Exactly What Kind of Tree Is This?

I am posting an article that I first wrote 11 years ago. For your enjoyment, I chose not to update the picture. I did update a couple of the outdated cultural references. I do find it (at least) odd that we are still talking about “The War on Christmas”.

Well, it’s that time of year again. Merry or Happy Holidays, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or whatever you celebrate or do not. I think that pretty well covers everyone.

So, with an ever-changing ethnic and religious landscape, exactly what kind of tree is this? The question has deep and abiding ramifications, yet the answer is simple. It depends largely on your personal preference. For most, this is a fir tree. However some prefer spruce and there are even a few who select from a variety of pine. Fewer still – mostly our southern friends – will enjoy cedar.

Obviously I am having a little fun with a topic that seems to be creating some national discussion… and even in our own household. What should we call this tree? This season? Is there a secret plot (led by the media, the Democratic party, the ACLU and Target) to remove Christ from Christmas? This scenario would probably make many conservative Christians feel better, but I’m not sure it is accurate.

I am an admitted (not yet recovering) techie. I love gadgets. For the most part, gadgets have helped me simplify my life… and lose what little bit of memory I may have had left. After all, if my computer and iPhone are going to remember a bit of information, why should I? I will even go so far as to admit that I have become dependent on all of these great tools. I can’t even show up at the gym anymore without bringing my iPhone along for the workout. What does that thought have to do with this discussion?

For Christians this high and holy season marks the birth of Jesus. Well, perhaps not the actual birth, but certainly the celebration of that event. He was probably born sometime between April and September as this is the time shepherds are out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Few would argue (Christian or not) that the religiosity of Christmas has changed in, say, the last twenty years. My own neighborhood demonstrates this truth. We like to drive around and look at the beautiful and varied displays of lights – think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. These days we are greeted by Santa and Frosty, an occasional Rudolph and a Christmas version of Homer Simpson. Usually these same characters are inflated to at least twice the size of the homeowner’s largest vehicle… it just works out that way. Our culture seems bent on at least expanding the definition of Christmas.

So is it up to Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson to save Christmas? Yes! And… not exactly. Yes, it does fall to Franklin and Pat and Rob and whatever your name is if you are a Jesus-follower. The job of keeping Christ in Christmas is ours. The reason He is not at the center of this holiday anymore is because of so-called Christians failing to keep Him there. There is no conspiracy. It is not the fault of pre-faith people that Jesus is being removed from Christmas. The only way that Jesus gets removed from Christmas is if we who believe remove Him. Christ leaves Christmas when Christ leaves me. And though He never technically leaves me, unfortunately there have been times I have left Him.

So what kind of tree is this? What kind of season are we celebrating? How do we keep Christ in Christmas?

  1. Be proactive, but not like you might think… make sure you understand and practice REAL Christmas.
  2. Don’t be like Herod… his answer was to kill everyone that could even possibly be associated with the Christ – resist the urge to do this in reverse.
  3. Be sensitive to the traditions of others… being sensitive doesn’t eliminate my voice or my understanding. In fact, it probably lends credence to it.

Gender Identity & A High Regard for Scripture: A Review of Understanding Gender Dysphoria

Disclaimer: the post that follows is a recent book review that I did for a Christian publisher. As such, I was mainly critiquing the author’s work.

transgender dysphoria

The main title for this review borrows a quote from the book’s author, Mark Yarhouse. He details a disparaging story (as most of his eventually are) of a man who, in his view, mishandled the Scripture in a public meeting regarding gender identity issues. This story and its following commentary left Yarhouse saying that he and the speaker had one thing in common – their high regard for Scripture. As I did not generally disagree that the public speaker had misinterpreted the Scripture in this instance, what left me excited was that the author of this book was almost immediately labeling himself as one with a high regard for Scripture. What followed was nothing of the sort. Page by wearying page I began to see that, if true at all, Mark Yarhouse had chosen to leave his high regard for Scripture out of this work. It is my singular negative opinion of the work in total.

