Friday, July 30, 2010

Hat Sizes

I was trying on hats at Target today and realized that my head has gotten bigger.  No joke.  I used to have trouble because my head was so small that Target never had hats small enough.  It was like being in a cranial version of "Little People, Big World."  This is not the case anymore.  Maybe the "medium" just got smaller, but I think I might have a bigger head!  At first, this thrilled me.  It means no more shopping for hats in the 7-12 year old section.  It is hard to be taken seriously in a "Diego the Explorer" hat.  My joy subsided quickly when I realized my cranial growth is directly proportional to the number of compliments I have received in the last year.  

At the office, I do what I call "What-About-Bob-ing" pride.  You may remember the Bill Murray movie "What About Bob?" where Bob has an array of phobias.  One of the ways he deals with them is to fake them.  If he's afraid of having a heart attack, he clutches his chest and falls on the floor.  "If I fake it, I don't have it," he tells his psychiatrist.  I thought this was a great way to handle pride.  The other day, I turned to my wife and said, "God must really love you to have given you a husband like me."  Another time, I re-introduced myself to a co-worker who knows me well.  "I act so much like Jesus," I told her, "that I think it is a good idea to remind people that I'm actually just Dan, so there is no confusion."  Turns out, faking pride doesn't keep you from getting it.

I've been thinking lately about the difference between confidence and pride.  I used to be so afraid to try things, so afraid of failure that I never stepped out.  I never took risks.  I was very shy and probably not considered funny or very interesting.  I could have been the national spokesperson for National Public Radio.

By God's grace, something changed.  It started late in High School and grew through college.  In recent years, I've been able to see God work to accomplish some pretty exciting things.  And, I'm blessed that He let me be a part of it.  Now, I feel a little bit more confident in the gifts God has given me and the personality he has made me with.  It's pretty exciting.

However, there are days when I just feel completely inadequate.  Sometimes, I look at my work life and realize that I forgot about something.  Other times, I think about what I do and wonder "Couldn't anybody do this?"  Am I really doing that much to make a difference?

God has a way of watching me humble myself.  I say "watching me humble myself" because I really think there is a thin line between confidence in my God-given gifts and plain old pride.  He lets me cross that line now and then, and that's when I revert back to healthier God-dependence.  I don't walk in perfect alignment.  I teeter back and forth on the tight-rope of confident God-dependence.  Sometimes I slip and catch myself on the rope.  Other times, I fall into the net of His grace.  Every time I so much as lean to far one way, I remember how much I need Him.

This week has been a slip and catch myself on the rope week.  I'm tired.  My mind hasn't settled down since May and now it refuses to work well.  Ideas flow more like molasses than water.  The day goes by and I can't remember exactly what got done that day.  I'm trying to brainstorm ideas for projects, but my brain can barely muster up a light drizzle.  I feel completely inadequate.

As is my practice in times of insecurity, I offered up a few "God, I don't know what to do about____" prayers.  These are the prayers I pray when I just feel spent and don't know what to do next.  You know what; He heard me.  He gave me ideas that I know I couldn't have thought of on my own.  He worked out details I couldn't control.  He showed me who has the real ideas, and reminded me while hard work is necessary, letting go and waiting for Him is too.  I'm going to take a week of vacation, starting this Sunday.  For several days, I won't have direct control over the ministries I oversee.  I am stepping back and letting God work through the leaders he has given me and developed through me.  When I get back, I'm going to see if I can fit into some smaller hats.

