I’ve been reading quite a bit of material on other faiths recently, as preparation for a class I’m teaching this fall. There’s one faith that I just did some in depth study on where a daily prayer ritual exists. To complete this ritual takes between 2 and 3 hours each day. I have a great deal of respect for people who are disciplined enough to devote 2 to 3 hours to saying the same stuff each morning before the sun rises and after the sunset, and I don’t mean to belittle their efforts in worship and devotion; but I do respectfully believe that prayer is supposed to be so much more.

I worry that when prayer becomes a ritual, it loses its power.

Having a wedding ceremony once? Beautiful and meaningful. Having a wedding ceremony every weekend? Pointless and tedious.

I see signs of ritualization of prayer in Christianity. Here’s what I mean:

Praying over our food at each meal.

Praying before every athletic event and practice.

Praying before bed every night.

Praying when we wake up every day.

Isn’t it possible that “saying a prayer” 10-15 prayers a day will turn the prayer into an obligation? Perhaps I’m dead wrong here. Perhaps saying a prayer before every single meal will help some people remain focused on God’s generosity or provision.

I pray over some meals and not others. The funny thing is that the times when I don’t pray, God doesn’t turn the meal to worms and give me food poisoning.

Another faith I read about writes prayers on flags. Each time the wind blows the flag, they believe the prayer is sent up to heaven.

I simply can not accept this as an appropriate attitude for the Christian faith. Yet, when we say obligatory prayers at certain times, I feel we are doing essentially the same thing.

I’m not arguing that you or anybody else should pray more or pray less. Just that we must be weary of letting prayer become a ‘thing we do’. I find that often repeated rituals rob something of its genuine essence.

I believe prayer is important and valuable. Too important and valuable, in fact, to let it become a chore. So I pray all the time. But I don’t feel pressure to do it at any particular time.

I don’t think God is waiting behind a tree waiting to cause me harm if I forget to ask for protection on that particular morning.

I do think that spending time listening for God on a daily basis is important. Some days I don’t feel like I heard anything specific. Other days, I get distinct, strong impressions of what God is saying to me or showing me.

Prayer, reading the scriptures, singing, fasting; these are very valuable tools in the process of ones spiritual development. But like tools, they must be used for a purpose.

If I simply pick up a hammer and hit a piece of scrap wood everyday because ‘it’s a hammer and it’s supposed to hit wood’, I’m not actually building anything. ‘Praying because you’re supposed to pray’ is the same thing.

Let’s not feel that we need to pray more, let’s try to pray more genuinely, more interactively. For when we connect with God, then we have used the tool to accomplish its true purpose.

Why I am not a Republican (or a Democrat)

From reading the scriptures, I believe I have the following obligations as a citizen: Acknowledge the authority of the government (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Pray for those who are in charge (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Pay taxes (Mark 12: 13-17)

Nothing about being required to help shape the government. Nothing about trying to get more moral laws put into place. Nothing about political activism whatsoever. Seriously. Find a place where Jesus does absolutely anything that’s aimed at accomplishing political ends.

At the time he was in Israel, it was dominated by a brutal Roman regime. Does Jesus say anything about revolt or uprising? About people being freed from its authority? About how God wants them to have a democracy?

I haven’t been able to find any of those ideas so far.

You may think I’m being anti-American. I’m absolutely not. I’m not about to go into some diatribe about how terrible America is or some such silliness. America is one country out of almost 200 countries on earth. I don’t think God loves it more or less than Uzbekistan, Peru or Turkey. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loving your country. But I do think we must be careful not to confuse patriotism with the call to be in a relationship with God.

I recall the story of Jonah; a man who put his nationalistic zeal above God’s will.

See, Nineveh (capital of the Assyrian Empire) is involved in some pretty bad interactions with Israel. At one point, they took almost 30,000 captives from Israel and Israel at times had to pay tribute to Assyria. You can probably understand then, when a man who loved Israel with all his heart was told to go and lead Nineveh into repentance so God would forgive them, why he instead chose to run in the exact opposite direction.

Jonah’s love for his country prevented him from serving the kingdom of God in that instance. I don’t think it’s evil to love your country and support it, but it is critical to make sure we are seeking first the kingdom of God.

When the apostles are confronted by the Sanhedrin in Acts 5, at no point do they question the authority of those in government. Even in their disobedience (“We must obey God rather than man (v.29)), they accept the punishment given to them. In fact, they rejoice in their punishment (v.41).

I do not believe that politics is how God plans for his kingdom to come and his will to be down on earth as it is in heaven.

I believe the government should govern. That’s the job God has given it. But I do not believe I am called to realize the kingdom of heaven through the machinery of politics or government. The kingdom of heaven is much larger. The idea that politics could even begin to encompass God’s purposes is a joke. Sadly, it’s a joke that many people have bought into. Legislating morality, imposing monolithic standards on large groups of people; some people view this as not only being their right, but their duty.

Jesus didn’t try to find ways to back people into a corner where they had no choice but to do what he said. He didn’t look for ways to force his preferences upon everyone else. He loved, he accepted, he inspired. The only people he got furious with? Those who were trying to force people into a religious paradigm.

