Why I Write My Sermons In A Bar


One of my “insider” interests is learning how other pastors handle sermon prep. What I have discovered is no two pastors are ever exactly the same except that all have a process, every step in the process is intentional and the whole thing begins with with an initial Monday morning panic, “Can I make a message out of this by Sunday?”

My process isn’t terribly novel. In general terms, I prefer to preach either expositionally (through books of the Bible) or theologically (some people call this “topical” and yet my focus is more on the theology of a theme than merely good advice giving). Where I may differ from many of my fellow preachers is that my prep is sliced into two distinct environments. It begins in the lab of my study and ends in the field that is a bar.

In The Lab That Is A Study

I recently read an article that said pastors should not have offices, but studies. I like that. So I have a study. My study is like a lab; a controlled environment with everything I need for the task of research. I begin in the lab by copy-and-pasting a double-spaced version of my biblical text for the week into a Word document. I then read the passage over and over, identifying patterns, scribbling notes, logging insights and asking random questions with each pass. I would guess I scan and scribble through the passage around 20 times, usually finding that the most valuable insights hit around the 15th pass. From there I do my exegetical work. For those unfamiliar with our hip clergy nomenclature, exegesis is when we seek to understand the meaning of a book of the Bible in its original language, culture and context. It may sound dull, but for Bible nerds this is the biblical peanut butter to our theological jelly. Once that is complete, I pile my desk with books and read till I feel I need to unbuckle my mental belt like its a post Thanksgiving Day dinner.

As the above process unfolds I regularly shake out the cramping in my right hand. I’m feverishly jot down informational aggregate on my narrow rule TOPS white legal pad, using my Pentel 0.7mm mechanical pencil and rotating through my pile of Ticonderoga Emphasis highlighters (shameless product placements) to mark varied themes with various colors (yellow is technical, green is illustrative, pink is pithy, orange is for us today, blue is transitional and purple is key points). Finally, I figure out the key breaks in the passage that will act as transitions through the sermon and I put each of those sections into a PowerPoint build. By the end of my time “in the lab”, I have logged around 20-30 hours and piled up anywhere between 10-20 pages of notes. With my lab research done I grab my ESV Bible, research notes, TOPS pad, Pentel pencil and head to a bar.

In The Field That Is A Bar

Labs are pristine, antiseptic and protected. That gives us the ability to research in ways that are ideal, controlled and precise. Field research is messy, inconvenient and unpredictable, yet true to life. A local bar (a cantina technically) is my field research. It is the last stage in my process and the location where I put the majority of my sermons together.

As I walk in, the familiar Latino bartender greets me with our customary ritual, “Amigo! Mac and Jack?” Mac and Jack’s is hands down the best African Amber on the planet and is brewed just over the hill. I give him my usual thumbs-up and find a place to sit down. My table is the far back corner. It gives me the best view of the room.

On this day there are two middle-aged women at the far booth. Each has a margarita the size of a kiddy pool. They are loud, animated and angry – at a man. The one on the left is mad at her man. The one on the right is mad at the same man, but only as a show of solidarity for the friend across from her. Hell hath no furry like two angry women with a gallon of margarita between them.

I smirk and think, “I’m glad I’m not that guy.” And I write.

Further to my right, two men sit at the bar. One is retired, has a cane, wears a veteran hat and is eager to initiate a conversation with anyone who sits within three seats. A couple seats down is a young guy, blue collar, no wedding ring and looks like he came straight from moving a mountain of dirt with his bare hands and then used his face as the wash cloth. He’s sipping Fireball, watching the soccer game and riding that fine line with the vet of being just polite enough to keep conversation at arms length without being disrespectful.

I’m like the younger guy. I’m sad for the older guy. And I write.

Closer to my immediate left are two young women in their 20’s. I can hear how the one feels betrayed because she just found out her boyfriend has a porn issue. Her friend seeks to console her, assuring her of how the boyfriend in question doesn’t deserve her. Suddenly one of the the two loud margarita ladies unexpectedly shouts, “Men Suck!” and the consoling 20 something responds, “Amen!” (Yes, you would be surprised how much “Amen” comes up in a bar). The laughter and camaraderie cuts away the anger and betrayal for a few brief seconds before reality returns, and with reality the conversations.

I grieve. I pray. And I write.

Behind me around the corner is the restaurant area. Just within earshot I can hear a family. The newborn baby is crying and big brother (who may be all of 4-5 years old) is repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored!” Dad must be lost on his phone because of the terse female voice that comes next, “Are you going to deal with your son?”

I remember. And I write.

After a few minutes a third man appears at the bar. I’ve seen him a few times before. White collar, wedding ring, never really talks. He sits at the bar for one drink in a small glass and leaves. It seems to be his soft space between stressful worlds.

I look. I ponder. I pray. And I write.

It is in this immersive environment where I begin to construct my final thoughts; pushing what I have studied through an ether vastly different than the atmosphere of my study. As I do my mind bends toward various questions as the message unfolds:

How would people in a bar understand this?

Would people in a bar know what to do with this?

Do people in a bar even care about this?

What biases might the two younger women have about the importance of this?

What words or ideas would the unmarried dirt covered guy be unfamiliar with?

