for success (see the Enneagram Type 3) and one of my biggest struggles is the fear of failure. And it's been amazing, enlightening, and embarrassing to realize how much of my life has been dominated by this fear of failing.

It's also been shocking to me as I have realized that so much of the fear that I face in life has centered around my Christian faith. Which is ironic given that "fear not" is one of the most used lines in the Bible and that, at it's core, it's supposed to be a faith where "perfect love casts out all fear." Growing up a pastor's kid, I've been in church my entire life and so much of my faith has been driven by this need to "succeed" at being a "good" Christian, and fearful of what would happen if I didn't. And that was then taken to a whole different level shifting from pastor's kid, to pastor.

Franky, Christians are some of the most fearful people I know. (I point straight at myself as I make that observation!) There is fear in asking certain questions. Fear in having an opinion that might run contrary to the popular view. Fear in reading certain authors. Fear of watching certain movies. Fear in spending time with certain people that could pull you away from your faith. And fear in certain behaviors or actions that could mean you're not a "good" Christian, or that could lead you to doing something where you wouldn't be a "good" Christian.

As I have been facing some of my fears and leaning more and more in to my authentic self, I've been challenged with the fact that there is a fine line between fear and wisdom. I find it interesting that the Psalmist writes that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (emphasis added) I've always placed those terms together, but with understanding the term "beginning" I'm learning that what starts as fear and a deep level of respect, should transform and become wisdom, releasing and freeing us from a life of fear.

I have always maintained my reasons for not drinking were based in wisdom. I was protecting myself and protecting others. My amazing wife and two awesome friends have been lovingly challenging me on this issue and in hindsight, I realize they were completely right. In reality, it was fear masquerading as wisdom. My decision was marked completely and totally by the question, "what if?" And honestly, with this issue personally, it was a "what if?" that is quite small.

Jesus said that he came to give us life, but not just life, life to the fullest! And that doesn't include fear. So Saturday, I drank my first beer. And what happened? Nothing! Did I feel depressed the next morning? No. Did I run out the next day to buy a bunch of alcohol and get drunk? No. Did I crash my car on the way home? No. Fact is, I felt nothing. Nada. Zero impact at all from one beer.

I will respect alcohol from this point forward. I'll be wise about how and when I have a drink. But I'm choosing (daily trying to anyways!) to no longer be afraid.

Where do you see fear in your life?

Are there decisions you've made in your life that seem wise, but at it's root is based in fear?

What would it look like for you to face your fears and allow them to be transformed to true wisdom?

March 21, 2017

Getting More Honest With the Bible

30 Hour Famine Blog
One of the things that I have loved about the 30 Hour Famine is the chance to engage students with the Bible. This is especially true when it comes to what the scriptures have to say about social justice, helping the poor, and feeding the hungry. It’s so important to help our students understand the importance of God’s Word and how it can help us to live the best life possible. However, I’m also learning that to do that, we need to get more honest about the Bible. Here’s what I mean by that: keep reading here

March 13, 2017

Is the Bible Always Clear?

There you are, diving in to a discussion about an issue or a passage of Scripture with someone else. Pretty quickly, it becomes obvious that you and the person you're speaking with have a different opinion about what you're discussing. As you share your take, you can tell it's not going over well as the other person is shaking their head in disagreement. And then, in their response, they drop their bomb of truth on you:

"Nope, you're wrong, the Bible is clear on this."

And that's it. You try to present more of your perspective but you are met with the same refrain. "The Bible is clear."

In my opinion, the argument of the Bible being clear tends to come from one of three places:

1) Arrogance - this refrain is usually accompanied with anger and defensiveness. The person just can't get beyond what they have always known to be true and for the sake of their own faith and feeling safe, they just can't, nor want to, consider another perspective. (If you want to dig deeper in to this aspect and the way people think differently, check out Spiral Dynamics...fascinating stuff!)

2) Ignorance - this refrain is usually accompanied with fear. This person has never realized that there are other takes on the issue or passage that you're discussing and they don't know how to respond. They've never done deeper research or study about it, they have always been around people who think just like them, and they are terrified to consider another perspective.

3) Well Intentioned - sometimes when someone issues this refrain, what they really are trying to say is: "After all the research and studying that I've done into this issue or passage, I have come to believe that the issue is clear." As stated, this is most often well intentioned, however I think it's better to over explain stating the later because that opens the door for further discussion, where just saying it's clear can be mistaken for one of the above responses.

