12/15/2014

Why I'm Ok with a "Black" Jesus

If you were to close your eyes and imagine what Jesus looked like, my guess is that like most people, you would envision a white looking guy with a beard, a long skinny nose, and long flowing hair. Historically, that's how Jesus has looked in just about every painting, statue, and movie that we've ever seen.

Chances are, however, that you've never imagined Jesus Christ as a black man.

And there is good reason for that, of course. Historically speaking, Jesus Christ is a descendant of Abraham, and is of Jewish ancestory. Though we obviously have no photograph of Jesus, it is very likely that Jesus Christ looks a bit more like Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks than he does Samuel L. Jackson or Will Smith.

But what if, for a moment, you imagined Jesus Christ as a black man? Or, what if somebody made a painting, sculpture, or movie in which Jesus Christ was depicted as black?

Would you be ok with that?

My guess is that the chances are, you would not. And you would cite the historical and Biblical reasons as to why such is the case. And for all those reasons, I would say you are right.

Except... however, you would also be wrong to say such on Biblical grounds.

Consider the following:
10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. ~ (Colossians 3:10-11; NASB)
In the above passage, the apostle Paul encourages us to see ourselves no longer according to the ways of thinking that govern the old creation. Instead, we need to see ourselves as part of a "new creation," in which we are given a "new self." And in our newly created self, we are no longer to find our identity in our racial, ethnic, or social makeup. For in the new creation that God is making, Jesus Christ transcends all these old distinctions, and obliterates them.

Indeed, the apostle Paul doesn't just teach that Christ transcends all of these things. Instead, Paul actually sees Jesus as becoming all these things. "Christ IS all, and IN all." (vs. 11) Thus, in the resurrection, Jesus Christ's identity is no longer merely that of a Jewish man. Rather, His identity is also bound up with the Greek man as well as the Jew, and all other manner of race of men.

Thus, theologically speaking, it would be correct to say that Jesus Christ is of Jewish ancestry. But, it would also be correct to say that Jesus Christ is also a white European, with blond hair, and blue eyes. And, it would also be correct to say that Jesus Christ is also a black man from Africa. And as such, I am perfectly ok with Jesus being depicted in artwork as any of the above. Jesus Christ is all, and is in all.

And in this Christmas season, if your nativity scene just happens to have Jesus as a white baby, a Chinese baby, or a black baby... then all is well. And this Sunday in worship, if you close your eyes and imagine Jesus looking like somebody born somewhere besides the land of Judea, then so be it.

Now, some of you might wonder why I've even bothered to write something like this short essay?

Well, with all the polarizing racial tension and divide our country has experienced in recent months, I thought something like this could be an important thing to share in somehow doing my part to promote healing regarding race relations in our country. For deep down inside, there is something of this old creation that beats in all of our hearts, that causes men to identify with their particular tribe or race. Contrary to the popular teaching of some, racism is not merely a taught behavior. It is something that is very much part of our fallen humanity, and is something we are born with.

The truth of the matter is, the racial tensions we experience grow out of our inability to identify with a race other than the one we naturally identify with. Ten out of ten times, we identify with the group we perceive to be most like us. Black and white people have tensions with one another, not merely because of histories in our nation that center around injustices, but because there is something of this old fallen man that we receive as the sons and daughters of Adam, that causes us to have our identity bound up in things that ultimately separate us and divide us from one another.

However, the new creation that God is making through Jesus Christ asks us to no longer identify ourselves with our white and black racial identities and heritages. In the new creation, we've made a break with our past, even as Jesus Christ has with His. Now, Jesus Christ not only identifies with all races of mankind, but having become all races Himself, He also asks us to participate with Him in this new identity as part of His new creation.

If you think of yourself as a black man, or a white man, you need to stop doing that. Instead, you need to start thinking of yourself as the one new man that is found in Christ Jesus. And as such, you can transcend the racial divide that is part of the old order, and you are freed to identify yourself with all men, of every race, tribe, nation, and tongue. Theologically speaking, our hope for racial reconciliation is to be found in the loving arms of the "black" Jesus... and the Jewish one, the white one, and the Chinese Jesus.

After all, Jesus Christ is ALL, and in ALL.

12/05/2014

Artificially Intelligent Preachers


Recently, the famous theoretical physicist and cultural icon, Stephen Hawking told the BBC that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could pose a real potential threat to the existence of mankind.

Such a thought has been explored in numerous science fiction works and movies over the years, and generally speaking, the idea of creating AI is looked at in apocalyptic type imagery. But lest you think the idea of AI is merely sci-fi fantasy, you might be startled to learn that it is something that computer scientists and engineers have been seriously exploring for decades in real life. And truth be told, they are on to something.

For example, in 1997 IBM developed a super computer named "Deep Blue" that was taught how to play chess. Deep Blue developed enough skill that it was able to defeat Grand Master and reigning world champion Garry Gasparov in a series of tournament chess matches. Kasparov was champion for 15 years, and is generally considered the greatest chess player to ever live. Deep Blue's victory over Kasparov was no small accomplishment.

More recently, companies like Google have been heavily involved in AI research and development. A lot of the controversial "data mining" they are engaged in is used towards creating brains for super computers, and, is in part, one of the many reasons Google is able to accurately "guess" on-the-fly what you are likely searching for when you start typing your search query into Google.com.

While sci-fi fantasy largely looks at the emergence of AI as something potentially negative, to date, the contributions behind the research and development of AI has been extremely positive. Largely, AI research and development has been a force for good. Keeping this in mind then, perhaps our sci-fi fantasy future casting needs to look at AI as less of a threat, and more as a positive contribution. So, instead of Skynet/Terminator/Matrix type images, we need to start thinking about AI in terms of Star Wars droids like C3PO and R2D2.

If AI yields us friendly benevolent computers capable of good, I would like to propose a simple question: In the future, how might the church leverage AI for the purpose of the gospel?

Could we create artificially intelligent theologians, preachers, and even praise and worship leaders?

Can you imagine a robot engaged in complicated Biblical exegesis, who is able to engage in original thought, and in one nano-second is able to yield fresh theological insight from research it conducts in original languages, studying all available Biblical manuscripts, and making use of all scholarly material available on every subject matter? Such a machine could possibly produce new "authoritative" translations of the Bible, available in all languages across the globe, and give us answers to theological problems that have long plagued scholars.

Can you imagine a robot evangelist, who could simul-cast his messages over the internet into churches around the world, teaching us the gospel of Jesus Christ, and doing so in constantly fresh and culturally relevant ways? Not only that, the robot evangelist would be able to develop the most efficient and strategic forms of outreach, and to think of new and clever ways to reach the lost.

Can you imagine a robot praise and worship leader (or band!), who has a knowledge of every hymn and song every written, and is able to compose new songs unto the Lord, and to lead a congregation into the deepest worship experience possible?

Artificial intelligence might not only change the world, but it might also change the way we do church.

...Or, it may just produce an army of Terminators who want to kill everybody in the world, just like scientists like Stephen Hawking warned us about.

11/20/2014

The Thanksgiving Day Retail Wars


Should retail stores be open or closed on Thanksgiving Day?

This question has been a pretty controversial one in recent years, as annually, an increasing number of major retail stores have opened their doors for business on Thanksgiving Day.

Historically, most businesses have chosen to close their doors on Thanksgiving Day. They've done so, because technically speaking, Thanksgiving is a Federally mandated religious holiday, and was officially recognized by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a, "national day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

Granted, the holiday isn't establishing any particular "religion," but it is technically religious in nature by virtue of Abraham Lincoln's mandate and prior tradition. Prior to his mandate, Thanksgiving had been celebrated on various days by many Americans as a religious holiday. This is due to the origins of the holiday being rooted in the strong religious influence that Calvinists had in the colonization of America.

(See this link for a brief history of the holiday.)

By virtue of Thanksgiving Day being a "holy day," it is fair and right to say that the intent behind the holiday is for the day to be treated as something akin to a "sabbath day" of rest and worship.

