March 20, 2014

The Death of Hate

Having lived in Kansas for 10 years, I had my fair share of trying to stomach the vitriolic hate that Fred Phelps and his church spewed out. I know everyone in America has been subjected to their un-Jesus-like version of "Christianity", but the closer you are to the fire, the more you feel the heat. There were times I remember just simply wanting to retaliate. And I know the only reason I didn't was because of 1) the working of the Spirit of God in and through me and 2) the realization that I was feeling and experiencing the devastating truth that hate breeds hate. It's scary when you feel that welling up inside you. All you can do is pray - cry out to the Lord - and ask Him to consume you. 

So you'll have to understand the bizarre and confusing mix of emotions I've experienced this week as I heard about Fred Phelps' death. I won't lie to you; I have thought and felt things that I have had no category for. I've thought about how to express any of it or to share for someone else's benefit. Anything I typed, I just deleted. I had nothing.

But today I read Ed Stetzer's post on Christianity Today's website. It's titled:

I encourage you to take 5-6 minutes and read it.

Ed always has a great word. This is no exception.

How will we respond to hate? The only way to overcome it is through love.

The death of hate will only come at the hands of love. The love of God.

1 John 4:7-12

March 13, 2014

The Sin of a Dumb Story

I'm very aware that if you click on even a fraction of what's on Facebook, you're head could very well explode. There are so many stories, myths, wives tales, anecdotes and analogies floating around it's impossible to wade through all of them, much less be able to tell what's genuine and what's overblown sentiment or what's even just plain flat garbage.

There are a million stories floating around the internet.

Maybe a trillion.

Some true. Some false. Some laugh out loud ridiculous.

And the other day, in a moment of weakness, I couldn't help myself. I was on Facebook. I clicked on one. I just had to. Surely this one had to be real. It sucked me in like the tractor beam on the Death Star. Baited and hooked. Maybe you've heard of this story. It's called "The Sin of Presumption". Take a minute and read it. Then come back.

Crazy, right? And so horribly sad! That woman killed that poor dog. And he saved her baby! And how on earth did that snake get into the house? 

Allow me at this point to admit that I never really made it past the first 2 sentences. Let me refresh your memory:

"There is a legend of a woman who had a faithful dog. This dog was so faithful that the woman could leave her baby with it and go out to attend to other matters."

I'm sorry. What? 

A woman left her baby with the dog?

Oh, wait. It was a faithful dog? And that matters why?

Attempt to think of every conceivable thing a baby could need in an hour. The list is endless. Then try to pinpoint the number of those needs a dog could meet. Unless 1) bark at baby, 2) lick baby, and/or 3) lick himself are on the list, I think we're out of luck.

I realize I'm being a bit ridiculous. For good reason. This story is ridiculous.

How about the Sin of Stupidity? Or the Sin of Neglect? 

Is there a Sin of Being the Dumbest Parent in the History of EVER?

I would have liked this story better if the dog bit the mother and then told her (in dog language, of course), "You're being grotesquely irresponsible! I can't possibly care for this infant. I'm only a CANINE!"

What a dumb story!

I remember one day in college in Systematic Theology class, our professor, Dr. Bell said, "You know, God is sort of like water. Water can be liquid, solid, or gas, but's still water." We all sat there amazed, wondering how he'd come up with this brilliant illustration, jealous that we were not yet super theologians who could come up with analogies of this magnitude. Just about the time we were all getting over being fascinated, Dr. Bell, in his dry, straight-faced, witty way interjected this: "If I ever hear of any of you using such an atrocious illustration in an attempt to analogize God, I will hunt you down and take back your diploma." I believed him. I still do.

There are some things that we just don't need to analogize.

It's a sin to judge and condemn before we have all the information. It's presumption. It happens all the time when we fail to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Proverbs 18:17 tells us that "Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight." Let's be a people of grace; a people who give the benefit of the doubt and do our due diligence. May we be slow to judge and condemn, and quick to extend grace.

But hear this: If you leave your baby at home with the dog, we may be out of grace.

March 11, 2014

Don't Fail to Be Bad

Once upon a time, I was in a band.

That picture to the left; that's one of our albums.

Sometimes it seems like it was so long ago that it was some sort of fairy tale from another life or something. At the same time, some of those memories feel like yesterday. Good memories. Amazing opportunities. We did some things that I'm still very thankful for and incredibly proud of. Some of my favorite memories include:

Playing the opening concert for Student Week at Glorieta. (The stage, which opened out of a flat bed trailer, was insane!)

New Years Eve at the Berger Center in Austin, TX. 2500 screaming teenagers create some serious energy.

Leading worship at tons of camps throughout the summers, meeting & ministering to students.

Hours upon hours upon hours in the studio creating music from nothing. I miss that.

And of course, the weekly opportunity and privilege we had at our home church to lead students in life and worship.

I loved it!

Sometimes. Most of the time.

But other times, just to be clearly transparent and honest...I absolutely hated it.

Hours upon hours upon hours of practicing.

Getting mad at Nathan for showing up an hour late for practice on a Saturday morning. (Of course, he'd usually bring donuts. So that was good.)

