Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The Worst and the Best of Religion
True story: a few years back, I was hanging out with a young member of ACC watching movies. Somehow
or other we got on the subject of how cool it would be if a big-budget Hollywood studio got ahold of the stories of the Old
Testament and turned them into films. From Moses to Samson, David to Daniel, there's more than enough blood and gore and drama
and intrique and special effects to go around - it would be amazing!
A month ago or so, I got
a Facebook message from that same ACC member that said, simply: 'Someone took our idea. And it's awesome.'
He was talking about, of course, the History Channel's 'Bible' miniseries, which, if I'm to believe the entirety
of the congregation at ACC that talked to me about it, is, indeed, awesome. Not being a cable or sattelite customer myself,
I waited until it was released on DVD to snatch it up, which I did yesterday from Amazon. And it was then that I made a mistake: I decided to look at the reviews.
Yes, the majority of the reviews are positive. But others are so negative you can practically feel the
anger spewing from your computer monitor. And those reviews - the scathing, hostile, vitriol filled reviews - aren't written
by skeptics or atheists or people mocking the idea the the bible is the truth, as one might expect. Instead, they're written
by devout Christians.
A quick skimming of these reviews reveals that there were details wrong,
the messages were not clear enough, and sin was not condemned enough; the series is deceiving, blasphemous, and from the wrong
translation; the writers are representing a politically correct, watered down, false gospel, and they're doing so maliciously,
to turn people away from the truth about God.
Now, obviously I haven't seen the series, so I can't
speak about just how good it is or isn't. But the hostile reviewers are people I've seen in the church as long as I've been
in it. For these people, the History Channel making a 10 hour documentary about the bible isn't cause for celebration; it's
cause for crticism. For these people, their differences in opinion aren't evidence that there's diversity and variety in the
church; it's evidence that there's apostacy and blasphemy and false Christians.
For these people,
nothing is ever good enough.
And that makes me sad. Really, truly, profoundly so. Because what
type of life is that? What type of faith finds fault with everything and everyone around them? What kind of security can there
really be when one finds the need to shout down anyone with a different perspective than them? And what type of peace can
there possibly be in the heart of a person who thinks that angrily typing out reasons why the rest of the world is going to
hell is a good use of their Tuesday?
This is the very worst of religion. And it breaks my heart
to see it.
After I ordered the series, I went back to reading the book I had filled my afternoon
with. It's the newest from a personal hero of mine and my favorite 'Christian' writer going today, Rob Bell. The book is called What We Talk About When We Talk About God, and it just so happens that he was writing about the way many in the church view the gospel. According
to his experience, there are tons of people in the church who trust in grace, mercy or love, but instead, a point-based merit
system to earn God's favor. That, he said, is not the gospel of Jesus. Instead, he writes,
is the shocking, provocative, revolutionary, subversive, counterintuitive good news that in your moments of greatest despair,
failure, sin, weakness, losing, failing, frustration, inability, helplessness, wandering, and falling short, God meets you
there - right there - right exactly there - in that place, and announces I am on your side.
As I read those words, I had two thoughts. The first one is one I have very often when I read Bell's work - 'I wish
I had written those before he did.' The second, however, is the reason I'm writing this blog:
wish religious people could see that the gospel of Jesus is as amazing as it is. It is, clearly, the best of religion.
There is so much freedom in knowing the truth about Jesus. We don't have to be right about everything; we don't have
to be better than anyone else; we don't have to have answers to the entirety of life's questions.
are loved, just as we are, exactly where we are. And there is nothing better than living life according to that fact, trusting
in the Savior who paid everything to separate us from our mistakes, failures, and closet skeletons. In that faith there is
real peace, honest security, and a faith that is anything but heart-breaking.
That's a true story,
no matter what you think about the History Channel.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
I love sandwiches.
I realize that isn't the most unique thing about me. After all, sandwiches
are far from unique in and of themselves, and eating them is something that roughly 10/10 Americans do on a regular basis.
But what I think IS different about me is that I love sandwiches (particular sub sandwiches) more than I love just about any
other food. If given a choice to go just about anywhere to eat, I will choose, almost every time a place with subs. And, if
my life ever takes a u-turn and I am given the chance to choose a 'last meal' before my execution, I'm probably going to choose
a sub over every other food.
