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Monthly Archives: October 2011

In That We Trust

Here is my recent sermon on getting our finances centered… I gave it at Riverfront Family Church on October 16, 2011… would love to hear your comments, thoughts and feedback:

Click here to listen to more of my sermons online.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Mixed Feelings About the "Occupy Wall Street" Folks

I have very mixed feelings about the "Occupy Wall Street" folks.

My gut says one thing; my brain another.

My gut is a negative reaction.

Part of me is very sympathetic to the critics: get a job, give up the sense of entitlement and that everyone else is to solve your problems, and take some personal responsibility for your life.

Part of this comes from my own personal experience. ?Two and half years ago I was forced into a mid-life career change. ?I left my well-paying professional job as a pastor, and took a reduction of pay of over 60% (plus went from full benefits to none). ?All of this during an historically terrible economic season — a pretty much terrible time to be looking for a job. ?But since that time, I have gotten 4 raises, 2 promotions, and have worked into a management level position with a growing restaurant group with a legitimate salary (though still significantly less that I was making), full benefits, etc.

It wasn't always easy… it took hard work, going back to school, some tough decisions, tight budgeting… but here I am. ?And if I can do it, anyone can.

So my gut is not so sympathetic.

But my brain tells me something different.

While I would like to think that what I have accomplished over the last 2 and half years is really all because of me, I know better. ?I have been the beneficiary of great privilege — all of which helps me succeed in life in a variety of ways.

I grew up in a supportive, loving and upper middle class family in an affluent CT suburb with superb schools (according to most people… but not my older brother… but that is a different story). I am the beneficiary of that education, which allowed for an excellent undergrad education (via Clark University and UCONN). ?I have always known that I have a built-in safety net with my family. ?Never once have I ever even considered the idea that I could be homeless, hungry or without resources. ?My family would be there. ?And I have been a financial?beneficiary?of my upbringing as well. ?So while much of my re-schooling effort and the last two years were subsidized by my savings, even that is the result of being raised with privilege. ?And without getting too into the politics of it all, being white and a male also tends to help too.

In other words, "if I can do it, anyone can" is kind of a myth.?

I don't apologize for what I have, who I am or even the privilege that has allowed me to get where I am. But I do need to recognize the reality of who I am and how I got here.

And that not everyone has those same opportunities and privileges — the kind that came more as a birthrite than by anything I did to warrant them.

Intellectually, I also support protest, reform movements, living wages, pursuit of economic justice… all things that the current "Occupy" movement seems to be about.

I might even be there with them, except I am too busy with my 60-hour-a-week job… (which, upon reflection, gets me back to my gut reaction/resentment of them perhaps).

I wish the movement was less about "me" and a sense of entitlement than about advocating for those that have less… advocating for economic reform and justice. ?Movements that are about a GREATER CAUSE — other than myself — resonate more with me.

And I wish the people being interviewed on TV weren't so sophomoric in their views and articulation. ?And some, frankly, have no idea why they are there… more along for the ride than anything else. ?But this is no different than a large portion of the Tea Party movement, as far as I can tell. ?It is part of the nature of movements… you need the masses with you, though it matters little if the masses get what it is all about. ?As long as they are there.

So I have mixed feelings…?

But here is my prediction… we should not ignore what is happening because it is tapped into a powerful and real angst in our nation. ?And it is possible that there are enough people who have reached there "I can standz no more" moment, that this movement is real… and in it for the long haul. ?And if they stick around long enough… and develop some more focus and leadership… who knows, they may find me camped out next to them (as long as I can use some of my paid vacation time to do it.)

Oh how life is complicated sometimes…

THOUGHTS?
 
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Posted by on October 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

WTF Mark Driscoll?

What the fudge, Mark Driscoll?

I generally like Mark.  I have learned a lot from him and have been inspired by him.  While I disagree with him on some points of theology, I still find him to be someone I respect.

But now he has left the camp of orthodox Christianity and is teaching a false gospel.

He is teaching that God hates you… God doesn’t only hate the sin, he hates the sinner.  He has contempt for you.

Here is one quotation from the message (feel free to watch the video below for more context):

Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is “meritous” [the word he’s looking for there is “meritorious]. He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you, He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.”

This is bad theology, bad exegesis, bad preaching and bad evangelism.

In other words, it is just bad… and wrong.

Mark makes it sound all scriptural by pulling a few verses from the Old Testament (almost all Hebrew poetry from Psalms… not always easy to interpret, translate and apply poetry… especially that which is written in an Ancient language.)  Mark manipulates the text to support his own worldview — namely that only a special group that share his own theological bent are saved and loved by God.  Ironically, the very thing Mark accuses others of doing in this message, he is guilty of here.

The problems with Mark’s theology here are plenty… let me highlight a few things:

1. He complains that people want to have God “only be love” while He is also other things.  He says that when we make God only love, we make him one dimensional.  The real problem is that Mark has a one dimensional view of what love means.  Justice is not the flip side of love; it is part of it.  Judgement and correction is not the opposite of love, it is an expression of it.  The Bible declares that “God is love” and I believe it.

