Real Life is (often) a Better Education than Seminary

Real life–that’s the life you actually live in case you haven’t been there in a while. It’s not the one on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest where everybody is having an awesome day and their hair never looked so good.

Real life on my end also excludes the imagined life that professional theologians pontificate about behind their blockade of black-rimmed glasses. I mean can’t someone buy tortoise shell?

Real life, with some common sense and wisdom attached to it, teaches more about theology than I ever learned in seminary (which makes me miss that $20,000 all the more).  I’m not discounting seminary, but I am saying it isn’t the be-all and end-all of theological training or ministry preparation.

I say that because on a handful of occasions I’ve processed something for a long time, years even, in the theological realm, and confidently asserted my position to Lindsey (my not theologically trained common sense, wise wife). And I reached a conclusion, or at least a satisfactory resting place (such as with predestination or with what life looks like for someone who is saved). And on these occasions, I stand on the other side as my wife.

But on these occasions, I’ve ended up on her side. And it was real life that led me to reexamine my otherwise studious position(s). Staring into the eyes of my first child, fresh out of the womb, undid all that I’d surmised about predestination.

No w283193_528197791803_7519239_nay…no way God looks into these big blue eyes and says, “To hell with you!” no matter what you wish or will.

The point of this post is to say that Jesus entered the real world, not simply to die. He became incarnate to show that the real world matters. That life communicates truths about the Source of life. That all of our theologizing has to be done through Jesus, the embodiment of God’s purpose and personality.

To whom did Jesus say, “Sorry, you were damned before the creation of the world”? To whom did Jesus say, “Sorry, you’re beyond the reach of the Father’s grace and mercy”?

I think part of maturing as a believer and theologian (they can’t be separated, by the way) is being willing to ask, “Is there something I’ve missed?” “Is there something to other position I haven’t considered or have mischaracterized?”

Self-Righteous Scheming…for God!

I was talking with a friend and coworker yesterday morning about Jesus’ interactions with  people, particularly in the first several chapters of Mark’s Gospel.

In Mark 3:1-2, Jesus is in the synagogue and in walks a man with a deformed hand. Mark records that “they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.” They are the Pharisees. Pharisees are easy targets for us in the 21st century because that’s who Jesus got after.

The not-so-obvious irony in wanting to join Jesus in this crusade against self-righteous legalists who impose slavish expectations on people is that we, yes we, are all too often the self-righteous. As Andy Stanley said recently, “The self-righteous are rarely self-aware.” I am not really concerned what you think about Andy; the statement is true. If you disagree you’re just proving the point.

But what my colleague and I discussed was the fact that the Pharisees watched Jesus, not to discern what the Lord might be doing in Him or through Him, but to accuse Him. They were, in pious posture, rooting for Jesus to fail, to trip up, to finally fulfill the expectations they’d had for Him all along so that they might, well, win. Self-righteous people want to win. They have to win.

And if we aren’t self-aware we too will keep tabs on people in hopes they’ll fall. We will want to have our suspicions confirmed rather than work for the good of the person(s) and others around us.

Down in verse 5, Jesus is both angry and grieved by their hardness of heart. Jesus sees straight through them, into their shadowy hearts where  the light of grace has yet to take up residence. And the Pharisees go out to the Herodians in hopes of finding someone to agree with them.

When you find yourself looking for accomplices in your self-righteous scheming, you’re one step away from shouting, “Crucify Him!” All under the guise of righteous motivation.

Children’s Songs for the Childish Christian

If you’ve grown up in or around church, you’ve learned the same songs over the years…

“Jesus Loves Me”…really? Me?

“This Little Light of Mine”…should it shine, like, all the time? Can I hide it ever?

“Jesus Loves the Little Children”…which ones? ALL the children of the world.

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”…still? Yep. 

It turns out I have the hardest time believing and living out the songs deemed most suitable for children.  I fundamentally believe Jesus forgives me, but loves me is a different story. I know my light should shine, but how often I put it under that danged bushel or let Satan blow it out. Jesus loves all the children of the world, but I struggle with some of the folks around me.