So, like I said, I love sandwiches.
More specifically than that, I love
Italian sub sandwiches, and every sub shop I go to, if possible, I order the Italian sub. But even though each one is called
an 'Italian Sub,' each one is different:
- Subway's isn't the best, but I've eaten it for so long (including
four years of employment as a Sandwich Artist) that even though I know it isn't very good, I still love eating them.
- Penn Station's is outstanding, especially for a hot sub (I prefer them cold), despite it's high price.
House's is as good as Penn Station's (and very similar), though it has more meat on it (and the more meat the better).
- Goodcents' is my go-to - it has the best combination of quality and price, and their bread is as soft as a pillow.
Anytime you can compare your bread to a pillow, that's a good thing.
- Jimmy John's is the one I love the most,
even if they always put too much lettuce on it.
On and on I could go. The point, though, is this: an Italian Sub
is an Italian Sub, no matter where you go. They all have pepperoni and salami and provolone cheese and spicy mustard and some
type of ham and some type of peppers. And while each one brings something different to the table, they're all pretty much
Why do I bring this up? Simple - the church is just like an Italian Sub.
And, by 'the church,'
I mean the church at large, not just the church I'm affiliated with. Sure, there are differences between denominations and
traditions, but just like every Italian Sub has the same main ingredients, each church that centers itself on Jesus Christ
has enough in common with every other that the details shouldn't matter. A church should just be a church.
Drew!', you may be interjecting. 'What about all the differences between churches? What about sound doctrine and practice?
WHAT ABOUT BEING BIBLICAL!?'
To which I reply, good questions, all of them (though there's no reason to shout).
The truth is, while Jesus undoubtedly called for unity, among His earliest followers, unity did NOT mean conformity. In fact, during the first generation of believers, there was a major disagreement about how Jews and non-Jews could possibly co-exist in the same church. That was an understandable concern; after all, the
Jews held tightly to their past (divinely given) traditions, and non-Jews didn't. How could they possibly be united?
The answer, as it turned out, was fairly simple: they compromised.
I know - that's radical thinking. But it's really what happened. Instead of fighting about what made them different,
they celebrated that what Jesus did, He did for everyone, and the new way of life they led was one that transcended cultures
and social constructs and traditions. They were able to co-exist, not because they all thought alike or acted alike, but instead,
because they recognized that while there were a great many differences between them, that in Christ, those differences simply
Diversity, then, was okay. It was even celebrated and encouraged.
There's a lot we can
learn from them, and we can start by recognizing there's a lot that we can learn from the various 'types' of Christians that
are out there.
We can learn a lot about self-discipline and perseverance from liturgical churches.
learn a lot about passion and excitement from charismatic churches.
We can learn a lot about biblical accuracy from conservative
We can learn a lot about unconditional, scandalous love from progressive churches.
We can learn a lot
about living out our faith in outside of the four walls of the church from our brothers and sisters who don't attend any church
In the end, then, we need to realize that while each Italian Sub is different, every Italian Sub has something
to bring to the table. And while each Christian is different, every community of Christians has something to bring to the
table as well. Sometimes, the grace we need to offer the most isn't just to those who are separated from God and in desperate
need of salvation, but instead, is to the Christian brother or sister that we've ignored for so long because, in our mind,
they're 'wrong' or 'heretical' or just 'different.' We need to realize that Christ never demanded conformity to anyone other
than Him, and that conformity has always been possible in a welcoming, diverse environment of honest faith.
these thoughts aren't that unique. In fact, they're precisely what so many have said over the last two thousand years of an
ever-changing, ever-evolving faith in the never-changing, completely transcendent Christ. So, why do I bring them up?
Jesus wants the church to be well; He wants His bride to be one of grace, compassion, and understanding. He wants that because
loves the church. He loves her desperately, unconditionally, and in a way that none of us can truly put into words.
He even loves her more than I love sandwiches.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
This just in: people like sports.
I know, I know - this is hardly earth-shattering,
life-altering stuff. To say that people like sports is roughly as profound as saying 'people eat food' or 'people breathe
air.' The fact is, I can think of only a single person off the top of my head who doesn't like a sport of some kind, and even
if you say, 'not me, Drew - I don't like sports!' I'd imagine I can find a time in your life when you cared at least enough
to go to a Super Bowl party or check the paper for the score of your local high school team. In this day and age, sports are
an indelible part of who we are as a society.