Now, I have come to believe that the Bible is clear about a lot of things. (I just started to write a bulleted list of all the things I believe are clear but I feel like that would be missing the point of this blog.) I've come to that conclusion by reading it, studying it, purposefully exposing myself to different opinions and beliefs, and most of all, by discussing it with other people who have a heart to understand it as well.

But the other side of my beliefs that I feel are clear in the Bible, is that I am open to being convinced otherwise and I respect when someone else feels that what I believe is clear one way, they feel is clear another way. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that one of the biggest markers of that is humility (see Philippians 2:1-11). And part of that is recognizing that I, as a finite human being, who can be selfish and let emotions cloud my judgement, needs to be constantly open to the fact that my limited brain may not fully and absolutely understand the infinite, all-knowing, indescribable, God that we worship. Personally, I've come to believe that anything less than that is actually idolatry; worshipping a smaller god that you can fully and totally comprehend since it's made in your own image.

The Bible can be a very difficult book to read at times as it isn't always super clear about everything, especially as you dive in deeper to translation questions, cultural contexts and how a 3,000 year old text applies to use today. The best I can do is promise to always be as faithful as I can to the Scriptures and to prayerfully rely on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct me to Gods deeper truth in everything I believe.

I want to continue asking questions for the sake of growing in my faith and understanding the Divine.

I want to constantly have an attitude of listening and considering other perspectives for the sake of learning and being refined in my beliefs.

And I pray that I change my mind on lots of things throughout my life as God convicts me of more areas in my life that need to be changed to reflect more and more of Jesus.

March 7, 2017

Fake News and Standing for Truth

As a Christ follower, we claim to stand for, follow and to be able to know the Truth. We talk about how "the Truth will set us free" and that Jesus is "the Truth." We seek to understand Truth in our lives and we are taught that we need to defend and stand up for the Truth, especially when someone claims alternate facts.

As I was scrolling through Facebook today, I saw a post along these lines. The person shared an article saying that this particular "Christian" leader suggested that the Bible isn't relevant anymore and that we need to ditch it in order to embrace new cultural truths. This was a pastor, taking a stand for truth, defending Scripture and trying to point people towards Jesus.

Except, here's the thing...
  • the article shared was two years old and posted like it was new info
  • the headline was misleading, sensationalist and contained a claim that actually isn't true at all
  • the content of the article then took quotes out of context to make their claim about this leader's "dangerous teaching"
The thing that this pastor and article were suggesting this "Christian" leader was doing, is the exact same thing they did. 

I've always been challenged by the idea that when you point one finger accusingly at someone else, four are pointing back at yourself. The fact is, if you are going to say that you stand for Truth, you have to do that in every context. And by sharing an article that is full of misleading information and lies to claim that someone isn't speaking truth is absolutely hypocritical and wrong. AND it's exactly part of the problem today of why some people are sick of the Church.

At the time that I saw the post, there were 80+ comments and most of them were along the lines of, "Heritic", "He's not a pastor", and "Insane." Lots of people looked at the headline and read the misleading article and agreed with the pastor, choosing to stand up for truth along with him. All those comments made me think of Matthew 23:15:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves."

This wasn't a defense of Truth, it was promoting lies and deceit which is NOT honoring to the way of Jesus. And that's what happens anytime we share fake news, sensationalist stories or articles that aren't actually based in facts. Even if they are good natured attempts to defend your view of truth.

As you live in the Truth of God, be careful what you post and what you say. Make sure that your defense and arguments are actually based in Truth. If you want people to know the Truth in Jesus, make sure that everything you do represents that. Otherwise, you will simply be exchanging God's truth for lies, and in the process encouraging others to do the same.

February 20, 2017

Being a Good Listener

Megan K. Defranza in Two Views on Homosexuality
(tense has been edited from the original quote)

How many Christ followers do you know that you would describe as a "good listener?"

Taking it a step further, when the topic turns to politics or specific religious beliefs, how many people do you know where the description of "good listener" would apply?

We all know that there are those certain topics - politics, religion, sex and money at the very least - that you should avoid in conversation. We tell ourselves that they are controversial and too many opinions abound in order to have safe and comfortable discussions in many contexts. However, that is not the real issue when it comes to these topics. The issue is that most of are much more apt to argue, defend the "truth" and tow the party line, before we are willing to listen so someone else's perspective.