Politics is the art of gaining, keeping and using power. I serve a God who, by example, demonstrated that it’s my job to serve. Those who want power can have it. I’ve got more important things to do.

Judgement in a Facebook World (or, What Would Jesus Post?)

Just because facebook gives us a glimpse into people’s lives doesn’t mean it also gives us the right to render judgement upon it. That’s the job of people in their lives at the local faith community level. What does the Bible say about Judgement?

It says not to judge hypocritically. It says believers should not judge those outside the church. It says judgement should be handled at the local church level through appropriate authority. It says judgment between Christians should not be put on display before non-believers.

The bible says that if you see another believer sinning, you should confront them.  So if somebody who identifies themselves as a Christian puts some seriously questionable material or comments up on their Facebook page, do we have the option and/or the obligation to confront that person?

Does Matthew 18 now involve the guidance to ‘first private message that person, and if they don’t respond then confront them on their wall’?

Rendering judgment upon people in Facebook just seems like a very dangerous precedent to me. I’m not entirely sure you can avoid hypocritical judgment when telling people what you think about their content on facebook. And are arguments between Christians really the thing you want their non-believing friends to see? You’re probably going to end up re-enforcing stereotypes that won’t lead anybody to spiritual life - that Christians are judgmental, nosy, and holier than thou.

I think we who are not in a place to interact offline with people should restrain ourselves to encouragement where possible. If you want to get into a conversation about whether you agree with somebody’s stance on gay marriage or abortion, that may be fine. But if you know that it will devolve into arguing, perhaps it would be best to restrict yourself.

Better, I think, to avoid those kinds of topics unless they can be discussed on a personal level, with a friend rather than a person who we kind of know and never see in real life.

I believe we as Christians should view Facebook and the social world not as a place where we should bring a ruler to rap the knuckles of others, but as a chance to encourage and uplift through affirmation. If Jesus had a Facebook page, I just don’t think he’d be interested in flaming people with it. It would be a place people would go so that they could be part of something great and good.

The Snake Pit

“Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

Numbers 21:6-9

So Israel screws up (again) and as a result, God’s hand of blessing and protection are removed long enough to result in an epidemic of snakes infiltrating the area where they live. The snakes lead Israel to repentance, and with that repentance they make a request: they want Moses to ask God to take away the snakes.

But God didn’t take away the snakes. People still got bit. They still had to have their guard up. However, God did provide a means of deliverance from total destruction. If they trusted in God enough to look to the solution he provided, they wouldn’t die.

I think we often pray and ask God to take away sin and temptation from our lives. We often pray that God would remove challenges and difficult circumstances.

But sometimes, that isn’t his plan. We still get bitten, we still have to deal with dangers lurking around us. Sin still stalks us through the corridors of life.

We can choose whether to let it destroy us completely, or to look to the solution God provided: his Messiah that hung suspended between heaven and earth on the cross. In looking to him, we find that we are allowed to live and not die. We are delivered from that things that would normally destroy us.

I sometimes wish that God would just take away the snakes and let me live a life of comfort and peace. But I don’t get a vote. So I am left with two choices: look to cross and receive life or spite myself by ignoring him.

I hate being snakebit. I don’t like having to deal with the brokenness of myself and others on a daily basis. But I’m deeply grateful that God has heard the cry for forgiveness that has gone up to him out of the wilderness of this world and responded with salvation.

Heaven's Perfection

In Brooklyn, New York, there is a school for children with learning disabilities called Chush. A few years ago, a father of one of the students, Shaya, spoke at a fundraising dinner for the school. He began mildly enough, thanking this person and that person. Then he startled everyone with an anguished question: “Where is the perfection in my son, Shaya? Everything done in heaven is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do…Where is the perfection in that?” The guests sat silent.

“I believe,” the man continued, “that when heaven brings a child like this into the world, the perfection it seeks is in the way people react to this child.”

He then told a story. One day he and Shaya were watching some boys play softball. Shaya wanted to play, and the father went over and spoke with the pitcher of one of the teams. The boy was at first unsure. Then he shrugged and said, “Whatever. We’re in the eighth inning and behind by six runs. We’ve got nothing to lose. Sure. He can play short center field. We’ll let him bat in the ninth.”

Shaya was ecstatic. He shambled out to his position and stood there.

But by the bottom of the ninth, his team had fallen behind by two points and had the bases loaded. They needed a home run to make it work - only, Shaya was scheduled to bat. The boys conferred, and to the father’s amazement they handed the bat to Shaya. He stood over the base, clutching the bat askew, too tight. The pitcher from the opposing team then did a remarkable thing: he took several steps closer and lobbed an easy ball right over the plate. Shaya swung wildly and missed wildly. One of his teammates came up and wrapped his arms around Shaya from behind, and together they held the bat. The pitcher lobbed another easy ball, and Shaya and his teammate bunted it. It rolled right to the pitcher. All the players shouted for Shaya to run to first. He shuffled along. The pitcher could have had an easy out, but he threw the ball wide and far to left field. Shaya made first base. The players yelled for him to take second. Again, the catcher in left field threw wide and far, and Shaya made second. On it went, the other players all making home plate, Shaya loping along and everyone from both sides screaming themselves hoarse for him to run all the way. He touched home plate, and the ball came singing in behind him. The boys cheered madly. They mounted Shaya on their shoulders and paraded him as a hero.

