Demolition is the best part!

My wife and I love home remodel shows. Good thing, too, because our new house was a renovation zone for about two weeks before we moved in!

In all home remodel shows, there is the “concept stage” where the designers set out to show the homeowner what their space could look like, and there is the working stage, but nestled right in between is the part everyone loves — the demolition stage!

There is very little more rewarding than finally getting the keys to your new place (at least if you bought a place that needed a little work) and starting to tear things up. It marks progress. It marks what could be. It is the start of a finished product that you are really going to love!

Here’s the problem:

Demo is only fun for about 5 minutes. As long as you are tearing up BIG strips of carpet and pad, prying up nasty floors, knocking down walls or tearing out cabinets, demolition is a smash (yep, it fits. Pun intended). But tons of tedious work follows. Pulling up staples from carpet pad and tack strips. Sanding, patching and prepping walls before you can paint them. Every little problem you run into adds time, a run out to the hardware store, and possibly frustration.

However frustrating these hold-ups might be, they are critical to the success of the final product. It is the difference of doing it right and doing it fast. For us, the big project was laying new floors, so these steps were the difference between a quiet floor and a squeaky one. A tack nail or staple missed in the prep stages could mean a floor that won’t sit flush, or could mean buckling floor boards later on.

Tedious as the work is, it is critical to get rid of all the old issues before installing the new.

What happens when you don’t

Before my wife and I got married, her family flipped a house and I got to be a part of the process. In one of the rooms, there were probably 4-5 layers of flooring — laid one over the other — to cover up the rot and mess caused by the previous tenets’ pets.

As we pulled up layer after layer we wondered, “why, why, why would anyone do it this way?” This covering definitely didn’t eradicate the smell from the house, and it didn’t remove any of the rot and decay caused by <snarling at the thought> cats.

By laying new floor on top of the old, it didn’t remove any of the problems, it was just a new façade to cover up what was really underneath.

New building cannot happen without removing the old

My fear is that too often, people become Christians and expect a new, shiny veneer over a life that has years of hurt, bad habits, scars and baggage at its core. Those that have been Christians for a while are guilty, too. We cling to the parts of the Bible that make us feel better about who we already are, and explain away or — worse — completely ignore the parts that cause us any discomfort.

Paul says in Ephesians that we are God’s “workmanship” (Eph 2:10), 2 Corinthians 4 portrays us as vessels crafted by God. He is shaping us and molding us.

Unfortunately, many of us come to him after years of not following him, and we have some old, nasty, cat-pee carpet hidden in our hearts. To expect him to just put a new layer on top is completely inconsistent with the very perfect and thorough builder that he is.

God wants to GUT our hearts when we come to him. He wants to start FRESH with a CLEAN slate. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation. The old is GONE, and THE NEW HAS COME.”

But he cannot do that without our consent. He cannot strip us of the old if we will not let him.

And that is our call. To allow him in and take out even the parts that we might be fond of. For a while it might seem tedious, painful and repetitive. Things might look a whole lot worse before they look any better.

But our job is to trust that his vision for what we could be will be an infinitely greater version of us that we brought to his feet.

Trust the process.

Allow the tedious demolition work.

Allow God to build something new and do it the right way.

Addicted – Day 2

[This is day 2 in a post about me kicking caffeine to the curb. Read the journey from the beginning.]

Today was MILES better than yesterday

But it was still pretty rough.

Today I was a substitute teacher in a gym class and it served as a great reminder that when we depend on the things that naturally create energy (such as exercise, in this case), it has a tendency to snowball in a cascade of positive effects.

Sure I had some headaches today, but they were not as bad and I didn’t notice them nearly as much.

That being said, I was a grouch today.

Paul said to the Church at Corinth, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

When the Bible talks about fasting, the moral of the story is this: it is a good practice in learning to resist the desires your body has. It teaches you to say no to one of your most natural instincts (food), so that you can more easily say no to the things you desire that you are smart enough to know aren’t good for you. Dependence on Jesus for that resolve strengthens your faith in him in the tougher times.

