December 22, 2016

The Soul Felt It's Worth

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

You've probably sung those lyrics many times. I know I have. Maybe we've sung them so many times that we've stopped really hearing what it is we're singing. Or maybe we never really took the time to prayerfully consider all the theological implications of these truths. I spent some time thinking and praying over these lyrics today and there are a few things that stood out to me.

"Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth"

The soul felt its worth. The soul had never truly felt its worth before then. The only way for the soul to feel its "worth" is for it to be liberated from the thing that enslaves it. What was enslaving our souls? Sin.

The world was laying - trapped and helpless - in sin. Until something happened. The Son of God appeared. He appeared. Lived a perfect, sinless life. He willingly laid his life down, was brutally beaten, murdered, executed, and crucified for our sin. The sin that the whole world was laying in. He died so that we might be freed from that sin. He died and rose from the dead so that we would no longer go on walking in darkness, but we would walk in the light.

"Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease"

Make no mistake, the chains He came to break were chains of sin.
The slave is my brother. Any slave, anywhere. Because I was a slave to sin.
But in Jesus name - the name that is above every name - the name that one day will bend every knee - in Jesus name "all oppression shall cease" because the oppression of sin has been defeated.

O holy night!
What a night it must have been...when holiness erupted into the world so quietly through a baby in a manger. Holiness that is now available to you and me. Righteousness that has now been imparted to us because the light of the world chose to defeat the darkness.

May we walk in the light this Christmas.
May we shine the light of life to all those around us because our souls have felt their worth. Because the oppression of our sin has been defeated.

Merry Christmas!

December 7, 2016

What To Do With the "Toxic" Christian

There's this new idea floating around (which is just an old idea packaged up in different paper) that as a Christian I can self-determine that another Christian has become "toxic". That there's a brother or sister whose decisions or choices have moved them outside of the realm of the level of grace, mercy & forgiveness that I've been allowed & allotted to divvy out. I’ve seen and heard this out of other people’s mouths…and I’ve witnessed it running through my own heart and mind as well. This is not of God. This is not of Jesus. This is not Biblical.

Jesus didn't give any sub categories, asterisks, sidenotes, or escape routes for John 13:34-35. He said, "The world will know you are my disciples by your love for one another."

Matthew 5:23-24 & Matthew 18:15-17 were mandates that were to be exhaustively pursued before ever entertaining the idea of severing a relationship with another child of God.

Jesus went after the lost sheep to bring them back home. He said he would leave the 99 to go after the 1. At times, it seems as though we want to gather the 99 and tell them, “It’s just better that he left. Just let him go.”

Is there a "toxic" person out there? Most certainly there is. Are there people who claim the name of Jesus over their lives while walking as reprobate sinners? I'm sure there are. But if we reach the point of divisively & decisively removing a person from our lives, should it not be only after making every attempt to either lead them to repentance or lead us both to reconciliation?

If you and I choose to humbly & lovingly "part ways" because of major theological differences - issues of essential orthodoxy - that might be a healthy decision. But if you and I ultimately walk away from one another because one of us has relationally wounded the other - because pride or bitterness hinders us from repairing the fractures in our friendship – then we are an awfully sad lot.

You and I don't get to "wash our hands of one another". When we choose that route we're not following Jesus. We're following Pilate. 

Pilate washed his own hands: "I'll have nothing to do with this or with you." 

In that climactic moment the night before Jesus went to the cross, when he could have and should have washed his hands of the delinquents and the repeat offenders, he instead did something else. He got down on his knees and washed the betrayer's feet: I still love you.

Pilate washed hands. Jesus washed feet.

Why do we give up so easily?

Why are we so quick to wash our hands instead of wash each other's feet?

Why are we so fragile and easily offended?

How does the cup of grace that the Lord fills on our behalf run dry so quickly that we have none left to pour out on others?

We are ministers of reconciliation. (See 2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

We are agents of forgiveness. (See Matthew 18:21-35)

If there are some among us who have wandered back into the land of the "toxic", may we have the Christ-centered, Spirit-filled perseverance, courage, and determination to go in after them. And may we remember, when the fear of being poisoned by the toxic overwhelms us, that we were once the poison ourselves. 

