Tag: ministry (page 1 of 4)

Trump, The Middle Finger Of Conservative Evangelical Christianity

To be sure, these are not easy words to write, but necessary, and nonetheless true.

The spiritual influences of darkness pulling the strings behind nearly every political headline in America is alarming—especially when the true culprit portrays and positions itself to be the only and ultimate cure.

Pulling the mask off perhaps the greatest spiritual scheme on planet earth is not a pleasant task nor one easily received.

As a pastor of 23 years, it has been my experience and it has become my conviction that much of conservative Evangelical Christianity manifests an evil unlike any wielded upon the earth. Its presentation of a false, mixed-Gospel of highly conditional love, a schizophrenically violent God, a spiritual justification of hate and condemnation, a weaponizing of the Bible, a legitimizing of self-righteousness, and a ruthless desire for world-domination has been the catalyst and cause of more death and destruction (spiritually, emotionally, and physically) than perhaps any other influencer—world history, a sure source of evidence.

Indeed, some who participate in this system of belief have genuine hearts to do what is right and are truly unaware of the evils and antichrist attitudes in which they have been indoctrinated and participate. Yet, nonetheless, much of conservative Evangelical Christianity aggressively stands as an intentional, religious movement that embodies the desire to eradicate the planet of anything that would disagree with and stand against its ideology—condemnation, conversion, and conquering its primary tools. Under the guise of Jesus, love, moral purity, and goodness, conservative Evangelical Christianity has become perhaps the greatest spiritual deception ever misted upon the masses—a pungent blasphemy against the Spirit, who is Grace.

As much as I wish all of this was unfounded and overly exaggerated, nothing confirms these strong assertions like conservative Evangelical Christianity’s undeniable lust and insatiable appetite for power and control. Their willingness to embrace blatant hypocrisy and double-standards, justify deplorable violence, and spiritualize human discrimination. Their willingness to rape the earth and its cultures, enable greed and materialism, conveniently usurp the teachings of Jesus, and arrogantly position themselves as the sole possessors of truth above all others, all for the furthering of their agenda and the needed power to do so, affirms the darkest of suspicions and the most urgent of calls for resistance. Strip away all the spiritual veneer—the heart and soul of much of conservative Evangelical Christianity is the spiritualized pursuit of power and control, virtually at any cost.

In fact, most everything you see in Donald Trump, his election, and life under his leadership is deeply intrinsic to the ethos of conservative Evangelical Christianity and what it’s truly like to be a part of their ministry world. Sadly, Donald Trump is merely the tip of the conservative Evangelical iceberg, mostly frozen to the core.

Trump focuses on aggressively giving our highest national priorities to self-serving interests regardless of their detriment to others. Conservative Evangelical churches have long focused their existence on self-preservation, internal interests, and increasing their numbers, facilities, and budgets, all while countless good people needlessly suffer just outside their doors. You don’t have to attend many a church meetings before you’re smacked in the face with the sobering conclusion—as spiritual as it all gets packaged, the bottom line for many churches ultimately revolves around the preservation and promotion of themselves—at times even displaying a cold callousness to the alarming needs around them.

Trump favors preserving the comfortable lives of the privileged and seeks out the wealthy and powerful for the most intimate of counsel. Conservative Evangelical churches have long catered to those who garner the highest financial and political means, enthusiastically gathering them into the leadership of their ministry. There is perhaps nothing more white, upper middle-class, pretentious, and privileged than what has become of modern, contemporary conservative Christianity. Big visions of big buildings and big campuses as far as the eyes can see, state-of-the-art worship venues, marketing, branding, books, concerts, conferences, and so called “reaching people for Christ” all costs big money. “Making church great again” for the white and well-to-do comes with a hefty price tag and the necessary appeasement and leveraging of the privileged.

Trump surrounds himself with primarily white, male influencers who are vetted by their unwavering loyalty to his unilateral leadership. Conservative Evangelical churches have long been dominated by white, male pastors and leaders who demand unwavering loyalty to their vision with the overall goal to increase their own power by the limiting of others. The contemporary move towards staff-led and pastor-led church leadership models often serves as a rationalizing and spiritualizing of the pursuit of power and control, energized by the ego and desire for ministry fame so rampant within modern Christianity.

Trump manifests a culture of fear and inequality where those who color outside the lines of conservative ideology and values are quickly condemned, discarded, and belittled. Conservative Evangelical churches have long been largely unwelcoming and un-wanting of those who are different in color, orientation, lifestyle, creed, or status. In fact, many on the fringe are largely deemed the enemy, unless of course they convert, clean up, behave, and buy into all things conservative. As Trump raises the level of our national defenses to an all-time high, conservative churches have long made what they stand against in the world to be their primary commission, often creating battles where none need to exist in order to justify their worth and mission. Listen in to a few church conversations and you will soon hear the clear underlying sentiment, “We are good, the world is so bad. What a shame. Let’s build some more walls and send some Bibles.”

Trump embodies callous arrogance, greed, bigotry, sexism, immorality, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and a foundational desire to conquer those who oppose him and gain the power to dominate them. What Trump has positioned as the “art of the deal” is merely a business version of the conservative Evangelical pursuit to “make disciples of people into people just like us.” No matter how much spiritual lipstick is plastered on the face of conservative Evangelical evangelism, the underlying goal is the same—the fruition of self-serving desires through spiritually packaged manipulation, coercion, and exploitation. Still to this day, many conservative churches see women as inferior, the LGBTQI community as needing of reparative therapy, financial prosperity as a sign and goal of faithfulness, the world as “lost,” and immorality as that which can be overlooked or minimized if you know the inside Evangelical handshake. In fact, any given Sunday between 11 a.m. and noon at just about any conservative Evangelical church near you, could very well serve to be the most sexist, homophobic, hypocritical, xenophobic, transphobic, racist, graceless, greedy, privileged, and spiritually arrogant hour you’ll ever experience.

Put a steeple on top of the White House and the workings, dealings, and ethos of the current administration and the leadership of president Trump, and one might easily confuse it all with their local, conservative Evangelical church. When it’s all said and done, the connections between the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency and the true soul and ambitions of conservative, Evangelical Christianity are undeniable and highly disgusting.

In fact, over the past several years, conservative Evangelical Christianity has perceived itself to be losing in a cultural war it actually created all by itself. Surprise—good, thinking people have awakened to the highjacking of Jesus, the Bible, and the cause of Christ by religious, Christian conservatism. Like a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum in response to not being granted their every wants and wishes, conservative Evangelical Christianity has long been whining, pouting, and insisting on its own way in the private, public, and political square. The emergence of true equality always feels like war to the privileged.

Desperate to see their ideology survive and fulfill its twisted version of the “great” commission, conservative Evangelical Christianity savagely licked its fingers and led the way in electing Donald Trump as president. Whether you like him or not, voted for him or not, it’s all too clear that Trump serves as a message to all who would oppose and stand apart from religious, Christian conservatism, “We won, you lost, and now we’re gonna shove our way down your throat and do whatever the hell we want.”

As a middle finger raised boldly for all to see, Donald Trump is the true sum of conservative Evangelical Christianity and a clear sentiment of its dark soul of spiritualized hate, self-righteousness, duplicity, and greed. Though conservative Evangelical Christianity might not ever say “FU” to the world in those specific words, their messiah Donald Trump is gladly doing it for them—loud and clear.

Make no mistake and be not deceived, much of conservative Evangelical Christianity is a monster, that monster has a middle finger, and that middle finger has a name—Donald Trump.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

How Conservative Evangelical Christianity Wasted My Life

Nobody plans for this moment to come—sitting on our bed upstairs, I called Amy into the room. Up to that point in time, everything I had touched in ministry over the past twelve years had essentially fallen apart, my ability as a husband and father to provide for our family was painfully lacking, and unexpected, critical health issues overwhelmed me with incapacitating, daily battles of insecurity, anxiety, and hopelessness. I was a complete mess—everything seemed to be crashing to the ground as I stood in those moments looking over the edge of my life. It was all so real, so terribly real.

Making her way up the stairs, she entered the doorway. “Amy, I need to talk to you. I want you to find a new husband and father for Harrison and Cailyn. I’m such a failure and your lives would be better without me—you deserve so much more.” Seeing a seriousness in my eyes like never before, with sheer terror in her face, Amy ran out of the room sobbing in tears. I had experienced periods of depression before, but these moments were of an entirely different realm of darkness. I was truly ready for it all to be over—desperately looking for the closest exit sign.

