Christmas & Church Family

There is always an anticipation and excitement in the magic of Christmas. It’s a family holiday and a time when we get to lavish love on the precious people in our lives. Especially during this time of the year, as I’m thinking about the people in my life and the church family I want to celebrate, I struggle looking at my Christmas list and pictures from the year before.

The truth is, I will never understand why people leave a church home and are vocal about the fact that they’re leaving (for reasons not pertaining to any moral failing). I also don’t understand why other members of the church they’ve left are okay with hanging out, talking casually with, or continuing in deep relationship with a person who spurned the people they love. Doesn’t anyone else chafe at unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and dissension anymore??

I’ve heard reasons like: #1 “Oh I had to leave because I disagreed with this or that…” Seriously? Disagreement is life! How shallow are we if we’re willing to walk away from relationships when we don’t see eye-to-eye?

#2″I felt God leading me elsewhere…” Does God lead people out of an environment where they are loved and growing unless it’s to plant another ministry that’s in unity with their home church and family? I don’t see that anywhere in scripture, do you? And even in the scenario of a “plant,” it’s not leaving, it’s building – everyone agrees and is excited! Each visit is a long-anticipated reunion where we talk about the goodness of God, not an awkward meeting where we don’t discuss church!

#3 “I can make new friends…” This depends on what you consider a friend. Only a true friend, who knows you well, will tell you what you don’t want to hear because they’re anxious to see you blessed and growing spiritually. If we can’t receive nurturing accountability from people who love us, then we will never have true, lasting friends. In the end, we will be very much alone. Lack of commitment is a systemic failing of our culture and is the antithesis of everything we claim to be if we say we’re a follower of Jesus Christ.

For the rest of us, are we so anxious to be understanding and accommodating of people’s issues that we aren’t willing to love a person into right behavior and unity that will bless them and us with continued growing relationships as a functioning part of the church? If we enable a person’s issues or venting of frustrations instead of encouraging them to make things right, how does this bless them? How can there be deep, loyal relationships, growth, training, and accountability in a family if people just get offended and leave and no one says anything about it?? Whatever happened to doing things by The Book – actually applying scripture to the situation instead of doing what we feel and just bailing or allowing someone to bail without consequences?! (Matthew 18) Where’s the reconciliation and the faithfulness that makes church a family and a home? This is what Christmas is all about to me.

I don’t know what anyone else is praying for this Christmas but I’m praying for my lost church family, those I still love but can’t celebrate with this year. There is still hope in the humility of Jesus’ birth and the salvation of His sacrifice for us, if we’re willing to receive and apply His life to ours. Despite the painful reminders of our humanity during an idealistic season, we celebrate a greater, heavenly reality in a future with Emmanuel, One who will never leave us, this Christmas.


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True Leadership = Love + Serving

“Peter, do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked.

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” Peter replied.

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said.

Have you ever realized that Jesus was asking Peter to lead… even after Peter’s painful demonstration of cowardice and unfaithfulness? Peter, distraught with regret, regarded more heavily the question of his love for Jesus. I don’t think Peter had a clue that Jesus was making the connection between love and leadership – the resurrected man he had loved and denied was sitting in front of him alive again asking “Do you love me?” The abject humiliation and pain of Peter’s stupid mistake was still so fresh on his mind.

It’s a little known fact that successful leadership is a question of love for Jesus first and then the disciplined act of serving the people he asks you to patiently guide.  Peter was an uneducated fisherman. Jesus boiled down leadership to the simplest principles. Neither man looked like much from the outside -a king raised in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth and a powerful leader called out of a stinking fishing boat- but it goes along with the counter-cultural way every teaching of Jesus runs. Nowhere in the Bible does righteous authority involve subjugation or using people for material gain. To make it in the world, stepping on people is the only means of reaching the top; character is not a necessary component in accomplishing goals. How strange it must be to think of a leader standing in front of the gun for a soldier he commands or lovingly washing the dirty feet of his men.  And yet, the greatest leader of all time did just that.

How many of us would be willing to do the same? “Not many of you should presume to be teachers/leaders, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly,” James said. When the microscope picks up discrepancies in our character, will we humbly accept the scrutiny and discipline ourselves to love and serve, arising to greater levels of leadership and growth as we follow Jesus Christ, or will we agitate under the pressure?

“…For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow me as I follow Christ.” (I Corinthians 10:33-11:1)


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Hands of Time

I haven’t always thought of time as my friend. People have called it a speeding train, a monster, a slave-driver, and a crocodile. The fact is, it has been a patient, albeit unbending, teacher even when I fought it for all I thought it should do for me. Through it all, what a kind companion it’s been.