May those of us called to “shine like stars in the universe” remember that we were once darkness. (See Ephesians 5:8)

May we love like you, Lord Jesus. Help us. 

January 5, 2016

How Long, Lord?

The day you start to think, "Surely I've seen it all" will most certainly be the day you not only learn you haven't, but you also start wishing more and more that you had.

I want more and more every single day to believe that surely the lies & deceptions of the prosperity gospel are going to be fully exposed and realized for what they really are: lies. I pray all the time that those who are being deceived into its sway will be set free to the liberty of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - to discover that only in "losing my life will I find true life". The battle rages on. And at the end of the day, we are not surprised. Remember what Paul told his young disciple, Timothy:

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

Friends, the prosperity gospel - the idea that Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we could be financially blessed - the thought that the God of the Universe wants to shower us with abundance just because we deserve it - is a lie from the pit of hell. And it's the lie that false teachers like Creflo Dollar keep on preaching:

As you may know, Creflo really stirred things up last year when he made a big fuss about the possibility of losing his $50,000,000 jet. (No, I didn't add too many zeros.) Well, today I watched an exchange between Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis that certainly rivals Creflo's scripture-twisted, materialistic, self-centered, unbiblical theology. Watch for yourself:

I don't even know where to begin.

"The world is in such shape... We've got to have this."

You can't be famous and "get in a looong tube filled with demons. It's deadly!"

Hey! All you African & Indian preachers who walk barefooted for days to get to a village so you can preach the Gospel to the lost: STOP! God doesn't want you to walk. He'll send a Cessna your way to pick you up. Just light up the strip where you want it to land.

Hey! All you humble preachers and evangelists flying in coach with the demons: Are you crazy? We're here to preach to stadiums and arenas full of people who want God to give them money and comfort, not to the lost, broken, and hopeless who simply want to know that Christ died for them and has reconciled them back from death to life. 

Rather than going on and on with sarcastic anecdotes, let's just address this biblically. And let's address it from the very angle that "Reverend" Duplantis was attempting to corner. During the video you hear him begin to mention Amos 6, which he's going to go on to pitch that, "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure..." is God's warning to any of us who begin to "let our faith stagnate" is a word he received from the Lord. He was letting his faith "stagnate" because he had started believing that this really nice jet was all he was going to settle for. As if the Lord was inquiring of him: "Is this the best you think I can do? You don't think I can get you a better airplane?"

Friends, Amos 6 is written to the Israelites who were drowning in the pleasures of life rather than mourning and grieving their own sin. They were immersed in wealth. They had no moderation or restraint. They accepted nothing but extravagance for themselves while ignoring the needs of others. Jesse Duplantis even breathing this scripture reference in the same sentence of defending his need for a jet - defending the need to get as far away as possible from those "demons" who might be flying on a commercial airliner - is one of the most self-indicting things I've seen in a long time. I would challenge him to go on reading in Amos 6 about the enemy that God himself raised up to come against Israel and rid them of their pagan, materialistic, self-centered lives. 

Some may listen to Creflo and Joel and Kenneth and Jesse and their counterparts and call it serious audacity. I call it heresy. I don't know if it's intentional scripture twisting or the greatest level of ignorance possible. Either way, it is NOT the Gospel.

How long, Lord, will you put up with this?

December 16, 2015

Guns, Terrorism, Racism, Refugees & Jesus [Part 2]

If you haven't read Part 1, I would encourage you to take 5 minutes and begin there. We are all - like it or not - a part of the discussion that needs to take place in our culture about GUNS. Hope you'll give serious, prayerful consideration to the matter. That said, moving on...

