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!

Death With Dignity, Suicide, or Something Else?

Brittany MaynardThe beginning and end of this discussion should be charity, sorrow, and grief. A young woman just a few years older than my oldest daughter is dead. Her husband, family, and those that loved her are grieving. Instead of trying to win an argument, perhaps that knowledge should drive our discussions ahead of our own personal opinions. May we write and speak as if each of them is reading and listening.

The Absolutes of Scripture
For most of us that are trying to follow Jesus, the Bible is our go-to and our safety. When an issue arises within culture we immediately ask, “What does the Bible say?” There are certainly hosts of times when the answer to that question deals sufficiently with the cultural issue at hand, so we apply the Bible to our lives accordingly. Is it sufficient to only allow others to tell us what they think the Bible says about certain issues? These often well-meaning individuals could not be more wrong in terms of “truths” they claim the Bible teaches. What do we do when the Bible does not speak definitively?

When Scripture Isn’t Obvious
I am thankful to have grown up in a context that valued the authority of Scripture. In large part because of that, I do too. However, much of the way Scripture was handled in my upbringing was like this… I approach the Bible with a list of issues in hand and I try to find a verse that seems to deal with said issue. This often lead(s) to poor exegesis and/or dangerous eisegesis. Instead of forcing a text to speak to something it simply does not, it gives us credibility to admit that Scripture is simply not obvious when it is not.

When Scripture Is Silent
Thankfully there is never a point at which we are left directionless. I often draw perspective on issues where the Scripture is silent from the whole of Scripture and its attitudinal propensity. I ask myself questions like, “Do my personal thoughts and feelings line up with principles found in Scripture?” “Do my thoughts and ideas about said topic find any conflict (variance) with principles found in Scripture?”

Death With Dignity
This is a difficult and two-pronged discussion. The first part, death is always certain and final. Few people would debate that. But that second word… dignity. What is dignity as it relates to death? Ask a dozen people and you may hear nearly that many answers. Is dignity a reasonable expectation when it is attached to death? In the United States alone around two and a half million people die every year. 100% of them are dead. I doubt that a significant portion of them (or their families, for that matter) would say that they died with dignity. Another blogger and I recently disagreed about her assertion that death is beautiful. And while I understand that there are instances where death is a relief to seemingly endless cycles of pain, it is its finality that decries any beauty it may have. The Scripture even speaks of death as the last enemy. I’m not sure it’s meant to be very dignified.

A Christian Response to Death With Dignity
Is it possible that Christians can come to different conclusions on this issue? Personally, I believe that because I don’t get to decide when I show up (birth), I don’t think it is my decision when I check out (death). Are there exceptions? Probably. Respect the difficulty surrounding other’s realities regarding end-of-life decisions. Be honest (intellectually and verbally) about what the Scripture does and does not say on the subject.

Process Church Core Values: One Day at a Time

This week I shared a brief fly over version of what God is calling us to be as a church. My goal this week (if for no other reason than to test my personal discipline and self-will) is to elaborate on each of those values… one each day.

Hopefully this will give you a better view of what is meant by each value.

A Bit Further South

First I should admit that I am (as are most men) the biggest baby when it comes to pain. Any physical discomfort is almost immediately translated as dire affliction. Our wives endure far more in bringing children into the world.

So I have this lower back thing… now I feel like one of the people I used to overhear in my grandmother’s apartment complex. But seriously, what is my deal? I’m not even 40 years old and I get these crippling days where all I want to do is lay on the floor.

In this condition I hear God telling me too many things to write. One of them is that I need to toughen up a bit. Another whisper is that I need to take better care of this shell before it becomes a carcass. And though this pain is real and really frustrating, the best takeaway is that I can learn to deal with my microscopic hurt by reaching out to someone surrounded by their own immense distress.

Powerful & Effective Prayers

I have recently been re-reminded of that profound verse in James 5:16 …the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. That little phrase continues to have more intense meaning to me as the years proceed.

Most recently I have been reminded of the importance of prayer as my family and I face this enormous task that God is calling us to… starting a new church.

Over the years I have received many (genuine) pleas for support from people in various endeavors. Because of my cynical side I always feel like when they are asking for financial and/or prayer they really mean financial support. In an attempt to avoid creating similar feelings in others, my thought was to build a Prayer Team separate from and ahead of any pleas for financial assistance. To do this well it meant hours of work to locate people and email addresses. Weeks later I am still calling on people to join us in this prayer project.

