What Would You Do For A Job?

I’ve been asking myself this question recently on a number of levels. In just a moment and in unusual order, I’ll start with the answer and work backwards.

First you need to know that I have been unexpectedly unemployed for the last three months. For the first time since I was 14 years old I found myself without a job.

So what would you do for a job? Would you shave for a job? For me, this was a more difficult question than you might imagine. I’ve had a beard (more or less) for the 9 years we’ve lived in Georgia… and other times before that, too. Ultimately, the answer was, “Yes.”

I love a number of things pretty deeply. Sticking with the reverse order that we’ve already established, they include things like baseball, my friends, my life’s work, my family, and following Jesus. So what does any of that have to do with the original question? Everything.

Ok… maybe not the baseball part, but everything else. It is not by mistake (for me) that #’s one and three (in the above reverse order scheme) are inextricably linked. If you’ll allow me a moment of pause, I’ll deal with #2, which will allow me to close this strange reverse-order loop. #2 is my family. A bit strange to put family second? Well, only if you don’t know how connected I am to Jesus. My relationship to him literally informs all of my other relationships. So the somewhat obvious answer to the initial question as it relates to reverse-order #2 (my family) is… just about anything… as long as it is legal and does not compromise my connection to #’s 1 and 3.

All of the above banter leads me happily back to a discussion of the real answer to the posed question. And leans into another simple question… why? Why was I willing to do pretty much anything to be employed again? One, because I love my family and I am responsible to help provide for them. But the biggest reason I was willing to do just about anything was because I believe that doing what you have to do helps pave the road for where you really want to go.

That #3 thing about my life’s work is tied directly to #1. I believe that God placed me on this earth to do and be something unique for him. My desire has always been to help Christians grow in their faith by better understanding the Bible and learning to live it out in real time. I have a different way of seeing life that has allowed (no, demanded) me to have friendships with many people who do not see faith the same as me. So, everything in this post before this sentence is completed by this simple statement. I would do just about anything vocationally that enables me to pursue my life’s work. Whatever that is for you… do that.

As of tomorrow morning, say hello to the newest Event Planner at Publix Store #560 in Peachtree Corners, GA.

 

 

Advertisements

Churches As Hospitals

Churches As HospitalsThe other day I posted the above quote. It raised quite a bit of online and offline discussion. So much so, that I felt it could and should be discussed further.

In my understanding, this quote is an analogous attempt to contrast two ideas. 1.) Churches as museums… where ideas and artifacts and histories are placed on display versus 2.) Churches as hospitals… where the wounded, hurt, injured, and broken find healing.

I do agree with one friend who said, “Churches have become more like Facebook, with people only sharing what they want you to know while hiding so many of their struggles.” Another friend expressed her concerns with the hospital analogy this way, “Odd analogy ‘tho since most people don’t hang out indefinitely for kicks in hospital once healed.” So why do I think this “churches as hospitals” analogy is valid?

  1. Healed and whole are not the same thing. This actually speaks to the concerns mentioned above by both of my friends. Many/some/most churches seem to value what I call Facade Christianity – focusing mostly on perceived output. The reality is that none of us are perfect. Ever. I have a friend whose church attempts to live it out in one of their core values this way, “No pretending. No need to.”
  2. The safest places on the planet. Many/some/most churches say “come as you are”; but really mean, “Come as you are until this date when we think you should fully conform to our ideas of what it means to follow Jesus.” I know this may be the hardest part of the analogy for Christians. They will fire back that the gospel is offensive and should make people feel uncomfortable when they are in opposition to it. Church ought to be a welcoming place that allows people to come and explore faith indefinitely… just as they are.
  3. Churches should be the hope of the world. If this is not true of your church, stay as long as you can without losing your own hope, and try to effect change. If they are unwilling or unable to change, run. Find a compassionate, broken, safe place that encourages all people to come and be infused by the life-giving joy and peace that can be found in Jesus.

The Goal of re:THINK

rethink
So exactly what am I trying to do with re:THINK? To answer that question well I need to tell a little bit about the journey that I’ve been on myself these last few years.