Let's talk about TERRORISM

Terrorism is an idea, concept, and word that has become as commonplace in our day and culture as the words internet or exercise. (Maybe even more so than the latter.) I think it's important to define it so the we can confront it:

Terrorism (n.) - An act of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

While I think this is a fairly simple and accurate working definition, I believe that to be closer to the current center of the target, we would have to alter it to read "political and/or religious aims". Much of what can be labeled terrorism today is being driven and catalyzed by those who think and believe they are agents of "god" for a holy war he has called for. Quite obviously, they aren't working with the same definition of "holy" that I've been given or that the Bible presents. Nonetheless, I think the most important thing for us to keep in mind - for followers of Jesus Christ to remember - is the real underlying objective of almost all acts of terrorism in our day & time. Quite simple, the goal is FEAR.

Don't misunderstand me; the motivation and catalyst behind these acts is hate, prejudice, self-righteousness, and evil. But the goal is fear. To put it this way: HATE may be the driver of the car - the one who has also metaphorically (and hopefully only metaphorically) tied you up and locked you in the trunk - but FEAR is the place that hate wants to take you. Drop you off. Abandon you. And leave you for dead. 

Fear isolates. 

Fear polarizes and paralyzes.

Fear is notorious for "making a mountain out of a molehill".

Fear divides and disrupts. 

Which helps us better understand and accept that fear is absolutely not from God.

Paul says "God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7)

John declares, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18)

When we understand what God - who himself is the definition, source, and author of LOVE - has to say about fear, we begin to understand why HATE - the complete antithesis of love - has no greater mission or satisfaction than to lure and seduce us down a path that leads straight to fear. Love drives out fear. Hate...drives head-on into it. And it's becoming apparent that many who believe they are acting out of love are actually being manipulated by hate to act out of fear. And the way we know this is by the things they say.

Jesus said, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:34)

The way we talk is rooted in the way we see things.
The way we see things is rooted in the way we think. This is called our worldview.
The way we think is rooted in what we believe, about God & about ourselves.
This means that as God's people, we must carefully allow the Spirit of God to examine, shape, form, and lead what we say and how we say it.

A Presidential candidate has suggested that we should "ban all muslims" from traveling to the United States. I would submit to you that this is rooted in fear. When thousands of refugees are homeless, running from TERRORISM - being driven from their home country - and we simply refuse to take them in because we FEAR the terrorists could possibly infiltrate their ranks - they have (to a degree) already won. Hate has accomplished it's goal. Love was sacrificed and handed over. Fear has taken it's place. 

Last week, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. made some incredibly controversial and polarizing remarks in his address to the students at the school's convocation. Out of the overflow of Jerry's heart, he said:

"I've always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those muslims before they ever walked in and killed." He followed that by adding his encouragement for every student to get a permit and gun so they will all be ready to "teach them a lesson if they ever show up here." (italics mine)

I want to encourage you to think and meditate on these words for just a moment. First off, determine if you could ever, under any circumstance whatsoever known to mankind, imagine Jesus saying this. Maybe to Peter. In the garden. When the soldiers came. 

"Dangit, Peter. If you had only brought your 9mm, we could have ended those punk soldiers before they ever walked up."

Spin it however you want to. You won't make this fit with Jesus.

While we could debate for quite some time how Dr. Falwell comes up with his classification for "good people", I think the more puzzling question in desperate need of an answer is this: How many good people out there are sitting around waiting to "end those muslims"? 

Yes, I know, he was talking about the 2 muslims that walked into an office party a couple of weeks ago in San Bernardino, California, and started killing people. But what he apparently is missing is that he is ultimately feeding the beast, fanning the fire, and perpetuating the cycle. Falwell (like many others) isn't seeing that FEAR - being driven and manipulated by HATE - is fostering more HATE. When a Christian leader stands in front of a mass of Christian students and asserts that we need to be ready to "end those muslims"....FEAR has taken over. HATE has won. It may sound real cavalier and cowboy-like, but it's fear all the sameAnd what we've really become blind to is that the people on the opposite side of whatever fence we’re standing next to don't see our fear as fear; they see it as hate. When I hear someone say they want to "silence those Christians" (and yes, it's been said), there's never anyone conveniently around to classify or distinguish who those Christians are that they're referring to. And yes, Falwell attempted some forced patronizing backpedaling - realizing the reaction and backlash it was causing. But what most everyone saw was not someone remorseful for what they said or how they said it, but for how it was received. Not the same thing.

