12/18/2016

You don't need a "Breakthrough" in 2017


As the year draws to an end and a new year begins, people begin to take an inventory of their life over the past year.  Many will simultaneously celebrate their successes, while quietly mulling over their failures.  They will continue to dream, plan, and will make new goals.  And more often than not, they will resolve their commitment to accomplish the things they failed at this past year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that.

"...This year I will finally save $10,000; I will finally get a promotion at work; I will finally lose that extra 20 or 30 lbs I have hanging around my midsection; I will go back to school and finish my degree; I will finally overcome my addictions..."

And so the list goes on and on. 

And for some people who make such resolutions again and again, there is a sense of desperation forming.  They are growing sick and tired of being sick and tired about that "thing" in their life that is holding them back, and keeping them from being all that they believe God has created them to be. They are tired of dealing with the same challenge year after year, and never seeing any progress made. 

They feel stuck in a rut, and the more they linger in this rut, the more magical sounding ideas like experiencing a "breakthrough" begin to sound.   And as they make their New Year Resolutions, a foreboding sense of doom begins to cast a long shadow over their goals, causing a person to anticipate failure before they've even began their journey.

And knowing this is where a lot of people are at, an army of wannabe prophets, gurus, and multi-level marketing experts are more than willing to come along and help you fulfill those dreams and overcome your problems.  For a fee of course.  But they are willing to help just the same. 

These hucksters promise a whole new world is getting ready to open to you.  This year is going to be different!  If you just listen to them and do what they say, go to their seminar, attend their revival meeting, read their book, listen to their audio tape, hire them as your coach, and if necessary, walk on hot coals... then by God, you will be an overcomer and this will be your year of Jubilee! Your dog will love you again. Money will grow on trees in your back yard.  Women will flock to you.  Your waistline will shrink.  Other men will want to become like you.  And you'll finally arrive at that mythical "Next Level" that everyone is always talking about.

Stuff like this makes me want to pull my hair out. 

You are just as likely to experience a breakthrough following these guys as you are to solve your financial problems by playing the lottery.  You might win at this game, after all "somebody has to win," as every lotto junky knows well.  But more often than not, you are going to lose, and you will have nothing more to show for it than possibly a few extra books and tapes that collect dust on a shelf somewhere, while making their author fantastically rich, all while you continue to be stuck in the same old problem you always were stuck in.

What many fail to realize is that this "breakthrough" they are in search of is nothing more than a short-cut to success.  It's a form of a get-rich-quick scheme.  No hot handed healing revivalist is suddenly going to crack the skies of heaven for you by you attending their meeting.  There is no grandiose mystical moment that exists that will suddenly propel you to the place you are looking to go one day.  These guys are doing nothing more than peddling sugar, and once they leave town and the buzz wears off, you are going to come crashing down.         

Instead of searching for a breakthrough moment, what you really need to do is develop your character.  Proverbs 10:4 says that one of the reasons that some people are poor and some people are rich is because some men are lazy, and others diligently work with their hands.  And in my opinion, if you are looking for a breakthrough moment like the type they vaguely preach about on TV, then there is a good chance you have taken on a spiritually lazy attitude, and are as destined for poverty as someone who refuses to work. 

You want the quick fix and quick riches. You want to win the spiritual lottery.  You aren't at all interested in forming character.

Yes, good old fashioned character!  That is the true "key" to overcoming most of the things that are holding you back year after year.  It's the type of character that is forged by faithfully committing to something in the daily grind, and seeing it through to the end.  You need the character that is forged in the ups and downs of life, by facing hardships head on, and welcoming all life's difficulties and challenges as an opportunity to grow. 

I remember when I was in college that while I loved learning, I generally avoided subjects I knew I would struggle with.  You didn't catch me taking organic chemistry as a science elective.  However, in seminary I was forced to deal with the fact that I had to learn ancient Biblical Greek as part of my studies.  I dreaded the mere thought of it.  But, having no choice in the matter, I plunged myself into my Greek studies.  I constantly walked around with index cards in my back pocket, full of this week's vocabulary.  Whenever I had a down moment, I was studying those cards.  I brought them everywhere I went, be it at work, school, church, and even on dates.  I was constantly looking at them.  I didn't become an expert in Greek, but by the time I finished my language courses in school, I finished my year of studies with a solid "B+" letter grade. 

Studying Greek really stretched me as a person.  After learning to translate ancient Biblical Greek and passing my classes, I felt there wasn't anything in the world I couldn't learn.  For I had challenged myself intellectually more than I ever had up until that moment in my life.  I learned something completely foreign to me and just about everyone else, and I grew some new brain muscles in the process.  I experienced a genuine transformation of my character as a result.  New character had been forged in me.  And since that point in time, there isn't a subject matter that I've come across that I didn't feel I couldn't tackle.

Which was great.  Because it would not be long before I found myself no longer in seminary, but found myself studying business law and mortgage finance in school and at work.  And to this day, I don't think I could have learned and excelled in these areas, both academically and professionally, had I not first gone through the crucible of learning Greek in seminary.  But because I pressed through those challenges, I know in my heart of hearts that God brought me through those challenges and helped me grow as a person, and by faith, I am confident that should such future challenges arise, I will conquer them as well.  

For I know who God has made me to be as a person.  I know the stuff I am made of.

This is where the real "breakthrough" is at.  It comes, not by listening to some preacher, attending some conference, or performing some sort of circus act.  This "next level" type of stuff whereby you "smash the glass ceiling" only comes as a result of pressing on through challenges and enduring whatever it is you have to endure before you come out the other side.

No, pressing on through to the other side is never easy.  It's definitely easier said than done  And like any person, you may experience setbacks and failures along the way.  I received some low grades on some of my original Greek exams before I finally started hitting the high marks.  You may get knocked down in this process, but you get back up again, make some adjustments, and you keep pressing on anyway. 

The faithful person makes no excuses and doesn't quit.  They just keep going and going and going and going.  They may die a thousand times over in this process, but they always keep their hope on the power of Christ's resurrection to raise them back up. 

Faithful people have a different mindset.  It may sound cliché', but it's true.  Faithful people see stumbling blocks put in front of them simply as stepping stones that are going to help them get to where they need to be.  They know that whatever their task or goal is, by the grace of God they will complete it, and nothing is going to stop them from doing such, because they are going to do the hard thing, and they are going to press on every single day even if it kills them in the end.

Of course, none of this is ever any fun. 

Which is why people want to take the short-cut.  They would rather pay an exorbitant amount of money to some guru, and obtain the illusion of something a bit more magical.  They want to at least be entertained and made to feel "inspired" and to feel good about themselves.  They want to attend that "life changing" event, and tell all their friends about it.  But in this, they will continually fail, and never obtain that which they seek.

Real "life change" and "breakthrough" is a lot less exciting.  It doesn't sell books, and it doesn't pack auditoriums.  It's found by rolling up your sleeves, being diligent, doing the hard thing, and going to work day after day after day after day.

So this year if you are dreaming about finally overcoming some lingering issues in your life, stay away from the hucksters who want to offer you a short-cut to success.  Beware of them, as they are out in full force right now. 

Instead, set a goal, make some hard choices, and daily do whatever it is you need to do to be faithful to that goal, and to be faithful through the end.  And in doing such, you'll truly see the breakthrough that God has in store for your life. 

11/23/2016

How To (Effectively) Save Money and Pay for Christmas



Christmas is just around the corner, and most people probably find themselves in somewhat of a panic. One group doesn't know how it will pay for Christmas, and the other group will quickly realize that they have overspent on Christmas. 

Both groups will be tempted to whip out a credit card in order to split the difference.

Don't be among them.

Instead, I would like to propose a simple method of paying for Christmas.  But you cannot embrace this method unless you realize the fundamental problem at the heart of it all:

You are your own worst enemy!!!

You are not as good with money as you think you are. If you've ever closely tracked your spending and made a budget, then you know what I am talking about.  The moment you start ignoring the constraints of your budget because you think you are "fine," is the very moment you will start to overspend, and will ultimately start coming up short financially.

The first thing you need to do is to make a budget.

