February 27, 2014

Making Disciples At Home

Making Disciples.

Jesus did it. He modeled it. Then he commanded it. If you want to be my follower, this is how we're going to do it. This is how we're going to reach the lost and raise up more followers. Make disciples...who make disciples. This is the mission of the one who calls himself "Christian".

We are all making disciples every day. The question is, to what or to whom are we discipling people? What is it we're modeling for them? Who is it we are pointing and leading them to? If the one who is watching my life is watching intently, am I leading him to materialism? Self-sufficiency? Gluttony? Vanity or pride? Am I leading her to bitterness? Or apathy?

Or am I leading him to Jesus?

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to share a little bit of what it tangibly looks like for me to disciple my son. He's a 9-year old lightning bolt, who also happens to be a sponge. He's soaking up everything I do and say. He's hanging on my words - my affirmations - and waiting to see how I respond and react. Because I know for many parents it's an incredible challenge to feel overwhelmingly confident that we actually know what we're doing raising our children, I want to share a little of what it looks like in our lives.

I coach my son in baseball. I love it! Whether we're headed to the batting cage, in the back yard throwing the ball, coming home from practice, or clearing our stuff out of the dugout after a tough loss, I look for any and every opportunity to speak the truth of God's Word into his life. These moments happen more than any other time in the car - just me and him. I ask him questions. His answers often give me a chance to say, "Nathan, do you know what Jesus said about this?" Of course, there are also those times when his response blows me away, because I realize that he's already becoming aware of the need for God's standard in his life. I'm also going to say that Philippians 2:5-11 and 4:6-8 probably come up in our conversations more than any other scripture. 

You have to be in the Word to share and teach the Word to your kids.

You have to intentionally look for, take, and sometimes even make opportunities.

Another vital piece of discipleship is repentance. And I don't mean his. I mean my own. There is no greater, more powerful testimony for our children to see the Spirit of God at work than to see us humbly coming to them in repentance. Whether we've sinned in front of them or sinned against them, they need to hear us say, "I was wrong. Will you forgive me?" And they also need to hear us say, "I had 2 choices in front of me: release my anger...or yield to Christ. I chose anger. That's not the choice I want to make." Understand: those moments of temptation are going to come, regardless of what we do. But the moments of repentance are only going to come if I'm walking in the Spirit, yielded to his leading, and humbled before God.

And just as important as the moments of speaking truth and the times of confession and repentance are the moments of simply putting my arm around my son, affirming him, listening to him, and loving him. This is how my son needs me to love him. I know this because it's how he expresses it at home. He climbs up on his grandmothers laps and mauls their faces with kisses because he thinks they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. He's looking for that in return. And he says, "Did you see me?" over and over because he's looking to be affirmed. In a 25-year old, we'd be concerned that we're possible dealing with an over-inflated ego. With a 9-year old, this is what you can call affirmation. My son is desperate for this. Where I am careful is in building him up by affirming WHO he is, not so much WHAT he does. "Nathan, you played a great game tonight. Your mom and I are so proud of who you are - the way you lead with your attitude. And by the way, that was an awesome hit, too!"

I don't have 45-minute devotionals with my son. If you do, awesome. 

The importance and the key in all of this lands on one word: INTENTIONAL.

You're not going to accidentally disciple your son or daughter to Jesus. You have to make up your mind with great resolution, come up with a plan, and go for it. The alternative is to do nothing. That's unacceptable.

You're not going to perfectly disciple your son or daughter to Jesus, either. Stop waiting to have it all figured out. Paul said, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." In other words, "Follow me as I follow Jesus. Lock arms with me and let's walk toward the Savior together." It's never going to be perfect, it might actually be painful, but it will most certainly be beautiful.

Speak the truth.
Ask for forgiveness.
Love them recklessly like there's no tomorrow.
Pray for them and with them constantly. 

That's making disciples.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Proverbs 22:6

February 21, 2014

The Church is NOT a Whore

Yesterday I read a tweet that really caught me off guard. I was fairly certain it was a quote - that I had read or heard it before. Was it Augustine? I couldn't remember. I didn't care. I couldn't get past it. It read:

"The church is a whore but she's my mother"

I read it several times. I inquired with the person who posted it if they could give me some context. I thought, "Surely this makes super-spiritual sense and I'm just missing it." I get the Hosea reference - that God had to powerfully convey to Israel that the nation He had called His own - God's own people - had become a harlot. Israel had been "unfaithful" to Yahweh. They were spiritually "sleeping around". There is no more powerful public display and exploitation of sin - and no more powerful call to repentance - and no more beautiful and mindblowing story of redemption than the story of Hosea. I understand. Israel was unfaithful.