What so very often looks like hate these days is actually fear with a puffed-out chest, trying to call someone's bluff. 

Friends....Jesus didn't bluff. He didn't retaliate. He didn't puff out His chest.

Is WHAT we're saying and HOW we're saying it exposing a heart within us that is still kicking and screaming and refusing the radical way of Jesus?

While you're thinking on that for a moment, allow me to interject a COUNTERPOINT

Please know that I am not submitting or suggesting that we are never to defend or protect. We are called by a Holy God to protect the innocent and the weak from those who would maliciously attempt to abuse and/or destroy. I believe a holistic view of God's heart in the scriptures lead us to actively standing up against evil in the world. And so in these days and times, when a terrorist organization like ISIS or al Qaeda have made it clear that their sole intent and purpose is to attack, abuse, and destroy anyone and everyone in the world - particularly the West - who doesn't submit to their way of thinking, believing, and living, we have to (at some point) stand up to them, fight them, and defeat them.

Here in the United States we have thousands of men and women who have felt a calling on their lives to defend the freedom and liberty of humans - the "inalienable rights" endowed on us by our Creator. It's hard to forget the resurgence of enlisting soldiers after 9/11 - people stepping forward to say, "Here I am. Send me. I will go and take the fight to those who would dare to harm, abuse and kill the innocent and the defenseless." I bring this up to come back to the counterpoint: Is it possible that many are 1) allowing other's hate to lead them into fear and are 2) beginning to reconstruct walls that spent hundreds of years knocking down because for some reason unbeknownst to most of us, the leadership of our country has decided, "We'll just let them bring the fight to us."

Allow me to be blunt for a moment.

When TERRORISM is spreading all over the globe like an epidemic and FRANCE steps out to take the lead to fight against it, something has radically shifted in our country.

When the President of the United States refuses to send our troops (who have stepped forward to go) into harm's way - when we refuse to stand up, step out, and lead the way against evil - because we're afraid of offending someone, something is radically wrong with our country.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - who gave his life attempting to overthrow Hitler and Nazi Germany - once said, "Silence in the face of evil is evil itself; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

I'm not talking out of both sides of my mouth here. I'm not attempting to defend or justify what Jerry Falwell said or Donald Trump suggested or a million other people thought. But I am submitting to you that much of this might not be going on if the United States of America wasn't sitting on it's hands for the first time in my lifetime, just waiting - almost beckoning - for the devil to bring destruction to our own doorstep. 

It's become a greater offense in this country to malign than to murder.

Apparently words are more powerful than sticks and stones and guns and bombs.

Friends, I write this post first and foremost to expose TERRORISM. This is what it's doing to us - inside and out. It's spreading fear. The fear of another attack. The fear of losing a way of life (which is not necessarily the way of the One we say we're following). The fear of offending someone. 

If I'm being honest, what I fear more than anything is fear ruling my life. 

Don't let it rule yours.

We know there are always going to be people in power making the wrong decisions.

We know there are always going to be people speaking for God that don't represent God.

But more importantly, we know that the God of the Universe is almighty, sovereign, just, merciful, gracious, faithful, all-knowing, omnipresent, sufficient, right and true. He is the Great Shepherd. The King of Kings. He is coming again. And He will make all things right and all things new.

TERRORISM will be done. FEAR will be erased.

Let's keep those things in mind.

December 11, 2015

Guns, Terrorism, Racism, Refugees & Jesus [Part 1]

There is so much to say. 

This past year I honestly cannot count the times I sat down to begin writing and was honestly blank or paralyzed from the sheer thought of where to begin. I know if you're a "writer", this isn't supposed to stop you. You just write. Well, I guess I might have to turn in my writer's card (whatever the heck that is).