Decide ahead of time how much money you are going to spend on Christmas every year.  As Dave Ramsey says, "Tell every dollar where to go instead of wondering where every dollar went!"  Your money needs to have a name. Assign it one on a spreadsheet, and use it to track your monthly spending.

The second thing you need to do is automatically save.

You will need to start saving a small amount of your monthly budget and setting aside funds for Christmas.  If you are going to drop a grand or two on Christmas this year for you and your entire family, it's a lot easier to figure out where to come up with the money for Christmas if you've been setting aside $100 or $200 a month throughout the year, than wondering where the money is going to come from five or six weeks out.

Christmas comes every year.  It's not an emergency, so don't treat it as one.  Plan for it through monthly budgeting. 

The third thing you need to do is to setup a separate checking account with a bank that is not your primary bank. 

Sure, such seems like a hassle, but ever since discovering that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to money, I've found another truth: 

You need to hide money from yourself!

In realizing I am my own worst enemy, I've also discovered if I mix my Christmas money with the same bank account I use to pay the bills with, or my "rainy day" emergency funds account, I've discovered that I either don't have as much money going into Christmas as I thought I did, or after Christmas, I've discovered that I've spent more than I intended on spending,  and now have less savings for other things that I was also saving for. 

So the best solution I've discovered is to automatically hide my monthly Christmas savings in another checking account at another bank.  That way I won't accidentally spend Christmas funds on other things, and likewise, I won't be able to easily spend more than what is in that account.  When the funds in that account hit zero, Christmas shopping is officially over. 

And since this Christmas account is at another bank, you don't have to worry about auto-drafting your account and taking money from other accounts you've already earmarked for other things.  The only way to spend more money at this point would be to fall into the temptation of using another card, or you would have to add more funds into your already depleted Christmas account. 

Of course, it is still possible to still fall into this temptation.  However, I've discovered that by having a separate Christmas account, you provide a "check" to yourself that hopefully keeps your spending under control.  If you over spend, your overspending will at least be slowed down by the slight trouble of having to get money from another account.  You won't be able to spend money on other things without thinking about it first.  You will be forced to recognize that you've reached your maximum spending budget. 

And even if you do decide you can afford to spend more money on Christmas than you originally budgeted for in your Christmas account, at least you will be forced to account instead of just wondering where all the money went.  Either way, this will help you keep your spending under control, and Christmas won't become an annual financial disaster.

Finally, this idea can be applied to multiple spending areas.

Don't just limit this idea to Christmas.  Apply it to birthdays, vacations, or saving money for a car or a new house.  Whatever your major financial goals are, I highly recommend opening an account for each one.  And in doing such, I believe over time you will discover that you are better off financially than you were when you had all your eggs in one basket.

And while it might be a little too late to start saving for Christmas this year, if you start today, you can start to plan for Christmas next year.   By removing the financial stress Christmas creates by simply budgeting every month and moving a little money into an account earmarked specifically for Christmas, just wait and see how much more enjoyment you will get out of the Christmas season when you know how it's all going to be paid for!

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas!

11/20/2016

The Apocalypse (a.k.a.. Election 2016!)


Jesus need not come back.  The apocalypse has already happened without Him.  And it happened via the presidential election cycle of 2016 in America. 

Well... not exactly.  But it sorta feels that way. 

Depending on who you voted for, there is a pretty good chance that you viewed Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the Devil incarnate.

"They" were the ultimately embodiment of evil, and in order to save our nation, they had to be stopped at all costs.  Because if the other candidate won, America would descend into unprecedented levels of darkness from which it cannot ever return. 

Facebook became the battlefield of America's second Civil War. The closest of family and friends became emotionally unglued, resulting not only in heated exchanges, but in a massive number of casualties.  Friends lists were purged, and people were uninvited from weddings and holiday get-togethers, all because a loved one supported the wrong presidential candidate.

The church has reflected this cultural division as well.  Voting for the wrong candidate resulted in many Christians smugly questioning the salvation of many other Christians who did not.  After all, it was abundantly clear which candidate God was backing.  And if it wasn't very clear to you, there were many prophetic voices in certain circles who were more than willing to tell you which candidate God favored, and to give that candidate a significance similar to that of some major well liked Old Testament figure.  For some, failure to vote for God's man (or woman) was a test of your commitment to Christian orthodoxy, and exposed how deeply compromised you were in your heart of hearts.

And now that the election is over, there are many who rejoice over Donald Trump winning the election, and likewise, there are many who are deeply fearful of the same.  And depending on which candidate you supported, there are as many news outlets that are willing to feed your feelings of triumph as there are those who are willing to feed your feelings of anger and insecurity.

I know I wrestled with my emotions over this election.  And there has been a time or two (or three) where I got caught up in wrestling other people who were also wrestling their emotions too.

Things ought not be this way.  While I think it is a great thing for people to be involved in politics, and to passionately champion important causes, and to hash out difficult topics, I can't help but feel that we are in danger of being too emotionally invested in this process. 

As Christians we have to remember that as much as we love our country, America isn't our religion, and we should stop treating it as such.  Our identity shouldn't be grounded in her, or a particular political philosophy or candidate.  We must avoid any language that would tempt others to see certain political leaders as some sort of mini-messiah.  God already gave the world a Messiah, and His name is Jesus!  And for heavens sake, we need to stop confusing America with Israel and/or the church.  America is neither.  And the degree we treat America as if it were either of these shows just how much we've made America into a religion.

So, instead of becoming unglued over politics, as Christians I believe we need to become increasingly unattached. 

And in saying unattached I don't mean being uninvolved.  On the contrary, I believe the church should be involved in politics, but in doing so, we need to realize in our heart of hearts that whatever our level of involvement is, we are ultimately serving this country as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and as citizens of another kingdom. 

Such is like the ambassadors of our own country who serve overseas in other nations, representing the interests of the United States while abroad.  Where appropriate, they give their two cents on various issues that arise.  But does the American ambassador to France get bent out of shape when France elects somebody that ambassador perceives to be an idiot as the president of France?  Probably not.  Why?  Because even though they may have a great love for France, their loyalty is back home, in America. 

And I believe that's how we as Christians need to be when it comes with our attitude towards politics.  We are to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ, who while getting involved of the political life of the nation we are serving in, ultimately has a heart that longs for the things that are back home. 

Armed with the mindset, that we are ultimately ambassadors of Christ, will do much to safeguard our hearts from looking at this election (or the next one!) as if it were the apocalypse.  And maybe... just maybe, God will be able to use us as people of influence as a result, so we are able to further His will in this world. 

9/18/2016

The Jesus in Someone Else


When I started out as a fiery young prophet in Bible college at Lee University, I was convinced that unless you believed exactly like I did on even the most hair splitting of issues, you were  quite possibly destined for the eternal fires of hell.

And why not? 

I had the Bible.  And I had the Holy Spirit living in me.  So all I needed to know that I was in the truth, and that you were in error, was simply to read the Bible and then turn inward to find out what was true and what was not.  So, if I did that, and you didn't agree with me, well then "bless God," (as us Southerners sometimes say) something was clearly wrong with you!  The fate of your eternal soul must be hanging in the balance, and it was my job to make sure you got on my side of the fence lest you perish.

I'm guessing most of us can probably identify with this story.  Either, because you've been "that guy" before, or because you've known someone else who was a lot like me (and some of you who read my blog knew me when I was this guy!)

But one day something inside me changed.

One day God showed up in a pretty significant way.  And He did so through some of the people I thought were walking a dangerous tight rope over the very fires of hell.  All of a sudden I was startled as I discovered something of the Jesus living in me was also living in some of these very same people.  At that time, "my heart was strangely warmed," (to echo the words of John Wesley).

And I experienced a change.  No longer did I look at these men as possible enemies, but I saw them for who they truly were all along, they were my brothers and sisters in whom Christ dwelled. 

Since then as I have grown more and more in my faith, I've begun to realize that the truth of Jesus Christ living in me is not as important as the truth that Jesus Christ is living in other people. 

Don't get me wrong, the indwelling presence of Christ, "Christ in you, the hope of glory!" is a very important truth that we all need to grasp and realize as Christians.  But we need to grow up from this basic doctrine. 