Staying in a cigarette smoke infested roach motel in Nashville so we could play in front of some people who could not have cared less that we drove 12 hours to change their lives with our music. Jerks.

And man, did we write some BAD songs. And when I say "BAD", I'm not talking Michael Jackson "BAD". The other bad, that's really bad.

We wrote some songs that I would love to have wiped out of my memory for good.

We wrote some songs that we still text each other about just for a good laugh.

We wrote songs that the United States Army could pump out over enemy territory just to make them come out, lay their weapons down, surrender, and give up. Just make it stop!

So many songs. So bad.


We wrote some really good songs as well.

We wrote some songs that I'm still incredibly proud to claim.

We wrote songs that I've let my kids listen to and they actually want to hear again.

I still get emails or messages every once in awhile from someone telling me, "Brian, that song was just what I needed at an incredibly hard time in my life." And I will never in my entire life forget the email I got from a young college guy who told me that our song "The First Step" kept him from committing suicide. You don't forget that.

I say this without reservation: We wrote some great songs!

But at the end of the day, WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

You should care because this blogpost really isn't about our band or my songs.

I'm not writing this so you'll give me a "Way to go!" This isn't an attempt at resurrecting a Sycamore reunion show either. (We'd probably need a lot of Red Bull & a 30 minute intermission.) I don't care if you ever hear those songs or not. What I do care about is the fact that so many people never even tap the surface of the GREAT thing they could do because they are so scared of what it will take to break through. 

If you want to write a great song, you've got to be OK with writing 50 (or 100) BAD ones.

If you want to find that great idea, you've got to be OK with plowing through 100 FAILED ones.

If you want to sell that non-profit idea that you know can (and will) change the world, you've got to be willing to hear "No" 100 (or 1000) times before you ever hear "Yes!"

You can't be afraid of failure. You can't be allergic to bad. And you sure as heck cannot be overly sensitive to "No". Get over it right now. Failure and bad are not the things that will keep you from success and from great. Your FEAR of failure and bad are the enemy. And as Jon Acuff says in his latest book, "Punch fear in the face!" Let me put it to you this way: Don't FAIL to be BAD! If you do, you'll never get to GOOD, much less GREAT.

So play that horrible song for your Mom. She likes everything you write!
Keep writing. Keep trying. Keep asking.

If you want to make your mark on this world, understand ahead of time that it's probably going to leave a mark on you. Wear it proudly. 

If you want to make an eternal impact on this world, just know in advance there will be some temporary pain that comes along with it. It's worth it.

The only path to GREAT goes straight through FAILURE and NICE TRY.
Keep walking!

March 6, 2014

...As Christ Loved the Church

DISCLAIMER: I am writing this post for every man who is currently married or hopes and plans to be. If you get the idea at any point that I'm mad at you, you are mistaken. I'm mad FOR you. I'm stark raving mad for your marriage and hope that I provoke you to be as well. There's is nothing (aside from the Gospel of Jesus Christ) more worth your fighting FOR than your marriage. Nothing!

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." Ephesians 5:25-28

That's a big task, gentlemen. Huge, in fact. What Paul - an unmarried man with the anointing of God and the objectivity of singleness - says to each of us is this: If you want to love your wife the way that God desires and designed, the only real pathway that leads to that place begins with you dying to yourself.

If you want your marriage to live, then you must die.

Need premarital counseling? Let me give it to you straightforward. If you live a self-centered life - if you just need your "space" - if nothing better disrupt your routine and the way you've always done it - then you have 1 of 2 choices:
- Choose now to begin rebuking that and dying to yourself, putting your wife first (OR)
- Break it off and save everyone the grief

There. I just saved you 6 counseling appointments. No charge.

You can learn all the "Love Languages" and study all the personality profiles you want (and I'm not saying you shouldn't), but until you are ready to make the first order of business in your life to be "crucified with Christ" (see Galatians 2:20) and to "deny yourself and take up your cross" (see Matthew 16:24-25), then you are probably not going to care about her "love language" anyways. You're going to be too busy speaking your own.

Here's an argument some would make: We can't possibly love our wives "as Christ loved the church". My question or response to that would be this: Why not? Why would Paul exhort and admonish us to do so if we can't do it? The fact is that THROUGH the power of the Holy Spirit of God working in us and through us, as we allow Him to empty us of ourselves, we CAN love our wives this way. The problem is not that we can't, but that we won't.

You might not like this next part.

Some of you right this very moment are actors. Your life has become a grand stage of pretending. You are keeping up appearances in the yard, at work, at church, at the ballfield - everywhere you go - while your marriage is looking and feeling more and more every day like an enormous cancerous tumor. It hurts. It's destroying you. You keep throwing little "treatments" at it. And at the same time, you just don't want to talk about it. Well, it's time to talk about it.

There are some people in your life that are totally oblivious. They have no idea.
There are other people in your life that see right through your charade. They may not know everything, but they know enough.
There is a God who knows it all. He gave you this woman and this marriage. He's fed up. He's ready for you to begin to lead and love. He's given you the example to follow. He's giving you an opportunity to get it right.

Get this right!