What is a "sabbath day?" In the Bible, God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th day He rested from His labor. When the Ten Commandments were given, God forbade mankind to work on the 7th day of the week, out of honor and remembrance of God's work, and to give man the opportunity to enjoy the same rest God experienced in His work. The sabbath day was thus "separated" and marked on the calendar as a day that was "different" from the other days in which mankind was allowed to labor. On a sabbath, no work could be done.

Fast forward to the present, and you will discover we live in a society that is increasingly secular. God is rarely invoked in making public policies and decisions. And, as a result of the increasing secularization of America, the concept of observing a sabbath day has been largely forgotten. For in a secular society, the prevailing ethos is that all days of the week are one in the same. There can be nothing holy about any particular day of the week, because there is no God to make any "one day" different from the next. Therefore, all days become nothing more than another 360 degree revolution the Earth completes within a 24 hour period, and is devoid of any sacred meaning.

To the retailer, from a financial perspective, the decision to open their store for business is really a "no-brainer." The Christmas holiday season is the biggest time of the year for retailers to make their companies profitable. These companies often operate on a narrow profit margin of a couple percentage points, and if they don't make their money at the Christmas holiday season, then they risk not being profitable at all. So the idea of a company closing for an entire business day during a peak time of year can actually be viewed as a bad financial decision.

From a business perspective, a retailer needs to get as many dollars as they can from as many people as possible, and they need to get their hands on your money before you spend your limited and finite resources at one of their competitors. As a result, stores have been incrementally opening earlier and earlier every year the day after Thanksgiving, and advertising "door buster sales" because retailers want to put themselves in a position business wise to get the "first dollar" you spend instead of the "last dollar." For if they get the first dollar you spend, there is a pretty good chance they will get your second and third dollar too. But, if you are down to your last buck, then they risk you coming into their store later with less disposable money to spend.

In light of such a reality, I think blaming corporations for being nothing more than greedy capitalists, who are looking to do nothing more than exploit the poor working class by forcing them work on Thanksgiving Day, in the name of making "obscene profits," is a bit misguided. And while there may be some hints of truth in such an accusation, I think such a comment is woefully superficial, and misses the mark.

I think the real problem is something much simpler than this, and it is something I believe we all intuitively know, but because of the prevailing mindset we find in our culture, we lack the ability to pinpoint and express. Therefore in a knee-jerk manner, we take the easy way out and vilify companies like Walmart, instead of really digging down deep to the heart of the matter.

The real problem with the Thanksgiving Day retail wars, is not the greedy corporate capitalist mindset. From a financial standpoint, their position makes sense when you do the math.

Rather, the real problem with retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day is, that in doing so, we as a society show we lack any real sense of a sabbath day filled with rest and worship. We call a day such as Thanksgiving Day a "holy day," but then we proceed to treat it as if it were just another Thursday-- a day as common as the rest, in which we open our doors for business and work.

We find it so tempting to open our doors for business on a holy day, because we live in a society in which we must always be working. And we must always be working, because we operate with a secular mindset that acts like there is no God. As a result of such a mindset, we have become a people that has the inability to cease from our labors like God did from His, and enjoy a sabbath day filled with rest, worship, and thanksgiving.

I support businesses being closed for business on our national day of giving thanks. And I would encourage you to not go out and shop on Thanksgiving Day.

11/11/2014

Simplicity: Freedom from the Tyranny of Want

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" ~ Steve Jobs
Love them or hate them, Apple has been a leader in the computing world for decades. Their contribution to their industry (and perhaps the universe!) has been fueled by the commitment of their founder, Steve Jobs, to making something simple.
Prior to the 1980′s, computers were extremely complicated machines to operate. Only die-hard nerds loved them. In order to perform the most basic and simple tasks that we now take for granted today, like searching for a file and opening one, a computer’s operating system required you type in a specific series of commands, line by line, on a black or green screen.
Along came Steve Jobs, who was making computers that he wanted to sell everybody in the world. The problem was that the only people who generally bought computers back in those days were electronic enthusiasts, scientists, and government officials. The average Joe found computers too intimidating to use, and the mere idea of turning one on could be a very daunting challenge.
Steve Jobs knew that in order to be successful, he would have to simplify the computing experience and make it very user friendly. Instead of people having to buy individual computer components and assemble them, Steve jobs bundled them all together, and sold it with an operating system that departed from issuing typed commands. Instead, a computer could now be run by using a mouse to simply “point and click” your way around. Thus, the Apple “Macintosh” was born.
Like computer systems from before the 1980′s, life can be pretty complicated. We feel a bit overwhelmed, and deep down inside I believe we all yearn for something a little less complicated. We want something more point and click. Deep down inside, we all want a Macintosh. We all want simplicity.
Stuck In Our Old Ways
Sadly, for many of us, simplicity is a foreign concept. Lacking any explicit command in the Bible that says, “Be thou simple,” we quickly adopt the culture that our minds were baptized into from the moment of our birth, and unfortunately, our redemption experience via the new birth seems to do have done very little to change any of that. As Americans, we live very busy, bloated, disconnected, and complicated lives. To be a Christian in America is to simply continue in the typical American way of life, minus some really big sins, and seasoned with some church attendance.
Though we are Christians, we still find ourselves to still be an army of consumers, constantly worried that we are missing out on the latest and greatest thing. We are flashy. We have an obsession with novelty, and if somebody tells us something is new or better, we’ll be among the first to stand in line all night in order to get it. Never having enough, we always want more and more and more. We operate with a scarcity mentality, making us cutthroat and competitive, and always trying to be the first and best in all that we do.
In our society, it is no longer acceptable just to dream. Instead, we have to dream big, live big, and do big things. Our French fries have to be big. Our cars have to be big. Our homes have to be big. Our churches and ministries have to be big. Heck, even our God has to be big!
In contrast to all of this, I believe the Lord is calling us to reverse our course, and to live the simple life.
What Simplicity Looks Like
So what is simplicity? First, simplicity is a spiritual discipline. Many often overlook it, because when we typically think of spiritual disciplines we think of individual actions that we incorporate into our routine. We think of things like reading our Bible and praying as spiritual disciplines. Simplicity— not so much.
Simplicity is a mindset and spirit that we embrace. It is not merely an action that you can perform, though some have tried. Throughout the ages, monks have done extreme things, like sell all their worldly possessions and give them to them to the poor, and take vows of poverty. You could do such too. But, as history teaches us, such radical actions can leave one entirely unchanged.
We practice simplicity by adjusting the disposition of our hearts and minds towards the Lord. When we lay down our lives and surrender them to the Lord, day by day with every new step that we take, we become transformed in the washing and renewing of our minds. This requires no extreme monastic gestures; rather, it is the commitment to a new way of life, where we learn to instinctively think in new ways. Nobody can tell you, “Do this and that” and you will practice simplicity. It is something you must weave into the very fabric of your life.
Simplicity is more like a dance. There is good dancing, and there is bad dancing. What exactly constitutes good dancing is hard to say. We know it when we see it. Likewise, we know when we see bad dancing. It’s hard to describe, but easy to recognize.
I like to think of simplicity as nothing more than living out Psalm 23 in my daily life. In recognition that the Lord is my Shepherd, I am freed from the tyranny of want. Jesus Christ alone is more than I will ever need, and by possessing Him, I truly have all things. I see that He is always leading me beside still waters. Though the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, I see that the grass underneath my feet is plenty green. In simplicity, I see a bounty is always set before me. My cup runneth over.
In simplicity, I do my best every day out of a spirit of thanksgiving for what the Lord has provided me with, not so that I can have a competitive advantage over somebody else at work, and get promoted. While “promotion is of the Lord,” I also recognize that faithfully showing up to the same job day after day for decades at a time, so that I can provide for my family, is also from the Lord.
In simplicity, I discover that I am more than a consumer. I don’t need something simply because it is the latest in fashion, or because somebody said something is new, bigger, and better. I don’t need a new car every couple of years. I don’t need the latest iPhone upgrade. I don’t need the latest and greatest of anything.
In simplicity, I am gifted with patience and freedom. I can wait for things, and I don’t have to become a slave to a bank by taking on unnecessary and excessive levels of debt. Such things only further complicate my life, rob me of joy, and give me something I never wanted: worry. Instead, I see that I have more than enough in the way of food, clothing, and shelter. I don’t need to provide a “better quality of life” for my family. God has already done that.
In simplicity, I am empowered to be a giver. And by that, I don’t mean so that I can increase the size of what I put in the offering plate. Rather, it is in simplicity that I have the ability to look past the offering plate, and open my eyes to all the people around me, and think of ways that I might now be able to bless them.
In simplicity, I find place in my life for community. The less I fill up my life with stuff, the more I make room to fill it up with other people that I love, and invite them to become partakers of the Lord’s table with me.
In simplicity, I transform my life into one of everlasting Sabbath rest and worship. Because the Lord is my portion, I am freed from the tyranny of work, and having to do everything within my power to provide for me and my family a better life, for the Lord has already provided me with all things in Him.
An Invitation
I invite you to incorporate simplicity as a spiritual discipline into your way of life. You will likely find it challenging at first, and you may be discouraged with your progress. But keep in mind; this is a discipline that is meant to be progressively incorporated into your way of life. It doesn’t happen overnight. You will have regular set-backs, and will slowly recognize contradictions existing in your own life. That’s ok. Such is merely an invitation by God to go deeper with Him in your walk. Eventually, I believe you will see that the more you embrace simplicity, the more simplicity will embrace you.
(I originally authored this brief essay as a guest contributor to the blog of pastor Daniel Rushing.  I went to Bible college with Daniel, and he officiated my wedding ceremony.  A pretty cool guy if you ask me.  Check out his blog here.)

