The One Thing The American Church Must Not Be Fueled By

Twelve years ago, I quit one of the great joys of my life. I had enough. I was disgusted and embarrassed and I felt hoodwinked, used, and deceived. So I quit.

Baseball, this great game that had captured my imagination and heart since I was in junior high, had become bloated, monstrous, and impure. Steroids had turned the game into a chemistry experiment and the players barely resembled their true selves. Worst of all, every sense of pure fascination and enjoyment I experienced as a fan became a fool’s errand because surely none of these players had achieved transcendence and great heights without taking a short cut, without cheating themselves and the game. So, I was done.

In the last few years, I have started to feel the same way about the American church. It seems to be taking short cuts and injecting itself with a substance that makes it swell and produce unusual results. This substance is fueling the church and has increased its power and significance. But this substance is anything but Godly, only serves to achieve results while corrupting the body with a toxin that looks just like the rest of the world and dismisses the purity of the Christ that it proclaims.

This artificial and harmful substance is anger. Somehow, anger has become accepted as a means for the church and its members to handle life in the 21st century. And it keeps holding on to it because it keeps getting results even though it reveals a heart that is corrupted, unchanged by Christ, and linked to false power, deceit, hate, lying, greed, and oppression. I don’t want any part of this acceptance and complicity with anger.

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Jesus was so against the use of anger that he described three different levels of punishment due the angry person. He says they are worthy of judgement, arrest, and even hell, simply on the basis of their anger. A wise man once said, “Anything that could be done with anger can be done better without it.” We may think that anger is the only way to get results and that we have to join the ways of the world to be significant in the world but all anger is doing to the church is poisoning any real value it might have; any real word it might bring that is loving, hopeful, merciful, faithful, gentle, kind, and peaceful.

Jesus continues his emphasis against anger in the passage referenced above by saying that our worship will lose its meaning and purity if we still harbor anger. He knew how anger corrupts and he makes quite an effort to get his followers to eradicate anger from their lips and from their lives.

I don’t want to quit the church or my affiliations to it but I will not participate in a steroid version that barely resembles Christ’s intent for it or turns it into a bloated, ugly, malformed entity. May we all assess our methods of fueling the body of Christ, the church, and end our love affair with anger. Christ will have nothing to do with it and we shouldn’t either.

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Hearing God? Not Just For Super Christians

Does God speak to you?

If you are Growing Up into a wise and courageous follower of Christ, you should be surprised when God doesn’t speak to you. Dallas Willard, in his book Hearing God, quotes E. Stanley Jones, who says:

“He that made the toungue and gave us the power to communicate with one another, shall he not speak and communicate with us? I do not believe that God our father is a dumb, noncommunicative impersonality.”

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If Jones and Willard are to be believed than we should move God speaking to us out of the sensational category of spiritual experience.

What if our mature and Spirit-filled life with Christ is more like Samuel? He approached tasks in an ongoing conversation with God. Samuel didn’t always interpret situations and directions correctly but that didn’t stop God from continuing to speak to him. We too can hear from God and, in fact, we should expect to and not be surprised when we do.

God speaking may be a still, small voice or may be an audible one or be simply words that someone else speaks that seems to reach you from a depth only you recognize. The point is that it is not just Samuel or Moses or Elijah that hear from God but you and me. God is not checking our credentials.

As long as we are seeking him with all of our heart and mind, we will hear from God. He wants to speak to us as much as we want to hear from Him. Let’s start that conversation today.

My Journey of Grief

This month marks a year since my Dad died. I thought it might be useful to note some observations I have had about loss, grief, and recovery:

Individuality of Grief – Until you have been through the death of a parent or someone very close to you, there is no way of knowing what it is really like to go through grief. I was ignorant of grief’s twist and turns and ups and downs. I had been guilty in the past of expecting people just to snap out of it and move on. Now I know how insensitive and arrogant that mentality was. Grief is a real thing and there isn’t a clear formula for how it progresses.

Loneliness – When you lose someone so close to you it is like a part of you has been severed off, never to be replaced. I miss that part that was lost and never getting it back is a lonely feeling. There were months of just deep loneliness despite the great love and belonging I have around me.

Letchworth State Park, one of the incredible scenic locales that I have experienced over the last year. 

Counseling helps – I was blessed enough to have, on my campus, free counseling that allowed me weekly conversations about the grief process and all that was associated with my particular situation. As an introverted, contemplative thinker type, I am much more accustomed to the conversations I have with myself. Yet, here was a trained person blocking out an hour a week to listen to me and help me through my issues. At one point, my counselor asked me, what do you think has been the most beneficial part of our time together? We agreed that it wasn’t any of the activities he had me do or the strategies we worked out, it was the chance to talk about my dad, my sadness, my loneliness, and how I try to cope with these situations.