As a young boy, I nearly died of asthma two times, spending much of my elementary days in the hospital. No sooner did that fog begin to lift then the sexual abuse from a family member began. They say sixty percent of people enter the pastoral ministry to “save” one of their family members—if that’s true, it was my father. The very man who saved my life on one of those asthmatic occasions was ironically the same man who sowed deep seeds of condemnation, guilt, insecurity, and inadequacy into my heart. During one semester in middle school, I received a “C” on my report card. My father always said, “C’s just mean you’re average, and we Kratzers aren’t average.” I knew he was upset as he reacted in disgust. Seeing his harsh disappointment, I told my mother, “Dad doesn’t love me.” Insisting that he did, she coaxed me into the living room where my father sat rocking in a chair. She said to him, “Honey, Chris doesn’t think you love him, tell him that you do.” His response, “With grades like that, he’s no son of mine.”

Sadly, behind everyone’s eyes is a story that, if they told you, would break your heart. With a belly full of emotional baggage and gaping, puss-ladened wounds of shame, I entered into pastoral ministry. I wasn’t a conservative Evangelical at the start, but it didn’t take long for the tenets of conservative Christianity to be pimped my direction. Within a few puffs and injections of its seductive self-righteous creed, it became an instant drug of choice to numb the pains of inadequacy long been building in the caverns of my being. Never did there appear to be a better way to appease a conditional-loving father and heal the sins and shame of my youth than to embark on a spiritual climb designed to satisfy the ultimate conditional-loving Father—the god of conservative Evangelicalism who promised to rid me of my demons if I pressed in hard enough and learned to traverse the tightrope of faith. Salvation had finally come in an Evangelical deity offering me a spiritual track upon which I could race to right my wrongs, give value to my condemned life, and render myself lovable at the finish line. Just color within the lines, give the proper responses, think and believe the right things, fight the good fight of faith, and I too could become “successful” for Jesus. Perhaps then, both my father on earth and the Father above could finally love me—perhaps even then, I could finally love me. The ultimate trifecta of acceptance and approval was just an Evangelical “to do” list away, all leading to a position seated high above the world upon which to feel good about myself through the looking down upon others. It was all so righteous and perfect—so it seemed.

With a snappy new Jesus-step in my shoes, I eagerly surveyed the landscape of conservative Evangelical Christianity and its heroes. They all had obvious common denominators—big churches, big book deals, big speaking schedules, big conferences, big baptismal numbers, big budgets, big leadership philosophies, big vision, and even wives with big hair. Every sermon was finely crafted with spiritual formulas, principles, and steps that lead to the big life. Every service was meticulously programmed for ultimate appeal and emotion. The Bible was cut and dry, people were either in or out, sin was clear and easily defined, the truth was black or white, and either you had a place at the cool pastors lunch table or you didn’t. People on the outside were seen as a project to assimilate into the inside, and then to “grow” towards ultimately partnering in the pastor’s grandiose vision to “make fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ” AKA “my big ass ministry ego trip.” It was all so spiritual, and spiritually justified—”purpose driven” to the nines.

I swallowed it, all of it, hook, line, and sinker—my flesh never felt more alive. Job one, clean up my act. Job two, use a bit of smoke and mirrors while carefully pretending all the “to do steps” were working in order to keep people from seeing I couldn’t master job one. Job three, turn off my brain and heart as I learned to believe, say, and do all the right “Evangelical” things even if deep down they made little-to-no-sense, contradicted themselves, or left good people cold, hurting, and condemned. Job four, attain ministry “success” and fame at all costs, using people as a means to what is really a selfish end disguised as a noble mission. Job five, spiritualize it all so that people don’t see the hypocritical phony who’s faking-it to make-it and signing them up to do the same, wrapping it all up in shiny Jesus paper and calling it “faithfulness.” Job six, whatever it takes, convince yourself this is the way, truth, and life even when deep down inside, something is screaming that it’s not—quickly silencing and demonizing every voice that contradicts you. Job seven, if all else fails, program more worship fog, get a tattoo, and start sporting some Buckle brand skinny jeans—the rest will take care of itself.

I tried, I really did. I never worked so hard in all my life—just ask Amy, just ask the kids. I started waking up at 4 a.m. every Sunday morning to memorize my sermons, line for line, word for word—all for the maximum adoration of the congregation and the hopes of validating my life by becoming a superstar preacher. I began writing devotionals hoping they would get published. I read every ministry leadership book money could buy. I attended the best conferences, taking copious notes from which to implement the latest church fads guaranteed to grow your congregation and grant you the ministry of your dreams. I made myself available at any moment of any day for pastoral counseling or care. I studied the scriptures, applied ever prayer formula I could find to maximize my capacity to leverage God for His blessings and favor. We didn’t tithe just 10%, but 20%, often becoming the top givers in the churches we served whether we could afford to or not. I solicited accountability partners to speak truth into my life as a sure fire way to keep me on the straight and narrow. I distanced myself from all the right people and settings, just like I was prescribed. On Sundays, I was the first one at the church, and the last one to leave. Those rare moments when I wasn’t engaged in some kind of formal ministry, you can be sure I was thinking about it. We started churches on a wing and a prayer, barely having enough income to survive. We walked through devastating church splits, worship wars, members threatening my life, and countless conflicts whose marks will surely never go away. Years and years spent in a so-called, “Christian life” trying to convince God, the people around me, and myself that I am valuable, lovable, acceptable, significant—worthy of God, His favor, His blessings, and His heaven.

Don’t be fooled, insisting that “denial” is just a river in Egypt. Whether you’re in ministry or not, this is what you do—this is the hell you live and give, in some shape or form, when your faith concludes, “God loves you… BUT.” There can be no more hiding of the Wizard behind the curtain, this is the performance-driven, endless, restless, futile plight of your soul when the anchor of your faith clings to the diabolical slogan of conservative Evangelical Christianity, “God does His part, but you have to do yours… OR ELSE.” Find me a person who subscribes to conservative Evangelicalism and there you will have found a tragically deceived soul who is sleep-walking this same kind of daily, self-righteous, pretending, performance-driven hell while actually believing it’s heaven.

Look no further than my life for your proof, for there in that upstairs bedroom it all came tumbling down—none of the steps, formulas, principles, “to do lists,” worship choruses, bible studies, sin-management strategies, conferences, recommitments, fasting, prayer sessions, or spiritual disciplines ever worked, and all my pretending wasn’t camouflaging it anymore. The lipstick on the pig was wearing off—conservative Evangelical Christianity had done far more than merely waste my life, it had stolen every remnant of it I ever possessed and left me impotent to face its darkest moments.

All that time, years and years, I was suffocating when I thought I was breathing Life—thinking I was so close to Jesus, yet being so far away from His heart.

All that time, I thought I was helping people when in fact I was imprisoning them—declaring a mixed Evangelical gospel of conditional love that is in fact no Gospel at all. All, while sentencing countless God-adorned people to a fear-driven, empty life of sin-management, God-appeasement, and people-judging.

All that time, I thought I was being a faithful servant when in reality I had become a monster—a sexist, racist, homophobic, bigoted, ignorant, selfish, judgmental, legalistic, hypocritical, two-headed, and heart-divided monster. Without a flinch or a blink of an eye, I could heartlessly condemn people to a Dante-inspired hell of Evangelical imagination and poison their hungry, hurting hearts with guilt, shame, fear, and condemnation all while deceiving them to believe its source was no less than the throne of God.

All that time, I thought I was equipping people when in fact I was using them. Call it “vision,” “ministry dreams,” “reaching the world for Christ,” or whatever label helps you sleep at night—but the truth is, so much of modern Christianity has simply become the franchising of ministry egos.

All that time, I thought the Bible was a kind of convenient, inerrant weapon best used against the self-declared enemies of Jesus and for the defense of a truth that only conservative Evangelicalism possessed, when in fact, it’s actually a perfectly human set of writings best used to inspire all people to progressively encounter Him who is Love and defend His graciousness.

