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...

July 8, 2015


There are many things in this life we fear and hate and dread.

Make a list:
Tax season. Tornadoes. Winter solstice. That old lady in line in front of us with the checkbook. Something happening to my kids.

No matter what comes to mind, there is one thing most of us don't think to include on our list of dread. Many of us quake in our boots when we sense his presence. Others don't even realize they've developed a subconscious, yet deeply-rooted fear and hatred for this inevitable companion in life. 

His name?


Something happened we didn't expect. what? Uncertainty.

I thought my job was secure. Did not see that coming! Uncertainty.

We feel called to go, but we're not sure where the money is going to come from. Uncertainty.

I spent 5 years of my life thinking she was the one. Then she dumped me. Uncertainty.

We HATE Uncertainty.

It's the unknown. 
It's a path we've never walked down.
It exposes that we aren't really in control.
It forces me to consider options that I never wanted to consider.
It puts a hot, white light on things.
It's new. It's different.
It requires change.
It's unfair.


It can be our worst nightmare.


It can be our greatest friend.

Causes me to trust the Lord when maybe I've started trusting myself.
Gives me an opportunity to see God provide where I don't have the ability.
Pushes me back to prayer in places where maybe my heart has grown stale.
Stretches my faith and forces my hand. 
It says, "Do you really believe that?"
Reveals who I truly believe God is.
Reveals who it is that I'm becoming as His child.

Uncertainty lives in "the valley of the shadow of death". And the Lord doesn't promise to shield me or remove me from that valley. But He does promise to walk with me there. I find His comfort there. I find His presence and His power there. And many times, He has to take me back there to remind me of these things.

I like to remind Uncertainty of Isaiah 43:1-2:
"But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: 'Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

How long's it been since Uncertainty paid you a visit?

You know he's coming, right? Might as well be ready.

Welcome back, Uncertainty. It's been awhile.

June 18, 2015

The Fear of the Lord

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Proverbs 1:7
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." Proverbs 9:10

What does it mean to fear the Lord?

Am I supposed to be scared of Him, like my kids were scared of the dark?

And doesn't the Bible also teach us that "true love drives out all fear"? 

Yes, it does. So how do we reconcile that?

There is one type of fear that is characterized by reverence, awe, and respect.

There is another type of fear that involves being actively afraid.

Some people (like my friend Jeff) fear tornadoes in the sense that they are fascinated by them. They study them. They chase them. They have great awe and respect for what they can do and want to prevent others from being harmed by them. They want you to fear them in the same way they do. They know there is something very healthy about their strange fear.

Other people (like my friend Meagan) fear tornadoes in the sense that they are almost paralyzed be the thought of a storm. Maybe they have literally and miraculously lived through the devastation (as my friend Meagan's family did) and find themselves panicking at the sound of a weather siren. This fear grips you, seizes you, and can keep you up at night. You could call this being "afraid".

The fear of God should look like the former.

The fear of God - some times and in some ways - should also look like the latter.

I believe the fear of the Lord is something we have neglected to talk about recently. Maybe we've forgotten that God devised a plan that took a hundred years to carry out to eradicate a sinful, rebellious people from the face of the earth and start over. Maybe we've forgotten that God wiped out nations that came against His people. Maybe it's slipped past us that God disciplined His own people in the desert for 40 years because of their sinful disobedience. Could we possibly have neglected to learn that those who even came into the presence of God without Him first beckoning were struck dead? 

Achan stole from the things God said to burn. He was stoned to death.

Uzzah touched the Ark of God. He was struck dead.

Have we lost our fear of God? 
Our respect?
Our reverence?
Our sense of awe?

Or did we ever have it in the first place?

If we "fear the Lord", we not only hold His Word - the scriptures - to be the Truth, but we build our life on them by obeying them. And as we grow to know Him, we begin to comprehend how mighty, awesome, sovereign, perfect, and just He really is. And it is in understanding this that we are overwhelmed by His mercy and grace - because we know of His wrath and justice. When we realize that we are sinful people who deserve God's justice - that we are a rebellious people who in no way deserve or could ever earn His grace and mercyHe did not have to save us - that we are undone because of His unconditional love for us. He never had to pursue us. He did not have to sacrifice His own Son to redeem us. But He did.

"The fear of the Lord" is the beginning of everything good in our lives.

Make no mistake, when someone like Miley Cyrus decides to go on a RANT about God's Word, God's wrath, God's righteousness, and God's redemption being a "fairy tale", this is not "fear of the Lord". But also understand, when you and I - when those of us who know and believe the truth of God's Word - choose to live in unbelief and disobedience, we have lost our sense of awe as well. It infuriates us to see someone openly mock God. Pray that it will infuriate us even more when the Spirit gives us the humble discernment to see that we have secretly mocked Him. David said that God desires "truth in the innermost parts" - He wants "honesty from the heart". (Psalm 51) May this be the attitude of heart and frame of mind with which we approach the Lord.