Anyone who has known me for very long has heard me claim to have “Peter Pan syndrome” because I love the magic and energy that accompanies the perspective of a child. I’ve even posted blogs titled Why do we have to grow up? The real issue at work in this idea is innocence, not time. I’ve seen 15-year-olds with the bodies, minds, and experiences of 30-year-olds and 50-year-olds with the open expression and reckless love of a child. Our minds and hearts create the structure of the reality in which we live, not time. It begins with who we choose to be at our core.

I’ve told many friends, “My time does not belong to me.” It’s a thought that seems backwards to people… but it’s Biblical! “You are not your own; you were bought with a price!” (I Corinthians 6) That is to say, nothing I am or have is actually mine except my choice. And I have chosen: “to live is Christ and to die is gain”… therefore, time is on my side whether I live or die, stay young forever or grow old. God’s kids don’t lose because we have everything to gain if we give it all. And that’s just what we do.

“Time cools, time clarifies, no mood can go unaltered through the course of hours,” according to Mark Twain. Time is actually a friend of mine… with amazing hands. These hands have encouraged me over and over. They’ve helped me grow, heal, resolve conflicts, and create masterpieces. Their steadiness has taught me to be measured; their constant movement keeps me from boredom; and their true value is as priceless as the life they sustain.  What’s more, they serve (without fail) the God I love and trust.

Who wants to fight an ally or waste a priceless gift? Once again, I’m struck by the loving, uncomplicated way time has resolved an important question I could not answer and saved me from a mistake I could never have taken back. I can’t help but be awed by the power, the patience, and the ever-presence of Jesus Christ and His gentleness and steadiness exemplified in the hands of time.


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Real Men


My brothers and a couple friends joke regularly about what “real men” are supposed to be like. This usually involves a lot of grunting, flexing, showing off one’s “guns” and tough talk. It’s pretty funny and I laugh right along with them but I like to think that REAL men are more than a superficial show of dominance and ego.

I originally posted the following highly-controversial note on facebook a couple years ago.  The long list of comments made afterwards by outraged young men of my acquaintance struck me again with what I had always questioned; do true gentlemen exist?! I believe they do but they are very rare.  As young people of any moral and spiritual depth, we can start to lose hope when Godly examples are non-existent or we have no high standard to look to or reach for.

I am SO proud of the guys I know that are “real…

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Passion Vs. Hype

I realize today is a tough day for a lot of people…

It’s the lovers holiday,

Valentine’s Day,

Single’s Awareness Day,

Market-to-saps Day, or whatever you happen to deem it.

I’ve heard it called just about every name in the book in the past several hours. There are very few people really DO feel loved.  Maybe you’re one of them. For people that don’t have anyone, THIS IS the pain of life… a day devoted to dredging up and throwing in one’s face the fact that love doesn’t exist for them… that there’s no one out there who would defend them or die for them like that of a passionate Romeo-and-Juliet romance.  Does it make sense to you then that more than half of teenagers growing up in the U.S. go through a “gothic” stage where they embrace death and hate the world?  I realize on a regular basis how blessed I’ve been to be surrounded by so much love in my circle of friends and family that I’ve never felt the weight of that hatred.

You know… sap isn’t usually genuine, hype is just hype but there is something to Valentine’s Day.  I’ve come to realize that life really IS all about passion and encouragement.  If I’m being completely honest with you about what matters most to me, I’d say life isn’t worth living if I can’t communicate the love of Jesus Christ to the people that surround me everyday.  This isn’t some weird, freako’s fake attempt at piety either; hundreds of experiences put it in my face every day that life is all about who you love and serve.

Plato put it well when he said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I’m blessed if I remember and live by this. Even in “Christian” circles, people struggle with unbelievable regret and feelings of emptiness and loneliness.  I think it’s easy to forget that, yeah, “crap happens” (as a friend’s bumper sticker said) and life can be really tough but we do have someone who was so completely and irrationally in-love with us that He died for us.  If that isn’t the fuel for a heart-wrenching, overpowering romance story, I don’t know what is. How much more should we show love because of the love we’ve been shown? It’s time to get over ourselves and our pity party this Valentine’s Day and fall in-love with LIFE.  Start serving and remember the love you’ve been shown instead of looking for meaningless paper affection that’s here today and thrown in the trash tomorrow.

Most people know about Jesus Christ… his story has become just that… another story.  But do we really understand how much it applies to our lives, how it becomes our lives?  In this case, the sappy, gooey, mushy feelings usually associated with love have no place (quite frankly, I think they never should).  The preferred color of every Valentine’s Day card, the color depictive of passion, blood, and romance is my favorite color – it’s all over this site. It reminds me of who I am and that the most precious, amazing man in the world gave his life for mine.