The biggest surprise has come as people have started joining us in prayer. Each Sunday evening when ministry is done I go back to my office and send a simple email message to The 300… they are our Prayer Team partners. Throughout the week I receive powerful & effective answers to those simple prayers spoken by righteous people.

Lessons from Saturday Labor: Painting & Planting

I will admit that my ears are completely tuned to hearing messages about starting a church!

OK – with that out of the way – I heard one of those messages in the most unusual places… my yard. This past Saturday I had committed to giving the entire day to work on the house. There are a few things that most of us can do to help the resale value of a house. These were the types of things on “the list”. Among them… painting.

What I love about painting is seeing the total transformation that is revealed in the finished product. But that is not what painting is all about… especially not as gauged by time spent. Most of the time spent in painting happens in some of the smaller/less lovely tasks:

  1. preparing the surface means scraping
  2. sanding the scraped surface
  3. brushing away the debris
  4. then finally actually painting

So what do any of these things have to do with church planting? I’m finding these processes to be all but identical. Without getting lost in the list, suffice it to say that I find church planting to be MUCH about the smaller/less lovely tasks that are COMPLETELY necessary in the pursuit of the finished product that will one day be the church.

God, help me to enjoy the process.

Where Does Vision Come From?

As fall arrives and we enter a new ministry year I have been contemplating this question… where does vision come from? It often seems that the blind are leading the blind. No direction. Or worse… different directions and no forward movement. So what of it?

I have been wrestling with this idea by looking at biblical examples of vision-finders and receivers. There seem to be some consistent threads. Do you see the same types of things?

1. true vision (spiritually speaking) comes from God
2. vision rarely (if ever) comes to groups… it almost always seems to be given to individuals
3. this same reality can very easily lead to abuse if the vision is not validated and embraced by other godly people

As I have been struggling to define biblical vision, I have been encouraged that, indeed, there is such a thing. I am wary of individuals who talk about things such as vision as if they are secrets… and usually that they are the only ones with access to such secrets. The reality of Jesus is that seeking and finding go hand in hand. There are a few practices (admittedly not revolutionary) that I have adopted to help me in this pursuit of vision:

  1. pray… asking God to show me His vision
  2. reading Scripture to see how God has moved in others in the past
  3. pray again… asking God how He wants me to apply what I have read
  4. reading from a variety of Christian authors of the present to see what God may be up to these days
  5. pray some more… focusing on hearing God’s voice even through man’s words

Many times vision is not from God. It is from man’s creativity. Or from the inspiration found in a great movie or song. People launch into things because of visions emanating from many sources. I too have had inspirational moments from some of these same places. But by God’s grace, I only want the things that drive me (vision) to be from God!

All I Really Needed to Know I Learned On the Daily Show

Some people watch television to unplug and relax. Others watch to plug in and be informed.

I watch for reasons all my own… and very different ones at that.

Jon Stewart is a culturist (as I attempt to be). He offers more than comedy. He gives nightly social commentary. And whether you agree with him or not, you must acknowledge its provocation.

Think about it. Watch. Think.

The Parable of the Deer

This may or may not be meaningful to you. Personally, I’m not much of an outdoorsman. On a recent 1500 mile trip I was overwhelmed by the powerful imagery of (and similarity between) the way I found myself watching for deer and the ways in which I seek people who are not-yet-Christian. This story will contain the deer part… hearing the parable is up to you.

Seeing Deer
One can have a desire to see our fury friends and cease to lay eyes on a single one. There are several keys that I found helped me to see the deer. In a little less than two hours I saw 18 live ones and 9 of the other kind.

  • the right time of day (typically dawn or dusk) – they like cooler temperatures
  • knowing where to look
  • requires vigilance – constant watching
  • the looking makes time fly
  • there are even signs noting a historical presence

Distractions to Seeing Deer
As I was watching for and seeing these beautiful creatures I noticed that there were other things vying for my attention. They weren’t necessarily bad things (though some were). But these things made it very difficult for me to see the deer.

  • trees
  • the speed at which things were passing me by
  • trying to operate a moving vehicle while watching
  • writing these thoughts down so I wouldn’t forget them
  • phone calls
  • heat… as the sun and the temperature rose the deer vanished

Realities of Deer Seeking
I’m sure experiences vary and geography has much to do with my fortune of seeing so many deer in such a relatively short amount of time. This caused me to think… what were other realities that I was facing as part of this process?

  • some don’t make it… remember the 9 mentioned earlier
  • most travel together
  • almost all were near the edge of a wooded area
  • few were out in the open looking for something to eat

I learned much that day. Truthfully I’m pretty sure I would have remembered it all without writing it down. But now you can know the story too.

