To watch someone make the difficult look effortless is the epitome of artistic affluence. To watch a performer act as if each participant is the only person in the room is transcendent. I love watching my wife do what she was born for. 1,000 little hearts were impacted today in ways we’ll never know this side of glory. Partnership is a gift to be treated reverently. #CampusImpressions
One of yesterday’s highlights was having US Army Operations Officer Zack Wiley bring his wealth of knowledge to our table at New Life. Very humbling to have man that organizes operations and logistics for an entire battalion honor us with his insight. Translating it to the church world is exciting and inspiring, and Zack’s love for the Bride of Christ is contagious. Just one of the many blessings of serving in a military city.
Learning how to serve people better means finding new people to learn from.
I’ve never met a thankful person who had a bad day.
Ungratefulness is like a blindness that leads us down the path of depravity until we’re trapped in the clutches of entitlement.
Take today and start thanking God for the minutia in your life. It changes attitudes quickly. When I start putting my life in context of the rest of the world, I come face to face with how ungrateful I really am. Every problem I have is a First World problem. Which calls me from wallowing in self pity to engaging with the mission of God for my life in the kingdom.
God, thank you for this glass of water.
God, thank you for this light switch and the lightbulb on the other end.
God, thank you for this countertop, this stove top, this table top.
When I’m having really “bad days,” I actually touch everything I’m thanking God for, this way my prefrontal cortex and my physical body are making the connections about what my spirt is trying to remind my flesh of: that I’m blessed beyond belief.
Once gratefulness has a firm seat in your heart, you can approach the mission of God for your life without the need to get anything from it for yourself. You’re simply concerned with one thing:
What does God get out of my day today?
And a close second:
What do others get out of my day today?
What many of us are referencing when we say we need or want “peace” about something is actually not peace at all.
It’s emotional comfort.
Peace that passes understanding is just that—something that surpasses out ability to comprehend it. What we want is for everything to make sense, and then, because we understand it all, to feel good about what we know. That’s cerebral. That’s emotional comfort. Divine peace, on the other hand, says, “I don’t understand it all, and yet in spite of that, I’m at one with God.”
It’s not the absence of conflict, it’s knowing who’s at the helm of the ship when the seas are up.
If we’re focused more on personal happiness than we are with ongoing spiritual maturity, we’ll misinterpret trials as judgements instead of invitations to become Christlike.
Fundamentally, the church you call home should promote encounters of heart, mind, soul and body with God, challenging what you know and how you behave; it should be a place that provides accountability to how you love God and serve people; and it should be a place where you receive genuine care from other Christians whom you’re close with.
How some Christians make obtuse life-decisions without taking into consideration what quality of church they’re leaving or what quality of church they’re walking into mystifies me. And yet it’s inevitably quality churches which broken people finally land in that nurse them and their children back to health.
If you’re not in a church that promotes comprehensive God encounters, provides accountability that stings your worst and encourages your best, and pushes you out of your comfort zone to serve those around you, then I suggest you change churches. None around you? Then you’re either called to plant one, or move.
There’s a reason towns were built around churches: their founders valued divine relationship above industry and economy. Build your life around God and the community of believers, and you’ll find it hard to miss the plans and purposes that God has for you.
And, statistically speaking, no—you’re not going to change the pastor or the board. Though noble, the church is littered with the remains of people who stayed too long, fighting to change the very thing God himself said he wouldn’t: someone else’s free will. Get out, and go find a healthy place to pasture your family while there’s still daylight. Your future is worth it, and so is theirs.
Plenty of things in this life should give us reason to pause.
Why does the word “lisp” have an “s” in it?
Since Americans throw rice at weddings, do Asians throw cheeseburgers?
And then there’s this picture of an octopus eating a shag:
Not that bird’s best day.
Other more important things give me reason to pause, especially when the propinquity of their seeming juxtaposition nears a common epicenter.
Like my friend’s mom dying within twenty-four hours of my other friends having their first child.
As a Christian, and further as a pastor, such dramatic life events present an interesting gambit of emotional obstacles. Not because I’m worried about crying at funerals, or hate smelling babies’ heads. (I do both quite well). But because I’m called to identify with loss, and equally identify with gifts.
When we take on another person’s life-state as if it was our own, we participate in something uniquely divine, an inferior reflection of what Jesus did so perfectly: becoming as someone else.