Mostly this work is a cold and academic treatise. One is allowed to write in this way. I just found it odd in that his book dedication says, “To the church, the Body of Christ…”

Having said all that, I do believe there is value here. Most of what he says is not unscriptural. I do believe he does an excellent job defining the key terms in and around this discussion. For that alone, from an academic viewpoint, the book may be worth the read. I also find it painfully valuable to hear story after story of churches and leaders who damaged the name of Jesus by their dismissive (often worse) handling of this sensitive issue.

His lack of biblical connectivity should also compel us to approach the whole of Scripture to seek what it has to say to these types of difficult issues. So my biggest negative here could turn out to be the greatest unintentional takeaway from this book. How do the Scriptures, both by direct address to humanness and indirect principles flowing through its pages, speak to issues of which most of academia believe them to be silent?

He does give some solid general biblical concepts as final suggestions, though the Scriptures are never mentioned as the source for these great ideas.

As the crushing tide of public opinion continues to rush the shores of biblical Christianity, compassionate conservatism cannot simply be a political moniker used in news bites. Through the sacred pages of Scripture flows the strongest of tides – the redemptive love of Jesus. It is for that reason and because of that message that our starting and ending places must be its holy pages. May we continue to hold back the darkness with the light of Christ, revealed to us in His Word.

I’m Not Better Than You… I Just Think I Am.

Irishman with God ComplexPlease keep reading. One of the ugliest truths about myself that I have had to come to terms with is hiding in the back half of this post’s title. My head and heart are almost constantly overestimating my own worth. It has always been this way. Always. It began in the Garden of Eden. It is the sure bet of the serpent as he asked a simple question, “Hath God said…?” He knew the answer. He knew they knew the answer. He wasn’t really even asking a question. He was betting on the fact that Adam & Eve thought they were equal to or better than God himself. He was right… they did. And, in moments, so do I. But it usually manifests itself in other ways than me v. God.

Most of my “I think I’m better than you” moments happen related to my fellow-humans. It shows up in election years and Black History Month and almost any topic where I feel more enlightened, more evolved, or just plain more right than you. I can’t think of a time when I feel this way about people who happen to share my opinion. My struggle with myself and my heart is always aimed at those who think differently than me.

What help does the Scripture offer to this struggle?
1. I have it backwards.

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

2. I have misdefined all the terms.

Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor.
Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

What to do? In practical terms and in my own practice, I have borrowed from the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous. This approach may not be helpful to you, but I see my own pride and overestimation as very similar to the addict’s plight. So read these and see if they are not helpful to you as you consider a healthy approach to self. Just change out “alcohol” for “pride”.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

No matter your addiction – and that’s what pride is – this is healthy re-orientation!

Responding to Gay Marriage

gayandlesbianAwhile ago I wrote a piece that that went crazy. In case you missed it, you can find it here… LGBT: It’s All or Nothing. If you didn’t think this was an important issue… clearly, it is. For those who are interested, I thought we could dig down a bit today. This is a re-post that contains years of my own study and thought on the issue. Not coincidentally, several of the responses that follow are from friends of mine who happen to be gay. Grab a cup of coffee. This will take a minute.

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The very unusual length of this post (at least by my standards) demonstrates the complexity of this issue. I have friends who think this is a simple discussion. I would challenge you to re-think your position.

Clearly this is a topic that is super-charged with opinion and emotion… within the church and in the greater community. The left would say love and acceptance is the way of Jesus. All the while the right would point out the texts on the topic that seem to deal merely with condemnation.

I prefer a sandwich approach to the discussions. Admittedly this is more than a little corny. But I think you’ll see where I’m trying to go with this. While a Truth Sandwich certainly sounds best to my lofty view of Scripture, instead I have chosen the Love Sandwich from the spirit of Ephesians 4:15.