“That day,” the father said, “Those eighteen boys reached their level of heaven’s perfection.”


Excerpted from Hidden In Plain Sight by Mark Buchanan

Salvation: An Ongoing Process

Recently, I read the portion of scripture below: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:9-11 emphasis mine)

We tend to focus on the death of Jesus. He died for our sins. Then we celebrate Easter and shortly after that, he goes directly to heaven. Are we forgetting that Jesus didn’t just die for us, but that he also lived for us?

His sacrifice wiped the slate clean, restored us to zero when we had been at negative one zillion. But the goal isn’t to stay at zero. It’s to start counting up. To build on the second chance, to seize the opportunity.

Accepting Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t the finish line we often treat it as being: “Accept Jesus and you’ll end up in heaven”. It’s a beginning.

When God found you, you were laying in a roadside ditch - crippled and unable to help yourself. He picked you up and healed your legs. The worst thing you can do now is sit back down and wait for the end of your life. It’s time to start using the legs he healed. To go on the journey that he’s been calling you toward all along.

That journey is about restoring this world, not escaping it. To be part of his movement to make all things new. To bring light to the darkness, hope to the despairing, freedom to captives.

If you’ve accepted Jesus death as payment for your sins, then I want to say ‘Congratulations, welcome to the family. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so roll up your sleeves and let’s get busy.’

Hope and Fear

Have you ever been to the place where hope and fear are wrestling for control of your emotions? I’ve been living at that intersection for a while now.

I’ve been waiting on the opportunity to begin working at a job that has more meaning for me than the corporate job I’ve been at for a number of years. “Waiting” may not be the best word here. “Frantically trying to find something else but not being able to force anything to happen” would probably be better.

Yesterday, I was at a really low point. I felt like everything within me was driving over the cliff of depression and anger and frustration.

Somebody on my twitter feed put up a quote by a character on The Wire that said: ”A life, Jimmy. You know what that is? It’s the [stuff] that happens while you’re waiting for moments that never come.”

I felt like my life was a prison sentence to mundane mediocrity. I wanted somebody to blame for the fact that my life isn’t the fairy tale that I’d like it to be, and God is an easy punching bag.

He’s all powerful, so anything that goes wrong is his fault! As these thoughts kept filling my head, I realized how childish I was being. I also recognized the voice of the enemy, telling me to ‘Curse God and die’.

I apologized to God for being immature and I worshiped him. I thanked him. I asked for help and mercy.

On the way home, a thought came to me. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I knew it was scripture, so I looked it up. It’s Proverbs 13:12.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Eugene Peterson, in The Message puts it like this:

“Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.”

I had no idea why the Holy Spirit was telling me this. I have been living in a place of unrelenting disappointment for many months. I knew I was heart sick. For God to confirm, ‘look, I know that being in a depressing rut for a long time will really hurt you’ didn’t make me feel any better.

Heck, I had been chastising myself for wanting something better. “God has me here, so I need to learn to be okay with it. I need to learn how to be content in the midst of frustration” was my attitude. But the Bible said something completely different. Constant frustration will make your heart sick. You need fulfilled dreams to be happy. This sounds more like something Barbie would say in one of my daughters cartoons than what we expect from the Bible.

Yet here was the Holy Spirit, bringing this very thing to mind.

Later that evening, I got some really good news. Not good enough to let me quit my job immediately, but good news. A door opening really wide.

I have felt like a plant that was in a too small pot and not getting any water or sunlight, and this news felt like water and sunlight. I believe the day is coming soon when I’ll be moved to a bigger pot so I can begin to grow into the tree God wants me to be.

I’m deeply grateful to serve a God who cares about me, even though he doesn’t owe me anything.  A God who knows how much we need hope, and showed up yesterday after my time of testing to give me what I haven’t earned.

Weakness and Strength

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about his health situation. You know, when he has a “thorn in his flesh”, and he asks God to take it away. But God refuses Paul’s request. Instead, God tells him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (verse 9) We talk about this a lot in Christianity. That in our weakness, God is strong. I was on a retreat around this time last year, finishing my degree at Regent University and we were having a group discussion. One of the girls in my class asked, “Can God work through a weakness without it becoming a strength?”

I thought it was an interesting question. I have had many areas of weakness that God has transformed into a strength. God does that kind of thing all the time, I think - If we let him.

But what about working in a weakness, where the weakness never becomes a strength?

I told her about my autistic daughter, Elle. God has used her to speak to many people, not least of all myself and my wife, yet her disability still exists. In the difficult struggles we’ve had with her, God’s grace has been all the more abundant. Grace to handle the trials, and to press forward in her treatment and development.

God hasn’t ‘fixed’ the situation, but he’s been present to meet the needs which have arisen out of it.

We know, from reading the Bible, that God is making all things new. He’s busy setting things right. That started with Jesus’ sacrifice and it will be set to completion when he returns. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, a perfect reality.

But here and now, there is still brokeness. The Fall still echos in us and in all of creation. We have been called to work among the imperfection. And while we are partners with setting things right, sometimes what we have to work with the brokeness before it has been fixed.