Then there’s the mother of all kids sing-a-longs…God has the whole wide world in His hands. He does. I know that. But over the last 10 years I haven’t lived like it. I’ve tried to control. I’ve manipulated situations to ensure they turn out the best for me. I’ve tried to play the role of Geppetto the puppeteer in my attempts to steer others in a favorable way. It’s quite childish.

Yet every time I try to hold the world in my hands, I’m riddled with anxiety, fear, and a palpable sense of inadequacy. Turns out I make a horrible Sovereign. My hands aren’t big enough…which is true literally as well–I have smallish hands.

The prophet Isaiah reminds me that I’ll never be up to the task: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or marked off the heavens with the span of his hand? Who has gathered the dust of the earth in a measure or weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in the scales? Isaiah 40:12, HCSB.  Answer: Not I.

God has been so gracious reveal to me that I know way more than I believe and believe way more than I live. So I’m learning to believe and live the songs I’m singing with my kids. And with #4 on the way, I have a lot more late night concerts to come….

Being Pro Life is Bigger than Party Politics

The quicksand in which Planned Parenthood finds itself grasping for any relief or aid is not firming up any time soon. Videos continue to be released that depict the despicable details associated with abortion, early or late. When verbiage such as crunching and crushing are used, the tone is hardly mistakable.

This isn’t just murder; it’s sadism for profit.

If anything, the surfacing of these videos has put a spotlight once again on the pro choice / pro life debate. The pro choicers have to violate laws of logic to maintain that worldview, but I want to talk to pro life people, of which I am one.

Being pro life is bigger than party politics. Democrat. Libertarian. Tea Party. Independent. Republican. Each party has pro life tendencies.

What!!! Democrats kill babies!!

Slow your roll.

Why do I say even Dems have pro life tendencies? I say it not because of their position on abortion, but their outlook on helping people once outside of the womb.

I have written before about how being pro life is more expansive than simply being against abortion–which has to be where it begins. But it doesn’t stop there.

For all who spit venom against abortion advocacy, the shouts boomerang back to us in question form: What are you (what am I) doing to support life?

– Am I counseling pregnant women?

– Am I adopting?

– Am I funding adoptions?

– Am I, either through my church or a parachurch ministry, working to alleviate hunger, nakedness, thirst, homelessness, joblessness, etc.? As one satirical cartoon portrays, Republicans will do anything to get you born, but once born you’d better not slow anyone else down or be in need. If you are, it’s your fault.

– Am I fostering?

– Am I housing pregnant teens and showing them a better way?

The questions go on and on and on and on.

What am I doing to show, not just speak, that I am pro life?

It’s easy to make a point, whether on a blog or Twitter or Facebook. It’s easy to get applause during a sermon. But what difference are you making? What difference am I making?

Morality After Murder? Moral Relativity at its Best

Statement from Eric Ferraro, Vice President of Communications, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue (body parts) to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

A well-funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and services has promoted a heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving (maybe don’t kill the life?) scientific research. Similar false accusations have been put forth by opponents of abortion services for decades. These groups have been widely discredited and their claims fall apart on closer examination, just as they do in this case.”

The above is a statement from Planned Parenthood’s VP of Communications. If you’re ever caught doing something awful, you would want such a person, or department, to communicate on your behalf as well.

        Abortion is murder. The only people who don’t think so weren’t aborted.

There are 322 Charleston shootings every day in the United States. They take place in little rooms at clinics, many funded by your taxes and mine. The same government that cries out over 9 African Americans being shot to death throws money at the 2,899 abortions that take place each day. The former should happen. The latter is damnable.

My primary point in writing this is to say that we shouldn’t be surprised if an abortion doctor sells body parts or organs of the babies he/she murders. The bigger surprise would be why anyone on the side of abortion would care.

This seems to be a most striking display of incoherency and inconsistency. The outcry to the President or Congress should come back with a muted, “Yeah, that’s too bad,” if their worldview remains consistent. After all, is there morality after murder?

I understand those standing for the rights of the unborn to still be grieved on account of such atrocities, even after the baby has been blotted out of earthly existence.

But why would any person, and I include government officials, who is pro-choice, be any more grieved over making a little extra cash than over extinguishing a life? Perhaps they wouldn’t be upset if the seller paid taxes on the exchange?