I believe our evangelical expression of the faith has made far too much of this theology, and as foundationally important as it is, it has almost become a doctrine that has crippled us instead of a doctrine that has equipped us.

Yes, Jesus is alive and well in me... but Jesus is also alive and well in a lot of other people. 

And as such, I need to be looking to see Him and hear Him in the lives of other people just as much as I am looking for Him inside of me.  "The witness" I find confirmed in me I need to look for in others as well.  For Jesus is just as much inside of them as He is me.

Therefore, the moment I stop looking to see and hear Jesus in other people is the moment is the moment that I become a danger to myself and others.  Not only in the sense of thinking just about everyone besides me is a heretic in the making, and treating them like it, but also in the sense that I am cutting off from myself the opportunity to truly serve others in the body of Christ, and to also be served by them. 

Jesus stressed the importance of us grasping this truth.  So much so that in the judgment to come, Jesus said we will be judged by how we treated others whom Christ was found to be in:

"I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in...." (Matthew 25:35, NASB).


While there is an undeniable inward focus of our faith, and the need for us to have a personal relationship with God, this relationship only exists as a starting point in our faith.  The doctrine of "Christ in you" was never meant to turn you into a prophetic hermit, or to be a doctrine by which you were suddenly empowered to overwhelmingly conquer whatever addictions or personality hang-ups you have going on in your life (although there is truth to that).

Rather, the doctrine of "Christ in you" was always designed by God to turn out outward instead of inward.  It was designed by God to make you think twice about how you interact with others and how you treat them.  Instead of treating others as deplorably and ignorable, the doctrine of "Christ in you" was designed by God to compel you to start thinking about "the least of these," and actively seeking them out as someone to serve. It was meant to change our focus from that which is inward to that which is outward.

As a result, folks like me should be motivated to play the fiery young prophet role a little less often, and become more like the men and women who have faithfully served Christ by washing the saints' feet. 

Is there still a time and place to take bold stands for the truth, to confront an erring apostle Peter with his hypocrisy, and to be a voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the ways of the Lord?  Absolutely.  Are there times in which we must look inward to summon up incredible Sampson like strength to overcome adversity?  Yes! 

But such things are few and far in between.  They should not be everyday occurrences.  What should be something of much more frequency is how often we find ourselves bowed before another, in humble and quiet service, seeing the face of Jesus in others, and tending to them even as we would if it were the Lord Himself.  For in truth, through them, we are caring for the Lord himself. 

But if all we do is think about the Jesus living inside of us, we will never see Him, even if He is right before our very eyes. 

8/18/2016

God's Destiny for Me on the Hamster Wheel of Life


What's the meaning of life?

Why am I here?

What's God's purpose for my life?

Why was I created?

These are questions we often regularly ask ourselves. Surely there is more to life than the never ending routine of eating, working, sleeping, and paying the bills.  Surely God put me here for a greater purpose than just jumping on the never ending hamster wheel of life, right?

The longer I live, the more I begin to think the answer to this question is "no."

I don't have a purpose for which I'm here. I don't have a destiny I'm trying to fulfill.

Rather, I have a thousand and one purposes for why I'm here.  Rather, I have a thousand and one destinies that I am pursuing.

And those purposes are fulfilled as I carry out the everyday things of this life.  Life is far too rich and complex and beautiful, and filled with too much variable and nuance, for me to ever begin to think that God has just called me to do one or two things with my life.  Rather than a handful of things to do before I die, God has called me to do a vast multitude of things. 

When I was younger, God put me in this world to be a student, to learn as much as I could so as to prepare me for the rest of my life, so that one day I might be able to get a decent job, to help take care  of my family, to serve my employers, to contribute to the world economy, and to be a blessing to others.

And as I've grown older, I've seen those purposes expand. God's purposes for my life have changed from season to season.  In different seasons God has made me to be different things, and I expect He will continue to do such.  I've seen that time and again, that one thing leads to another, and to another, and to another.  Things I never even dreamed of for my life have come to pass.

My life has too much going on to be reduced to merely to one or two purposes. And so does yours.

Our lives have so many purposes, and so many different callings. So many in fact that you and I will never know the full purpose for our lives on this side of eternity, and exactly why God put us here.

Yes, I may be conscious of a few of those things along the way, as I see the hand of God working in my life, and as I respond to the leading of His Spirit.  But God has put me here to be much more than what I do between nine and five, or what I do on Sunday mornings in church, or to relentlessly pursue some single focused calling.

I'm a son, a husband, a neighbor, a friend, a banker, a minister, a giver, a citizen, a stranger passing by....

And while my focus shifts throughout the day, and some of the things God calls me to do receive more attention in certain seasons of my life, I'm never just one of these things. My life is too big to be just that.

Yet how often do we obsess over our perceived sense of "calling?"  How often are we afraid to let go of the things that God given us to do, in order that we might now embrace a new calling and purpose in our life? 

How often do we fight against seasons spent in the proverbial wilderness, feeling like by entering into such seasons that we might somehow be missing out on our callings in this life, and doing nothing more than wasting away? 

How often do we feel like a library book, shelved with no purpose other than to sit around and collect dust?

How often do we feel like our current situation in life is holding us back from fulfilling God's "real purpose" being fulfilled in our lives? 

As a Bible college graduate who has spent much time in ministry and serving the church, God only knows how often I feel that way today.  I spent years in school studying theology, learning Greek, reading books, honing my preaching craft, serving the homeless and the poor, driving the church bus, teaching, leading small groups, preaching on street corners, visiting people in the hospital, and a million other things. 

Yet where am I today? 

I'm underwriting mortgages for a living at a big bank, working 60 hours a week, and I'm not even leading a children's Sunday school class in church.  I blog from time to time. I share my faith with others when opportunity presents itself. I chime in something edifying when I get together with other Christians. I encourage my wife.  I post things on Facebook.

Yet, I'm not anywhere near to where I thought I would be at this stage of my life, in spite of all my training and time spent in preparation for "the ministry."

Needless to say, the opportunity for feelings of doubt, self-pity, and loathing are huge.  I could be jealous of others, and angry.  I could be bitter and resentful.  I could be entering a mid-life crisis where I chase the dreams that got away by chasing things that would only destroy me.  I could be angry at God.

I could do all those things and more... that is, if I saw my life as having only one primary purpose or calling. But I don't. 

Instead, I embrace where I am at in this life.  I look at the plow set before me, and instead of figuring out the unholy mental Trinity of would've/could've/should've, I prefer to figure out how I can best be faithful to the task God has given me at hand.  Such not only helps me keep my sanity, but it actually allows me to find a great sense of joy and purpose in what God has me doing in the right here and right now.

And it is from being faithful to the task God has given me in the present that will truly allow His purposes to be accomplished in my life.  It's in the little things I do time and time again, day in and day out, things destined to easily be forgotten by me, but warmly remembered and honored by God, that when faithfully carried out, will ultimately constitute the "purpose" in my life.

And that purpose is to ultimately make me more and more like Jesus, no matter what I do to occupy my time between the date of my birth and the date of my death, even if all I did was eat, work, sleep, and pay the bills.  For being faithful to the task Jesus has placed in your hand, that is no small thing.  That indeed, is the greatest thing you could ever hope to do with your life.  It was the purpose for which you and I were ultimately created. 

And until we learn to be happy in that, we will never be truly happy in anything else. 


8/14/2016

How to Find a New Church



After much discussion, my wife and I recently decided it was time to find a new church to call home.  Thankfully, we did not have to search very long, and I am happy to report that after only visiting 3 different churches in the area over a short period of time, the Lord brought us to a church that both of us are very happy to be a part of.

Thinking on our brief journey, my mind naturally turned to those who might find themselves in a similar situation.  I've known some people who have spent months and years trying to find a church to belong to, but for a number of reasons, they never manage to settle down somewhere.  My hopes in reading this brief article, you'll be able to narrow down your search and that the Lord will help you find somewhere that you can grow and serve. 

