Thursday, April 24, 2014

Church: Remember When...

Remember when pastors weren't celebrities with book deals and viral videos but rather, humble teachers with worn, dog-eared, marked-up bibles and tired, red eyes from late night prayer emergencies? Remember when they knew every member of the congregation; knew their struggles and their joys and walked through both with them?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when worship leaders held a hymnal in one hand, led the congregation with the other, while bellowing out powerful, soulful hymns with imperfect voices? They wore polyester suits instead of trendy clothes. They weren't rock stars with light shows, singing pop choruses ad nauseum, but took seriously the words of the hymns and the responsibility of ushering the congregation into the presence of worship?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when the Church didn't cowtow to "societal norms" but knew where the lines were drawn on cultural issues, sometimes even drew the lines themselves, saying "this one belongs to us?" Remember when church leaders wept and prayed for the morality of our country in honest fear that we would become a nation that celebrates depravity instead of running away from it?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when you sat in the pew and listened to teaching that dug so deep in the fertile soil of the Scripture that you found the roots? Remember when you would leave the service wrestling with where your heart is and where it should be? Remember when sermons weren't glossy, "feel-good" platitudes  but rather soul-searching challenges?
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when people stayed after church service to talk, potluck, share their life-happenings? Remember when it wasn't a mad dash to beat the lunch crowd at the restaurant but rather a casual stroll so we all could gather and break bread together? 
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when we believed the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, to be the true, historical account of God's plan, not merely suggestions and fables to teach a moral lesson? 
I wonder where my church is today.

Remember when church leaders would gather around a sinner, lay hands on him or her, lift that soul up in prayer and commit to walking through the restoration together? Remember when we weren't afraid to call sin sin, and didn't believe that culture has changed on issues so God should change too?

I wonder where my church is today.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What Sochi Can Teach Us About the Rest of the World

This week, thousands of westerners—athletes and media—have converged on Sochi, Russia for the Winter Games. And while they lug their expensive camera gear or don their sponsor-laden apparel and compete for gold, silver and bronze medallions, they are not happy. Perhaps you have seen their tweets, status updates and Instagram pics of the horrible conditions they’re forced to endure while spending their time in the Russian city.

Now don’t get me wrong, some of the conditions are, at best, embarrassing. And our athletes deserve better. While they represent our country on the grandest global sports stage, they shouldn’t have to worry about cold showers, group bathrooms without privacy, and insect-laden, half-finished hotel rooms. Russia was obviously not prepared to host the biggest modern day winter sporting event.

But perhaps we need to put things into perspective too.  While these conditions are obviously not up to par, they are, for the most part, certainly not “appalling.”

In my travels for Compassion International, I have seen families who live in 6x6 shacks made of scrap wood or tin. They sleep on filthy mattresses or on dirt floors, bathe in rivers and gather their drinking water from those same waterways. Their bathrooms are holes in the ground and many often have open sewage running just outside their doorways. That, my friends, is appalling.
  
Almost 2.5 billion people in this world live on less than $2 per day. That’s billion with a “b.” Just try feeding your family on that meager income. Over 780-million people live without access to clean water. That’s two and a half times the population of the United States that doesn’t have access to healthy water at all. None of them will get to leave these conditions in two weeks and return to homes with faucets that pump out hot, clean water on demand. They do not get to leave these truly appalling conditions for warm, safe, comfortable homes with private bathrooms at the end of the month. Tomorrow looks as bleak as today. And today is as bleak as yesterday.

I’m not comparing Sochi to villages in Uganda or the slums of Guatemala, Indonesia or Haiti. There is no comparison. Unfinished hotel rooms do not compare to the slum villages of the poorest of the poor. Unfinished bathrooms in the athlete’s dorms are still tiled, with porcelain toilets.