Would anyone else like to offer up some "God, show me what to do about _____" prayers?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just Listen

"Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe."--Dietrich Bonhoeffer  

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how to live surrendered, completely dependent on the Holy Spirit.  Put simply, there are two very distinct schools of thought on surrender: Static and Radical.  (I'm intentionally using polarizing terms language to highlight their differences.)  I'd like to take some time to discuss them today:

Static--"I'm surrendering to Jesus in my heart, and attendance record shows it."  These are your standard church-goers.  The classic cases are the people who have no relationships outside of their church friends.  They generally sit in the same pew every Sunday and usually volunteer for ministries to other Christians.  They will make coffee for their Sunday School class, but will not volunteer at the Salvation Army food kitchen.  They are faithful attenders to Worship Services and to classes where they can learn about the Bible, but they do not go forward for altar calls. They do not usually join Life Groups unless the Life Group is made up exclusively of people from their Sunday School class.  They can be dull, because the most exciting stories they have involve realizing pork and beans is 5 cents cheaper at Aldi than at Giant Eagle.  However, they can also be refreshing, because they are always there on Sunday, often with a smile and a very genuine "good to see you."  They are steady givers and really care about the church.  

Radical--"I'm surrendering to Jesus in my heart, and I burned down my house so that I would have to depend on God for a place to sleep."  They believe church is a purely man-centered religious institution and that they will somehow be assimilated into Borg-like drones if they attend regularly.  They are the first people to sign up for local outreach projects and the first to resign, because the event isn't "dependent enough."  They see planning ministry as a slap in the face to the Holy Spirit's leading.  If they are associated with any assembly of believers, it is a Life Group or house church.  They are really exciting to fellowship with, because they inspire you to step out in faith with amazing stories of angels flying them out of burning buildings that God told them to enter, because He wanted them to save a litter of puppies in room 2A that just happened to be named "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego".  However, they can also be exhausting, because they unintentionally make you feel like less of a Christian for attending a big church that only has 20 people getting saved every Sunday instead of a house church that is making "true disciples."  They are willing to do anything for the Kingdom of God.  They go out of their way to help people in need, and you can always depend on them to get behind you when the risk is great and God-dependence is high.  Pre-Christians see them and say, "That guy knows Jesus."  

I'm caught somewhere in the middle. I genuinely see surrender in both groups.  At times I have felt guilty, because I have a comfortable house and I know that my next paycheck will cover my bills.  Other times, I look at how busy I am with things at church and feel like I really need to spend more time with my pre-Christian friends.  However, I have many times offered up my home and belongings to God, and I'm genuinely willing to let them go at His request.  Also, when God brings my pre-Christian friends to mind, I make it a point to call or text and get together.  Every time this happens, God does something big.  

I'm starting to think that we have become way too concerned about what surrender needs to "look like."  I've heard this phrase a lot:  "What does a Christ-centered church look like?"  "What does a missional ministry look like?"  "What does a life of surrender look like?"  A lot of times (not always) I turn this into comparing myself with others.  I hear about my friend who gave away his belongings to obey God and I wonder if I should do the same.  The difference is that God didn't ask me to sell everything.  In fact, he could be asking me to do something else, but I am busy worrying about whether or not I should surrender in the exact same way my friend has.  

How strange that in a conversation about obedience to the Spirit, I start to think I have to do what everybody else is doing!  My job as a disciple of Christ is to listen to the Holy Spirit, not to copy my friends who are listening to Him.  

What is God asking you to do?  How are you depending on Him?

As you think about surrender, I can recommend The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.    

Monday, July 19, 2010

If God is good...

If God is good, then why is there suffering in the world?  This might be the most controversial question in history.  We want to assume that if God is good, He would not allow us to experience pain.  Some argue that if we suffer, God must not have known it was going to happen.  Others argue that our suffering is all our fault, and that we shouldn't blame God for any of it.  Either way, the reality is that God could stop all the evil and suffering in the world if it was within His nature to do so.  He hasn't.  Does that make God less than good?  Does it make Him less than God?

Yesterday, I spoke on Psalm 77 at Open Door.  In my study of the passage, I was surprised to see the psalmist openly question God in the midst of his suffering.  He genuinely asks God: "Are you still loving?  Have you forgotten to be merciful?  Have you withheld your compassion?

We have a tendency to think that if God is good, He will keep us from suffering or that He will immediately remove us from it when we ask.  The truth is, God almost never takes me out of suffering when I ask. I have seen Him work miraculously and providentially when the situation doesn't affect my comfort.  He has answered my prayers many times when it had to do with ministry or someone else.  However, when I am experiencing tragedy or when I am watching tragedy happen, he often lets me endure it.