All that time, I thought I knew love and how to give it, when in truth, I knew nothing of it—receiving it, living it, sharing it. I thought loving people required doing so with careful restraint for fear you might extend too much grace and affirmation, or worst of all, catch their disease. Constantly pumping the breaks with people by restricting my love and qualifying His was indeed an unpleasant endeavor that never felt settled in my spirit. Yet, for so long I believed that was the full extent for which God loved me—all at a safe distance, riddled with fine print.

All that time, I thought I was being the picture perfect father and husband, but in reality, I was so consumed by a spiritual quest in which enough was never enough, that though I may have been there physically for my family, in so many other ways, I wasn’t there at all.

So much time wasted, relationships scorched, walls erected, people written off, unnecessary family tension and division created, opportunities missed, life that could have been enjoyed, unconditional love that could have been given, freedom that could have been embraced, lives that could have been set free by Grace, and all I had to show for it in that upstairs bedroom was the painful faith conclusion that I would never measure up, I was a failure, Jesus surely hated me, everything that mattered was slipping through my fingers, and the god of Evangelicalism was probably not only o.k. with it, but holy and just in allowing it, and perhaps even authoring it.

Hearing Amy downstairs crying in desperation pleading with me to change my mind, I fell to the ground on my knees—or perhaps, I was pushed.

In that moment, to which I still can’t put words, Grace awakened in me. As I closed my eyes sobbing on the floor, the real Jesus wrapped His arms around everything about me and refused to let go with divine relentless—a picture in my mind and an embrace of my entirety I’ll never forget.

You can be sure, the real God is nothing like conservative Evangelical Christianity—I know this to be True, He showed me.

Today, years later, I’m alive and truly living for the first time in my life and the future is bright with real hope and real joy. God is Love, Jesus is Grace, we are all the Beloved, and I am free to be fully me—free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last.

So, I say to you who drink from the devil’s cauldron of conservative Evangelical Christianity—run, run as far and as fast as you can, don’t let it mix you into its brew. It’s a religious concoction of death—pure unbridled death.

It wasted much of my life, don’t let it waste anymore of yours.

I’m Done: Why I’m Completely Walking Away From Church, Ministry, And Most Everything “Christian”

I promise, it’s not you, it’s me.

That, I’m convinced.

I’ve tried, I really have. Twenty-two years of ministry—even more time, simply being a “Christian.”

I can’t do it, and it’s high time to call the wizard out from behind the curtain.

This whole American-Christianity thing, I’m just not good enough. I can’t pull it off.

Church, ministry, “Christian” stuff—I simply don’t have what it takes.

I mean, you Church folks are amazing, I don’t know how you do it. The way you keep your righteousness and closeness with God afloat through a vigilant life of sin-management, do-gooding, and Christian faithfulness, I can’t even begin to lift that kind of weight, let alone hold it up. For me, every time I’m admonished with things I need to do in order to be a better person or become a more “fully devoted” follower of Jesus Christ, I don’t even get close to mastering just one of them, not to mention the five others listed in the sermon notes. And before you know it, the next Sunday, we’re on to a whole new set of things I need to go after. Honestly, I just can’t keep up like you. I’m so far behind from being a “real deal Christian.” And quite frankly, I’m ashamed of my incapacity to spiritually perform at your level. I truly don’t know how you field that kind of pressure and keep good going with all the spiritual consequences ahead of you if you don’t. Your fear management skills must be impeccable.

Something is wrong with me, I’m sure. All the accountability partners, prayer warriors and small-group interventions have somehow fallen flat. Years of Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, pastors, and mentors hoping I’ll get serious enough to get my life on track. I feel like such a hypocrite and fake to just take a step towards your fellowship, as if I’m even close to making the grade or would ever be capable of drawing within your lines. It all leaves me so empty. I feel everything in my soul shutting down at just the thought.

I look around, and everyone else is so much more spiritual. All the inspirational posts they have on Facebook, all the good things they are doing for the Lord—so deep into worship and prayer with their eyes closed and hands raised, loving every minute of it with complete abandon. There’s this ardent love and commitment to Jesus that’s just dripping from everybody’s lips with such eloquent and Jesus-flavored verbiage. And here I am—riddled with serious doubts and questions, embarrassed that I’m not feeling nearly as into Jesus as apparently I should. Heck, truth be told, I’m still struggling with a good amount of the bad stuff you folks seem to be so far beyond. My beliefs change, my behaviors fall short, my passions fade—no wonder why, from time to time, I’ve gotten the disappointed looks, cold shoulders, and leadership “time outs.”  What was I thinking, I’m way out of my league. Repentance here, pointing out sin there, keeping people from an eternal torture in hell prescribed from a God who is Love—I don’t know how you stomach it all. It’s true, I really should be so much further along by now, but for some reason, all the formulas, disciplines, rituals, steps, and “soaking” in worship aren’t working for me. And trust me, I’ve tried—really, really hard.

Church, I want to fit in so badly, I want to feel like a genuine follower in American Christianity, but I just can’t. Whatever it is you have, I simply don’t have it in me.

I mean, you people in ministry—you got it going on. All of you, rockstars for sure. How you keep up in the whirlwind of competitive Christianity is beyond me. It’s everywhere—in all my searching, I’ve been hard pressed to find a layer of Christian ministry that hasn’t been turned into pretty much a kind of all-out ministry cage match. Quite frankly, I don’t know how so many of you do it—making sure your ministry is out-growing the next, your blog posts are the first written on the latest controversial subject, your platform is increasing, your branding is on point, your engaging your following, updating your Twitter account, promoting your latest “thing”—on and on and on, keeping up with ministry trends, making sure you’re “in” with all the right people, all while having the picture perfect marriage and family pimped with the latest fashions, fohawks, tattoos, and skinny jeans required in order to be relevant.  Wow, I bend a knee in your honor and awe.

And then, the criticism. All the people determined to misunderstand you—the people who treat you unfairly, kick you to the curb, and hang you out to dry. The fellow people in ministry who sabotage you, seek to undermine your influence, use you, and are always trying to “out minister” you. How you shrug it all off and plow through—my hat goes off to you.

I’m sure I just don’t have enough faith and I am way too insecure. I should be so much stronger in my identity in Christ, but a lot of times, I’m just not. Thank God there are celebrity ministers out there within every camp and kind who do, say, and write so much better than the rest of us—makes up for all my floundering for sure. You folks are heroes, how you stomach and swim in the business and enterprise that is empire Christianity is way beyond my capacity—the compromises you have to make, the duplicities you must have to embody—yours is a high wire act I’m just not good enough to swing.  As much as your table in the lunch room captures my attention, I can’t hang with you all, though my ego might keep on dreaming. I must concede, I just don’t have it in me.

I mean, “Christian” stuff—your imagination is mind-boggling. Christian yoga, Christian yoga pants, Christian basketball, Christian football, Christian dance, Christian art, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian television, Christian bathrooms, Christian food, Christian fast food, Christian books, Christian book marks, Christian clubs, Christian groups, Christian values, Christian principles, Christian nations, not to mention,  Christian ___________. Oh, and I almost forgot, Christian_____________.

I am amazed, you are the masters of drawing lines—defining who’s in and who’s out, what’s in and what’s out, what’s good for me, and what’s not.  My radar for sin and uncleanliness just isn’t that good. Thank God, you label it for me.

But even still, if I’m honest, I find myself deeply wanting to “be with” and “in with” so many of things that aren’t necessarily “Christian.”  And for that, I know I am suppose to feel, “dirty”—but, I don’t.

Surely, something is wrong with me—terribly wrong with me. I’m damaged goods, falling away, chasing wayward spirits of doctrine, or something “biblical” like that. Yet, I can’t help it. Something inside of me that I have been told for years is so weak, meek, and poor feels, yet all so strong and divine, drawing me away— far, far away.

I’m pretty sure I am going to hell, at leasts that’s what “they” say.  So, I guess that’s just how it’s going to have to be, because I simply can’t fake-it-to-make-it anymore. You folks have it, I don’t.

I know breaking up is hard to do, but I’m done. I’m walking away.

Church, ministry, so much of this “Christian” stuff.

I’m done playing the game, running the rat race, never measuring up or doing enough. I’m done competing, sacrificing my sanity, and being spiritually cross-checked every time I have an open shot on goal.

I’ve simply resigned myself to a life of trying to fully be myself—relying on Grace and loving some people along the way as best I can, believing that in so doing and in so being, Jesus is somehow pleased.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t lose friends, you lose people who you thought were friends.