God provides – In the midst of my grief and inner turmoil, God provided the Apprentice Experience to give me resources and capacities to grow in the midst of my grief and not to be swallowed up by it. I have incredible co-workers who provided support, prayers, and practical acts of service that made me feel loved and strengthened my resiliency. I had unusual opportunities to travel, see some beautiful sights, and breath in God’s wonderful creation (see photo above.) It was life-giving and soul restoring.

Why is True Community So Difficult?

Community is hard. Building camaraderie takes time. Establishing unity and a bond among a group of people is complex and requires many variables.

If I had a frustration with God about what he is up to it wouldn’t be about some internal struggle of mine; it would be the failure and lack of potential in the groups I have been a part of or am a part of. My nature is to just say forget it and throw up my hands and curl up with my books, my music, and my thoughts and leave the challenge of building community behind.

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Even in the Apprentice Experience, noticeably filled with 30 maturing and serious believers, there were marks of serious relational problems and the inability to move beyond our default selfish state to achieve connection and loving community. If this group of well read and committed followers of Christ couldn’t establish something consistently peculiar and unique then how was a lesser developed group going to manage real community?

Where I have found a great sense of community is in a weekly breakfast I have with a good friend of mine. It is just the two of us but we hit on all of the marks of what Keith Matthews calls an “Incarnational Community.”

We are intensely local, living in the same region of our city. Our meetings are face-to-face and eye-to-eye. We discuss, share, disclose, admit failures, and listen to one another. Though I have some spiritual maturity on him, I learn just as much from him as I hope he does from me. We are intentional about growing and changing in Christ. We don’t see much need to meet if this isn’t happening.

We are just two people. I am not skilled enough or capable enough to transfer what we have to a larger group. That is okay because what we have is special. The rewards have been too great to diminish the fact that we are just two and not a growing, multiplying group.

I pray that you, too, can find that one other person, or a few persons, that bring you community and a sense of unity and depth and growth. If you find it, don’t waste it, that kind of community is hard to find. Thank God for it and work to cultivate the very best out of it.

Surrender: The Great Forgotten Word

My tolerance for other’s tomfoolery, for disobedience, for not taking things seriously is not very high.

My friends like to remind me of the time in High School when we were organizing our first Fantasy Baseball Draft and I grew impatient with their lack of adherence to the rules and structure of the proceedings. I stormed off and sulked in another room. There was a old baseball bat in the room that I grabbed and started messing with. I just needed something to do with my hands in my frustration and irritation. I still had the bat in my hand when I went back into the “draft” room. I was not intending to use the bat for harm, I just was carrying it to carry it. My friends, though, thought in my anger, I was ready to use the bat to go after them or destroy some unsuspecting furniture. Their misunderstanding made me even more mad.

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This story illustrates the problem I have with surrendering myself to God. You see, I desire to have every situation work out the way I envisioned or to have a positive outcome, or to make sense. If I get a sense of things getting out of hand or something creeping to a less than desirable result, I start to loose impatience and begin to worry and fret over meeting my expectations. I am often unable to surrender myself and situations to God’s provision and will.

In my humanity, I somehow think I have control over how my life will turn out and even have control over how other lives will turn out. One of the best signs of us Growing Up is our surrender of control over the outcomes of our lives to God. Then, we can move to surrendering the outcomes of other people’s lives to God as well. We need to work towards the ability to say, “Lord, you can have anything, ” “Lord, not my will but your will be done;” “Do with me what you will.”

Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

As a follower of Christ, I am called to a complete surrender of my life to God. This sounds daunting, and if we are planning on doing it in our own power, it is. But we can start by saying and praying these simple words:

“Lord, I want what you want. This is all that I want.”

Life, But With Godly Wisdom

A Psalm based on James 3:17-18

Father, give me heavenly wisdom because the wisdom of the world is bankrupt.

Your wisdom is pure. The only thing that is pure in my life is my pure willingness to seek after my own plans.

I need that peaceable wisdom because as a card carrying member of the human race, my tendencies lean toward conflict and disruption.

Your wisdom makes me considerate and gentle. That is funny, so many people who have “wordly” wisdom bring pride and arrogance with them.

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That heavenly wisdom makes me want to give up on my way or the highway. Others can advance, others can achieve, others can have their time. I don’t have to be in charge.

That knowable, Godly wisdom is overflowing with mercy. That element that even while I say the word ‘mercy,’ I know it is not common to myself or many around me.

So much good comes from a wisdom from above. And the goodness spreads. I just want to be a part of that kind of goodness.

Why would I need to be partial or be insincere with those around me? What would that bring me? That is a song and dance, that is manipulation. I can live without these things because God’s wisdom brings an alternative to all forms of deception or taking advantage of others.

I am like a farmer who plants peace, waters it with wisdom to reap a harvest of righteousness.