I have wrestled with this at times.  Recently, I have come to some comforting conclusions:

  1. God doesn't mind us asking questions of him (Psalm 77:6-9).
  2. God loves me and is powerful.  If God allows me to suffer, it is ultimately for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28-30)
  3. My suffering is directly linked with my relationship to him.  Jesus suffered.  Being like Him means I will too.  I am closer to Him as a result of my suffering (Romans 8:16-18).  
  4. God's goodness is not contingent on whether or not He frees me from suffering.  
  5. The most encouraging thing I can do is to remember who God is by recalling what He has done (Psalm 77:10-20, Job 38-41).  
This is what we did yesterday in Church.  Instead of a closing song, we had testimonies.  We read posts from the Adventure Stories (testimonies) part of our website, and we listened to a few live testimonies.  It was an exciting time.  It is amazing how many miracles He has done, how many people He has saved, how many prayers He has answered.  We were able to put aside our trials, in some cases even forget our suffering as we reviewed the greatness of God.  How could we not trust a God who rose His Son from the dead?  

So, today what I wanted to do was give you the opportunity to share something (anything) God has done in your life.  It doesn't have to be "big," just something that He has done.  Go to the Adventure Stories section of the website and share your story.  While you're there, read a few from others.  

 If you would like to read more on this topic, I can also recommend The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"The whores all seem to love Him, and the drunks propose a toast..."

The title of this blog comes from a Rich Mullins song called "Surely God is with Us."  The song talks about Jesus relationships with the worst of society, and His ability to show them love like no one else.  The song came to mind when I saw this video. 

(If you are unable to view the video, it is available at

I have been loosely connected with XXXChurch for a while.  Their pastor, Craig Gross spoke at Frequency a few years ago.  Also, I have encouraged men I disciple to use their X3watch accountability program for nearly a decade.  However, they have been the subject of controversy many times since they started going to porn conventions to share the gospel and help men and women get freedom from sexual addiction.  Recently, they have made the news again by doing mission trips to brothels where they improve the living conditions of the prostitutes and share Christ's love.

As a Christ-follower, I have often erred on the side of caution when it came to living and speaking the gospel. I avoided bars, tattoo shops and even "secular" concerts in an effort to keep my reputation unspotted.  Sanctification was the goal, caution was my method.  I was good at it too.  I had a great reputation.  I had never spoken a word of profanity, never drank and avoided people who did things like that.

You would think that since I was such a shining light of human purity, people would flock to me for advice on how I had remained unspotted.  Nobody did.  I did not know ANY pre-Christians.  Seriously, I went through a significant time in my life without having a genuine relationship with any person who did not know Christ.

I started to question why weren't people attracted to my "Christlikeness"?  People were attracted to Jesus all the time.  Crowds followed him.  Why wasn't I getting the same results?  I had to take a hard look at my life, and I realized something: Jesus wasn't known for abstaining from alcohol (in fact He drank wine).  He wasn't respected for avoiding unsavory people (He fellowshipped with prostitutes, tax collectors, and the dregs of society).  Jesus was respected for His unconditional love, His care for the needy and for His brutal honesty when it came to sin.

I had to realize that I wasn't being Christ-like by avoiding people.  In fact, I was just the opposite.  The lines I had drawn to define a "good Christian" had nothing to do with who Christ really is.  The result was that I was not effective at fulfilling the great commission.

I erred on the side of caution for a long time.  In some cases, for good reason.  There are some places I still won't go.  I avoid places where I'm prone to stumble, but not places that I think will hurt my "Christian" reputation.  I don't think I could ever go to a strip club to share the gospel, but I'm happy to sit down at Tried and True Tattoo and have a talk about the love of Christ.

So, what do you think about XXXChurch methods?  Would you go on a mission trip to a brothel?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Law don't go around here. Savvy?"