And better than that—you don’t stop loving, you just learn to love more honestly.

I sense I’ll be doing the former, and I know, I’ll be doing the latter.

For honesty is the first thing that grows from a life planted in Grace.

Competitive Christian Blogging Sucks

Over the course of many years in Christian ministry, I have discovered there is a thick, competitive spirit in virtually every aspect of it. Our consumer-driven, Americanized Christian culture has been a primary fuel that has led many in ministry to utilize the cause of Christ for personal gain and ministry empire building—at times, myself included. Sadly, the fame-seeking sentiment communicated by Bob Wallace in the iconic movie White Christmas is highly relevant in describing much of the modern scene that is Christian ministry, “everyone is working an angle.”

The competitive currents circling within the oceans of Christian ministry can be so strong at times, it’s hard not to get pulled into its spin unaware. Soon, your entire sense of worth, success, and value as a person, Christian, and minister subtly becomes connected to the numbers—baptisms, budgets, book deals, attendance charts, speaking engagements and the like—been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

Less than a year ago, I began to write seriously as a blogger, focusing on communicating a voice of advocacy for those disillusioned and harmed by conservative Christianity—namely the de-churched, spiritually marginalized, religiously condemned, and LGBT communities. Somehow, in stepping back into the world of Christian ministry in a fresh way, I believed things would be different. Perhaps within these circles, the nobility, urgency, and plight of these causes would leave little to no room for the onset of a competitive spirit among those who seek to be a light in the darkness.

Yet, after I reached out to a few highly prominent, progressive bloggers for their wisdom and guidance, sadly, most of what I heard was centered around gaining followers, watching how many hits your website gets, and how to package your writing for greatest appeal while harnessing your personal branding. One of the top challenges asserted… how to transform subscribers into financial contributors. I have to admit, at first, I got a bit caught up in the allure of it all. My writing was gaining a good bit of attention and once again, the apple of “ministry success” was dangling all so deliciously in front of me.

That is, until the cold splash of water. A highly beloved, popular, Christian blogger clearly, intentionally, and knowingly criticized and sought to undermine me in front of my audience. The ego and purposefulness of their actions was so obvious that others reached out to me in shock. It was then that I realized, we’re not in Kansas anymore. The wild wild West of Christian ministry had indeed pushed up a stool within the saloon of my new blogging venture, revealing to me a clear problem that not only exists, but that I too could potentially become.

To be sure, I am certainly now fully aware of my gross naiveté, but back then, I truly never thought that within the arena of Christian blogging, especially among progressive circles, there would be personalities and ministries more territorial and exclusive than the Mafia in Vegas.

I find it interesting that in the New Testament, the word translated as “evil” has a deeper meaning. The Greek word “poneros” actually means, “full of labors.” When the Biblical writer asserts, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God,” the evil that is being referred to points to one who is not stereotypically carnal, denying, or doubting, but rather one who is full of labors—a person who is seeking to make a name for themselves, who embodies a kind of internal striving to produce something worthy of their life, a performance-driven mentality that looks to one’s abilities for the procurement of success. It’s the heart that concludes… my identity, worth, and closeness with God are intrinsically tied to my achievement, skill, and performance. One may never say it that way, but so many of us are living that way—self-aggrandizement, self-improvement, self-actualization. Call it what we will… “best practices,” “excellence,” “ministry effectiveness,” “promotion,” “radical Christianity,” “faithfulness,” “personal branding,” “marketing,” or “platform building.” When it’s done out of spirit of success-gaining, ministry empire-building, or competitiveness, it not only sucks, but God calls it “evil”—everyone and everything subtly becoming a leverage towards a personal ministry future of our envisioning and creating. It’s the difference between a dream and a scheme, and sadly, many of us in ministry are doing more scheming than dreaming. The same narcissistic erosion that has engulfed the contemporary Christian music industry I fear is beginning to sink its claws into the Christian blogging world. If only we can pump the breaks before we all are neck deep in the ditch.

As humans, it’s easy to medicate our insecurities with the pursuit of ministry “success.” In a performance-driven, church-franchising, personal ministry empire-building, consumer-addicted Christian culture, this becomes even more alluring and deceptively tempting.

I guess it’s unrealistic to think that any aspect of Christian ministry would be devoid of the exclusive “cool leaders” lunch table to which only the select are welcome and invited. Yet, that is all the more reason why voices like Michael Hardin, Brian Zahnd, Daisy Rain Martin, Susan Berland, Matthew Distefano and Robert and Susan Cottrell, to name only a few, are such a breath of fresh air, giving hope and a sure example upon which to aspire.

The day that the sun sets on competitive Christian blogging (and ministry) will be a beautiful day.

May the coming of that future begin with me, and begin with you.

Why We Should All Be Thanking Mark Driscoll

The story of Mark Driscoll is like an onion, with every layer that unfolds the eyes can’t help but burn to tears —sadness, frustration, astonishment, disgust, empathy, a full range of emotions. What he has done, said, and represented at times is nothing less than chilling. Sexism, misogyny, blatant bully-leadership, abuse of ministry funds, bigotry, not to mention the Evangelical family secret… hyper-Calvinism. One time, describing America as a “pussified nation” dominated by feminists and “chickified dudes.” One face-palm after another.

As you’ve probably read, Mark took a very short time away from ministry after a scandalous exit and ultimate resignation from Mars Hill Church. Many of his supporters and ministry partners, running full throttle for the exit signs. During that season, in the minds of most, his choices and actions didn’t demonstrate a genuine process of humbling and change. At best, it’s a mixed review. Now, months later, he’s back at it, starting a new church.

Where some might want me to attack Mark and kick him to the curb, I can’t. Furthermore, it’s not my place. Despite the darkness of his deeds, the destruction wrought from his ego, He’s a fellow human being. We all make mistakes and lose our way. The Grace that is sufficient for me, I am sure is more than sufficient for him. If Mark should be sentenced to a spiritual life of stacking pins in a bowling alley, then so should I, and so should you. Grace is the great equalizer, putting us all on the same playing field and on the same team. We all need Grace, equally. None are better, only different.

But that didn’t stop Jesus from staring down evil, addressing it as so. The truth is, we have a problem. A huge zit on the face of our modern church-world. On the surface, it looks like “pastoral celebrity”—not just pastors, but anyone building a personal kingdom. Bloggers, leaders, speakers, artists, authors, all candidates for being seduced into this horror show. What are pedaled as visionary dreams and difference-makers, are schemes and attention-takers, all achieving one radar averting goal…the validation-creating, insecurity-healing, and significance-gaining of the individual leading the show. It all looks so spiritual, but really so selfish, when one sees what’s below.

To be sure, there are many within our Christian community who receive the label of “celebrity.” And though not perfect, they are wearing it well. Their extensive reach, success, and large followings weren’t sought out, don’t rule their hearts, and they aren’t exploiting their platform, rather humbly using it for good. What is a very difficult walk, they are walking very well.

Sadly, in the sea of spiritual celebrity, this is not the norm.

Yet, the numerous Mark Driscolls of our Christianity aren’t the real problem, it’s our Christian culture that seeds and enables their existence. The illness we have become, is what gives birth to the reality of their formation. The x-ray is on the light board, we are the disease, and they, a mere symptom, a surface manifestation. Spiritually engineered from the incubator of our Christian culture.

In fact, the truth is, we should all be thanking Mark Driscoll. His story is the alarm that should be grabbing us by the ears, the stoplight that should be slamming our breaks. The fever, the itchy red rash that calls us to the doctor, realizing there is a much deeper problem at stake. And maybe, just maybe, before it’s too late, we’d embrace a cure before our cancer overtakes.

Problem is, we are so far gone. Color blind for sure. What is fire-engine red, begging us to halt, we see as grass-growing green, signaling God’s favor to press through. Intoxicated by the sound of our own Christianity.

As hard as it is to hear, the diagnosis is clear. We are the “something” going on behind the person these people become. Get out your pen and paper, we owe not our condemnation, but our apology for the creation of each and every one.

For we are the Christians who see Church as primarily where Jesus exists and works. It’s all about church. Church, church, and more church. Not just church, but gatherings, groups, conferences, concerts, followings of people. The larger the crowd, the more legitimate the ministry, the greater blessings of the Savior.