2. Mark’s theology makes Jesus into a sinner and/or liar. We know that Jesus is 100% human and 100% God and that He perfectly fulfills the commands and the laws and that he perfectlt models for us full obedience to the Father.  In the New Testament, we find (among many others) three specific commands regarding love: (1) Love one another (within the community of faith); (2) Love your neighbor (defined by Jesus as pretty much everyone we have contact with); and (3) love your enemies.  Between these three, it is pretty inclusive.  For God to hate those who are his enemies would be sin.  

3. I agree with Mark that the idea of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is pretty silly, and impossible (and never found in the Bible).  You can read my 5-part series arguing that we should reject the “hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner” model here. The Bible teaches that we are to spurr each other on to righetousness, love justice (and hate injustice), hate the condition and consequences of SIN and leave judgement to God.

4. The true Gospel is this: God created you (and me and all human beings) in his image and is madlly in love with each and every one of His creations… and there is nothing we can do — either good nor bad — that will ever change how much God loves us right now. In other words, God is incapable of loving us more or less than He does right now at this moment. Period.

What disturbs me about Mark’s teaching is that it is false Gospel and harms the cause of Jesus.  He makes it sound spiritual and even biblical, when it is neither — it is really a bunch of bad theology based on manipulated scripture designed to guilt people into conversion.  This is not the Good News — the Gospel — at all.

And for the record, I think this kind of manipulation of the scripture and bad/sloppy exegesis and hermeneutics is what allows Mark to deny women the ability to use their spiritual gifts of leadership within the church and allows the condemnation and exclusion of LGBT folks from full participation in church life.  This stuff is dangerous and has serious implications.

THOUGHTS?

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

A Funny Scene at Panera

I just witnessed a funny scene at Panera.

A mother came him with her two young boys, probably ages 4 and 6. ?They were cute kids, but the kind you would rather not be sitting next to if your are trying to get some reading/writing done while you enjoy some coffee.

In walks a neighbor/friend with a friend of her own — and they start to chat. ?The neighbor asks the boys what they are dressing up for on Halloween. The older boy answers quickly: "A pirate."

The two women (the neighbor and here friend) are very affirming of such a costume choice.

Then they ask the younger boy.

"Ariel!" he shouts out.

"Yes, the mermaid," the mom explains/clarifies.

"Oh," the two other women say. ?"That will be a lovely costume."

For the next fifteen minutes, all three of the adult women try to reassure each other (or mostly mom) that there is nothing wrong with such a costume choice, shows self-confidence, etc. ?Mom explains that the child's nursery school teacher has already affirmed this. (Apparently, it was worth bringing up to the teacher.)

The end result? ?They were on their way to try and find a tiera and something for a tale.

Give mom credit… she didn't seem 100% sure of the choice, but she knew well enough (or was told by a wise teacher) to go with it.

The unspoken conversation between the three women was clear. ?Most boys don't want to be mermaids. ?And perhaps this is a sign of something to come…

My thoughts? ?Who cares? ?The kid is 4. ?In all likelihood what he chooses as a costume at age 4 is a fairly meaningless thing. ?If anything, pretty refreshing that that all the bizarre gender issues we all carry around haven't stuck to him yet. ?Halloween is about dressing up and pretending. ?His older brother is no more a pirate (and no more masculine) than his younger brother will be a mermaid. ?Both are pretending.

And what if it turns out that this is an early sign that Jr. might be gay?

Who cares? ?What difference will that make? ?Mom will still love him, life will go on.

Just a fun anecdote from Panera's today… hoping those kids have a great Halloween… as a pirate and a mermaid.
 
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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Yom Kippur

This weekend is Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. In many ways, the capstone of the Days of Awe for Jewish people everywhere.

Marked by fasting, long days in shul and quite reflection, it is a somber day for serious personal examination.

For many Christians, a daily examination of conscience and daily confession are part of our daily spiritual diet. ?And times such as Lent and Holy Week lend themselves to the deep er reflections that happen at Yom Kippur.

I think there is something healthy and mature about such reflection, as long as it does not lead to self?flagellation. ?I believe that it takes serious spiritual maturity to be able to see and name our shortfalls and sins. In fact, as I mature I find more and more sin in my life. ?I hope this is because I am becoming more sensitive to issues of pride and hardness of heart and blindness to injustice… not because I am sinning more.

But as a Jewish follower of Jesus — Yeshua ha Moshiach — Yom Kippur is also a time of joyful celebration. ?For I am reminded that the Day of Atonement has been fulfilled once and for all on a day 2000 years ago at Golgotha. ?I am reminded that God has done for me what I could never hope to do for myself. ?And I am reminded that the day of Atonement… the Day of Reconciliation — when names are written in the Book of Life — is a day full of hope for the whole world. ?It means that sin, death and destruction do not have the last word. ?It means that hope wins… indeed that love wins.

So tomorrow I will fast… and I will pray and reflect. ?But I will also celebrate and rejoice.

The Days of Awe indeed!
 
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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

10 & 10: Lessons From Ministry

Every once in a while I go back and reflect on my time as a pastor. ?I look through old journals, prayer lists, sermons and blogs. ?Sometimes it is encouraging and sometimes discouraging.