Tombstone has to be one of the greatest movies ever.  Relative historical accuracy, 19th Century Western shootouts (which doesn't count as violence), brotherhood, heroism, the list goes on.  What more could you ask for?!  One of my favorite quotes comes from a man who says to Wyatt Earp, "Listen, Mr. Kansas Law Dog. Law don't go around here. Savvy?"

Now and then I have a desire to quote this line completely out of context.  Recently at Frequency we've been discussing Paul's Epistle to the Romans.  In it, he deals with the purpose of the Old Testament Law.  The discussion has led to topics of legalism and freedom.

Bible study is a great time for such issues to come up.  Usually, discussions about legalism look a lot more like a shootout at the O.K. Coral.  They start with a debated issue such as alcohol, tattoos, or musical preference.  Usually, Old Testament Law is cited.  For example, I had a conversation about tattoos one time, and someone cited Leviticus 19:28.  I asked him if he also thought we should obey verse 27 and grow our hair out at the temples into long curly cues or obey verse 19 that commands us not to wear clothes with mixed fabrics.  The reality is that none of us obey the Law.  In fact, no one has ever obeyed the Law in full.  The law existed to show that we can't be good enough on our own.  According to Paul, no one could ever be saved by the Law.  Instead, the Law existed so that we would all shut up and recognize our need for God (Romans3:19-20).

When Paul refers to the law in Romans 6:14, he says that we are not under it but under grace.  When the topic came up at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the apostles decided that we don't need to obey the Law.  Instead, we are to surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 6:15-23).  That's good news! Our salvation is not dependent on works of the Law but on the grace of God (Ephesians 2:7-9)!

So, why do we still try to obey the Law?  Sometimes I wonder if we still have something in us that wants to do it on our own, that wants to "earn it."  We all find different ways to do it.  Sometimes it's obedience to the Old Testament Law.  Sometimes, it is adherence to our self-engineered structures of legalism.

The sad thing is that we are living in bondage.  The offensive thing is that we are trying to tell God we can do it on our own.

So, are things like tattoos a sin?  

"I'm your huckleberry.  That's just my game."

Disclaimer: This does not mean Christianity is without morality or order.  It does mean that becoming like Christ is our focus, not legalism.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More Summer Reading

So, I'm not a tall guy.  That goes without saying.  I also look younger than I really am.    This is difficult, because I'm pretty young to start with.  Often, when people find out I'm a pastor they have a look of shock.  It is as if they are about to ask me if I have my parent's permission.  I usually respond with, "Yeah, they come smaller now" or "I'm the Doogie Houser of Pastors."  After which, I try to make some comment that makes me sound older.  I reference a Led Zeppelin song or call a 32 year old "really young."  This sometimes keeps them guessing long enough for me to get away before they ask how old I really am.

The reality is that I am a reasonably young pastor.  I started pastoring full time at the age of 27.  I work with volunteers that are old enough to be my granddad.  It is a unique position to be in, one that I don't take lightly.  I am blessed to work with a lot of gracious men and women who "do not despise my youth."  I am in a job where I am continually being developed, encouraged and mentored by people of all ages.  It is a great experience!  I love my job!

Sometimes young men and women ask me about calling, gifts, leadership, career, etc.  They want to know next steps to prepare for their career or ministry.  I thought I would recommend a book that really helped me get ready to pastor.  The Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley helps young men and women identify strengths and begin arranging their lives as best as possible to lead in those areas.  The book helped me lead better in our young adult ministry, preparing me for future ministry as a pastor.

By the way, as Andy Stanley mentions in another book, vision is often about being ready, even before there is opportunity.  One thing that I can say to other young leaders with vision is to be ready.  Generally, the path to opportunity is not a strait line.  I spent a lot of time digging ditches, delivering furniture, answering phones, and scrubbing toilets (and also barely scraping by financially) before God opened the door for my dream job.  At times, books like this one even seemed annoying, because a lot of the information was stored away.  Getting prepared for my ministry career helped me get through the times when it seemed so far away.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

10 Years From Now (Part 1)

Something bothered me while picking up Chinese food for dinner last night and it wasn't MSG.  As I was leaving with my bourbon chicken and pork lo mien I overheard a boy publicly curse his mother as she apologetically gave him his way.  The words he used were not nearly as offensive as his tone.  It was like fingernails on the chalkboard for anyone in earshot.  The whole thing bothered me.

