“Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”
— Viktor Frankl
“‘Every [calendar] square is a frame for one episode of my life,’ Lewis Smedes wrote. Nobody knows how many squares he or she will get, but each of us must choose how we will fill them. You must choose — not your boss, not your corporation, not your parents, not your friends, not your spouse, not your kids, not your peers. It is tempting to think that our jobs makes us too busy or that our families place too many demands on us or that the years go by too fast. But they go at the same rate they always have. Time is ruthlessly egalitarian. Pawns and kings alike have exactly the same number of seconds in every day. God has given each of us a day with the same amount of time, and it is enough time to do what God wants us to do.”
— John Ortberg
Are we all done bad-mouthing the church yet?
I know she isn’t perfect, but that’s the sort of pressure we put on her. If the church was a Christian’s spouse, she would’ve entered therapy and an abuse shelter a long time ago. There would be criminal charges and a talk show interview.
God still loves the church. She is God’s idea.
God still manifests His own perfection through imperfect people — and occasionally, we get it right.
It’s much more glorious when God is seen through such a mess. His strength is really made perfect in weakness. We hardly hear about this though because both Christians and the media circus won’t stop beating her up.
Continue reading “If The Church Were A Spouse, She Would Be An Abuse Victim: So Quit Picking On Her and Do Something About It”
Hello beloved friends!
My post on fighting jealousy was published on ChurchLeaders.com!
Check it here.
The original post is here.
Thanks and love y’all!
Two anonymous questions (edited for length):
– Sometimes I think I have a ‘bipolar faith’. I am annoyed at my own inconsistency … Lately I feel that I am passionate about ministry, but lackluster when it comes to Jesus. I fear God, but I doubt that I love Him because of the distractions and idols in my heart. I can’t surrender or repent. How do you learn to love God more and develop a steadfast faith?
– Why can’t I be more serious about my relationship with God? If we can be so ‘committed’ to our human friendships … why is it so difficult to commit to God? Why do I constantly walk away from my first and one true love even though I’ve realized human love will always fail me? I’ve read Lewis/Augustine/Piper/Keller on heart idolatry so I ‘know’ what the root issue is but it’s still not drawing me back to God.
I get similar questions like this quite often, so you need to know: you are NOT alone in this.
As I’ve said many times before: I struggle in my faith daily. It’s become better over time (however we define “better”), but I’ve accepted that it will probably be like this most of the time, if not a lifetime. And that’s okay. Some of us are gifted with a robust roaring faith; others like us will wrestle all the way to glory.
When Moses parted the Red Sea, some Israelites ran through shouting in total triumph. But I’m sure others tiptoed through shrieking in terror. I’m a shrieker. They all made it: because their faith depended NOT on them, but their steadfast Savior. I’m not absolving you of your responsibility — but God works with you right where you are.
That was really the entire point of starting my blog: to begin honest discussion about our crazy faith journey. I also preach on this quite a lot, which are still my two most downloaded sermons here and here.
Please allow me to encourage you with a few thoughts here. As always, please feel free to skip around.
Continue reading “A Mega-Post on Ragged Jagged Bipolar Faith”
The God of the universe is not something we can just add to our lives and keep on as we did before. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is not someone we can just call on when we want a little extra power in our lives. Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us. He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow Him to the cross, to true Life.
— Francis Chan
I’ve been thinking a lot about my calling or my purpose, and once—only once— I had this sort of bright-white electric filament feeling when I inquired if it should be what I have done in the past: humane societies and animal shelters. Even though I’m not Catholic, I’ve always liked St. Francis of Assi and concept that we should “protect nature and animals as the stewards of God’s creation and as creations ourselves.” Is this an actual calling or am I being too hopeful and introverted?
Hey, this is a really cool question, so please do not be embarrassed about it at all. I adopted an awesome dog named Rosco from the Humane Society and I love him like family. I’ve also had a couple adopted cats (I’m one of the rare people who likes both), so I totally get your concern for animals.
When I was in college, I remember a guest speaker on a Sunday saying, “Do you ever see people with pets? Those people are so sad. They spend tons of money on their animals and don’t have any real friends. What’s the point of owning some animal?” He immediately alienated half the congregation.