Nor am I saying that these athletes and media don’t have legitimate complaints. But let’s try to keep things in perspective, shall we? And use this opportunity to learn something. Perhaps Sochi is an opportunity to teach us all the difference between first-world problems and third-world realities. There’s a difference between those things we believe we are entitled to and those things that should be available for every human being.

Friday, October 11, 2013

You Are Allowed to Believe


I know this may sound strange, but in light of our cultural shifts of the past few decades I think many of our brothers and sisters in Christ need to be reminded that you are still allowed to believe. Despite what politics, “political correctness”, culture and media may tell you, you are still allowed to believe in Jesus today.

You are allowed to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Go on, believe it. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You are allowed to believe that Jesus is part of the triune God who created the earth, then joined us in human flesh to save us from ourselves. You are allowed to believe that we killed him. And you are even allowed to believe that it was all part of his perfect plan. That he rose from the dead to show his sovereignty. That his blood covers our sins.

You are allowed to believe!

No need to hide it. No need to whisper it. No need to be afraid to bring it up in conversation. Yes, there will be those who are offended, but the Gospel has always offended. Some will push back. It’s ok. That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to believe. Some will argue, some will shun. Some will ridicule. But at the end of the day, rest in this: you are allowed to believe!

You are allowed to believe that sin is sin. And yes, you are even allowed to call sin a sin. Because God gave you that authority. Too many of us are terrified of calling out sin for fear of having that very well-worn scripture that reminds us to “judge not, lest ye be judged.” So let me lay it out for you. When you stand on scripture to call sin a sin, you are not judging. You’re simply relaying the judge’s message. You’re the court clerk. You’re simply reading the judge’s decision. Judgment has already been made on what is sin and what is not. The Supreme Judge made that decision. And yes, you’re allowed to believe that too.

Society today is trying desperately to tell the Church that you are not allowed to believe homosexuality is a sin. This is a lie. You are allowed to believe. Not because “in your heart you know it’s wrong” but because God said so. And you are allowed to believe in what God proclaims. It is a sin, just as pride, stealing, killing, lying, cheating, coveting, envying, praying to false gods, dishonoring your mother and father, and a whole list of other sins. And it should be treated as such. With prayer, love, understanding that we are all flawed, weak and in need of that very same blood of Jesus I mentioned earlier. For too long the Church has been silent on this issue. Afraid of calling sin a sin. Is it the most horrendous sin man can commit? No. But it is sin. And you are allowed to believe it.

This world will tell you that marriage is nothing more than a contractual agreement that can be defined by government. But you are allowed to believe otherwise. You are allowed to believe scripture that tells us God’s design is for marriage to be between a man and a woman. You are allowed to believe that God created marriage as a holy union, not a mere piece of paper to be used for political posturing, financial gain or social climbing. You are allowed to believe.

This world will ask you to bow down at the feet of celebrity. To celebrate those who would use money, sex and power to hold your attention. They are the flash and bang of sideshow magicians of centuries past, only their tricks are more impressive. But you are allowed to believe that honesty and purity are better attributes than half-naked women gyrating on stage for self-gain. This may surprise you, but you are allowed to believe that it’s wrong for commercial products to appeal to sexuality to market their goods. You are allowed to believe that good music doesn’t have to be about sex, drugs, committing crimes or degrading women. You’re allowed to believe it. You’re allowed to believe that television programs don’t have to force offensive characters into their dialogue to make them interesting. You’re allowed to believe that movies don’t have to glorify sex, murder and other worldly ills. You’re allowed to believe it!

This is a great country. A powerful country. But we are quickly becoming a country that says you’re only allowed to believe in everything but scripture. Don’t believe that. You are allowed to believe. And scripture tells us that God will bless any nation…any nation that trusts in God. If we want God to truly bless this nation, we must remember that we are allowed to believe.

But for too long, we’ve been afraid to say what we believe. We fear we have no right. And that is so wrong. We are allowed to believe.