10/16/2014

Why "Servant-Leadership" Is Dead


In leadership circles, the concept of "servant-leadership" is a popular one. It is regularly praised. And rightfully so.

A Brief History:

The concept has its origins in both ancient Eastern and Western religious traditions and philosophies. Most notably for many of us who are Christians, the concept can be demonstrated in the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels:


Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ~ (Mark 10:42-45)


The phrase itself, "servant-leader" was coined by a Quaker, Robert K. Greenleaf, who in 1970 wrote a famous essay called "The Servant as Leader." He said the following:


“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“

Many businesses have embraced this idea, and incorporated it into their management and leadership culture. Likewise, many churches have found inspiration in Greenleaf's teaching on the matter.

All of this is wonderful and fantastic stuff. It's a concept that we have done well to embrace.

Current Church Culture:

However, I believe we are at the point in America and in the church where we need to bury the usage of the phrase "servant-leader." While the phrase is a powerful concept, I believe we are at the point that it has become extremely overused, and that it's now nothing more than a tired, worn out, and empty cliché, devoid of any real power or meaning.

Frankly, I believe the concept behind the phrase, while amazing, has been hijacked and twisted into something else altogether. And we are pretty much at the point today where the phrase "servant-leader" is preached and practiced in such a way that that those who use it really mean "leader" when they talk about the concept. There is very little concept of "servant" left in the application of this phrase.

In a nutshell, "servant-leadership" is dead. And we are guilty of killing it.

Take for example, many pastors in the church today. The bigger the church is, the more likely it is that you will never really know any of your pastors on a personal level. Gaining direct access to any of them usually means you have to go through a number of middle-men who will filter your ability to converse with or even know these individuals. If the pastor even recognizes your face, knows your name, or knows any details about your life, such is increasingly a rare thing.

Many pastors today serve (or rather lead) from a very isolated and detached position in the church they minister at. They are men on a platform, and the guy calling the shots behind closed doors. Everybody does what the pastor says, and those he employs exist to do nothing less than implement his vision.

Additionally, the bigger the church a pastor often leads, the bigger his salary, and the more "benefits" he receives in the process. It's never been more lucrative to be a "servant-leader" than at this time in history. Few pastors making over six-figures a year ever tell the church to stop raising their salary. As a result, churches often become very secretive about the compensation package the pastor receives, and most people have little clue where their pastor even lives.

I believe many of these guys are well intentioned. If you were to ask any of these men about servant-leadership, they could probably give you a very good talk on the matter, and they would praise its virtues and say it is their own philosophy of leadership.

But, demonstrating it and living it out is another matter altogether.

Everybody likes the idea behind servant-leadership, but at the end of the day, many prefer the idea of simply being a leader instead. Being a servant is something that is increasingly paid mere lip-service, and it is something many only pretend to be.

Being a leader on the other hand, is where the real action is at. Which is why we trip over ourselves to get the latest books on leadership, and go to Catalyst and Willow Creek Leadership conferences every year, so we can hear from the latest and greatest movers and shakers, and try to implement what we learn from them back at home.

Feeling like a leader increases our sense of self-importance, and even if we never attract much in the way of followers, we enjoy the high that comes from feeling like one just the same. In the process, it makes a lot of authors and speakers very wealthy, and many are more than happy to help you get that high. Very few people after all, ever became rich by writing a book about being a servant.

Consider the following case studies in leadership and servanthood.

Leadership Example: MLM Guru's

Many pastors today embrace a style of leadership that is not too far removed from people who head up MLM schemes (Multi-Level-Marketing), like in AMWAY, Pampered Chef, or Mary Kay. The people involved in these programs simply can't wait to tell you about the business "opportunity" they have for you. They hope you "join" them in their venture.

If you are a small fry and recent recruit in an MLM scheme, that means you'll be doing a lot of heavy leg work, and personally meeting with people over coffee to explain to them why they should join your network, and get in on the same "opportunity" you have.

In contrast, if you are the head of the MLM, you'll pretty much only show up to speak at packed out hotel conference rooms. The days of heavy lifting are over. All that remains is for you to show up at packed out events, and meet directly with those under you to help plan the event, and make sure everything goes as designed.

The conference room you show up to speak at is packed out because all the people under you have been busy recruiting to fill the conference hall. In the end, the low man on the totem-pole does all the real work, while the guy on top reaps all the benefits. He provides some direction, some vision, gives a pep-rally speech, and then goes back home, and allows all the money to trickle up to him. One day, most of the new recruits hope they can become the man on the stage.

The people at the bottom often receive very little compensation for their labor, and in good time, after failing to go much of anywhere, they realize the entire thing is a scam and they move on to something else.

Servant Example: The Gopher

In contrast to all of this, I think of the few years I spent after college working as an office clerk at a large international law firm. I essentially worked as a "gopher." After working in this position, if there is anybody who knows anything about what it means to be a servant today, it's me.

At the law firm, if somebody needed a package taken across town, I was the guy that got it there. If a conference room needed to be setup or broken down for a meeting, I was the guy that did that. I sorted the mail. I made photocopies. I restocked the supply closets. I refreshed paperclip trays. And if anybody needed anything whatsoever, I was to be their go-to guy. I was a servant in the law firm.

My office was located smack-dead in the middle of the firm, and I shared it with a couple other people in the same position. There were 4 doors in the "service center" that anybody could enter at any time of the day, and make their requests known. We were always available. No middle men existed between us and the secretaries, paralegals, associates, or managing partners. If somebody wanted something, we were to be Johnny on the spot, no matter how busy we were doing anything else. We were to never let the phone ring more than twice.

As a result of the nature of my work, I learned all 100 names of the people I served. I not only knew their names, but I also knew where some of them parked in our parking garage, what kind of car they drove, and I even knew where some of them lived. I knew their preferences and their expectations, and my job often required me to proactively anticipate their desires.

For example, one of the partners I worked for had a habit of drinking a lot of Diet Caffeine Free Coke. According to his secretary, he drank one can every hour on the hour every single day! As a result of knowing this, part of my job involved keeping our office fridge freshly stocked full of Diet Caffeine Free Coke on a daily basis... and it had to be cold. If I knew this attorney was going to be in a conference room for a couple hours, I had to make sure I put out a couple cold Diet Caffeine Free Coke's for him. A generic drink setup with a random assortment of soda's simply would not suffice.