What questions would the married business guy and his one drink have about this?

What confusion might be stirred up for the worn out parents with their two young kids?

What objections would the loud margarita ladies have about this?

What conclusions would the retired veteran have about this?

What humor, illustrations, word pictures or pop culture references can I use that most of the people in a bar would instantly understand?

What religious clichés are so loaded that they might sabotage what I believe people need to understand regarding this?

How can I do all of this and still ensure that Jesus, above all else, is honored and pleased with what I say?

Now obviously I don’t systematically walk through these questions after every point. They are more the natural consequence of the environment as I compile the sermon. Completing my message in a bar forces an awareness of and sensitivity to people in real life. It unlocks the questions in a way far more authentic than anything I might duplicate by just imagining people in the isolation of my study. And I do this, not in the hopes of understanding the “lost”, but so as to understand people; not the least of which being the “saved” ones. The bar is a transparent microcosm of the same realities, challenges and conversations “saved” people face. A bar is filled with the same kind of demographic diversity that a church seeks to create. And ultimately a bar is popular for the same reason a church; because people are looking for a safe place in which some seek to hide, others want to connect and still others invest to belong.

Mind you a bar isn’t a perfect place, but neither are people. Praise God that His Bible, His Gospel and His Grace always is.


The Problem Of Voting “Biblically” In Babylon

MB PostsMy cultural tribe is of the evangelical persuasion. And within my tribe there is an interesting and sometimes entertaining nomenclature related to the social life of the tribe. We say things that others who are not from within the tribe may fail to translate properly. For example when an evangelical says, “I echo that” it has nothing to do with shouting into valleys or performing a medical test. When we say, “She found Jesus!” we don’t imply that Jesus is the Waldo of the world and people try to find where He is, but rather we mean just the opposite in that the “she” was lost and Jesus found her. Yeah, it can be a bit confusing at times, especially in an election cycle.

It seems every four years (because let’s be honest, who gets excited about off-year elections) evangelicals begin ramping up with phrases such as “vote your conscience” or “vote biblically” or my favorite “it’s your obligation to vote.” Now everyone one of these in and of itself isn’t a wrong idea. I actually find myself sympathetic to all of them in some form. But the challenge Clan Evangelical faces is that most of these phrases are pre-loaded with a particular implied meaning. Thus when the expressions are used the implied translation is, “and by that we mean vote for the conservative Republican that espouses our social priorities since all other options are neither biblical nor conscionable.” In other words we all know what constitutes a truly “Christian” vote (insert wink and nod here), but let’s use ubiquitous words such as “conscience” and “biblical” as code for politically conservative voting.

Now believe it or not this is not where I find the problem. I do believe there are times where particular politicized issues reflect transcendent Christian virtues. But voting biblically (which should be concerned with matters far deeper than ideology alone) is not as simple as a matter of assessing platform or party. In fact I would venture to say that what might even be more critical than the platform of a candidate is the character they display. And when that is factored in you may find yourself in a biblical conundrum when a person with questionable character who advocates a more “biblical” platform is running against a person with stronger character and yet a weaker “biblical” platform. So then which is the more biblical vote, the vote for character or policy? Or to complicate it more, what happens if we find that both sides are a mix of biblical and unbiblical policy and character (also known as the Republicans and Democrats)? Should we want to claim that we are voting biblically when we know that our vote also empowers unbiblical priorities at times?

Perhaps toughest of all what happens when both candidates are unbiblical, but for different reasons? This is where we employ a new phrasing, “voting for the lessor of two evils.” Now for the record I don’t think it’s an easy case to make that voting for evil is biblical, even if it’s a lessor one. Yet I think this phrase occurs because we are told, “it’s your obligation to vote” implying that to refrain from voting is in and of itself more unbiblical than casting a ballot for Mr. Sinister to stop Mrs. Wicked.

Now there are some, in order to fulfill their binding obligation to vote but not wanting to vote for evil, stay with their model of voting based on their conscience and they write in a “really-quality-biblically-minded-totally-obscure-never-will-win-but-has-great-values” candidate only to be told by others how they threw away their vote and thus bare a repentant-worthy culpability in handing the country to Mrs. Wicked. I experienced this first hand when confronted by my fellow evangelicals for “throwing away my vote” in 2012 when I voted for JESUS in the Presidential election. It’s a weird experience when you vote JESUS and you’re told by fellow Christians that you sinned against the country and squandered your vote. It was there I found that within our evangelical jargon voting “biblically” according to “conscience” only counts if it’s also realistic and practical.

I could go on, but all of this illustrates the problem of exiles seeking to vote with a biblical conscience in Babylon – it’s not as clear-cut as it first seems.

  • For some, voting biblically will mean looking at the personal character of a candidate more than their platform.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean backing the platform of a particular party even if the person who represents it is lacking.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean centering on just one single topic because they feel it’s a topic God is profoundly clear on such as life, poverty, peace or family.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean casting a vote against a greater evil by invoking a lessor evil.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean voting for someone who cannot win but who is honorable and thus they are honored to support them.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean writing in JESUS as an act of prayer and offering to God asking that He might heal our culture.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean not voting at all because they feel to vote is to endorse and to endorse is to give approval to that which they do not approve of.
  • For most, more than one of these methods will be employed in an election cycle as their options thin out and thus their biblical vote adapts.