I remember 10 years ago (I think it's been that long) hearing Derek Webb's "Wedding Dress" for the first time. Wow! A serious - and probably well-deserved, well-timed - punch in the gut for the American Church. Here's a sample:

If you could love me as a wife, And for my wedding gift your life
Should that be all I'll ever need, Or is there more I'm looking for
And should I read between the lines, And look for blessings in disguise
To make me handsome, rich and wise, Is that really what you want
'Cause I am a whore, I do confess, I put you on just like a wedding dress
And I run down the aisle, I run down the aisle

At first I was mad at Derek. Did he call us prostitutes? What a jerk! Then I began to understand and embrace a bit of where I believed my brother was coming from. I began to come under the conviction that, YES, I had been guilty of being seduced by the things of this world while waiting on the Bridegroom to come. I understand. And as much as it pains me to say it, at times...I have been unfatihful. 

But here's the thing: "The Church is a whore...?"
I don't understand this. This doesn't resonate with me. The point of Hosea is NOT that the Church is a whore. The point of Hosea is that even in the midst of our unfaithfulness, because the King has purchased us - has "bought us back" with his own life - that we no longer have to live as unfaithful. "The Lord says, 'Then I will heal you of your idolatry and faithlessness, and my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever!" The King is going to come, lay down His life, shed His blood, atone for the sins of His people, purchase them out of slavery - out of prostituting themselves to the world - and give them freedom and victory and new life!

We were harlots. We were prostitutes. We were dead in our sin.

We are no longer harlots. We are no longer prostitutes. We are alive and victorious!

We are sheep with a shepherd. Sometimes we wander. He brings us home.
We are branches attached to the true vine. We bear fruit. We also get pruned.
We are a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come!

This is not the description of a whore. I don't care if Augustine or Billy Graham said it. 

I think I understand the reactionary fuel behind making statements like this - that we are trying to counter the pious, "holier than thou" attitude that has come from some Christians in the past decades. Don't get me wrong; I'm a firm believer in total depravity. I was born a sinner. There was nothing good in me. But friends, when the Holy Spirit of God indwells you and consumes your life, and when the work that was wholly and completely accomplished by Jesus' death and resurrection transforms you from the inside out, there is something good within you now! No, it's not YOU. It's the Lord. But don't think you have to counter piety with prostitution. The Church is NOT a whore.

Jesus didn't willingly lay down His life, suffer humiliation, shame, and indescribable pain, die a criminal's crucifixion, and rise from the dead so we could be unfaithful. 

God's people don't have to degrade themselves in an attempt to magnify His love and grace. If we are His Church - His Bride - that He is going to "present to Himself without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish", we no longer need to wallow in the mire and guilt and shame of our past. Remember: "No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool."

Yes, Jesus loves, pursues, redeems, and saves whores. 
But He also says to them, "Go and sin no more."

May we never forget the depths of the depravity where Jesus found us.
But may we never forget the heights of holiness to which Jesus has raised us.

"Or have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptized to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with him. For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives." (Romans 6:3-4)

Dig Deeper:
Hosea 1:1-14:9
John 15
Romans 6
2 Corinthians 4-5
Colossians 3

February 20, 2014

Rethinking Email


10-15 years ago that word evoked very different emotions than it does now. It was about technology and progress and efficiency. Now - for most people - the thought of email invokes feelings of irritation, aggravation, and even for some, a neverending burden. You can even hear and read people voicing the feelings of being "a slave to email!" There are courses and series of blogpost to help you "overcome and master your Inbox". Email has singlehandedly taken over the world!

At first it was about communicating more effectively and efficiently. I could send one message to ten people. Or a thousand people. They could all reply. It was instant global access and response. And let's be clear: it still can be. But most of the time, email has become a second-rate, mediocre at best, anything but effective method of clear communication. Let me explain.

I've angered people through email because they read an emotion into what I said that wasn't accurate at all. Other people have angered me for the exact same reason. It was a misunderstanding. (Why did you need to write that in those BOLD UPPERCASE LETTERS!!!!????) Did you read ANGER!! into that? That wasn't my intent.

I was placed on an email chain one time that actually had to do with me - a decision that I had made as a leader. The author of the message was less than excited or supportive of my decision. Most of the people who received the email didn't pay attention to or realize I was on the chain and they decided to chime into the conversation by hitting Reply to All. Let's just say that was one of the most devastating and painful things I've endured. I still hate thinking about it. I lost sleep, lost weight, shed tears, and even lost friends. 