I will never be perfect on this earth, yet God chooses to work in me and through me. I am weakness personified, yet God has no plan B. Though I am still flawed and imperfect and fallen, God’s glory comes through when I let it.

Instead of throwing away this world and all that is in it, it seems like he’s taking all the loose threads and weaving a beautiful tapestry. He shows his greatnessbecause he uses the broken, the imperfect, the flawed. There is no such thing as a person who isn’t good enough for God. Because the weaker we are, the more we recognize we need him, and the more he shows up.

It’s only when we get a fat head, thinking God owes us a debt of gratitude that we end up full of ourselves and bereft of his presence.

Let us all, as Paul says boast only in what the Lord has done.

The Complete Christian: An Oxymoron

I’ve heard people use the phrase ‘complete Christian’. He or she is a complete Christian. The idea being that they’ve put it all together and they are as close to being Jesus as they can possibly be. Personally, I think this is kind of silly. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12 talks about how we are all parts of the same body. If I’m a toe, I may be the best toe that ever lived, but I’m still just a toe. I’m not a complete body. I can’t set off and do great things on my own.

I wonder what your Christianity looks like. I’m sure it has some things in common with my Christianity, but I hope it isn’t exactly the same. I say that, because I know I don’t have it all figured out.

I believe we’ve made Christianity the art/science of ‘having all the truth’ or ‘being right about everything’, when in reality, it’s designed to be a seekingafter the truth.

We’ve made it a destination, when it has always been a journey.

‘Christian’ isn’t something you are as much as it is always something you are striving to be.  The word Christian was originally a pejorative term meaning ‘Little Christs’.

God wants us to seek him, he says this repeatedly in the scriptures, and it’s pretty clear that while we won’t fully discover him on this side of eternity, we’re supposed to keep looking.

When we stop looking, we stop finding.

We seem to fear people coming to different conclusions within the same church - we think that having different conclusions will lead to division and church splits, so toeing the line becomes all important.

As a youth minister, one of my primary goals is not to teach my teens what to think, but rather how to think. I’d rather my kids find out what it is they actually believe instead of having me tell them what I want them to believe…and I believe that kind of attitude leaves room for the Holy Spirit to work!

This is my Christianity. Get your own.

God of the Meek and Lowly

Leviticus 12 talks about the sacrifice an Israelite woman is supposed to make at the temple after having a child. It says that she should sacrifice a year old lamb, or if she can’t afford a lamb, a pigeon or a dove instead. Fast forward to Luke 2: Mary has just given birth to Jesus. The bible tells us that when Joseph and Mary take the child to the temple in order to present him to the Lord, they brought along two birds (v. 24).

I find it very meaningful that God himself stipulated what he preferred (a lamb), but made allowances for those who simply couldn’t afford it. And when he himself came to walk upon the earth, he chose for his family people who couldn’t afford “the best”.

God isn’t trying to hob nob with the rich. He’s not attempting to get money out of them. God doesn’t look at Warren Buffett or Bill Gates and really wish they’d share some of what they have with him.

When God gave the greatest gift that would ever appear on this earth, it was given to people who couldn’t even afford a lamb. He came to a meek and lowly couple that were willing to listen and obey God.

God’s not looking for what he can get out of you. He’s looking to see whether you’re making a place for him in your life. Money can’t buy that. Only a humble devotion to the creator can.

Christian Love

The Roman Emperor Julian (332-363) hated Christianity. He hoped instead to restore the glory of the ancient Roman religion, which worshipped a multitude of deities in the temples and shrines that filled the city.

But Julian saw a problem with convincing the multitude to turn its back on the recently authorized faith: the power of Christian love in practice.

Here’s how he said it: “[Christianity] has been specifically advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers…[The Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”

In other words, how could a pagan religion hope to gain followers when Christianity is setting itself apart as being far superior through its actions and results?

My how things change.

Is there anybody who looks at American Christianity and thinks first and foremost of the charity it carries out? Of the kindness it shows to the poor and destitute?

It’s far more likely they’ll think of Christianity as being a group of people who want power through politics, don’t like homosexuals and think kids need to be sheltered from secular music and movies or even education.

Who in their right mind would want any part of that? I know I don’t.

Those of us who really love God would say that’s just junk you have to ignore when you’re trying to be a part of the Body of Christ. But from the outside looking in, how can you know that the loudmouth politician, television preachers and bully pulpit pastors don’t speak for everyone?

Instead of gaining clout through the methods of this world: coersion, marketing, spin control, PR campaigns, etc…can we try the method Jesus recommended? Leading through serving?

The whole point of washing the disciples feet in John 13 was to show them that Christians were expected to act differently. Embracing service rather than power.

When Paul talks about living lives that no government could outlaw (Galatians 5:23), he’s again hammering this point home.

Instead of trying to grab power and attention from the politicians and the wealthy, lets serve the poor and powerless.

Let’s give people an alternative to what they see happening in a broken world, not more of the same.

Then, perhaps, some people may begin to say “There is something different about Christians. Something better than what I have going on.” This, I believe, is the example Jesus gave us and the mission we should be undertaking.