And, I'm not sure that's always a good thing.
Take, for example, a team that most of you reading this are more than familiar with: the St. Louis Cardinals. The
Cardinals are, without a doubt, one of the premier franchises in the history of the National Pastime, and that's never been
more apparent than over the last decade. Over a ten year period, the Cardinals have been a playoff team six times, five of
which resulted from winning their division. And, most importantly, they've won the World Series twice - in 2011 and 2006.
As strange as it sounds, though, the two seasons that the Cardinals won the World Series were NOT the best two Cardinal
teams over that span. After all, just look at their win totals from their playoff bound years:
The point is obvious - judging by
consistent, full-season play, the two years in which the Cardinals won the World Series were the two WORST seasons among Cardinal
playoff years. The irrefutable fact is that the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011 were a worse baseball team than they were in 2002,
2004, 2005 and 2009. And yet, they were crowned champions for one reason and one reason only:
sports, consistency doesn't matter.
All that matters in sports is getting hot at the right time.
This isn't just true in baseball, either; just ask the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants (the sixth best team
in their league last season). There are too many examples of this across too many sports to count, and that's because we've
collectively decided that the best way to judge a sports team is by what they do in a short period of pressure-packed time.
Excellence over time is celebrated with a t-shirt and memories from die hard fans; excellence for a few weeks in October is
immortalized forever with banners and prestige from the entire sports watching world.
wonder, then, that the same people who celebrate short bursts of greatness over long-term consistency sometimes struggle to
live out the Christian faith. Christianity, after all, is not like a playoff system where entire legacies are built one game
and one at-bat at a time. Instead, following Jesus is like a 162 game season - every day, rain or shine, no matter what else
is going on. It's not a sprint; it's a marathon - it's not a playoff series; it's a full season. The apostle Paul wrote, more than 25 years after his conversion, that he had yet to reach his goal.
Despite two and a half decades of service to Christ - church planting and making disciples and growing personally in his relationship
with God - he still wasn't done. At the core of Paul's faith was the concept of daily running the race, knowing that he wouldn't
'win' because he had a few days or a few weeks of trust in Jesus, but instead, that he would need a lifelong commitment to
be where he wanted to be.
That type of excellence is simply not celebrated in our world, and if
you don't believe that, you need to look no further than the St. Louis Cardinals, a team whose best years are forgotten and
whose short bursts of greatness will always be remembered. That's not how you follow Jesus, however. It isn't just about momentary
decisions to trust Jesus and decide to believe in what He's done; it's about waking up each day and deciding over and over
again to keep believing and keep trusting, even when you know that you're not going to 'win' that particular day.
It's high time that we in the church celebrate what the sports world never will: consistent, long-lasting, committed
faith. You're not finished just because you've been baptized or saved or joined a church; in fact, you're just getting started!
Forgetting the past, we shouldn't live as if we've achieved anything yet. Instead, we should press on, making the choice to
daily follow Jesus, moving forward towards the goal each and every day, knowing that eventually, this life will be over and
the real - eternal - journey will just be beginning. And that's an attitude we should get used to.
all, I hear eternity lasts a little longer than a few weeks in October.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
When I was a kid, there were few shows on television that drew me in more than 'Bill Nye the Science
Guy.' This is a fact that isn't surprising - after all, as the son of a public school teacher and a chemist in a pharmaceutical
lab, I was raised to appreciate science in a way that most kids weren't. Additionally, it was on Saturday afternoons, right
before FOX Saturday Baseball, and, in a household of six people, the earlier you could plop yourself in front of the television
to claim it on a weekend afternoon, the better. In my book, Bill Nye is a pretty good dude.
Also, apparently Bill Nye isn't a huge fan of those who teach their children that evolution isn't true.
As always, Bill Nye's comments have drawn the typical responses, with the battle lines between the religious and the not so much clearly drawn in the sand. And that makes me profoundly
Full disclosure time: I'm not sure what I believe about the origins of mankind.