Where to begin might be the hardest question to answer in the whole mess. Over the last 365 days it’s quite possible to feel like you’re drowning in an ocean of chaos and that the world is coming apart at the seams. If you don’t believe me or don't agree with me, allow me to stir up the pot for just a moment: ISIS, terrorism, Syrian refugees, vetting process, gun rights, gun “violence”, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, Planned Parenthood, “unedited” video, San Bernardino, Chattanooga, Paris, ban on Muslims, 1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, and on and on and on…. What in the world is happening? (Other than exactly what Jesus and the scriptures told us would happen?)

It’s time for those who live under the banner of Jesus - his name, his cross, his resurrection, and his Kingdom - to begin to examine (or maybe begin reexamining) what that looks like. And it’s time for those who don’t claim to live under that banner, who (hopefully) would at least claim to speak and think on behalf of common sense, to start thinking, talking and acting like it. You’ve heard it said, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” Well, it seems there’s a lot of that going around…even with the lumberjacks. The people who should be the ones leading others to see the bigger picture in all of this seem to be the ones making the view even more difficult. 

The reason I get so frustrated with church signs - the ones out beside the road - is because 9 out of 10 times I don’t think anyone is really deliberating over the questions, “WHO are we speaking to?” and “WHAT is it we’re actually attempting to communicate?” This infection is spreading. What are we to do? Where are we to begin?

For the sake of delaying no further, let’s just start with GUNS. 

I live in Huntsville, Alabama. While the greater metro area of Huntsville is over 400,000 people, the city itself is home to less than 200,000. Redstone Arsenal is located in Huntsville. A US Army base, the Arsenal is home to the Army's Material Command, the Missile Defense Agency, Aviation & Missile Command (yes, that's a real thing), and even a wing of the Department of Defense. There are around 40,000 people working on the Arsenal as I write this. It's about 1/2 mile from my house. And because it's Friday, I fully expect my whole house to shake sometime this afternoon from someone blowing something up. What does any of this have to do with guns?

I lay all of this out to hopefully make it clear: I live in a city with a LOT of guns!

People drink sweet tea, they go to church, and they're packin' heat.

For the folks standing on the left side of the fence, allow me to share with you some of what the folks standing on the right side of the fence (meaning the opposite of LEFT, not the opposite of WRONG) in the midst of our current circumstances are hearing: 

People are not responsible. 
People are not accountable. 
Guns kill people. 
Guns load themselves, fire themselves, and actually kill people. 

Please understand me; I know that's not what (most of) you are saying, but that's what's being heard. And - like it or not - that's what the battle for "gun control" and the headline of "gun violence" is saying. As I said earlier, please follow the logic.

10-15 years ago there was one story after another that read something like this: "SUV kills pedestrian". If you were visiting here from another country, you would have been scared to death. Headlines everywhere telling of SUV's running rampant all over the place, killing people at will. As if no one was driving them. They just backed out of the garage, pulled out of the neighborhood on a death mission, and saw it through. Who on earth would be careless enough to talk this way? I'll tell you. People with an agenda. All the people who wanted SUV's off the road because they were opponents of gas and oil. This was liberal agenda language. And while many want to argue and plead, "Oh, that's not what they were trying to say!", that is most certainly what they were trying to say. This is called propaganda. It's an understanding that words can manipulate and influence, stronger than anything else. And on a sidenote, you might notice that SUV's are no longer killing people (at least not that the media are telling us). Guns have taken their place.

If you are not a gun owner (&) you are overwhelmed with the conviction that something must be done to stop all of this violence, I understand. I stand in that same place. But I stand there with the understanding that 99.89% of the people who own a gun 1) use it responsibly and 2) have a right to own it. I realize it makes some people feel better - and makes them think they are accomplishing something - to simply keep repeating, "We need more gun control" and "Something must be done about gun violence", but this is like saying you're going to beat cancer once and for all with some Neosporin and a Bandaid. It not only won't work, it's not even a remotely effective solution.

Guns don't kill people. People kill people. 

People kill people who are loved by other people who become overwhelmed with grief and simply want to know that something - if at all humanly possible - is going to be done to keep someone else from having to walk through the same pain they have.

Let's move to the other side of the fence for a moment.