For us, the goal and sum of the Christian life is church, cross-topped corrals of church-people pursuing churchy things, as different as some may seem. Organize it, maintain it, whatever it takes to keep it going. And if church isn’t for you, something is wrong with you. Damaged goods, subtly not one of us. You’re not a true leader until you are a church leader. The big dance, where big leaders go.

We are the Christians, who equate spiritual maturity, skill, and evidence of God’s favor with followers, buildings, baptisms, books, speaking schedules, blog “hits,”and “likes” on Facebook. God must be doing something great, a special work is surely at play. Look at all the subscribers, the listeners, group members, all the people, it can’t possibly be a charade. Look at those buildings, so modern and easy, as far as the eye can see. Look at how busy, how in demand. Wow, how anointed they must be. 10k followers on Twitter, the number they follow, only 10, surely that’s the mark of Christ within. Superstars of Jesus, rockstar prophets for our day. Dare I say, if Hitler lived among us, he’d have the very same. Tons of followers, “hits”, and “likes” on Facebook. Branded to the nines, slick social media presence, lots of lipstick to hide behind.

Territory, market, fan-base, all must be preserved. The celebrity lunch table, exclusive to the cool dudes. Whatever it takes to get to the next level, step on you if they must. Platform creation, platform preservation, platform elevation, at all costs. We are truly in the age of franchised ministry, and we the spiritual consumers who drive it, and make it breathe.

We are the Christians who believe the goal of the Christian life is to be successful for Jesus through personal performance that creates appeal. Be all you can be, Jesus and me. Do more, become more, live the Christian dream. Prosperity, happiness, pleated and ironed, the spiritual Hollywood scene. We, the narcissists on our personal quest for Jesus to show us how to perform at our personal best. Enough is never enough. Give me more to do, a way to overcome, something to convince me that I am worthy to be loved. Tell me it’s reachable, something Jesus and I can achieve. Inspire me with the Kool-aid, I’ll drink anything for a remedy. Keep me thirsty, keep me hungry, I’m addicted to the hope, that within me and Jesus, our efforts combined, I can become whole.

We are the Christians who believe it’s best to get your spiritual growth spoon-fed through like-minded, public figures you can adore. Just give me something I can worship, fabricated into an idol of my own ideals. I know about Jesus, but furnish me something real, something for the in between. We all need a savior when the Savior is not enough. Identity, worth, and significance are best measured by spiritual accomplishment. So surely, my side-kick savior has the goods that I need, simply look at all that they have achieved. Besides, leadership is best validated by the creation of a personal brand that gains and keeps spiritual consumers. When I see this, it’s gotta be the trough for which God wants me to eat. Surely, He doesn’t want me thinking on my own.

No wonder there are so many Mark Driscolls, this is who we have become. Church-addicted, consumer-minded, performance-driven, platform-worshipping, appearance-seduced, franchise-focused, me-serving, success-intoxicated, personal kingdom-building Christians who drop their jaws in surprise and disgust when all that we are gets super-sized and personified by some among us, for all to see in public light.

Yet Jesus chose purpose over celebrity, message over crowds, the cross over appeal, commissioning over franchising, serving over being served, Grace over performance, and sacrifice over personal gain.

There will always be Mark Driscolls among us, until Jesus becomes our game.

We should all be thanking Mark Driscoll for showing us that for which we should be ashamed.

What’s It Going To Take? A Pastor’s Plea To Affirm LGBT

You are a good person, perhaps a Christian. Maybe even a leader or a pastor. Your heart is to follow Jesus and to be faithful to His purposes. The important things you are accomplishing for the cause of Christ haven’t gone unnoticed. You’re living out your faith with noble intentions from the framework of your experience, understanding, and conviction.

Yet, there are issues in life that change the course of history, starting with the challenging of our own creeds and spiritual assumptions. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender realities being one of those, especially within Christian circles.

For some, you are familiar with terms like LGBT. Others, your awareness is more centered on homosexuality in contrast to heterosexuality. When it comes to sexual and gender manifestations, there is a large expanse. It’s complicated stuff, with lots of moving parts. All of us having a certain level of understanding, if nothing more than how charged, difficult, costly, and controversial these issues can be.

Maybe you have already drawn your conclusions, carved a line in the sand. It’s all an abomination. The clear teachings of the Bible make it perfectly clear. Any other theological landing point is a slippery slope to hell. Nothing is going to move you, sway you, or alter your view.

That was me. The pastor who could look out upon a congregation. With no restraint, no hesitation, no pumping of the breaks. Telling those gathered in my polished preacher’s voice, it’s all a sin and unless met with repentance, every last one of them are on a fast track to hell. Gladly receiving the high-fives from those who agreed.

Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. I understand exactly where you are at.

Maybe you are questioning. It’s all a bit fuzzy to you. You see both sides, swinging from one end to the other. Looking down at the fall between the two trapeze. To grasp for the other side, making the leap, the blood wells up in your head, your breath is constricted in horror. You gaze ahead to the relational dominoes that would crash to the floor if people knew just the doubts you were having, let alone the new position you might be taking. The deconstruction of your faith, the footings of your creed. If only it would all just go away. Indecision, straddling the fence. It’s all too much. So, you just keep swinging.

That was me. The pastor trying to stand for everything, and therefore standing for nothing, and with no one. Lukewarm and loving it.

Been there, done that. The middle ground is the lowest ground.

Maybe deep within, you believe in God’s affirming heart for LGBT people. You have studied it out, covered the chalkboard with new equations, new summations, new conclusions. Like Nicodemus, in the dark of night, you have come to Jesus. Learned His heart. Yet, it’s your secret stance. Only known by you, perhaps a few others. Adding up the costs, the conversations to take place, the meetings to meet with, the look in people’s eyes, the locking of their wallets, the removal of their memberships. The de-friending, the demonizing, the de-humanizing. The firing, the resigning, the transitioning. The tally on the receipt, the numbers that result… it’s too much. The cost is just too much.

That was me. The pastor, who with money he didn’t have, planted a church, starting with seven people. Nurtured it, fed it, changed its diapers. Knowing full well, just a year in, if people knew my true heart, it might die. I could lose everything. Friendships, family, systems that held me together, clients in my bi-vocational work.

But then, the awakening. Truth. Jesus. God’s heart.

Christian, do you realize the spiritual, emotional, and physical torture LGBT people experience, almost exclusively at the hands of our Christianity? Thousands of gay and lesbian people commit suicide every year. Others, walk a daily living hell of discrimination, hate, bullying, violence, abuse, marginalization, and condemnation. A staggering 41% of transgender people attempt suicide because of societal non-acceptance.

Certainly, that has to bother you, at least register a blip on your radar screen, does it not?  No, maybe it’s not happening in your leather-bound, steeple-topped world, but it’s happening in God’s world. And quite frankly, He’s pissed and so am I.

Can you even begin to imagine what’s that like? Every moment of every day, dehumanized and demonized. A breath among them is rarely taken without a whiff of pungent bigotry stinging every fiber of their being, burning clear down to their souls.

Folks, this is disgusting, outrageous, and dripping with pure evil. And who are the ones leading this frontal of death towards the LGBT community?

Christians, that’s who.

Do you realize the Bible, particularly in regards to LGBT, isn’t nearly as clear as you think it is? It’s not the slam dunk we have swallowed as truth. There is only one Word of God, Jesus. The rest our words about God requiring deep contextualization, discernment, and evaluation. Those six verses that we cling to, seemingly condemning LGBT people, are at best a house of cards. We’re slinging marshmallows, arming them are missiles.

But chances are, you won’t hear any of that. The fingers in our ears feel safer. The reality that you, and a whole spiritual system within Christianity could be completely wrong, is perhaps just too much for your pride and faith arrogance to compute. So excuse me, if while you smoke your unnatural cigarettes, sign your unnatural divorce papers, and stuff your faces with all kinds of unnatural, I get a little smirk on my face when you try to get all Bible on me, preaching to me how “unnatural” those LGBT people are.

I know. You think from where you sit, it’s your job to tell the LGBT community the error of their ways, the consequences of their choices. Eternity is in the balance. Sadly, that’s what love looks like to you. But that’s not what Jesus looked like to anybody. You are going to have to re-image Him into a vehicle of your own agenda to arrive at a spiritual license for your condemnation, judgement, self-righteousness, and hate. Sure, you can proof-text a couple passages into compliance, but you’ll never contextualize Jesus and justify that evil prowess.