I believe in God; I believe in science. And at no point in my 28 years on this planet have I ever believed those two beliefs
are incongruous. The truth is, we're all just guessing - whether the world formed, as hyper-literal Christians claim, 6,000
years ago or, as mainstream geologists claim, 4.2 billion years ago, none of us were there when the earth formed. So we're
all just looking at whatever evidence we can find and making the most educated guess possible. With that said, I have opinions
about the beginning of everything, but considering they all begin with, 'I'm not sure, but I think...' and are hedged with,
'I could be wrong, of course...' I'm not sure they're really of any value. I find no reason I shouldn't be able to believe
that Jesus is the creator of all things and not worry about exactly what the mechanics of that creation were.
None of that, however, is what makes me sad.
Jesus told His disciples that they'd be
known for one thing: love. He taught them to love each other, to love God, and to love their neighbors.
He even taught them to love their enemies and, when persecuted, pray for the ones who attacked them. And because of that,
the early church proclaimed a very simple message of love - the story of who Jesus was, what He had done, and what He wanted
to do next. They called that message the 'gospel,' and were willing to suffer, bleed and die for that good news.
The fact is, the gospel is outrageous. It demands scrutiny and well-thought out study to support, and it demands
radical sacrifice, introspection, and commitment to live. Without any other periphery issue, the gospel - and the gospel alone
- was enough to earn the early church persecution the likes of which we in America have never dreamed of.
Which is why, I think, we don't see the early church engaging in debates about side-issues. Because they were so
busy promoting the gospel, they didn't have time to worry about anything else, and as a result, we don't see arguments or
controversies about anything BUT the gospel in the early church.
What makes me sad is that
today, we've lost that passion for the gospel. And because of that, we have all the time in the world to argue about evolution
and gay marriage and political party agendas and denominational theologies and a million other things. And as a result, the
disciples of Christ today aren't known for their love; they're known for their desire to prove themselves right and everyone
Bill Nye's comments (as well as the viewpoints of countless others who believe
what he believes) shouldn't be seen as an opportunity to win an argument or prove why we have all the answers to all of life's
deep questions. Instead, it's time we acted a little less like mainstream Christianity and a little more like the ancient
bride of Christ, and saw this as an opportunity to show love, grace, and understanding to those who don't see eye to eye with
us. If we do that, we'll be choosing a path that Jesus said His followers would be known for, more than anything else.
We'll be choosing the gospel.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
I get sick to death of Christianity.
If you've been in Ashland Christian
Church's Adult Cultivation Class at any point this Summer, you've heard me say those words. And while they may seem overly
cynical or, going to the extreme, a bit inappropriate for someone in full-time Christian ministry to say, they're the truth.
The reason is simple - the very simple way of Jesus has, over the last couple thousand years, evolved into something that,
more times than not, exhibits as much of the world's ugliness as it does the beauty of God.
last week's Chick-Fil-A fiasco, which, sadly, played out precisely like every other quasi-theologial debate has in my sixteen
years in the church. What could have, and should have, been an opportunity for level-headed, Holy Spirit inspired converation
on how we can best reflect the love of Christ in a world that sorely needs it, instead became the intellectual equivalent
of a back yard brawl. Both sides of the conversation quickly resorted to using the weapons of the world - guilt and fear and
manipulation - to try to 'win' whatever it was they were trying to win, whether it was 'standing for the truth' or 'setting
themselves apart from the crazy Christians' or anything in between. The end result was, sadly, yet another black eye for the
faith, as a community that's supposed to be so changed by God's love that they become vessels of that compassion and mercy
to others, turned into yet another mob of people all jockeying for personal gain, the advancement of political agendas and
the so-called 'moral high ground.'
And the worst part of all is that I'm a
part of it.
That's, at the end of the day, why I get so sick of Christianity - so often, it brings
out the worst in me. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about chicken sandwiches or the rights of the unborn or the role
of baptism or spiritual gifts or women in the church or musical styles or small group methods or whether or not the President
of the United States was born in this country. No matter what it is, every time I find myself in a theological or social Christian
debate, I find myself acting less and less like Christ and more and more like the world. And there's a good reason for that.
After all, when we fight over social, political, and quasi-theological side issues, we're NOT promoting the simple gospel of Jesus.
