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Universal Log-in-Eye Disorder

log-in-eyeI suppose hypocrisy is so easy to spot in others because it’s something pretty much all of us are guilty of. A man in the church passes judgement on the young folks for not tithing, and yet his offerings always come with strings attached. A Sunday School teacher gossips about a young mother for not taking her children to Sunday School, and yet never prays for or reaches out to the woman. A family stands out on a street corner protesting same-sex marriage, and yet their own marriage, rife with infidelity, deceit, and superficiality, looks nothing like their stated “biblical model” of marriage. An alcoholic looks down on a drug addict. A compulsive gambler says a pedophile lacks self control. Hypocrisy is everywhere. Throw a rock in any direction – you’ll likely hit a hypocrite. We’re all walking this earth with logs in our eyes. Continue reading

How Much Harm is in a Status Update, Anyway?

I admitted something to my wife the other day that took me a long time to be able to admit to myself:

Facebook isn’t fun anymore.

It used to be a place for you to re-connect with old classmates, network with current connections, and paint a picture for the world to see how cool you are. But now, amidst the sea of parental overshare and the seemingly unfettered onslaught of unsolicited opinions, nobody seems to walk away from a newsfeed reading without at least a slight increase in blood pressure. Continue reading

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Why The Spiritual Doghouse Smells So Bad

crate-training-puppies-300x300As a parent of a three-year-lld, I’m learning a thing or two about tough love. My daughter has a way of making me feel like an awful person when, after having a frank conversation with her father about coloring on the wall, she cries and says “It’s all my fault!” When I exercise my parental authority in the home, and the outcome is anything less than sunshine and butterflies, it can be hard to feel as though I’ve done a good thing.

Pastoral efforts produce similar feelings. There have been times while in ministry where I have had to engage in difficult conversations with folks over varying issues, often related to certain behaviors. It comes with the job. Whether I’m on the giving or receiving end, frank conversations about behavior are never, ever accompanied with sunshine and butterflies. To be sure, we can never claim responsibility for the choices made by other people. But we can (and should) refuse to let a person engage in destructive behavior if there is anything we can do to help. “Here’s where your behavior will lead you.” “What you’re experiencing now is the result of [insert destructive behavior here].” This is the approach that God tends to take with us, a sinful creation, and it is the approach described in Romans 1:24-2:2. Continue reading

What I’ve Learned From Being Burglarized

Life’s events have a way of showing us where improvement is needed. Like a stress test, we’re often put into situations where our limits are tested, and in the end we are able to determine our own stability, breaking points, and vulnerability. Sort of like how my house was put to the test against burglars this last Labor Day afternoon.

My wife and I took the kids and one of our dogs (the one that doesn’t get car sick) out to the park for a two-hour outing, only to come home and find that people had been inside our home. Those of you who have had this experience know the feelings of fear, violation, anger, and confusion that come with finding out you’ve been burglarized. Luckily, most of what they took can be replaced. But the pictures from the recent birth of my son cannot. To say the least, a home burglary is quite the stress test on a person who wants to keep his family safe and secure, and I think I’ve found the points of vulnerability in both my house and my character as a result. Continue reading

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U Mad Bro? (Coming to grips with an angry God)

u-mad-broI tried to avoid adding to the rat’s nest of articles and opinions surrounding the VMA performance of Miley Cyrus  and Robin Thicke, but my reading today in Romans brought the issue to the forefront of my mind. I’m not going to comment on the level of morality in the VMA performance, nor will I make any psychologically unfounded guesses as to the cause or reasoning behind the behavior. As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m not too keen on making judgements about someone I haven’t had a conversation with. What I’m more interested in is how Christians react to sin in other people. More specifically, why is it that so many folks who engage in everyday run-of-the-mill sins feel so free to make judgements on the morality of someone on a TV screen? Yes, we ought to find sin offensive if we are going to presume to follow a God who finds sin offensive. But lately, a lot of cyber-stones being thrown by folks who seem to have forgotten that we’re all guilty of something.

Maybe, even on a subconscious level, some of us feel that just because we didn’t personally get on stage and permanently ruin teddy bears for everyone, that God has given us a free pass on our less-noticed, more socially accepted sins. So today, let’s look at the mirror instead of the TV. Continue reading

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Do As You Say, Say As You Do: How Do They Know You’re A Christian?

This is NEVER the way.

This is NEVER the way.

You’ve probably heard people say that one should not simply say he is a Christian, but rather act like one. This, they say, is how the world will know he is a Christian.