Fasting is about “making your body your slave” instead of being enslaved to the desires of your body.

What’s more, it’s about finding JOY in that process.

The joy is where I struggled today.

Grateful for another opportunity tomorrow!

Caffeine Journal

  • Day: 2
  • Intake: 1 Cup of tea in the morning and one in the afternoon (roughly 100mg total)
  • Symptoms: VERY tired, and later in the day, headaches
  • Weakness: That 2:30 feeling
  • In A Word: (ok, in a phrase) Just Keep Swimming.

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Men, What Do You Aspire To?

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a "ho-hum, I'm not good enough" brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible's take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

The Christian message of humility has led many men into a “ho-hum, I’m not good enough” brand of false humility. Meanwhile, the Bible’s take on it is that men should actually desire and aspire to be leaders.

1 Timothy 3:1 – “Here is a trustworthy saying: ‘Now if anyone sets his heart on being an elder, he desires a noble task.'”

Men, have you ever thought about being an elder in your church? Have you ever thought about helping to lead a group of Christians? Have you felt discontented with the way y0ur church is being run? Have you stopped to think that those may be biblical thoughts?

That’s right, you can desire to be an elder. In fact you can set your heart on it.

What about being humble?

Okay, so I know this may be a strange line of thought. But think about it. Why would someone set his heart on being an elder? Because it means he wants to see the church run well. He wants to see the Body of Christ exalt Christ, and be a beacon in the community. Probably 90% of suggestions pastors hear for their churches are ways that they could potentially improve their reach in their context. The church needs men in leadership that are passionate about the Church and want to see it operate in Christ’s mission faithfully. This has nothing to do with being arrogant vs. being humble. It has everything to do with your desire to see Christ glorified. If that is your goal, and not having a position of power, you need not worry about the humility question.

Do I just go to my pastor and say, “I want to be an elder?”

Perhaps. It actually might be a huge blessing to your pastor to have a candidate interested in performing the duties rather than men just filling a seat at the table. When that conversation happens, you need to be ready for the pastor to examine you before giving his blessing. The passage following the above verse lists the qualities of being an elder, and [spoiler alert!] it’s not an easy job description.

The idea in the passage is that elders live a certain kind of life in Christ. When you go to your pastor, his response shouldn’t be, “oh, really?!?” but rather, “I think you’d make a great elder!” The evidence of your candidacy comes from a life lived. You will already have authority amongst church members because of the way you are disciplined in knowing and applying God’s word. People will already come for you for advice because you seem to have the parenting thing figured out, or the marriage thing, or the financial thing. The life lived determines your authority. When you set your heart on being an elder, you set your heart on a higher standard for living. Such a standard will qualify you for eldership.

Nobility is tough

Let’s not breeze over the last part of the verse. Leading a church is a noble task. It is worthwhile. It brings with it a certain amount of favor in the eyes of men. It brings with it the opportunity to put plans into action. It also comes with a lot of responsibility.

Throughout history, when men are described as noble, it hardly ever means they took the easy road. When knights’ did noble acts, there is a high likelihood that pain, suffering and sacrifice were included. Being an elder is a noble task. It is hard. Yes, there is hard work involved and a sacrifice of time, but becoming an elder will also put the burden of other Christians’ maturity on your shoulders. That’s a heavy emotional load. Yes people may honor you, but you have a daily charge to deny the urge to let that intoxicate you. You have a call to adhere to the Bible and not culture in all situations. There is honor that comes with it, but only after great sacrifice and discipline.

Eldership is not a fast-track to having people validate you.

You don’t want the opposite

The last thing to point out here is that you don’t want the opposite end of this statement. Especially if you are a man and are reading this. You don’t want to live undisciplined. You don’t want to be greedy, or a belligerent brawler. Men have the amazing ability to think the most of themselves even when no one else does. We want to be excellent, and the life described here is an excellent way to live. Why wouldn’t you desire that? Why wouldn’t you set your heart on living a 1 Timothy 3 kind of life? Isn’t that ultimately at the heart of what manhood is?

How does your church determine its elders? Leave a comment below!

