Category Archives: Storm

A Christian in America

This is the weirdest, saddest, most distressing time of my life, as an American Christian. I believe that the church has strayed so far away from the needs of the ethnic minority, the poor, and the disabled of our own nation, that my generation is forced to choose a strange paradox: Do we vote for and actively pursue equality, knowing that eventually the exclusivity of Christianity will come under very strong fire in American Liberal politics? Or do we cover our right to religiously assemble, and by default (if not intentionally) perpetuate the divide that sees a Klan rally justified by an anti-biblical expression of “free speech”, to say nothing of the horror that blatant racism and willingness to harm other ethnicities reveals about our nation and its systemic racism as a whole?

Yeah, I think those are the two options. And they both suck.

That is not to say that there aren’t Conservatives standing opposed to the events of Charlottesville, and rightly condemning white nationalism, white supremacy, and the groups that represent those ideologies. But for the majority of those standing up now, there was silence until a white woman was murdered as a peaceful protestor or the leader of the nation made outlandish claims equating the KKK with people demonstrating in response to them. And why the silence? I think because American Christianity has largely become a game of safety and security. But why?

Patriotism Run Amuck

George McKenna, in his book The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, wrote that the idea of patriotism is in effect, “an affection rather than a syllogistic process, it is a highly evocative word, recalling all kinds of memories, stored up in images”. He goes on to address the origins and true adaptable nature of American patriotism in the 17th century. And I think he’s right on all accounts. My first image of patriotism is my grandfather’s Purple Heart, that he earned as a soldier in the Army, fighting in WWII. And I remember the first time I stood at the Vietnam Memorial, overwhelmed by the length of that wall, and the small print still needed to fit the names of soldiers lost on it. Oh, and the first time I read Letters from a Birmingham Jail, as a student at Elon University. These things, for me, ring of American patriotism.

But I also believe that the adaptability of American patriotism has neutered what it truly means to love our nation, and learn about and FROM its history. Somehow people have so bastardized American ideology that ethnic cleansing is taught by some as permissible and beneficial. And churches can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but most don’t know the Nicene Creed, or even that it exists. We study the news, but not the Bible. We know what we are against, but we have abandoned so much of what Jesus was truly for. We’ve traded in true belief and biblical conviction, for memes, prejudice, and the conviction to be right and loud. We don’t evangelize because we don’t want to be offensive or counter-offended, or we’ve just completely forgotten how to. We can’t be real in the world or “do life” with people because we’ve been so busy condemning gay people and Muslims, or standing for things that Jesus apparently forgot to make as pillars of his ministry. In so many ways, we’ve just stopped being the church.

So if you’re still reading this, you’re either in agreement so far, completely fuming but hanging in there, or you just came to see the fireworks. No matter what, I do believe that social media has influence. And as unbelievable as it may seem, altogether, roughly 5,000 people ‘follow’ me. And because I make everything I post public, many more can follow along too. So while I’m a pretty insignificant cog in the machine, I have a voice. And this is what I think needs to happen in American church and within the hearts of Christians soon.

Evangelism Lost

My sweet and brilliant wife reads my posts. She proofs some of them, and parts of all of them. In the introduction, where I mentioned evangelism and our fear of it, she rightly pointed out that we largely misunderstand it too.

We’ve lost American evangelism to a handful of unbiblical ideas. Here are a few that drive me insane:

Attraction – Being well-liked, or in a pretty building, or having an affable reputation is nice. It would be a whole lot more effective if that was coupled with being engaged in the community, financially invested in helping the hurting within that community, or being known as a haven for the hurting through programs or availability. But even then… if we poured money into the poor, and had a beautiful building, and were well thought of… none of that is evangelism. None. It’s nice. But it’s not evangelism. It may be a tremendous catalyst TO evangelism, but if you think it’s enough, well that’s called an idol.

Moral Superiority – I don’t know where to begin here. Christians are not superior in any way to anyone else. The moral superiority of Christianity resides entirely in the person of Jesus Christ. To posture that the rituals, habits, and platforms of faith cast a shadow on our cities that compel people to Jesus is absurd. Again, a positive reputation might lead someone to you, but if your excellence is your platform, again, that’s an idol that you’ve made in your own image.