This is yet another example of the logical, practical, and philosophical inconsistency of being pro-choice.

BUT, RIGHTS! one might say.

Whose? I ask.

MINE! one might retort.

What about the one without a voice?

As Ravi Zacharias has replied, “We cannot talk about human rights without the right to be human.”


Passe or Priceless: Psalm 119 and the Worth of the Word

I have been reading through Psalm 119 again in an effort to rekindle a hunger and desire for the Scriptures in a life giving manner. I tend toward an academic kind of reading of the Word, which has its place–though I would provide numerous cautions in that endeavor. But the kind of reading I was taught doesn’t line up with the message of Psalm 119.

The psalmist speaks of the unsurpassed joy of keeping the laws of the Lord, of walking in his commandments, of meditating on his precepts. The more we read his words, the more faithful to them we should be. And the more faithful we are to him in that way, the more our appetite for the Scriptures increases. Our spiritual metabolism, so to speak, ramps up as we apply what we read and are faithful in the things we know for certain (rather than getting bogged down in the uknown).

In Psalm 119 I read Spirit-inspired words like:

  • I will fix my eyes on all your commandments (6)
  • I will delight in your statutes (16)
  • My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (20)
  • Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors (24)
  • I will run in the way of your commandments (32)
  • Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain (36)
  • My hope is in your rules (43)
  • At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules (62)
  • It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes (71)
  • The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces (72)

Okay, that last one…seriously? What would that be in dollars? The last I saw, a $20 gold piece was worth roughly $1400. So, carry the 1, divide the remainder into the square root…3,000 of those coins would be $4.2 million. Is the law of God’s mouth, in practice and lived out, better to me than $4,200,000? “Oh yes, absolutely! No doubt!” he exclaimed without flinching.

Then why do I not hesitate to push that law aside in order to justify my lack of action to care for the least of these? It takes me about $40 to sell out…let alone $4.2 million.

I’m pleading with the Lord to let me read his Word anew, with fresh eyes and an undivided mind. “Incline my heart to your testimonies, Lord.”

I want to desire the Word and long for it, more than a latte or new shoes. The video below is a reminder that what has become passe for us in America is still priceless to some:

The Beauty of Christ’s Scale“We would willingly have others perfect, and yet we amend not our own faults…how seldom we weigh our neighbour in the same balance with ourselves.” (Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ. Book 1, Ch XVI)

What if we held everyone around us to the same standard as ourselves, how differently would our judgments of others look?

Better yet, what if we held everyone to the same standard as Christ holds us? The beauty of Christ’s scale is that when we’re found lacking, He balances it with a perfect mixture of grace and truth.

Give Me That Glass of Milk That’s Been Sitting Out for Four Hours!

Give me that glass of milk that’s been sitting out for four hours…says no one.

I tried that on Sunday for a sermon illustration. My hope was that the milk would still be “cool” because I had it in a Tervis Tumbler. Nope.

As soon as the milk hit my tongue my immediate reflex was to spit it back into the cup.

The words of Jesus to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 are terrifying. At least they are to me.

Verses 15-16 are most well known: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (ESV).

Francis Chan rocked the church world with his sermon on this text back in 2006. I think this text should cause pause for many of us today.

In the end, will my life be taken up by the Lord and sipped, only to be spewed out right away, just as my reflexes caused me to do with that lukewarm milk?

It’s a hard word. There is no way to work in the Greek and soften it up or allegorize it.

Jesus provided a tangible illustration for the church, just as he does in the Gospels with other illustrations. There were hot springs about five miles north of Laodicea that would dump into the Lycra River and travel towards Laodicea. But by the time the waters reached the city, they weren’t hot any longer. They were tepid. Lukewarm.

So in the text it’s not that cold is bad and hot is good, as if Jesus is saying he would rather you be cold–pure evil–than lukewarm. Sometimes you want a really cold drink. Sometimes you want a hot drink. So be one of those extremes. But don’t be the glass of milk that sits out at room temperature.