Making a Decision:

Having read these two examples, which do you think sounds like the model of church leadership that exists today? And which example do you think is the most in keeping with the spirit of the New Testament? Do you think Jesus and the apostles were more like MLM guru's, or do you think they were more like gophers working at a law firm?

Today, do you think we are really behaving like servant-leaders? Or do you think we are just simply being leaders?

I believe we have become more like MLM guru's than gophers. And as a result of the phrase "servant-leader" becoming virtually meaningless, instead of trying to restore its true and proper meaning in the minds of people (if it ever was there to begin with), I think it is a word we would do well to strike from our vocabulary altogether, because we cannot use it without perverting it.

Instead, I think we would be better off simply using the word "servant" in our churches and businesses. Indeed, if you were to read the New Testament rather closely, you will find that the word "leader" was only used a couple times. Instead of describing themselves as leaders, Jesus and the apostles regularly referred to themselves and other ministers that worked alongside them as "servants." They looked at themselves as being there for you, and not the other way around.

Different Questions:

Leaders and servants ask a very different set of questions. They embody and operate under a very different value system and ethos.

Leaders ask questions like: How can I grow my church? How can I expand my spheres of influence? How can I better market my worship experiences and increase my Sunday attendance? How can I better structure my organization to maximize our assets (volunteers!) and resources (offerings!).

As servants, I believe we need to start asking a different set of questions.

Questions like: How can I be a better servant? What is it that the people in my life need from God? What is it that the people in my life need the most from me? How can I bless somebody today? What is it that I can do to help somebody else out? Where are people falling short in their lives or walk with God, and how can I help them fix that? How can I help somebody else become all that they can be? How can I help equip them to better do the things God has called them to do?

Conclusion:

The idea of servant-leadership is something that I believe is in keeping with the heart of God. It's how He made leaders to function. Such is why this wisdom exists across Eastern and Western religious traditions and philosophies, and is not unique to the Bible. It's simply part of God's natural order and natural revelation.

Men do not exist to rule over others, rather, they exist to come alongside others and serve. None of us were born leaders. From the womb all of us were born subject to the will of somebody else (our parents).

And such is how we should continue to live out all of our days. Leaders aren't born, they are made. Which is why it is so important that no matter what position we find ourselves in within a church, business, or government, that we always keep in mind that we are never in a such a position to fulfill our dreams, but rather, we are where we are in order to help others fulfill their dreams.

Instead of thinking of ourselves as leaders, or as a servant-leaders, we simply need to look at ourselves as servants. And our aspiration and goal should simply be to be the best servant that we can be.

And if somebody calls us their leader, we should probably just silently chuckle on the inside, and ask what we can do for them next.

10/15/2014

Houston, We Have A Problem!!!


According to this news report, the city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a number of pastors turn over copies of all of their sermons dealing with issues surrounding homosexuality, gender identity, and the city's lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.

Although all the details of this inquiry are not yet fully known, this has all the appearance of the government possibly violating the First Amendment rights of these Christian pastors, and for many, it feels like a mild form of persecution, and a foreboding omen of things to come.

Understandably, a lot of these pastors are upset about this demand, and many Christians across the country have expressed voices of outrage and are crying foul as well.

One pastor by the name of Dave Welch said:
"We are not afraid of this bully. We're not intimidated at all... We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights."

Another leader, Tony Perkins said:
"The state is breaching the wall of separation of church and state... Pastors need to step forward and challenge this across the country. I'd like to see literally thousands of pastors after they read this story begin to challenge government authorities- to dare them to come into their churches and demand their sermons."

According to the report, a number of pastors have said they will not comply with the subpoena request.

And as Americans, I believe they are taking the right position.

As a Christian, I believe their stance is completely wrong.

I am reminded of how Jesus taught us "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also." (Matthew 5:40)

I am reminded of how Jesus said that when people falsely slander us and persecute us, of how we are to "rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great." (Matthew 5:12)

I am reminded of a verse in Hebrews 10:34, in which its author recalls how his church "accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one."

I am reminded of how the apostle James, the brother of Jesus, once said "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials." (James 1:2)

I am reminded how in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul was wrongfully imprisoned on bogus charges, dragged to court, and instead of demanding his release (which was almost granted to him), he looked at it as an opportunity to share his testimony with the highest officials in the land, and demanded an audience with higher courts, and accepted more time in prison as a result.

And sadly in all of this, I am reminded again and again how many Christians in the Church of Jesus Christ in America simply are not prepared to suffer. We are much more American than we are Christian. Our attitude is far removed from anything we can identify as Biblical. We are much more interested in securing, protecting, and asserting our "rights" than we are at obtaining eternal and everlasting treasure and joys.

I hang my head in disbelief. If these pastors are acting this way when the slightest bit of opposition arises, how will we as a church respond when when real trouble eventually comes?

We simply are not prepared to suffer my brethren.

Our identity is bound up in our earthly citizenship instead of our heavenly citizenship. We would rather fight back than do something of greater worth.

These pastors should rejoice over the opportunity to share their sermons with the city of Houston. They shouldn't have to answer a subponea. They should gladly take their sermons down to city hall, and hand them to the mayor herself. They should even offer to read them back to her, if she so desires.

But it seems like their minds are otherwise occupied on other things. They aren't thinking eternally. They are thinking like mere men.

10/13/2014

Firing Jesus as our Therapist


Say hello to Jesus, the Therapist...

You've probably never heard Him called that. But if you were to survey a lot of popular preaching and teaching these days, I think you would discover that this is the role in which Jesus Christ is heavily cast as.

Week after week, book after book, and conference after conference (especially at women's Christian conferences), we hear a lot about the Jesus who is here to help us get over our inner struggles and emotional problems.

"No need to carry around all that emotional baggage anymore," they say, "Jesus will help do that for you!" Many are told that Jesus is here to help us forgive those who have wronged us, to free us from guilt, shame, and regret over our past, and to help us improve our self-image and the insecurities that cripple us in our daily lives.

While there is some truth to these things, I feel that our continual preaching of Jesus Christ as a divine therapist has created a lopsided perception of who the Lord actually is.  So much so that I think it is about time we fire Jesus Christ from being our therapist!

Don't get me wrong.  The Bible does say that Jesus is the "wonderful counselor," and our friend in a time of need.  He's here to take our burdens upon Himself.  He is the lifter of our head, a rock, a refuge, a mighty fortress, and strong tower.  He bottles our every tear.  He gives us joy unspeakable and full of glory.  He forgives our sins.  He restores our soul.  He is our healer.

And He is all these things, and a thousand more...

But for all these things the Lord is, these are not things the Bible spends all that much time talking about.

Instead the Bible prefers to talk about God's ultimate purposes in the world, what He's looking to accomplish in creation, and how He's called us to fit into all of that.

When the Bible does talk about issues surrounding our inner struggles, it isn't usually talking to people like you and me. Rather, it usually is talking to people who are experiencing literal life and death situations, and who are very much in need of real help.  And it's talking to people who are busy carrying out God's will for this world.

It's talking to people who are surrounded day in and day out by actual danger, who worry about how much it rained this year, and how that will impact their crops, and their ability to feed their families. It's talking to people who are being pursued by enemies looking to do more than just give them a bad day.  It's talking to people who were captured as the spoils of war, enslaved, brutalized, stripped from their home, separated from their families, and exiled from the land God had promised them.  It's talking to missionaries who traveled all over the world, preaching about Jesus, planting churches under harsh conditions, in which they suffered regular poverty, imprisonment, betrayal, and sometimes even death.

Most of us don't have these kind of problems.

Rather, we live in a land of plenty, where one of our biggest problems is deciding which appetizer to order off the menu at Chili's. Few of us have any actual "enemies" that want to take our lives, instead, we have what amounts to drama on Facebook. If we ever leave our present home, our biggest problem is deciding whether or not our next one should have an upgraded hardware and appliances in our new kitchen.  And the biggest struggle some of our church planters in America face is recruiting enough talented musicians to play on a Sunday morning.

I can't help but feel that when the Bible talks about Jesus dealing with our emotional issues, it's doesn't really have in mind the Lord helping people who are suffering from so-called "First World Problems."  