Christian, do you realize, the LGBT community is not a manifestation of choice or decay, but of God’s delighted design. They didn’t sign up for this like a gym membership. There is no upgrade God is downloading, a change that God is desiring. He didn’t make a mistake. There is nothing to improve, overcome, or revamp.

These are human people. Living, heart-beating, lung-expanding, emotion-feeling people. Beautifully and wonderfully made by the artistry of the Master.

But perhaps that river of revelation hasn’t flowed to the banks of your spirituality. Why? Because you haven’t listened, you haven’t truly befriended, you haven’t humbly sat at the feet of the LGBT community, washing, serving, beholding. You haven’t looked into the eyes of their soul, stood under waterfall of their struggles, internalized their suffering. And therefore, you have missed Jesus, the Living Water, right within your midst. You have become the very people who have received Him not. Leaving your mind, your heart, your faith unchanged, hardened by your unwillingness to repent in response to the kindness, goodness, and holiness of God created in every LGBT person.

The Holy Spirit is charging into the temple of our Christianity, flipping the tables, revealing the truth that in the spiritual x-ray of all that is LGBT, we are in fact the cancer, we are the sin, we are the abomination… not them. And most tragic of all, the wages of our sin has become their death. The wages of our ignorance, the wages of our silence, the wages of our complacency. The wages of our bench sitting, comfort idolizing, spiritual pride, and cowardice… everyday, becomes their death.

Whoever you are, wherever you are at, I am not asking you to go against your conscience, but for Christ’s sake, I am asking you to open your conscience to the transformation of the Holy Spirit.

For the love of God, listen to your heart, listen to the voice of Jesus.

If God, in scripture, affirms the wild donkey that serves no redeeming purpose, the Ostrich that sucks at parenting. Just because they breathe, He pours at His full delight and pride. How much more does He affirm all of humanity, His best idea, one-of-a-kind created in His image? That’s reason enough for the God of the universe to love unconditionally, affirm unlimitedly… just because we breathe.

What’s it going to take?

How many more LGBT people have to commit suicide, begging for life to end? How many more LGBT people have to crawl through this living Hell, tasting the ever constant spit of Satan upon their face as he uses Christians to mouthpiece his declaration that God hates them. How many more LGBT people have to breathe their last, foaming from the mouth in the stranglehold of bullies and bigots? How many more parents of LGBT have to weep until their eyes bleed. Fearing for their children’s lives. Closing the drapes, curling up into the fetal position, all but giving up. How many more LGBT souls condemned, lives destroyed, families broken apart, faiths unraveled? How many more LGBT people have to die at the altar of our Christianity?

What’s it going to take?

But what about my reputation, what about my congregation, what will my family and friends say?

I say to you, who gives a shit? Don’t you get it? Lives are at stake. This is not a joke. We Christians have gotten this completely, emphatically wrong. Search you soul, deep down, you know you have tasted the poison we are pimping as fruit.

While you are dreaming of your future, keeping your ministry aspirations alive, holding on for a life of financial security, family peace, and basic hopes and comforts. There is a whole group of LGBT people dreaming they don’t wake up tomorrow, praying on their hands and knees to die. That’s their dreams.

For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. He went the distance, risked everything, did whatever it took. What was the joy? The full affirmation, the full salvation of all, you and me, just as we are, beautifully and wonderfully made. One and done on the cross. You don’t die for that which you don’t first love and affirm.

So I ask you, what is the object of your joy? Is it your wallet, your pay check, your church attendance, your friendships, family, reputation, ministry? Is that the ultimate, deepest object of your joy?

For Jesus, it was the least of these. The broken, the marginalized, the condemned, the hurting, the discarded, the bullied. Those drifting in the sea of injustice.

Isn’t that enough for you? The life, the wellbeing of a mutual, human being. Their dignity, their divinity?

What’s it going to take? Tell me. I’ll write, pay it, do it.

Your affirmation of what God already has, could be the difference-maker in a life. Hope where there was no hope. Changing everything.

Desmond Tutu said it this way…

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

James, the brother of Jesus said it this way…

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

Jesus said it this way…

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

What’s it going to take?

For some, it’s already too late.

But for others, before it’s too late… I beg you, affirm what God already has.

Grace is brave, be brave.

Affirm.

Stuff Jesus Never Said

To many believers and non believers, Jesus is a powerful person. His words have often been quoted and interpreted by people of varying views. But as with any person, sometimes Jesus has words and assertions put into his mouth that He never said, or even suggested.  And truth be told, the largest culprit in all of this is often we Christians. Yet, no matter where you are in the conversation about Jesus, sometimes we come to Him with our own perspectives and hope we can find a way to make His words sing our song.

So, here is some stuff you may have heard said or suggested, that Jesus never said or suggested at all…

1) “I am a card carrying, camouflage wearing, conservative republican.”  

No, Jesus stands above and outside of any one political group. Though His message is very relevant to politics and all of life, He himself exists and stands by Himself, outside of any one political affiliation. And, take it from His brothers, Jesus isn’t a fan of being used for political gain or being pimped out as a political figure. (John 7:1-14)

2) “Danger Will Robinson, gay people are especially disgusting”

Though some in our culture do and would say Jesus does, the truth is Jesus never said nor suggested that homosexuality is any more dirty or disgusting than other sins. Where some churches and Christians take a hands-off, arms length approach to this issue and the people involved, Jesus is found drawing close to the people who the religious would just as soon condemn, discard or disregard.  Debate as you will the issue of homosexuality and sin. No matter your conclusion, Jesus never shows by example nor words any kind of assertion that homosexuality is a special class of sin, and homosexuals a special class of sinner.  If homosexuality is a sin in serious need of confronting, so is the flan-fed, fat back… Jack.

3) “The bigger and slicker the church and its pastor, the better”

Indeed, today we live in the age of the celebrity pastor and the franchise church. Some are healthy, some are not. We have been led to believe that when it comes to church and ministry, bigger and slicker is automatically better. In fact,  it would take some digging through the tons of mailings sent to churches every day to find me a ministry conference for pastors that doesn’t have church growth and pastor performance as top topics of emphasis. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about ministry effectiveness in reaching people far from God etc. etc. God’s church should be a growing movement where creative and freedom flourishes. But, bigger and slicker does not automatically equate to better. A church and a pastor can have a lot of sharp, impressive looking activity and avatars going on without accomplishing near their redemptive potential. The way we do ministry these days as Christian leaders, you would have thought that Jesus actually said, “Brand it, buff it, build it, box it, as big as your ego can bake it.”  Indeed, we have replaced “shepherd” with “franchise owner,” and “church” with spiritual “consumer club.”

4) “You should make sure people notice how devoted and super-duper in love with Me you are”  

I know what you are thinking, but what about when Jesus says things like, “Let your light shine…?” Jesus’ words about “letting your light shine” are not a reference to your love for Jesus, but the new person you are in Christ. In fact, Jesus says ” you are” the light of the world. It’s about Christ shining as you and in you, not you shining how much you love Jesus.

Take it from Peter, boasting of your love for Jesus places the emphasis and burden on you and your performance, and in the end, shows you up as the denying hypocrite. However, boasting of Jesus’ love of you, like John, puts the emphasis and burden on Jesus, and leaves you reclined with Him at the table, resting in His Grace. Boasting of your performance and passion for Him leads to denying His, boasting of His performance and passion for you, leads to receiving and resting with Him and in Him.

5) “I prefer hymns, choirs, and organ music”

The way some churches feel about modern instruments and styles of music, you would have thought Jesus would have said just that, “I prefer hymns, choirs, and organ music.” Holy sacred cows batman. The truth is, Jesus never said nor suggested anything close to that, and there is no such thing as a Christian “style” of music. What makes music “Christian” or “sacred” is the words, not the style. A style that is worshipful to some may not be worshipful to others, but it does not make it any less worshipful to God. Furthermore, the same traditional hymns and instruments deemed to be exclusively sacred by some  today, were in fact, highly controversial, contemporary, and even deemed “satanic” as little as 50-100 years ago.