Anti-Secularism – I grew up hearing the phrase, “no one has ever been argued into salvation”, and I’m 37, so the phrase has been around a while now. But we’ve gotten so good at being against things, that I think we’ve convinced ourselves that a Facebook video about what we find unbiblical or evil is some kind of evangelism. But it’s not. It never has been. It never will be. At best, it’s my opinion, gleaned from interpreting scripture, but at worst, it’s bullying that pushes people away from Jesus.

Lawless Love – My last one is the one I’m generally most accused of. As a registered Democrat, now living in Washington State, I get it. Since I don’t rail against things that are not permissible from Scripture, maybe I appear complicit. Maybe it seems that I treat people as though they are sinless, and that Scripture doesn’t really say hard things. But that’s not true of me, nor is it evangelical. The Bible is true for Christians, and it says hard things. In my experience, the best way to talk through them with people who do not view Christ as I do, is through (1.) earning the right to be heard, through loving them as they are and as I am, (2.) being humbly honest about Scripture, (3.) and reminding them that we are all on the same footing, as sinners. And then, after that, be consistent and steady. Scripture guides me as the Lord is my Savior. To reduce Scripture for the sake of love is not love at all.

Evangelism Reclaimed

It simply means that we bring the Good News. That’s it. And since, for Christians, that good news is the story of Christ and his sacrificial atonement, it means that evangelism is telling someone about Jesus. That’s it. All of that other stuff is either secondary or self-centered.

Period.

Choose For Yourselves

So yes, I’ve stepped beyond that crossroad of choosing which fight I’ll fight. But I do understand the real angst over potentially losing our freedom of religious assembly. I’ve been to countries where my function as a pastor and teacher was illegal. I’ve heard the knock at the door and watched a few dozen faces turn immediately from focus to fear. I have shaken the hands of a man who was disavowed, then condemned to die, and then martyred for simply believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And America is a long way away from that kind of existence… I think. But I could be wrong. I laughed at the idea of Trump as President.

Whether I’m right or wrong about the trajectory of faith in America, I’m captivated by Joshua’s call for covenant renewal: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the god that your fathers served… and serve the Lord… choose this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:14-15a]

My dad loves Jesus. It’s a humble affection that I’m forever grateful to have grown up under. But it’s not my faith. Same Jesus. But I’m not my dad, and his faith doesn’t save me or fuel me. It saves him and only him. And for me, I choose the God that says we are all equal (Gen. 1:27; Eph. 2:14; I John 2:2), and that our chief aim is to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; Hab. 2:14; Ps. 115:1) through loving one another (Rom. 12:9, 13:10; Mk. 12:31; I Cor. 13:1-3), even those who feel the need to oppose me for my faith (Luke 6:35), because I must fight as someone that has been called out by God to those who need him, need hope, and need help…

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Aggressively for the Love of People

Maybe you still disagree with me. That’s fine, but I think I’m standing on Scripture here. So unless you can convince me that Jesus isn’t real (& you cannot), that we have not been called to bind up the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1) and that somehow does not include black Americans right now, but other minorities, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the refugee, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the foreigner, and that the eventuality of religious persecution in America is justification to hide, or defend the love of Christ that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:35)…. what are you standing for?

A fight just broke out in the cafeteria of the American consciousness, and everyone wearing a WWJD? t-shirt just collectively stood up and picked a side. And with the whole world watching, but more importantly, our neighbors, classmates, family, and friends saw us rise, and they saw us run to defend the hurting, as Jesus did, or to the defense of anything else.

So if one day, I lose the right to freely claim that Jesus alone is the way to God and that the Bible is uniquely true…. well ok then. I’ll go to jail for that. I’ll go to the mat for hope and faith. And until then, I’ll stand for Christ’s love for all people.