The Sheep and the Wolves

We in Christianity love to talk about being ‘more than conquerors’ and being members of God’s victorious army. But in Matthew 10:16, Jesus says something that I think I need to keep in mind.

As he’s commissioning his followers to travel to nearby towns and preach the good news about the coming of God’s kingdom, he says this to them: “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves…”

We are called to preach a Gospel of peace in a violent world.

To share a message of self denial to a hedonistic civilization.

Challenged to bring words of life into a culture of death.

There are people who will reject light in favor of darkness, who will view the news of God’s love as weakness.  Yet it is not our job to destroy such people.

We must not become God’s wolves in our drive to expand his kingdom. The crusaders who took up arms and the street corner preacher who damns his listeners to an eternity of suffering have missed the point.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Our mission is to be about the restoration of all things, to help return them to their original design. It is meaningful to hear the clarion call of Isaiah in 11:6 where he foresees a time when “The wolf will live with the lamb”.

We will not conquer this world. That is the work of the Lord himself, and he has guaranteed that it will occur. It is our job to be innocent of the ways of this world, that everyone would know that there is another way: To trust in a shepherd instead of relying on that which we can take for ourselves through force and violence.

God is not looking for wolves. He is looking for those who seek to emulate his son, the Lamb who was slain.

The Church Diet

Last week I started a fitness challenge at work. The person who improves their body fat percentage the most will win the competition (and a fair pot of money along with that). So, in addition to increasing my exercise routine, I decided to reduce my carbohydrate intake. I’m a total carb addict - I LOVE cookies, cinnamon rolls, pasta, bread, etc.

Here’s the thing about carbs: the body can burn them to give you energy. But if you take in more carbs than you burn through exercise you become a little think I like to call ‘fat’.

Your carb intake and your physical activity level need to match in order for you to be in shape.

In church, we see a lot of biblical encouragement, solid biblical exposition, fellowship, etc…these are good things. If they are done in proper proportion to the overall outreach of the church. Without the outreach, the church will get fat and lazy off these things.

Jesus was a man of action.

After receiving the Holy Spirit, so were John, Peter, Phillip and others.

Paul, already a man of action was called by Jesus to take action for him rather than against him.

How did we get to the point where we think it’s okay to call yourself a follower of Christ if you sit on your butt in a pew for a couple hours each week?

I read a book called Heretics by Jonathan Wright last week, and among other things, it tangentially examined the differences between Christianity before it became a political movement and after that occurred.

Like all political movements, Christianity quickly became a vehicle for seeking power to many people (especially the leadership). It cost many brave women and men their lives to question the political disposition of the church. (Not to say all people who were killed as heretics were seeking the good of Christendom, but there were those that wanted to follow God rather than man.)

Putting effort into building up other Christians is a good thing, if it is a part of strengthening them to be a part of ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done’ in their families, communities and the world at large. But if it’s just done to make people comfortable, that’s wrong. It’s like gorging yourself on cake when the people outside the palace are starving.

Take it from Marie Antoinette (or whoever actually said ‘let them eat cake’), that kind of attitude isn’t going to get us very far.

Either the church needs to stop feeding itself in an effort to get happy, or it needs to get out and exercise a little more.

Sunday School Jesus

Years ago, I had a teen in my youth group who would always give the answer ‘Jesus’ to any question I asked on Sunday morning. It was done tongue in cheek, and I played along, always calling his name to answer a question when the answer really was ‘Jesus’. Probably most of us have heard the cliche that every answer in Sunday School is ‘Jesus’.

I think there’s some truth in this joke. But he reality isn’t all that funny. The truth is that frequently, those of us who work with youth and young adults in church are trying to cram a whole bunch of information into the heads of our students for about an hour each week so that they will become good Christian adults.

But information doesn’t create disciples. Just because I learn more doesn’t mean I grow or mature.

Jesus isn’t the answer. He’s the way, the truth and the life.

An answer is simple, easy, straightforward. It frequently gives an end to the conversation. What shape is the earth? A globe. But the truth is that it has mountain peaks and deep valleys. It has an ever changing cloud cover. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the beauty as it hangs in space, the mosaic of oceans and forests and deserts, the way it moves and tilts in space.

How can we be saved? Jesus.

But wait, what does that mean? Do we all too easily forget that he didn’t just die for us, but he lives for us? (Romans 5:10 “…If, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”)

Unlike an answer being the end of a conversation, Jesus being the way to God is the beginning of a lifelong journey, not an end point.

Thomas à Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ says this: “If I understood everything in the world and did not have divine love, what would it avail me in the sight of God, who will judge me according to my deeds?”

In other words, is anybody going to stand before the throne of God and hear him say, “Wow! You know so much stuff!”? Probably not, considering God isn’t seeking knowledge - he has it already. And when we enter eternity, all knowledge seemingly becomes available to us (see 1 Corinthians 13:12)

This life isn’t about having all the answers. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

God has not created us to be information terminals with the biggest library of resources possible.  He created us to be seekers of the way, truth and life he provides. That’s how we point to God, not with arguments and citations.

I’m not trying to convey that Christianity should be anti-intellectual here. Getting my Master’s Degree in Theology was a great experience. But the primary way I can see my own development during that time is that I have better questions now that I did when I first started, not just lots of answers.