If you are a white, upper-middle class, stay-at-home-mom, whose husband works 80 hours a week, and you are stressed out about whether or not you can afford soccer camp, worried about juggling your hectic schedule, keeping your kids in line, and are struggling about your looks as you stand in line at the grocery store and see pictures of “Photoshopped” women on magazine covers....

I'm sorry to say, I'm not sure there is a lot that Jesus can say to you about these sorta things.

That's why you should probably fire Him as your Therapist.

In fact, I'm pretty sure if Jesus were to talk to you about a lot of these problems you suffer from, He would deal kindly towards you, and in the nicest way possible, He would probably tell you:

"Get over yourself already."

Of course, I have simply highly paraphrased what Jesus would possibly tell you in a theoretical one-on-one sit-down therapy session. He would say it so much better than I ever could. But at the end of the day, what He would say to you pretty much amounts to just that.

Your "inner healing" therapy sessions would be amazingly short.  We probably wouldn't like Jesus for this.

Yet in spite of these things, this has not stopped many preachers from preaching Jesus as your Therapist.  And it's no wonder that so many people flock to hear such a message, because frankly, it appeals to them in a very selfish way.

Jesus the Therapist demands nothing of us, promises to make us feel better about ourselves, and makes our struggles the center of His universe.  And being self-absorbed as we are, we can't help but be drawn to such preaching.

(And many ministries grow amazingly big doing just this! Sadly, they blame God for such growth.)

Honestly, I'm convinced that so much of the emotional baggage we carry around with us has little to do with the complexity of our problems and the challenges we face, but rather, because we have failed to submit ourselves to God's ultimate purposes for this world.  I'm convinced much of the inner struggles we face would disappear almost overnight if we stopped being so self-absorbed and making everything in this world about us, and started making our lives all about God's ultimate purposes for this world.

And notice, I said, God's purposes for this world... not God's purpose for me (there is a difference).

Consider the following verses:
"So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him, 'If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free'" ~ John 8:31-32 (NASB)
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." ~ Ephesians 2:9 (NASB)
God created us as His workmanship, and He has a grand plan for this entire world that He wants us to participate in.  He wants us to go out into all of the world and accomplish His pleasure, build up His kingdom, and to be a blessing to others.  He wants us to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, and introduce people to Jesus.

Many of us never seriously think about such things. But, I'm convinced that only when we align our lives with God's purpose for the world, and start giving ourselves over to issues bigger than ourselves, and living as disciples of Jesus Christ, it is only in that we will find the "healing" that so many of us feel we need.  It's only then that the truth will set us free.  And such comes as a result of us entering into a lifestyle in which we follow the teachings of Jesus, and allow God to weave the stuff of His kingdom into the very fiber of our being.

Such only happens when we allow God to form godly character in us, as a direct response to His calling on our lives to be participants in His mission.  In this process of loving God, loving our neighbors, and serving both, we experience inward transformation, and develop a thing called "character."

And when you are put in a situation where you continually cultivate things like love, and where you grow in humility, and you practice forgiving those who harm you... you will gradually learn to "get over" a lot of issues surrounding guilt, shame, regret, feelings of condemnation, and inferiority. In following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master, it is only then when such shackles will begin to fall off, and it is only then we will begin to experience and enjoy true freedom.

10/02/2014

The Power of "Mad Money"


Do you notice your monthly checking and savings account balance trending downward month after month?

If so, you probably have a spending problem.

"But where does it go?" you may ask. After all, like a lot of people these days, you probably pay most, if not all of your bills online. And apart from some seasonal fluctuations in your utilities, your monthly expenses are pretty much the same.

So why doesn't the balance in your bank account increase?

If you are like me (or most people), you probably don't carry around a check ledger and record every single transaction. You spend pretty freely, guessing how much money you have in the bank on any given day, and primarily rely on periodic balance updates or warnings that get sent electronically to your e-mail or phone to alert you of any extreme transgressions.

And as a result, it is only towards the end of the month when you realize that you overspent.

The truth is (of which there is a lot of research to back up), if you use your ATM/debit card to make all of your purchases, you will tend to underestimate how much you actually spend compared to how much you truly spend. Using your ATM/debit card, you feel wealthier than you actually are, and you tend to spend more freely.

If you are trying to live off a budget (as we all should), then this is a REALLY bad method of controlling your personal finances. For example, let's say that you allow yourself $300 a month in "discretionary spending" on things such as shopping, eating out, going to Starbucks, date money, and entertainment. The chances are, if you rely on your ATM/debit card for the bulk of these purchases, you are probably going to blow your discretionary spending fund.

Don't feel bad, such is simply how human nature responds to plastic bank cards.

Being recently married, I found out that two people jointly using this method of personal finance tends to have a "multiplier effect," and it makes it all the more clear that this is a really bad way to manage finances. For example, on Friday I might go out to lunch with the guys at work, and on my wife's way home, she might swing by Target for an item or two. Then I might swing by Redbox, pick up a movie, order a pizza, and settle in for a lazy Friday evening.

But, before you know it, we've spent $100! Yet, each of us feels like we have only spent half of that. And we are only talking about how we handled our finances for one Friday out of the month. We still have the rest of the month ahead of us, in which we will likely repeat a similar pattern of destructive financial behavior!

Just imagine how well that plays out in the long run. It's a great way to become broke... and fast!

But, imagine how it could be better. Putting our heads together, my wife and I implemented a new strategy for controlling our monthly expenses.

Now, instead of using our ATM/debit card for our discretionary spending, we take out some cash at the start of every month, divide it between the two of us, and we call that our "MAD MONEY."

Under our new system, we take our monthly "mad money" and use it for all of our discretionary spending. Once we run out of the cash we took out, that's it... no more mad money to spend. When my wallet is empty, my hands are tied and I no longer have anything to freely spend. If I want to buy anything else, I need to ask my wife to borrower some of her "mad money," and vice versa.

The end result of our little experiment has been that since we've implemented our "mad money" system, every single month we've seen our bank balance increase.

And while we have not completely eliminated using our ATM/debit card in our discretionary spending category, that's ok. We've made significant progress in this arena, our behaviors are changing, our savings are growing, and we are going in the right direction.

Remember: Personal finance is a journey, not a destination.

I believe that simply keeping cash on hand will change not only the way you spend your money, but how much you spend, and help you grow your bank account balance in the process! Try it out, and let me know how it works. See if it won't make a difference.

10/01/2014

Our Two Minutes of Hate


In the classic book "1984," which coined the phrase "Big Brother," George Orwell describes the workings of a totalitarian society in which the government controls every facet of your existence from cradle to grave.

Everything is centralized, and the government intrudes on every part of your life. Food and other goods are rationed. Your morning routine includes a daily exercise regimen in front of the TV, in which the instructor is able to observe whether or not you are meeting appropriate fitness standards and guidelines. "Thought police" closely monitor what everybody is thinking, and making sure everybody in society thinks the same basic things, and that those who do not conform are sent elsewhere to get "re-educated." Love, marriage, and sexual gratification are highly regulated, and the family unit is hijacked. History is constantly revised by the government in order to regulate the present. Previously published books, newspapers, and photos are regularly altered to this end.

The book has a big fan base with many politically conservative leaning individuals, such as myself. Republicans and Libertarians regularly praise the book and preach lessons learned from it. Anytime the United States government appears to try and expand its powers and become more controlling, many will appeal to the dreadful world George Orwell created. The book reminds us of the dangers of the government becoming too big, too powerful, and too controlling.

But there is a curious part of the story line that many among this crowd turn a blind eye to in regard to "Big Brother."

In the book, the country of Oceania lives in a state of perpetual and everlasting war with its enemies. "War is peace," is the official doctrine of the nation. There is a curious thing about the wars Oceania fights though. Her battles never really happen on her soil. The wars the nation fights in are always in some distant far-away land. It is waged against a people that the leaders swear are their enemies. War footage is always broadcast to the public over the airwaves to help reinforce this idea.