Life’s dichotomies, as experienced most extremely in birth and death, are not meant to be feared, but should be seen as opportunities to act Christ-like. To take on someone else’s burden so that they might understand they’re not alone. Truer, more authentic empathy is rarely seen, save maybe in exchanging one life for another. And even in that we see the picture quite clearly: giving up part of our life in recognition of someone else’s.
We die a little.
We give ourselves away a little.
If you’re asked to celebrate today, celebrate with all your might. You honor the lives around you with your passion.
If you’re called to grieve today, mourn from the deepest part of your soul. You honor the lives around you with your compassion.
You’re also acting a whole lot like Jesus. It can be draining, yes, especially when these life-dichotomies are so close together. But that’s the beauty of it: he knows how to sustain you because he became like you once too.
To Kevin: We’re so sorry for your loss. We’re with you here and now.
To Karen and Costa: We’re so happy for your new little man!
Mourning and rejoicing,
My dear friend and senior pastor just released his latest book this week, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him and for those who read it. It’s chalk-full of hard hitting life lessons, glacial nuggets of wisdom, and often startling arguments to some of church culture’s more common assumptions—ones he confronts from simple, Biblical perspectives.
An eternal pragmatist as well as a tireless worker, Kirk also writes about many of the fundamental cultural principles of leadership that’ve helped grow our church, New Life, to the healthy place it is today.
What I love most about this book, however, is that it reflects a man I deeply admire. I know Kirk. Of all the people I’ve ever met, he operates unlike any other in a true New Testament gift of leadership. He’s always looked to better his team before he betters himself. And he’s paid a high price to be able to speak from a place of authentic spiritual success.
I can’t afford (nor could I survive) to make all the mistakes of other men—I have my own to wrestle through. That’s why works like these are so unequivocally pivotal when it comes to serving others the way Jesus did and does.
Most of my spiritual conversations over the last several weeks have swirled around a common question: How do you read the Bible? Some of these dialogs have stemmed from the social media firestorm surrounding musician Michael Gungor’s admission that he does not believe some of Genesis’ accounts are literal. Others have been private confessions from believers who secretly believe in evolution (a broad statement, to be sure), but are scared to death to voice this among their Evangelical peer groups. And still others are trying to reconcile inconsistencies found within scripture, now digging deep for contextual understanding.
In all cases, I commend Christians everywhere for their hunger for learning. We must be people that dig deep, and then dig deep again, fostered by healthy communities that endorse free thinking and inspire “walking out [one's] own salvation with fear and trembling.” Changing doctrine is not a sign of weakness, but of confession that we don’t have it right, and God does.
No matter your sentiments or beliefs, the Bible plays a critical roll in all of our development: our faith must be shaped by the cannon of tradition past and by the counsel of spiritual leaders present. Which leads to an all-important question:
How do you read the Bible?
Below, I’ve pasted four very keen points from Joshua Graves, the lead minister for the Otter Creek Church in suburban Nashville, TN. I’d suggest reading his preface on the original post as well, since his four-point list is actually a part of a much larger conversation, both presently and historically.
These four perspectives are incredibly helpful both in knowing where you’re at and helping determine where others are coming from when they purport seemingly irrational conclusions when held in context to your own.
Pastor Joshua Graves:
VIEW #1: FUNDAMENTALIST or BASIC (The Bible is read as a rule-book for living a godly life before a watching judge.)
God is a judge with holy (sometimes angry) and wrathful disposition towards sinful humanity. Jesus saved humanity. Though he loves us, God’s anger burns towards humanity because of continual evil and wicked ways.
The Holy Bible was given via dictation theory or celestial possession. The Holy Spirit literally dictated every single detail. The autographs (original sections of the Bible) and copies are perfect, infallible and inerrant. Every word in Scripture is historically, theologically accurate. The Bible is accessible for any person to understand in a rational and logical approach. It’s not enough to say the Bible in “inspired and authoritative” . . . one must also believe the Bible is infallible, inerrant, and perfect. The Bible is God’s direct instruction manual to all people for all time for how to live before God.
Some of the key players/voices: John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Southern Baptist Convention, Albert Mohler, authors of the Left Behind Series (Jenkins and LaHaye).
VIEW #2: EVANGELICAL (The Bible is read as a collection of timeless principles for morality and conversion in a dark and corrupt world.)
God is a judge and father with a major dilemma that only Jesus can resolve.