What’s In A Name?

I have an extreme fascination with words. The words I choose say so much about who I am. How I think… or fail to. The longer I live the more carefully I choose my words. I realize that they are very powerful for encouragement or harm.

So why the blog name change? Some of you have actually been asking. Now more than ever I am acutely aware of the effect that words have on people’s viewpoints. And while “tangible theology” (the title of my old blog) may be meaningful to me, its wording may elicit more confusion than clarity.

One of the early lessons I remember learning in speech class was to know your audience. In my career and life I have benefited from that thought more than I possibly could have imagined as a 14-year-old when I first heard it. It is that consideration that frames my decision to consider some intentional ministry re-focusing of which this blog will be an important part.

While a portion of my audience has always been and will continue to be those who already believe in Jesus, I have been overwhelmingly burdened of late to consider well the vast majority of those who do not yet believe. They are, after all, the majority… the Scriptures say there will always be more who find themselves on the wanting side of faith. So how can I not consider them?

There are 3 realities that keep repeating themselves in my studies of Scripture and the culture around me.

  1. many who live life without Jesus have largely chosen so because of misconceptions of what following Him would mean
  2. so-called church people are the reason for most of those same misconceptions
  3. if pre-Christian people came in contact with the real Jesus… they would want to follow Him

So, why the name? Of all the roles I happily assume: Christian, husband, father, son, brother, friend… only one of those helps me make all of the other ones better. Because my relationship with Jesus informs all my other relationships that is the way I want to be known by those who do not yet know Jesus. Even if they think I’m an ok dad or husband or whatever… I want to be known as… the Jesus guy.

Shifting Gears

A few years ago now I had to sell the first brand new car we ever purchased… and that made the decision even more difficult. Looking back, the thing I miss most about that car is that it was a stick shift. Now those of you who have only ever driven automatic transmission cars may not fully appreciate the analogy I am about to draw.

The thing I learned the most about driving “a stick”, as it is typically called, was the need to shift gears. Without this knowledge I would have blown the engine… almost immediately. Doing this with cars came quickly to me… it had to. Doing this in life and ministry is sometimes more difficult to navigate.

Effective immediately I will be shifting my energies to a new blog that more accurately communicates how I desire to be used of God in the days ahead. You can read about it and hopefully follow it too at thejesusguy.blogspot.com. See you there!

The Murderer In All of Us

Two recent news items have drawn my attention to thoughts about murder. The first was the pastor’s wife who shot her husband and the second was the largest mass murder in US history, the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

In many ways they were the typical American family. All smiles… and matching outfits… and horror that apparently lay just beneath the surface of anyone’s suspicions. So how did we get from “perfect family” to the events of that March day in 2006? How could a woman shoot her husband in the middle of his back with a shotgun?

Then – perhaps somewhat ironically – during the week of Mary Winkler’s trial, a young man wakes up shoots two classmates, mails a videotape rant about how much he hates Christianity (among other things) and proceeds to kill 30 more and injure a dozen or so others before turning a gun on himself. Where does this come from?

My first instinct is the same as yours. I want (desperately) to believe that this kind of madness comes from some terribly dark and unfamiliar place. When I strip all the verbiage away, I am frightened to know a different answer. These two days of shame come from the same place… the depravity of man. But Mary Winkler and Cho Seung-Hui started in the same place that each of us begins. They were people. Humans trying to live life and wrestle with issues that please us and plague us… at times simultaneously. So what happened?

Sin happens.

It happens to Mary and Cho and Rob and you. It is dark and sinister and causes us to be capable of things that we never wanted to think were possible. So perhaps we already know the answer to the question of “what happened?” Maybe a better question for each of us is… “Will I take that sick feeling that is in my gut when I watch and read of these things and turn it on my own sinful choices?”

Though sin visits all of us (the book of Romans reminds us that no one is good), the better question is, “What am I going to do about it?” The beauty of my situation is that it is my situation. Sinful choices are simply that… they are choices. I may not like that. But I know it intuitively and by my own experiences. Sin does not choose me. Rather, I choose to sin. So the fact is that there is a murderer in all of us. We are one bad decision away from becoming that horrible person that we watch and read about and loathe.

May the loathing continue. But may it turn away from Mary and Cho and turn to sin and wicked choices. And may the hope in this situation be that with the power of Christ I have a choice! I can resist sin. What a beautiful reality. On my own… I am nothing… and potentially worse. But with the power of Christ I can overcome sin. Thanks be to God.