Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008 Resolution #3

#3 Drink more I’m growing to love the gift of wine and all of its complexities, its history, the process of development, its beauty in the glass and the joy it brings to a gathering of good friends. I plan to take pleasure in more of it in 2008. Now why would I recommend this? The spirit of this resolution is to face what we fear. I was raised on a spirituality of fear, especially when it came to any kind of pleasure. The party line was summed up in statements like, ‘If I never take that first drink, I’ll never become an alcoholic!” The line of reasoning made sense, to a point, until I realize that the foundation of the logic was built on fear. Why go through life being afraid? It’s such a terrible way to live. Moderation is much more preferable than fear. The former tempers its actions on understanding; the latter does so out of ignorance. I’d rather protect myself through self-control than being afraid. I resolve to deepen the pleasures of my faith by rejecting fear and embracing love. Fear assumes I won’t do the best thing when faced with the choice. Love believes otherwise.

Friday, December 28, 2007

2008 Resolution #2

#2 Gain more weight. Face it. You’ve tried every year to commit to some form of weight loss idea and it never works. Why not take a new approach this time around? Why not go in the other direction? Pig out. Gorge yourself. Tie on the feedbag. Here’s what I mean. A problem for most of us is that we don’t wait to eat until we’re hungry. We eat more as a habit or as an idea. Whoever said we needed three meals a day and that lunch should be around noon? Why is food a prime mode of chewing away the hours in a long car ride? We eat, but we may not be sure why. That’s why this year I propose that if we haven’t figured out why we keep eating when we’re not hungry, that we go ahead eat UNTIL we’re hungry. Eat, eat and eat until it become evident what we are really craving. I don’t believe people are as dumb as they are simply shortsighted. Eating a big bag of Fritos in the car on the way home may make sense in the moment. You’re tired, cranky, bored and doggonnit, why not pound down those chips? But not an hour later when your gut feels like crap, you wonder, “What was I thinking?” The soul craves for that which the body does not understand, yet the soul often looks to the body for its answers. By giving the body everything it craves, maybe, just maybe, the soul will finally realize that the satisfaction it wants will never be found in simple relief.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Year’s Resolutions for 2008

#1 Read the Bible less. Sure, it sounds heretical, but let me explain. Familiarity is the enemy of all things good. Why are family arguments the worst? It’s because family are the people with which we are most familiar. You don’t extend them the same grace you do other people. You are nicer to people on the street, perfect strangers, than you are to your own kind. Think about it. You’ve read the Bible everyday for who knows how long. Do you think during that time you may have become too familiar with it? By being so close to it, you may have missed something about its true essence, and maybe a fast from it might do you some good. I’m not talking about rejecting it, or not believing in it anymore. Just step away from the habitual practice of it. We may boast about how much and how often we read the Bible and how consistent we are in doing so, but when you read this challenge to slow it down a bit, what is your reaction? I would guess one reason you would say you can’t do it is you’ve made a commitment to do so. I would suggest you make sure that it really is a discipline and not a new law. Another reason might be fear. What would happen to me if I read the Bible one day a week this year? I’ve always been told that sin would keep me from the Book, or the Book would keep me from sin, so if I backed off from my daily indulgence of it, aren’t I just inviting wrongdoing into my life? You and I have more information available to us than any generation ever before, and that includes Bible information. This year, stop glutting yourself with more and more and more teaching, books and doctrine. Slow down and think about what you already know. Meditate on what you’ve already been given. Learn to relax and listen. Don’t be so uptight. Your stress of worry over slipping into sin may be worse for you than missing a day in Psalms and Proverbs.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sun and Moon

This morning, out on the wall, I love what I see. To the west of my home is the setting full moon, about 20 degrees above the horizon as it makes way for the morning sun to take center stage. The beams of light were so bright pouring into the living room through the slats of the mini blinds, it made me wonder if a car was in the driveway. Light has a beautiful way of ignoring the darkness. Every story has two sides. Every incident can be spun two different directions. Take a walk down the bookstore aisle marked Current Affairs and I find no less than 20 books about President Bush, how he is either the worst or toughest president in American history. Look further and you will find the same division about Hillary Clinton or John Kerry or the Republicans or Democrats and so on. Just pick what position you want to reinforce and you can find a book or radio talk show to support your view. The same is true for the Church As We Know It. For every publication you find in defense of Christianity, you can find a counterpoint that explains why the Christian faith is equivalent to Hilter in its wrongful impact on the world. So who is right and who is wrong? How do you know who to trust? Who is telling the truth? The moon was my reminder this morning on my morning watch. Light can actually be more noticeable when there is less of it around. How often do we take the high sun for granted, but you and I will stop the car to watch the sun go down over the water. Is the Church as We Know It becoming irrelevant? Is a sense of common morality a thing of the past? Is our country moving toward economic crisis? Is our world burning up by global warming and dependence on oil? Maybe yes, maybe no. These questions all have different answers, depending on your sources. But hope for me this morning is, regardless of whether the future looks bleak or not, this is something I can trust. There will always be room for light to shine. Darkness will never be stronger than Light. It can never get so dark that light has no effect. In fact, that might be when it’s most noticeable.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

We have this many in...

When you make a severe life change as I have in order to search out the Church of the Future, you must be prepared to face doubt. How do you know if you’ve done the right thing or not? When will I know if I succeeded or not? These are common questions a Future Pastor will eventually ask. Our usual proof of success is in the results. Did I accomplish what I set out to do? Did I find what I was looking for? But what if results don’t show you what you want to see or give you what you’d like to brag about? If I were attempting to plant a model of The Church As We Know It, I would likely want to tell you how many are in attendance, how many groups we have going, and how many people we baptized this year. These are the Big 3 in my tradition. So when asked about how my efforts are going in my search for the Church of the Future, my knee-jerk response is to go back to my roots and try and give an answer the inquirer might understand. It’s so much easier to say we have this many coming on Sunday than to try and describe the road of faith I have traveled in the last three years. It’s easier to describe what I am doing than to tell you what I am becoming. Each of these has its own measuring stick to gauge with, and even though the measuring stick for the latter is still the same (you’re still looking at becoming more loving, joyful, peaceful and so on), it seems to come up short more often now that you are paying more attention to it. So, Future Pastor, this is the reality of the road ahead if you plan to stay on it for the long haul. The way is difficult and unfamiliar, and it leads you far away from the place you are most comfortable. But it is the way of faith and faith will always lead you down paths where you can’t use your eyes, your most powerful and precious sense.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

One of these things is not like the other...

There is a process I am moving through I would refer to as congruence. This is another word for making sure things match. There have been quite a few pieces turned up in my faith journey that appear juxtaposed to the rest. Now that I have more freedom to ask why, I find some intriguing considerations. People who put their faith in Jesus are constantly reminded that you are to be “in” the world, but not “of” it. The understood meaning behind this talking point is that heaven is your real home, and you should in turn not embrace earthly values as you stand in the queue waiting for your number to be called to enter that destination. What came with this, at least in my experience, were all kinds of dichotomies, usually in the form of determining what is sacred and what is secular. This is where the genre of Christian Music came from. Rock music was secular, therefore a sacred alternative was needed, so we came up with something acceptable, regardless of how inferior it may have been. What made things worse was the delineation between the now permissible Christian music and the emerging slice known as worship music. It wasn’t enough to have your own category of tunes you could listen to without guilt, now you had something new to worry about. Now you had to ask, is the music worship or is it entertainment? My favorite time to observe this tension was when you went to a concert by a musical act known for their popular “worship” songs. The majority of the show would be jamming along until suddenly the sound of grinding gears makes you realize that we are coming to an abrupt halt. The leader of the group inserts what amounts to an apology for his self-centeredness and turns the show into a scene from The Church As We Know It. And most of the audience seems to understand what is taking place and moves right along with the current. Why did I feel like I was the only one in the crowd that didn’t get it? I guess I could have felt good that I got two shows for the price of one, but in that case it didn’t seem necessary. I believe the Church of the Future will be less about creating tidy boundaries like those labeled “worship music” and “other acceptable forms of music,” and more about seamless living. Eventually these constructs will not even make sense because freedom from law leads to security in faith. If beauty is found outside the border lines, the Church of the Future won’t realize that it once had to first be sanctioned.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I hate God

I love bookstores, but often feel a bit of frustration at a place like Barnes & Noble because it reinforces the adage, “so many books, so little time,” but that’s not the point of this post. I’m perusing the table in the center aisle, the one with the placard that reads, “Thought Provoking,” and see that it is covered with books written by atheists. Always interested in what people are thinking, I read the index and dust covers of several. I found a common theme. People who debate the existence of God seem to always bring up how much evil has been done in his/her/its name. They cite the crusades as case in point, that religion does nothing but provide a structure for power disguised as righteous superiority. I might agree with that, to a degree. But for every bad act, the other guy can always find a good one that can be used to counter it. It leads to a vicious cycle of argument that never seems to go anywhere. In fact, one of my favorite Christian porn stars on the radio was comparing the crusades to the holocaust and other mass killings. His logic was that atheists over time have killed far more people than Christians. I’m not sure where he was going with that, but he seemed to think that was good rationale for the existence of God. This is why I believe even more now than ever, that a belief in God is an act of faith for which I alone am held accountable. God exists or doesn’t, regardless of what the human race has done under the banner of His cause. When I recently got hit by a drunk driver at 4:45 in the morning it didn’t change my view of alcohol because she misused and abused it. The young woman had a choice to do with it as she willed. I could easily form an opinion about it based on what she did with the said substance, but her poor choices need not create a definition for me to live by. Faith must find its roots deeper than just in my neighbor’s yard.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Random Acts of Redemption