And I would say that all of these are legitimate ways in which Christians can properly vote with a biblical conscience since the Christian conscience is not a one size fits all. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul faces this very problem and asks, Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” Indeed! How Scripture, Spirit, context and conscience collide in regard to culture can have different outcomes for different Christians and yet each still remains biblical in their orientation.

However what is not biblical is when our vote is motivated by fear, greed, anger, bigotry, idolatry, guilt or power. Thus it’s equally possible to vote for the most biblical platform in the most unbiblical way. For to be truly biblical in our earthly citizenship is to remember that we must be loyal to a greater eternal citizenship. This world should receive from us primarily gospel, grace, service and love of neighbor and enemy alike because we know the systems of this world are frail, broken, unreliable and ultimately doomed to judgment. Therefore where we have the opportunity to be most biblical in our personal vote is in our awareness of and confidence in the truth that God is sovereign over the affairs of humanity in the collective electorate. The consistent narrative of the Bible is that God alone “removes kings and sets up kings”[1] for a larger sovereign purpose. In this way, to vote most biblically is to cast a ballot with confident joy in His provision and then respond with courageous contentment regardless of the outcome. Or as Paul put it in Philippians 4,

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

To vote biblically is ultimately to vote unto the glory of God without relegating our hopes, fears or faith to the politics of man.

[1] Here is a list of passages that shows God Himself is ultimately the one who sets up the kings of the world. Daniel 2:20-22; 37, 4:13-17; 25-26; 31-32, 5:21, John 19:10-11, Luke 4:5-8, Romans 9:17; 13:1-6, 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Revelation 17:17.

A College Girl’s Letter To Men

ishot-2Honor, my 19 year old daughter,  wrote this yesterday and I felt compelled to share it here.

Dear Men,

Every little girl dreams of getting married. I work at a daycare and half the time my little girls are playing “marriage” or “house”. Every one of them talks about being married to their husbands one day and having sweet babies and being mommies. While they aren’t old enough to fully comprehend the responsibility of such things, it is still something they desire, from a very small age. I was one of those little girls.

For years I have prayed for the man that God has set aside for me. I have prayed he comes quickly. I have prayed he seeks the Lord and loves little ones and loves me. I pray that he knows how to lead me. But as of late, I have begun to become discouraged by such things. Days go by. Months. Years. And as I have gotten older I have been forced to recognize the utter ugliness of the world I dwell in. Pornography and sexual temptations haunt young men around every corner. When you’re young you don’t realize it, but then something happens and suddenly it seems so much closer and so much more real than it did before. Porn used to be an ugly word, followed by shame and lust and sin. Nowadays, it is thrown around freely. As if it is just a part of life. As if it is okay. As if we should just expect it to always be around. As if it is perfectly normal for every young man to have seen it and struggle with it.

The average age for a male to view pornography is by the age of 9. Nine. 9? 9! As I stated previously, I work at a daycare. The kids I work with are as old as six. It both startles and scares me to think that by the time my young boys are 12, most, if not all of them, will have viewed pornography. By the age of 16 many of them will struggle with porn addictions. 10 years and the little boys I once knew will be forever tainted. It breaks my heart into a thousand pieces to think upon such things. Because they are so innocent and so sweet and one day they will have wives and girlfriends, who will never be able to compete with something this graphic.

I have seen women struggle over the fact that their boyfriends or guy friends or husbands struggle with porn or a sexual desire that cannot be quenched. I myself have been a victim of a young man who decided to choose porn and temptation and lust over me. Perhaps you don’t know it…perhaps nobody has ever told you what it feels like when someone chooses a computer or an iPhone screen over you.

I knew a young man who was addicted to porn by the age of 16; he started viewing it when he was 10. Josh Duggar recently admitted he was cheating on his wife and struggling with porn as well. Strippers and pornography and graphic movies and unfortunate sexual interactions have forever changed the world. They have forever changed the world for so many young women who are put up to compete with things that are horrifically violent and devastating and painful and ultimately unreal. And nowadays I wonder…is there even a young man who hasn’t looked at porn? Because now I expect that every man, every young man and boy has viewed such things. The movie/book “50 Shades of Grey” is celebrated and now more and more women are told that they should be able to take on mental, physical, sexual and verbal abuse in order to maintain a man. But where in the Bible does it say that men are supposed to abuse and hurt their wives and significant others? I have yet to find such a thing. In fact, I believe the Bible says otherwise. Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Ephesians 5:25 says, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. 1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” I have looked. So far I don’t see anything about God telling men to view pornography and hurt their loved ones.

I am 19 years old. I used to be excited about getting married. Now…now I’m not so sure. I am fearful. Because I have already been left behind for a girl on a computer screen. And I know, like I know many other women have felt, like I could never compete with that. She is perfect. And photo shopped. And told how to act. She does whatever a director tells her to do, even if it physically destroys her. How could I ever hold a candlestick to a girl that’s so flawless? She does things I am too afraid to do. And if I’m not willing to do it, a trip to the strip club or elsewhere will fix that right up. Or will it? I never thought I would be so worried about getting married. I want to be married. I want to have kids and a happy home. But I do not want to be betrayed. Or abandoned. Or have something so fake be put above me. I am already hurt by the possibility because chances of meeting someone who has saved himself or not viewed pornography are so slim they are little to none. I am not saying they are impossible, for all things are possible with Christ. But sometimes it feels like my odds aren’t very high.