As I was reflecting the other day, I came up with these two lists: 10 & 10. ?Ten things I think I did right… and ten things I did wrong.

So here they are:

TEN THINGS I DID RIGHT:

1. Unabashed Boldness in proclaiming the Gospel.
In over ten years of ministry, I feel like I taught, preached and proclaimed well the full Gospel of grace and truth, and the full counsel of God. ?From my early days of ministry with Young Life through my church planting days, literally hundreds of people heard and responded to the Gospel. ?I praise God for that!

2. Modeling & Extending Grace.
Grace is central to the Gospel message and was always central in my ministry. ?I believe that you cannot over-teach, over-preach or over-extend grace. ?Grace saves, grace transforms, grace heals. ?Not cheap grace, but real grace.

3. Challenging People to Take Their Next Step.
Whether you are a skeptic, seeker or seasoned follower… we all have an next step we can take in our faith journey and relationship with God. ?Consistently challenging people to take their next steps is the essence of discipleship… because as people take their next steps in following Jesus, they grow in their character, their love and their relationships.?

4. Team Teaching.
Embracing team teaching meant that our pulpit was never dominated by one personality or voice, that the ministry always was bigger than one person, and that the full counsel of God was preached. It also meant that I had a regular opportunity to sit under the teaching of others and model what that looks like. ?It also, frankly, meant that I was able to become a better speaker/preacher and spend more time on fewer sermons. ?Preaching less always made me better. Many pastors don't like to give up the pulpit, but this seems silly and ego-driven to me.

5. Avoiding?Chaplaincy.
As a pastor, I avoided becoming a chaplain to people… that is, I never let my ministry be defined by pastoral care. ?Instead, pastoral care was provided through small groups and within the community. ?I spent time encouraging this, equipping people, etc. This meant that (a) people got better pastoral care; and (b) it avoided making the church all about me as pastor. ?Less pastor = More ministry!

6. Vision Casting.
You can never over-cast vision. ?We had a regular schedule for our vision casting and an annual strategy to reinforce the vision.

7. Avoiding Boring & Irrelevant.
I believe firmly that "it is a sin to bore someone with the Gospel." ?By embracing creativity, the arts and focusing on life-change, I believe we were able to avoid boring people with the greatest story — and greatest news — in the world!

8. Culture of Yes!
When people wanted to do ministry, the answer was always yes! ?Instead of being a barrier to people using their gifts, we actively freed people up to pursue their own vision and calling.

9. Risk Taking.
We created a real culture of risk-taking, innovation and creativity — and it was a dynamic, fun and inspiring environment to be in.

10. Spend Money.
We invested money in our community, our mission and in people. ?Our budget reflected our vision and mission… and our?commitment?to invest God's resources in God's Kingdom.

TEN THINGS I DID WRONG:

1. Encourage Busyness.
I think I encouraged too much busyness among our volunteers and members — too many church activities, too much time. ?I don't think this is healthy.

2. Ask too much from people in terms of time/activity.
Similarly, I think I asked too much of people in terms of time and activity — and this takes away from family time, time with friends, time in intentional community and time with non-Christian friends.

3. Not asking enough of people in terms of giving/growing.
While I think I asked too much in terms of time/activity, I don't think I was bold enough in asking people to give and to grow spiritually.

4. Not enough mentoring of leaders.
I wish I had spent more time mentoring emerging leaders… I would make this a top priority if I was in full time pastoral ministry again.

5. Maintain Healthy Boundaries.
Frankly, I worked too much, was too available and allowed healthy boundaries to get blurred to easily. ?In my case, this was a significant contributor to burn-out and moral failure.

6. Not equip people enough to self-learners.
The best thing we can do is not tell people what the Bible says, but help people learn to read the Bible for themselves… likewise, help people learn to pray, to listen to God, etc etc. This was becoming an increasing focus when I left the church… I wish I had embraced this paradigm a decade earlier.

7. Listen to the Squeaky Wheel.
While not as bad as many pastors or organizations, I too often allowed "squeaky wheels" to dominate my time and influence my?decisions?too much.?

8. Worried Too Much About What Other Christians Said About Us.
I allowed the criticism that we received from other Christians and ministries (and there was a lot of criticism) to really eat at me. ?While I was disciplined in not responding (no defense, no attack!) it did eat me up inside and really wore me out. ?I wish I could have turned more of a deaf ear to those critics.

9. Not Take Enough Time Off.
I should have taken more days off, more days away, more vacation, more Sundays away… I think if I had done that regularly — as well as met with a spiritual director — from when I started ministry, I might still be in full time ministry today.

10. Should Have Allowed Things to go Undone.
Organizationally, when people didn't step up to do things, I almost always took them on. ?That meant that not only was I the lead pastor, but also the church?administrator, treasurer, a small group leader, cleaning crew, marketing guru, webmaster, etc — I should have allowed more things to go undone — in the tension, I think people step up. ?But when they think it will get covered by the pastor, they are less likely to volunteer.

These are not comprehensive lists… there are many more things that I did wrong, haha… but it is interesting to reflect upon.

ANY THOUGHTS?
 
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Posted by on October 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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