Category Archives: Church

Why I Write My Sermons In A Bar

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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.

 

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.

Signed,
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/

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.

Decapitating Jesus

MB PostsChrist is the head of the church, His body, and is himself its Savior.    Ephesians 5:23

I recently wrote a pragmatic response to the alleged reasons people are leaving the church. I call them alleged because I suspect there are just as many sin-inspired or self-satisfying reasons as there are “justifications.” But my goal here is not to re-pound that sand. My purpose runs deeper. I want to target the biggest problem exiters (those who are officially rejecting church all together while still claiming Jesus) face, “How exactly does one go about decapitating Jesus without killing Him in the process?”

In the western mind everything can be segregated for personalized appeal. “Selection” is the optimal word in marketing. “Customization” beckons us to put the “ME” stamp on everything from phones to diets and cars to cloths. Individuality, personalization and particularity dominate the landscape of American life, and that slams straight into Christian attitudes about spirituality, ecclesiology and theology. Specific to this topic, it laces people with the illusion that one is free to retain Jesus and their Christian spirituality, but to reject the church and all it’s irritating fragility. It’s customized spirituality at consumerism’s finest, but is such a division biblically permissible? Can a Christian separate the head of Jesus from the shoulders of His body and still follow Him in the way the New Testament specifies?

Now it would be easy to make this matter complicated by raising all the emotional and practical baggage that is associated with the discussion. However, I want to make this as simple as possible, not because simplicity makes it easier to swallow, but because some truths should be communicated to professing Christians with a simple matter-of-factness, minus the sentimental caveats that are designed to soften up the listener. And yes, I am aware that last sentence is beginning to sound a little harsh, but I would maintain that we are discussing truths here and truths are not inherently harsh. Opinions are harsh, people are harsh, circumstances can even be harsh, but truths are just truths. They may feel like cold comfort in that we don’t like certain truths, but they endure unabated precisely because they are fixed regardless of our feelings, situations or opinions. And so here is the simple truth, it is biblically impossible to decapitate Jesus, stick His head under your arm and move along with your own disembodied Christ. One must take Him head and body or – by default – He is rejected altogether.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12 & 27 Paul unequivocally highlights this truth when he writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ… 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Notice that Paul does not advocate a distinction between the Person of Christ and the Body of Christ as though they are complementary partners with distinct boarders of independence. He says that just as the body is one, so it is with Christ. Do a double take on that. The fullness of Christ isn’t isolated from the church (neither the church universal or local – remember 1 Corinthians is written to a local church after all); rather the church is an extension of what constitutes the fullness of Christ’s glory revealed. As one set of commentators put this, “Christ may be said to be a body with many members” therefore “to dishonor any part of Christ’s body is to dishonor Christ himself.”* Now we should not read this as some weird quazi-Christian-pantheism, but we must read it in the sense that the Body of Christ is ultimately indivisible from the Head of Christ because together this displays the Glory of Christ. I know this all sounds very mysterious, but truths are no less true simply because they are filled with mystery (Ephesians 5:32).

In the big picture, to reject the church – locally or universally – is to reject how Christ chooses to display His very own self. You may not want to accept that. You may attempt to reduce what you are rejecting to a frigid political institution of religious jargon and entertainment saturated marketing, but you rejecting far more in the process. For in leaving the church entirely you do more than divest yourself of a governing board, philosophy of ministry or group of people; you are also leaving that which Christ identifies as part of Himself. Therefore the raw reality is that any wholesale rejection of Christ’s Body, driven by personal hurts or biases, will not hold up as legitimate before Christ who is the Head. Jesus will not allow individuals to enthrone Him as their decapitated king. He cannot be divided against Himself for the fulness of His glory is shown through His unification as Head and Body (Ephesians 4:1-6). The gospel brought this together (Colossians 1:24-29) and no disgruntled, disenfranchised or discouraged Christian has the authority to tear it asunder.

Now are there some wonky local churches and jacked up denominations? Yes! But there are also a great number of them getting far more things right than wrong.

  • Churches that are filled with people who also have been hurt, but don’t give up.
  • Churches that are struggling with how to love a pluralistic culture while still maintaining a biblical vision of life.
  • Churches that are fighting to pursue a healthy blend of what it takes to reach consumers while still developing true disciples.
  • Churches that are proclaiming the fullness of the Bible while still admitting the ongoing battle to become everything Jesus seeks.
  • Churches that are replete, not with judgmental hypocrites, but imperfect people who are imperfectly trying to “be perfect as their Father in Heaven is perfect.”