This letter is a plea. A plea to men. To the men who have wives – I have given you evidence to not view pornography. You have a wonderful wife that God gave you – why would you treat her such? There is a big chance she gave you her everything…and now it is time your body is hers, and only hers. To young men who have yet to have wives but perhaps have girlfriends or are struggling – please turn away from temptation. Pull a Joseph and flee! Flee from sin and run into the arms of God. You will save your future wife/girlfriend so much grief if you choose not to act upon your sinful desires. To fathers – encourage your sons. Please, oh please fathers, encourage your sons. Encourage your sons in the way of the Lord. Encourage your sons to save their minds and their bodies for their future wives. Some of you fathers have daughters. How would you feel if you find out your little girl couldn’t stand a chance against a glowing screen? How would you feel if your daughter felt forced to sexually exploit herself because the world tells her that is the only way she can keep him around?

William M. Struthers writes, “Pornography thus enslaves the viewer to an image, hijacking the biological response intended to bond a man to his wife and therefore inevitably loosening that bond.” Bonds are broken. Relationships are torn to shreds or put under strain because of something the devil is trying to use to fight against us and fight against God. But I encourage you! Take up your shield and raise your prayers and the Bible up and fight off such temptations! For the Lord is strong and he will fight for you (see Exodus 14:14).

1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” We are called to love one another, men and women alike. And when we choose to give into sexual temptation and let Satan run rampant we are choosing not to love. Not to love wives. Not to love one another. Not to love girlfriends or someone’s daughter. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Men love your women. Love your wives. Your girlfriends. Your future wives. Your future girlfriends. Love them enough that it prevents you from allowing temptation and struggle to enter into your life.

This is a call to arms. A call to fathers and sons and uncles and husbands and boyfriends. A call to young men and boys and old men who have walked the earth for many years. A call to defend the Lord’s word and yourselves from Satan’s desperate attempt to tear our world limb from limb. Kick Satan’s butt. Scream at him and tell him you know love and will not fall into his ways! Resist. Flee. Run from temptation, take up your cross and follow the Lord desperately.

The Girl Who Was Chosen By A Man 2000 Years Ago

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” – James 4:7

You can read more of Honor’s stuff at her blog http://teawiththree.blogspot.com/

An Open Letter To My Pro-Choice Friends As To Why I Have No Choice But To Be Pro-Life.

MB PostsOver the last few months there has been no lack of social commentary regarding life, choice and reproductive rights. A good portion of that commentary, escalated by the release of several Planned Parenthood videos, has billowed from political hopefuls, seeking to secure the praise of their party’s base. Because of this, I find their words are not as concerned with a clear explanation of position, but rather are intended to besmirch their opponents. It’s the “red meat to the lions” endeavor that seeks to spread the impression that those who hold an opposing view are nothing more than pro-misogynist Terrorists, if on the right or pro-infanticide Feminazis, if on the left.

My intention here is not to supplement to that kind of bombast. Nor is it to orbit around all the political leveraging on this topic. Rather, what I am seeking to accomplish is why I am pro-life and how being so does not stem from some twisted desire to be anti-rights, anti-choice or anti-women. Now in writing this, I have no illusion that your mind will be changed if you are pro-choice. I do hope that with the absence of prickly sound bites and over-the-top name calling, people who do not hold my view can at least understand why people who are pro-life hold the view they do.

1st The Science Points To Human Life

I’m an evangelical pastor that has a serious appreciation of modern science. I see it as an ally to what I believe, not an adversary. With this, I believe the scientific evidence proves that biologically we are dealing with human life at the event of conception. Now we can debate if this equals personhood (I’ll get to that later), however there is no debate that the genetic materials involved at conception are by all quantifiable accounts human. For when two human gametes couple to form a human zygote, it is human life that is underway.

Perhaps some of the strongest evidence that a fetus is more than just a ubiquitous housing of tissue comes from the Planned Parenthood videos themselves. What is clear, is that the harvesting of organs and other parts are specifically human organs and human tissues. In other words, the monetary value of the harvested portions derive their value from being human, not merely being tissue and organs. To my knowledge there is not a high demand for fetal otter tissue or fetal hippo organs. It is the humanness of these fetal components that fetch their dollar value. Thus pro-choice science inadvertently agrees with pro-life science that what we are dealing with is a scale of humans. They may be tiny, undeveloped, dependent humans called fetuses (unless they were intentionally planned and then we use the familial term baby), but they are still human and they are still living by every technical measurement. The difference we seem to have is rooted in my second point.

2nd The Economy Of Human Fetuses and Eagle Eggs

I support sensible conservation. I also support making endangered species a protected class. On the flip side I have no compulsion to rescue every spider that creeps into my house. My reasoning is based on the environmental economy of supply and demand. There is an ample supply of spiders and so I think nothing of pushing one under foot, where as the Bald Eagle is rare and so I fully endorse criminalizing any activity when eagles or their eggs are harmed.