I have been blessed to grow up in the church. All of my earliest memories involve being in church and learning to love and understand the Scriptures. I still believe that following Jesus is a worthwhile pursuit. However…

Almost ten years ago now I began asking myself a difficult-to-deal-with question. It was very simply this… “If following Jesus is a worthwhile pursuit, why am I not doing more to demonstrate that to people who do not believe?” I wasn’t consumed by it… at first. It didn’t keep me awake nights… at first. It was persistent.

Around that same time I was reading all these books that were challenging the way in which I understood faith. Frankly, I was beginning to question the very essence of what it means to be Christian. In the midst of that wrestling I was certain that part of the answer was to start thinking differently about how I express my faith in Jesus to others.

In the summer of 2008 we began planting the seeds of what would become Process Church. Never before had I been so beautifully connected to people who were outside of faith. And as I began and continued to form friendships with people far from God, what I learned was that one of the biggest obstacles to them understanding the Good News about Jesus was, in fact, the way that Christians handled themselves. It was rarely about what Christians believed. It was almost always more about how Christian people expressed what they believed.

Having said all of that, my goal in writing this blog is to challenge those of us that identify as followers of Jesus to reexamine, reevaluate, and yes, re-THINK what it means to be Christian. Are you willing? Will you do the hard work and ask difficult questions of yourself? There is too much at stake to do otherwise.

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.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

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.

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?

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.

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!

What re:THINK Is Not About

think2As important as it is to say what you are trying to be about, I find it equally important to state what I am not trying to do or redo with this blog. The spirit of re:THINK is not to claim to know the best way. This is not about I’m right and you’re wrong. I understand that I do not necessarily see things any more clearly or better than anyone else.

Also, this is not about winning an argument… more about that to come. My experience has been that when you take a stance of trying to prove that you are right and everyone who sees it differently than you do is wrong… everyone loses.

That said, this is also not about “anything goes”… your truth v. my truth. I have observed that both ends of the spectrum are usually wanting. If the polar ends are ignorance and intelligence, both come knocking with arrogance. I will try to avoid both extremes by holding and discussing positions wrapped in humility.

Finally, this is not about me. Frankly I’m more than a little uncomfortable with a website that bears my name… and putting my picture on a website… etc. This is not about me. My aim is to create and challenge us to have thinking and conversation that is more in line with the teaching of Jesus. What are you about?

A November Experiment

calendar-2For the last two years I have been trying to find and establish an identity that defines “re:THINK”. I have listened and written and observed your responses to conversations. As I have said from the beginning, I especially enjoy challenging followers of Jesus to reexamine, reevaluate, and re:THINK what it means to be Christian.

During the month of November we will interact with the heart of where this blog is headed. I believe I have learned what that is supposed to look (and sound) like. Your reaction this month will prove it. Please share with others – it’s easy. Click your favorite social media connection below!

Stay Salty My Friends

Landmine Interesting CelebrityJesus tells His followers that…

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

What was He saying?

Contextually this has to be about discipleship. The latter half of Luke 14 has this as its theme. Jesus is explaining what it takes to follow Him. Here’s my take on what it means to be salty and how to stay that way.

I believe the text is talking about flavor or influence. Jesus is teaching us that the best way to represent Him is to be a compelling follower. Is it possible to do this too much or too little?

I love salty snacks. I prefer a bowl of popcorn over a bowl of ice cream any day. You know the saying that you can’t get too much of a good thing? It’s a lie… you salt 1can. Several months ago I discovered that my blood pressure had skyrocketed due in large part to my addiction to salt. Similarly I remember a time I made cookies and mistakenly swapped teaspoons of salt for tablespoons. Needless to say, those were nasty cookies.

Have you ever been around a Christian who was too salty? Well meaning… trying to add flavor and influence… but completely unpalatable.

There is also the very real possibility of not being salty enough. I was eating a bag of pretzels the other day. They were supposed to be salted. I think they had 3 or 4 granules of salt per pretzel. Not tasty.

I know Christians like this as well. They say they are following Christ yet nothing about their life is influential in that regard.

So how do we stay salty? Want to. The #1 thing that holds me back from being salty is me. I enjoy chasing things that don’t matter… good things even. I substitute influence for congruence. I try to fit in when what I should be doing is helping those outside of Christ to find freedom by fitting into His plan.

There is no substitute for time with God. Nothing can replace the saltiness gained from spending time allowing God to do His transformative work.