And that's what I never get sick of, which is why we've spent a solid three months in Sunday School
in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus' words are life-changing and course-altering; they speak to the heart and the soul and the depths of who we
are; they transcend social boundaries, prejudices and bigotry. And when we make them the foundation of who we are, we'll become
more and more loving and gracious and compassionate, because we'll become more and more like Jesus.
don't have all the answers to life's questions, and honestly, I don't care to. It doesn't always matter who's right and who's
wrong and whether or not we 'win'; in fact, you can be totally wrong about nearly everything and still be the person Christ
wants you to be, since all that TRULY matters is whether or not our relationship with our loving God helps us to love others. That's the gospel; that's
the essence of the kingdom Jesus is the King of.
And that's something that I'll never get sick
Friday, July 20, 2012
Jesus loves the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. So much, in fact, that He died on a cross
for them, and when He rose from the dead three days later, He made it possible for them to be eternally saved, living forever
with Him in the next life. And this fact is unchanged by the sins of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church - no matter
how much damage they do in God's world, Christ's love and grace is still available to them.
I've written about
the WBC before, but I'm not sure I've ever typed the exact combination of words above before. I have to admit - it was a little
hard. Of all the people in the world who are hard to love, the WBC is, without a doubt, at the top of the list for me. No
group of people has twisted the bible more; no group of people have used Jesus to spread hate, bigotry and hurt more; and,
unfortunately, no group of Christians is more famous in America, meaning their reputation has done untold damage to the cause
of Christ and His kingdom.
But still - Jesus loves and died for everyone. And 'everyone' includes them.
As you've no doubt heard by now (I'm definitely late to this party),
the WBC will be in Columbia tomorrow to protest the funeral of a fallen Missouri soldier. And most of us have responded in the way that
feels most natural - with outrage. We want to do something about the WBC, even if it's as simple as changing our Facebook
profile pictures for a few days, and even if it's as dramatic as meeting the WBC face to face in support of Sterling Wyatt's family.
While we're doing all of these things, we need to remember one thing:
Jesus has already told us what to do in cases like this. The WBC is, in so many ways, our enemy - and we're supposed to love our enemies. Not because
they deserve it, and not because it will make everything hurt less; but instead, we're supposed to love our enemies because
there is no one who is so far away from God that they are outside of the scope of His love. He loves them, and so should we.
This is, perhaps, the single hardest of Jesus' instructions. But it's what has marked God's people as God's people
for the last two thousand years - the church has been, from day one, known as a people of love. And
so long as there are enemies in the world like the WBC, there will be a need for us to step up to the plate and be different.
So, tomorrow, remember love. If you're going to see the WBC face to face, do it with a smile, and maybe
take them a glass of water when it gets particularly hot. And no matter what, tomorrow, all of God's people should be praying
for God's peace in Columbia - for both the Wyatt family and the Westboro Baptist Church. After all, when we respond
to their hate with more anger and bitterness and hostility, they win. And when we respond in love?
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Very often, I feel like a failure as a minister.
Not all the time, obviously.
Much of the time I feel pretty good about the way that I do my job, and there are even some things that I almost always feel
good about. I'm not fishing for compliments here; I wouldn't trade the past six years for anything, and I know that I'm not
the worst minister on the planet. It's just that sometimes it really feels like it.
I feels like
it days that people ask for things I simply can't give them, and on days when people come to me for advice and support and
I have absolutely no idea what to say.
It feels like it on days that the Sunday morning attendance
is particalurly dismal.
It feels like it on days I'm told that something I said is the reason
that a family is looking for a new church, on days that someone complains about 'the church' with a long list of things that
are really about me, and on days that I ask a question in bible study about something I say every week on Sundays and no one
knows the answer.
It feels like it when I tell a story with eight jokes in it and no one laughs,
and conversely, when I tell a story that's supposed to be serious and everyone laughs.
like it when I spend a week beating my head against the way writing a sermon, only to preach on Sunday that 'I don't know.'
It feels like it when there are several weeks in a row where no one is baptized at ACC, and it feels like it when
someone is baptized and we never see them again.
It feels like it when I have to bail on plans
I've made, and it feels like it when there are no plans to bail on.
It feels like it whenever
I see my minister-colleagues Facebook pages (that are always filled with bible verses and happy messages), and websites (which
are always flashy and state of the art). I feel like it every time I see one of those minister-colleagues and I hear about
how wonderful their ministry is going. And I especially feel like it whenever I read a book on ministry that has all the answers
to why it is that I fail at my ministry.