Now seeing that the human race has hit the 7 billion mark it seems we see ourselves as spiders more than eagles on the fetus front. We think we can afford to have a different view of our unborn race because our race is in ample supply. If however, our species were down to 100,000, our fetal value and hence protection would sky rocket in the economy of life. Debates about rights and choice would evaporate in light of pro-pregnancy rallies. As a species we would take dramatic steps to protect every fetus like it was an eagle egg. In the face of extinction all sides would agree that fetuses are worthy of protection. But at 7 billion we feel we can comfortably afford the position of pro-choice (some even advocating for it in light of concerns regarding overpopulation).

From this it seems that the pro-choice side views human fetal value as partly connected to population size, as displayed toward policies regarding endangered animals. When supply is low the value increases, but when supply is high the value drops. Conversely the pro-life side sees human fetal value as intrinsic and not conditioned by population density or other environmental considerations. Thus the total number of humans never dictates how valuable a single human is. It is similar as to why we have protective rights for minorities; we seek to protect the intrinsic value of an individual irrespective of an overall population or its biases.

Building on this I would take things a step further and say that all human value is intrinsic, not only irrespective of population size, but also regardless of one’s participatory status in a given population. Thus I move to my third point.

3rd How Human Is Human Enough To Have Rights?

Science proves a fetus is a human fetus. And I believe all humans would be prepared to grant protected status to a fetus if we were endangered (just as we do with endangered species and their unborn), but we don’t because humans are not endangered. Supply and demand is not the only way we measure value. Perhaps another way to look at it is to use the familiar phrase Human Rights. The question I have here is, “Who should be considered protected under Human Rights ideals?” The follow-up question is, “When do Human Rights trump governmental policy?” Is size the issue? Is dependency the cutoff? Is capability the measuring rod? Is gender or race a consideration? If someone is severely handicapped do they have less human value and consequently diminished human rights? When a country adopts a policy that takes dehumanizing action against a segment of their population, do we see that as a Human Rights epidemic? When cultures see women as less then men do we believe it is a moral responsibility to provoke social change and see things right sided toward equality? I think you get my point. When it comes to the handicapped, the incapable, the incoherent, the disenfranchised and those who are on the receiving end of whatever social bias exists, we believe those are Human Rights issues because they assault human personhood.

When I look at this in light of abortion I bring it back to the things mentioned above. Someone is not less human merely due to size, level of dependency or his or her inability to contribute. If a country shows bias against such people we see that as a Human Rights problem regardless of the laws a country establishes over the body of it’s own people. And most certainly someone is not less human, less a person, simply based on whether they were desired or perceived of as equal. Overall both pro-life and pro-choice advocates believe that human status is not based in the perceptions of others, but in the uniqueness of humanity itself. This takes me to my forth point.

4th Every Time Some Humans Concluded Other Humans Were Less Human They Were Wrong.

The ancient cultures perceived women and children as being less human. They were wrong. The slave traders and owners of historic America viewed African salves as 3/5 human. They were wrong. The Nazi’s viewed homosexuals, the handicap, Gypsies and Jews as less human. They were wrong. It seems that as a race we are good at dividing up our species into valued segments by which the less valued are expendable or exploitable. And yet every time this happens we can see in hindsight how wrong we were. Thus, since I believe science proves a fetus is a human, that humans have inherent value (a value we would all agree on if the population was at risk) and that such value is not derived from size, dependency, status, gender and desirability; as a result I believe the philosophy behind abortion is on the wrong side of history. Every time populations have rendered a value judgment of “less than human humans” future generations condemn it. This leads me to my fifth point.

5th I Don’t Choose To Be Pro-Life, Rather I Have No Ethical Choice.

Now before you misinterpret the title of this point let me clear the air. I’m not saying that people who are pro-choice are not moral. If you will entertain me for a second let me consolidate my case and from that show what I mean. If I believe science shows a human fetus is in fact human, that all humans have intrinsic value, that such value isn’t derivative from population, size, dependency or desirability but merely from being human, that to diminish such value in any corner of our species is a human rights violation and by extension a breech of individuality and personhood, and that every time this has happened before we were wrong; then I really have no choice to make here. I am bound by a pro-life position in the same way I am bound by human rights at large. To see things the way I do and then turn a blind eye would be no different than any other blind eye I might turn in the face of human bias.

Now if my premises regarding human status were different perhaps I could see my way out of a moral pro-life requirement. But the above points leave me with no option. These various facts constitute the essence of humanity. And just as I believe all classes of humans must be protected under an umbrella of human rights (minority humans, female humans, little humans, handicap humans, incarcerated humans, etc.), so too fetal humans. The location of a fetus no more changes the status of its humanity than Nazi laws and the Dachau camp could alter the intrinsic humanity of a Jewish girl. In my estimation Human Rights always trump the laws of location. This takes me to my sixth and final point.