People kill people. And of the almost 13,000 people who were murdered in the United States in 2013, over 11,000 of them were killed by someone using a gun. So what those of us standing on the right side of the fence (opposite of left, not opposite of wrong) must come to grips with is that, while guns do not kill people, guns are the weapon of choice by people who kill people. How do we bring this number down? What do we do about psychotic people getting ahold of guns that a Marine would need in a close proximity wartime shootout? Is there something that can be done about 3 terrorists or 2 angry and bitter high school students dressing up in bulletproof vests and ambushing an office building or movie theater or school cafeteria? How are so many people - so many sick, twisted, psychotic, delusional, angry people getting ahold of so many guns? Is there anything that can be done about this without infringing on the rights of the 99.89% who would never consider intentionally harming another human being, much less taking their life?

I don't know. But I do know this...

If both sides don't stop yelling and somehow come to the table, we'll never know.

If you're a gun owner, I believe you might be tempted to be one of those lumberjacks I spoke about earlier. And if you're a gun owner and a Christian, I want to implore you to make sure you're not missing the forest for the trees. If this is first and foremost about your rights, then you're possibly not surrendered to and fighting for the Kingdom of God. Maybe it's becoming more about the Kingdom of Guns. I know we have rights and I believe we ought to protect them, but I also know that Jesus spent an awful lot of time and energy talking about how we actually have to lay our "rights" down at his feet. The Sermon on the Mount - in particular Matthew 5:38-48 - is a manifesto. Jesus is declaring that his followers will live their lives laying down their rights. And we really don't need contextualization here. This freaked as many people out and pissed as many people off then as it does now. Jesus is radical! He rode into town on a donkey, not a white horse. Peter chopped off Malchus's ear and Jesus put it back on. He "did not cling to his rights as God, but instead emptied himself, taking the form of a servant..." (Philippians 2:5-11) If this is first and foremost about your rights, I encourage and exhort you to prayerfully reexamine who it is you're following. 

I believe those who are screaming for gun control would stop yelling so loudly if those screaming for gun rights would step up, step out, and lead the way in asking the tough questions. We've got to get out from behind our side of the fence and somehow sit down at the table. Is that possible? Can anyone stop yelling and finger pointing and politicizing long enough for that to even be a possibility? 

The more we think the solution is to just do away with everyone's rights, the higher and deeper the wall is going to grow to find a real, actual solution. And the harder and tighter we cling to our rights, usually the louder we're going to have to yell to defend them and keep them. That's not just a gun issue. It's a Kingdom issue. Because the Kingdom of God is now living within the people of God. The citizens of heaven are currently residents of earth. We're aliens, foreigners and exiles here (1 Peter 2). Babylon's problems are our problems (Jeremiah 29:1-13). This is a Kingdom issue. What kingdom are we surrendered to and fighting for?

What are your thoughts? 

Not your feelings - your thoughts?

More to come...

November 9, 2015

Merry Christmas, Starbucks!

Merry Christmas, everyone!
I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet. That's OK. It's never too early to get into the Christmas spirit. Am I right, or what? Of course I am.

The stores get into "the spirit" the day after Halloween ends. Maybe sooner. And Thanksgiving? Forget about it! We don't really even remember who the Pilgrims are anymore. Thanksgiving is all about Black Friday and football games. To be more specific, it's about spending money for Christmas! We're so stoked out of our minds about Jesus's birthday being around the corner that we can't contain ourselves. We find this uncontrollable urge to go out and lavish everyone we love in the spoils of our holiday savings. And don't get in our way, for cryin' out loud, or we'll run you down like a bulldozer over a Hot Wheel. It's Jesus's birthday. Hallelujah!!

And if that's the rhyme & reason for the Christmas season, count me out.

I'd like to say that my rant is inaccurate. 
I'd like even more to say that the accuracy of my rant is someone else's fault: the media, the stores, the economy, or the devil. Isn't there anyone else to blame?

Sadly, no.

We - the "people of God" - the "Christians" are as much to blame as anyone.
We are the hypocritical harlots who have reduced the celebration of the Son of God's birth to a consumeristic whirlwind of chaos.