Today, I sat down with some friends at lunch to talk through some things that were being confused and misinterpreted through email - confused and misinterpreted by each of us. We ate sandwiches. We drew on napkins. We laughed. We questioned. We understood each other. As we were getting up to leave my friend said, "This was great." I totally agree.

Email cannot convey emotions.
Email is void of vocal inflections.
Email doesn't show facial expressions.
Email can't stop and ask for clarification on an issue.
Email can make the sarcastic sound serious and the serious sound sarcastic.
Email can make a few suggestions sound like a list of demands.
Email can be edited and even DELETED...until you hit SEND.
Email can be ignored for an indefinite amount of time. 
Email is an accident waiting to happen.

Therefore, I highly encourage you to consider making email your last resort. When you can pick up the phone and talk to someone, or better yet, speak to them in person - look into their eyes, hear their voice, watch their body language, and immediately respond - why settle for email? Why just communicate with another human when you can actually connect with them? Why hope for cloudy when you can get clarity?

Convenience? Efficiency? Laziness? Corporate Policy?

How convenient is it that you have to reword or restate what's been misunderstood?

How efficient is it to have to do "damage control" when your intent was misconstrued?

How aggravating is it when you're having to explain to someone, "That's not what I meant at all!"?

How painful is it to discover that your written words - regardless of your intent or motive - have wounded someone deeply?

Please hear me: I'm not telling you to abandon your email. In many ways, it's become a great tool for those who master it. But if it's become an excuse or a scapegoat to keep you from having to actually communicate with other human beings, I would reconsider. If it's become your first line of communication rather than third or fourth (or last), I would rethink it.

There's a reason we haven't completely done away with the "phone".
There's a reason (beyond coffee) that places like Starbuck's are still thriving.

Effectively communicating with another real, live human being. It's exhilirating!
I highly encourage and recommend it.

And if you like this blogpost, you can always email it to someone.

February 17, 2014

Only God Can Judge Me?

Only God Can Judge Me!

I saw this bumper sticker recently. It wasn't the first time. (Huge thanks to Tupac for vomiting this idea out awhile back.) I was reminded of it again this morning when I saw someone post something about "Why do we have to judge each other? Can't we just love one another?" While I think I understand the sentiment that births this thought, I also think it's very bad theology and a misunderstanding of the scriptures. 

Jesus (very famously) said, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye. You hypocrite..." (Matthew 7:1-6)

I believe these are some of the most misunderstood, misrepresented, misinterpreted, and taken out of context verses in the whole of the Bible. These are verses that people who don't even believe the Bible love to quote, as if to say, "If there actually is a God, then he says you can't judge me." In reality, this isn't what Jesus says at all.

While it is completely safe to say that God has not ordained all of us to walk around pounding gavels in each others faces - passing judgment left and right on the microscopic behaviors and decisions of others - He is also not eradicating "judging" from our responsibilities. Jesus is attacking the prideful heart. He is condemning the one who attacks someone else's sin without recognizing his own. This is why Jesus tosses in the "do you not notice the log in your own eye" remark. This resonates in Paul's admonition in Galatians 6: "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."

QUESTION: How can you "restore him" without addressing the fact that he's sinned? Can you point to a solution without first pointing to the problem? Paul says, "Lead your brother (or sister) to restoration, but do it gently. And do it prayerfully and carefully, so that you don't fall into the same trap yourself." What Paul is describing is what many call "judgment". There is no place for this principle in moral relativism. And those who are hellbent on the idea of "tolerance" have no place for this spiritual and biblical directive in their worldview. Call it what you like, but it's bad theology.

[In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul actually tells the church to remove a man who is not repenting of sexaul sin from the fellowship. ("Let him who has done this be removed from among you.") This goes over like a lead balloon with moral relativism and "Can't we all just get along?" theology. What's missed here is Paul's ultimate goal is for the man to come to repentance and be restored to fellowship. But until then, he has brought judgment on himself.]

Go back to Jesus. When I quoted Matthew 7 above I intentionally stopped right where most people stop when we read, quote, or mishandle his words. But if you keep reading you discover what he really said: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Do you see it? (No pun intended.) Did you catch what Jesus said? We are responsible for taking the speck out of each other's eyes. We are responsible for restoring brothers and sisters OUT of sin and back INTO fellowship with God. We can't do this if our lives are consumed with sin. And we certainly can't do this if we walk around pridefully not even acknowledging our own sin. But that's part of why we are commanded to be in constant examination of our sin, live in a constant readiness of confession and repentance, open up our lives to be examined and scrutinized by our brothers and sisters in Christ, and most important, "Be holy". Am I my brother's keeper? Actually, yes.