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It bites… every time we see another church youth group crying out to Jesus Christ for his help at the altar and then, within the week, laughing until they’re crying at a movie where the name of Jesus Christ is trashed in front of millions of people.

It digs my heart out when I realize so many ‘Christian’ young people claim to be seeking innocence and purity and then parade to REGAL for a mental strip show of vicarious sexual experiences, gay orgies, expletives, and violence.  If we’re purposefully sucking up gratuitous hell without gagging on the vomit, how can we expect an ounce of heaven in our present or future existence? Or do we actually have a taste for the vomit? Either we’re cracked mentally or taking crack to think we can drink it all in without consequences.

In every form of health this principle applies: “you are what you eat.”   If we want a clean mind and heart, we take in anything clean and beautiful.  If we’re ingesting all the hot, new poop society pumps out of its vilest parts, our minds and hearts will rot in the toilet with the scum we keep going back for.  How can we drag that baggage to God and arrogantly assume he’s forgiving what we’re still living?  Salvation doesn’t work that way. If the world gives a movie an R rating and says it isn’t suitable for children under the age of 17, is it really suitable for those of us who want that child-like innocence necessary to “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3)? Whatever happened to setting our “minds on things above” like it talks about in Colossians 3:2 or not being “conformed to the customs and behaviors of this world but [being] transformed by the renewing of our minds”? (Romans 12:2)

I learned early in my life that I never forgot anything I’d see on a screen.  As a kid, not only could I quote through most of a Disney film after only having viewed it twice and remember every face and voice to the extent that I’d connect it to other movies or television shows, I also carry with me to this day horrific scenes I saw on a commercial when I was 5 years old and my grandpa didn’t change the channel.  Every Care Bear episode I’ve ever seen is carefully recorded in detail; each Darkwing Duck show I never missed has been stored.  These are a continual reminder to me that everything goes on the record, every word, act, picture, etc. I also realized my authorities didn’t always have the power or discernment to protect me; purity had to be MY choice and I have to keep choosing it or else I’m losing it. The older I get, the more I understand innocence is not passive weakness or blind naiveté; it is an aggressive stand or action to protect what’s sweet, clean, and beautiful.

My brother, Brent, likes to tell a story we used to read in our One-a-Day devotional book growing up. The story is about two children who went to their dad begging to see a film that all their friends had been talking about. The movie was a big budget production and had been dubbed “the best” in every area; no expense was spared.  Excitedly, the children reported that it boasted ground-breaking, new special effects, some of the most talented actors and actresses, and a world-renowned director who had also been responsible for the making of other movies they had loved. Of course, the reviews had been stellar too and everyone they knew had already gone to see the film at least twice, except for them. When their father asked about sex scenes and bad language in the movie, they explained that it only had one little sex scene and just a few minor swear words. They said they could handle it though; it would be totally worth it for all the other great stuff. There was only a little bit of junk. The father said he’d think about it.

The dad later brought a big plate piled high with freshly-baked brownies to his two children.  The steaming chocolate treat looked moist and delicious and smelled even better.  Before the kids could dig in, the father took a moment to tell them all about the incredible brownies he’d made. He’d made them no expense spared. He used the finest ingredients, the richest, imported Dutch cocoa, hand-milled flour, fresh eggs, and milk he’d picked up only just that morning. Not only that, the decadent brownies were made with his heartfelt devotion and love for his two, precious children. He went on to say that the brownies had only a little bit of dog poop in them… just a tiny bit of crap. He claimed they wouldn’t even taste it. “If either of you eat these brownies, you may go to that movie.”

Although I’ve heard that story countless times, this seemed an appropriate post for a retelling.  It’s an important reminder to us to think about what we’re allowing into our minds.  A healthy head and heart, like a fit physique, requires the discipline and commitment to exercise purity one can only get through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus took discipline to a new level when he said, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He’s claiming that you’re actually doing what you see in your own mind, even before you act. Essentially, “you are what you take in.” Taking a guy or girl in with a lusty look has the same calories as a sexual act.  Watching sex is the same as having it. Taking pleasure in watching a gruesome murder is just as fattening as doing it yourself.  Listening dispassionately while someone else trashes the name of Jesus Christ is like tasting the same expression on your own tongue and swallowing it down. We’ve got to wake up and smell the poison. We desperately need a diet change.

If we want or even hope to achieve a beautiful, pure mind, body, and heart devoted to Jesus Christ, it’s time to start shutting out the Hollywood crap more often.  Everyone might think it’s weird and radical to say “no” but we’ve swallowed enough excrement already to kill an entire generation, our generation.  Let’s rethink our food options and GET PICKY. It might take an aggressive act to go back to innocence but it’s the only way to go forward as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

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Serving God: For Me or For Him?