Allow me to develop the sandwich analogy a bit. You’ve probably had a sandwich that was mostly bread. Not so tasty, right? Why not? It’s not really what a sandwich is made for. Bread is good. Necessary for a diet even. But a sandwich implies that there is something else in between the slices of bread. In fact, we name it a _______ sandwich. What goes in the blank depends on your vegetarian/meatetarian inclinations. But the point is the same. The sandwich is known for what is in the middle.

In developing my position on the gay and lesbian discussion from a Christian perspective, I am seeking to be thoroughly biblical and surrounded – on both sides actually – by truth. However, what I want to be known for in this discussion is by what is in the middle. I want even my truth to be flavored by the love. Hence, the Love Sandwich.

Here are a few other cursory reasons:

1. most gays and lesbians are already familiar with the truth as the Bible states it
2. most gays and lesbians have not experienced much (if any) Christian love
3. while the truth may set you free, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance

For starters when I began full-time Christian ministry 17 years ago I had zero friends who I was sure were gay or lesbian. That was my fault and part of the culture I was raised in. It’s not that I didn’t have any gay people around me growing up… I did. I just didn’t want or know how to relate to them. So I ignored that part of their reality and put my friendship with them mostly off limits… at least for that phase of my life. In the last few years I have been able to renew some of those friendships and begin to right some of those wrongs.

When you have friends who are gay and lesbian it takes the conversation to a whole new level. In fact until I started reaching out to people who are gay and lesbian, I’m not sure I really thought about it all that much.  When you start to listen, you hear their stories of the hatred and bigotry they have had to endure. And while the Matthew Shepard story may sound like an extreme, most gay and lesbian people have experienced vitriolic hatred that is similar in kind. They almost daily endure denigrating speech and mistreatment. It was from this place that I began to really think about what it meant to have a truly Christian perspective related to the gay and lesbian discussion.

So what does it mean to have a truly Christian perspective? Here’s how I have begun to digest it. Typically I hate lists for several reasons. Among them is that people almost always take them to be all-inclusive… even if the list-er says they’re not. The only reason I have chosen to use a list format here is to show the division and separation of items in my thinking. I have chosen to use a somewhat chronological approach. In other words, I generally think of the things mentioned here in this order…

1. I know there are some ultimate conclusions that I am going to have to draw from the data that I am able to mine from the Scriptures.

2. I know that I don’t know what it means or feels like to be gay.

3. I know that the gay and lesbian communities have, generally speaking, been treated horribly by the evangelical church.

4. I know that God created man in His image and as such all human beings have equal value… that is a truly pro-life position.

5. I know that the Scriptures have, at times, confusing and at other times, silent messages about gay and lesbian issues.

6. I know that the Scriptures ultimately seem to disapprove of same-gendered sexual relations in similar fashion to the way it disapproves of inappropriate heterosexual relationships  – i.e. (but not limited to) adultery.

7. I choose to live with this tension and maintain loving friendships with gay and lesbian friends… whether or not they ever become not gay.

8. I do so based on the teaching of Jesus. Because I am a follower of Jesus I do not believe that someone’s choices/persuasions/propensities give me an excuse to bad-mouth, slander or do anything but love every person made in His image.

So what is the Christian thing to do? Most of us have been content to arrive at a position that we feel can make us right before God. While there are plenty of theological difficulties with that approach, allow me in closing to address the practical problem. If all we do is identify what we think God’s mind is on this issue (which by itself is a pretty hefty claim), I believe we fall short because it fails to offer any solutions regarding how we treat those who do not agree with our findings for whatever reason.

I challenge all of us who follow Jesus to have a thoroughly thought-through and equally biblical, practical perspective.