In order to rally national and patriotic unity, every day people are required to participate in an activity called, "The Two Minutes of Hate." During this event, citizens watch a short propaganda film that demonizes Oceania's enemies as cruel and barbaric. When the film shows, people will literally shout, curse, and throw things at the TV in order express their deep hatred for the mortal enemies of their nation. In the end, people chant in unison for their love and support of their country, and for Big Brother.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It should. The parallels between our society and this fictionalized society are amazing.

Have you ever noticed that in America that we are almost always in a state of perpetual war? "Peace through strength" is our official doctrine. In the past century, all of our wars have happened in far and distant lands. Seldom does our enemy actually strike us directly on our turf, but that doesn't prevent us from constantly running around the globe and fighting them just the same.

Since World War I started in 1917, America has been involved in almost a constant state of war. The only decade in which we didn't actively engage in a battle was in the 1930's. And even in the few years of peace that we have experienced, we were often involved in military "stand-offs," such as during the "Cold War" with the Soviet Union, in which Americans regularly anticipated a nuclear fallout with the Russians, although one never came.

This Wiki article lists all of the wars the United States of America has participated in. Pay attention as to how we seem to be a nation perpetually at war, ever since our founding. Pay close attention to how in the past century, all of our wars have been fought abroad. The following nations have been declared our enemies at some time or another. Among them are: The Ottoman Empire, Japan, Germany, Russia/The Soviet Union, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, and the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS/ISIL).

Of all the nations that we've made war with, only 2 nations (Japan and Afghanistan) have ever directly attacked us.

So, what has caused us to get involved in so many wars all over the globe? How has the nation been unified and rallied? I believe we have our own version of the "Two Minutes of Hate" video.

You just have to turn on news outlets like CNN or Fox News to watch it.

While watching their "coverage," have you ever noticed your emotional reaction, and the reaction of people in your community to what you see? Historically, our emotions have been strong enough for us to fell compelled to wage war. Through the media, we have been conditioned by our government to hate the enemies they set before us.

Political pundits from the left and the right regularly use the news to run off a list of talking points about our enemies, and to demonize them as much as possible. And like the citizens of Oceania, we develop strong and emotional feelings of hatred towards these people groups and nations, yet we've never interacted with a single one of them at any given time in our lives.

The end result of all of this has been that if in the past century if you were to ask any "red blooded American" about what we should do to Germans, Japs, Russians, Koreans, Iraqis, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State... our solution has always been the same: support our troops, and bomb the living hell out of our enemies.

Where did we get these ideas? It has seldom ever through first-hand knowledge to our enemies threats, perceived danger just lurking around the corner, or boots on the ground. Our enemies have seldom ever done anything to actually threaten us or harm us or to make us feel endangered.

We only think people are our mortal enemies because a talking head on TV told us it was so. Yet we find ourselves year after year in a state of almost constant war, battling demons and barbarians abroad, in far-away lands.

It is ironic that as conservatives, we see the danger of a big government dominating our lives when it comes to our civil liberties, because of the lessons we feel we have learned in books like 1984. Yet, when it comes to the size of the government and its ability to lead us into everlasting war, instead of loudly protesting the idea, we are amongst the first to sign up for battle, and be champions of the cause.

A large military that is able to wage perpetual war is just as dangerous as a large government that is so powerful that it can regulate the smallest details of her citizens lives. Neither is to be desired. Indeed, it would seem the country that is perpetually at war is the one whose government has the power and strength to impose total control on her citizens.

As conservatives we should oppose bloated spending on the military as much as we oppose other parts of the government being large and in charge. And we should operate under the assumption that if our government is trying to get us to wage a war in land far-away, that they are probably lying to us about the dangers we face, and the actions that we need to take in order to defend ourselves.

We should look at our government's constant desire to lead us into perpetual war to be just as much as a power grab as anything else the government attempts to do for "the commond good."

As conservative, we should see our constant call to war as something strangely "Orwellian."

9/29/2014

Bloated On Big: A Call to Simplicity


Growing up, my family entertained a foreigner from Germany who stayed with us for a short time while he traveled on business in the United States. The experience was an unforgettable one for all of us.

Our visitor, in his semi-broken English, liked using the word "BIG" a lot to describe all things American. He was quite obsessed with this phrase. We found it humorous.

His eyes marveled at the things I took for granted every day.

Like, I had never considered that as a kid, that our 2-story 4-bedroom 2,000 square foot home was "big." It seemed quite average to me. I had some friends who lived in homes both bigger and smaller.

According to this report from data collected by the US Census Bureau, the average size of a new home being built in America today is about 2,600 square feet. Compare that to this report on Germany, where the average home size is less than 1,000 square feet. As American's, "on average" we've not lived in homes that small since the 1950's, and what is average to us is quite big to most the world.

Let's face it, in America we do "big" really well. We look to "Super-Size" everything from our French fries to our churches. When we dream, we dream big.

And there is a lot I like about that.

Except, I'm starting to feel a little bloated about the entire "big" thing.

Making everything we do the equivalent of a Thanksgiving Dinner is starting to get really tiresome, old, and unoriginal. I don't want Thanksgiving Dinner every day. On some days I just want a tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

I believe God is calling all of us to something smaller. I believe God is calling us to live more simply. I believe God is calling us to less exceptional things, and is calling us to more ordinary things. After all, it's in the ordinary every day things we find God the most.

For heaven's sake, God's only begotten Son came into this world, not as the CEO of a Fortunate 500 construction company, but as a simple carpenter. He didn't even have power tools. If Jesus would've been born in America today, He would probably work as a 1099-contract based worker. He wouldn't even officially have a "job" based on IRS standards. He would probably wear denim blue jeans that you could hang a hammer from. Jesus wouldn't be caught dead in skinny-jeans.

Let's get back to small. Let's get back to simplicity. Let's trim our budgets. Let's take on less debt. Let's build smaller churches. Let's live in smaller homes. Let's lay off the super-sized fries.

9/27/2014

Budget to Give


I think a lot of God's people would admit that they enjoy giving, and that they want to give more.

But many feel hindered, because they feel their financial situation doesn't afford them the ability to give as much as they'd like.  Thus, the idea of giving more seems a bit frightening, because they fear they simply cannot afford to give more than they presently do. Maybe you are one of those people.

Let me ask you a simple question...

How much money do you make on a monthly basis?

It's really a simple question.  But it's a question that I believe a lot of people cannot accurately answer.  My guess is that you probably don't really know either.

For a living, I work as a mortgage underwriter on the foreclosure side of a really big bank.  As a result, I've had the opportunity to review the personal financial statements of a lot of different people.  In the standard paperwork my bank asks people to fill out, people are asked to disclose their monthly income.  When I compare what people write down as their monthly income, to what I actually calculate after reviewing their last several paychecks, I usually discover what a person thinks they make on a monthly basis is very different than what they actually make on a monthly basis.

Having reviewed thousands of personal financial statements, I am of the opinion that most people in America simply do not know how much money they make!

And if people don't know how much money they make on a monthly basis, I think it is fairly safe to assume that they don't know what their monthly expenses are either.

Honestly, I believe that most people simply hope to have money left over at the end of every month.  And usually, they are right, and that is enough for them.  But many people learn the hard way, and eventually find out that they were guessing wrong, and don't have enough money to cover all their expenses.

Don't be one of those people.  As much as I enjoy being employed at the bank, I don't want to see your loan application on my desk asking for help so that you can avoid foreclosure.

Instead of being a person who thinks they make enough money to cover their monthly expenses, become the type of person who knows exactly what they make on a monthly basis, and who knows exactly what their monthly expenses are.

But the only way you can do that is if you take charge of your personal finances and make a monthly budget.

I know... not exactly fun stuff.  Some people would rather go to the dentist than make a budget.

But if you are to be a responsible steward of the financial blessings God has provided you in your life, making a budget is the only way you can get on top of your personal finances.  And if you are looking to be a "cheerful giver" as the Bible teaches, there is no way you can find joy in writing checks that you fear may possibly bounce, or cause you to get behind on your other bills.