Which is why it's all the more painful to (once again) watch the "Christian community" awakened from their slumber like an angry bear. Why? Because there are still too many children in foster care? Because the country of India is still 99.5% still unreached with the Gospel? No, no. Don't bother us with such trivial matters. The only thing that could awaken and arouse and anger us in such a way is for someone to offend us. And who better to put in our crosshairs...than Starbucks!

That's right, friends. In case you haven't heard, Starbucks has come out with a new cup for the holidays. The first thing you should know about the cup is that it's RED (which in case you didn't know is the color of the devil's suit). Not RED & _________. Just RED. But that's nothing. Wait til you hear what they had the audacity to put ON the cup. Want to take a guess?

A. A rainbow
B. A big middle finger
C. A silhouette of Donald Trump's hair
D. Starbucks
E. None of the above

If you guessed E, then you're right on the orange mocha frappucino money. What's written on the new RED Starbucks holiday cup? Absolutely nothing! Zero. It's just plain RED. Like the retro trash can in my office. Nothing but RED. Like a Santa suit, but without the white. Can you believe it. No Christmas Haiku. No jingle bells. No MERRY CHRISTMAS!?

No Merry Christmas on the new Starbucks holiday cup.

And all hell breaks loose.

Let the protests and boycotts and idiotic social media posts begin.

Let's tell Starbucks that "they can't take Christ out of Christmas!" As if that was their real intent. And even if it was, like they actually have that power. (Or do they?) 

Here's some food for thought for the ranting, raving, protesting, Jesus-loving, coffee-drinking Christian out there this holiday season:

  • If you're mad about this, then just quit drinking their coffee.
  • If this has so gravely offended you, maybe consider the $85 you would have spent in November on lattes being given to fund clean water or to some other charity.
  • Maybe also consider, for every action you take to rant against Starbucks (or whoever else out there over the next month attempts to "take Christ out of Christmas") you could actually share the life-changing truth of the Gospel with someone. Possibly even a Starbucks employee?

I know that so many of us have gotten so used to the idea that we're supposed to protect consumerism for Jesus, but I would challenge you with the fact that 1) Jesus doesn't need us to defend or protect him & that 2) he might possibly be against the thing(s) we're so desperately attempting to defend. Please do us all a favor and allow the Spirit and the scriptures to lead you. Please spend inordinate amounts of time praying and seeking the Lord's face before you ever step out in protest. Please get so consumed with sharing the truth of the Gospel and that Jesus is still in the business of setting slaves free from sin and death that the idea of getting sidetracked by ranting and raving against the culture (which we know is set against God because it's filled with the people who need Him) almost seems as mad and ludicrous as the culture itself. Please...stop defending and protecting your Kingdom and get really serious about advancing Jesus's Kingdom. 

You want Jesus in Christmas? Me too. So let's live it out. And remember:

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." And if the darkness has not, will not, and cannot overcome it, then neither can a plain RED coffee cup.

Merry Christmas, Starbucks!
Jesus loves you!

October 20, 2015

Disciple-Making Disciples

God is on mission. He always has been.
As His people, we are on mission as well.
Jesus said, "Come follow me."
3 years later, Jesus told the same men, "Go and make disciples."
Come watch how I live. Learn to live and walk and talk the same way. Now, go and lead others - someone else - to live and walk and talk the same way. I am sending you out on this mission!

God is on mission. He always has been.
And His people have always been a "sent" people.
From slaves in Egypt, to captives and exiles in Babylon, to sojourners and exiles driven out of Jerusalem and scattered to the uttermost parts of the globe, to disciples and exiles right here and right now. We are a sent, missionary people. We always have been. And until Christ returns, we always will be. I attempted to illustrate this in my chicken-scratch doodling from my sermon preparation last week:

Come follow me. I will make you "fishers of men". I will make you my disciples.