If you’re in that nebulous temperature range, then “be zealous and repent” (v.19). Turn from darkness to light. Let your repentance be like a bucket of ice dumped on you to cool you down or like a kettle being set on the burning hot eye of the stove. Jesus is the one knocking on the door. You didn’t go seeking after him. He’s coming after you.


The Most Important Word in Your Church’s Name

Bunker Hill Christian Church. 36281.png

That’s the name of the rural church I pastor in Sullivan County, TN.

We are not a congregation of academic elites or paragons of business.

We are a blue-collar congregation. Hard workers. Many are retired after working at one job for 40 years.

We are a loyal people.

And we are a Christian church, a branch of what is known historically as The Restoration Movement (catch up on it here if you’d like).

Down the road from our building about two miles is a Baptist church. I’ve heard disparaging comments from some of our people about those people.

They don’t believe like we do. Which really means, “We’re right, they’re wrong.”

I have spoken with people from that church, nice people from what I could tell. And I’ve had a conversation with one gal who laid out why she thinks we’re wrong, and in the process managed to take jabs at the Catholic Church, which I’ve heard our people do as well.

This, and more, much more, has led me to say on occasion from the pulpit that we will cease to be who God wants us to be until the most important word on our respective signs is Church. Hear the words of the apostle Paul: 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 EAGER to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body (church) and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Campbellites, Catholics, etc) and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV)

I wonder where Paul got that? You could read the entirety of Jesus’ prayer for the oneness of his people in John 17. And also here in John 13:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Does this mean we accept what everyone believes without question or testing? No. But it does mean we do it in such a way that Christ is honored and the unity of the Spirit is maintained in a bond of peace. That’s what I don’t see.

And I don’t think we’ll see it until Church becomes the most important word on our signs.

A Plea on Behalf of Pastors

I’ve met some–happy pastors that is. But if you spend enough time with enough pastors, you find that the bulk of them (us) are discouraged, depressed, or dreaming of some escape from the madness otherwise known as ministry.

Ministry’s tough. It’s especially tough because most people think they have a right to tell you how to do your job. I imagine it’s a lot like being President, without the personal helicopter. Everyone knows better than you–you just make an easy target.

I started preaching through the book of Philippians a couple of weeks ago and spent week 1 reveling over the ridiculous affection Paul had for these people. He was a happy pastor…at least with this crew.wve-white-flag-260

Depending on what source you check out, statistics show that pastors generally have a shelf life of 2-5 years. That’s not per church…that’s per career. By that standard I would have already been done and moved into another sector.

And I was close.

I was going to pursue teaching or modeling, but most likely teaching since “pasty and pudgy” isn’t a high-grossing category. But I was done. Yet here’s Paul, most likely writing from prison in Rome, brimming over with joy because of his relationship with the Philippian Christians.

So what’s the difference between Paul’s experience and that of so many pastors out there? Well let’s consider why Paul’s affections were raised so highly.

Philippians 1:3-5 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy (Okay we get it, Paul. You’re happy and joyful and sing-talking as you write this, but why?)…verse 5 because of your PARTNERSHIP in the gospel from the first day until now.

You catch that? The Philippians were partners in ministry. They didn’t just pay a pastor to do ministry; they joined alongside and took responsibility. They bore one another’s burdens. They served and gave and sacrificed and prayed.

When I preached this sermon I dared to draw a distinction between partners and parasites. It seemed harsh to me at first, but I felt the Spirit saying, do it. Plus, if I tell people the Spirit made me do it, how can they be mad at me? Win-Win.

Parasites take, consume, and contribute little to nothing to their host. In this case, the host is the church body. The parasites are people who do very little to help the church be the church. They may be faithful attenders, but as far as being contributors, not so much. They’ll point out when their preferences aren’t met and when someone else messes up.

I wonder if it’s such people who end up causing pastors to wave the white flag? Sure, there are other factors that contribute to pastors jumping ship, but it’s not like they go to other churches. They just leave ministry.

So let me encourage you, church member/attender, partner with your pastor(s) in ministry. Fulfill the commands of Hebrews 13:17 andObey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with JOY and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

You don’t want a grumpy pastor; so don’t be grumpy, greedy people. Beyond that, if the love of God has been poured into your being, how are you showing that in your local church?