6) “Your Bible is actually best used as a taser”

The way some Christians uses their Bibles, you would have thought Jesus had said, “Memorize it, mark it, and make it sting”

Jesus in fact said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:38). Jesus said this as a message to make sure we never place the Bible and our use of it over Him and understand the purpose of the Bible is to lead us and people to an encounter and experience Jesus and the life He brings, not to tase them with it! Religious people use the Word of God to condemn, corner, control, and complicate. Jesus wants us to use the Bible to give His life, healing, Truth, freedom and Grace. The goal is not memorization and highlighting, but receiving, experiencing, and giving His life.

7) “Drinking beer will just make you burn brighter in Hell”  

The very one who turned water into wine, and drank with sinners said that?  Nope.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Matthew 11:18.

Yes, drinking can be dangerous. Getting drunk is an obvious no brainer.  And, in some instances and contexts, it can work against our ministry to people.

Yet, condemning those who drink responsibly as hell-bound sinners and second class Christians (and leaders) is both unfair and misguided. Furthermore, I would say in some contexts this attitude has done more to damage potential ministry to people than the puritanistic, religious approach to alcohol Jesus (and I) referenced above.

8) “The fast track to spiritual maturity is reading books by popular pastors”

We pastors and teachers are used by God in powerful ways to help people understand and experience God and His life. You would do well to learn from people who are wise in the ways of God.

Yet, what pastors teach and preach are often revelations from God they have experienced from their own study of the Word or other pastors/teachers who have studied the Word. Either way, somewhere along the way, someone has done the chewing on the Word so that there is something to teach/feed you.

As a Christian culture we have become fast-food spiritual consumers. There is a lot processed food out there. Book after book, conference after conference. Processed from some pastor or teacher who did the chewing, into your mouth.

This is perhaps a good start for the new believer or even a nice appetizer for the experienced Christian.

Everyone of my children started with processed, pureed foods that required little to no chewing.  Later however, they started to chew it for themselves; having to process it, taste it, chew it, and digest it for themselves, over and over.  To eat processed, pureed food now as emerging adults would leave them hungry, malnourished, and lacking the joy of real food.

This is what the Bible calls meditation. Meditating on the Word of God.  Tasting, chewing, processing it for yourself. A direct revelation from God to you, for you, through you.  Nothing wrong with listening and learning from pastors/teachers like me, but it never should take the place nor become more of your spiritual diet than you personally tasting, chewing, and processing the Word of God for yourself. What makes for a nice appetizer, won’t make for a good meal.

Stop relying on popular pastors for your spiritual diet and making them your main meal. You won’t grow through reading their books until you have made reading God’s book for yourself your primary way of encountering Jesus and His wisdom and revelation for your life.

Reading books by popular pastors isn’t a fast track to spiritual maturity. Besides, some (if not many) of them just present the Christian life (and the Gospel) as a bunch of new things you need to be doing more or better. To be sure, we live in the age of the performance-driven Christian, and there are tons of books to get you feeding on a diet of steps, strategies, and “to do” lists that will ultimately still leave you hungry.

Spiritual hunger for the Christian is a sign of immaturity, not maturity. Jesus actually said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

No, the fast track to spiritual maturity is to realize in Christ, as a new creation, you have already been made fully mature!  Now, believe it and go live what Jesus has already made you.

Spiritual maturity isn’t a process of performance-progress, but a process of believing more in who Jesus already made you into through His performance, not yours. It’s not about becoming a son (or daughter), it’s about living out your sonship that God has already given you and made you to become.

How to Have Hot Sexy Sex

One of the vogue things to do in contemporary church world is to give some kind of shock-and-awe type message series dealing with SEX, complete with a highway billboard sign and public relations plan to deal with the controversial nature of the series, usually aimed at drawing a crowd and grabbing attention to a church’s ministry.

Isn’t that what attracted your eye to this article?  Ruh, roh Scooby!

I get the whole desire to “reach people” and be “edgy” and “draw a crowd.” But more and more, I think people are becoming wise to cheesy, spiritual church gimmicks.  Did I just use the words “cheese” and “sex” in the same article? Yikes, my bad!

Obviously, the issue of sex is important to God, and God has a lot to say about it. To be sure, segments of our culture have taken God’s gift of sex and trashed it.  The Church needs to share the Gospel and its relevance to every area of our life, including sex and sexuality.

Yet, at the same time, I wonder if we are selling ourselves short and appearing a bit desperate to our culture when we play the “SEX” card to fill seats, even if we have a side-kick intention to seriously apply God’s counsel to an important issue.

Yes, I am sure for some who have traveled down this road, that their primary intentions were good and well planned, and had every heart and desire to see people reached and lives changed for Christ. Furthermore, I am sure their event or message series may have even been effective and life changing for some. Obviously, no matter what you do, someone will find fault with it. Everybody who knows me, knows I love to push the envelope just as much (if not more) as the next guy.

Finding fault is not the intention here, rethinking our “best practices” perhaps is. Not because we have gone drastically wrong, but because maybe there is room to do better. My humble opinion. This, from a guy who has been known to push things a bit beyond the creativity and controversial limits of what probably would have been more effective, and learned the hard way because out it.

Maybe what is best is to make sure to be “gimmicky-free” in our ministry planning and marketing.  You can be humorous, edgy, and highly attractional without being gimmicky, it just takes a bit more effort, carefulness, and creativity. Who defines when you cross the line? Not me, for sure. But I think common sense and listening to gutt checks can go a long way to discerning well. So often, when we get creative and cavalier, we minimize the voices of common sense that don’t want to crush our ideas, but just craft them a bit for the most potential effectiveness, short-term and long-term.

O.k, that’s it, end of sermon. Oh wait…

So, that you are disappointed… here is how to have HOT SEXY SEX!

1) Get married first

2) Lovingly serve your spouse with respect and humbleness (all the time)

3) Stay loyal and true to your spouse

4) Discover and meet their top emotional needs (highly recommend “His Needs, Her Needs” book)

5) Be open, honest, and show up emotionally

6) Communicate well

7) Take care of your body and appearance

8) Find a Christian counselor to help deal with any deeper issues

9) Do 1-8 consistently and the HOT SEXY SEX will take care of itself.

Is Your Telescope as Big as Mine?

As a Christian leader, I have seen the value of having “vision” and “purpose.”  Both are important aspects of leadership and life. If you look at my ministry, Identity Church, you will see lots of it.

Yet, I believe there is something deeper and more powerful than the concepts of “Vision” and “Purpose.” In fact, I am inclined to say that the concepts of “Vision” and “Purpose” have perhaps been overplayed, giving the impression that Christian leadership and life is simply about discovering and living with purpose and casting a vision of a preferred future for people to follow.  Some Christians and leaders have a kind of telescope envy. Who has the biggest vision, projects, accomplishments, and sense of the cultural trends for the future? Are you completely and thoroughly dialed into God’s exact, specific, and surgical purpose for your life?  Is your telescope as big as mine?

Make no mistake, God uses vision and purpose, but believe it or not, they are not foundations for Christian life or leadership. Rather, I believe the biblical concept of “Promise” is the foundation for Christian life and leadership, and missing in so much of modern, Christian life and leadership. We have indeed, in my humble opinion, placed the cart before the horse. We have placed vision and purpose, before promise.

What do I mean?

“Vision” and “Purpose” are things you work on.  Like putting together a puzzle, we see the big picture and it’s function and start working to put the pieces together.  We see the top of the mountain, believe we are called to reach it, and begin our climb.  Our faith may be utilized and required along the way, but the foundation is our sense of calling and our efforts in climbing.

“Vision” and “Purpose” are inspiring as they bring to our life levels of meaning and direction. But, for many, the attraction to these concepts is connected to the adrenaline that comes from  believing in and clinging onto a hope that one can become something greater and do something better through primarily our actions and efforts.  God may give us a sense of “Vision” and “Purpose,” but we must “work it” for it to materialize. Therefore, “Vision” and “Purpose” typically end up appealing to a desire to perform our way to a better future and becoming a better person who has a better, more significant life.  They call up the resources and hope of our flesh to bring us to a better reality and future.  We all love visionary and purposeful phrases like, “I think I can, I think I can” and the courage for progress these words solicit.  Yet, the inner warrior they conjure up is merely that, an inner warrior of flesh and bones, who is at best, trying to work out something spiritually great in and through one’s physical resources.

Conversely, the concept of “Promise” can’t be worked on, it can only be “lived out” through faith.  As Christians, we are all heirs of “Promise” (not “Vision” and “Purpose”) given to us through Abraham.  The powerful “Promise” that was over Abraham’s life is over our life, through Jesus Christ. It is God’s promise over our lives (and the lives of others) that is foundational to all life and leadership. It was this promise that led, enabled, and assured Abraham his destiny, identity and his significance.