Do Good Christians Doubt?

dealing with doubtThe skeptic’s most frequently asked question must be, “If God is real and he is good, why would he allow suffering?” But skeptics are hardly alone in their questioning. The very point of this post is to shine some light in the direction of the post’s title: Do good Christians doubt? The way I have heard most Christians respond to this question seems to imply that true faith seeks to resist and eliminate doubt. I find such an approach to be disingenuous, misleading, and downright destructive. Let’s talk about why. Everyone doubts. If you don’t today, you may tomorrow, and you certainly will someday. Subscribing to the faith-equals-no-doubt approach forces me to think that if/when I doubt I have tainted or lost my faith. I believe the opposite of this is true. My friend Leslie was recently told she has a brain aneurism. I have asked her permission to retell part of her story, as it specifically relates to doubt. She has been writing in great detail about her journey. She told me why she has chosen to write.

I was just very convicted to share this walk. The good, bad and ugly parts. Why would Christ allow this if He wasn’t planning on using it for His glory? I look forward to seeing what God does with all this.

A significant part of what I know God has already done because of Leslie’s willingness to invite us into her journey is that I have revisited my understanding of the nature of doubt. Before a recently scheduled surgery to implant a device into her brain, Leslie was required to take some medication that would cause her blood to thin and help to avoid clotting during the surgery. In her words…

… as soon as I take that medication, my blood begins to “thin” and my platelets are inhibited. And, I found out, that, should my aneurysm rupture in the next two weeks, this medication would take my survival chances from 20-40% to basically ZERO. Learning that, especially knowing that my aneurysm isn’t stable, it is growing and changing at a rapid rate, my world stopped. So, when it came time to take those pills on Monday, I couldn’t. I am ashamed to admit that I could not even trust the Lord when He has promised over and over again to not leave me or forsake me. I sat and looked at these bottles of pills for what seemed like hours, debating, devastated over the truth that what was required to save me, could also kill me.

When faced with difficult and life-threatening realities, doubt and fear are quick and close. But are they enemies or friends? The answer is likely in how you handle them. Think of your physical body. Most of us would agree that pain is not a good thing. But it can be. Imagine if you were hurt and could not feel pain. A dear friend of mine was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident. After the accident he had to learn to be extra cautious with regard to extreme temperature coming into contact with his lower body. Because he had no feeling it was entirely possible for him to severely burn his flesh and not even know it was happening. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking on lately regarding doubt:

  1. Doubt Is Not the Absence of Faith. Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. Doubt is a human emotion and only confirms that I am such. I am honestly more nervous about people of faith who seem to never have any doubt. My experience with them is that they are either disconnected from reality or downright denying it. Having worked with doubters and skeptics for years (and been one), I have learned to believe and teach that God is ok with your questions and doubt. He is bigger than them. He desires for you to ask so that he may answer.
  2. Doubt Can Strengthen Faith. When I come to God with my questions and I believe that he is ok with me asking, my heart is open to hear his response. Then when I find that answer, be it in Scripture or in my spirit, I am quite naturally inclined to believe again. All of this is impossible without acknowledging doubt.
  3. Doubt Can Be Debilitating. While I’m sure you see where I’m coming from with relation to doubt, I do believe their are limits. Living with serial doubt can, and likely will, crush a person’s spirit. Having frequent and sizable questions is one thing. Refusing to accept God-given answers is another thing altogether. I love the Scripture that reminds us of the proper flow… ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

So bring your doubt. Run to Jesus. Ask your questions. Expect to hear from him. In the end your faith will be strengthened.

Graduation Sunday for Process Church

graduationThree years ago Process Church had its final service. That is a day I will never forget. This is the email I sent to our supporters that evening…

Today’s goal was beautifully accomplished… brag on the good things God has done in our midst. There were stories of lives changed and lives challenged to see Jesus with new eyes. There were multiple stories of people who still do not yet believe but were thankful for a safe place to come and explore faith. The theme I tried to leave in each of our hearts was one of definitions. For the obvious reasons I’ve been studying the word “failure”. While there are many uses of the word, we only qualify in the most technical sense. And that is mainly because of how we allow the Scripture to define another word… “success.” I read from Joshua chapter 1 and was doing ok (no I wasn’t) until I hit verse 8… “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so that you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Because that has been the work of Process Church from day one… we have been successful!