Here’s the problem with this idea: as soon as we begin to say that our behavior is what identifies us as Christians, we start to categorize and define what we believe to be Christian behaviors. In other words, what does it mean to “act like a Christian”? If I passed out a questionnaire with that question to my (or any other American church) congregation and asked them to jot down ideas, I’m sure we would get a lot of “doing good” answers. Loving the outcasts. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the poor. Do right. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Help support orphans and widows. No doubt, these are all noble causes. They’re all commendable concerns. But there’s nothing uniquely Christian about them.  One does not have to be a Christian to be a good person. Furthermore, one does not have to be a good person to be a Christian (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Continue reading

Hitting Pay Dirt

I keep a blog for my youth ministry students and parents , where I try to regularly post previews of what is to come for our weekly programs. This week, we’ll be talking about the Parable of the Soils. I thought I’d re-post this week’s preview article since, for me, the message in Jesus’ teaching here was particularly moving, especially coming off the coat tails of my last post about evangelism. 

legosowerI don’t have much of a green thumb. I’d like to, but there always seems to be something getting in the way of me cultivating my gardening skills – weather, new baby, cash flow, motivation – and I then find myself in the produce section of Walmart knowing that the over-priced tomatoes I’m about to buy will be squishy and tasteless. And don’t even get me started on the peaches.

We rent our home, so there is little obligation to do any landscaping beyond keeping the lawn in order. But in the spirit of making a house a home, we decided to do a few minor improvements this spring and summer. I dug some trenches, laid eco-friendly siding, poured mulch, and even planted some wild flowers (planting wild flowers: a self-defeating statement, I know). Continue reading

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Licking Your Elbow (And Other Spiritual Practices)

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I’ve had a lot of conversations I’m not proud of. Most of them happened in my middle school cafeteria between the fall of 1995 and the summer of 1998. Yesterday, I didn’t get far in my reading of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome before I recalled one such conversation my friends and I had over our lunches. It was one of those Christmas Story-ish exchanges young boys have that rarely results in anything good, let alone dignified. I can’t remember who, but somebody brought up the notion that it is impossible to lick one’s own elbow. Before long, arguments ensued, and most of us were trying ardently to be the first one to achieve the elusive self-elbow-lick. Some of us really believed it could be done. I probably would have achieved it if I hadn’t looked up and saw a table full of girls looking at us like we had hot dogs shooting out of our ears. Those who knew me in middle school know that I could not afford much social embarrassment such as this, so I prudently put my elbow down, holstered my tongue, and ate my peanut butter and banana sandwich. Long story short, nobody managed the feat that day.

I usually skim over things like lengthy greetings in biblical epistles (something my Bible college professors taught me not to do). But today, something caught my attention in the very first verse. In Romans 1:1, Paul introduces himself (which was customary) as someone who is set apart for the gospel of God. The Greek word for “set apart” is aphorizō, which, in a good sense, means “to appoint” or ” to set apart for some purpose.” The meaning of this seems typical and obvious enough – as Christians, we’re led to believe that we are set aside because of our faith, and that somehow our faith ought to result in things like good behavior, passing on traditions, keeping kids good, hiding from the world, and carelessly judging other people. But for Paul, a man whose experiences were much more vast and intense than most Bible readers’ experiences today, the use of aphorizō meant something much deeper. Continue reading

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How to Steal the Pax Romana

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Here’s a mind-blowing revelation for you: ministry is not without its stressors.

In my previous post, I listed some of the experiences a typical small church youth pastor has in a year of ministry. Some are good, some are bad, but all are spiritually strengthening and uplifting if looked at from the right perspective.

I’ve decided to spend some time studying Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (written from a friend’s house in Corinth in the winter of AD 57). I chose this for myself at this time because the context from which it was written seems to be appropriate for the stress, disillusionment, and questions a young pastor (and any committed follower of Jesus, for that matter) might have at any given time. Just try to picture Paul, as he dictated this letter to his friend: as he paces the room, his gait is labored from multiple beatings over his lifetime. His scarred body and face, just like Forrest Gump’s shoes, tell tales of where he’s been – but his eyes and spirit tell where he’s going. It’s that kind of optimism that I, and I’m sure many others, can use.

If you can relate with the first century Christians who felt beat down, weathered, marginalized, and perhaps forgotten, then I’d encourage you to spend some time in the book of Romans. If you lack knowledge, Paul’s magnum opus acts as an informative manifesto of the Church’s (capital C) essential doctrine. If you lack courage, you will learn to sympathize with the letter’s original recipients, and your confidence will be restored. Continue reading

A Note For Churches Looking For A Youth Pastor

qualifiedpastorI’ve been at my current ministry in Kansas City now for 2 years, and I still don’t know what Rock Chalk Jayhawk means. I just know that if I say it, it gets people’s attention around here. It’s been an eventful couple of years for me. Such a milestone causes a guy to look back. As I was doing some self-evaulation of my first two years of ministry here in Kansas City (after a move halfway across the country from Fresno, California), I couldn’t help but think back to some of the job descriptions I read during my job search. I looked at churches all over America and saw an incredibly wide range of requirements and requisites for potential youth pastors. Some churches understandably wanted recordings of sermons preached.  Some required a class B or C driver’s license (you know, in case the need for a long haul trucker comes up). A surprising number required applicants to include family pictures (is this legal?). But one of the most common and most upsetting requirements I encountered was the one that looked something like this: “Must have X years experience in a church of 1000 or more,” or maybe “…X years experience, preferably in a large church setting.” Continue reading