The Bible is the Word of God for the people of God. It contains the timeless truths of God’s heart that need to be communicated and shared with all people. While the copies of the Biblical manuscripts might possess some tension/uncertainty, the autographs (originals) are perfect, infallible, and inerrant. The primary role of the Bible is to save people from their sin and hell, providing the road map for any person to spend eternity with God. God’s primary way of communicating to humanity is through the sacred scriptures. It’s the most important tool we have for understanding God. Some in this camp will greatly stress the power of the Spirit to use the timeless truths of the Bible to provide a practical guide for everyday decisions.
Some key voices/leaders: Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Max Lucado, Billy Graham, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes.
VIEW #3: THIRD WAY (The Bible is read an unfolding drama inviting all people to participate in the work of God in the world.)
God is the creative father who seeks to pull all women and men out of darkness into living the Kingdom of God now in preparation for the fullness of the new heavens and the new earth.
Because the church came before the New Testament, this group is inclined to call the Bible the word of God and reserve the phrase the “Word of God” for only Jesus (word does not = Word). Rather, the Bible reveals the Word. The Bible is the word of God in that it is trust-worthy, powerful, and effective in leading people to a living encounter with the power and mystery of Jesus in the world. It is the sacred drama of God, in which we are mere B actors, and Jesus is the main character. While God is revealed in a myriad of ways (creation, art, music, friendship), scripture is unique in that it derives its authority from the witness of catholic orthodox stream of disciples and the local church. The power of the Spirit is at work taking ink on a page, and bringing us closer to the Jesus who holds all creation together. The Bible is the mirror that shows us who God is and who we are. It is not to be worshiped or made an idol as it did not create us, sustain us, die for us, etc. It’s simply the tool God uses in conjunction with all of the other revelations to bring us closer to God’s intent for the world: faithful discipleship, resistance to the powers of this present age (communal). Christ’ presence in the world is both powerful and mysterious and the Bible is a key tool God uses in that endeavor of discovery. This group resists using infallible and inerrant because a) they are not words that show up in Scripture and b) are tied to stale debates between faith and science. This group takes seriously the role of the Bible as it relates to inspiration and authority but refuses to divorce these two words from the main purpose of the Bible, further revelation of the person of Jesus.
Key voices/leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr. Karl Barth, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, Lauren Winner, Sarah Coakley, Bonhoeffer, James Smith, Walter Brueggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor, Chuck Campbell, Walter Wink Richard Hays, Ian Cron, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Oh, yeah. Bono.
VIEW #4: HUMANIST (The Bible is an inspiring document with varying levels of relevancy for coping with life in the modern world.)
(Here, I’m not using humanist in a decidedly negative fashion) God is whoever you think God to be or were taught God to be. If God exists at all. The “God” pursuit is almost exclusively subjective. In this view, the Bible, like the Qur’an, Torah, the writings of Baha’ll’a, and Bhagavad Gita, is simply one more sacred collection of spiritual moral writings meant to speak to life’s deep experiences of pain. While mostly the product of human engineering and imagination, the Bible is important because of its link to history, meaning, purpose, and identity. Not meant to be literal or pure history, the Bible functions as an important narrative for understanding the values and linguistic emphases of many modern westerners. Full of inspiration, the Bible’s authority should be regarded with great suspicion. It can be however, a guide-book for remarkable standards of ethics.
The widest group, the HUMANIST camp, ranges from Liberal Christians to passionate Atheists. “It [the Bible] is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies,” Mark Twain.
Key players/voices: Richard Rohr, Bart Erhman, Christopher Hitchens, the New Atheists, A.J. Levine, Post-Christian Americans and Europeans, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, Mark Twain, and Richard Dawkins. This is the most diverse list of all four categories.
I probably needed five categories but ran out of time (pastors have deadlines too).
Had to share this beauty in conclusion. Because, in a sense, everyone does this. Everyone who reads the Bible. Or used to read the Bible.
So, how do you read the Bible?
The Bible does not give simple answers to complex questions, but complex answers to complex questions.
Part of its beauty is that it always calls its readers much higher in our thinking, and doesn’t stoop to accommodate an inferior perception of humanity or its Creator.
To treat Scripture as a series of anecdotes to the world morass is to treat it contemptuously; it was never meant to be an easily defined, well-packaged defense of faith.
It’s not tame, and it’s far from tidy.
Rather, let it be a mere introduction to the living God and all his mysteries, one that necessitates the school teacher of the Holy Spirit to be active in all conversing.
Dare to engage the scriptures as God’s story, for that is what it is. Story. Then resign yourself to knowing you won’t figure it all out.
Your faith will survive the ambiguity.