When Prayer Doesn’t Work

Many people over the years have felt like prayer is a waste of time.

Many people over the years have felt like prayer is a waste of time.

[This is the third installment in a series entitled, “When Faith Doesn’t Work.” Read the series from the beginning here.]

“National Day of Wishful Thinking”

A well-known YouTube atheist used this phrase to rename the National Day of Prayer. And protested said demonstration at his state’s capitol.

“Nothing Fails like Prayer”

Signs held outside the building showed just as much skepticism.

Christians hear arguments like this all the time and, if you are not a believer, you can probably sympathize with such sentiments.

Even believers have doubted the power of prayer. We struggle to “be good about prayer” in our own lives.

I know I do. So here are my thoughts as to why we might feel this way. These are the causes that lead to thinking prayer is broken, I see these mindsets in the arguments of non-believers (PLEASE COMMENT if you feel I miss the mark, forget something, etc.) but, sadly, I see just all of these as prevalent problems in the church as well. It’s no wonder prayer doesn’t “work.”

A Change In Our Definition

What do we mean, “prayer doesn’t work?”

Typically it means that we pray and bad things still happen. We pray and don’t “hear anything.” We may even pray for deliverance from sin and yet continue to be tempted.

Could it be that we are defining effective prayer wrong?

Even John the Baptist (who Jesus called the greatest man to ever live – Matt 11:11) questioned whether all his faith was “working” as he sat in prison and even questioned Jesus. He thought that because he was faithfully following God, prison should have been an impossible outcome.

Spoiler alert: He was later beheaded because of his ministry.

Prayer is not just some “magic trick” to fix all your problems. Prayer is an opportunity to grow in a personal relationship with the God that created the universe. It is an opportunity to share your heart with him, to tell him where your hang-ups and frustrations are, and to align yourself to his will for you. 

Prayer might not “work” because we expect something from it that is not promised in Scripture.

A Change In Our Request

Check out these popular verses about Prayer.

It would seem that Scripture paints a picture of prayer being answered. These passages definitely look that way. Didn’t Jesus say that if we truly believe, we could command a mountain to throw itself into the sea? When was the last time that happened?

There is an important caveat in passages like these though: “Whatever you ask in my name.” When we pray, we are often focused on ourselves. This was John the Baptist’s problem. “In my name” is a statement of submission to his mission above our mission.

We pray for God to heal people that we can’t bear the thought of living without. We pray for safe travel. We pray for a promotion. A job. The bid on that dream home to be accepted. Very seldom do we follow these things with, if it is your will.”

The above-mentioned list isn’t bad in itself, but they are self-focused. Comfort-focused.

Praying “Jesus, let your will be done” will usually follow with Jesus saying, “This is my will. Go let it be done.” A response is implied.

It could seem prayer doesn’t “work” because our requests are not “in Jesus’ name.”

A Change In Our Hearts

A heart that harbors hatred won’t hear Jesus.

1 Peter 4:17 – “Be self-controlled so that you can pray.”

Matthew 5:23-24 – “If you are coming to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gifte there in front of the altar. FIRST, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and worship.”

James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to one another and pray…”

Harboring sin in our hearts shows a lack of understanding of the Gospel. Being angry with someone that has wronged you shows that you don’t understand what Jesus has already done for you. Keeping secrets and hiding hangups in shame shows that you have a performance-based view of his love for you.

1 Peter says to stay self-controlled, because when we have sinned and feel ashamed, the last thing we want to do is pray. We don’t want God to see us in our imperfection. Sin separates us from God because of US. It makes us want to hide.

This is one of the reasons that we need to preach obedience. It is through obedience that we grow closer and closer to God.

It could be that prayer doesn’t seem to “work” because you are harboring sin, resentment or bitterness in your heart that is causing your heart to avoid God.

What have you noticed about prayer in your own life? Leave a comment below.

When Faith Doesn’t Work

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was "broken?"

Have you been through a time when you felt like your faith was “broken?”

Life is tough.

It gives you lemons.

It throws you curve balls.