Jesus is not a finish line, he’s a running partner.

God: The Unreliable Genie

Jon Acuff, who writes the fantastic blog Stuff Christians Like put up a post that really resonated with me recently. He talked about the fact that when he has troubles or issues in his life, he wants God to give him a present that will fix it. Instead, God gives his presence in the midst of the trouble.

As I look back over the past year of my life, I totally got what he is saying here.

I began looking for a way to leave the corporate job that I don't care for over a year ago. Sometime in February last year, I had a powerful event where God poured out his Spirit on me in a new and fresh way.

I mistakenly thought this was a signal that all my dreams and desires were about to be fulfilled.

As I had to keep making the long commute everyday to a desk where I didn't want to sit, I began to grow impatient and frustrated with God.

"Why would you give me passion and your Holy Spirit if I'm just going to keep living this meaningless corporate existence" was the attitude that began to pervade my thoughts.

God, it seemed, was cruelly taunting me.

But I eventually began to realize what Acuff is referring to. God isn't a genie. He isn't looking for wishes to grant. And he isn't looking to see what he is getting out of you.

A friend of mine, Zach Neese, wrote a book recently called How to Worship a King, which has this statement:

"God didn't create you so that He could use you. He created you so that He could know you."

I worry so often that I'm wasting my years at a corporate job, so when I come to God, I've already got a grievance against him. But I don't think he sees it that way at all. My job isn't a problem that is #15,987,446 on his list of things to do.

My purpose in this life isn't to achieve enough to be able to stand up against everyone else's resume.

What in David's life qualified him to be a king? What in Peter's background prepared him to be a foundational pillar of Christianity? What did Gideon do that earned him the title Mighty Man of Valor as he was hiding in the bottom of a well?

God's purposes for what we do are his own. They are inscrutable, and trying to decode or discern our path is not only impossible, it leads to frustration, as it did with me.

As I got more and more caught up in what God "wasn't doing", his presence faded in my life. He gave me a wonderful gift and I didn't appreciate it for what it was, only for where I thought it would take me.

I've had to spend quite a bit of time getting rid of my attitude and seeking God's presence in my life again not as a means to an end, but as the most wonderful end in itself.

I mean, seriously, God wants me to know him? He wants to invite me into his presence so I can simply be changed and filled by his Spirit?

I'm not back to where I was a year ago yet, but I'm getting there. And I'm grateful to have screwed up yet again, to find that God's way truly is best.


I read a book in the past week or so called Heretics by Jonathan Wright. It reviews the fracturing of Christianity over the past two millenia.

It also taught me a new word: adiaphorism, which is the discipline of determining what matters of theology and doctrine are critical versus those that are non-critical to salvation.

I love this word. I hate it when we in Christianity try to carve out our own little kingdom and claim that it’s where Jesus really lives. It’s easy to look at denominations and shake our head and accuse them of this, but I also think we in evangelical/non-denominational Christianity are really bad about this.  Maybe even worse.  Instead of a whole denomination thinking it’s the only one really getting it right, you can find each individual church either outright believing this, or showing through their actions that they believe this.

Christianity was never meant to be an institution, and when it is run that way, it’s a disaster.

Notice that Jesus never said “Hey guys - when I’m gone, Peter’s in charge” or “John is now Vice-Messiah”?

It was that each individual believer would be filled with the Holy Spirit and given a mandate: go and make disciples.

Not disciples of ourselves. There should never be a “church of people who agree with everything you say”. Disciples of Jesus.

The Christianity we have now is full of politics. Being a disciple of Jesus and seeking power and control is simply not compatible. This is exactly what Jesus was trying to communicate when he washed the disciples feet.

The Body of Christ isn’t God’s business, it’s his family. We’ve got to stop allowing pastors and leaders to be CEOs of local franchises, and instead seek fathers.

My point in all this is that there are some truths that are non-negotiable within the Christian faith. Jesus is the Son of God. He died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He rose from the dead and will return to judge all people. He is theonly way to God the Father.

Beyond that, is it truly worth arguing and fighting over every viewpoint and detail?

Let us take to heart the words of the 17th century Croatian Archbishop Marco Antonio de Dominis: “Unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things”

Rather than continuing to draw lines in the sand, let us seek the ties that bind.

How To Have An Unhealthy Church

I’ve learned something about being in a community recently: that if a group of people aren’t fighting together for something, they’ll end up fighting each other. People need a purpose. They need a goal. If you don’t give them one, they will pick one for themselves.

We all need challenges to overcome in life, mountains to climb.

I have signed up for 3 races this summer: The Xterra EX2 Off-road Triathlon, the Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder, and the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan.

Somebody asked me recently why I participate in these crazy events.

The reason is because I can only grow if I challenge myself. I only get stronger and faster when I must in order to overcome challenges that are greater than I can handle today.

I do it because I want to find my limits, and then destroy them.

When I think about a church community, I think about one of those great ancient galley ships that used dozens or hundreds of people rowing as their propulsion. Momentarily setting aside the fact that the people who worked in them were normally slaves, imagine that your church is one of those ships.