I got bumped from my flight back from San Antonio this weekend due to severe overbooking by the airline. There were several very unhappy customers as a result, including one man on the far end of the ticket counter who ended up in tears. After arguing to a point of futility, I gave in to the inevitability that I was not going to get on that plane for which I had a ticket. After being rescheduled for the next day, I resigned to the row of seats in the waiting area near the revolving doors to wait on my friend to swing back around and pick me up. As I sat, I saw the man who was tearfully pleading his case eventually do the same thing. He dragged himself over in my direction to regroup and wait it out. I commented, “Rough day, huh?” He proceeded to give me his story. He was starting his brand new job on Monday morning and was afraid of how this would look to the new boss, and to top it off he ended with, “And all I’ve got is a buck to my name.” By this time, my buddy had arrived and I needed to leave, so I pulled out a twenty and offered to bless him in that way. As with most random acts of kindness like that, he was not really sure how to react, but I insisted and persisted, and said, “Let me help make some good in your otherwise crappy day.” Mission accomplished. In situations like this, why is it we always seem to want an explanation for the circumstances in which we find ourselves? When I get bumped from a plane, it’s usually not enough to think that the plane was full and I was just one of the unlucky ones that got hosed. I need a motive, a cause or a purpose for the incident. I want to think that God had something in mind for making me miss my flight. I don’t try to answer that question much anymore. I don’t believe bad things happen so we can do something good. It’s more like when bad things happen, what are my choices in the matter? I don’t believe the reason I missed my plane was so God could arrange me to give that dude twenty bucks. Maybe it was, I’m just not that certain about it. Bottom line, however, is this: I found myself in a cruddy situation and yet still had a choice in how to respond. Redemption doesn’t always need to have reason.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why you should quit the ministry.

Maybe this title is a little harsh. I guess I should say this post is about why I quit the ministry and why I’m glad I did. You can do whatever you want and should only act on a sense of faith. This is the only thing that matters. What I think is nothing compared to walking by faith. Do any of these statements sound familiar: “_______ is a hard city/town/state/region/country/people group to bring the gospel to.” “The soil is hard here.” “People aren’t responsive to the gospel on my campus." Ministry is hard work. Some of this has to do with the nature of working with people. It’s not like you’re making widgets for a buck and selling them for ten and demand out weighs supply. Folks have choices, a past, needs and quirks. These dynamics are impossible to control. You can only deal with what you face. But on top of that you have spiritual factors. Receptivity, resistance, and unseen opposition, to name a few. These are equally impossible to exert influence over. When I first started my work with university students, I had an encounter I will never forget. I was sitting in a prayer group when a man pulls out his bible and began reading from Zechariah. He got to the phrase in chapter 8 that said, “…let us go with you, because we’ve heard that God is with you.” At that point I broke down, sobbing, for who knows how long. It felt like an hour, could have been five minutes. I have no idea. Why did I have that kind of out of the blue reaction to an obscure Old Testament reference? Upon reflection, the only thing that made sense was that this is what I wanted my life to be about. This is what I thought my contribution in ministry would be. It’s what I believed would be the vehicle of the good news. Not a tract or an illustration on a napkin, but instead seeing it carried along by people among whom God was real and obvious. Nowhere in my spiritual development did anyone ever share this idea with me. Instead, the Gospel was dependent on me to share a Summary of the Story in five minutes or less. Soon after that I committed myself to praying for awakening. I invited other colleagues to join with me to ask God to do the kind of thing spoken of in Zechariah 8. We prayed together for at least 10 years. Nothing even came close to what we envisioned. Eventually I grew discouraged, ready to give up. I started entertaining other vocational options. I started feeling like a fool. Had I given my best years and effort to a pipe dream? It took about four years, but during that time I came to believe that I hadn’t wasted my life. I was free to change vocations, but I was not at liberty to discard the vision that was handed to me. I may reach my grave and never see that kind of spiritual movement, but that fulfillment was never to be my goal. Mine was to live by faith, always moving toward that dream. So I left the vocational ministry, opened a business, and got something of my soul back in the process. I was like The Farmer who was committed to his land, and every day of the year hitched his plow to the ox and tried plowing his drought hardened field. Faithful to the task, yet it was cripplingly discouraging. He always wanted to be a farmer, but the work was too much to bear. Without rain, his work was hopeless. He talked to other farmers who were doing the same thing, daily scraping the crusty surface of dirt, with a dust cloud being the only evidence of labor. They told him to stay the course, that a good farmer never quits. “This is hard work, son, what did you expect?” So he got an idea. The Farmer believed rain would one day return, so instead of tearing up his back and his plow on a hard field, he spent his time on other tasks. He started enlisting a handful of city kids, a few young non-farmers, people who had no preconceived notion of how to farm. He shared his vision of the eventual rainstorm that would come and soften the soil and make it capable of plowing again, and that when this happened, he was going to need some help. He showed these few how to build a plow and make it sharp so once the rain came, they would be ready to go. I will always be The Farmer, and just because I’m not in the same university field I once was is no indication that I have given up. I’m just in a better position to wait for rain now.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Jesus and the Mob

I’m not a pacifist. Jesus told us that if we choose to live according to the sword, we would have to be willing to accept that we will die in the same way. If we adopt a way of living that includes killing, we can’t expect to escape the same fate. The more people I knock off, the more will want to return the favor. In a round about way, this is why I’m intrigued by mob movies. It befuddles me to consider how people in the mafia go about their business. All in a normal day you might whack someone for not paying back a loan, break another guy’s kneecaps for looking at your sister wrong, and then go home and tuck your kids in bed. How would you ever rest? Your job assures that you have your share of enemies, all of which want the same fate for you. Our freedom handed to us by Jesus means that we have a choice of how to live and how to die. I have to accept others liberty to live by the war metaphor. If you believe we are at war against the ACLU, that’s your prerogative. You will have to die by the same weapons you wield. If I’m an asshole, it shouldn’t surprise me when I get treated like one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Did I win, Part 2

Borrowing lingo from war and applying it toward an effort to bring about any kind of social change is a tricky line to walk. I’m not even comfortable when sports announcers refer to a rivalry game as “all out war,” say nothing about when The Church As We Know It tosses out the term in reference to bringing about social change. War is about killing and destroying forces that threaten a way of life, and doing it in such a way that the enemy will think twice about ever doing it again. For The Church As We Know It to proclaim war against those who do not hold to biblical morality seems a bit contradictory. The Church As We Know It may have liked the authority it owned over culture back in the 40’s, but did that time period have anything to do with faith? The reason I can’t adopt the language of war is that I don’t believe our culture threatens anything about the wellbeing of The Church of the Future. The life of faith is about things unseen. Since people are a visible part of my culture, I don’t feel the need to kill them. Disagree, maybe, but not declare war because they hold different morality. If Truth is stronger than Deceit, and if Darkness will never, ever comprehend or master Light, as a person of faith, do I ever really need to feel threatened?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Did I win?

I’m mistakenly listening to Christian porn yesterday and heard a guy admonishing all Christians to take a stand against the ACLU and all the current attacks against biblical morality that is so rampant in our culture today. Among his pleas was a request for funds to stay on the air so he and his outfit could continue to be armed for the battle that lie ahead. The last thing I remember before I changed the channel for a needed reprieve was, “Now is the time for all bible believing people to rise up and not be silent!” To many minds in The Church As We Know It, his type of cause makes perfect sense, which is another reason I don’t feel like I fit anymore. If I could have a pint with the guy, I have a number of questions I wish could be addressed, such as “If this is a battle, what does winning look like?” And to continue with the war imagery, what or who is the enemy? If I am to enlist with you, what do we hope to accomplish? Is this a winnable war and how long do you think it will take? What do I do if you find out some of my friends are the enemy? Am I required to shoot them too? If we keep with the war metaphor, I’m afraid the Church As We Know It will be guilty of casting its pearls before swine. It will be like pouring gravel in the feed trough. Pearls may be precious to the farmer, but they cannot be eaten by pigs or any other livestock for that matter. So if the animals don’t eat, whose fault is it? Maybe we need a better metaphor? Images are easier to remember than words, which is why we use them, but there comes a time when the image doesn’t quite communicate like it used to. Culture changes, so does language. We must adapt how we speak if we are to be understood, and isn’t this the goal of any good communicator?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Emotionally Reading the Text