Know only that you’ll be better pointed toward him in the process, and let your heart find peace there. For being in him is all that was ever hoped for you anyway.
One of my jobs as a producer is to continually be on the cutting edge of the recording industry. This means I’m constantly researching modern techniques and trying to implement them in the studio.
It’s in that spirit that I pass on this amazing video from the amazing Craig McDurmot on EQ’ing acoustic guitars.
If your church has to warn everybody about Michael and Lisa Gungor from the pulpit this Sunday morning, it might be a good indicator that your church leadership needs your prayers.
I’m intrigued by a meticulous art project from UK-based photographer Thom Atkinson, in which he obtained and laid out the battle kit of English soldiers over the past millennium. The fiction author in me, as well as the child in me, found the images fascinating. Similarly, my boys were eager to look over my shoulder and view each image as I explained the various pieces of kit.
Perhaps showing signs of age, and revealing the parts of my heart that have been touched by the realities of human conflict (particularly with regard to our pastoral proximity to Ft. Drum), I was surprised to find that some of my explanations interested me far less than they used to. And a few unspoken concepts repulsed me.
Because I knew my sons couldn’t and shouldn’t handle them yet.
I think of the use of hooked polearms, or how a gas mask protects against the effects of nerve gas.
The romance of war has certainly faded, though the call to protect and defend has not.
Moving through the various images, I was reminded that these kits were necessary because of our rebellion to God in the first place. And further, I noted how many of the conflicts had purely humanistic motives (which could be said of any conflict, to be sure). One doesn’t need to know much of the Crusades to understand its fundamental atrociousness.
For the innocent blood we’ve spilt, we’ll give answer to; for the innocent we defended, our blood is its own testament.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!
Thanks to my friend Wayne Thomas Batson for this beautiful reminder.
I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure. While I can’t see it, I can feel it.
Something pressing’s down on me. Many things, actually. And they’re not bad things. They’re good things. In fact, they’re God-ordained things.
Serving my wife, stewarding my kids, taking care of our home, investing into people, building the local church, growing kingdom businesses that influence communities, creating art that changes hearts.
Every one of these topics have high price tags of time, energy and money. And they each have severe ramifications if I make mistakes.
And yet they weight me down.
So is the weight something I’m to be afraid of? To fear?
How about to avoid? That seems to be the most common advice I give myself. That’s the advice most well meaning people give. Avoid the weight. Look for ways to offload it. It’s unhealthy. It’s not God. If you’re not at peace with it, look for where you’re being disobedient.
But what if not giving myself to any of those things is the disobedience?
I’m also inspired by a quote form one of T.D. Jake’s famous sermons, The Weight of Glory:
The conduit from laity to leadership is discomfort.
What if the discomfort of my life is the very thing that qualifies me to lead? To stand in front of my family, my friends, my church, my businesses, and say, “Follow me as I follow the Lord.”
I’m inspired by the life and letters of the Apostle Paul, knowing that affliction is the gateway for glory.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
What if the very tactic of the enemy is to get me to believe the “burn out” lie? To subtly convince me to “take it easy.” To “quit” one thing or another “because it’s hard, and I’m so tired.”
If anxiety and burdens are the enemy of the first-world Christian, how can I consciously avoid lines like this in what most scholars believe is the first written text of the New Testament?
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:28
I can feel the loving eyes of the Father staring at me as I complain about my circumstances. As I moan about one issue or another. About how hard I have it. The past several days, it’s been a minute by minute awareness. He’s checking me. Testing me.
This past Sunday was the most frustrating tech Sunday at New Life. Ever. Four days before, our building was struck by lightning, so by Sunday, my tech department was finding more and more ghosts in the systems. Lights stopped working, lyrics stopped going up on screens, audio sends weren’t feeding. And I have no hair left to pull out.
Could God be speaking any more loudly to me?
I think I’m mining gold now. I think I’m arriving at a divine conclusion. I feel God forging it deep within me. And I’m becoming profoundly certain of a heavenly truth.
The best way to keep from spoiling our position is to correct our attitude.
And what is my attitude to be?
That I live like a king. That pastors dream about having the “problems” I do. That since I’ve been given so much, much is required of me (Luke 12:48). Anything less than my very best not only belittles my calling and my position, but mocks the one who knew I can stand here and lead. And serve.
I’ve never met a grateful person who was burnt out.
Keep going today.
Don’t give up.
Tomorrow will take care of itself. You just be obedient today.
Souls are waiting on the other side of your obedience.