In 1965, The Rolling Stones sang a song that said, “I can’t get no satisfaction, though I try, and I try, and I try.” Depressing? Of course, they’re rock stars; they don’t have the fulfillment of living for a purpose or cause bigger than themselves. They live a morbid, selfish, shallow existence. So… Why is it, then, that believers in Jesus Christ, even those in ministry, deal with the same feelings of emptiness, loneliness, pain, and frustration?

That’s a good question.

As Christians, aren’t we supposed to be living satisfied lives brimming with joy and purpose? Isn’t this the Christian generation of Purpose Driven Life? What about Pentecostal prosperity and the pursuit of Your Best Life Now? We grow up in church, go to a Christian college, graduate with big dreams, find a lucrative job with a high-dollar salary, get married, have children, and teach Sunday school or get involved in other church ministries.  This should be enough.  So what’s wrong? Hello, Rolling Stones!… most of us aren’t satisfied either!

Here’s a simple question: Is Christianity as a religion, reasonable?  One would have to say yes under certain cultural conditions. It has its social benefits in this country.  It fills a need for understanding in the same way that all religions do. We have our traditions and our services and our faith, and these all help make the world a happier place in which to live. So, in this respect, serving God is reasonable.

However, what happens when, like in the book of Job, you lose everything? (I was reading Job today… so now you know where all this reflection came from) What about Christians who are persecuted for what they believe? How do you explain to a Christian friend why their son or daughter has a sexually transmitted disease or why they are dealing with bankruptcy or cancer when they have given of themselves for Christ’s sake? The answer has been around for a while but it doesn’t make it any easier to communicate.

Pleasing God does not mean your life will be free of trouble. In fact, far from it! If you choose to please God, it’s the tougher road. Peachy and Pollyanna perfect are descriptions sometimes associated with Christian life when, in fact, the opposite is often true. In her fiction book, Soulforge, Margaret Weis uses a description that could very aptly depict the Christian life: “You choose to go voluntarily into the fire. The blaze might well destroy you. But in surviving, every blow of the hammer will serve to shape your being. Every drop of water wrung from you will temper and strengthen your soul.” It’s called testing. (Like in I Corinthians 10:13) It gages your level of learning and can be passed (about as easily as a kidney stone sometimes). No one likes tests.

As a personal example, thinking about this has not been emotionally easy because my parents who have been in pastoral and evangelistic ministry since I was a child are dealing with overwhelming pain and frustration even as I write. Why? is a question they ask continually. If all we want to do is serve you, why would you allow us to go through all of this? Sometimes it’s an incredibly lonely place where no one seems to have any comprehension of what we’re going through. Sometimes all I can do is cry with my parents and try to be supportive. There have been moments when the pious programmed responses of brothers and sisters in Christ grate on me like fingernails on a chalk-board.  Yes, I have heard countless times the common Christian mantra that says living for Jesus makes life good and that you must be missing something if you are not feeling fulfilled. If you’re a Christian and you’re not feeling happy and fulfilled, don’t worry; that just means you’re human like the rest of us.

In Larry Crabb’s article, On the Occasion of a Friend’s Retreat into Sin, he says that a prevailing heresy in our evangelical culture is the idea “that living for Jesus reliably provides the soul with a depth of satisfaction that exceeds the satisfaction found in sin.” If this is, indeed, what Christians in this country live for, they won’t achieve it! Ultimately, in the case of my parents, I’ve realized that they’re not ministering with the intention or goal of fulfilling their own personal desires; if they were, they would have left ministry years ago. They serve out of faithfulness and a committed relationship to the Lord.  It has been an incredible example for me, my brothers, and sister.

According to Ted Dekker, in his book The Slumber of Christianity, “The incomparable great power we have as believers is tied up in hope; lose the hope and you lose the power.” This is where our answer lies. Our hope can’t be in doing everything according to “God’s will” because perfection in that area is humanly impossible; we can’t hope in ministry and accomplishing great things for God or we’ll be ripe candidates for burn-out; our hope has to originate from the unconditional, unfathomable, and deep love God has for us. Our roots need to be grounded in that relationship over all others. Yes, he’s the Creator of the Universe, the One whose words became reality, but He’s also my Daddy.

The relationship we can have with God today as opposed to the way things were in Job’s day are vastly different. We don’t have to make daily or weekly sacrifices for our sins but we do have to be willing to sacrifice our desires, our drive for fulfillment, and our preconceived notions concerning cushy Christian living. “In this world, you’re going to have trouble but take heart (hope!) because I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

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