<Insert your own unpleasant life metaphor here>

Sometimes even the strongest Christian can look around at his or her life and wonder, “How in the world did I get here?” or “This is not what I had planned.” In some cases, there may be a pretty valid answer. In others, it would seem like simply bad luck. Regardless, when bad things happen to good people, the question is always raised, “Why do bad things keep happening to good people?”

The world seems to be broken. On first appearance faith (especially what we experience in American Christianity) doesn’t seem to be working to fix it.

This is the first post in a series where I hope to answer this question in a biblical and understandable way. Disappointment can be a stumbling block, a hurdle to faith and a reason to justify unbelief, which makes it just the kind of question that the ChurchlessPastor wants to take on!

Here are the topics we’ll discuss (These will become links as the series continues):

  1. What do you mean, “doesn’t work?”
  2. When Prayer doesn’t work
  3. When Playing by the Rules doesn’t work
  4. When Going to Church doesn’t work. 
  5. When Baptism seems to be broken.
  6. Buried Alive (Baptism #2)
  7. Why it doesn’t “work”
  8. Fixing what’s broken

Did I leave something out? What question would you like answered? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Complexity Can’t Always Be Explained

Albert Einstein was one of the world's greatest thinkers, and the more he learned, the more he (evidently) understood that copmlexity can't be easily discounted.

Albert Einstein was one of the world’s greatest thinkers, and the more he learned, the more he (evidently) understood that complexity can’t be easily discounted.

Every day, thousands of scientific discoveries are being made that help us to understand how our world works. But it will never answer why we see so much order, or why we are even able to observe patterns, laws and rules. Order comes from order. Chaos never results in order. Einstein understood that. Do you?

Do you think that the world’s order is proof of intelligent design?

Bring Back the “R” Word

R-repent copyIt’s time we bring back the “R” word.

I know it’s controversial.

I know it’s hard to hear.

I know it’s offensive.

But it’s time we talk about it in openness and boldness. It’s about time we stop allowing ourselves to be offended by it. It’s long past time we stop applying it when talking about our own lives. But the word stirs up so much controversy that it’s almost impossible to avoid. It makes people angry. It breaks relationship. The word I’m talking about, of course, is “Repent”.

The first and greatest commandment.

We live in a world where people want to quote Jesus’ statement of the “first and greatest command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” [emphasis mine] The way our culture talks, it seems “Loving your neighbor as yourself” comes first. Everyone wants people to be all lovey-dovey to one another. This makes for a world where no one can tell anyone that anything they do is wrong. In fact, it has created a world where nothing can be known to be right OR wrong.

This is bologna.

The first commandment is to LOVE GOD. And not just have nice feelings toward him, but to LOVE him, to LOVE his commands, to LOVE his plan for us and to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that he has put a plan in place to redeem us.

Jesus’ First Message

Focusing on our love for God requires submission. And it requires admitting that I have a heart that wants so badly to resist him. It requires an admission that “I want to be my own god, and my default mode is denying you (the God of the Bible) that role.” That is why Jesus’ very first message was for his listeners to:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is Near.

That’s right, Jesus, the orchestrator of Love and Acceptance, said that we are to REPENT! We are to turn away from the fact that we think we know better than God. It is to turn from the fact that we think we have evolved past needing him. It means to actually trust him with our lives, and not just go to church, while trusting our own instincts to take care of us.

Why this makes us squirm

This is a tough message because we don’t like to be told we are wrong. We also don’t like to think that we are not the one best-suited to guide our own lives. We all think that the truth is the best policy, until someone tells us the truth about how we are. We don’t want to hear that we are wrong, but that is the story of the Christian life.

Jesus said “Come as you are.” He never said, “Stay as you are.”

A life devoted to Christ says, “this is where I am, now shape me into what you’d like me to be.” In order to take that approach, we have to REPENT and turn from our old ways. We must turn from our pattern of thinking that says we know better than God. A life devoted to Christ gives him KINGship, not just SAVIORship.

And those who lose their [own] lives will find them [in Christ].

Why is it so hard for us to hear the word, “repent?”