And finally, this: you are allowed to believe that Jesus loves you. You are allowed to believe that he desperately wants you to know him. Seek him out. You’re allowed to believe that he has a plan for your life. Yes, you. And his plan is good. Better than good. It’s beyond your comprehension. You’re allowed to believe that if you just place this life in his hands, the next one is going to be amazing.

So believe.  It’s okay, you’re allowed to.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

So What's the Story Behind My New Song, I'm No Superhero?


My oldest son Morgan and I have this ritual at bedtime.

"Daddy, make up a song!" he requests. So I'll sing a silly song or a lullaby. Eventually, that morphed into a challenge to be more specific:  "Daddy, make up a song about elephants" or "Daddy make up a song about what we did today." It's a good songwriting exercise for me. Though I'll admit my rhyme schemes are typically pretty predictable when I'm making stuff up on the fly. One night, he hit me with this question:

"Daddy, are you a superhero?"

"No, son. I'm not. I can't fly. I can't break through walls. I'm just an ordinary man. But I'm trying to be the best daddy I can."

"Make up a song about it Daddy!" So this song began as a lullaby—at least the chorus anyway. I spent the next few months perfecting the lyrics, putting together verses and giving the song a deeper meaning. How often do we put people on a pedestal? In our marriages, our relationships, at work...perhaps even at church? At the end of the day, we're all just ordinary people trying to be better. Better dads, moms, co-workers, bosses, employees, believers, whatever.

So I initially wrote this song at bedtime with my 6-year old. But it has become much more than that.

It's a declaration of humanity. 

It’s an honest, self-assessment. And it's a reminder to the listener, to not expect too much from me:

"I am just an ordinary man, trying to do
my best and I still get hurt when I fall."

But then there's the bridge:

"But I'll wear this cape if you want me to.
Be your escape in this shade of blue.
Bullets can't stop me from being with you."

Sometimes we have to play the role of superhero, even when we don't believe it about ourselves. Sometimes, that's what it takes to profess our love, our devotion, our commitment. To my son, I say, "You need me to be a superhero today? Then I'll put on a cape and do my best to fly for you. Because that's how much I love you."

So that's the story behind my new single, I'm No Superhero. I hope you enjoy the song as much as I've enjoyed writing it…especially now knowing the story behind it.

If you haven't heard I’m No Superhero yet, you can buy it now for just 99 cents on iTunes. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Entitled



So I’m pulling into Target the other day and this car is sitting in the “no parking” zone. Of course, it’s blocking traffic for people heading in that direction, so we’re all having to wait for openings in order to get around the illegally parked vehicle. I’m sure the driver thought, “I know it says no parking, but it’s just for a second.” Once I get into the store, I grab my items and head to the register. I’m waiting, waiting, waiting. Then a new register opens up two aisles down. “I can take the next person in line!” the cashier shouts. Three people behind me, who had just shown up, rush over to take the spot. They weren’t the “next in line.” But no worries.

Then I go to 7-11 and a car zips into the handicapped parking spot. The driver jumps out. No, handicap sticker, no special plate. But she’s just running in real quick to get some cigarettes. Seriously, it’s only 30 seconds, what’s the big deal?

I make my way to the grocery store, where a woman is buying a boatload of sodas and chips. Limit 3 per customer, the sign says. So she has her kids pushing separate carts as well. Technically, they are separate customers so…what the heck?

Driving to work this morning I was doing 55mph in a 45mph zone. Hey, it’s just 10mph over the speed limit. No big deal, right? And besides, that road has six lanes. There’s no reason for it to be only a 45mph zone. It’s a stupid law. And I’m a responsible driver. I can handle this stretch of road at 55. Let those who can’t handle it drive the speed limit. I’m “different.”

When did we, as Americans, no as human beings, decide that some rules just don’t apply to us? Because we’re “special?” Because the rules are silly in the first place? Or perhaps because “I’m not really hurting anyone?”