I have started a practice that has revolutionized the way I read the Scripture. It is something my seminary training did not teach me, but I would add it to my schedule of classes if I ever started my own school. I would call this class, Emotionally Reading the Text. It doesn’t take the place of understanding the sitz em lebem, but it might help a person see the way in which the Scripture was handed to them. This is why you and I can read the same verse and one of us feel comforted and the other shackled. I did a quick search in the New Testament and found a few occurrences where Jesus told people not to doubt. This time, instead of first going to the root meaning of the word, or getting out a parsing guide, I ask myself, if Jesus were speaking these words to me, what tone of voice would he be using? In each and every case, he was pissed at me. During my formative years, I didn’t know a single soul who ever spoke of doubt in any terms other than shameful ones. The assumption was that if you doubt, you are basically disqualified from the possibility of having any kind of spiritual influence. I can recall asking a speaker one time about how I can get better at praying and not doubting My question obviously annoyed him, because his terse answer snapped back like a green peach switch, “It’s your choice, either believe or don’t.” And he walked off. The exchange left me, an influential student, flustered, concluding I must be a bad person. I think this insecurity is why I have a tendency to read Jesus’ words with the same sense of shame. Other leaders were not kind, and since they were his spokesmen, why should he be any different? If men I tried to please were always irritated at my lack of belief, it only made sense that Jesus would be even more so. Shedding light on the emotion we place on the text can expose the doubt that wants to overshadow faith.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Since the post on doubt seemed to resonate, I thought I would continue the thread by trying to describe in simple terms the things that hold my faith together. Each of these gets buffeted with their fair share of doubt, but these are the sign posts that keep pointing me in the same direction. If I may add, to any readers that may disagree with my position, please don’t read this as an attempt to proselytize you or change your mind or push my religion. See this as a forty-something guy trying to figure out a way to make sense of the life that he is living and what to do with what has been given to him. Walk with me a little ways before trying to refute. That’s all I ask. I’m no philosopher or scientist, but the one deep question I cannot get past is, “How did we get here?” Some would say by chance or evolution or some mathematical randomness, but these kinds of explanations take too much trust for me to embrace. These raise more unanswered questions for me than I am comfortable living with. It makes more sense to me to believe that Something created us and all the floating orbs that we see and specifically the blue and green one we move in. The universe is too vast and too complex for me to make the leap into embracing zillions of years of tiny incremental changes from single cell organisms to the current ability to cure disease and put a man on the moon. That may be easy for you, but I can’t get there. For some minds, there are huge barriers to starting with this belief. The idea of origin seated in a Divine location cannot be tested empirically or scientifically; therefore that belief must be rejected. I’m OK with that. Science needs to play by its own rules. But personally I still find this terribly limiting, because I am cutting myself off from a body of information that won’t fit in my test tube. Science has answered a lot of questions for us, but it also has left many unanswered, and I don’t want science to be my salvation. Nor do I want religion to be my salvation It has to come back to faith. What am I willing to stake my life on? Like you, everyday I have to get up in the morning. And as I sit on the edge of the bed, feeling the stiffness of aging joints and muscles, this is when I become most philosophical. Why not just lay back down and go back to sleep? To gather a paycheck at that point is adequate motivation some of the time, but more and more it seems a little small juxtaposed against the mysteries that appear as if they are standing at the foot of the bed. By faith, I hold on to the idea that I was created on purpose, that my starting point wasn’t just due to a molecular lottery. Doubts still exist. Questions still arise. Books have been written against it. College profs will forever make fun of it, but I figured out long ago that they don’t get to make my decisions. That’s my privilege.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What would Jesus say...

Glenn prompted the idea for this post. =================== Your eyes betray you. I can see the weight hidden behind them. This is the one common weakness all people share. A man can’t see his own face. Sure, you can look in a mirror and see the wrinkles or gray hair, but even that is a mere reflection. Only another person can peer into your countenance and see the real thing. Remember that I am among those who know. You have taken on quite a challenge, embarking on this quest for the unknown, unseen future you have in mind so clearly. There are many questions I see behind your eyes, but only one that really stands out that I’d like to address. It’s that one question that overarches everything. It’s the one thing that is tied to the weight that lies within. And rest assured that you are not the only one asking that question. Over the course of history, there are more men and women than you can count who have been in the exact same place as you. At your questions lies the essence of what I am all about. It involves the one thing that I am looking for in people like yourself. Will you make it? Will you get to your destination, or will someone else inherit what you have worked so hard to build? Or even worse, will all your effort dissolve into nothing? Never forget, son, that without this question you could not exhibit faith. I know many who led you over the years left you with a sense that they had no doubts and were 100% sure about everything, including what they knew to be true about Me, but trust Me, they don’t have it all right either. What most people seem to forget about faith is that it is not about the things seen. Never has and never will. And faith is what I am looking for when I return. It can’t be faith if there were guarantees like you want them. If you made a decision to trust me just because some guy told you his story of how he stepped out in faith and all his debts got paid and how all his problems got solved, you’re no longer choosing to walk by faith. You only want what he got. You want a short sighted solution, not a life of faith. Don’t get me wrong, I can still be trusted, but to do so requires that there always be a sense of doubt. Doubt is the handmaiden of faith. You will always see the two together, sort of like the way you see Fear lurking around Courage. If you see one but not the other, you can be assured that the other is just around the corner. Watchman, rest in this thought today as you enjoy your Sabbath. I know what you want from me and I’m not going to give it to you. But you’ve already given me what I’ve asked. You want certainty. I want faith. Let that sink in while you get another cup of coffee. Sounds like the newpaper has arrived.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

10-20-30 years ago

The idea for this post was prompted from a tag, a term new to me, but I figured what it meant pretty quickly. Ten years ago: I was at the height of my involvement and contribution in what we might look back and call the worship movement. I had several opportunities to share thoughts, ideas, songs and leadership on college campuses in the Midwest. The Passion student movement was just beginning, for which I was around to see it get off the ground. I had a great band of musicians around me, a great set of friends. My outlook on life was extremely hopeful. I loved what I was doing and where I found myself. Twenty years ago: Just starting graduate school in Marin County, CA. Many of my friends inquired about my decision to move so far west. “Why not go to school closer to home?” I told them that I had been to Fort Worth and San Francisco and the choice seemed like a no-brainer. It was there that I met my wife, but it took me a few months before I got the courage to even consider the thought that she might have interest in me. I termed her “OML,” Outta My League. But thanks to the dean at my school, he pulled the blinders off my eyes and helped me see what I couldn’t. We were later married two and a half years later. Thirty years ago: I made one of the biggest decisions of my life 30 years ago, the choice to not play high school football. If you are from a small town in the southern United States, you may be familiar with the cultural importance for a young man to prove himself on the athletic field. At that young age, there was something inside me that said I don’t need to be involved in sports to be validated as somebody. I listened to that voice and followed the advice. Little did I know that 30 years later, I would be faced with that same theme in leaving behind the Church As We Know It in search of The Church Of The Future.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fast Food

I don’t know if this idea is due to the new industry I find myself in, but I’ve stumbled across a parallel between the world of food and the religious culture I was formed in. Our restaurant is nothing special, yet many of our clients are treating it like it’s the newest trend in dining. All we are doing is making food fresh, in our store, and treating people like friends. For those of you who don’t realize, much of the food you eat at a common restaurant franchise or fast food establishment comes in frozen on a truck, shipped in from a warehouse or central kitchen somewhere. There’s even a popular bakery café chain who boasts of fresh baked bread (I’m sure you’re familiar with it) receives their dough frozen and only bakes it in their store. The reason for this is efficiency. When the bottom line is profit, a company doesn’t really need to pay attention to other elements like taste, quality, ethics, or community improvement. If the product is selling, who cares how it is made? If all you want is a quick meal, does it matter if it took 3 days to get to your town by semi truck? For some reason, I had this same kind of thinking toward the message that Jesus brought for us. I believed that the only thing that really mattered was if you believed that message or not. Here, the bottom line was not profit. Instead it was souls saved. Consequently, I missed the importance of other components of the message, namely, the part about living the Life to the full. It’s a great feeling when customers tell me they love what we are doing with our restaurant and can’t wait to tell their friends about us. What have we done to elicit this response? My guess is this; we are attempting to rescue food from the fast, efficient world in which it has been relegated, and in which it doesn’t belong. As we do so, it seems some people understand what we’re up to. This brings me to my point. Is the same true for the Bread of Life? Has Jesus and His Message been copied, duplicated and franchised into a tasteless, unhealthy yet efficient product? And have its consumers become so familiar with this type of product that it has no idea there can be anything else? I’m convinced that leaders of the Church of The Future will do well to rescue the Story from its limitations of its culture. How that is done is up to you to decide.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I read a lot of blogs written by people who have issue with The Church As We Know It. Some have experiences that mirror mine, while others are very different. Stories span the spectrum, from severe spiritual abuse to severe boredom. The common point, however, is that there seems be something in each of these stories that indicate something deeply wanted from The Church As We Know It. Right or wrong, there is desire for a return on the investment in relationship. Uncovering this fact was a good therapeutic point for me in understanding my angst toward The Church As We Know It. James simply states that our conflicts all stem from our desires that battle within us. We want something and can’t have it. I eventually figured out what I wanted and could not have. I longed for permission, but did not get it. Just tell me it’s OK to pursue what was on my heart and I’ll move on. But there was more. I longed for validation. Don’t just tell me “OK, you can do this.” I long to hear that my idea is good. Give me your stamp of approval. But there was more. I longed for blessing. Don’t just tell me “OK, you can do this.” Don’t just say it’s a good thing. Tell me it would be tragic if I didn’t pursue the idea. But there was more. I longed for a name. Don’t just tell me “OK, you can do this.” Don’t just say it’s a good thing. Don’t just tell me it would be tragic if I didn’t pursue the idea. Give me a name; your name. Tell the world I belong to you. It took years to finally believe that what I was wanting and what I was asking for was not bad. In fact, I still long to be validated, blessed and named. The difference now is letting the desires be just that; desire. Instead, I turned them into demands, and I took them to The Church As We Know It for fulfillment. I can’t determine whether or not my desires will come to pass, but I can decide to keep them alive or not.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Speak up, I can't hear you