So come back! We all agree that the church at times can seem like a saggy, broken, out of shape body with stretch marks and a few scars, but it’s Jesus’s very own Body which is indivisibly and gloriously joined to His headship (Ephesians 5:25-30 & 32).

[*] Vaughen & Lea, 1 Corinthians BSC, p.150 & Ciampa & Rosner, 1 Corinthians PNTC, p.609

Dear Church, We’re REALLY REALLY Leaving You Because You’re Too Sinful And Not Worthy Of Our Grace.

MB Posts

This article will be a bit barbed, but I do this when defending a woman that is being mistreated.

Over the last several days the article “Dear Church, Here Is Why People Are REALLY Leaving You” has repeatedly cycled through my sprawling array of social media feeds (Oh Ryan Howard where is WUPHF.com when I need it most?). I have seen people I love “Like” it and people I like “LOVE” it, but I have contemplated it. Now if I were simply mining the article for anecdotal nuggets I would say there is much to be mined, but taken on the whole I feel like it’s giving me the shaft without any real gold in the mine – and yes, the double entendre is implied.

In the big picture the thrust of the article appears to be saying – as far as I can surmise – “Yes Church I’m leaving you. And yes it’s me, but it’s more you because you don’t accept me for me like you should.” Now I’m not going to argue for a minute that this doesn’t happen (though I actually think a whole lot less, or a whole lot less dramatically than articles like this make it should). However, my bigger concern is that the article itself is an exercise in the very thing criticized, and brazenly so. For as much as some churches out there may not take people where they are at, there are far more people who don’t take churches where they are at. Every week people leave a church for innumerable reasons, but the commonality is some element of “this church isn’t doing it for us.” It’s a break-up with that particular church because it lacks or does something that causes them to “find another” a bit more worthy. However, in the case of this article it appears the rejection is so deep it’s “The Church” that is left, not just a church. And at the core of that issue is far more than merely calling the kettle black, it’s sinners calling sinners sinners for sinfully not loving sinners, sinfully. Yes, read it five times and it will fall together.

So then the innate question, the “what would Jesus ask?” question is, “Who is prepared to love first, to love selfless and to love someone or a group of some ones right where they are at?” The low truth is that there is no red-letter high ground in saying, “I’m rejecting you because you are more broken than me and don’t see it.” Those who think they can love better, judge less and care more should actually model the solution for a broken church in the church. This is particularly true in light of the reality that at the deepest level, people who reject church for rejecting people are inherently rejecting people themselves. Churches are not computers run by algorithms and automation. When people leave churches they are leaving swaths of individuals. Every time people have left our church because they were hurt, I deal with others whom are hurt by the hurt people leaving. And no wonder, people who leave are not just leaving an organization. It’s people who design the programs you deem shallow, it’s people who have the attitudes you consider hypocritical, it’s people who set the priorities you reckon as greedy, it’s people who get bogged down in the biases you hold as judgmental, judgmentally and yes, might I actually say it’s people who struggle with same problems of sin as you, the more enlightened sinner, who advances the broad brushed intolerant narrative that the real problem with “The Church” is that it isn’t as tolerant as you.

  • You, the self admitted sinner who fights for the worth of other sinners you deem worthy, by condemning sinners you find to be undeserving.
  • You, who restrict your illuminated grace because you believe they express only institutional grace.
  • You, the one who has exchanged an eye for an eye, hurt for hurt and rejection for rejection by feeling slapped, slapping back and then accusing The Church of not turning the other cheek.
  • You, who stand in an ebony tower of judgment, condemning those in their ivory towers for being judgmental.

Perhaps most problematic is that the only one who is truly grieved in all of this is probably Jesus. He is working with eternal grace to present His Church – His Girl – without spot or blemish, but you keep pointing out all her flaws and inadequacy. You breed her insecurity through your criticism. She chases after new, flashy and shallow because you remind her she isn’t beautiful. Don’t keep telling her she is shallow, broken, unattractive and bitchy. Stop shamming her for not being the perfect 10. Woo her, esteem her, meet her where she is at and respect her for the sole reason that Jesus loves her and rescued her as His most treasured possession.

Yes, the Church is a Gomer, but she is Jesus’ Gomer. So start treating her like the lady Jesus endures with, not as an establishment you rate on a five star system and then tack on a review.