Here are my tips on finding a new church:

1.  Keep it Local:

I believe this to be one of the most crucial things in finding a church as well as the most practical.  I've been part of a church before where I had to drive 30+ minutes on average Sunday morning just to get to church.  Such makes mid-week activities and fellowship outside of Sunday morning gatherings very difficult, especially if you live in a large city like I do, and have to battle terrible traffic.  And like any other relationship, long distances often creates problems. 

Therefore, I believe if you are looking for a new church, unless you live in a very rural area, you need to get out a map (like Google Maps), and draw a circle within a 10-15 minute drive of your house, and limit your search for a new church to congregations located within that distance from your home.  Church isn't just supposed to be a Sunday morning activity.  It's supposed to be part of your life.  And the proximity you have to drive to be involved at church and in frequent fellowship with other believers becomes increasingly difficult the further you get away from home.  If you have to drive a far distance to be involved in the life of your church, it will ultimately hurt the quality of the fellowship you enjoy.

2. Leave the Checklist at Home:

For some people, finding a new church is often like dating.  People build ridiculously long checklists of things they are looking for in a church, and as a result, they never find that perfect church to belong to.  I did this for a few years when I was dating.  And as a result, I found starting new relationships very difficult, because nobody out there was good enough for me, as they didn't meet my highly itemized list of have's/have not's.  The result?  I was the king of first dates, but I didn't have many second dates.  And that's because I dismissed many girls outright simply because they didn't conform to this long list of what I thought the perfect girl for me would actually look like. 

It was only when I finally gave up on dating a list and looking to build real relationships that I found the woman who became my wife.  And if I compared my wife to some of the ridiculous things I had put on my ever growing list, I probably wouldn't be married as I am this day.  And if you approach finding a church this way, the chances are, you'll never find a church to belong to.  The perfect church, like the perfect woman, simply doesn't exist. 

A church is a highly relational community, therefore, you should engage each potential church you consider joining in a very relational way.  Be gracious.  There is no such thing as a perfect church.  If there were, you would ruin it by showing up.  Show each church you visit a bunch of grace and cut them some slack.  If they do things a little differently than you are typically accustomed to doing at church, don't pass judgment on them, rather, simply embrace them in the same way Christ has embraced you.  Get to know the people there and find out why they do things the way they do.  You might actually find out that you prefer their unique approach to things.

3. Go to Serve:

While it is important when looking for a church to find somewhere that can help meet you and your family's needs, don't pick a church just because they have great preaching, great singing, and a great youth program.  Don't go to church with a consumeristic mindset, thinking of only what you can get out of belonging to a certain congregation.

Rather, have the attitude of Christ, and look at each church as a place you are going in order to ultimately serve.  Only in looking to be a blessing to others will you ultimately be blessed.  And only in serving your local church will you be able to rightfully say a certain church is "your" church.  Don't go to church to get, go to church to give.  See what you can bring to the table instead of the other way around.

4. Don't Stumble Over Theology or Denominational Affiliations:

While the theology of a church is important, it should not be the primary reason why you pick a particular church.  And denominational affiliation should have very little weight in your mind as to why you decide to attend a certain church (most folks don't really care about denominational affiliations these days anyway, except those who have their bread and butter made by them).  Over the years I've learned that no matter what the official denominational affiliation a church has, and no matter what creed is printed in its bylaws, most churches tend to have a very wide spectrum of beliefs in each congregation anyway.  This is seen even in churches that are very theologically rigid, or have strict practical commitments.

So, don't get too hung up on the particular theological bent or denominational affiliation (or lack thereof)  of any given congregation.  Churches tend to be made up of actual people, and not systematic theologians who are interested in doing nothing more than defending and propagating their pet theology.  Every person is at different places in their walk in Christ, and not every person is going to see eye to eye on all of the particulars of the faith.  We all see a little bit dimly.

Therefore, while I would caution against being involved with churches who don't commit to at least a basic evangelical theology and lifestyle as a community, keep in mind that the apostle Paul was a minister to congregations where some people had doubts about if Jesus Christ was really bodily resurrected!  They weren't really altogether sure about that fact.  Some had their doubts.  And many other churches that Paul wrote letters to were struggling with accepting some very other basic Christian beliefs that we tend to take for granted today.

So, keep an open heart and mind about wherever it is the Lord may be leading you and your family to worship and serve alongside.  The Christian community is a very diverse community, and each congregation often has a long history.  Engage each church relationally, and you'll find theological and denominational affiliations tend to not be the giant hurdles that some have made them into over the years. 

In my opinion, so long as you can see Jesus Christ living in the lives of others, and you find fellowship in the Holy Spirit, that is all that you ultimately need in order to belong to a church.  And as you relate to others in the congregation as actual people, instead of a mission field of people you need to convert and reform or correct, and I believe you'll find a lot of these traditional barriers to fellowship fall to the wayside, and you might just find yourself planted firmly by the Lord in a church that is full of folks struggling with their theology just like you.

Conclusion:

Above all, when searching for a new church, trust the Lord to guide you to the right place.  And give an ear to those who care about you in your life, and see where the Lord might be leading you through them.  And if you are married, work very hard with your spouse to come into agreement about where you and your family should serve the body of Christ. 

Finding a new church can sometimes be a difficult thing to do, but it doesn't need to be needlessly difficult.  I firmly believe if you take the things written above to heart, you'll find your search for a new church comes to an end very, very soon.

God be with you in your journey.

8/09/2016

When Should You Not Vote?



Talking to some, one would almost think it was a mortal sin not to vote.  There might even be a certain place in hell for people who don't vote.  It's a wonder Dante didn't write about the topic.

And of course, it is said if you don't vote, you lose the right to complain.

But I would like to challenge this conventional wisdom.  I find it a little too ill thought out.  I think there are plenty of times you should deeply consider not voting. 

1. Don't Vote Just to Vote

I believe voting just to vote is deeply immoral.  Voting just to vote is like being on a jury and finding somebody guilty or innocent "just because."  Voting just to vote is unjust.  Don't "rock the vote" just because MTV thinks you mindlessly pulling a lever is better than you not voting.  If you do that, you are just a sheep falling into somebody else's power game.  Voting just to vote makes you and everyone else in our society a victim, and not an actual participant in our democracy.

2. Don't Vote If You Don't Know the Candidate

If you are going to cast your lot for a certain candidate, you should only do so because you've considered ALL the possible candidates you are voting for in each office, thought about where they stand on the issues, have considered their general character and qualifications to hold office, and believe they in some way represent what you believe is important for our society. 

Going into the voting booth and pulling the lever for somebody because they belong to a certain political party, or because you saw an ad on the TV and thought they'd be a great person to have a beer with, is rather idiotic.  Don't be stupid.  Vote straight party if you feel you think every candidate in that party represents you and what you believe to be good for the country.  But if you don't know that to be factually true, don't vote straight party.  In voting straight party, you are quite possibly voting for some really terrible candidates who don't have your interests in mind, and you are empowering such people simply because they have an R, D, or L next to their name. 

In my opinion, having the option to vote straight party should be illegal.  There should be no party names next to any persons' name.  Such only encourages uninformed voting, and making people useful idiots.

Don't vote out of ignorance or because you decided it'd be fun to randomly pick a few people that you know little to nothing about.  Don't do things like randomly select county commissioners, sheriffs, judges, or other such people, simply because you have this nervous itch to vote with a completed ballot, and having an incomplete ballot drives your "type A" personality insane.  It's ok if your ballot is incomplete.  This isn't a graded quiz.  Your ballot doesn't need to be completed.  You aren't going to get an F on your report card if you don't fill in every category. 

If you are going to vote your conscience, then you need to make a vote based on actual knowledge.  If you don't know, don't vote!  Your vote impacts our society, and the last thing our society needs is some politician in office who got there by a bunch of people who randomly picked their name out of a hat.  This isn't a lottery or magic trick you are participating in.

3. Don't Vote If All the Choices are Bad

A lot of people are upset about the candidates in the 2016 election.  Donald Trump seems like a terrible candidate.  Hillary Clinton is terrible too.  Jill Stein doesn't offer me anything I really want in a president.  As of now, I plan on voting for Gary Johnson, but there are some stances he takes that I'm not very excited about, and make me pause and question whether I should even be voting at all.  I'm almost at the point I would consider not voting for any of the 2016 presidential candidates.  And you know what?  That's ok.  And guess what?  If I do I am not forfeiting my right to complain or participate in our democracy (in spite of what people mindlessly parrot). 