For a moment or two, I considered saying something to they boy.  He seemed to be in his pre-teen years.  Maybe a "that's not cool" from a man would make a difference.  I decided that since the incident had happened several feed away, it would be weird to go out of my way to say something.  I'm still not sure if that was the right decisions.

Here's why I'm unsure.  As I am prone to do, I started thinking about how this incident will affect the future of our community.  This child was upset that his pizza wasn't ready yet (something outside his mother's control).  She didn't discipline him for his disrespectful behavior, choosing rather to do her best to meet his unreasonable demands.  Right now his behavior is offensive and annoying.  Imagine this child in 10 years.  He will have the ability to vote, drive, hold a job and parent his own children.  If his entire life has been about people meeting his demands to appease him, what will happen in his work place, community, family, etc.?

You might think he would get fired for his demanding behavior.  That only happens when everyone else is working hard and getting a long.  What if everyone has been raised without direction or discipline.  What if everyone is selfish beyond reason?  I've worked in places like this.  I can tell you that it is no longer the unreasonably selfish employees that stick out.  Hard workers and kind people are the rare exception.

Let's look past the work place.  Will this young man vote for what is best for his community or for what he perceives to be best for him?  Will he vote at all?  Will he keep his neighborhood clean or will he litter and let things go?  How will he treat his own children?  If his unreasonable demands have not been met, how will he react to them?

I hear a lot of talk about the economy.  So many newsworthy issues seem to come back to job creation.  Sometimes I wonder if we don't have an economic crisis, but a responsibility crisis rooted in a parenting crisis.  We are a culture that slips further and further away from responsibility, kindness, respect, etc.  What happened to our standards?  What happened to our direction?  What should we do about it?

If you are a parent, let me recommend a book that has made a big difference for a lot of other parents.  Parenting from the Heights by Anne Wiggins and Linda Williams is a great resource for all of us.

Also, I'd like to get your thoughts on something: Should I have said something to the boy who cursed his mother?  (After all, his world view is going to affect me and my community in 10 years.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I'm starting to get ready for fall.
I'm thinking about re-reading some C.S. Lewis books this summer. I'm tired of the "new" books I've been reading.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer Reading

Often, people ask me to recommend books.  I don't think I have ever given a reading list that didn't include at least one book by C.S. Lewis.  His books have impacted thousands of Christian leaders and thinkers and continue to be relevant to young Christians.  Given that it is summer and a good time to get ahead on reading, I thought I would recommend a few of his most important books:
  • Mere Christianity is Lewis' landmark work.  In it, he outlines and supports the core doctrines of our faith.  Not only is the book informative, it is also beautiful as all of his books are (Keep in mind that his initial profession was literature).  This is a great book for anyone thirsty for knowledge, wondering where to start.  Also, the Signature Classic series looks really cool.  You can't help pouring a cup of coffee or a hot tea and reading for hours in a bookstore or coffee house. 
  • Surprised by Joy is one of his most underrated books.  It is a memoir of sorts that outlines Lewis' conversion to Christianity from atheism.  Interestingly, he touches on this feeling of intense desire for something this world does not fulfill (a feeling he calls "joy").  While the book is not as popular as others, it is very interesting and thematically affects every other book he writes (including his fiction).  
  • The Problem of Pain is very special to me, because I read it the semester my grandmother died.  The book deals with why a good God allows pain in the world.  If you haven't read the book, you might be surprised at the answer he gives.  This is one of the top 5 most influential books of my life.  I have to recommend you read it this summer. 
  • The Screwtape Letters is sinister.  It is like reading an Alice Cooper album.  It is a series of letters written from the perspective of one demon to another.  There are a lot of insights about temptation and the nature of our Enemy.  
These books have been very significant to my spiritual growth.   

What are some of the most influential books of your life?