To be totally elementary, but necessarily clear, Jesus has only one kind of disciple: a disciple-making disciple. And while to a first-century Christian peering into the western church of today it must seem a bit ridiculous to even need to state this, it is necessary to state it nonetheless: our priority as the Church is making disciple-making disciples. It always has been. At The Brook, this is what we have set our minds and fixed our eyes on. It is the utmost priority. It's the non-negotiable. As the people of God and as followers of Christ, if we fail at this mission, we've totally missed the point. I really don't believe that any of us want that to happen.

Are you a Christian? A follower of Christ? Then you're a disciple.
Jesus said, "Come follow me", and you responded: "I will follow!"
Jesus asked, "Who do you say that I am?", and you responded, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God!"

So here's the question: Where are you on the journey?

Are you a new disciple? Did you just start walking with the Lord? Then someone else - a mature believer - should be walking alongside you, leading you, saying, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." But they should also be leading you in your understanding that you will also (in due time) take someone young in the faith and walk alongside them. They should be leading you to be a disciple-making disciple. That's what Jesus did. That's what Jesus calls us to.

And yet, somehow so many who have "come to faith" - have "decided to follow Jesus" - have never had anyone disciple them and, therefore, have never discipled anyone else. How can this be so?

To be blunt and direct: Let's not waste time answering that question.
Let's just do something about it.

Right now we are taking multiple steps to do something about it. 

First off, we have just started the Discipleship Intensive. This is a 90-minute class that meets one evening a month, walking through the 4 foundational traits and tools of a disciple. And while I believe many who hear or read about this class will automatically think, "Oh, I don't need the 'foundational' stuff anymore. I'm past that!", I would challenge you with this question: Are you making disciples? If not - if you have not yet learned how or taken steps to be a disciple-making disciple - then this class is for YOU! Please don't underestimate the value of learning, re-learning, and fanning the flames of the basics.

To follow this, we are now implementing - at a deeper level - these traits and tools into our Missional Communities. During our Leader Huddles (that meet for 120 minutes, one night a month) we are investing in and equipping our leaders to invest in and equip those they are leading. We're teaching them to make disciple-making disciples. The Apostle Paul wrote to his disciple, Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2) and told him to take what he had taught him and "entrust it to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." If you play out what Paul's instructions to Timothy imply, you understand that it leads to 4 generations of disciples. Not much later, way down the road, but right here. Right now. 

4 generations of disciples

That's what Paul wanted to see. So do I. So should you!

At The Brook, we are raising up and equipping our leaders - disciples - to go into their Missional Communities and their ministries and make disciples. And not just disciples; disciple-making disciples. (Remember: that's the only kind.)

We are also just wrapping up a brand new series called (drum roll....wait for it....) Disciple: The Traits & Tools of a Christ Follower, exploring these traits, tools, and characteristics and allowing the scriptures to define for us what a disciple looks like - right here, right now. You can find those sermons HERE. As I've attempted to clearly communicate, I now reiterate: we have sold the farm and cashed in all our chips on this one thing. There is nothing more important than the calling the Lord has placed on us to make disciple-making disciples.

So...allow me to go back to the earlier question: Where are you on this journey?

In Paul's exhortation to Timothy, there's only one generation that is not yet making disciples - the brand new disciple. So according to 2 Timothy 2:2, (Ephesians 4:11-16, Matthew 28:18-20, Hebrews 5:11-6:2, and we could go on and on) you should either have someone pouring into your life (or) you should be pouring into someone else's life (or) both.

If no one is pouring into your life, come to the Discipleship Intensive. We will begin walking with you and connecting you with someone who will. (The next DI is Monday, November 16th (6:30PM) at The Brook.

If you're ready to begin pouring into someone else's life, but don't feel equipped or ready, come to our Leader Huddles. (For more info, shoot our Worship & Discipleship Pastor, Chad Cronin an email.) We will invest in you, equip you, walk with you, and prepare you to use the tools the Lord has given you to carry out His mission. And always remember that: it's HIS mission! He is always faithful to equip us to do what He's called us to do. This is why the Church exists; for the mission of God. 

God is on mission. He always has been. Are you?

Where are you on this journey?

Let's walk together. 

More to come...