I completely understand how the pet industry can become idolatry. I know how many millions of dollars go to “pet toys” and dog shows and all the abuse of breeding. It can go overboard
But pets can bring huge joy to their owners and teach a lot about patience, kindness, and responsibility. Pets can be great for certain people with disabilities or military veterans or just lonely people. When my youth group would hang out at my place, my dog would bring them all together in laughter. And owning a pet doesn’t instantly mean you hate people or you’re a hermit or you could “use that money for starving kids in Africa.”
I also believe, to the best of my limited knowledge, that animals do have certain rights and someone should be looking out for them. Blinded chickens with no beaks kept in tiny cages, even if they taste good, just feels inhumane. Again, it could go overboard real quickly (come on PETA) — but it’s a legit calling. You might be accused of loving animals over people, but someone will always try to Jesus-Juke you like that. Let’s leave those fears behind.
Continue reading “Question: Is Caring For Animals a Legitimate Calling?”
“Jesus was ‘in very nature God.’ He was at the top of the organizational chart of the universe. But he did not consider this to be ‘grounds for grasping’; he gave up the right to have things his own way and became a servant. But even angels are servants, so he went lower: he became a human being. He took on flesh and blood, all our needs and limitations. This is the beauty of the incarnation — God coming down. But even on a human level, some people live as kings and celebrities, so Jesus took another demotion: he ‘humbled himself’ and was born in a stable as the peasant son of a penniless couple. But even that was not low enough. He kept going down by becoming ‘obedient to death.’ His ultimate task wasn’t some glorious achievement. There was nothing glamorous about death. But his demotion didn’t stop there. He went one rung lower: ‘even death on a cross.’”
— John Ortberg
Surrounding yourself with “yes men” is a great way to never be challenged, stretched, questioned, corrected, or convicted. You will never grow a thick skin, you’ll get insufferably insensitive, and you’ll feel entitled to never hear a contradiction even when you’re driving off a cliff. Surrounding yourself with only likable people is a great way to never practice patience, perseverance, compassion, sacrifice, and humility. You’ll be that snobby guy who can’t stop demonizing people who are not like him (and that guy needs grace too). If you can hang in the mess of people who are nothing like you, it will not be pretty — but you’ll be a more well-rounded individual, and more than that, you will even come to love those people and like them, too.
– I’ve always been on the receiving end of what you would call the ‘guilt-fear-shame’ tactics. When I was seven, I was handed one of those infamous “You’re a Sinner and You’re Going to Hell” pamphlets. Ever since then I’ve struggled … that I’m still doomed to hell simply because ALL I’ve ever known is the terror, the guilt, and the shame … How can they do this to others?
– I have always been told … “Don’t read anything that isn’t the Bible”, “You’re going to hell because you enjoyed Pokemon”, “Don’t you know Hollywood is a den of sin?” I constantly feel like it’s WRONG to have interests outside of theology/religion … I feel like I’m being trained to be a nun or monk. Is it right to feel this way?
– I sometimes feel like I’m sinning when I don’t have a bible in my hand 24/7. I feel that way when I’m doing my homework & watching cartoons. I feel that way reading anything that isn’t theology-derrived … Is this a natural part of growing on the journey?
– The word grace appears in so many bible verses, lessons and sermons… but I’ve never known what it actually means. so, what is grace?
– This isn’t an ask, but rather a thank you for your time writing. I feel I’ve grown more reading this blog than I ever have from being that person beaten in the face with all the ‘do not associate’ and ‘there is no depression if you believe’ tirades. Some of the things you say sting from time to time … but it’s a good hurt. I am VERY grateful for your condemnation-free encouragement…I would hug you and crush your ribs if I could.
Thank you for these very honest questions and for the awesome encouragement. You and I both have been hurt by tons of churches that breathed condemnation: and for some of us, it could take a long time to recover.
So please allow me the grace to break this down a bit with a little more nuance. Please feel free to skip around.
Continue reading “A Mega-Post on Guilt, Fear, Shame, Fire and Brimstone”
Watch how a person treats someone who they believe is wrong. You can tell much. If they are snobby, arrogant, hostile, and condescending, they are simple-minded bullies obsessed with control. If they are jealous, defensive, insecure, and petty, they are afraid and lack convictions of their own. If they compromise, enable, flatter, and fawn, they are sneaky opportunists ready to run you over. Such motives will force, coerce, or manipulate.