In our form of government, our elected officials are supposed to be people we elect that represent us.  They are elected to congress or the presidency in order to represent our interests.  Therefore, you should NEVER vote for somebody who doesn't represent you in any way, shape, or form. 

Don't hold your nose to vote.  Only vote if somebody truly represents you and where you stand on the issues.  If somebody doesn't represent most of the views you hold, and if you don't think they'd attempt to do most of the things you don't want done, then voting for somebody just to vote is about the dumbest thing you could possibly do. 

Why in God's name would you do something like that?  It simply lacks sense.  That means you are intentionally voting for somebody who is going to represent the total opposite of what you want done in office.  Do you realize how stupid that is?  Don't choose to be stupid.  Rather, choose not to vote!

Not voting is an option, and one you should seriously consider if there are simply no candidates who represent you running for elected office.  Choose not to vote, then exercise your right to give your opinion in public about why you think voting for any of the candidates is a dumb idea.  It's the only reasonable thing to do.  In truth, voting just to vote is the only way you forfeit your right to an opinion in our democracy.  If you vote for somebody who doesn't represent your point of view, then you are actually silencing your point of view and forfeiting your opinion.  Your opinion is the one that truly doesn't count when you vote against your interests!

Conclusion

Don't rock the vote just to rock the vote.  If you just can't bring yourself to vote for any candidate, then don't.  It's the only morally right thing to do. Corrupt politicians and corporations may prod the sheep into voting just to vote, because for them, it's simply a numbers and power game.  Don't be some corrupt politicians sheep or useful idiot. 

Politicians fear you not voting more than they fear you voting for somebody else.  Otherwise, they wouldn't push as hard as they do for large voter turnouts.  There is nothing politicians fear more than a low voter turnout.  For a low voter turnout robs them of money, power, and the ability to ultimately influence the world we live in, and to accomplish their agendas. 

A low voter turnout is practically a death sentence to a politicians' political career.  And if you refuse to vote because all the candidates are terrible, such a "protest vote" sends a signal to the powers that be that better candidates are needed.  Otherwise, if they know that the masses are going to vote just to vote, and if they can count on you mindlessly voting, then they will continue to put forward terrible candidates that will only further ruin our country, because they know you will vote for them anyway.  And that, in my opinion, is one of major reasons why we often have such terrible candidates running for office.

At the end of the day, sometimes the only way to make a difference and give your opinion in our society is to not vote.  Sometimes voting "none of the above" is the only logical and ethical decision possible.  And if you identify with some of the points I raised in this post, seriously, prayerfully consider not voting this election cycle.

8/05/2016

I'm not Afraid of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton


Donald Trump is the devil.  If he gets elected, we will all be ruined.

Hillary Clinton is the devil.  If she gets elected, we will all be ruined.

So whoever you vote for this election season, you need to make sure you vote so as to make sure the other guy (or gal) doesn't get elected, because their election would be apocalyptic in nature, and a complete disaster for this country!

Or so the rhetoric goes...

I don't know about you, but I am rather tired of this rhetoric.  I'm only 34 years old, but it seems like I've heard this argument every election cycle since as far back as I can remember.  This argument is getting really old.  And the longer I live, the more silly I find it to be.  How so many people continue to fall for this nonsense is beyond me.

Here are 3 reasons why I'm not afraid of whoever gets elected:

1. Jesus Christ is Large and in Charge

First and foremost of all, as a person of faith, I believe Jesus Christ to be the Lord of heaven and earth.  And no matter how bad things get in this world, I believe that He is ultimately in control.  Yes, things can get very bad.  Hitler styled dictators do rise to power.  But at the end of the day, Jesus Christ is still Lord, and He's greater than Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton. 

No matter who gets elected, I will continue to confess Psalm 23 over my life. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures.  He makes me to lie beside the still waters.  He restores my soul, and leads me along the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.  Though I walk through they valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear, for His rod and His staff, they comfort me.  He prepares for me a table in the presence of my enemies. He anoints my head with oil, and my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.  And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When I look at the world with the eyes of faith and see Jesus is large and in charge, I realize that God's ultimately got my back, no matter who gets elected.  Jesus Christ impacts my daily life more than any elected official ever will.  He leads me and guides me. Wherever I am, the pasture is always green.  I refuse to live in fear, so much so I could even have dinner with my mortal enemies and still be at peace.  My cup runs over, no matter who gets elected.


2.  The Constitution Severely Limits the President

Secondly, we have a great system of government in the United States, and we often forget that.  We have a very powerful system of checks and balances that severely limits the President from doing all that much.  In the wisdom of our founding fathers, when they setup our form of government, they ultimately set up a form of government that operates as if it were in a perpetual traffic jam.  And they did such knowing that there would be nut jobs like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton who could possibly get elected and possibly do a lot of damaging things.  So they severely limited their powers, making it very hard for any elected official to do very much.

As a result, history has shown that no matter what goofball we've managed to elect, by in large, most presidents accomplish only incremental changes and don't do a lot.  They don't do a lot that is great, nor do they do a lot that is bad.  And even the most radical of political ideologues that get elected are generally forced to govern somewhere more in the middle of the political spectrum.  Of the 43 elected presidents our country has had, only a handful have managed to make a major and noticeable impact on our country.  The few that have managed to do such, you could easily name. 

And we have the founding fathers and the U.S. Constitution to thank for that.  Very few of us could point to anything significant that has happened in our lives and directly connect it to the actions taken by the presidency.  And even if you could, such events would be few and far in between.  So, even if we elect a devil to the executive branch of our government, they wouldn't be able to do very much to damage our country. Likewise, we could elect the archangel of heaven into office, and they would find themselves limited in the amount of good they could accomplish. And why?  Checks and balances highly limit what presidents can do. 

3.  The Reality:  Life is Pretty Good.

My life is pretty good, and I'm guessing yours is pretty good too. 

My wife and I have decent jobs.   We aren't rich, but we live comfortably and securely. We enjoy some creature comforts.  We can afford to give to those in need.  So far as I know, my rights aren't actively being violated.  I have food in the fridge, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head.  I have a family that loves me.  And while I may occasionally question my level of safety, like when somebody rang our door bell at 4 am on a Sunday morning recently, generally speaking, I don't have to give too much thought to being physically harmed on a daily basis.   And while typing this blog, I am able to do so from a miraculous piece of technology that allows me to instantly communicate with just about anybody around the world in the blink of an eye. 

So, relatively speaking, life is pretty good!  And my life is pretty good, even though during my lifetime we've had a couple presidents that were anything but good.  Yet in spite of electing a couple goofballs, a lot of amazing and wonderful things have happened, not only in my life, but the life of countless people across this country. 

And my guess is that whether we elect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the next election, my life is going to continue to be pretty good.  Even the most powerful and reckless of presidents have very little ability to impact my daily life.  The CEO's of Facebook and Apple impact your life more on a daily basis than president Obama has in the past 8 years, and they are likely to continue to do so, no matter who we elect in the next election.

Conclusion

Don't buy into the media hype, or the hype of friends and family who are worried to death about the outcome of this next election.  Don't be terrified about the outcome of this next election.  Chances are, whoever wins will make very little difference.  In spite of what you might believe, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not the devil.  Yes, they are both deeply flawed candidates, and both appear to be complete slime balls.  But their ability to make a major impact on your life or the life of anyone you know is very minimal.  And that is the God's honest truth. 

Let this truth sink into your heart instead of the shallow and mindless rhetoric that a lot of people are engaged in at this time of year.  And be prepared to remind everyone that Jesus Christ is Lord, that presidents are very limited in what they can do because of our system of checks and balances, and that our lives are ultimately pretty good, no matter who we elect as the next president. 

I'm not afraid of the outcome of this election, and neither should you be.