To give Satan ZERO room for impact… you must know that there is no scandal. I’m not running off with my secretary – mainly because I’m crazy in love with my wife – never mind that I did not have a secretary. And though money was never our strongest link, we always paid our bills on time and will somehow do so with the startup debt that remains. Our friends at the New Dawn Theater even offered us to stay rent-free for the rest of 2012 if that would keep us going. But it is so many little things that bring us to this moment. The beauty is that all of us know we did all that we possibly could to make it continue and grow and thrive. So we hold our heads high.

The question I am asked most relates to what we’ll do next. We (the McQuearys) will do what all of us now-former Process-ers will do… we’ll recover. We’ll find new places to worship and serve and learn. Most importantly we will keep journeying with Jesus. In all the important ways nothing has changed. Collectively we walk away from Process Church knowing that our Boot Camp is over and we are about to be deployed. I have a simple request this week. Pray that all of us will believe the truth… that will be enough.

Today’s pic-of-the-week is the visual I chose to leave in our minds today. Today wasn’t a funeral… or even a finish line. Today was Graduation Sunday.

Nothing Is Beyond You

nothingbeyondThe famed artist Rich Mullins was working on a project at the time of his untimely death. Some fellow-artists took up that project and finished it in his honor. Among those tunes are this gem… one of my all-time favorites. I love the way it attempts to describe the otherness of God.

Where could I go, where could I run
Even if I found the strength to fly
And if I rose on the wings of the dawn
And crashed through the corner of the sky
If I sailed past the edge of the sea
Even if I made my bed in Hell
Still there You would find me

‘Cause nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

Time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
Death has lost its sting
And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

If I should shrink back from the light
So I can sink into the dark
If I take cover and I close my eyes
Even then You would see my heart
And You’d cut through all my pain and rage
The darkness is not dark to You
And night’s as bright as day

Nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

And time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
And death has lost its sting
And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

The Spirit of Jesus and Religious Freedom

Indiana Religious Freedom ActWith all of the venom (from both sides of the issue) coming from and to Indiana regarding the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I thought it might be helpful to be reminded of the words of Jesus. The phrase I use in this title is one I have come to use frequently. I am often asked what I mean by it. As I understand it, the spirit of Jesus is the heartbeat behind what he said and did. This is from Jesus’ words in Luke 6:

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Morality cannot be legislated. The way of Jesus was and will always be beyond politics. Particularly if you claim to be one of his followers, what do you hear in the above (unedited) words of Jesus?

Identity: Knowing Who You Are

RafikiI’d like to begin by exposing my qualifications for writing on this topic. For the last 44+ years I have been trying to discover who I am. Like you, there have been times I thought I was getting close and many more moments that I simply did not have a clue. And while this is entirely a human problem, it manifests itself most particularly in western men. We throw ourselves into our work (which in some ways, we were meant to) and in the end have a difficult (if not, impossible) time distinguishing who we are from what we do.

There is a scene in Disney’s The Lion King that has always highlighted this reality well. Though, ironically, even its answer is incomplete.

Rafiki: Asante sana Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana.
Simba: Come on, will you cut it out?
Rafiki: Can’t cut it out. It will grow right back. Hehehe.
Simba: Creepy little monkey. Would you stop following me! Who are you?
Rafiki: The question is, who… are you?
Simba: [sighs] I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.
Rafiki: Well, I know who you are! Shh. Come here, it’s a secret.
[Whispers, then grows louder]
Rafiki: Asante sana Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana!
Simba: Enough already! What’s that supposed to mean, anyway?
Rafiki: It means you’re a baboon… and I’m not.
Simba: I think you’re a little confused.
Rafiki: Wrong! I’m not the one who’s confused. You don’t even know who you are!
Simba: Oh, and I suppose you know?
Rafiki: Sure do. You’re Mufasa’s boy!
[Simba turns around to look at him, shocked]
Rafiki: Bye!