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Filed under America, Christianity, Discouraged, faith, Goals, Growth, Leadership, Ministry, Social Justice, Storm, Uncategorized

As You Were: Remain IN GOD

I get so restless lately. And for me, maybe not everyone, but certainly for me, restlessness is akin to faithlessness or hopelessness. So my devotion this morning kicked me right in the stomach. 

“So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” I Corinthians 7:24

Paul is speaking to the church at a dizzying clip here. Sandwiched in between some fundamental principles on marriage and deeply challenging thoughts on singleness, Paul throws in our calling. It’s honestly a little confusing, because the illustration Paul uses for calling is NOT marriage. He uses enslavement and being bound to serving someone else. It’s not a pretty illustration at all, especially when commitments to marriage or singleness are such a seemingly easy segue to our calling in Christ. But no… slavery. 

But I do think that there is a subtle truth to be grasped for here: Sometimes that calling to Christ is not a pretty calling to paradise. We can be called to things or people or seasons of life that do not encourage. Or we can be called to Christ, but not out of the weird darkness we were facing the day before. 

I have been there. Following my last brain surgery in 2014, the cloud over my head and heart felt more real than anything else at the time. I was still called to be a pastor. Still a husband to a great wife. And within a few months of surgery, our son was going to be a big brother, so the call to fatherhood was obvious. But the cloud was all I saw. It was all I felt. If you’ve never experienced that, I don’t think I can explain it any better. There were lives being lived all around me, but I woke up every day to meet a cloud that would stay all day and keep me up all night. Sometimes I would panic, thinking I was done ever being productive again. Sometimes I would be so deeply sad that I felt unlovable and worthless… things I knew weren’t true. But that cloud was everywhere.

If you’ve ever been there or your are there right now, here’s the best advice I have: Keep getting up. Louie Giglio has a great book called The Comeback. Read it. And, as he instructs, find a song to sing in the darkness because if we can sing in the darkness, we can worship God anywhere.

But Why Slavery?

I like to think that if I was born in the 1800’s, I’d have been the white guy fighting against slavery in America. I’d like to think that I would see the evil for what it was and fight it. I’d be holding my Bible close, and doing whatever was appropriate to advance individual freedom and national emancipation. That’s what I like to think.

Because slavery is heinous. So when Paul tells a bondservant to remain in that place and to “not be concerned about it.” [I Cor. 7:21] I lose my lunch a little. Why would they stay in that place?? Why would God want that for them? What’s the point of remaining in an awful place?

Oh. Sometimes, you can’t get out. 

2014 was a painful year in my life. We bought a good house, had a beautiful son, started a new business using a talent I didn’t know I had, and ended up back in a familiar and encouraging place by year’s end… but there was that cloud. And I would love to tell you that God lifted it all at once or there was some grand miraculous thing that happened or that there was a turning point to the darkness, but that’s not true. It required a long, hard walk in an obedience that I often despised. It took a lot of people praying for me, even when I wasn’t praying very much myself. It took a good church. It took family. My wife was a rock. And all I could do was fall back to the basic things that I loved when I became a Christian. I read books I hadn’t opened in years, and I read them slower than I’d ever read in my adult life. But I read. Bonhoeffer and Sproul and Piper. And I sang old songs. I remember coming to Christ not long after hearing Jesus, Lover of My Soul, and I sang it to myself quite a few times during that darkness. And I talked to people when I could find the strength. No plan, just confessing my hurt and hopelessness. 

So Today, I’m Restless

Some people are called to hard things for their entire lives, but I don’t believe those places are intended to define us. The depression of 2014 does not define me. The comeback doesn’t either, but there was a comeback. I’m simply defined as a Christ follower. In the darkness, in the comeback, in the sadness, in the joy, at the pulpit, or in private… Jesus. Jesus and loving people. 

In my last blog, I talked about throwing darts and trying to maintain the hope of my calling in Christ to preach and teach and love people. And I’m still throwing darts. And I’m admittedly restless. I love being a pastor and I miss it. 

But in this place, there’s a memory of 2014 and that darkness. Keep calling on Christ. Read. Pray. Speak the truth of my heart to trusted people. Sing my song to God. Love my family. Above all else, remain IN God.