The Best Way To Create A Family Friendly Church Service Is To Stop Having A Biblically Committed One.

MB PostsYears ago I was on a return flight from a conference in California. I was early onto the flight so I buckled up, settled in and popped open my Bible. It was a risky move in that it opened up the possibility for conversation, something I very much wanted to avoid on this flight. A Bible in 8B can act as a beacon of invitation for a sweet older Christian in 8A who sees your Good Book as a good opportunity to bend your ear about church potlucks and her quilting for Jesus club. Or even worse, you might end up with a Dispensationalist in 8C who wants to know what you think about blood moons, the Trilateral Commission and Nicolas Cage starring in “The Left Behind” movie. It was risky, but I had some things on my mind and needed to do a little cross checking.

As I read, a distinguished older gentleman hoisted his bag into the compartment above and then settled in next to me. I could sense his head tilting to glance over at my reading material. For roughly 5 minutes he did this until his eastern European accent cut the air, “You are reading a Bible, yes?” Hoping to maintain a cone of silence and dissuade any further conversation I simply nodded. “I’m Jewish. I know this book. It is a dirty and vile work.” With those words the cone of silence evaporated.

“Really!” I thought. “Of all the people you could have placed next to me, Jesus, you put a Nazi-era Jewish European who thinks the Bible is ‘dirty’ and ‘vile’.” At a slight loss for an opening sentence, I simply burped one of those awkward chuckle-coughs and mumbled, “Really?”

“Oh yes, it is the darkest least moral book in the world.” Now at this point I figured he was going to elaborate on how it has started wars, fostered slavery, blamed his people for the death of Jesus or segregated people groups. Instead, I found that his thesis was a bit more content driven.

“It opens violent. The world is chaos. Then God tears everything apart to make day and night, land and sea. He then makes people where sex and domination are their first commands. It starts with violence and sex. It’s dirty.” I confess this was not the answer I saw coming. In fact, it’s an answer I had never even considered before.

“Interesting… I’ve never seen it that way.”

With a kind sincerity he looked at me and said, “How could you miss it? It keeps going like that. They are naked in a garden. Their son kills their other son. After that God destroys the world due to wicked people. All those animals die because of people. It’s very very violent. God telling people to kill men, women, children and even the pregnant women for land. You see men having sex with their slaves and grotesque animal sacrifices. Even Solomon writes a book on how to have sex – it’s a pornographic book.”

Awkwardly I responded, “Well that’s why I’m more of a New Testament guy.”

“Oh, the New Testament! I’m Jewish; I do not know it so well, but I do know it says Jesus was crucified for sins. That is a very violent way to forgive. I also know Jesus said He will send people to eternal torture if they don’t believe in Him. That is both violent and cruel.” He then paused for a brief moment, leaned in and said in a whisper, “The Bible should never be taught to children. It is not for kids. That is why Christians change the stories so much, to make them friendly for their families.” With that he simply patted me on the forearm and said, “Thank you for the talk. I think I will rest. Enjoy your book.”

This 15-minute interaction happened over 20 years ago, but I never forgot the importance. While I didn’t agree with this man’s extreme articulation, I did agree that the Bible is not exactly a family-friendly book and to make it so does violence to what God has revealed. Think about it. Even the “kids’ stories” of Adam and Eve, Noah and The Flood, David and Goliath or Jesus and The Apostles are at some juncture R-Rated stories if accurately and fully told. Even the moral parts that would be construed as most family friendly are usually set against a backdrop that is not. For example, if you want your kids to memorize the 10 Commandments you are going to have to get into swearing, murder and sex. Aside from these popular examples, the entire narrative of the Bible is dealing with the problem of sin, rebellion and wickedness and how God solves that through Jesus, the Cross and His Word.

From all of this I see that the only way to be truly family friendly in a Sunday service is to redact much of the R-Rated Bible in order to make the whole experience more acceptable for a G-Rated expectation. Yet this fails our commission. Our calling is not to decide what we think is appropriate in the Bible, but to communicate the full council of God. We are not free to be editors, but proclaimers. We don’t possess the authority to write or erase the mail; we merely deliver it as it is. Now, I know that sometimes God’s mail makes us squirm, gets uneasy or even downright feels offensive, but not nearly as much as the sin it’s combating. Sin makes the Truth, even the ugly Truth, necessary. And as Christians move forward in the hopes of reclaiming a family-friendly world I pray it begins by embracing the fullness of the not so family-friendly, though always family-preserving, Bible.