The Challenge of Western Thought
In the west we have come to largely, if not exclusively, value people based on external factors. Don’t believe me? Describe the majority of questions on a typical job application. Contact Information, Education, Work History, etc. – in general, these are the quick and seemingly sensible ways we categorize each other, yet they are wanting. Before we get too far down this path, I am not completely voting to eliminate all elements of western thinking. I’m advocating for an expansion of this way that can lead us toward identity.

This typical classification reinforces that the highest personal value is what school one is able to afford, their race and gender, and what companies have benefitted from their presence. There are certainly times when these questions are relevant, but they leave us with little to no understanding of the individual. One can attend the finest school in the country and pay or push or cheat their way through. Don’t even get me started on race and gender. And just because you’ve worked for a Fortune 500 company does not guarantee that you are a person of character who made them better by your having worked there.

The Challenge Is Gender-Inclusive
I do believe men tend to struggle with this more deeply than women for a number of reasons. First, is the myopia of men. We are generally nearsighted. This is why we can only see well the things closest to us. Most guys deal with things one at a time until they are finished. Second, western culture has assigned the highest male value to the answer to the question, “What do you do?” Ask any man. This is almost always one of the very earliest introductory questions in any social setting.

But don’t think this automatically excludes women. Have you seen the Facebook footprints of most young mothers? What will you find? Pictures of children. Normal enough, I suppose. But every day and every tooth and step and…? Some moms even go so far as to exchange their own profile picture for one of their child. Women are equally challenged to distinguish their role and their identity.

The Way Forward
While I am unapologetically Christian and run all of this through that grid, I think these principles translate to anyone. There are three primary things that I am learning to do. They incorporate the values that we have come to know in the five senses. I see taste, touch, and smell as relatives that all embody experience. Sight is manifested in our ability to observe both ourselves and all that surrounds us. And hearing, surely in our context, is much more than the ability to distinguish sound… it is all about listening. Let’s deal with them in reverse order of their mention above:

Listening
As we seek to know who we are this may be the most valuable asset of all in discovering our identity. Listening includes study and silence and the discipline of making space for those things. It is also about hearing from others. There are people who know me as well or better than I know myself. I have found great advantage in allowing them to speak into my life as well.

Observing
This may be the most difficult of the three. It involves a different set of measurements than the ones with which we are familiar. It values presence over completion. It is as much about awareness as it is discovery. Observation can, and probably should, include all of the five senses. This takes time. It requires being in tune to whispers within that we are not even accustomed to hearing at all. In time the combination of what you hear for yourself and from others will mix with what you are observing in the world around you and lead you to the final principle.

Experiencing
Some of knowing who you are is simple trial and error. How can you know something is in or out, if you have never attempted it? For me, at least, this has not been about shots in the dark. I allow my even my experiences to be informed by my listening and observing. And while I am involved an experience that may play a major part in my identity, I put my listening and observing skills into overdrive. Amazingly these disciplines become skills that help me know who I am.

In the end I hope to learn, as Simba did, that I am not just someone’s son (though I am proudly that). I am the only version of me that has ever been created. And in a culture that sadly emphasizes being one of the “cool kids”, I am most interested in discovering the uniqueness that is me.

God’s Most Difficult Command

THE BOOK OF ELIThe Bible is filled with commands that followers of Jesus are meant to embrace. Perhaps none is more difficult than the one found in Proverbs 3:5-6…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do…

Sounds simple, you say? I suppose at first reading, it may. But when you start to think of its application, and further, its implication, the admonition becomes downright scary. For the thinking person, the questions are likely to start flowing. How do you trust in something/one that is invisible? Does not depending on your own understanding necessitate suspending your intellect? Does seeking his will mean abandoning my own desires? And these are all fair (and answerable) questions. Let’s tackle each of them.