7/23/2016

Don't "Waste Your Vote" on Donald Trump


I want to be upfront.  At the time of this writing, I plan on voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president.  And saying such has caused many people to tell me that I am "wasting my vote," because "he can't win." 

However, contrary to what many are saying, I believe that if you plan on voting in the 2016 election this year, I believe that Donald Trump is only the truly "wasted vote" in this election season, even if he does ultimately win and become the president of the United States. 

Here are 4 reasons why I believe this to be the case.

1. Donald Trump Doesn't Represent You:

In America, our form of government is a "representative" form of government.  That means our elected officials are supposed to be generally representative of the people that elect them to run the government on their behalf.  Ideally, the views of our elected representatives represent the general views and desires of the people that elect them.

If you plan on voting for Donald Trump, God bless you, but you are electing a man who probably doesn't represent you, or the views of most his supporters, especially those who would consider themselves conservative minded individuals (which most claim to be).  Unfortunately, there is very little about Trump that is "conservative."  Trump isn't a constitutionally minded person.  He doesn't believe in a small and limited government.  He doesn't believe in being fiscally responsible.  He doesn't believe in free market capitalism.  His views are actually the very opposite of the platform and party he claims to represent, and he's actually pretty liberal on most issues.  Such is why the vast majority of Republicans strongly opposed him in the primaries.  He only won because so many people ran for office in a very fractured party.

Now the only reason many are supporting Trump is because he's the only Republican name that will appear on the ballot in November.  And if you ask me, such is a pretty terrible reason to vote for somebody.  You should vote for the person who best represents you, and if none of the candidates do, you would be better off not voting at all.  Don't just vote for somebody because they are wearing the right jersey.  Vote for somebody you are excited to have them represent you.  And the only way you can do that is if they actually do! 

2.  Donald Trump Isn't "Owned" By Anybody:

One of the few things said to be "virtuous" about Donald Trump as a politician is that he isn't beholden to anybody's money or special interest groups. After all, he's filthy rich and doesn't need anybody else's money, therefore, he can't be bought (unless of course, the price is right, meaning it'll have to be very high).  And as good as this sounds, this is actually not a very good thing in our form of government.

While such might make Donald Trump feel free to blaze his own trail, it also makes him relatively free from accountability, and allows him to totally ignore the wishes of the people who helped get him elected into office in the first place.  In our form of government, politicians need to have their strings pulled from time to time, otherwise, they might only engage in activities that strictly benefit and enrich them, or are far too radical.  Being able to pull their strings forces politicians to listen to those they represent, and helps restrain them from engaging in extreme policies that could be disastrous. 

For example, we all know Hillary Clinton is candidate that is fully bought and paid for by special interests groups.   And while I would never vote for her, I would rather she get elected as president rather than Donald Trump, simply because all of the "big donors" she has making large contributions to her campaign will ensure that she will essentially end up governing in a rather moderate fashion.  Otherwise, if she felt beholden to nobody, she would probably govern in a extremely reckless and liberal fashion.  There would be nobody on the sidelines to force her to pump the brakes from time to time.  But because she is "owned," she is more likely to govern in a more responsible manner.

Therefore, since Donald Trump feels beholden to nobody, you are essentially wasting your vote for the next few years, because you will be unable to hold him accountable.  If elected, he will simply do whatever he wants to do, regardless of what anybody else thinks... especially you! 

I don't know about you, but I never want a politician that feels unaccountable to me.  Our elected officials should fear the people they govern.


3.  Donald Trump Lacks Vision:

We all know Donald Trump wants to "Make America Great Again."  But so what?  What person doesn't want to make America a great place to live, work, and play?  Hillary Clinton and Gary Johnson also want to make America a great place.  If you don't believe such, I believe you are smoking some wacky tobacky and are being far too cynical in your assessment of other candidates. 

If you were to ask Donald Trump how he is going to make America great again, you get a lot of vague ideas.  He's going to make America safe.  He's going to build a wall.  He's going to create a lot of jobs.  He's going to increase everybody's wages.  He's going to be Mr. Law and Order.  He's going to do things, and they are going to be huge and great!

Umm... yeah. Whatever.  This isn't vision.  These are just empty and meaningless campaign slogans.

4.  Donald Trump Doesn't Understand the Issues:

This seems to be a generally accepted self evident truth that most people agree on, even those that support him.  It became painfully clear from the multitude of debates he engaged in during the primaries, from numerous television interviews, press conferences, and speeches that Trump has made, that Donald Trump simply doesn't understand the issues our nation faces.  That is why he talks like an intellectual buffoon most of the time, and can't offer a coherent articulate thought.  That is why he flip flops on so many issues all the time.  And having felt painted into a corner on this issue a few times, Trump assures us that he's going to surround himself with really smart people who do understand the issues, and he'll be a great president because he surrounds himself with best people. 

But, the question then becomes, if Donald Trump doesn't understand the issues, how would he know which people to appoint as his advisors?  How does he know who the true subject matter experts are?  How will he know who is really qualified to advise him on any number of issues?  If Trump is as incompetent as he sounds regarding the issues, what in God's name makes anybody think he can appoint sound advisors? 

Nobody is asking the president of the United States to have an expert knowledge on all the issues that our country faces (no president does, nor could they).  However, they should have at least a basic working knowledge of the major challenges our nation faces, and they should know the things that they don't know, so that they can defer judgment to those who do, and take sound counsel as they tackle problem after problem  Unfortunately, Donald Trump isn't even close to competent on most of the basic issues our nation faces, and I firmly believe he will face a real challenge appointing people who are competent to be trusted advisors and cabinet level officials. 

Conclusion:

Whoever you vote for this year, be sure to vote for the politician that best represents you.  Don't just vote for the guy who has the best chance of winning.  Don't just vote for the guy who is of a certain party.  Vote for the guy who really represents YOU.  Otherwise, you will have truly "wasted" your vote, even if the person you vote for doesn't have a chance of winning.

And at the end of the day, I think Donald Trump is a wasted vote.  I don't believe Donald Trump represents anybody but Donald Trump.  And even if he wins, you will have lost and will have wasted your vote.

7/09/2016

Jesus Felt the Rage of Racism


Have you ever felt mad?

Have you ever felt mad at somebody else?

Have you ever felt mad at somebody else because they are Black, Asian, Hispanic, or White?

Whether or not we would admit it, I think we all have.  And in light of the recent shooting of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police officers in Dallas, I think it is evident to anybody who has logged into Facebook and Twitter recently that a lot of racist feelings have been stirred up in a lot of people.

I know I've struggled with such feelings over the years.  Heck, I get those feelings even now.  The 24-hour news cycle practically beats them out of me.

There are few things that pull on our heart strings more than racial strife.  Whether we like it or not, so much of our personal identity is bound up in our racial identity, and it doesn't take much to rattle our cages when it comes to issues surrounding race.

And if we can't admit such honestly to ourselves, either we are one of the most saintly people to ever walk the face of the Earth, or we are lying.  Personally, I don't believe there is a person alive who hasn't felt something of this anger, hate, and rage towards another person because of their race.

Including Jesus.  

Yes, you heard me right, even the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten sinless Son of God, Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has felt something of this poison that festers in our hearts.

The Bible says:
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  ~ (Hebrews 4:14-16, NASB)
There isn't anything you and I have ever felt that Jesus Himself hasn't personally felt and been tempted with.  He is been tempted in "ALL THINGS."  And that includes the anger and feelings of racism that bubble up and overflow in you and I.  Of course, He felt these things and did not sin.  But He felt them just the same.  And Jesus didn't just feel them in some abstract ghostly or theological sense.  He felt them in His own flesh and blood, in the real world.

Racism was a major problem in the times of Christ.   The Jewish people, whom He was a part of, had lived for several hundred years in the land God promised to them, under the military occupation of the Roman Empire.

The Jews of Jesus day deeply resented the Romans, and for many legitimate reasons.  For example, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus tells us that about the times of Christ, in order to make an example to the Jews of the might and power of Rome, and to beat their spirits into submission, over 3,000 Jews were crucified and hung out along a major highway.   Such made them  no friends with any Jews to say the least.  And there is the distinct possibility Jesus might have witnessed this event firsthand.  But if He didn't witness it with His own eyes, it is definitely an event He heard told and retold a thousand times during His life, and would one day experience personally, as Jesus Himself suffered at the hands of police brutality.