3 Reasons Why the Pope’s Resignation is Important

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images

Yesterday, the world was shocked at the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would be resigning at the end of the month. This is HUGE news in religious circles, whether you are Catholic or not, because this hasn’t happened since before the protestant reformation. That makes it a big deal.

Every protestant takes a different stand on Catholicism, ranging anywhere from brotherhood despite differences, to apathy concerning differences, to condemnation of perceived idolatry (worship of the saints) and perceived heretical teachings. Some see the Roman church as brothers and sisters in Christ. Others are more acrimonious.

Regardless of where you fall, events like this one offer a great platform for dialogue with those who believe differently than ourselves. It’s an open door for conversation, and a great excuse to bring the gospel into your daily life.

Here are a few reasons this is important and questions that this event might raise:

BY WHOSE AUTHORITY?

The Catholic Faith has a different authority structure than do the Reformed/Protestant or Restoration (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) traditions. While the latter would affirm that Scripture holds authority on its own, the Catholic Church argues that we need someone to interpret Scripture. Both would argue for the authority Scripture, but the Catholic Church lets its Cardinals have the final say and absolute authority over issues of faith and morality.

As the highest-ranking Cardinal, the See of Rome (aka the Pope) is believed to be speaking in the role of the apostles, following their succession based on the authority given to Peter in Matthew 16. If this is a divine appointment of infallible authority, how may a man simply “step down” out of that position? I’m sure the Church has a procedure and an answer for this, but your average Catholic coworker probably doesn’t know it, so it could at least make for some good conversation.

WHAT IS REALLY CHANGING?

In his official statement, the Pope cited, “today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith” as one of the reasons he is stepping down. Yet Solomon (the wisest man that ever lived, by the way) said:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

The first-century communities to whom Paul wrote were corrected for sexual immorality; Our culture is seriously sensualized. They worshiped many gods; our world promotes pluralism, subjective truth and the “different paths up the same mountain” theology. They were greedy; America (enough said). The religious among them were legalistic with judgmental hearts; our churches are criticized for having too many hypocrites.

The question is this: Is the world really changing that much? I don’t know that it is, but that is good news. It means the Bible tells us more about humanity than about specific humans. It is still relevant. It still applies. It is still truth.

THERE’S STILL THEOLOGICAL DISAGREEMENT

How about just having a conversation about where you differ in belief? What about the issue of saints (Catholic v. Protestant view), Justification (Faith v. Works), The Priesthood, Purgatory, Authority, etc. These might drive you into your Bible to grapple with tough questions and that is a good thing. The challenge is to have these conversations and decide where you agree and disagree and whether you can have fellowship as brothers and sisters that is built on the similarities. We are sinners. Christ died for our sins. He saves us by grace. On these and other things, Christians and Catholics tend to agree, and these are pretty big questions.

What other questions does Pope Benedict’s resignation bring forward?

You’re too worried about YOU! (And I’m too worried about me!)

WorldRevolvesAroundMe

One of the exciting things about being in seminary is that I have access to lots of books and ideas that I would not have otherwise ever pursued. As much as possible, I would like to share these thoughts with you. Today’s post us just such an occasion. Rediscovering Community by Daniel Overdorf is a great commentary on what the Bible says about the Church — what it was meant to be, what it stands for and what it represents in God’s plan. Check out what he says:

 We risk disregarding our place in God’s grand story and inviting Him only into our smaller stories. While God’s story certainly manifests itself in the smaller stories of each congregation, these are but pieces of something much more grand.
Overdorf is talking about our tendency to want our churches or denominations to be autonomous of one another. But that is not the way God intended fellowship to be.

Jesus didn’t die for YOU, so much as he died for Y’ALL

This is a touchy statement. But I believe it is true. He didn’t die for Stephen, or Melanie or eve, (gulp) Nick. When the Bible says he died for your sins, this your is almost universally plural. Jesus’ bride is his church. The body of Christ. He died to make his bride — the church — holy (Ephesians 5:25-7).