It is my belief that the key to growing and learning, especially in the realm of faith, is not in gaining the right information, but in asking the right questions. Without the right question, how do I know where to put the right answer? Too bad many of us were taught to fear the question and not invite it. One question I ask often is, “Are we in a season of God’s silence?” I’m intrigued by the period of time between the Old & New Testaments referred to as “The Silent Years.” 400 years without record of what God might have been up to. Faith evidently managed to stay alive, but not much indication of what else. What was it like to live during that time? Were people of faith during The Silent Years aware that God was silent? Did they talk themselves into believing that what they were experiencing was as good as it gets? Did they eventually lower their standards for the miraculous, no longer looking for something that only God could do and start calling lesser actions great? I think I am less apt to credit God on certain outcomes now that really seem like good fundraising or just good leadership. I was at a wedding yesterday held in a brand new church facility. All around the building there were signs and posters referring to how God provided miraculously for the money to build the new structure. People seemed genuinely excited that God was doing something on their behalf. I don’t want to rain on that parade. Trust me, I’m not trying to be cynical, or even disbelieving. I am not a pessimist. I only want to make sure I am giving credit where credit is due. If God is doing miracles today, you’d think it would attract a little more attention, you know, kind of like Jesus did when he turned water into wine, or stuck a new set of eyeballs back in a guy’s skull. To me, there is a danger of not acknowledging that God just might be silent. We run the risk of forgetting what it’s like when He actually does do something great. I’m glad that Faith will flourish, even in the darkest, most silent of times.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, especially in the area of leadership, but I have learned a few things along the way, some of them in the last two months. Here’s what I’m finding. Depending on who or what you read, you will find exhaustive work has been done on the subject of leadership and which qualities are required to be a good leader. It won’t take long to peruse the shelves of a Barnes & Noble or public library and find a book or research study out there to support your belief in charisma or vision or dedication as the most important leadership quality. But there is one quality I would vote as number one today. For any leader, perspective is indispensable. Take this simple drawing for example.
You likely learned about this drawing in grade school art class, when you were taught how to draw a horizontal line a third of the way down the page followed by two angled lines down from the center of that line, creating the basis for drawing a road toward the horizon. Your teacher referred to this as perspective. Perspective is a means of seeing, even though the picture may not be complete yet.
It’s the reason you are a leader. You are drawing the picture. Your people need you to keep reminding them that they are not looking at a stickman without a head, or a tall teeter totter or a letter K lying on its side. They need you to keep saying, “It’s a road.” To do this, you as the leader must keep yourself convinced that it’s a road.
It’s easy to lose perspective as a leader. Fatigue, conflict, and even success can cloud the mind and distort the original picture. Charisma and personality are fine qualities, but a charismatic personality without perspective is destined to be an ineffective leader.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What was that all about?

I’ve embraced the name Watchman spoken to me years ago. As the name suggests, I am as one who stands on the wall and stares into the night. I watch for movement. I try and interpret what I see, regardless of how unclear it might be. Right now I see a lot of confusion. I read a handful of blogs of people who have left the Church As We Know It. Whether their reasons are spiritual abuse or just plain disillusionment, all have a similar theme of looking back and evaluating what in the world they were a part of. They question themselves, often feeling shameful or stupid for being so naïve. I see this because I’ve done the same thing. I was a leader in the Church As We Know It for a long time. I was considered an expert in some regards. I led what is commonly referred to as worship. I wrote songs, lots of them, that many people seemed to enjoy and tell me they were their favorites. I felt pretty confident in this role. I had a secure sense of place because of it. Now, years later, I look back on that time of my life with strange ambivalence. I question myself viscously. What was that season of life based on, seeing that my life and point of view on worship is so radically different now? Was that real? Was it authentic, or was I just a poser who found a place to stand and feel important because of the effort I put into it? I can’t really say. What I can say, however, is that I liked who I was at that time, but I like who I’ve become now even more. The reason I like where I am is that in spite my age, I feel like I am still growing, still learning, still changing. The point for me is not to look back and wonder whether or not my life was authentic or not. My past is what it is. Instead I have a present and a future to consider. My previous story helps me make sense of what I see at hand and ahead. To my friends on this journey toward the Church Of The Future; The watchman says look back as well as beyond. Embrace where you’ve been, but don’t want it back. There is a new place to create and establish. It’s the whole point of your feeling disenchanted. Change can’t occur until we get tired of staying in same place.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Becoming Churchless 101

If I were to ever offer a course on church planting, my first class would be titled Becoming Churchless 101. It would last about three years and I would charge you a matriculation fee of about $7500 a year, just to give it credibility and help me pay for my bi-annual study breaks. The point of the class would be to pull you away from your culture and immerse you into the one you want to bless. Consider the difference between your Sunday morning as a church attender, and that of a churchless person. An average churchless Sunday morning. See what your average churchless person gets to enjoy on Sunday morning. Sleep in. Read the paper. Make breakfast. Play with the kids. Go back to bed. Watch a little football. Have an early tee time. A typical day at The Church As We Know It. You, on the other hand, spend five to six hours on Sundays orchestrating a mass movement of your family to a place for your kids to play with other kids, which is really what much of The Church As We Know It has become. You have to get everyone up, fed, dressed, in the car, buckled in, transported, parked, and delivered or dropped off at the right room. Once in place, you make your way with the crowd into the big room with the band and other visual and auditory presentations. After the information has been dispensed in the prescribed amount of time, you must make your way back through the maze to retrieve your little ones who hand you the coloring sheet of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, to which you comment, “It’s beautiful.” and you’re stuck wondering what to do with it. During all of this migratory movement, you manage to have a few brief interactions with people you know along the way. “How’s it going?” “Good, Busy, but good” “Let’s get together sometime” “Yea, let’s do.” But your son is tugging on your arm to go so you can get to Burger King and get a new Transformer. You finally get to the car, get the tribe in place and you depart for a quick lunch before the afternoon’s activities commence. And that was church for you. To some of you, you have no idea what I’m talking about. You love Sundays and all the activity and movement and chaos and people and so on. If so, my advice is not for you. To others of you, your immediate reaction to this description is defensive. How could I discourage the assembling together of the saints? If so, my advice is not for you. But some of you know what I’m saying. Is this the kind of life I want to invite someone in to experience? What would make your average churchless person give up their morning routine for yours? This is why I propose you do the opposite. Give up your Sunday morning culture and adopt a churchless one and see what results. If you are serious about planting a church, I would bet it would affect the kind of church you end up with. You just might begin to see the Church of the Future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Weight of the World

In the culture I was raised in spiritually, my college buddies and I were taught that the only thing that stood in the way of seeing people come to faith was our lack of courage to share the Gospel. Along the way we were equipped with a Summary of the Information and were assured that there were people everywhere dying to hear it. Time and again, men, mostly, told their stories about how easy it was to get folks to make a positive response to the Information and added something about how hard our hearts must be if we don’t do something to join in. Most of the storytellers, as I recall, had come through the Jesus Movement in the late sixties, early seventies, when there seemed to be a genuine response to spiritual concerns. Among all of them, there was an assumption that this same kind of thing was just around the corner and that the world has yet to see what God can do through one college student whose heart was completely committed to Him. I bought this outfit and wore it for years, but have finally discarded it since it doesn’t fit me anymore. It doesn’t fit me anymore because this statement assumes there has never been a fully committed person in history up to now, and that if I could somehow summon enough commitment, I would hold the key to the Next Great Awakening. I liked thinking that way as a college kid, but not as a man in the midpoint of his life. Maybe its age, fatigue or just wisdom, but I can’t take on that kind of weight these days. I prefer the yoke that was termed as easy and light. It’s easier for me to believe that the Future of the Age doesn’t rest with me and my level of commitment. I like the idea of having a part in the process, but not being in charge of it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Die Trying