I've recently been reading my way through the Counterpoints Series published by Zondervan which is a 32-volume series (33 now with the most recent addition covering the topic of gay, lesbian and bi-sexuality) covering a number of topics from women in leadership, divorce, church governance, to hell and many other important topics. As I've read, it's been teaching me one major point: the Bible isn't always as clear or black and white as some people want it to be or say that it is. Every volume of the series is contributed to by numerous bible scholars and theologians who are all prayerfully and unapologetically looking to Scripture to find Truth, and they all reach different conclusions!

Sadly, the Church has been divided in to numerous denominations because of this fact. We look at the different conclusions as the need to draw lines in the sand and to "protect" the truth that we have claimed for our own. By doing this, we have actually stunted our growth and development within our faith because the fact of the matter is that the only way we grow is as a result of tension. Yet, by defending, arguing and separating we worship the god of comfort and ease, not the God of the Bible.

In The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, he writes: "Ending the debate, getting to the right answer, is not the prime directive in the spiritual life. You can tussle with each other and with God (and win!), and it’s all good. The back-and-forth with the Bible is where God is found. Enter the dialogue and you find God waiting for you, laughing with delight, ready to be a part of that back-and-forth."

As a Jesus follower, I am more and more trying to challenge myself with this idea. I want to be a Christian who has a reputation of listening first, of considering other opinions and perspectives and to have a "I might be wrong" attitude first and foremost, rather than, "I'm right, period." There are lots of people who deeply love Jesus and I have a ton to learn from all of them.

Would you describe yourself as a good listener when it comes to hot topics of today? Why or why not?

What does being a good listener mean to you?

What does it mean to listen and to respectfully disagree?

P.S. There are lots of people who don't necessarily love or belief in Jesus that I have a lot to learn from as well, but that's a blog for another day! 

February 14, 2017

Signs and Wonders

N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope
When you read the book of Acts, the most consistent mark of the growing church, second (yes, second) to sharing the story of Jesus' resurrection, was signs and wonders. You see that phrase over and over as a description of how the church was living, and as a consequence of that living, the Church grew.

The Resurrection wasn't just a story but it was something the early believers personally lived. They healed the sick, they cared for the poor, they sold everything and gave stuff away for the betterment of the community, they fed the hungry, they opened their homes to one another. Signs and wonders. Signs and wonders.

Perhaps, these things were less miraculous and spiritual in nature, but instead were physical and emotional as men and women radically lived in a way that put others before themselves at any cost. Instead of just claiming a "hope" that it would come later when Jesus returned, they actively participated in the resurrection of all things here and now.

Where are the signs pointed to in your life?

Are there wonders in how you live that are putting the resurrection on display?

Put another way: if your church closed tomorrow, would your community care?

Would they notice? Or if you moved tomorrow, would you neighbors care? Would your community miss you?

If the answer to those questions is no, you're not living out the story of Christ's resurrection and you're not living in Jesus' Kingdom.

February 7, 2017

Good News

N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope
Why has the Church lost meaning and value to some people today?

When we place an emphasis on "good news" for the next life and de-emphasize the needs that people have in this life; when our actions say that "good news" is for this group of people, but not those people; we are not preaching Good News, but ideology. And as long as we do that, culture will continue to eat our ideology for lunch (thanks for that line Richard Rohr!) as people look for meaning, purpose and hope elsewhere.

Often in our faith culture, we put too much emphasis on sin, using that to define who should be "in" and who is "out," which then defines who can receive the Good News. But that is putting the cart before the horse.

Richard Rohr and Rob Bell discussed in a recent podcast, that when we begin sharing the good news with original sin, it actually starts the story on chapter 3. Chapter 1 begins with original blessing; being created in God's image as a masterpiece, deeply loved and cherished by our Creator. The fact is that the Gospel and the Good News is not that we are dirty, rotten, broken, disgusting sinners that Jesus came to save. It is instead that we are beautiful, dearly loved, created in the Divine's image, "very good" creations who have wandered from that true identity and Jesus came to bring us back.

THAT is good news that is for everyone and that should dictate how we live and love and serve and give and work to bring Christ's Kingdom here on earth. And if the Church can move fully in that mission, value and meaning will be restored to the gathering of God's people.

How do you define the Good News?

And how does that definition play itself out in your life?

March 24, 2015

Sermon 3/22/2015 - Communion

What is communion and why do we do it? We explore three different Bible passages and discuss.