Guys, I’ll be honest. I felt a little bit torn during Easter services yesterday. Don’t get me wrong – our Easter experience was fantastic – I sensed an incredible spiritual unrest among many folks in the room. But I’ve always struggled with the religious aspects of Christian holidays in general. It isn’t that I don’t recognize and appreciate Jesus’ role as Savior. Rather, it’s because I try my best recognize it. I try my best to always be in a state of awareness that recognizes Jesus’ living and active role in every corner of my life. So religion doesn’t really interest me. In fact, it really bothers me. For example: why is Easter the only day you hear some people talking freely about the risen Christ?
Why not every day? Continue reading
I 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
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
I 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
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
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.
I 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
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
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
It’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog post. It’s not for lack of material – indeed, I’ve had plenty of observations over the last several weeks that could manafest an interesting blog post – but due to busyness and the fear of being inaccurately labeled as a ranting liberal (who knew gun control was such a hot issue?), I’ve chosen to dial it back a bit. But here we are, and here is the simple truth: I’ve read something in the Bible and want to share it with you. Whether it is considered to be conservative or liberal in nature, I could not care less. I would hope it is neither.
I serve as youth pastor at a church where the senior pastor is cool enough to call me “Associate Pastor” rather than just the “youth guy.” He even lets me preach from time to time with a “whenever you want, just let me know” sort of attitude, and I really appreciate that kind of ministerial validation. When the opportunity came for me to take on a four-week preaching binge, I gladly accepted and planned a four-week series on the book of Philippians. In reality, one could exegetically take months preaching from this epistle, but I’m happy to at least do a brief survey over it. Continue reading