When those around you who are lost mock God, love them.

Pray for them.

Warn them.

But don't hate them. 

Don't be infuriated by them. 

Show them that to fear the Lord is to love others - even those who hate you.

Seek Him. Fear Him. Love Him.

"My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Proverbs 2:1-5

June 9, 2015

So That...

There are 2 very short, yet very potent words laced throughout the scriptures. You don't find them often, but when you do they should be like a lighted billboard in the dark of night on a road in the middle of nowhere, screaming out an answer to the age-old question of "Why". Those 2 words are as follows:


First off, let's use them in everyday sentences.

We taught our kids to swim at a very early age SO THAT they would not drown.

I try to eat wisely SO THAT I feel better and I don't gain unnecessary weight, but mostly to practice self-control and discipline.

We encourage people not to text & drive SO THAT their full attention is on the road ahead and they don't have an accident, possibly injuring someone, including themselves.

SO THAT. It brings even more clarity and understanding. And when it comes to the Word of God, this is life-changing. 

This past Sunday at The Brook we closed out the sermon on The Work of Sanctification with 2 Peter 1:3-8. Read Peter's words in verses 3-4:

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, SO THAT through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire."

Work through this verse with me.

God has given us everything we need to live a life of holiness and righteousness through His Spirit and His Word. And He's given us His Word - His promises - His truth - SO THAT through the knowledge, application, declaration, and power of those promises we might be transformed into obedient followers of Christ.

God has given us His Word to grow our faith.
He's given us His Word to lead us into wisely choosing the path toward holiness.
He's given us His Word that we might know Him and that we might have self-control and that we might patiently endure whatever life brings our way.
He's given us His Word that His love might consume and control our motives.

We have the Word - the truth - the promises of God - that we might be effective and fruitful for His Kingdom and for the sake of the Gospel.

"He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that...."

Are you meditating on these "precious and very great promises"? (Ps.119:15)
Are you "hiding them in your heart that you might not sin against God"? (Ps.119:11)
Are they consuming your thoughts and actions?
Do they have priority in your life as the foundation of your beliefs and decisions?

Don't let your response to SO THAT be "SO WHAT?"
Seek the Lord. Meditate on His Word. 
Set your mind on things above.
Be effective and fruitful and useful for the Kingdom of our great God.

Dig Deeper:
Psalm 119
Colossians 3

June 3, 2015

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

I grew up in Texas. In Texas, we kill people.

Tonight at 6:00, the State of Texas is slated to kill someone I know: Les Bower.
[Here is the latest article written about Les's story by The Intercept.]

As a child of God, follower of Jesus Christ, I have great conflict with capital punishment and, with much mixed and conflicted emotion, oppose the death penalty. This is not a conclusion I came to merely because someone I know is facing it, but also through much prayer and deliberation working through the scriptures. Allow me to explain to you why I have come to this conclusion in my convictions.

First off, for a long time, I have heard Christians (and non-Christians) quote Exodus 21:23-24: "But if there is harm, then you will pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." We simply boil it down to "An Eye For An Eye". This is a scripture fixed in the midst of laws that God gave having to do with restitution. On one hand, I cannot argue that Exodus doesn't say, "Whoever strikes a man so that he dies will be put to death." But on the other hand, I can argue that 99% of the other directives - laws - given in these chapters of Exodus are no longer followed. Not only by Caesar's court, but moreover, by Christ's church. It is of no surprise that many who champion these verses as a whole theology also struggle with taking the Lord seriously in Deuteronomy 32:34-35 or Matthew 5:38-42. We have great difficulty in leaving vengeance and judgment to God. We're all very schizophrenic and undiscerning in how we follow Moses.

Moving on, let's leave Moses and turn to Jesus.

In Matthew 25, Jesus gives one of the most powerful and paralyzing descriptions of what we refer to as the Final Judgment. He says that His sheep - the ones He will "place on His right" - will be those who fit the following description:
"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

Jesus? In prison? What did He do?

He identified with - He stood in the place of - sinners.
He walks with "the least of these" and there is no greater "least of these" than those in prison. Their identity is traded for a number. Their freedom is replaced by a cell. And yes, many deserve it. But many do not. (More on that in a moment.) Jesus says, "When you come and minister to them, befriend them, show them grace and mercy and forgiveness even in the shackles of guilt - when you come and love them - you have done it to me." When someone's life is taken, we no longer have this opportunity. Let's expound on that.

In the The Revolution, Father Demetri Kantzavelos makes this statement:
"The Church can minister to living persons, corrupted as they may be. But the Church cannot call the dead to repentance and cannot visit and minister to them as Jesus taught." What I'm about to say is not an accusation. If it is, the first person indicted is myself. That said, please consider this possibility: Is it easier for us accept the death of a prisoner than the call of Christ to go and visit the prisoner? Has anyone who supports the death penalty ever visited - taken the Gospel to - the one awaiting execution?