I have a friend who gets paid in cash for his work. The government doesn’t need to know about that income, right? Hey, the IRS screws over so many people, it’s time some of us screwed them back. It’s only fair.

We’ve all heard the stories about people on welfare and food stamps who own iPhones and live rent-free on the government. And for some reason, those stories infuriate us. But at the end of the day, they are no different than the rest of us. This sense of entitlement in our country isn’t just for the poor. It’s all of us. We all want to believe we deserve to be treated differently. That some rules just don’t apply…or at least they shouldn’t. And, if you’re completely honest with yourself, you’re probably guilty of it somewhere along the way.

To you, parking in a handicapped slot for only a few seconds may not be a big deal. But to someone else it is. Speeding is a prerogative. Or jabbing Uncle Sam is okay. He’s not gonna miss my few bucks. But to others, those are serious offenses. You can’t choose how your sense of entitlement, no matter how big or small you view it, is going to impact someone else.

And that’s my beef with people who are against stronger background checks for gun sales. I know the majority of gun owners are responsible. They keep their guns locked up and out of the reach of their kids. They don’t clean loaded weapons. They never point a weapon at another person, not even jokingly, unless they seriously intend to use it. Good for you. But it’s not you I’m worried about. It’s those who say, “Hey, it’s a silly law. I should be able to sell my gun to whomever I want. It’s not my responsibility what they’re going to do with it after they’ve bought it.” And the gun ends up in the hands of a gang-banger or someone who doesn’t have the mental capacity to be a responsible gun owner. Even a farmer passing down a rifle to a grandson could have major repercussions down the road.

Now, you responsible gun owners are thinking, “that’s stupid. I shouldn’t be legislated because of a handful of irresponsible people.” Maybe YOU shouldn’t. But some should. Not everyone is as responsible as you. And while you see this as trivial as parking in the no parking zone for 3 minutes, it may have tremendous impact on someone else.

I would think that gun owners would be all for this legislation. If you’re truly a responsible gun owner who doesn’t want weapons to get into the wrong hands, if you’re tired of the image of gun owners being tarnished by the nutjobs who misuse a weapon or get one illegally, then why not be for stricter background check laws? Imagine what it would do for the image of the gun industry and for gun owners to whole-heartedly endorse this idea. It says, “We want ALL gun owners to be responsible ones.” It’s a win-win. Sometimes, the rules DO need to apply to everyone.

But maybe I’m crazy. I’ll just shut up now, skip out of the office early because my boss is out of town, stop by the front desk on the way out and grab three lollipops from the jar on the counter that says, “Take One!”, head to the movie theater where I’ll take up two parking spots because my car is nicer than anyone else’s and I don’t want it dinged, cut in line because I want to make sure I get the best seats and put a coat in the seat next to me so I have some more elbow room.

After all, I’m entitled.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Believe in Santa Claus


I believe in Santa Claus.

I’m not talking about the 4th century Greek bishop named St. Nicholas who gave up his riches to help the poor. Of course he existed. No, I’m talking about St. Nick, the chubby, jolly old elf with the white beard, red suit, and belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly when he laughs. That Santa. I believe in him.

Do I believe he sneaks into my house on Christmas Eve to plant presents under my tree? No, I do not. I’ve stayed up far too late wrapping presents to know better. Do I believe he lives in a magical, invisible workshop at the North Pole where hundreds of little elves make toys for good boys and girls? No, of course not.  I’ve been to Target. I know where the toys come from.

I don’t believe in flying reindeer or a sleigh that can bend the space-time continuum as to allow him to visit every house on the planet in one night.

But I do believe Santa exists. Because I’ve seen him.

He exists in the hearts of those who are true givers. People like my wife. She’s good at giving. It is just part of her nature. She’s miserable if she’s not doing something for someone else. That’s right, I married Santa!

I’ve seen Santa in a lot of my co-workers at Compassion International—people who have given their entire careers to helping poor children escape poverty. And I see him in the hundreds of thousands of sponsors who give to a child on the other side of the planet, simply because it’s the right thing to do. That’s Santa.