6th Ladies, I Don’t Want To Control Your Reproductive Rights

I have a wife and two daughters. They are independent, competent and driven. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to hold them back or make them less. With that said I also have no intention to mandate for them how they choose to handle their reproductive issues in life. However there is a big difference between having the right to “when” and “how” you reproduce and the event in which reproduction has occurred. Reproduction is just that, the genetic contribution of two humans who make a third human. How two humans want to keep their genetic material from coupling is up to them, but once they have produced a scientifically defined human (intentionally or unintentionally) the rights of that human are also conceived in that moment. Rights where population, location, size, dependency and desirability should not be factors employed to discriminate against the intrinsic value of what it means to be acknowledged as human.


As I shared from the beginning my intention is not so much to change minds (though I won’t complain if that happens), but to help my pro-choice friends better understand why this issue is passionate for us on the pro-life side of the fence. I don’t think most people who are pro-life should be likened to misogynistic terrorist who use “Family Values” as a code phrase for suppressing reproductive rights. Rather I see pro-life ideals far more like Amnesty International or other Human Rights advocates. Now in the end you may believe that our definition of what makes one a human is too constrained, but in the spirit of consistency regarding human rights and worth I would advocate we error on the side of caution when it comes to all things human.

P.S. You’ll also notice that while I am a Christian, I didn’t quote the Bible in this article. I have biblical reason as well that reinforce my pro-life beliefs, but I wanted to share my thoughts from a neutral framework where mutual understanding and tolerance is a bit more likely. Aside from this I am also convinced that the pro-life position should not be seen as a viewpoint only for those of a religious orientation, but rather can– and I believe should– a position for all who defend Human Rights around the world.

The Supreme Court, Idols and The Ruining Grace of the Friday God.

MB PostsThe original Good Friday was not so good. In fact it was downright a punch in the gut followed by a brisk boot to the head. By the end of the day a pagan government flanked by a corrupt religion had managed to kill God’s Son, instill fear in God’s followers and give the illusion that God’s plans were buried in the dirt. As night fell on the angst-ridden apostles they found themselves lamenting the end of their movement along with the inevitability of their demise. Yep, it wasn’t exactly a Good Friday from anyone’s perspective: except God’s. For on that Friday many things yet to be seen were transpiring and one easily overlooked reality is that more than one “god” was slain that day.

Part of the angst of the Apostles on that Friday evening was rooted in a problem they were unwittingly blind to at the time. The problem? They had the right God, but they saw Him in selectively wrong ways. They thought Jesus was to be their partisan judge in an earthly court, their commanding general in a Roman invasion and their kingly monarch in a not-really-so-new-but-at-least-Jewish global empire. In short, they believed in a politically empowered messianic idol more than understood Jesus the Messiah who stands outside yet over all human rulers. Therefore when things fell apart, their idol – by way of God’s ruining grace – was slain. So while every part of it looked like a really bad Friday, it was the beginnings of the first truly Good Friday.

In thinking about this, as it pertained to the SCOTUS decision this last Friday, I couldn’t help but run through some parallels of how we too as Christians may have idolized certain things within our country. For a while I have noticed how we have slipped into a form of idolatrous doublethink regarding political powers. In one sense we have generally affirmed that government is not the solution to our problems, but then every election cycle we roll into sounding like politicians or parties are the key to curtailing the very problems we are certain government can’t fix. Now in saying this please don’t take my words further than I intend. I believe that every American Christian has an important public responsibility to be involved in the political process and some even running for office, but my suspicion is that we have gone further than mere civic duty; we may have set our faith and fear in it. We appear to have gone beyond casting our vote to placing our hope and trust and anxiety and distress in the outcomes of the civic arena; making idols out of platforms, methods, legislation and their aftereffects. Some idols we feared so greatly we made a point to desecrate them as often as possible, alarmed that they will rise up and overpower our rights. Other idols we opted to venerate in the hopes they would stem the tide of the idols we feared. Hence we played a game of “my idol can beat your idol,” and now we sit dismayed at the fact that “their” idols are shoving “our” idols butts in the cultural dirt. Yes, the political arm of Christianity is getting a beat down, but oh what a glorious beat down it will be if we are willing to endure it.

In relationship to times of opposition the Apostle said, It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” While some may speak of the need for God to judge America, we must remember that Peter here says judgment comes first to us. The difference however is that for the Christian God’s judgment is not to dole out sinful penalty, but to forge spiritual maturity. In light of this…

Perhaps the events of Friday, and the feared future consequences of those events, are actually the beginnings of a spectacular grace designed to filter out the worldly contaminates that have inadvertently mixed with what is to be an other-worldly faith.

Perhaps God is stripping us of our power, our privilege and our position specifically so all that remains is living by His Power, His Privilege and His Position.

Perhaps the best way we were ever going to love others selflessly was to be stripped of our ability to resist others socially.

Perhaps what our prayers most required, what our faith most desired and what our thankfulness most needed was being socially humbled so as to display Spirit-filled humility.

Perhaps because our idols have fallen, all other idols will eventually follow in suit so that Jesus reigns in the lives of an eternal multitude secured specifically because of the witness of our temporary discomfort.

Perhaps we will find a new found anguish for people who are estranged from God’s grace more than be agitated that they break God’s rules.

Perhaps by not being as focused on winning the culture wars for Jesus we will now be more focused on winning a war worn culture to Jesus.

Perhaps because we gladly pass through the fires of reviling with only blessing on our lips the embers of revival will settle around our country.