Google the phrase “worship industry” and you’ll find the latest in discussion about what’s wrong with The Church As We Know It. Why does it seem there is so much out there describing the problems but not a lot of visible evidence of any kind of sweeping change? You would think with as many experts out there expounding on the predicament that eventually we could find a solution somewhere. I have to place myself in that category. I have devoted much of my blog describing what I hope for The Church of the Future. I have plenty to say on what I think is missing, but do I have any answers either? What drives change? One word: survival. We change or die or maybe we just become irrelevant, and then die, but bottom line is this; we won’t change until we see that we must. Change, however, offers us no guarantees. I am undergoing significant change and reorienting my life course, but I could also die trying to change. And while I may die trying, I hang onto the hope that maybe someone will take inspiration from my failure to actually make the difference that I never could usher in. Agents of change have a tough road to walk. If you are a watchman like me, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s lonely out on the wall, waiting, watching, looking, waiting, waiting, and waiting. There aren’t many who check in on you, or even know what you do or that you even exist. But you take solace in the responsibility of your role. You know why you do what you do, even though others don’t. Your motive in not their appreciation.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Looking Back

I know I joke about my problem of listening to Christian talk radio, but there is a purpose to my occasional tuning in. I think of myself, not only as a Watchman, but also as an Explorer. I have felt misunderstood in both roles, with the biggest one being labeled as one who is angry or bitter toward his past, or who has drifted from his faith. This is not the case. It is actually the opposite. My faith appears to be alive and well more today than I can remember. My religious lifestyle and practices look much different than they ever did, but outer culture is not an indication of inner vibrancy. Two seemingly conflicting points on the map face the explorer; the Horizon and the Shore. Both represent necessary destinations. The Shore provides safety and security. Nothing wrong with either. I’m glad I was nurtured in this environment. We probably need more of it. The Horizon, on the other hand, represents the future of the Shore. The survival of the Shore is actually dependent on exploring the Horizon. What lies beyond water’s edge may have great implications that would permanently affect the Shore. Would the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina be as bad if those on land really understood the gravity of the oncoming storm? I have committed this season of my life to sailing toward the Horizon. To do so, I’ve had to leave the Shore behind, that being The Church As We Know It. I’m only a few years into my journey. I don’t know that I have much to report, but I do plan on staying in contact. One way I do this is to listen to what leaders from The Church As We Know It are saying on the radio. It’s like getting reports from the Shore, the culture and way of life I left behind. I compare what is being said and taught against what I am finding over the Horizon. If I see a storm coming, will I have the ability to communicate what I see to those on the Shore? I hope so.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Explaining some terms

I had a reader ask me if I could explain my use of the phrase, The Church As We Know It, so here goes. The Church As We Know It refers to that part the Church that we can see, experience and explain. It has to do with our current practice and culture that we take for granted. It’s that part with which we are so familiar, that in many ways we have become unfamiliar with the central intent. Ask anyone you know to give a definition of church, and most will give you a very similar response, regardless of background. Terms like, Sunday, sermon, music, a building, helping people will most likely be used to describe a common understanding of the current practice of Church. In this way, The Church As We Know It is visible, and once something becomes visible, it is in danger of becoming less about faith and more about effort and abilities. Faith is being sure of what we DON’T see. The longer we go on living according to what we DO see, faith eventually gets pushed aside without even knowing it. We can fill page after page with problems in the Church As We Know It, and an equal number of pages with solutions, but without an answer that requires faith, it will be impossible to make any kind of real change happen. But change may never come in my lifetime. The Church As We Know It sometimes teaches that one is assured of a result if a step of faith is made. But The Story is clear that many died through the years without ever seeing what they hoped for. Cause and effect works in physics, but not so much when walking by faith. Every gambler knows that once the money is on the table, it’s no longer his. He hopes for a win, but he’s not guaranteed one. If he could see a guaranteed win, it wouldn’t be a gamble. Such is with faith. If we see what we hope for, it’s not really faith. I’m taking a gamble in looking for the Church of the Future. I may never find it, but then again, that may not be the point.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Free to be Angry

Often on the Christian Talk radio station that I shouldn’t be listening to, I hear preachers refer incessantly about the evils of our society. They constantly remind listeners about the problems of gambling or pornography or abortion or lack of prayer in schools. After outlining each of these in detail, it almost always comes to a shaming of the Church for not being more concerned, not being more involved or not being more politically active. In essence, these leaders seem to be saying that the reason people are living together and are having babies out of wedlock is because the Church is not angry enough. To me, the beauty of this country is the foundation of freedom laid out in the Constitution. Freedom is a core concept of the teaching of Jesus. Christ came to give us freedom. It is this very reason that He died. Its’ need is in our very nature. It’s why movies like Braveheart, Gladiator and 300 seem to resonate. They remind us of this fact. My kids disagree with me when I tell them they are free to make their own choices, despite what Mom and Dad say. "But we’ll get in trouble,” they would reply. To which I would say, “Of course you will, but you’re still free to make that choice!” Freedom is not a complicated condition. It means we are free to do whatever we want to do. It means we are free to good as well as evil. Whichever I choose, either way, I will bear the fruit or consequences of those choices. So to lay blame for the behavior of our culture at the feet of the Church seems a little harsh. The Church could be busy drawing lines all day long, but it seems to me that once the line is drawn, human nature feels the need to cross that line in order to see what’s on the other side. At some point, instead of fighting it, shouldn’t the Church just extend freedom and wait for the consequences to kick in? This is what the father did with the son in the story of the Prodigal in Luke 15. The son wanted his freedom, so the father gave it. He even went the extra step and funded it. No amount of rules would change the young man. His wisdom knew that the son must taste it himself. I would hope that the Church of the Future would adopt this approach to relating to its culture. Instead of yelling, picketing, protesting, defending, fighting, resisting, complaining, and opposing in order to bring about change, would it have more impact if it put its energy into living the true life of freedom, thereby experiencing (and demonstrating) the joy and beauty of doing good?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Remembering Dad

My dad passed away two years ago today. My first thought when he died was that he would never see bread&cup. I thought it appropriate to post an exerpt of the words I spoke at his funeral. Hope you enjoy it. ------------------------------------------------- It took a while, as it does for most youth, to realize that the vistas of the world I was seeing was a direct result of the shoulders I was standing on. I thought in order to matter in the world, you had to go out and conquer it. But what I have learned from my dad, the man named Jack Shinn, I now believe that it’s just the opposite. You make a difference by simply letting the world come to you, and then offering blessing to each and every person that comes your way. From time to time, I would make it back to Route 2 Box 162, sometimes bringing university students with me to visit the farm and experience the country life. Without exception, every person I brought there was greeted by my Dad with a hug and a kind word. Sometimes those students would later tell me how much that meant to them. Dad seemed to think that it may be the only hug they got, so he would offer it. It didn’t matter the color of their skin or how long there hair was, they got the same attention. You make a difference by letting the world come to you and offer blessing to each and every person that comes your way. As I got older, this lesson became more and more evident. People would say to me how much they appreciated Dad’s smile or sense of humor or offering a piece of candy. They remark how positive he always was, how willing he was to help out. In his latter years, he dealt with much physical pain, but you would only know it through the grimace on his face. He never complained about it and never allowed it to rule his spirit. No summary, however, would be complete without the story I have told many, many times. It’s a story that encapsulates his life and what he valued most. It’s a story that happened when I was about 12 years old, but I didn’t hear it until nearly 20 years later. The story takes place at Route 2 Box 162 Bartlesville. With very few kids around my age, I had to learn how to entertain myself. Dad helped that effort by buying me a little Yamaha 80cc Dirt bike. That motorcycle provided me countless hours of fun. With 26 acres to my discretion, one would think that would be plenty of space for a 12 year old boy to ride. But for some reason, I decided to include the front and back lawn in that 26 acres. As you can imagine, motorcycle tires are not kind to growing grass, and it didn’t take long before a nice little path was worn around the front of the house, to the back of the house, then out to the pasture. Round and round I would go, living in my mind the adventure of being a world-champion racer, or being chased by bad guys. This path was pretty unsightly, given that it was visible to everyone that passed on the road out front. One time a neighbor had stopped by to visit and he asked Dad this question. “Jack, how come you let your son tear up the yard like that? Why don’t you make him keep out in the pasture?” Now this was a pretty logical question given the amount of land we owned, but my Dad’s wisdom sometimes defied logic. To know my Dad was to know what a deep reservoir he was. Even though he was a man of few words, he was also a man of countless thoughts and musings. In these past few days, I have read many of those thoughts recorded in the margins of his Bible. I believe what set my Dad apart was his ability to look at his choices and side with that which was of most importance. In other words, he had his priorities right. He responded to the neighbor by saying. “The grass will come back” he said, “but the boy won’t.” Now if you drive by Route 2 Box 162 today, you will see the grass has come back. The boy lives in Lincoln, Nebraska in a home of his own, with two kids of his own. He hopes to be the kind of man Jack Shinn was, a man who hopes that as the world comes to him, that he will offer blessing to each and every person that comes his way. We will miss you, Dad