It's time for you to die to self and give your life for your wife.
It's time for you to stop holding over her head how you've been wronged.
It's time for you to take your pride, lay it at the foot of the cross, and leave it.
It's time for your marriage to heal and that will only begin with you.

But hey! What about her? Isn't marriage 50-50?
NO. It's 100-100. And you're called to give your 100% first!
Christ pursued us. Christ came for us. Christ laid down his life and died for us.
We ARE the church because of what Christ did. 
She IS your wife when you commit to be her husband.

We don't just make wedding vows. There is a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. And your part of that covenant is your vow to die to yourself.

If you think you're doing a great job with your kids even though your marriage is falling apart, that's crap. The most powerful, important, godly thing you can do for your kids is love their mother. 
SHOW your sons how to truly love a woman.
SHOW your daughters the standard they should expect from a godly man.
SHOW your wife that she is a treasured prize!
"An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels." Proverbs 31:10

Stop this prideful nonsense NOW!
Put self-pity, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness to death.
Husband: Love your wife, as Christ loved the church.

"An excellent wife is the crown of her husband." Proverbs 12:4
Take care of that crown, gentlemen. It was given to you by the King.

March 4, 2014

Make Up Your Mind

Ah, winter. While I have not been appointed by everyone else (or anyone else, for that matter) to deliver you this message, I believe I confidently speak for most of the human beings I'm moderately acquainted with and even many I've never met before when I say, "PLEASE, GO AWAY!"

I can't remember anywhere in the recesses of my memory where I've been more ready for spring. And I can't really tell you whether I'm actually more ready for spring or just plain flat sick of winter. I hear people griping and complaining - tweeting and posting - all the time about the weather. I read about one guy threatening to drive all the way to Punxsutawney to drag the groundhog out of his hole and beat him senseless. (When people are driven to raging violence against woodland animals, you know it's getting bad.) I guess we all have limits.

If you look at this winter on paper, it's not like it's that much different than others. I don't think we broke any records. We definitely didn't have record snowfall - at least not where I live. So what's the rub? Why is everyone so fed up with winter? Again, I don't speak for everyone else (or anyone else, for that matter), but I have a theory. Here it is:

The reason why everyone seems to be so sick of winter and so ready for spring is because winter just cant seem to make up its mind.

10 days ago - 2 Saturdays back - I got sunburned. A SUNBURN in February!
4 days later, I was getting my long underwear back out.
2 days ago it was 70 degrees. 1 day ago it was 30 degrees. Today it's 45 degrees. 
My sinuses are freaking out and my shoulder is squeaking like the Tin Man!
I promise you that spring has sprung and died again at least 7 times.
I really wish winter would just make up its mind!

While we obviously have no control over the weather or the winter, we can certainly learn from it. There are many times in life when we simply need to make up our mind. This is especially true for those of us who are leaders. When others are waiting on our direction, we have to remember that they're doing exactly that: waiting. This doesn't mean we should be reckless, careless, thoughtless, or (especially) prayerless. That said, for many of us, we are much more inclined to be overcautious, apprehensive, overspiritualizing perfectionists. We wait on an epiphany or a "sign from above". But most of the time, if we are daily, consistently, constantly seeking and walking with the Lord, He gives us this thing called discernment. And when it's married to another gift of God called wisdom, we are more often than not going to already know WHAT it is the Lord desires, WHERE He's directing, and WHY He's leading us that way.

Last week at Catalyst One Day, Craig Groeschel made this statement: 
90% of the time, the decision we would make in 20 seconds is the same one we would make in 20 days.

The world calls this instinct, intuition, or a "gut feeling". All those may apply and be appropriate. But if you're a Christian, all of those things are guided and driven by the Holy Spirit. And again, what the world may call intuition, King Solomon (see Proverbs) calls wisdom and discernment. And the more I walk with the Lord - the more I grow in spiritual maturity - the more wisdom and discernment grow. Many of you have known this for years. Some of you are just beginning to discover it. The question is, why am I blogging about it? Weren't we just talking about the weather? Yes. But just like winter needs to make up its mind, many of us may be guilty of the same.

Are there going to be some decisions and directions that take time to discern? YES.
Are some decisions more important than others? OF COURSE.
Won't some decisions have much greater consequences and impact than others? ABSOLUTELY!
By all means, we should embrace the gifts of seeking the guidance of the Word of God, seeking out "wise counsel" from the godly, and praying for discernment from the Spirit of God.

But aren't there going to be decisions - many, many, many decisions - that I KNOW the answer to, but I postpone, put off, or just avoid because I'm simply not willing to move forward, take a risk, or worse yet, lead the way?

If you are a LEADER, there are going to be some people who determine that you are simply NOT the leader they wan't to follow.
If you are an INDECISIVE LEADER - a wishy-washy, second-guessing, can't seem to ever make up your mind leader - then even those who want and choose to follow you will eventually go crazy and walk away. 

Seek the Lord. Trust the Holy Spirit. Lead the way.

Dig Deeper:
Psalm 119:130
Proverbs 9:10, 19:20
Romans 12:2
Colossians 3:17
Hebrews 5:14-6:1
James 1:5-8, 3:13-4:10