One of the most dangerous evolutions in the Church in recent decades/centuries is the rise of individualism. God’s purpose is not to make YOUR life make sense, but to make Y’ALL’s life a witness. The Bible tells a story of community. It tells a story of a nation, a people set apart for God. God’s heart is for his people, not his persons.

When we all stop worrying about ME

What is God’s will for ME?

What does God have in store for ME?

What is God doing in MY life?

As the quote above suggests, We are to see ourselves as part of God’s bigger narrative and part of Jesus’ larger body. Our passion should be for the rest of the body. It should concern us when we start to view every single thing that happens as some part of God’s plan for us (individually).This kind of thinking leads us to thinking that everything is “part of God’s plan for me, that God has a reason for everything that happens to me.” It leads to self-centered revolutions focusing on the Prayer of Jabez, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:13, and on the list goes. It leads to athletes that preach an “If you’re a Christian, God will make your team WIN!” (A sentiment that more and more people believe). It leads to us making God out to be a mystical “lucky rabbit’s foot” of sorts, carrying him around in our back pocket to bring us luck.

God’s plan is BIGGER than YOU or ME. His purposes span all of history, not just this little slice of time that we call the present (James 4:14).

When Joseph was beaten by his brothers, sold into slavery, treated poorly and thrown in prison, it would have been only natural for him to say, “God has forgotten me.” Or to say, “What is God’s will for my life?”

While God’s promises to Abraham did not come to full fruition through the Joseph narrative, God sovereignly and significantly advanced toward the fulfillment of these promises through Joseph and his family. (Overdorf, 126)

God worked out his plan for Israel through Joseph’s little part of the story. Joseph never wavered in faith. He never claimed “God is testing me.” He never said, “God has a purpose for me.”

He just said God had a purpose.

Stop worrying

God has a plan.

It could mean misery for some of us. It could mean riches for others. Suffering or riches might be the works of  his hand. They might simply  be allowed by him (if not caused). It might mean times of suffering or times of celebrating. But God has a purpose for his church, his people that is bigger than his purpose for any individual.

It’s time we let go of our own interests and trust him. He sees a bigger picture than we do.

Do you think the church is too individualistic?

Thoughtfulness is the new Praise Band

Our world has evolved past “church.”

That’s the general idea behind the term “post-Christian.” We used to be a Christianized (i.e. Westernized) culture, but have now grown enlightened enough that we can glean the teachings and leave the “church” behind. We are past “church.”

My wife and I recently had a very interesting conversation about what that brand of atheism/agnosticism looks like in our society today, and what will it look like in the future. More importantly, how will the Church be able to reach those who feel this way about “religion?”

Praise Bands of Old

Turn back the clock a few decades and the scene in any given church would be relatively rigid. Hymns. Pews. Scripted orders of service. Pastoral prayer. Stand. Sit. Stand. Sit. Stand. Kneel. Stand. Sit.

Enter the Praise Band. Songs that sound like those that you’d hear on the radio. Preaching outside (gasp!) the pulpit. The New International Version upending the iron grip of the KJV and RSV. Church started to become notably more “relevant” and the seeker-friendly movement was born.

Music was the catalyst that re-invigorated people’s commitments to their faith.

Thoughtfulness the new Praise Band

The biggest mistake we could make is to assume that a “post-Christian” society is the same as a “disinterested-in-Christianity” society. On the contrary, there are MANY folks out there that are highly interested in having conversations about issues of faith.

But they desire to have conversation (you know, with talking and listening), and they want to be able to ask questions of the Bible that are not met with “well, you just have to have faith.”

In short, those that have cast off “religion” have often cast off what they see as “empty,” or “mindless,” or “blind” religion. The way we can re-engage these very thoughtful nay-sayers is to be thoughtful about what we believe.

Return to doctrine.

Return to theological discussions.

Return from the land of spiritual lethargy and wrestle with why you believe what we do.

Return from the land of letting the Pastor interpret for you.

The churches that reach the vast numbers of unbelievers in the coming years will be the churches that encourage members to be thoughtful in what they believe and engage in the tough conversations.

Growing churches will be thoughtful churches.

What is your experience with thoughtfulness in religion?