Are we more OK with the Death Penalty (issued by the State) than we are obedient to the Great Commission (issued by the Lord) to go to those who have the death sentence on their life of not knowing Christ?

Jesus said, "You have heard it said, ___________. But now I say, __________."

Is it possible we're not actually following Jesus in our view of this issue?

Again, moving on, let's leave the biblical and spiritual arguments and turn to the practical and social. Let's be really human(e) for a moment.

While I would not debate or argue for a moment that over the course of history that countless people have been executed for crimes they did commit - many gruesome and horrific - there have also been countless people executed for crimes they did NOT commit. In 1999, the governor of the State of Illinois announced a moratorium on the death penalty. Why? Because seventeen (17) "convicted criminals in our state awaiting execution had been vindicated and proven innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned." Was this achieved or proven by the courts or private investigators or police? No. It was through the efforts of a group of students in law school and some hard working reporters. The painful truth that has to be dealt with is this: the death penalty kills, executes, and ends the life of innocent people.

"Capital punishment doesn't pay a debt; it kills the debtor." -Richard Stith, Valparaiso University

One reason many support capital punishment and many seek it out is in pursuit of "closure". We talk about families - the loved ones of those who suffered - needing "closure". This is a worldly, carnal, unbiblical idea. 

I cannot say that I have ever stood in that place.
I don't know what it's like to have another person take my family member's life.
Cancer took my Dad's life. And his mom's life. And the lives of many people I know and love. I HATE cancer! I long for the day when Christ returns, all creation is made whole, and cancer is eradicated from existence. I guess maybe then I'll have "closure". 

Friends - Closure is another way of saying, "I need someone or something to blame."
Closure is our attempt at trying to reconcile loss and pain and sin.
Closure - if there is such a thing - is not found in restitution and revenge, but in forgiveness and repentance.
The only thing that ever reconciles loss and pain and sin is the Gospel.

I encourage you to truly pray over this conviction.
I exhort you to allow the Spirit and the Word of God to guide your thinking in this.
I pray that capital punishment would be put to death.

2 Peter 3:9

After some discussion with a friend, I am adding this clarification to hopefully be even more specific about what I believe and the conviction I hold. I do not believe that the death penalty is always wrong or unjustified or unbiblical. Let me be specific with an example. 

If you have an individual that confesses to brutally murdering 8 people and all the evidence supports his/her confession and the court (justifiably) finds him/her guilty and believes the only adequate punishment is death (which I believe echoes Exodus 21), I would have a very difficult time in mounting an argument against this, socially or biblically. 

So to be clear, I am not at all times &/or in all circumstances opposed to capital punishment. 

But here's the problem with this: we don't get to pick and choose. We have no choice but to see this through the lens of being an American. Our justice system and courts can be so deficient - refusing to reopen cases to save face and save money, refusing to even consider new evidence, motivated by overcrowded prisons - that the innocent still get put to death. The State doesn't ask us, "Would you support the Death Penalty if we promise to only execute the guilty?" They can't offer that promise. They still get it wrong. And because of this - as Americans - we don't really get to sit on the fence with this. As Americans, we can only lobby for it or against it. Because of this, I oppose the death penalty.

May 21, 2015

Every Single Sunday (Part 3)

My last 2 posts have addressed the issue of why I don't - and why I believe most pastors & preachers should not - preach every single Sunday. So far I've talked about the need for the people of God to hear from multiple voices and the need for the pastor to sit under someone else's teaching. Today I want to tackle one of the toughest issues I face as a Pastor. It's not the hours of preparation I put into a sermon, or the times of walking through trials and valleys with church members. One of the hardest ongoing struggles I have as a Pastor is remembering that that is not my identity.


As the Lead Pastor of The Brook, there are 3 things I believe God has called me to attend to more than any other:
  • Casting vision for our church
  • Leading our staff (and therefore, our leaders) &
  • Overseeing the teaching & preaching of God's Word
Notice, I didn't say, "Being the only one to preach God's Word". I firmly believe that my chief responsibility is to oversee WHAT we are teaching our people and HOW we are accomplishing it - that we are accurately, compassionately, creatively and boldly proclaiming and communicating the truth of the scriptures. (More on "we" in the next post.) 