The truth is, I feel like a failure quite a bit. But
I think also that I'm not alone in this. After all, nobody's perfect, and frankly, nobody's close. And whether it has to do
with their job or their parenting or their marriage or simply the way they view themselves, I've learned that most people
are walking around with some level of insecurity. No matter how much good that we do in our lives, it's rare that we focus
on the positive aspects of our lives more than the negative ones.
That's why it's so encouraging
to see who exactly it is that God has used to impact this world. From Abraham to Jacob to David to Daniel to Moses to Samson,
the Old Testament is littered with those who, frankly, sucked as human beings. And once Jesus came to establish the Kingdom
of God through His disciples, they failed over and over again as well. It didn't matter if they were in the 'inner circle'or if they were simply the 'other guys'; at the end of the day, they all failed in all sorts of ways at following Jesus.
amazingly, God understands. He gets that we will, very often, suck at being the people He made, and He understands that even
when we try our absolute best that we won't be able to be perfect. That's why the beauty of the gospel is in God's grace,
and why Jesus said that the true triumph of discipleship in not in our victory over evil, but in the day to day, consistent
involvement in our lives of God.
I say each week at Ashland Christian Church that we aren't a
perfect church, and that starts with me - someone who feels, more often than not, like a ministerial failure. But the truth
is that with God's grace and God's involvement in our lives, perfection - or even us being adequate - isn't necessary. Where
we fail, God succeeds.
And in the end, that's all the success that we'll ever really need.
Friday, June 22, 2012
The lesson, as always: I'm a moron.
I can't even count how many times I've
cooked steak. It's at least in the triple digits in the 28 years I've lived on this earth, and it may even be in the quadruple
digits. Steak is, literally, my favorite food, and it's a go-to, (semi)cheap option for two people, especially when Hyvee
has a sale. So, with all of that said, I'm not sure why exactly I wanted to try something new. Maybe I've just done it so
much that I didn't want to be bored; maybe I was too lazy to fire up a grill. Maybe, I was just trying to impress my wife
with my culinary skills and the above picture is an aphrodisiac for any reasonable woman on the planet. I'm not sure why exactly
I chose to do what I did, but I decided to follow this recipe to make dinner last night.
particular recipe calls for a pan to be put in the oven while the broiler heats up. You know - heating the pan up so that
you get a nice, crusty and delicious outside to your steak.
Of course, that also means that there's
about a sixty second window when a pan, heated to roughly 500 degrees, is sitting on the stove. And of course, that means
I grabbed it absentmindedly without using an oven mitt.
As soon as I touched the pan, my first
reaction was to shout an obscenity that the entire neighborhood could hear (because, after all, I'm the world's greatest pastor
and all). It was then to release my now partially cooked hand off the pan and put it under cold water. The momentary relief
was great, but soon, the pain spread not just on my hand where the skin had immediately began to blister, but all the way
up my arm. The rest of the evening was a real treat, as I tried anything and everything to try to get rid of the pain - burn
creams and sprays, ice, water and aspirin were all helpless to help for more than a moment (at one point, I actually said
the sentence, 'I've been hit by a car, but this pain is worse!'), and finally, I just had to take Aleve PM to knock me out.
Apparently, yes - I am THAT big of a pansy, and the next time I watch the episode of The Office where Michael
Scott burns his foot on the George Foreman grill, I won't be laughing.
(As an aside, the steak
was excellent. Stephanie finished the recipe, and it came out a beautiful, perfect medium rare, tender and full of flavor.
I suffered for that steak, but at least it was good.)
This morning, I awoke (groggily - I'm not
used to taking night-time medicine) and looked at the damage on my hand. As badly as it hurt, I expected my entire left hand
to be one giant blister. To my amazement, the blister is roughly only an inch long. Which I suppose makes sense - I only had
my hand on the pan for a second or two. So, to review:
The amount of time I had my hand on the
pan was small;
The wound on my hand as a result of the burn was small;
yet, it completely ruined my evening.
Jesus understood that small things can have a big impact.