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Church of the Future needs to take a lesson from the Church As We Know It when it considers how to motivate people. Consider the use of guilt. I recently read in a newsletter a chiding from a pastor at a Church As We Know It. He was complaining about how people tend to get lazy in the summer and slack off from their church duties, like helping in Children’s Church and going to small group. Even though they might have a very legitimate reason for not being able to teach Sunday School in the summer, the basic assumption was that the members are not holding up their end of the bargain. The article went so far as to remind members that Jesus was not a nine-month out of the year Savior, and since he went so far as going to the cross, the least we could do is go to all the meetings that were offered. He concluded that we should obey the command to not neglect the assembling together of the saints. Why not go further in the reproach? If nine months isn’t good enough, why is once-a-week any better? Why not everyday? Why not twice-a-day, three times a day? Where do you end the shame? This is the problem with guilt-based motivation. It works with arbitrary reference points. It doesn’t concern itself with freedom. Its prime usefulness is in survival. Consider it this way. If you were in business offering a product that no one was buying, you would have to ask the inevitable “why?” Is it the fault of the market or the product? What could be done to change the lack of interest? Guilt is an option here, and it works in the short term, kind of like the guilt over global warming, but eventually people will end up doing what makes most sense to them. So why not focus on what makes most sense rather than using guilt? People are busy in our culture. Why not take the summer off church activities? Why not trim the Church As We Know It schedule down to once a month worship services? You and I both know why that won’t happen. Because people will forget to give their tithe, and if they forget to give their tithe, we can’t pay all the salaries, and if we can’t pay all the salaries, then staff won’t have a job and if the staff doesn’t have a job, we would have to assume that God doesn’t care about us, and if God doesn’t care about us, then what are we really believing in? See why guilt is easier than freedom?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

CB's and Cell Phones

I count it a privilege to be living in a time of transition as it pertains to faith. I can’t imagine any other time in history where humans were exposed to so much change. Unless you’re Amish, in the last 10 years you have been required to change how you live, how you talk on the phone, how you spend money and how you pay your bills. The car you used to be able to work on in your driveway now requires a special mechanic with a high tech degree. The list could go on. Change isn’t always about right or wrong. Oftentimes it’s simply about what makes sense. Take cell phones for example. It’s not wrong to not have a cell phone. In some ways it would be great to not be chained to one, but they do have tremendous advantages. I can recall before getting my first cell phone thinking they were just a new form of CB radio. They were clunky, heavy, and expensive. But over time it just made sense to change and get one. The switch has been so effective; we finally got rid of our landline in our house. In our case, the new is better than the old. Such is the case with the Church As We Know It. I would never say the current congregational model is wrong, but I do believe there are new opportunities that need to be considered. While many would claim the way they do church is the biblical way, the Sunday morning monological approach has its roots in modern culture as much as it does in the New Testament. Efficient in its design, certain in its answers, The Church As We Know It has worked well for a period of time. But unless you haven’t noticed, we are living in a different age. Before the days of the cell phone, we didn’t know any differently. The technology was not accessible, so change was not an issue. But now that we have the means, we must decide whether or not we will give ourselves the permission to utilize it or not. Again, not a decision of right or wrong, but one of adaptation and value. I can’t imagine not having a cell phone, even though I clearly remember life without one. Sure they are a hassle at times, making you feel enslaved to it, but it does have an off button. But I will accept the liabilities of owning and utilizing one versus trying to live in our current culture without. In the same way, having adapted to a new way of The Church of the Future for a few years now, I don’t see myself going back to the old way anytime soon. The new is not right. The old is not wrong. I prefer to describe it as a better fit for the direction I see ahead.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Theology on a Napkin

I’ve been dialoging with another blogger lately on the issue of joy. His thoughts have led me to reflect more on my story and the faith that was handed to me. I was raised riding through the spiritual life on the Fact/Faith/Feeling train. For those of you unfamiliar with this illustration, it basically says that Facts are the engine to which you connect your Faith, and your Feelings are like the caboose and get to come along for the ride. The logic is fine to a point, unless you find you’ve been run over by that train. Here’s some of how I got caught on the tracks. My spiritual culture held emotion at arm’s length. If I had a dime for every time I heard a leader say, “feelings change; facts never do,” I’d be a rich man. This sentiment is fine if treated as a proverb, but somehow it became a theology. I was not as secure as all the leaders who taught that illustration. They would go on and on about love and the joy of the Lord, how these are not feelings, and so it left me discounting how I felt about things, especially about God. I cut myself off from my emotions, assuming they were not to be trusted. I concluded I should just live inside my mind. It worked for a while, but the Caboose wouldn’t accept taking backseat. Slowly over time, I was increasingly living in fear. I was afraid of messing up, of making God mad. I justified it by calling it the fear of the Lord. I memorized Psalm 115:3 to remind myself that God could crush me at any second and probably should, since I deserved it for that thought I just had. Feelings were speaking, but Mind wasn’t listening. Graciously, I found myself gaining an ear for Feelings voice. There were stories to be told about being inadequate and why I was so fearful. Feelings wrote long essays on my need to please and fit in and how that influenced even what I thought of God and how I assumed he viewed me. I’m glad I finally tuned in. So this is in part why I have a hard time with the choo-choo train illustration. It works better on a napkin, but not as my paradigm. Facts are fine and necessary and faith must be rooted in something solid or it will falter. But feelings are not the bastard children as I once thought. I now believe how I feel is extremely important in my spiritual well being. If I feel discouraged or depressed, I better take note. It may pass as quickly as the guy late to catch a plane, but if not, there may be a message I need to hear.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Turning 40

I’m turning 40 this week. But if you know me or looked at my profile, you would see that I’m about four years off. Let me explain. I was raised by parents with a can-do attitude. They were not complainers in any way. They both worked very hard at whatever they did, and I think that rubbed off on me. Consequently I find it easy to take responsibility for my actions and outcome in life. As a freshman in college, I encountered what was called at the time the “freshman fifteen,” those extra pounds you found clinging onto the midsection as a result of the all-you-can-eat dorm food and countless late night pizzas. Some of my friends would bemoan the fact that they were gaining weight, as they stuffed another slice of Dominos in their mouth. I resolved not to follow suit. So I changed my diet, changed my lifestyle, even changed my major. I got serious about getting fit and doing something about my circumstances. I lost weight as a result, and started looking and feeling better. I was on a new path I liked very much. I liked the feeling of being in control. I charted my course. I started exercizing. I set my goals. I ran 10k’s. I even ran a few marathons. Life was good. So when I turned 40 for real, I decided I needed another challenge, so I committed to run another marathon. I did it before, why couldn’t I do it again? Who knows, maybe I can even run a PB (personal best). Being no stranger to training, I did what I knew to do; put in lots of miles. No better place to start than with a steady dose of LSD (long, slow distance). But like the other LSD, it came with its after effects I noticed it first thing of a morning. Getting out of bed each day got harder and harder. Joints were slow to bend back into working order. The next thing I started noticing was the heat. I always loved summer heat. I felt it made me stronger, but now it makes me fatigued. I had to run earlier in the day. From there I became acutely aware of other conditions. Bumps on my body that wouldn’t go away with ice or heat packs. Hair growing out my ears instead of the top of my head. Stray eyebrows that looked like curly banjo strings. What is happening here? No more cause and effect. No more feeling in full control. So this is what I mean when I say I’m finally turning 40. It’s taken me about four years to accept the aging process, to resign to the fact that regardless of how hard I work, I will never be as fast or strong or lean as I once was. My body is failing, just like everyone else’s. It’s normal. It’s part of life and I can allow it. I’m losing control of my physical body and for once I am beginning to see that it just might be another step toward freedom that I am longing for. I can feel free from the need to chase an unreachable goal. I would hope for a healthy life free from illness for the rest of my days, but the true life of liberty really flows from someplace other than muscles that flex and joints that don’t ache.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thinking inside the box.

Junk has a way of accumulating in a house after living in it for any length of time. There are two ways to deal with the junk, my way and the wrong way. Some people are savers of the junk, some are tossers. It can cause trouble if a saver marries a tosser, because the saver is continually asking, “Honey, where’s my _______.” The tosser has either a) thrown it out, b) thrown it out years ago, or c) sold it on eBay. I only speak from theory here, and what others say. I would never do something like that to my dear wife. I propose that from time to time we should purge our language of useless words and phrases that have piled up, and have a sort of verbal garage sale, so to speak. Here’s the first one I want to get rid of: Outside the box “Our folks think way outside the box…” “We are doing church outside the box…” “I encourage our people to push the limits and get outside the box…” What’s wrong with the box, and why are we desperate to get out of it? “Outside the box” has become a meaningless phrase today. Like a soda can after a few miles in the cup holder on a bumpy road, it’s lost its fizz. Originally coined to represent creativity and the pursuit of fresh ideas, it has slowly eroded into just another innocuous term to reflect the inner reality of one thing: insecurity. Insecure people are the ones who seem in constant need of reinvention. They change cars, clothes, styles, friends, jobs and even churches on a regular basis. This is not out of the box thinking, acting or living. Its only shows the lack of an inner core, a “box” if I may, where identity should reside. Insecure people tend to hide behind the moniker and brag that they are outside the box. But true out of the box thinking cannot exist without a box in which you are comfortable. We all need a place in which to come home and live and rest. I offer a new saying for our culture. I am thinking “inside the box” these days, which means I am learning who I am, what my real core identity is and what my core values are. If more people knew how to think inside the box, I would be willing to bet that our world would actually become a more creative place.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Job versus Work IV