And I don't know about you, but if I were a Jew in that day and saw 3,000 of my own people killed in such a way, such an event might make me more than a tad bit racist against Romans... especially officers in the Roman military.

Jesus Christ lived, moved, and breathed in such a culture.  A culture in which there were not only 10,000 stories that circulated about "police brutality" that were absolutely true, but there would have been 10,000 times as many stories that were rumored to be true.  Every individual Jew would have taken all these stories to heart.  And Jesus would've felt what they felt too.

But He remained without sin.

Exactly how He did it, I do not know.  But I do know that the Bible says that He was tempted in all things that we are tempted, and yet He remained without sin.  So that gives me some hope not only for me, but for you too.  And the Scriptures promise us that if we boldly approach His throne of grace, we will find the help we need in the midst of our struggles and strife in everyday life.

I believe in the midst of the racial difficulties we are seeing presently in our nation, right now, more than ever, we need to make sure that we put this passage into actual practice.  We need to draw near to God.  We need to get help from the very One who knows how to help us deal with the problems we are facing, and the feelings that are stirring in our hearts.  I don't know how to deal with those problems, but I know He does.

I know I am in need of much help.  I hope you see yourself in need of the same help too.

6/26/2016

Art Museums Destoy Art



Recently on vacation I visited the Art Institute of Chicago.  As somebody who has a slight artistic background, my hopes were high.  However, by the time I left, my hopes had been dashed to pieces, and I was disappointed and upset.  And in my heart of hearts, I've decided that if I never go back to another art museum for the rest of my life, I will ok with that.  Thanks Art Institute of Chicago!

Why is that?

Because art museums tend to destroy "art."

How do they do that you might ask? Don't art museums exist to showcase art and preserve it for future generations to enjoy?

In theory they do, but in actuality, they kill it. And in killing their subject matter, art museums with their bland walls and boxy maze like layouts, remind me more of a funeral parlor than a place that celebrates the creative genius of mankind.

What many museums fail to grasp is that art is highly "contextual."  And by contextual I don't just mean the boring typical academic classifications of things that sound like "European Impressionism from the 19th Century."

Rather, art is like when somebody tells a good joke, then later, when you wish to share a good laugh with somebody else, you attempt to retell the joke only to have it fall flat, for which you awkwardly apologize by saying, "I guess you just had to be there."  There are some jokes you just have to be there to experience in order for them to be funny.   Otherwise, you will simply kill the joke in your clumsy attempt to retell it.

Art is like a good joke that you get.  Art museums are often like your feeble attempts to retell that joke.

Art is full of meaning, and that meaning is often what it means in a certain time and place, and its expression is only rightly understood and felt then and there.  When taken out of its context, put in a frame, thrown up on a wall, and surrounded by an assortment of other random paintings in a museum, art often ceases to be art.  It's the failed joke.

Of course there would be those who say they understand the context. They can explain the art like they can explain a joke. But like a joke, if somebody needs to explain the joke, it's simply no longer funny.

If art museums are to continue to exist, which they undoubtedly will as they are playthings of "the one percent," they need to be updated in such a way that they can create an interactive world in which you can be plunged into the world of the artist, so that you are no longer just an individual observing a piece of art, but that you become part of the artists' audience, and the people he was painting for.

My suggestion to places like the Art Institute of Chicago would be to take a lesson from the highly fun, highly interactive, and highly immersive experience of the Science and Industry Museum just down the street in Chicago.  Figure out a way to guide patrons like me into the mind of the artist, so we can see what they saw and felt.  Create a world in which we get the joke.

5/14/2016

Jesus is Coming! To Hell with "Being Green"?


"It turned out…that many conservative Christians in the area, and more importantly just to the south in the United States, had been urging that since we were living in the end times, with the world about to come to an end, there was no point in worrying about trying to stop polluting the planet with acid rain and the like. Indeed, wasn’t it unspiritual, and even a sign of lack of faith, to think about such things? If God was intending to bring the whole world to a shuddering halt, what was the problem? If Armageddon was just around the corner, it didn’t matter—and here, I suspect, is part of the real agenda—if General Motors went on pumping poisonous gases into the Canadian atmosphere." ~ N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
As often is the case, N.T. Wright is often onto something here.

If you believe that Jesus is coming, and is coming back very soon (if not within the next few minutes, possibly within your lifetime), then why should you care that much about what happens to the environment if He is simply going to destroy heaven and earth at some point in the not too distant future?

If Jesus is returning soon, wouldn't efforts made to save the ecosystem, and fighting such things as global warming, be a wasted and futile endeavor?  Shouldn't we instead simply be about the business of saving souls and filling up heaven with as many people as possible?

That is without a doubt how an increasing number of scholars and theologians are starting to characterize "Left Behind" flavored systems of theology.  And indeed, such a characterization isn't entirely unfounded.  There are a lot of Christians who actually think this way.

However, I feel that while there are some Christians who actually think this way, such a highbrowed characterization is ultimately an unfair one.  It's akin to saying that Left Behinders believe that since Jesus is returning soon, that we should just empty our bank accounts and sit on roof tops waiting for His return.

Of course, history teaches us that there have actually been those who have done exactly that, and thus, this characterization doesn't exist entirely without reason.  Especially since at random times throughout church history, various groups have contracted what is known as "millennial fever," and have done some rather bizarre things in the name of Christ's imminent return.

But very few, if any Left Behinders that I know of today, refuse to have things such as savings accounts, because they believe Jesus is coming sometime soon.  And for the life of me, I can't remember the last house I drove past here, in the heart of the Bible belt where I live, in which a local church was having a prayer meeting on a rooftop as they faced the Eastern sky, waiting on Jesus to step out of heaven.

And there is very good reason for that.

For such would be a very bad practical pastoral application of pre-millennial theology.  And, as somebody such as myself, who considers themselves a deeply committed pre-millennialist (of the post-tribulational flavor), I believe that even though there is a chance that Jesus could come back in my lifetime, I still do things like save, invest for retirement, and make long term plans for the future that don't involve the world burning up with fervent heat.

Oh yeah, and I do things like recycle too!

Left Behind theology is no more code language for "Jesus is coming back, so to hell with the environment!" than it is "Jesus is coming back, so don't open a savings account, build a nice house, plan for retirement, or invest in future generations of leaders!"  So I would plead for scholars and theologians such as N.T. Wright to stop looking at it as such.  Such simply isn't true representation of this theological perspective, even if it is the attitude of a misguided few.

To say that this "escapism" mentality is the practical pastoral application that pre-millennial theology teaches is simply nonsense.  And to rhetorically cast it as such, simply so you can make room for your own preferred eschatological flavor of ice cream, is some sneaky behavior unbecoming of somebody who claims to be a Christian theologian.

Yes, I believe Jesus is coming back one day, and that one day the heavens and the earth shall pass away in a fiery judgment...

But!!!!

I also believe that I am called to be a steward of all of creation, and that the call that God placed on Adam to tend the garden that he was placed in, is still something God calls us all of us to fulfill today, wherever we are at.

And if it was so with the first Adam, how much more is it so with the first coming of Jesus Christ, whom the apostle Paul calls "the last Adam!"  If God wanted the first Adam to care for the earth, I don't think the last Adam or His sons and daughters are exempt from that care in the present dispensation!

(And yes, I just used the word 'dispensation,' but not quite like that...)

If anything as Christians who believe that Jesus is coming soon, instead of polluting the earth and making it a toxic dump that smells similar to the sulfurs of hell, I believe it is God's calling on us to give this world a taste of the good things of the ages to come here in the present.  And if God is going to make the world a lush garden once again, then prophetically, to the degree that we can, we should share with this present world a taste of what that future world holds.

And if the world in the ages to come is to be a beautiful place and a paradise, full of things bright and wonderful and green, then as Christians we should be a people who plant oasis's in the desert, as a sign post of what the future holds in store for all of those who look forward to our blessed hope.