Maybe a lesson to learn from Paul’s writing here is that if we are married and happy, remain in God, if we are married and unhappy, remain in God. If we are single, remain in God. If we’ve lost the person we were walking through life with in marriage, remain in God. And yes, even if we are enslaved, to men or to darkness, remain in God. Because anyone can remain in God when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but can we lift our hands when the clouds begin to form?

Here’s a good reminder from Psalm 3:3-4…

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.”

Lift your head. Sing your song. Talk to someone you trust. Remain in God. 

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Keep Throwing Darts

I recently saw a clip of Will Farrell’s commencement speech at USC. Google it. It’s great. And somewhere in it, he mentions his goals post-graduation, and how one of his most proud accomplishments is that he never stopped trying. He just kept throwing darts at the dartboard, hoping one would eventually stick. I respect that.

I’m in the middle of a job hunt right now. As our family has trekked across America, truly learned to appreciate a new set of cultural norms in Washington State, and bought more rain-ready clothing than I’d ever previously seen, let alone owned, we kinda want to stay around. But there’s a nagging passion that for me, for us, is inescapable. Ministry.

Last fall, when my buddy passed away unexpectedly, his dad called me and asked me to fly home. He called me their pastor. Some of you reading this consider me your pastor. Or maybe I’m the only pastor you know, or the only one you willfully talk to. Or I’m one of the many pastors you know. Or maybe you have no idea who I am and you accidentally stumbled onto my blog because you like darts… and you are so disappointed right now. My apologies. But to someone, to a few people for certain, I’m their pastor. And that absolutely lights my fire. I’m Parker and Elliott’s dad, and that gets me up and going every day. I’m Grace’s husband, and that stills my heart when I’m hurting and lifts my heart higher, even on great days. And to God, I got picked to teach and love people, and that gives me a purpose for all of this extroverted energy inside of me. But to those who think of me as someone trusted enough to call Pastor… well, that keeps me throwing darts. The idea that someone would listen to me, seek me out for advice, in triumphs, in sadness, or in doubt, or trust me to teach them about the role of Christians in the world and how following Christ gets us to those right places… that’s just humbling. Thrilling. Horrifying. Humbling. 

The prophet Jeremiah contemplated quitting. His path was hard, on a scale that I cannot fully comprehend. He was against a nation that liked the comfort of their brand of disobedience, and despised being told they were wrong. And sometimes, I can’t tell if I’m Jeremiah, fighting to keep the fire burning in my own ministry because I cannot stop if I wanted to [ref. Jeremiah 20:9], or if I’m the defiant Israel, shaking my fists at the idea that I might not be on the right path, because ministry is hard, finding work is obnoxious, and the idea of moving my family again weighs so heavy on my heart. 

Centered-Set & Preaching

Somewhere around 40-50 years ago, a man named Paul Hiebert theorized that missiology had truly become a study of two methods of expressing Christianity, based on two ideas of how Christians become Christians: Bounded-Set and Center-Set. Basically, you’re taking Set Theory from Applied Mathematics, and laying it over how we view missions, belief, and the requirements for belonging to Christianity. Dumbed way down, you are a Christian either because you meet certain criteria [Bounded Set] or you’re a Christian because you are moving toward Jesus [Centered Set]. Admittedly, I don’t think it’s so cut and dry. If anything, I’m probably a Centered-Set guy that recognizes that some boundaries (profession of faith, exclusive belief in Christ, etc.) must exist, but not nearly as many as we often try to lay on top of faith. 

So the goal has always been to get people moving Christward. In my relationships, teaching, training, counseling, the aim has always been to point in the direction of Jesus, and draw the necessary connection between Him and us. So when I got the chance to preach at First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma last Sunday, my goal was to point all of us toward Jesus. And I had a blast. I love all of the stuff that comes with preaching. The over-studying, gathering too much material, tying to fit a message into a time constraint that allows people to eat all three meals on a Sunday, and the nervous tension between doing what I love and fearing that I’m not that good at it… love it! And no one walked out mid-sermon, thank God, but the pastor hasn’t told me yet if anyone emailed about that awful preaching on Mother’s Day. If you want to hear it, bless your heart, and you can find it on the website (linked already) or the church’s app.