I don’t know if this is a fair comparison or not, but ministry always felt a little like a position in sales for me. There is a Product (The Gospel) that must sell. Depending on the Company, there may also be regular quotas to meet. There are monthly performance reports to fill out, and when a group of your Salesmen colleagues get together, there might be a compulsion to tell a story or two about the latest deal you closed. You might even be inclined to stretch the truth a little, just to fit in. Forgive the crude association, but that was the nagging sense I always carried with me. I was raised in a Sales oriented culture, where those stories were highly valued. My leaders were Salesmen extraordinaire, at least back in their day. They had legendary tales of people just showing up to buy the Product. It was in their mind that people were dying to hear about the Product, and it was your job to tell them about it and register the transaction for the good of the Company. To them it was as easy as taking candy from a baby. So there I was, young new Salesman, trying desperately to fit into my Sales culture, and I couldn’t make a Sale. Everyone, I was told, was a potential customer, so whether or not I got on a plane or a ski lift or stood in a long line at the DMV, I was trained to think sell, sell, sell. Try as I may, I just couldn’t do it. I never once made a Sale. It’s ironic that I am now again in a position of sales. I am selling food. And once our restaurant opens, I will be selling ambience and a place to sit and enjoy it. But the contrast of the two could not be starker. No one ever wanted the previous Product. It didn’t matter that I believed in it. I could never convince someone else that they needed it. On the other hand, with my food, I now have people asking me about it. I get phone calls, emails, questions from people I don’t even know, wondering when our store will be open. It’s an incredible feeling, to be sought out like that. To have a product that basically sells itself is just short of amazing. This is why I say I’m working again. I finally quit my job of selling the Product and have started doing new work. Its work I feel good at, and good about. Its work that doesn’t feel like work. It’s just a whole lot of fun. The hardest part is that I had to walk away and disappoint a lot of people to get here. I fear being seen as the one who turned his back on the Product because he was ashamed of it, and now he is running a bar. A word of advice to those swimming against the current; learn to listen to the Wind. Its voice is your most imperative to hear. There will be countless ones in your head who sound like people you know, and theirs will undoubtedly be the loudest. I never know when the Wind will speak, but I find it’s usually when the air is the most still. It’s then I can hear the message that I think is all any of us really want to hear, “Well done.”

Friday, June 08, 2007

Job versus Work III

As I mentioned previously, I’ve quit my job and started working again. Let me explain that a little more. I believe the need to work is innate. It is in our nature to accomplish, to bring order, to design, create and ultimately leave something behind long after we are gone. This is why I separate the idea of work from the current understanding of having a job. Very few of us are lucky enough to have a job that includes an opportunity to do this kind of work. I saw this dilemma all the time in college students, especially as they got nearer to graduation. They all asked the same question, “What am I going to do with my life?” My starting point was always to start by finding out about desire. What made you choose this major? What did you picture yourself doing or becoming? But the direction inevitably shifted when we would get past the subject of getting a job and get down to what is at the core of that person’s heart. “If money was no object, what would you do with your life?” I’ve asked this question so many times, it almost feels cliché’ The answers revealed the tension between our need for a job and the yearning to find real Work. The engineering majors were the easiest. They seemed to know more about what they wanted to do than the English, Psychology or the Art History majors. Engineers have a tangible element to their work. Mom and Dad don’t worry as much about Johnny the Bridge Builder as they do with Johnny as the Starving Artist. Its harder to pay the rent with the canvas than the blueprint. I was fortunate to find a job right out of college that was in my major field, Exercise Science. My position at the Central YMCA in Oklahoma City gave me a chance to put my learning into practice everyday. I got paid to play basketball and workout with members. It was an easy gig, except when people asked me in conversation what my day was like. If they showed too much jealously, I would retort with “I guess it sucks to be you.” But everyday, despite the ease of the job, there was the pull on me to do something more. The YMCA was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to be back on campus, talking with students about matters of faith and such. This was my real work. So when the chance to throw myself into that work came along, I took it. I moved to California to attend seminary and work with university students. The inner tension subsided. My work and job were now one and the same. Fast forward to fifteen years later. Still working with university students, but the job and the work had drifted apart. What had changed? Why was I no longer passionate about my job? Or was it my work? The two did not feel the same as they once did. How could I get them to reunite? to be continued...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Job versus Work II

A group of us were celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday this weekend. As I was standing in the men’s room, taking care of business, a guy who had obviously had a little too much to drink walked up to use the stall next to me. He made a serious man-law violation; he asked me a question. “Sssslo whatsss do yooou do?” he boldly queried. In my mind I chided, “please, dude, not here in the toilet.” But I quickly remembered that I didn't have to give my standard clever answer to hide what I really did, and relief settled in when I knew I didn’t have to respond with, “Oh, I’m a minister.” This almost always adds an immediate chill to any conversation. But now that I think of it, maybe I should have said that to the drunk guy to get him to shut up so I could go back to going number one. It’s not the work of a pastor with which I wasn’t comfortable; it was the job “pastor” that made relating more difficult. You see, it was always hard for me to relate to normal people when my full time job was being a pastor. Building a bridge to find common ground to discuss anything was hard to find once the “pastor” flag was raised. Yet some guys seemed to thrive on these kinds of “single serving” interactions, because inevitably their sermons would always start out with telling the audience about the person they led to Christ on the plane on the way here. It never dawned on me that they never gave illustrations involving their golfing buddies or the neighbor across the back fence. It was always about the guy in the checkout line, or the homeless man, or the guy who came into the church office for help. These last two years have been a freeing revelation to learn that in spite my job change, my work stays the same. In seminary, and at many pastor’s conferences I’ve attended, they make a big, big deal about our role in equipping the saints to do the WORK of the ministry. But the system is not really set up to support this idea, because the guys with the JOB of the ministry have created it this way (of which I was one). The only way I see it changing is to give more leaders permission to quit their day job so they can become more effective at their work. To be continued…

Monday, June 04, 2007

Job versus Work

Are these different things? The reason I ask is that I’ve been thinking a lot about the two since my drastic life shift. Two years ago I changed jobs, or did I change my line of work? I’m not trying to split hairs here or play a semantics game. I want to know what Solomon meant when he said there is nothing better for a man than to eat, drink and enjoy his work. I get the first part of his proverb. Food is a common experience between all people, regardless of age, race, or economic status. It can be enjoyed in simple fare, or with great expense. Happiness can show up on a picnic blanket or a banquet table, in a humble sack lunch as well as in an eight course feast. It’s the work thing that is not so clear. God said in Genesis that humankind would be cursed to toil in work by the sweat of the brow, but then Solomon turns right around and says that the greatest gift from God in all of life is to eat, drink and enjoy that work that we were so graciously burdened with. Did I miss something? I think I missed the paradigm shift somewhere along the road when work became job. It seems we work differently today. Most jobs have tight definition, bounded mostly by time and location. Our jobs have set hours, mainly in the day time hours, and as a rule, spanning eight or so hours. The parameters may be sitting at a desk behind a computer screen or limited to an office space. And for how many of us, our jobs are a place we look forward most to leaving and going to do something else? And do we hate our jobs because they are just that; a job. Would we be better off if we were really able to quit our jobs and start working? I started counting the number of hours over the last two years that I have been putting in trying to start this restaurant and I was amazed, a bit stunned actually. Not by the amount of time I’ve been devoting to it, but rather by the fact that it doesn’t seem like a job. It’s a whole lot of fun. I get up earlier. I work more and have more energy. I do more and get more done. At the end of the day, I’m tired but not depressed. I look forward to getting up in the morning. I really think I quit my job and started working again. To be continued…

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Dog and the Saltdogs

There was a song by a guy named Darrell Evans that I remember singing quite a while back, don’t remember the title, but the crescendo line of the song said, “and freedom is now the song of my heart.” That line means something different to me now than it did then. Last year I saw a former ministry colleague at a baseball game for our local semi-pro team. As we chatted, he asked me if I would be interested in taking his place as team chaplain next year, as he and his wife were moving to another state to take on a new ministry position. Not thinking much of it, I said I’d be interested, but left it at that. In March of this year, he called me up and asked again if I was still serious about doing the chaplain gig. Now to be completely honest, I must say I had ulterior motives in saying yes. Our new restaurant we are opening is only about a 5 min walk from the ballpark, so if I had a foot in the door with the team office, I might be able to do a little good-guy marketing, plus I can get free tickets to any home game I’d like. I wrestled with feeling guilty or putting it in the “being shrewd” category. I chose the latter. This Sunday was my first home game to lead chapel. It’s the first time in at least two years since I’ve done anything of that nature. I felt surprisingly at ease leading up to it. Meeting the team for the first time was a lot of fun. It felt a little like my days at the university. There were five guys that showed up. We met in the dugout for about 15 min. I shared a thought about faith being the fundamental of our lives, that just like in baseball, without the fundamentals, you’ll miss the point of the game. Pretty short and simple. Players exit to their pre-game rituals. I take a stroll around the park before leaving for home. Reflecting on the experience on the way back, I couldn’t figure out why I was so nonchalant about the whole matter. When I was a professional and would do one of these kinds of engagements and only five guys showed up, I’d be in the tank, but not today. Why was I so free? The thing I concluded was that since ministry is no longer my identity, I am not tempted to attach some kind of personal meaning to the situation. Ministry as a vocation did a number on me, as I tried so often to justify my existence through my performance and the perceived outcome of my job. Ministry as employment may not be for me ever again. Freedom is now the song of my heart. I’d like to keep it that way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Are you using Me?