I see Santa in the volunteers at the soup kitchens, homeless shelters and church food pantries. I see him in those who organize fundraisers to clothe, feed and educate those less fortunate. I’ve seen Santa in the pastor of the small church who just wants to “feed the sheep” even though it requires getting a second job to make his own ends meet. I see Santa in the single moms and dads who have to pull double duty and sacrifice personal desires to make sure their children have everything they need. I saw him in my grandmother and my aunt and uncle who inherited five rowdy little orphans and did their best to make sure we all grew up healthy. 

Santa teaches Sunday School for kindergartners at my church. And he does the 5K every year to help raise money for those with cancer, Alzheimer’s, Down Syndrome and other disorders. Santa prays for people he's never even met. He’s a busy guy, this Santa.

So yeah, I believe in Santa Claus. And he doesn’t work just one night a year. He’ll be around in February, June, October…all year long. All you have to do is look for him. I bet you even know him. Heck, I bet you’re even Santa sometimes too.

If you believe in Santa like I do, tell the world. Share your stories of where you've seen Santa. This year, let’s tell the world we believe in Santa. Share this message. Share the “I Believe” button on your Facebook wall, or make it your profile pic. Tweet it.

It’s time we all started believing!

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wandering (And the Wondering) Soul

I’ve had a handful of friends in my life who, at one time, were passionate about their walk with Christ—only to walk away from Him at a later date. I don’t know if there’s anything more sorrowful.

Recently, one of my friends commented on how he now believes the entire story of Christ is a fairy tale, a “work of fiction” he called it. And my heart literally aches. How one goes from passionately pursuing a God who loves him so much to passionately running away from that same God is beyond me.

And then I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12, when he tells us that a “house divided against itself will fall.” (Matthew 12:25 paraphrased)

When we submit ourselves to our own desires, knowing that those desires are the antithesis of what God wants for us, we have to run. We must run. Because the two cannot occupy the same space. My friends who used to preach, pray and pursue Christ each found themselves divided. They came to a point where the struggle between wanting to follow Jesus and wanting to follow their own desires wouldn’t allow them to stand any longer. For one, it was homosexuality. For another it was porn and sexual addiction. And yet another found himself addicted to drugs. When those things try to dwell in the same temple as God, something has to give. The house will crumble.

 I understand why they had to run in this direction. It’s the only place they can feel safe in their sin. You see, if you can disprove God, if you can prove that the whole thing is a made up story then you can justify your actions. What does it matter, after all, to live in sin, if you can prove that the concept of sin is flawed?

Sadly, all of these friends of mine know me too well. So, in the height of hypocrisy, they point to my sins as a way of justifying their own…all while trying to tell me that the concept of sin is irrelevant anyway. “My sins aren’t sins because I don’t believe in the concept of sin. But you…I know your sins. So don’t preach to me about mine.”

So, they try hard to discredit the Gospel. And here, many would simply write them off. But not me. I think it’s a good thing. To me, the fact that they spend so much energy trying to disprove Christ is an indicator of the inner-turmoil that’s going on inside of them. As much as they want to let go of God, they can’t. Because God’s fingerprints don’t wash off easily. And, try as they may, they can’t seem to get the name of Jesus off their lips. Sure, it’s in a negative connotation right now, but that’s a very powerful name. And as long as they utter it—in a negative or positive sense—there’s a chance for that power to once again take hold.

 So, if you know someone who has walked away from God, don’t give up. If he/she is working hard to discredit faith it’s not a sign of a lost soul. It’s the sign of a soul that God is still wrestling for. And if you have walked away from your faith but find yourself trying to disprove Christ, ask yourself why. Why must you disprove him? What is it in your life that you need so bad, that it requires God’s story to be false?

My prayers go out to the wandering (and the wondering) souls.