That's why He warned His disciples to beware of the 'leaven' of the Pharisees. Leaven is a tiny part of the
process of baking bread, an agent like yeast, but it causes the entire loaf to rise up. In other words, what Jesus was saying
was that even a hint of a Pharisaical attitude could have a major impact on the lives of His followers. It didn't matter if
they were full-fledged Pharisees; they could be tainted by a small part of what they taught.
message for us is clear: it doesn't take a lot to derail your spiritual life. Just one habit, or one attitude or one conflict
and soon, the whole situation can balloon into something that absolutely wrecks you. No one starts off being a bigot or judgmental
or completely immoral - they ate that elephant one bite at a time. So, for us, it's vitally important that we avoid taking
that first bite.
The good news is that it works the other way around too - it doesn't take a huge piece of God's kingdom to make a huge impact on your life. Just a little love
or grace or compassion or mercy can go longer than you'd ever imagine, both in your life and the lives of those around you.
And that's an elephant you definitely want to eat.
So often, we give ourselves a pass because,
as I'm so often fond of saying - 'it's not that big of a deal.' And when we do that, we fail to realize that the small things
that we think or do eventually turn into big - life-changing, course-altering - things. It's time then, that we look at every
choice as a big one, and we choose to be faithful in the small, mundane, every day decisions - even the ones that seem small.
And that's especially true when you're a moron like me.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
It didn't help that I was eating lunch at the time.
No matter what
I had been doing, I can't imagine that I would have reacted all that well. But considering that I was eating a delicious lunch
of nachos, made with both Doritos and the best pulled pork this side of the Mississippi, my reaction was particularly harsh.
My beloved dog, Chara, curled up on my lap, just as she has somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,789,842 times over the last
four years, when I caught a whiff of the worst foulness that I've ever smelled. This wasn't simply your run of the mill 'the
dog rolled in something outside' stank, either - this was 'Andy Dufresne crawling out of Shawshank Prison' level awfulness,
a noxious mixture of what smelled like sewage, the inside of a sick old woman, and vomit. Ever wonder what the zombie apocalypse
smells like? I know now.
Now, you have to understand: I love my dogs. And I know everyone says
that, but I promise you, I love my dogs more than you love your dogs. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep
(in the same bed as them, I might add), Stephanie and I's world revolves around our puppy friends. And that's exactly what
they are; they're not our pets. They're our friends.
With all that said, I simply couldn't take
it. I completely rejected Chara, putting her on the floor and refusing to let her anywhere near me. And even when I was finished
eating, it was the same thing - her funk was so bad, I simply couldn't take being the same air space as her. I don't know
what she rolled in or why, but I do know this: I have never smelled anything so horrid.
human beings don't like something, we all react the same way - with rejection. Our rejection comes in a variety of forms,
from the way we look or the way we talk or the time we spend (or don't spend) with whatever it is that offends us. And we
in the church are no different - when it comes to those things that we disagree with, we spend our time attempting to belittle,
disprove or shame the world around us. It's nothing unique to us, but it's certainly not something that we're immune to either.
And while there are countless reasons for the things we do (some good, and some not so), all I can really say is
this: I'm glad that God is different. The cold, hard fact about sin is that there's nothing that anyone could do to offend
us that's worse than what we've done to offend God. He is, after all, the perfect, holy, completely pure creator of the universe.
As for us? We're as clean as my dog after she's rolled in apocalyptic level filth in the yard.
We sin in so many ways - in what we do and what we don't do, in our minds and with our hands and with our eyes. We do it when
we don't defend those who need defending and when we defend those who we never should think about defending. We do it with
our attitudes and our motives, in our ignorance and absolutely, positively on purpose. Whenever we fail to be the people God
made us to be, we're guilty of sin, and no matter where you are - be it Ashland, Missouri or anywhere else - we're far from
the Garden of Eden.
Unlike us, though, God doesn't treat us like we have the plague simply because
we've sinned. In fact, He went to great lengths to embrace us and shower us with the love and adulation that we'd never be
able to earn on our own, and He did so at the ultimate price - His Son, Jesus.
Maybe it's time that we took a page from God's book and started treating the world around us a little
less like Chara and a little more how Christ treats us. Maybe it's time that instead of pointing out the sins of others and
living lives of judgment, anger and bitterness, we simply accepted others for how they are, and let the Holy Spirit do His
job of conviction. And maybe it's time that we realized that we're not so different than those whose worldviews and actions so offend us, no matter how much we want to believe otherwise.