And now, sermon behind me, job applications and copious resume dissemination in front me, I’m throwing darts hoping that one sticks. 

So Thanks…

If you’re reading this, I appreciate you. Maybe you disagree. You might be opposed to faith, to me as a pastor, or still disappointed that this isn’t a blog on dart-throwing. But you’re here, allowing me to point, whether you agree or not. Thank you.

To that faithful group of folks that claim me as a pastor. As their pastor. I keep you closer to my heart than you will ever know. To the Ted’s crew, lifelong Durham friends, some family, everyone at Clements, and people from Cornerstone, Guess Road, Patterson Park, and Lakeview – you keep me hopeful that I’m not done, there is still a word to be said and people willing to hear it, and I might still be a man for the job.
So until the darts run out or one lands, I’ll just keep throwing. Grateful. 

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Filed under America, Christianity, Discouraged, faith, Goals, Growth, Leadership, Storm, Uncategorized

Bad Weather, Beautiful Location

Location, location, location!! Right?

Well, what if there’s a hurricane at your location? I’m sitting on the front porch of a beach house in N. Myrtle Beach, typing to you, watching sideways rain (a la Forest Gump) under a canopy of grey skies… it ain’t beautiful by any stretch. But it’s the beach!

Yesterday I was in 4 1/2ft of water working on my 5yr old’s swimming excellence, covered in sunscreen, enjoying the beauty of true beach-living. Same place. Different weather.

Ain’t that life? Sometimes where we stand is all beautiful & easy to embrace. When Grace & I are communicating well, & my boys are happy, no one in my small group is suffering, & my folks have had a good week… that’s an embraceable scenario. And I do have those. And I thank God for my house & my city, my family & my church in those times. I celebrate the broken road that brought me here. All is well…

But then it rains. And when it rains, it pours. And sometimes the downpour comes with torrential patterns that knock me over. Strong winds from the wrong direction, hail that serves me no good & just messes things up, flash floods & blizzards… & if I pray… I’m not grateful. I’m mad. I’m doubting the Master’s plan. I’m on an island… a sad, desperate island where I get occasional deliveries of empathy, but not one solution dawns my door. God has forgotten me. And even taking my angst to social media is unfulfilling!! All is lost.

I do that. This is not a rant to bring conviction to someone else. This is not a, ‘I sure hope they read this’ kind of a thing. This is me. Forgetting that weather changes all the time. And that sometimes, forecasts are accurate. Sure, I get shocked by an occasional cloud or drought. But for the most part, the gray cloud coming my way means rain. And it’s on me if I ‘brave it’ & leave the umbrella at home.

But I’m at the beach. And Arthur, as formidable as he is today, has turned away from me. It’s been gross today. But our baby is sleeping. Our oldest needs my help with his computer game. I love my wife. I’m down here with my folks & sister. And God… Matthew 14:22-33 reveals some odd truths about our storms. I won’t get all preachy, which is my nature! But read it. And then read this… Jesus left them to be alone. He knew the storm was coming. And he… left them. And he went & prayed. And he knew the storm they were in. And then… wait for it… on the 4th watch, he came. The 4th watch!?! The fourth follows the first, second & third watches. And he waited through all of those. And then he just walked by. Didn’t announce his presence. He allowed them to get a glimpse of him, & he waited for their faith to provoke them to act. And yes, he saved them. But it wasn’t all on Jesus. It was about faithful people riding out a storm that hit while they were simply living out their lives. And Jesus even scolded them for not having more faith. And in the end, the storm was about worshipping Jesus. Not surviving. Not getting through. Not anything… just Jesus.

So here’s to your impending 4th Watch. I hope you’re near the end of your storm. And I hope you’ve got the faith & wherewithal to see The Lord as he passes by. He’s there. Maybe he’s praying. Maybe he’s watching you. Or maybe he’s waiting for you to step out & come to him. Either way, storm’s pass. And this is the beach…

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