Our world is in very much needs a taste of the world of the ages to come.  And as a result, our pre-millennial theology must be a green one in its practical, pastoral, and prophetic applications.

4/16/2016

"In your face" Jesus Style Mercy and Social Justice Ministry



"Bible education?"  We've got a program for that.

"Feeding the homeless?"  We've got a program for that.

"Seniors ministry?"  We've got a program for that.

"Greeting first time visitors?" We've got a program for that.

"Community outreach?"  We don't currently have that, but give us 6 months and we'll put a committee together to form a program for that.

Over the years I've come to notice that as the church, we love having "programs."  I'm not even sure many of us could define the word "program."   However, there is one thing we know, is that if there is a problem we are trying to solve, we know that a program will fix it.

Programs have become our one indispensable tool that we use on everything, and fulfills the prophecy that says if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will begin to look like a nail.  And if we don't have a program for something as a church, we tend to let things fall to the wayside, as collectively, we can only do so much.

Please don't get me wrong.  I think programs are great, and I believe they are Biblical. Organizing a group of mutually interested people to solve a problem, pooling mutual resources, and working together as a community, we can often do more together than we can individually.  We need food pantries, we need community outreach programs, and all these sort of things.

However, there still remains much for us to do at the individual level.  As much as we need church programs, we also have a great need for "in your face" Jesus style mercy and social justice ministry.

Jesus once said:

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' " ~ (Matthew 25:34-40; NASB)

One thing that has always stuck out to me regarding this passage is the very intimate and personal nature in which the followers of Jesus are supposed to reach out to people.

Jesus said "I was hungry, and YOU gave ME something to eat... I was thirsty, and YOU gave ME something to drink..."

There is something very one on one and up close and personal about this.   I, you, me.

I believe in my heart of hearts we need to reach out to people and connect with them in a way that programs simply will not allow.  Programs tend to get boxy and have steps and procedures and regulations and chains of command.  Programs become filled with red tape, and and as we institutionalize outreach, we sometimes make it impossible to reach out to people to meet their individual needs.

As a result, even our best of programs have tons of cracks for people to fall through, and if the program you have does not match the person, that person will become further neglected, marginalized, and unreached.

Jesus calls on us as individuals to reach out to individuals.

If we see somebody is in need, Jesus doesn't want us to simply refer them to a church or government program.  Rather, we need to look and see if there isn't a way that you as a person can meet them where they are at and help them.  You can feed them, you can give them something to drink, you can give them a place to stay, you can put clothes on their back, you can spend time with them when they are sick, you can visit them in prison.

You.... you... you!  This is one of the few times in the Bible that we read where it's really all about you.

You don't have to wait for the church or the government to solve the problems people and society face, rather you as an individual can look solve these problems at an individual level, within whatever sphere of influence you have.  You may not do a lot to fundamentally transform society and reach the masses, but you will be performing a service as if unto Jesus Himself.  And if we as individuals in the church all stepped up to do this, who knows to what degree society might be quietly changed and transformed.  I'm pretty sure there is a parable or two in the Bible where Jesus talked this sorta thing.

So, if you consider yourself a "social justice advocate" and think everybody should make a living wage, then when you go out to a restaurant to eat, instead of sitting back and dreaming about a democratic socialist utopia in which president Bernie Sanders leads a revolution that sticks it to greedy corporate fat cats, and forces them to better pay their employees, when you go out to eat at a restaurant, you could make it a point to leave a VERY generous tip (much more than 20%), regardless of how well your waiter performs, or the size of your food order.

Or if you think a particular government agency does a great job at something, and you really like what they do, you could always make a very generous donation to the IRS, and pay the tax level that you want to pay, instead of sitting around and waiting for the government to raise taxes on everyone else.

Or, if you think that college should be free, you could always head down to your local college registrars office, and find out the names of some students who need some tuition assistance this year, and bless one of those students with a scholarship or grant funded by you.

Likewise, if you think medicine should be socialized, there is nothing stopping you from randomly paying the bills of a stranger or somebody you know at the hospital.

Go, do these things.  Stop waiting for some program to be formed that addresses all these issues and ministers justice and mercy to others.  Rather, be an angel of mercy yourself.  Practice justice yourself.  Find individuals wherever they are at, be it friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even complete strangers, and think of ways that you as an individual can serve them even as Jesus would serve them.

Learn from Jesus, who when He healed the multitudes, He never did this by just waving His hand over an entire crowd and making everybody whole.  Rather, He did this by going through a crowd, and one by one, He touched people where they were at.  He ministered to people face to face, and He took the time to care for each person as an individual.  He didn't wait for a committee to organize something.  He was proactive, and took it upon Himself to do these things, because He knew that is what the Father wanted Him to do.

What does God the Father want you to do?  What has He purposed in your heart?  Who has He put in your life, that you know has a need?  Who can you reach out to as an individual?  Where can you make the difference?  Don't wait for a program to be organized to solve social ills that you have identified.  Don't simply talk a good game.  Put your hand to the plow, and work the field that is yours to work.

4/10/2016

Worship-tainment



Lights. Cameras. Action.

I could be talking about the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon;  I could be talking about U2 in concert;  Or, I could be talking about your local Sunday morning worship service.

And in many ways these days, there's an increasing lack of difference between the two.

A dozen or so people may appear on stage on any given Sunday.  But for those dozen people appearing on stage, there is a supporting cast consisting of dozens more that are making the entire performance possible week after week.

Increasingly, churches no longer just have worship leaders and choir directors.  They have executive musicians, creative directors, audio/video technicians, graphic artists, and just about everything else that you need to pull off a full blown live production of a TV quality show or musical concert.

Worship has become a form of entertainment.

You may not pick up on it, but you hear it in the voice of every pastor who stands up and says "We guarantee the exact same experience at all 5 of our worship experiences this weekend!"

Oh really?  I'm glad.  Jesus and the apostles never did such a thing.  And with my busy life, I wouldn't want to miss out on something, as if coming to church were no different than watching my favorite TV show.  I would hate to think another church service heard a different set of songs than I got to hear.

And churches know that in order to compete with the church down the street, they will have to pull out a more elaborate production.  These are the "worship wars" of the early 21st century.

Worship has become an event to be performed and a commodity to be packaged and sold instead of a faithful expression of the locally gathered communion of the saints, who corporately assemble together to worship the Lord, and to allow heaven and earth to be bridged together in Him as they stand in His presence and minister.

Worship has become a thing for young hipster artists to perform, instead of a service offered to God by consecrated priests who know what it is like to minister to the Lord and to one another.

Gone are the little old ladies with a special song in their heart.  Instead, American Idol rejects literally dot our church stages all across the country and have taken their place.  Many of them know how to perform, and they will gladly do so for a few bucks (because it's probably one of the few musical "gigs" that they can make regular money from), but few understand how to minister as a priest standing before God.  Few understand how to bring heaven and earth together.  Instead, they know how to create sensual and emotionally manipulative environments, in which they substitute fog machines for the Holy Spirit.  And they measure success by the size of the crowd, how many people put their arms up in the air and sing along, and how many people bought this year's CD...  just like you would at a U2 concert.

Real priests aren't fooled by such things.  They know there is an utter simplicity in worship, and that God shows up powerfully in the everyday normal-ness of life.  They aren't as concerned about the size of the crowd as they are about what happens whenever two or three gather together in the name of the Lord.

They know stories involving guys like the biblical patriarch Jacob, who was simply camping out one night while on a journey, and woke up the next morning after having an amazing dream in which he saw a stairway linking heaven and earth together, and concluding "the Lord is in this place."  As a result, he built a makeshift altar of sacrifice from the rock he was sleeping on from the night before.  He used what was simply on hand and what was what was just laying around.  And he called that place Bethel, or "The House of God." It became a notable place of worship for centuries to come, yet it was very unassuming and unimpressive in every sense of the word.  But God was there!

Simplicity, not extravagance, should be the hallmark of our churches and our worship experiences.  

Worship services should consist, not of elaborate productions with professional musicians and top talent imported from afar, but of amateur saints who have grown up together in the local community, and simply want to share Christ together in mutual celebration.

Anything else might just be worship-tainment.