To truly respect someone even when they’re wrong is to have a heart that wants to help them see, since their “wrongness” is often just the blindness of being behind. This sort of heart is open to seeing the best in another, that there is good on both sides, and that there could also be wrong in the self. It is a harder way, but it treats a person with dignity knowing they are not the enemy; rather they need a light to see further ahead where you are. Be that for them.
When we “thank God” when good things happen, we can inadvertently imply that God is only good during good times, that He is rewarding us for performance, and that God is punishing those who are suffering. Praising God then cannot be built on the quality of our circumstances, but centers on the God of those circumstances, however good or bad they may be. Basing my gratitude on the situation is a recipe for disillusionment and bitterness.
We easily get addicted to our blessings — but the real blessing is God being present through our ups and downs, no matter how hard it gets. I want to praise God in all seasons, not because the hurt doesn’t hurt, but because He never leaves me to myself. He walks in my healing. It is this sort of faith, even the size of a mustard seed, that will break my addiction to tangible blessings and infuses me with reckless freedom in every season.
How does one make sense of some of the outlandishly strange laws given to Israelites in the Old Testaments? In other words, what does it mean when someone says that the Bible is authoritative? Does it mean that one must take everything to be literal truth and follow it word for word? If the former is the case then what about passages like: Exodus 21:7, Exodus 35:2, and laws in Leviticus that commands people to kill someone for what seems to be minor technicalities? Any answer will be a of help.
Thanks for the challenge, but first things first: please do NOT under any circumstance pick up rocks to stone someone to death. Please don’t do that.
But jokes aside, this is actually one of the easier theological questions that always pops up when someone reads their Bible, and it’s totally sensible to ask.
It revolves around two mini-questions:
1) What is up with these crazy Old Testament commands?
2) How do any of them apply to us Christians today?
Let’s tackle these both, and please allow me the grace to outline some of the finer theology. Also feel free to skip around.
Continue reading “Question: The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands”
Dating, like faith, is an exercise in strategic uncertainty. Andre Comte-Sponville notes that it is precisely the experience of uncertainty that makes possible the euphoria of what we call falling in love. We go through intense questioning, wondering, hoping, and doubting. Does she really care? And when that is followed by evidence that she does care, we have an endorphin tidal wave. It is precisely this roller-coaster ride of the agony of uncertainty and the ecstasy of relief that gives the early stages of love their emotional TNT. It is also why, as love matures, as commitment becomes sure, the roller coaster must inevitably settle down.
[At this point] we all think we want certainty. But we don’t. What we really want is trust, wisely placed. Trust is better than certainty because it honors the freedom of persons and makes possible growth and intimacy that certainty alone could never produce. … I would rather trust, because when you trust someone, you give him or her a gift, and you enter into a kind of dance. When I trust, I take a risk. I choose to be vulnerable.
— John Ortberg, comparing faith to dating
The joy of the Lord is not that you are happy when you go to church or when you’re singing hymns or when you’re quoting Bible verses. It is the joy that will come one day when you finally see face-to-face, clear as crystal, that for which you were made. That secret longing that you have carried with you like a wound your whole life long will be met.
… Our quest for joy, our broken, messed-up, obsessive, endless pursuit of joy tells us we were made for the Joy-Bringer.
– John Ortberg
I’m really tired of pastors (including myself) talking trash about other pastors, and Christians about other Christians. I’m tired of pastors saying, “This isn’t gossip if we’re discussing people in ministry.” Even if that were true, we smuggle in all our petty bitterness under the disguise of caring about someone when we really don’t. That’s more reason to be careful, not less. It doesn’t matter if you only gossip with people you “trust” or with just one other person: you are still feeding your inner-troll.
I don’t believe your church and my church exist within their buildings. They don’t end at your back door or my front lawn. They co-exist in the global body of Christ. We are one. So when you talk bad about another pastor or another Christian down the street — any fellow human being — you are undermining the work of God in their lives. Even suggesting that another pastor is “unworthy” of his position (which is already true) will kill a local ministry. All for what? To satisfy our desperate attention-seeking ego for two seconds? To claim we got the secret-sauce of the “right” methodology? You can’t possibly know the extent of damage you’re doing to OUR church, which is also your body. We effectively bite our own fingers and toes. We eat our own. No one is impressed by this, especially not the world. And I’m tired of that sick feeling in my stomach when I leave a room knowing I just spit on Jesus’s face.