This is life, this is living. Oh that I can receive this. Pour your wisdom on me.

 

 

Why I Kicked My Smart Phone Out of The Bedroom

When I awake, the struggle begins.

I use an old clock radio for my alarm so that I can get my phone out of my bedroom and  tucked in a corner somewhere. I am trying to avoid beginning the day with mindless scrolling through the overnight feeds, sport scores, and news happenings.

My success or failure at this temptation usually sets a tone for the rest of my day. Will I approach information in an intentional way that is helpful to my growth, work life, keen interests, moral values or will I just fall headlong into consuming the surface of headlines, articles, and updates? Will my notifications be all that I read and take in or will I choose that which has redeeming value and feeds my soul? Will I seek a dopamine quick hit of distraction, outrage, and reaction over a long approach of growth, progress, and formation? All of this plays out in the first five minutes of my day.

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In Life Without Lack, Dallas Willard says:

When we get up out of bed in the morning, among our first thoughts should be this: Lord, speak to me. I’m listening. I want to hear your voice. This is not because it’s a nice way to start the day but because the only thing that can keep us straight is being full of God and full of his Word. If you do not do something like this, you do not have the option of a neutral mind. Your thoughts cannot be empty. As the old saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. If you are not entertaining God’s truth, you will be entertaining Satan’s lies.

On those days when I begin with prayer, meditation, scripture reading, and essential Christian reading and study, I have a well to draw on the rest of the day. I have lessened anxiety, a more focused heart, I can fight off whims and base distractions. The things I end up paying attention to on these good days turns out to be closer to what really matters. Not just for me but for those around me and those I am responsible for throughout my day.

Where we place our minds really is our first freedom and the path that determines how our days and weeks will go.

As Giants Fall: Hybels, Patterson and the Lessons Learned

Some things I have learned about leadership and followership from watching the downfall of two giants among Evangelical Christians:

Greatness in one area does not mean greatness in all areas.

Success does not equal spiritual growth.

Not all of your strong convictions are the right convictions.

Just because your strong convictions were needed at one time does not mean they are needed now.

Most downfalls can really be attributed to Money, Sex, and Power.

Leadership is not about who can stomp the loudest but who has the character to demand respect and followership.

Sacrificing spiritual growth for worldly success never works.

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Crisis is not the time for placing blame but for soul searching.

Hero worship among church members is dangerous and harmful.

God’s kingdom and its work should outweigh any personal validation.

Your legacy is not more important than God’s will.

Compassion is always an underrated attribute.

One’s leadership is contingent upon one’s spiritual growth.

Pride really does come before a fall.

Maybe God prefers smaller and deeper rather than bigger and shallower.

We are all capable of missteps and not all of those missteps are punishable offenses, but some are.

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Women have been essential to the success of the church for 2000 years, it is about time they got more respect.

We should look to Jesus for direction and deliverance not our own strength or cheap solutions.

Leadership is a lonely place.

Christian institutions are instruments for God’s work not the purpose of God’s work.

People who call for other’s heads should be willing to work, and work hard, for the needed solution.

It is not enough to knock someone down if you are not willing to build something better up.

Jesus must increase but I must decrease.

 

Listen to Your Life

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

-Frederick Buechner, Now and Then 

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Creating Bullet Proof Christians

If our interactions with Christ can move from mere belief to a trusting relationship, then wonderful things such as obedience, holiness, and love follow. We Grow Up.

This kind of trusting relationship comes from knowledge of Christ. In one of his letters, Paul discusses knowledge of Christ and that knowledge leading to endurance, joyfullness, and an inheritance of God’s kingdom. He is not talking about knowledge, as in memorizing some facts and figures to regurgitate later but knowledge that comes from a relationship.

When my wife and I play games like Charades or Fish Bowl we have a way of understanding what each other is hinting at way before others are able to catch on. This is because we know each other well enough to know what is inside their head at a given moment.

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That is the type of knowledge that Paul is talking about when it comes to knowledge of Christ. When I rely and trust Jesus to be who he says he is, then I am not just relying on facts to see me through my days but I am relying on the knowledge I have gained from interacting with Jesus and developing an understanding of what is close to the heart of Christ.

Could it be that the entirety of scripture is not to prove that God exists but to prove that God can be relied upon and trusted? This is a huge difference. When God is unhappy with his called out people, the Israelites, he doesn’t criticize their belief in him, he criticizes their disobedience and their willingness to chase after replacements for what God can bring them. Similarly, Jesus discusses people’s lack of faith, not their understanding of doctrine.

By combining knowledge of Christ, as described above, with trust in Christ we have a recipe for growth that can create individuals that can endure, that can withstand trouble, that can change the world. The early church is proof of this and we can be too.

*This post was inspired by portions of Scot McKnight’s book, The King Jesus Gospel.