There are some very specific areas where this issue is raging in our culture. I want to address them in additional posts and conversations. But where this all begins is in the understanding that when someone bears the name of Jesus Christ - when someone claims to belong to Jesus and to be a child of God - their life must begin to be a reflection of His Word. It means that we come to God not for who we want Him to be, but for who He really is. And our heart longs more and more all the time to surrender in obedience to him. Occassionally, this may very well mean someone gently, humbly, yet boldly approaching me to lovingly restore me. Am I open to this?

Is your life an open book?
Are you open to the scrutiny of the Spirit of God in your life?

Dig Deeper:
Psalm 139
Galatians 6:1-10
1 Corinthians 5-6
1 John 2:28-3:10

February 6, 2014

Serve & Protect

In recent years - especially post-9/11 - our public servants have been more intentionally and deservedly thought of and talked about as "heroes". This has not been so much an issue of them "becoming", but of the rest of us "recognizing" and "realizing". While I am fully supportive of this attitude and participative in expressing my gratitude, I've noticed somewhat of a discrepancy over the last few years. It was affirmed (and magnified) recently when a friend of mine (who I'll call MY FRIEND) shared with me about a conversation she'd had with another friend (who I'll call HER FRIEND). It went something like this:

HER FRIEND: "Watch out when you go down that hill. There's always a cop hiding there, waiting to bust someone for speeding."

MY FRIEND: "How do you know?"

HER FRIEND: "He pulled me over the other day. But he let me go with a warning. So...he made it back to zero."

MY FRIEND went on to ask HER FRIEND if she was actually speeding, to which she admitted, "Yes." MY FRIEND then proceeded to confront HER FRIEND about her unintentional, yet undeniable admission to holding what has become an incredibly common and shared stereotype. HER FRIEND - for whatever reason, fair or unfair - has embraced this prejudice: POLICEMEN START AT ZERO.

Think about this for a moment: How many negative thoughts or perceptions do we have of firemen? Not many. Other than that horrible character played by Scott Glenn in Backdraft, there are just not many situations or scenarios where we find ourselves looking on a fireman in a negative light. And for just reasons. They serve long hours. Some of them on a volunteer basis. They run into burning buildings. They respond (repeatedly) to false alarms and fender benders. Their job is all about serving, protecting, and saving others. But isn't that what the Police do as well? Don't they also selflessly serve and protect? (Sure, I know there's the exception. I know you've had your encounter with "that cop" who you thought acted like a real jerk. Me too. But that's the exception, not the rule. Follow me here.

We all not only agree that we have to have laws, we WANT those laws in place.
But when we are the ones who BREAK those laws - when we speed or run a red light - we suddenly want the police to ignore us. If my neighbor is blasting 130 db's at 2:00 in the morning, I want the police to attend to my situation with laser-focused attention. But not when I'm doing 82 in a 65 MPH zone. 

Our thinking is off. Our judgment is hypocritical.

If you accidentally set your back yard on fire, do you want firemen to come and put it out? Absolutely. And HURRY! If you accidentally stop paying attention and speed through a school zone, do you want the police to pull you over and fine you? Absolutely NOT! Look away! 


Back to that cop that "acted like a real jerk" for a moment. Have you ever thought about the fact that every single time an officer or Highway Patrolman approaches a vehicle they have absolutely ZERO idea who or what they're going to be dealing with? Do you know how many lame, ridiculous, unbelievable, far-fetched excuses they get handed? Do you know how many of them have been intimidated, run down, cussed out, and yes, shot at by "really nice people"? Pick one of those. Just one. How many times of that recurring in your life - in your day - would it take before you began approaching every car with a different attitude? I know, I know; you're the exception. That light was yellow a minute ago! Right?

I've recently had the privilege to get to know some of our city's police officers. They are true servants. They are dedicated. They are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. They are sons and daughters. Just like you and me. I believe that when we consider these things, we will begin to look at these hard-working servants in a different light. A light that shines far brighter and far above a ZERO. And maybe we'll begin to also consider how we can serve and protect them.

What's something tangible you can do to express gratitude to a police officer?
How can we better appreciate our public servants? All of them?

February 4, 2014

Pull the Trigger (Christianity & Influence)

"Christian" musician.
"Christian" band.
A musician or band who happens to also be Christian.

You've heard the discussion before, right? "Those guys are Christians, aren't they?" You listen to artists like Lifehouse and The Fray and quickly realize that 1/2 their tracks aren't being sung to or about a girl. These are faith statements they're making. And you like the music you're hearing. You're cheering on the inside, believing maybe you've found someone who shares your beliefs, is willing to sing about them, and is gaining a voice with outsiders because their music is actually worth listening to. Been there? Sure you have.