In fact, in the verses below that articulate the promise of God over Abraham’s life and ours, notice the absence of vision. Abraham was directed by God to go to a land that God did not reveal to him from the beginning. He would only see it when he arrived. Furthermore, notice that the pendulum of blessings and accomplishment are heavily leaning towards God’s working, not ours. The foundation is faith, not vision and purpose. Abraham was never applauded for being a man of leadership-vision and life-purpose, but for being a great man of great faith.

 

Genesis 12:1-3   The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 22:15-19   The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Galatians 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Philippians 1:6 “He who began a good work in you will carry it onto completion…” 

 

There are many other passages that speak to God’s “promise” over our lives. Comparatively, there are significantly less that speak of vision and purpose.  The Promise of God over our lives is not future reality to be obtained, but present realities to be lived out.  What are the details and applications of this Promise for us in the here and now?

In addition to our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ , there are several profound applications from these verses…

Because of the “Promise” God has over our lives, we…

1) Reign in Life – We live above our circumstances and surroundings. This is not a future possibility, but in Christ, a current reality. It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are and what has been promised over your life. The Name of Jesus has become your name through faith. His Name is above all names.

2) Rule with Christ- We have divine power and authority now and in the future. The Kingdom of God is a “now and yet to be” reality. Present or future, in Christ, we are rulers with Christ. The world does not rule us. We are leaders in every way in every place. This is our position. Faith is what brings this reality into reality.

3) Blessed to Bless the world- We have prosperity from God that leads to generosity. True Grace received never leads to living a selfish, lazy life. Rather the opposite. God’s prosperity is attracted to faith in the Promise. Prosperity… spiritually, emotionally, and physically are ours now.

4) Relational Prosperity- We are whole and complete in Christ and able to truly love others from and out of that completeness.

5) Divine Greatness- We are the righteousness of Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms. This is a current reality, promised over us. You are greatness before you ever do anything great, and because you are great in Christ, everything you do, by faith, is great. Greatness is not something you achieve for Christ, it’s something you are in Christ.

6) Constant Significance– Regardless or where we are and what we do in life, we have divine significance because of who we are in Christ and God’s promise over us. Before your actions are ever significant, who you are has become significant through faith in your new identity in Christ. When you truly take hold of your identity in Christ through faith, you can’t help but change the world whatever happens from there.

These are the real-life realities of the “Promise” that we are heirs to, right here, right now.  All of these applications of God’s promise over our life happen effortlessly through our faith. They are promised over us and received by us and worked out through us by our faith. They will prompt our actions for sure, but they will not require our work. Big difference.

“Promise” begins and ends with God working in and through us. Our faith is what materializes the “Promise” in our lives.  The foundations of promise our not connected to our performance but rather God’s working and our faith.

The “Promise” of God over your life does not require having “vision.” In fact, our own sense of vision may in fact eclipse our ability to sense what God has “promised” over our lives. Where “vision” bends our sense of purpose in life as being centered around our actions and accomplishments, “Promise” directs our sense of purpose in life to be centered in our faith. One leans towards relying on human responsibility for its fruition, the other leans on believing in God for its fruition.

In fact, “Promise” is a current reality that is lived out in life now. “Vision” is a future reality that is worked on for it to be materialized in the future

Should we throw out “vision” and “purpose?” No, absolutely not! Both are valuable and important. But they must never become foundational nor birthed from anything less than faith in the promise of God.

How can you apply this teaching? Here are a few suggestions…

1) Focus on who you are now in Christ more than what you should do for Christ in the future. Place your focus on what Jesus has and is doing in you today, not what you will do for Him tomorrow. Put much more value on the size of your faith in the present work of Jesus in and over your life, not the size of your telescope into the future.

2) Believe in your position in Christ as one who reigns in life and rules with Christ. This will change your whole mindset and living as you deal with challenges, circumstances, and responsibilities in your life.

3) Don’t spend your energy on becoming significant and successful, put your trust in Jesus that because of Christ and His promise over your life, you are and everything you do is significant, right now. You are great because He is great in you. Live from greatness, not towards greatness.

 

Learning to Rest

People who know me easily can describe me as a type “a”, hard working, go getter. I like to stay busy, tackle challenges, and get things done.  Recently, however, I have been learning how to rest. I have become more interested in effectiveness than mere activity in my life. In the Kingdom of God, activity does not necessarily equal accomplishment.

See, God works when we rest and rests when we work. No, we aren’t talking about laziness or irresponsibility.  In fact, when you learn to truly rest, you will see plenty of things to act on. Rather, we are talking about foundations from which we can become aligned with God’s movement. “Rest” is the foundation from which God works in and through your life.  “Work” is the foundation from which God rests from working in and through your life. In many ways, it really is that simple.

Many Christians make “faithfulness” and idol and their efforts foundational to their sense of self and significance.  They may never say it like that nor admit to this reality, but it is true. I know so, because I was one of them. As the saying goes, “It takes one to know one.” Like I once did,  they enjoy and feel a drug-like rush enter into the veins of their soul when people praise them for how hard they work and how much they seem to accomplish. Busy-ness is their bong, puffing themselves up, literally.  What they don’t realize is how much effectiveness and sustainability is leaking out of all their efforts.

It really is true, God rests when we work, and works when we rest. We find this kingdom truth in the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible.

Luke 10:38-42  As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feetlistening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The Marthas of our Christian culture (and world at large) love to pridefully declare that without their hard work, nothing would get done. Even to the point of suggesting that people like Mary never get anything done. They wrongly interpret that Mary’s aren’t productive, go getters, who like to make things happen. We truly are living in the age of the performance-driven Christian.

At the heart, I believe this passage is about an issue of foundation, and what Jesus is teaching is for us to live from a foundation of rest.  It’s amazing how much God can do in and through us when we rest. It’s amazing how much can’t be done in and through us until we learn to rest.

In fact, the Bible says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  Notice the order, it is God who firsts works (initiates, prompts) and then we act.  Not, we work and then God acts.  Rest means coming in tune with God’s working. When we work, we produce a static that blocks our spiritual senses to God’s working.  We end up doing a lot of things that don’t contribute to His purposes but ours. When we rest, we become completely in sync with God’s working in and around our lives waiting for His prompting and power to act.

For example, recently I felt God’s prompting to create an online prospectus for the Church I am starting. We will be presenting our ministry to people as a kindgom opportunity to which God may be calling them to contribute financially, and a website version of our prospectus could be a useful tool.  I began designing and working on the website paying specific attention to making sure I followed God’s promptings. In fact, any moments I felt a kind of stress and “uphill-ness” strike my spirit, I would make sure to take my hands off. I wasn’t adverse to working hard, but wanted to be aware of the difference between that and “hard work.”  When you are moving in the Spirit of God, working hard is a strong possibility, but having something become “hard work” should cause us to evaluate whether or not we are in fact, “in the Spirit of God.” This is a key awareness and distinction.

Every time I felt a sense of unrest and stress to my acting to complete the website, I stopped, trusting God to be at work.  Yet, soon after I was willing to stop, I found myself being energized to move forward. Things that would and should be difficult were free flowing and smooth. I finished it without stress nor fatigue in a short time.

What was most enlightening was when afterward I received a comment from a person who reviewed the online prospectus I created. His comment suggested that based on what was accomplished it seemed like I must have had to work extremely hard on it.  For sure, the website is thorough, involved, and created with excellence, but it was God who was at work to enable me to will and act according to His plan. There was nothing really extreme about anything that came from me towards the creation of the site.

It really is true, when we rest, God works. When we work, God rests.

Here are a few practical things that rest may mean for you…

Rest means…

1) Listening to when you become stressed.  Stress is a product of our acting where God is not working.

2) Following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If God has not put it in you to do with a tangible power to do it, it may not be from Him.

3) Moving at the speed of God-  Yes, you can get ahead of God and behind God.  Never act where God has pulled the power plug out or put on the brakes, and never not act where God has given you the power and the “pressing” to do so.

4) Listening when things become “uphill”-  There is a key difference between working hard and hard working.  Be willing to work hard but be skeptical of hard working.

 

Looking forward to your thoughts.

 

 

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