What would happen if everybody just set their own agenda? Rowed when they wanted, however they wanted? At best, the ship would meander in circles, never actually getting anywhere.

If half the crew wanted to go forward and he other half wanted to go backwards, the ship would literally just spin in circles. People on the boat may mistake the motion for progress, but the reality is they’re all just wasting energy. When they wearily recognize all their effort has been for naught, they will naturally start looking for other people to blame. Hello, church split.

The way it reaches its destination is by everyone rowing together, as one person with some guidance from leadership

Without a destination, you’ll never go anywhere.

Without a purpose, you won’t do anything that isn’t comfortable or easy.

Just like I set race challenges for myself, does your church have challenges? Is everyone committed to these challenges? Are these challenges making a difference?

In other words, if your church closed down and never met again, would there be negative consequences, other than you not getting to see people you’re friendly with?

If you want an unhealthy church, don’t have goals. Don’t have a purpose that everybody in the congregation is aware of and given the opportunity to participate in. Just float in the river of existence, dealing with the crises that will inevitably pop up when people starting trying to paddle in different directions.

If you follow that simple direction, your church is sure to be unhealthy, meaningless and eventually die.

Getting Your Dream Job

You’re not going to want to hear this, but: God is not a way to pass tests you haven’t studied for.

God is not a way to get money you haven’t earned.

God is not a way to get your dream job without working for it.

“God has a plan for you” is something we hear so often, we can forget that we’re actually supposed to work for what we get.

The fact that you are a son/daughter of the king doesn’t mean that you can have whatever you want without earning it.

Whether you’re in school or you already have a family and work full time, you’re probably interested in working at your dream job.

Nobody wants to have to work at a job they don’t like in order to provide for themselves or their family.

Nobody dreams of getting a job that they have no passion for; where you feel like your time is being wasted on meaningless tasks.

We want to feel like we are accomplishing our purpose in our work, that we are using our God given gifts and abilities on a regular basis.

So when we hear, repeatedly, that God has a plan for our life from pastors and friends and family; and when we hear that we are a son/daughter of the king, it’s easy to start believing that God owes us a job that is fulfilling and that we have passion for.

You realize that he gave you passion and abilities in certain areas, so now it’s his responsibility to put you in a place where you can use them.

He equipped you and he called you, so now he owes you.

I call this attitude “Christian entitlement”.

I know that this world is temporary and one day it will roll up like a scroll as I will reign with God on high - therefore I am not required to live a life of meaningless tasks.

This attitude makes it hard when life presents us with unenjoyable tasks: going to a job that doesn’t seem like it’s important, taking a test to pass a class, etc.

But God isn’t a get-out-of-the-mundane-parts-of-life free card.

Do you want to work at your dream job? Then go to school and learn how to do what that job requires. Pursue any and every opportunity you can find to gain experience in that field.

When you get a shot, work your butt off.

I see so many Christians who are sitting around waiting for God to ring their doorbell and escort them to the job of their dreams one day.

I also see a number of Christian men who have refused to work a full time job and provide for their family because ‘they don’t like the jobs that are available to them’. This disgusts me.

I have worked a job that I dislike for years to provide for my family, while also working part time in ministry (which I do like) AND getting my Master’s Degree so that I could find part time work in the field where I want a career so I can earn my way into a full time job (this is still ongoing).

My wife went back to get her Bachelor’s Degree (and her Master’s) while pregnant and caring for two little kids, one with special needs.

Being Christian doesn’t mean our lives should involve refusing to work hard in order to get where we want, it means we should work harder, knowing that it is by our effort that we show ourselves worthy of an opportunity.

Rather than saying ‘this life is just a play and I don’t need to take it seriously’, we must endeavor to take it more seriously, knowing that we only have one chance to please God in this life.

When Jesus talks about building treasure in heaven when we live on the earth, do we think he’s joking? Do we think laziness and being adverse to working hard is what he’s after?

When the Israelites entered the promised land, Judges 3:2 says God left several hostile nations in the area to teach their children warfare. God doesn’t want soft, lazy Christians. He wants tough, strong, conquering Christians.

He wants a people that know life is a bull and how to grab it by the horns. Grace is not God’s Lay-Z-Boy recliner for us to sit around in, it’s God’s energy drink, empowering us to take on challenges bigger than we are.

Do you want your dream job? Don’t wait for it. Work for it!


Recommended additional resources on this topic:

Lessons From Leaving a Desk Job ( article)

Quitter by Jon Acuff

Should Christians Tithe?

I had a conversation about tithing the other day with my teens. We talked about whether giving 10% of our income is what God requires/expects. When your church is having trouble making budget, you’re very likely to hear about Malachi 3:6-10 either quoted or directly referred to. “Don’t rob God.” “Bring thewhole tithe into the storehouse.”

But does this apply under the new covenant?

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus affirms tithing as a discipline that the Pharisees should continue to practice.

But I think it’s impossible to discuss the topic of our financial giving without looking at Luke 21:1-4.

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

It seems to me that the criticism that Jesus levels against the rich men making donations is not that they were giving less than 10%. It is that they had an abundance, yet they kept it mostly for themselves.