How do you trust in something/one that is invisible?
The answer is simple… notice I did not say easy. The only way to trust is to decide that you are going to attempt to trust. Look at another reality in which this is difficult – the fear of flying. For some, the thought of trusting the technology of an airplane to safely transport them is crippling. So how do you conquer that fear? Unless you are a former hulking NFL football player/commentator, the answer cannot be not flying. And, sorry Mr. Madden, that cannot be the answer for you either. To conquer fear we must fight it. That gets us headed in the right direction with trusting Jesus, too.

Does not depending on your own understanding necessitate suspending your intellect?
For an unfortunate number of Christians it would seem that the answer is all-too-often, “yes”… but, no! No, not depending on your own understanding and suspending your intellect are not the same thing. So exactly how does this work? It works by admitting that I don’t know exactly all of how it works. There is a required humility that is the linchpin in this entire discussion. If you believe that your thoughts are the beginning and end of all discussions, not only will this be woefully apparent to others, it will also be repellant. I prefer to focus on what this means instead of what it does not. For me this is about admitting that God knows more than I do and submitting my “wisdom” to his wisdom.

Does seeking his will mean abandoning my own desires?
This one is a “yes” and “no”. Again, what this really comes down to is… “Who’s in charge?” If I demand control of my life, trusting God becomes more than difficult – it will be nearly impossible. However, if I believe that the one who made me also dreams bigger dreams for me than I ever could for myself, it becomes much more pleasurable. Or put another way, I seek to discover his plans and those plans become my own!

Only after wrestling through the first part of this passage does the second part come to life:

… he will show you which path to take.

And isn’t this what we’re looking for? Direction. Guidance. Clarification. We want to know that the road we’re on is the right one. For the Christian this assurance is found by obeying God’s most difficult command: trust me. And as we learn to trust, we learn that the prophet Isaiah was right, his ways are not our ways. God’s ways transcend our best attempts.

Ferguson and Immigration: Root v. Fruit

roots1So I had a mostly-written article on immigration that I started over the weekend and then on Monday evening came news from Ferguson, Missouri of the the grand jury’s decision. I opted to scrap much of what I had written and lean into the heat of the Ferguson situation, as I see them both in much the same way. News sources and the internet are ablaze with fruit. There is little talk of what is at the root of all of it. Because my audience is largely Christian, my appeal in all of this is to seek the roots for Jesus’ sake. Not only “what would Jesus do?”, but “what did Jesus do?”.

As is unfortunately usual, most Christians fall right into the laps and traps of anger-mongering newscasters bent on pedaling their version of truth. We argue the specifics of what’s going on (fruit) and deflect any conversations that address the why’s (root). Allow me to suggest a better path… likely not easier… or more simple, but better in that it deals with the root.

Position Not Pigment
This first part is huge. For better or worse I don’t think the primary issue is simply the color of one’s skin anymore. Racism has evolved into classism. Don’t believe me? Follow your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline and watch what is being said about these two issues (left or right). Better yet, who is doing the talking? The voices that are being pedaled seldom come from a position of poverty let alone proximity to Ferguson or immigration. Because most people on the street do not care about the voices of people on the street. We want to know what our favorite famous talking head is saying. And it happens equally from both sides of the aisle. So if this is the offense, what are we to do about it? Jesus was constant in message and practice that our focus should be on the least and the last. What if we applied that reach to these two issues? What would need to change?

Do Ask Don’t Tell
American Christianity is primarily focused on results. Ask pastors what is the first question they are asked by other pastors at “________ Really Awesome Christian Conference”. I guarantee the answer to that question has something to do with a focus on outwardly visible and measurable results. Because of this reality, much of our approach as Christian leaders has been to come up with a plan that fixes said problem and produces the kinds of results that are visible and measurable.