Yesterday this ARTICLE was brought to my attention, bringing up the issue and subject of Christians artists (or artists, musicians, athletes who happen to be believers) and the responsibility they hold due to the influence they carry. (It sparked a pretty thoughtful conversation on my Facebook page). If a musician, based on his lyrics, affiliations, and/or public statements, claims to be a Christian, what responsibilities come along with that? Let me be really specific about some of the questions that I have heard arise, not just through this specific article, but over the last 2 decades:

Can a "Christian band" say they're a Christian band - be on a Christian label - sing "Christian" songs - yet never say the name of Jesus?

If an artist/musician has clearly represented that they are a follower of Jesus Christ, what responsibility do they have to give extra scrutiny to where they go, what they do, and who they do it with?

When an artist or athlete gains a platform, aren't they obligated to use that platform to share the Gospel with those following and listening?

We could go on and on, but you get the point. The list of questions, concerns, and arguments that arise is long because of the fact that 1) there are those in the secular marketplace who are attempting to make inroads with the Gospel, 2) there are others in the Christian marketplace who appear to be making no attempts to actually reach the lost, but more "rally the troops", and finally 3) there are those who just seem to be stuck in the middle of all of this and don't know what to do or how to respond. And then there is the mass majority, looking in from the outside, scrutinizing all of them. Who's right? Who's wrong? Is there a clear distinction and criteria? How do we discern our way through this?

First off, let me give you (what I believe to be) a great example of the dilemma. Enter Switchfoot. For several years now the Foreman brothers and their San Diego surf rock band have been one of my favorites. I've seen Switchfoot in concert 4 times. I own every album. Their songs inspire me, make me think, cause me to consider God - His ways, character, and goodness - from perspectives I failed to observe on my own. In concert, these guys expend more energy and passion than 2 teams in a NBA game. They go places and play in front of crowds that they know did NOT come to see them. And then you add on top of it that the music - that big, hairy, overdriven guitar-rich music they write - is so good, I don't need much else to draw me in. But all that said, every once in awhile, I just keep wondering the same thing, wanting to ask the same question: When are they going to "pull the trigger"?

What do you mean "pull the trigger"? 

This is where the scrutiny begins. I wonder and question and want to know: As this platform gets bigger and as more people are listening and watching - as you gain more and more followers and gain more and more influence - when are you finally going to pull the trigger, drop the hammer, and SAY, "Jesus! That's who I keep singing about!" Is Jesus expecting Jon Foreman to stand on stage every show, spell out the "plan of salvation" (as we like to call it), and "lead people to the Lord"? Or is Jesus calling Jon to seize every opportunity to speak into the personal lives of those who begin to know him for who he is? Does being a Christian artist or athlete by nature imply that you're actually a preacher who sings or hits a baseball? 

Do you understand how long this conversation could be?
Do we grasp how exhausting and neverending the scrutiny can become?
So what are we to do with this conflict of interests? How do we resolve it?

Let me answer that question as plainly as I know how: WE DON'T.

Sure, if I find out today that Jon Foreman is cheating on his wife, cheats on his taxes, or for that matter, cheats at Uno, I might rethink my relationship with Switchfoot. Integrity would be compromised. Messages would be mixed. But does knowing that Switchfoot played a show with the Foo Fighters so they could possibly get their foot in the door with a crowd they never would otherwise bother me? No. Should it? I don't know. (I would first have to deal with the fact that I've been to a Foo Fighters concert.) Where's the line? How and where do we find some clarity in all of this? In an attempt to find a place to land with some common ground, here are some things I think are important to consider:

What is MY responsibility with the platform and influence God has given ME?

Am I fully utilizing it for the sake of the Kingdom of God & to share the Gospel?

Do I keep building relationships with people, yet never "pull the trigger"?

Is my life reaching into the lives of those who are "walking in darkness? Yes, Jesus "ate with sinners", but he did it with the intent of rescuing them from hopelessness and sin. Jesus wasn't trying to gain a platform; He was reaching into the hearts of spiritually dead people and showing them the way to life. Am I doing that?

I don't really listen to Lecrae much. But every song I've listened to and read the lyrics to has in some way challenged or encouraged me in the Gospel. Is he utilizing the platform the Lord has given him? Is he harnessing his influence? I don't know. We haven't hung out. I'm praying that he is and that he does take every opportunity to speak words of truth into the lives of those who are listening. I pray that for Jon Foreman. I pray that for each of us, that we will take whatever influence the Lord has given us and every opportunity laid before us to speak the Gospel and give evidence through our lives that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life - still bringing people from death to life.

Romans 10:14-17