Making a budget requires that you first analyze your personal finances by going line by line through your bank statements, and find out exactly how much money you take home on a monthly basis, and exactly how much you spend.  Of course, since expenses vary month to month, it is best to analyze a full year worth of bank statements so that you can get a general average.

In this process, you will likely discover that you are spending far more in certain categories on a monthly basis than you were previously aware.  I think most people discover that they spend far more on eating out, shopping, and home repair/maintenance than they thought they did.

I remember analyzing the bank statements of one person at work, and discovered that they spent about $1,000 eating out on a monthly basis.  Such was almost the amount of their monthly mortgage payment, which they had fallen behind on.

I didn't have the opportunity to talk to this man about his personal monthly expenses, but I bet if I were to have asked him if he ate out that much, he would deny spending as much as he does at restaurants.  And a lot of people are like that, in denial about what they spend and where they spend it.

But that's what is so amazing about a budget.

A budget forces you to be honest about your spending habits.  A budget forces you to deal with reality, and not simply what you think is going on.  In making a budget, you do as personal finance guru Dave Ramsey says, and "name every dollar, instead of wondering where every dollar went."  A budget helps you take control of your spending habits, so you can better direct where your money goes.  Instead of doing this...

A lot of Christians write checks "in faith."

That is, they write a check hoping that it clears before other checks do, and that they will get paid before all the other checks have a chance to clear.  They do this with everything from tithe checks to mortgage payments.

God doesn't want you to have that kind of faith.  When it comes to "tithing" or making your mortgage payment on time, God is much more interested in your being "faithful" than He is whether or not if you can write a check not knowing where the money is going to come from to pay the bills this month.

Being faithful means not writing a bad check that has the potential to bounce.  And if you are living off a budget, you will never need such "faith."

Some Christians like to tell stories about how they tithed, not knowing where the money was going to come from in order to pay their mortgage or other bills, and that God miraculously provided for them in the end.

I'm not going to say such never happens.  But let's be real.

Churches process bounced tithe checks on a weekly basis.  And banks regularly foreclose on homes owned by Christians who practice such check writing habits.

If you can't afford to tithe AND pay your bills this month, pay your bills first and learn to make a budget so that you can actually afford to give.  Write your tithe check later, it's ok, God won't curse you if He doesn't get it this week.

The point of developing a budget as a Christian is so that you and I don't have to live by such "faith."  Rather, we develop a budget so that we can be the faithful, and show that we are faithful by our ability to follow through.

As Christians, we live in the belief that God has already provided for all of our needs, and we adjust our lifestyle in accordance with what God has actually supplied.

When we track our monthly income and expenses, and create a budget, we do so in order that we can take control of our personal finances.  Such a process is something that actually honors God.  And we do this so that we can afford to live a lifestyle that not only honors God, but so that we can be liberal and generous in our giving habits.  We do this so that others may enjoy the grace that God has given us.

9/25/2014

Give less to God, more to Others



God doesn't need your money.

People need money.

God can't accept your money.

People who are poor can accept your money.

With these truths being rather self-evident, maybe we should strive to give less to God, and give more to others.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we shouldn't give money to the local church or world missions, and to help financially support the work that goes into preaching of the Gospel.

Such is entirely Biblical.

I just think we should give more money to those who specifically need it than those that don't.

Such is simply MORE Biblical.

Blindly writing a check every week and putting it in the offering plate and saying you gave to God as a result... not so much.

Some ministers might object to such statements, and insist that you have (or get to!) tithe 10% of your income to the local church. It is there, they say, that God has setup His storehouse in which you are to bring your tithe.

Many preach this really well, but frankly, it's simply not Biblical. And there is nothing in the writings of the New Testament to support the notion that God accepts your tithe by means of a pastor at a church building.

Indeed, the early church didn't even meet in buildings, they met in public outdoor places and in living rooms. So the concept was far from their minds.  The only "house of God" they knew about was the temple in Jerusalem, and they knew that Jesus promised it would be soon be destroyed.  So, it's doubtful that they ever brought very much money there knowing such a thing.

No matter.  Such still won't keep very many pastors from trying to come up with clever ways to link the Old Testament practice of tithing to the New Testament, and induce you to give to them as a result.

As some pastors told me in Bible college and Seminary, whether tithing is required today doesn't matter, they were still going to preach it anyway, because without doing so, many of them were convinced that their doors on their church would close tomorrow, and they would be without a job.

(That was a true story by the way.)   

In case you are not aware:

The "storehouse" of the Old Testament to which people brought their tithes was something akin to a barn and used to store food. When people tithed, they brought livestock and other food stuff there.  It was like a giant community food pantry. They didn't bring money. If they had money, it was to be used to purchase food, and that food was subsequently stored and eaten.

Tithing was primarily a practical means by which God made sure the Levitical priesthood and their families, in exchange for their full-time service in the temple, could have something to eat. For the priesthood and their family were engaged in the service of the temple all day long, and they simply didn't have time to milk cows and plant a garden.

Additionally, because they didn't inherit any land in Israel, they literally had little to no land from which they could cultivate, farm, and support themselves with. All they received from Moses when he divided the land were a couple cities that were designated for the Levites to live in. Without the tithe, they would have literally starved, and they would have been forced to abandon their priestly duties in the temple.

This isn't a problem anymore today, because...

We have no more Levitical priesthood to support anymore.

With the giving of the New Covenant, all of God's people are now priests, and all are called to minister in some fashion. And while it is true that pastors and others have the right to be compensated for their service to God's people, if you read the New Testament carefully, you'll find that folks like the apostle Paul rarely accepted financial assistance in compensation for their ministry.

Instead, the apostle Paul worked, and was self-employed in the leather trade. And he specifically encouraged others to follow his example, as he thought it was the wisest thing to do.  He didn't want people to question his motives for preaching the Gospel, and create a stumbling block for others in the process.  Additionally, he wanted the money that might have normally gone to him, had he demanded it, to go towards the meeting of other more pressing needs than his own.

If you actually study all of the passages that talk about giving in the New Testament (and there are quite a few!), you'll discover that the early church primarily gave their money to feed the hungry, take care of the poor, and to support widows. Very little money seems to have ever been given or received for the purpose of helping pay preachers for their labor.

And NONE of it was ever given to help build auditoriums or cathedrals.

And the church still grew like wildfire in spite of not funding the things we typically spend a lot of money on, and did so for several centuries.  Which leads me to ask...

What would happen if we followed the teaching and pattern of giving practiced in the New Testament by the early church?

Just imagine all the places we live and how our cities and nations would be transformed overnight, if instead of "giving to God," we simply made it an intentional point to be radical in our giving, and looked to give our money directly to the people who actually need it the most.  And in the process, share the Gospel with them.

Can you imagine the witness this would bear for Christ in the community? Can you imagine the platform the church would gain in order to proclaim the Gospel if it had little overhead, and majored in giving?

Let's think outside the box for another moment.

I go to Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. As of December 2013, we received over 25 million dollars in offerings last year according to this audited online financial report from the church.  The church, which is very generous, gave back 12% of that money to the surrounding community.  Not too shabby compared to most other churches.

But, imagine a scenario, that, if instead of using the money we received to support the hundreds of pastors and staff who work at Elevation, and to pay for all the overhead associated with this ministry, that we simply decided as a church to pool all of our money together to end homelessness in Charlotte.

We could do so every year, starting this year!

Impossible you say? Check this out...

According to this report at the Charlotte Observer, as of December 2013, there were 2,418 homeless people in Charlotte. If we took the same 25 million dollars we received last year, and used it to help each of these homeless people obtain an apartment, that means we could give each person every year $10,339.12 (or $861.58 per month), to go towards paying for rent somewhere. For those not from this area, at $861.58 a month, you could easily find a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment to live at in the greater Charlotte area, and possibly have some money left over.

Now, imagine if my church did that. And then imagine if they partnered with other large churches in the area, like Calvary Church, Mecklenburg Community Church, Central Church of God, Forest Hill, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, and the dozens of other very large mega churches in our community.

Each of these large churches bring in millions upon millions of dollars every year in tithes and offerings. Collectively, I would speculate that all of the mega churches in Charlotte probably bring in well over 100 million dollars annually.