If you’ve been brainwashed into thinking your church is the only one doing it right: you’ve fallen for a tribal, cult-like, isolated, nationalistic paradigm which Jesus came to destroy. If you think a pastor is a false teacher, you are not “protecting” people by publicly shaming him. Instead of using your energy to blast the guy, we could be on our knees praying in sweat and tears for God to rend their hearts open and to have mercy on us all. Most likely though, this guy isn’t a false teacher but he simply does ministry differently than you, and you’re butt-hurt for reasons that won’t matter when you stand before God’s face-melting glory at the end of your one short life. If you have to call out a false teacher, point at yourself first.
I know that no matter how much we divide our own church, God still has grace and He will still work in His sovereignty. But it will be in spite of us and not through us. I would much rather God work through me than past me. It’s better. It is how we will not just survive, but thrive.
I have defended crappy terrible pastors for years now. I have also talked my share of trash. I’m done with both. I will say nothing less than to point to Jesus. I beg of you: celebrate people, because God loves them too. Pray for them, because they need it. And pray for yourself, to let go of excuses and let go of your pride. Gossip is gossip, regardless of what else you call it. I plead with you: please join me in stopping the stream of crap that so quickly emerges from our mouths, which have the potential for greater than this.
How do you spur on leaders? Oftentimes, spur team (we are in charge of encouraging the fellowship) focus on people like freshmen who have never taken a college exam yet, but we overlook those who are leaders and are possibly subject to even more burn out. Is it the same thing as spurring anyone else, or are there specific requests or things to focus on?
(I made you anonymous just in case you were misconstrued as “outing” your leaders.)
This is an awesome question and I’m so glad you asked it. While I don’t want to lock this down in a formula — it won’t help to walk in a group meeting and say, “Let’s knock out this list!” — there are some things to consider about spurring on leaders. Please feel free to skip around, and here is my other post on burnout.
Continue reading “Question: How To Encourage Leaders”
For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Christ knows no shadow or alteration or change. When Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,’ He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love. He knew that physical pain, the loss of loved ones, failure, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, betrayal would sap our spirits; that the day would come when faith would no longer offer any drive, reassurance, or comfort; that prayer would lack any sense of reality or progress …
What the disciple has not learned is that tangible reassurances, however valuable they may be, cannot create trust, sustain it, or guarantee any certainty of its presence. Jesus calls us to hand over our autonomous self in unshaken confidence. When the craving for reassurances is stifled, trust happens.
— Brennan Manning
I think about my life before Christ, how I used to live for myself and I would do good to look good and get good back.
I think about how something was always missing then, like I would find a particular interest and it would almost click but the edges wouldn’t catch and they’d just slide off the inside of my heart.
I think of how I objectified humans as blunt weapons for my secret dirty desires and planned out my next crime scene like an elaborate diorama: and all this to avoid the God who would speak to me at 3 am in the darkness when I couldn’t lie to myself about the futility of my deceit. I remember how the ceiling fan would accuse me of guilt with its every cut into the sides of my lying mouth.
I think of those moments when the veil of shallow shadow-living was lifted for a blinding second, and my reality was torn open to the idea of a Creator and how there must be more than just collecting toys to build an empire until I die. It was only a glimpse, but everything else around it would be sterile and insignificant in comparison. I remember the drawstrings of my cold protective fortress being tugged by gentle hands that plunged through my lungs, never too sharp, but just enough to know there was something else about this life that life was not telling me, that a cosmic problem existed with a solution that would click as easily as a key in butter.
I think of how even though I ran from Him — God still literally loved me to death and afflicted my selfish emptiness with a love that cost the blood of His only son.
I asked myself then, “Is it possible to miss someone you never knew about?” Because before I knew Him, I knew Him, and I dearly missed Him, if only in dreams and whispers and longings I could hardly stand to utter. I was terrified to discover that life wasn’t about me. I was scared to find my Maker — but He found me, and now I cannot go back. I don’t ever want to. I cannot imagine any other way without Him, and He does not imagine His story without me.