The standard of giving that Jesus provides in Luke 21:1-4 is to not give only as much as we are required. To not give only what is comfortable for us to give. It is to give even when it hurts to do so.

To give all that we can, not all that we must.

Jesus wants us to live a life that is dedicated to doing the most good, not the least acceptable amount of good.

To love lavishly, abundantly and generously. To give, even in our own need, not only once we have excess to spare.

I think supporting a local church is a good thing. If you’re committed to the community of your local church, by all means support it, including with financial provision.

I also think that we have amazing opportunities to support other organizations which we can learn about through the internet or through other contacts. Your church may not be committed to helping slaves across the world gain freedom, but you can give money, time, effort to this cause above and beyond your church membership.

You can support the ministries of your church while also helping to feed and clothe the homeless in your area.

I’m not trying to infer that you should never spend money on yourself or your family for fun purposes. I don’t believe you must live in poverty, while giving away every available dime. If you wish to do this, that’s your choice.

I don’t think Jesus was upset with the rich people because they didn’t give every last coin, I thing he was upset that they were simply living up to the minimum standards and thinking that was good enough. That God just wants people to fulfill obligations.

We serve a God that held nothing back from us. Let us be careful in believing that we can give him a 10% commission in order to satisfy him.

Money isn’t going to go with us to the afterlife. It is a tool that we can use only here and now. Let us use it wisely, treating a device of this temporal life as seeds with which to plant a crop that may be reaped in heaven.

Perhaps instead of viewing 10% as a set number that we must never go under and that we need not exceed, we should instead seek to give all that we are able at any given point in our lives.

From our abundance or our need, let us seek to be generous. To give all that we can.

Why Don't We See The Book Of Acts Happening Today?

I’m reading through Acts again, which always raises questions in me regarding modern day ministry. In the New Testament, Jesus did signs and wonders to confirm that his message was from God.

At one point, in his attempt to engender faith from some Pharisees, Jesus says, “even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:38)

Peter used the healing of the beggar at the temple as a platform to launch into the preaching of the gospel, and it was because of that miracle that the Sanhedrin couldn’t severely punish him. They couldn’t deny it. (Acts 3)

In Acts 5, the scriptures say that “the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (verse 12), and that because of this, many people believed in Jesus and joined the church - to the point that the religious leaders had to attack the apostles in an attempt to stop their momentum.

Later in Acts, we read that as Paul and Barnabas shared the message of the gospel in Iconium, the Lord “confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3).

I wonder why nothing quite as spectacular as what we see in Acts seems to occur today (speaking of America), where signs and wonders accompanied the message of the Gospel? Is our message so wrong or weak that the signs and wonders don’t come? Is it because we’re a nation/generation demanding a sign out of arrogance and selfishness (a la Matthew 12:38)? Am I lacking faith or the ability to understand God’s directions?

I really don’t know. But I also know that people who are only ever seeking mystical manifestation of God’s presence worry me. Is a “glory cloud” the kind of thing we’re after? If you tell somebody that it seemed a little hazy at church last night, is that the coming of the kingdom of God?

I’m not trying to point fingers at anybody else without first and foremost pointing them at myself.

Who’s got two thumbs and is trying to figure out how to be a part of ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’? This guy.

And because I have no idea how to include signs and wonders into my message, I focus on the things I do understand: That God is in the business of changing - transforming - lives for the better.

I know he still binds up broken hearts. I know he still gives hope and joy to the downtrodden.  But am I just functioning this way out of weakness and defeat? Is this how God wants me/us to work in the world? All message and no demonstrations of proof that this message is true?

I know that the bible says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, but I also see Jesus saying that the apostles couldn’t fast while he was with them, but they would do so when he was gone.

When Jesus sent out the 70 as emissaries, he instructed them to take no bag or extra tunic, but in Luke 22:35, he says that now they should not only take a purse, but a bag and that they need to get a sword.

In John 9:4-5 he says, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So when Jesus was on earth, did he take the brunt, the weight of all the things that we now must bear?

Why did Jesus indicate things would be different after he left?  Are we simply seeing the result of changing realities that we can’t fight against?

But back to Acts: What about Philip? The bible says that great signs and miracles are occurring through Phillip during his ministry (Acts 8:13), yet the apostles send Peter and John to Samaria and it is only when their hands are laid on people that they receive the Holy Spirit.

Why didn’t that happen through Phillip?

Why were people laying in the streets of Jerusalem in the hopes that Peter’s shadow might touch them (Acts 5:15)? There were thousands of believers in Jerusalem by this point, why weren’t the same miracles occurring at their touch?

I don’t believe the dispensational theology that says miracles were something God did through the apostles and he doesn’t do that any more. I’ve experienced the power of God and seen the transformations he can bring forth. God has allowed me to witness and participate in miraculous events, and those signs have strengthened my faith.

I don’t have answers to this issue, only questions. Mostly about the ways I’m missing the mark. I know that I am the emissary of an all-powerful, loving God - but why should others believe me? Where’s the demonstration that he approves of my message?

In this world where everyone has more messages being aimed at them then ever before, I don’t want to be just one more voice clamoring for attention, feeling pressured to make grandiose claims in order to attract an audience.

I want to present the true gospel and figure out how to let God stand behind his own message.