Just think of all the good works the church could engage in across our community if we collectively partnered together to meet real and pressing needs.

Think of the opportunity it would create for all of us to openly share our faith with people who have been made ready by God to hear what we have to say.

Instead, the trend these days is for us to operate under the assumption that God has called our church to be a big church, with as many venues in as many cities and states as possible, so people can gather together and hear 1 or 2 people dynamic people preach for a couple hours a week, listen to some music, watch some theatrics, and then go home.

And as more and more churches expand their sphere of influence by opening multiple satellite locations, we are literally spending millions of dollars on buildings that just allow people to watch somebody preach the gospel over a jumbo sized TV screen that simply has a live internet feed attached to it.  Truth is, the people could do the same at home in their pajamas at just about any time of the day, and the church could spend a lot less money on overhead in the process.  Last I checked, putting up video's on YouTube was free.

That's not exactly a visionary way to reach people. That's probably just bad stewardship.

There are better ways of reaching out to people and changing the world for Jesus. What is needed is not for a church to pump and prime God's people to tithe and give more and more, so that we can build more and more buildings.  God's people give plenty already.  We already have plenty of buildings.

What is needed is for us to adjust our vision, and to be aware of the opportunity that is all around us. We need to redirect where we give our money.

We need to see the single mom who is having a hard time making ends meet, and give to her.

We need to see the children in our nation who experience hunger on a regular basis, and buy them something to eat.

We need to see neighbor that we know was recently laid off from work, and help him make ends meet for his family.

We need to see the wife, who stays with her abusive husband only because she has nowhere else to go and find safety, and help provide a place of refuge for her to flee too.

We need to see the countless others, whom we often refuse to see, and deliberately make them the recipient of the grace God has given us, so that we can enrich their lives through our joyful and generous giving.

We need to stop being so lazy, and simply dropping our offering in a plate.  We need to reach out of our comfort zones, and really begin to minister as God would have us as the church to minister to those in our community.

We need to give less to God, and more to others.

And in the process, if we find some preachers who are exceptionally gifted and make a regular difference in our life and the lives of others, and help equip a lot of people to do such things, we should consider supporting such men and women. They are worthy of our support... if they will take it.

(Note: I have called out Elevation Church and other churches in the Charlotte area for illustrative purposes only. It's the church I go to. I am not attempting to smear them or otherwise malign them. If you think I'm trying to pick on them, may I kindly advise you to think about something else... like puppies, or whatever else makes you smile.)

9/23/2014

Leaderless Churches


"Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." ~ (Matthew 23:8-11; NASB)

If you were to do a survey of the New Testament, you would find that the word "leader" is a pretty hard word to find.

The word "leader" is only found twice in all of the gospels as a topic that Jesus specifically addressed. Likewise, the subsequent letters that the apostles wrote contain very few and scant references to this word as well.

Yet for such sparse usage, a recent search I conducted on Amazon.com shows that there are currently an astonishing 2,510 books that falls under the heading of "Christian leadership" that are currently for sale.

It makes me wonder, how is it that something that received so little attention in the pages of the New Testament has somehow managed to become something of an industry in our generation?

Yet, if you were to do a similar word search for words like "servant" or "slave," you would find that these words appear hundreds of times throughout the New Testament in reference to Christian ministry.

Good luck finding very many books on Amazon.com that emphasize the theme of Christian slavery. If any such books exist, most of them are probably dedicated to the studying the theological views of Christians who debated about the abolition of the slave trade in America and Europe. Which of course, is not what we are talking about here.

Instead, we are talking about a slave mindset and identity that the Lord has called us all to embrace, from the least of us to the greatest of us. The proliferation of Christian leadership material abundantly available to us today goes to show one thing: Christianity has not embraced the mindset of Jesus would have in the church.

It's not that Jesus is against there being leaders in the church.

The early church was clearly full of many leaders. That is, it was full of men and women who showed others what it was to live the Christian life, and they demonstrated and modeled to others what that life looked like, and taught others how to live it. They were leaders primarily in the sense that they were role-models, and the embodiment of what it means to live a mature Christian life.

This is stands in stark contrast to what a Christian leader is generally perceived as today. To be a leader in the church today is to be a charismatic CEO type, who strategically leads the body of Christ in implementing the unique "vision" that he has dreamed up for the church. The sheep exists primarily to help the pastor build (and fund) his dream. Sometimes the congregation may indeed be part of that dream, but at the end of the day, they ultimately exist to help the pastor fulfill his vision. Anybody who voices dissent or questions the pastors' vision is generally asked to leave the church, or otherwise encouraged to find another church that they are more agreeable with.

Jesus' teaching on leadership was specifically targeted against this sort of mindset. The Lord didn't want us to think of ourselves or allow ourselves to be identified as "leaders," because in the process of doing such, we undermine the call to serve, create divisions in the church, and become takers instead of givers.

In the church, we are to only think of one person as our leader, and that is Jesus Christ alone. No man may take His spot. And as a result of being rightly oriented with the leadership provided to us from heaven, we are to relate to one another as "brothers."

There are to be no "leaders" or "followers" in the church in the traditional sense of those words, only brothers helping other brothers out in their mutual quest to become more and more like Jesus, and to share the gospel with a lost and dying world.

There is to be no division of the church into pastor, staff, and laity. Our relationship with one another is to be horizontal, not vertical. If there is to be any hierarchy in the local church, it's a very small one, with Jesus Christ sitting clearly on top of it all. He alone is our leader and visionary.

The danger when we get this wrong is that you begin to see the church acting in a dysfunctional manner. When somebody's head gets too big, and they become "the leader" of the church, they eventually start looking at the people in their midst as "followers" instead of "brothers." Everybody in the church eventually becomes somebody from whom the leader "draws from" instead of "giving to." In the end, the leader will treat everybody as mere pawns, of whom the pastor frequently allows himself to enjoy the "benefits" and "perks" related to being their "leader."

This is a very real and dangerous problem in much of the church. You see it all over the place.

You see this attitude prevailing in churches where the pastor and his wife are treated as King and Queen of the church. You see it when pastors recruit people to be their "armor bearers," who do things like carry the pastors' Bible to the pulpit for him, or take his car to get cleaned once a week.  You see it in churches that have "pastor appreciation week," where the pastor allows a special offering to be taken up for him on an annual basis, as a sort of "bonus" for all his hard work and personal sacrifice.

You see this attitude prevailing in churches where pastors rule in an authoritarian fashion.  You see it when pastors  live isolated lives from the rest of their congregation.  You see it when pastors are treated as the chief "visionary" to whom the rest of the church must unquestionably "submit" to. You see it when there is a heavy emphasis in the church on tithing and giving. You see in in churches that always seem to be in some sort of building program.  You see it when pastors make handsome salaries, live it up large, and buy mansions.  You see it when people start quoting Bible verses about "touching not the Lord's anointed, and doing His prophets no harm" whenever somebody calls into question the pastors' morality, and the example he is setting for others in his lifestyle.

These attitudes exist because we have failed to realize that God isn't looking for men with a leaders' heart, but rather, a servants' heart.

He's looking for people who aren't interested in building large ministries centered around themselves.  He's not looking for people who dream big, but for people who dream small, and whose only care is how they might help you as a person grow to be more like Jesus.

Slaves don't dream big, or to try and make something of themselves.

Their only concern is the task at hand, and figuring out how they might please those to whom they are enlisted in service too. That was the attitude of the leaders of the early church. So much so that they didn't think of themselves as leaders but as slaves who were called to work for the Lord in serving other people.

Indeed, when they sat down to write letters to the churches they founded or were partnering with, whose letters eventually became our New Testament, they always introduced themselves. And when they introduced themselves, they did not speak of themselves as the leaders of these churches, with a right to demand an audience with the congregation, but they simply desired to speak as slaves who merely wanted to help others out, and felt they had something they could share that would benefit others.

In light of Jesus' teaching on leadership, I hope that we we realize that the church is not the place for leaders, but for servants.