Maybe it's time to start living out the love that God has so freely given us...
when we're eating lunch.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
You may think that a collection of comic books is hardly an appropriate gift for a man turning 28. You
may think that comic books are juvenile wastes of time, a hobby for children and the immature of mind. And I suppose that
very often, you might be correct.
But not this time.
Turning 28 for
me was a strange thing. For one, I'm officially closer to 30 than I am to 25, and that's weird. It's not quite as weird as
not being told by puzzled visitors to the church, 'wow - you're young for a pastor!' but it's close. And for two, I'm the
youngest member of my family. I've always been the young one, looking up to everyone around me. And sure, being in a leadership
position of an adult organization like a church has caused me to grow up fast, but for the majority of my six years in ministry,
I haven't felt like I'm 'one of' the adults. That's been changing recently, and I'm not completely sure I'm okay with it.
So maybe my mixed emotions concerning the aging process helps explain why I asked for this book for my birthday. It's a throwback to my childhood, as Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michaelangelo
were my favorite heroes in a half-shell, one of the first obsessions of a life that would be filled with them. Reading the
original comic books, however, was more than just a trip down memory lane; it was a reminder of the simple joy of life that
is immersing yourself in a fantasy world, if only for a few moments.
As it turns out, though,
I was stunned at just how true to life a story about mutant turtles that know martial arts can be. I was familiar with the
shows and movies and toys of the turles, but I had never read the comics until I had the book in my hand, and that's when
I learned the truth - all the kid-friendly versions of the Turtles left out a key component of the ninja turtle story:
The stone cold murder.
In the comics, the turtles aren't just fun loving teenagers who
eat pizza and hang out with their friends; they're violent vigilantes who think nothing of separating thugs from their heads.
From the first page on, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics are a rated 'R' version of the heroes I'd grown up loving,
and it was frankly jarring to see the amount of blood and guts that was involved in the earliest incarnations of the kid's
That's the thing, though - the Turtles were never supposed to be for kids. It wasn't
for the light-hearted; it wasn't originally meant to sell toys and T-shirts and lunchboxes and movies. It was supposed to
be fun for adults who happened to read comics. It wasn't until much later, when the dollar bills got to be too many to refuse
that the Turtles were edited, censored, and polished.
And it got me thinking - how often do we
to do God what the world has done to the turtles? After all, the bible is filled with stuff that would undoubtedly receive
an 'R' rating in a movie. There's murder and rape and sex and violence. There's war and genocide and racism and slavery and
death. There's evil, darkness, and ruin. And those things exist in God's word because, unfortunately, those things exist in
If you're reading this, you're probably aware that it's been some time since I've
written in this space - nearly three months, in fact. And before the unannounced hiatus, it's not like I had been consistently
writing anyway. The reason for the break is complicated, but it comes down to what I noticed in the Ninja Turtle comics -
the world is worse than we usually admit. The last several months have been, for me personally, taxing. Yes, I'm unbelievably
blessed by God, and yes, the Holy Spirit is working in a powerful way at Ashland Christian Church, a fact that I'm incredibly
grateful for. But 2012 hasn't been the easiest one for me, and in fact, has been one of the hardest years I've ever had. And
because of that, I simply decided to follow the old matronly cliche - 'if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything
But whether or not we say it out loud, the fact is that this life is hard. It's filled
with adult content, even in places you wouldn't expect that content to be. And in those times, it's vitally important to have
a pillar of strength to lean on. In fact, that's the design of the God of the rated 'R' bible. As one of the earliest Christians,
a man who knew more hardship than I will ever understand, wrote, it's the times that we find that we have nothing else that we turn to God. And in those times, we find
that we have everything we ever needed.
I may be getting older (and, hopefully, a bit wiser),
but at the end of the day, I have very little answers to the difficulties that life offers. I have ideas and I have opinions,
but every time I think I have something set in stone, it seems like everything blows up in my face. But maybe that's a good
thing. Maybe it's good to know your limits, to admit your own insecurity and immaturity from time to time.
And if that's true, then I think I'm probably doing fine. Because after all, I'm a 28 year old guy who still reads