Perhaps we will be freed from the fear of all earthly calamity and rejoice in certitude of our eternal certainty.

Perhaps we will now know with steely assurance that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Perhaps what we least wanted we most required to be holy as God is holy.

Perhaps with less and less we will realize more and more Jesus meets every need.

Perhaps with all our idols broken down that is when His Cross, His Gospel, His Church and His Glory will be most lifted up.

Perhaps what feels like a very bad situation will be the beginning of a very good opportunity. It wouldn’t be the first time world changing things sprang from the ruining grace of the Friday God.



Things To Consider In Assessing How Much To Pay A Pastor

MB PostsThis is not for all pastors (though I am sure they will appreciate this). Nor is it for all parishioners (though they may find it interesting). It’s really for the group that sits down to consider a pastor’s salary. Yes that ominous board, committee or senior leadership that is commissioned with the task of sifting through the cultural aggregate to discern the answer to the ultimate question, “What Do We Pay A Pastor?”

Now to be sure, there are more than a few resources that provided formulas rooted in “How many years in ministry?” “How many degrees on the wall?” “What is the national/regional average of pastors in a church our size?” and the like. Yet I believe we need to look at the issue as a philosophy of compensation: developing a set of thoughtful layers to ensure – as much as a church can – health, longevity and expectation. In this three aspects should be considered.

Consider What You Are Asking For On The Familial Front

Pastoring is the only job I’m aware of where the entire family is explicitly highlighted in the job description. No other vocation in the totality of American culture hires and fires based on one’s marriage. No other trade requires one’s home or kids to be a part of the assessment for both initial and continued employment. Perhaps this is why we don’t hear of dentists’ children growing up to reject oral hygiene or the kids of contractors being referred to as CKs. Now in saying this I don’t want to diminish the standard, but equally it should be considered when evaluating compensation. A church is doing more than merely paying a pastor; they are subsidizing an example that others are to emulate.

With that said, everyone knows that financial instability places incredible stress on families, so imagine how much more stressful it becomes when your family’s spirituality is being measured as it faces those woes. This is where healthy compensation can alleviate some of the overall burden. Instead of thinking, “Ministry is a calling, and thus should be compensated less.” churches would do well to think, “Ministry is a calling, and thus should be insulated more.” When a pastor is financially freed-up to focus on the business of the church (because he is not burdened by figuring out how to get to the end of the month) he is also freed up to be a focused and thoughtful pastor.

Consider What You Are Asking For On The Longevity Front

The less a church pays its pastor, the shorter his stay will be and consequently the weaker a church will become. I know this swallows like a jagged pill, but don’t reject the facts merely because you don’t like them. If your church wants to recreate a honeymoon period every 2-3 years, intentionally elect to pay a pastor considerably less then the median income of the community and you will all but guarantee a revolving door.

If however you hope to keep a pastor for the long game, the more generous you are the more focus he will exhibit; particularly when things are hard. When a pastor knows his board will fight to financially care for his family (which is one of the reasons you hired him in the first place, because he displays biblical care for his family), the more he will fight to stick out the hardships and invest for the long haul.

Consider What You Are Asking For On The Education Front

This one is a distant third, but if you want a person who has both a Bible College and Seminary degree, then realistically you are choosing a person who’s sitting on educational debt. Institutions that train theologically are private, therefore there is no such thing as an inexpensive Bible College or Seminary. If you expect to have a pastor who has made this level of academic investment, then consider how you can help them recoup the fiscal sacrifice that made it possible. This is especially important when dealing with younger pastors who typically start off low on the salary scale while possibly juggling the full force of student loans.

How To Pay vs What To Pay

You’ll notice that nothing in this addresses “what” the magic number is. My goal isn’t to answer the final question of what the amount is, but rather “how” to work through “what” to pay. With that said here are some useful reflections as you come up with that number in light of 1 Timothy 5:17-18 which says, 17 Let the elders who lead well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

#1. Error on the side of generosity.

When Paul speaks of a paid pastor he uses the phrase “double honor.” Now while this is open-ended in terms of dollar value, the spirit of the phrase communicates that a recipient should feel extra honored by the givers.[i] Therefore in the most general sense, the double honoring of a pastor financially is an expression of grateful generosity. Now I know the push back on this may be to point out the handful of examples where pastors are paid exorbitant salaries, but in all reality for every one over-paid celebrity pastor in a megachurch somewhere there are thousands of other pastors who are under-paid (both in megachurches  as second-tier pastors as well as in standard size churches).

#2. Don’t have a huge gulf between the highest and lowest paid pastor in the church.

In the New Testament there is not a top paid senior pastor and then a distant associate, worship, youth and children’s pastor; there are simply “elders who lead well, especially in preaching and teaching” who are worthy of compensation. If you are the senior staff leader you particularly should be going to bat for the rest of your team in order to inch their salary closer to your own. No place in Scripture do we see where staff pastors are employees of the senior pastor, rather they are fellow elders who shepherd collectively. If you are in pragmatic doubt on this point as a senior leader, think you work harder than your team and thus you deserve way more than everyone else; go run the youth ministry for six months and get acclimated to reality.

#3. Pay at a level that expects hard work and measures results.