Now even though the main point of this whole series is addressing the fact that I do NOT preach every Sunday, I am still overwhelmingly the one who - 80% of the time - delivers the sermon on Sunday. It's not only one of the important things I do, it is a calling on my life: to preach the Word of God & to shepherd and oversee His people. These 2 things are intertwined for me; they cannot be separated. The problem that enters the picture is that as humans we are always inclined to begin believing that we are WHAT WE DO - that WHO we are is overshadowed by or rooted in WHAT we do. Many of us find this highly frustrating, yet we go on fostering this idea all the time. We meet someone and ask them: "So, what do you do?" Standard answers:
  • I'm an engineer
  • I'm a computer software developer
  • Oh, I'm a dentist
The truth is, many people struggle with this. In fact, it can be said that the more someone loves what they DO, the greater the temptation can become to believe that's who they ARE. If that guy in HR hates his job, he's probably going to do everything he can to make sure people know, "This is just a job!" The "professional" baseball player who's never made it out of AAA is probably not as tempted to begin trying to find his worth and identity in baseball than the guy who plays shortstop in the big leagues with a .333 batting average and his face plastered all over SportsCenter. The more we love it &/or the better we are at it the more we face the temptation to think that this is WHO I AM.

Lord, help us see the danger in this delusion.

Why was it so hard for Brett Favre to retire?
Sure, I believe part of it was he felt like he still had some football left in him.
But I think it had more to do with the struggle over identity.

The reality is that there are millions of Brett Favre's everywhere, who've spent so many years of their life (knowingly or not) believing that their identity was found in what they do, that when the clock finally ran out on their talent, their knees, their creativity, their focus - or maybe they just plain flat got old and retired - they really had no idea who they were. Their identity was gone. And when you lose your identity, it's really tough to find it again.

I'm not Brett Favre. Never played Quarterback. Heck, I don't even wear Wranglers.

I'm a pastor. I preach the Word of God. I lead and shepherd people that I love deeply. But I'm also a husband, father, son, brother, friend, coach, neighbor, etc...

WHO I AM is a child of God. But there are days that I struggle with the temptation to believe that my identity is wrapped up in being a pastor. And other people's affirmations (or otherwise) of my performance - someone telling me, "Great sermon, Pastor Brian" - can unintentionally fuel that fire. 

It's no one's fault but my own. 
I have to guard my heart. 
I have to check my motives.
I have to release control.
I have to take a Sunday off.
This helps remind me how crucial it is to distinguish between WHAT I do and WHO I am.

For more encouragement & understanding on this, check out this video:

May 19, 2015

Every Single Sunday (Part 2)

If you missed Part 1 in this series - Every Single Sunday (Why I Don't Preach All the Time) - I would encourage you to read it first. In it, I talked about the need for the people of God to hear multiple voices - they need to hear more than one person, perspective, and voice teaching and preaching the scriptures. In this post, I want to move on to another reason why I don't preach every single Sunday:

I need to sit under someone else's teaching.

I'm not going to speak for anyone but myself in saying this, but as a pastor - or more so, as a preacher - I fight a battle any time I spend time in the scriptures. The struggle is this: I'm always thinking about how to preach or communicate what I'm reading. I'm thinking about how those I lead need to be encouraged, challenged, or convicted by the truth that's impacted me. Which brings us to the problem and the struggle: My natural tendency is to read the scripture thinking about how it needs to impact everyone else, not me. I wrestle with the need to wrestle with the scriptures for my own benefit - with the hunger, desperation, and desire for the Word of God to transform my own heart and mind - not just for a fresh word for everyone else. 

What does this have to do with taking a Sunday off from preaching? 
Good question. I'll answer it with an example. 

This past Sunday at The Brook our Youth Pastor, Chip preached. It was a great sermon! The Lord really used it to stir my heart, encourage me, and challenge me to be in persistent prayer on behalf of others in my life; because Jesus is always interceding for me, I should be interceding for others. That by itself was enough. But let me explain what else this did for me. Because I wasn't thinking about what I was about to preach, the time of corporate worship was a huge refreshment to my soul. It was possibly one of the most unhindered outpourings of worship & praise I've had in quite some time. I can't begin to describe what a blessing this was for me.

During the week leading up, the Lord really opened up the Word for me on a personal level. As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount (along with The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer), I wasn't thinking about how this really needed to be heard or understood by someone else. It was for me. I needed it. The Holy Spirit did some serious internal recon into my heart. There were definitely some much-needed moments of repentance. And as a result, a much-welcomed wave of restoration over my heart.

I need to sit under someone else's teaching to be reminded that:

  • I am not the sole authority on the Word of God 
  • I am not the only one who can communicate & teach our people
  • If I am not humbly learning from the scriptures, I probably shouldn't be teaching the scriptures
  • The Good News is actually for me as well
  • The first person I need to be preaching the Gospel to is myself
  • The greatest enemy of the pastor and preacher is PRIDE
Pastor(s) - I pray that you are taking opportunity to sit under someone else's teaching. I pray that you are seizing opportunities, not just to rightly communicate the scriptures, but to be personally transformed by them in your own personal life, your home, and into the innermost parts of who you are.

More to come on Why I Don't Preach All the Time....