When it comes to these types of conversations I am deeply stricken with my own lack of knowledge. I don’t know. I don’t know what it feels like to grow up in daily legitimized fear of the police. I don’t know what it feels like to risk everything to leave my country of origin in hope of a better way of life for my family. My results-orientation has often forced me to pretend that I do know. I must come up with some kind of solution.

I think we need to stop trying to tell the disadvantaged how to think/act/be. What if, instead, we adopted a position of asking. Yes, I realize that this removes us from a position of authority and jeopardizes our grasp of tangible results. The hardest part of this for most of us is that we don’t really know anyone in either of these two categories. That would be a good first step. Get to know someone that experiences the things that you and I do not. Ask them what they think needs to be done. Listen.

Penitence Over Politics
One of the truths that I have been changed most by in recent years is this… if Jesus matters, he has to matter in context. My observation is that in discussions of this nature, Christians – like anyone else – are most likely to go to their respective political corners before returning to the middle of the ring to duke it out. This is backwards. I’m not saying our politics do not play a role in our faith, but it is our faith that should inform our politics, not the other way around.

Asking “what does the law say?” is not necessarily a bad question. I just don’t think it’s always the most important question. The most important question for a Christian is always “what does Jesus say?” Certainly Jesus did not address either of these issues specifically or as we understand them in our American context. He did, however, often speak about and act upon seeing all people through the same lens… his children in need of his redemption. That’s me, too.

A Better Path
Often my default response is silence and inaction. But what if we began to head in a different direction than our basest impulses? What if we sought a better path? Certainly this would be more difficult than following the masses. Certainly it will be hard work. Certainly following the aforementioned types of suggestions are in keeping with the spirit of Jesus. Ready. Set. Go.

Mars Hill Church: A Cautionary Tale

DriscollI have stared at a near-blank page every day since the news of the unraveling of Mars Hill Church. All I had previously written was the title. This was no classic case of writer’s block. There is a big part of me that would rather saying nothing at all about the recent happenings in and around Seattle. There is certainly plenty that I don’t know. I don’t know Mark Driscoll. Some of my hesitance to write is because of what I do know. I know that Christians seem to be known for shooting their wounded. I don’t want to do that. I also know Mark and I are from the same generation – we’re actually the same age. I have many friends who were and are part of the Acts 29 Network which he helped start. And I know I have been challenged by some of Mark’s earliest writings. I know I always want the spirit of Jesus to flavor my actions. Sometimes that means not writing certain things – other times it means writing hard truths in a loving way.

The Bigger the Personality, the Harder they Fall
I don’t think it’s Mark’s fault (necessarily) that he is a person with a megatron personality. In fact, my theology (view of God) leads me to believe that God creates the personalities within us. That said, part of our journey is learning to submit all of ourselves to God’s control. The problems begin when our personalities leapfrog God and put us in his spot. Most of the scandals in recent memory (Jesus world or not) include an individual whose personality in some way eclipsed their reality.

Structural Audits
The churches I know and respect systematically submit themselves to financial audits. They do so for accountability and transparency. Perhaps a structural audit would also be a good idea. This likely would not have to happen with the frequency of a financial audit, but here are some birdseye thoughts. Have an outside (completely independent of the lead pastor) source come in a for a week or more and assess the leadership structure. They would need to be given unfettered access and permission to ask hard questions. This kind of look would at least challenge an individual that may be prone to creating a spiritual monarchy.

Multi-Site Footnote
From the beginning I have questioned the general wisdom of a multi-site approach that has one man as the primary teacher. I just think it sets a guy, whose personality is already a challenge, up to fail. I’m not saying it can never work, but I think local assemblies and shepherds are the preferred way to go. Ironically that may be the only way former Mars Hill satellites survive this ordeal.

Finally, please know that I am cheering for Mark Driscoll. I’m hoping that he will listen to voices that will tell him the truth. I’m praying that he will take time to heal and reflect on how all of this has transpired. Jesus, help Mark to be restored for the sake of your great name!