Pastors are to be paid because Paul says they “lead well.” Having a degree or years in ministry isn’t the standard, quality biblical leadership is. By compensating well you are acknowledging that people should lead well and thus they should be held to a high standard.

# 4. If you are a lay leader who is deciding on salary, don’t let your own personal pay cloud what you think a pastor should be paid.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” If your pastor makes more than you, be happy he does. Most of the time we are happy for others when they do well financially, the same should be true when it comes to those in ministry.

#5. Match or exceed the median household income of your community.

Make sure a pastor and his family can be engaged in the same activities and social structure as the community you expect him to engage with. Again, the goal is to free up their family to engage people, not strap them to keep up with the Joneses. Additionally, pay him enough that if his wife works it’s because she chooses to, not because she is required to.

#6. If your church can’t provide at a solid level – at this time – make it a future goal.

Churches have several material goals such as expansions, remodels, technology and the like, but they don’t typically plan for raises with the same level of aggression. This is perhaps one of the bigger financial mistakes a church can make. We are called to invest into people far more than stuff, not the least of which are those who equip us in the things of God. There is no shame in not being able to financially support a pastor at a healthy level because the resources are not there, but it is altogether a different matter (and perhaps sinful) if the conscious decision is to not do so.


P.S. Thank you to the elders and people of Redemption Church for being a true example of love, care and generosity. You are amazing!







[i] The New Testament often forgoes speaking in terms of percentages or dollars because it is pushing us toward a deeper generosity of heart. Thus while Paul doesn’t tell us how much constitutes a cheerful, bountiful, non-reluctant and non-compulsive giver in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we get the sense his encouragement is more, not less. The same attitude applies to double honor.

Boycotts, Persecution and Embracing Our Christian Exile

MB PostsFor as long as I can recall the Christian majority and uniquely my clan of conservative evangelicalism, has enjoyed a seat at the table of cultural influence. We have shaped policy, mentored presidents and maintained a moral status quo that was generally accepted or at least tolerated by the overarching populace. Yet much of this was not particularly gospel oriented or even biblically saturated. Sure, the moral expectations flowed at times from biblical passages, but the means and spirit in which they were communicated were guilty of a pretext without a context. With the regularity of a high-fiber diet, a new protest, petition or picket would be announced to drive back the intruding woes of society. For as soon as a group or corporation would push Christian boundaries, the word “boycott” would bellow from the religious empowered like a Christianized Bat-Signal; threatening financial penalty toward any entity that did not keep their whitewashed tombs looking white. Never mind if the immoral were going to hell just so long as they embraced our façade of ethical propriety.

The actions of the last five decades have won us no audiences, built us no bridges and as we are seeing today secured us no power. But what it has done is build a societal pressure that has grown weary, even vengeful, toward God’s moral referees and now is their season to set things right. And in a feat, almost Belichickian, the other side has stolen our playbook and now suddenly we don’t like how the game is being played. But this is precisely how we prodded them to play. Instead of modeling the appeal of a transformed life and the supremacy of the implanted word we leveraged the power of politics, embargoes and rhetoric to force moral capitulation without spiritual regeneration. So now what has been good for the Christian goose is even better for the cultural gander. This brave new world that is rapidly cycling before us is not exclusive of our doing, but we have contributed to spinning it up.

So how shall we then live? That is the real question before us. Not, “How can we get back to how we used to live?” That season has passed and it’s fruit has been both seedless and tasteless. The world around us has no want of, nor fear regarding the moral arbitrators. But more importantly, it’s not what they need. Our world doesn’t need wittier, pithier more provocative Christians who score points with the choir, paint cross hairs on their chest and agitate the culture. That is a law of diminishing returns. What our world needs to see, and will find hard to reject in the long game, is a people un-phased by the ebb and flow of shifting norms. People who embrace biblical convictions so deeply, they graciously live above the turbulence brought on by media, rhetoric and misguided reforms. For every time we have been rejected by a culture, it has been our role as the joyfully persecuted that has produced systemic cultural transformation.

Unfortunately it is this swelling persecution for which we are unprepared as American Christians. We sensationalized it for those who would be “Left Behind”, but we didn’t actually prepare for sticking around. We were not ready to become the slighted voice. We were not primed to be the distrusted. We were not braced for our community’s growing suspicion and condemnation. We littered the fruited plain with consumer savvy churches that spoon fed good advice to make life good and pleasant (some of which will simply embrace the current culture to sidestep earthly rejection), but we did not prepare Christians for the bad seasons that would require them to stand up, suffer ridicule and be counted among the cultural transgressors. Yet this is precisely where God flexes through his people; when they receive retribution with rejoicing. For the current conditions are not new conditions, but they are the consistent conditions in which God wields the grace of revival if we let go of our heritage of social controlling and embrace what it means to be spiritually compelling. And by compelling I do not mean cooler, looser or quieter. I mean clearer, godlier and bolder than we have been. Our error was not that we were too committed, but rather we were too committed to the wrong things. We boycotted over matters of the Law at the cost of the Gospel. Yet now is our opportunity to set our house in order, to embrace our exile, to set our vision on an eternal culture who’s maker and builder is God and thus elevate here and now the one thing that changes everything: the life-transforming message of Jesus.

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