As more layers of ministry veneer get peeled back, more and more new messages get revealed for me to decipher. In some ways its like pulling down old wallpaper sheets and finding a few lines penciled on the plaster beneath. They’ve been written for a long time, but now is when they get read. I found this one this morning. Are you using Me? I saw this as I was digging around the question of impact. Seems like we ministry types are always thinking about the next big thing, and where we can have the biggest impact. I would liken it to King David wanting to build the temple. God told him nice idea, but you’re not the one who gets to do it. Did the Father sense that this kind of accomplishment would not be good for David? Was David using the task to feed some ill motive? We’ll never know. And isn’t that the truth about motive? Will we ever know our heart’s true intentions? Will any of us ever have a pure incentive? I’m not trying to be cynical, because this makes grace all the more attractive. Regardless, the Father dishes out grace to all of us in unimaginable ways, all the while knowing our desires better than we know ourselves. The blessing of this uncovered message led me to think about why I want to do ministry in the first place. On the one hand, there is the simple joy of helping others. It’s a satisfying feeling to encourage, uplift, and console. In doing so, you sense you really are the hands and feet of God. You are cooperating with Him. But on the other, there is the side of ministry that gets really dark. It’s the side that feeds the ego. It gives me something to lean on, to talk about. It justifies my existence and makes me feel important. And with these eyes I saw the message this morning. I received the correction and relaxed in the freedom of not feeling like I have to strive to be somebody. Since I don’t work for Jesus anymore, I find my relationship with him on a different plain now. I’m just a volunteer. I don’t work for money or position or even recognition. This is the liberty I was intended to experience.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Changing Careers

We are getting so close to the opening of our restaurant. I can’t help but reflect on how I actually got to this point. Changing careers is not an easy venture, at least not from my vantage point, but I would imagine there are other fortysomethings out there who may be in the same boat as me; finding themselves bored, depressed, frustrated, and just plain stuck. I'm here to say, Change is possible. Some guys tell me they could never do what I have done. They say they aren’t able to turn rudder and chart a new course like me. I was always taught that where there is a will, there is a way, but to be fair, I have been fortunate and my situation in life has offered me a couple of advantages to taking this step. Living modestly. Being a professional minister for 18 years, I didn’t make very much money. Since all the CD’s I produced were given away and not sold, and my 15-book apocalyptic series deal never materialized, and my speaking engagements were always to poor college students, I was limited in what I made, and in turn, in what I could consume. I’d watch my friends move to the nicer end of town and buy new cars and take their kids on ski trips and buy them cell phones, while I stayed put. I spent my share of time grumbling about it, never knowing that what was happening was a development of a lifestyle that would actually help me change later on down the road rather than preventing me from doing so. Living within our means. From the beginning of our marriage, my wife and I learned to live on the modest salary we received. We made a decision to live on one income until our kids were old enough to be in school. We did incur debt from time to time, but it was due to unexpected expenses, not consumption. So when it came time to decide on changing careers, we were not saddled with such extensive debt that would force us to stay plowing the same old rut. My dad always had a saying; "Son, don’t just be thankful for what you’ve got. Be thankful for what you miss out on." Why does it take so long for wisdom to set in? How many years did I focus on what I did not have, only to find that what I did not possess would the very thing that would enable me to launch into this dream?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No longer a professional

Sitting outside early this morning listening to the final drops of rain make their splattering noises on the leaves of the ash tree that guards my back yard, this thought knocked on the door, seeking entrance into my queue of musings: I am no longer a professional. This may not make sense to those of you who have never made your living doing church work, so I will try and explain. In vocational ministry, you have two sometimes conflicting needs; your faith and your salary. Both serve important purposes, but when one is dependent on the other, they can create a little cognitive dissonance. I raised my own finances through individual donors and interested churches for 18 years. We all were taught to say that we are trusting God for our needs, but it wasn’t always that easy, especially when you know that God is providing through people who may not be too happy with the directional risk you feel strongly about needing to take the ministry. If I decide we need to go that direction, and my salary donors don’t like the idea, what will I choose? Do I lean toward keeping people happy, or do I forge ahead with what seems to be the right thing? Such is the dilemma of the professional, one that I don’t experience right now. This is more of the freedom my soul clamors for. Faith and salary are much easier for me to maintain now that they are not dependent on each other. I still believe I am dependent on the Hand of God and His grace to provide my daily bread. I can gladly receive blessing and good fortune without having to hide what I really believe and am actually wrestling with concerning my faith. This is where I pity the pastor who has to stand in front of a congregation upon whom he is dependent for tithes and offerings. He can’t really be honest about his thoughts on prayer, especially when he is launching into a 5 week suppository preaching series on the Present Power of Purposeful People in Prayer.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Living Backward

My, how habits quickly form. I’ve had a laptop computer for a few months and when it went down last week, I then realized its impact on my routine. I usually log in first thing in the morning and do my writing then, but not having it available has left me silent on my blog. This has me asking if its a good thing or not, this dependence on machinery and technology. To live and work and interact in our culture today does require certain components like a phone or a car. I find myself daydreaming often about living a simpler life. Usually it starts out with "wouldn’t it be nice if..." I think this is a pretty common reaction for any generation. It seems to be human nature when we get to a certain point in life, it becomes more appealing to look backward than to look forward. Is there a reason why are we so inclined to reminisce? Could it be this is just another form of grief? And don't we grieve when we feel loss? Maybe it’s a loss of innocence or loss of time or energy. The old days may seem more pure or wholesome or honest, and we yearn for that. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but it can become one if we are not careful. I always come back to this advice in Ecclesiastes: "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." It’s not wise because we don’t live backwards. Hope always lies ahead, not behind us. We don’t hope for what we see or have seen. We hope for what is unseen. Without hope, we are dead. Dead men have no future. Better days lie ahead because there will be men and women like yourself who will hope for them. You will invite the next generation to go forward with you because you have a place to go. Don’t get stuck in the past. Remember it with fondness, but also remember that it is never to be our destination.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Branding the Church

Since we are starting a new business soon, I’ve been reading up on marketing and the act of creating a recognizable brand, which is known as “branding,” Similar to a rancher putting a mark on the hip of his cattle, branding a business helps it stand out from another herd. Branding is an identifier. One way a brand is created is by the use of catch phrases, or by-lines, that summarize the product or business. Coke is identified as The Real Thing.” McDonald’s changes theirs from time to time, lately it seems like they want me to know that I’m lovin’ it.” I even remember back when I was a kid, the fuel additive, STP, was known as The Racers Edge.” The catch phrase attempts to connect the product to the consumer, by making the brand seem like something worth having. Coke thinks you value authenticity, so you would probably want The Real Thing. Nike thinks you will buy into the discipline it takes to get good at a sport, so it tells you to Just Do It. You get the picture The Church As We Know It plays the same the same branding game by using its own by-lines. Here’s a few I’ve come across recently:

  • A church of Broken People
  • A bunch of messed up folks, so you’ll feel right at home.
  • Not perfect, just forgiven.

I get the idea of trying to connect with people who have needs, but at some point doesn’t this kind of marketing break down? In the attempts to build a bridge between church and culture, does it help to say that the only difference between you and me is that I’m forgiven? It may inspire you, but it leaves me a little flat. I’ve got my weaknesses like the next guy, but I certainly don’t want to stay there. I don’t want my Achilles heel to be my identity. I want to be different. I want to grow and change. I want to leave that old stuff behind and live free. Can I do that among a bunch of people who boast about being messed up? The Church As We Know It needs to be aware of this focus. If it is to live by marketing, it must be willing to die by that same marketing. Branding itself as a Not Perfect, Just Forgiven will only lead to a church with no visible differences from its culture. At some point, who wants be a part of a group of people whose forgiveness doesn’t really lead to anything?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


One of my earliest memories of my dad was sitting in his lap while he communicated to others via shortwave, also known as ham radio. He had a wall full of gear, among it was a SWAN transceiver over which he could talk around the world. It was his generation’s form of the World Wide Web. Old school hams would use morse code, of which he was one, and able to utilize this skill in the Army. He could very accurately transmit and receive the short and long tones, which to my young ears were called dits and dahs. I would mimic the sounds coming over the airwaves out in the garage for hours, according to my mom. DaDaDaDitDitDaDitDitDa. Over and over again, imitating my dad’s tapping on the key. Every once in a while he would get a postcard in the mail from a fellow ham radio enthusiast with whom he had made contact. The card was known as a QSL, which in the lingo of their world, it was an indication of receipt of transmission. When you made contact with someone, you could request a QSL, and guys like my dad would collect these postcards that had their call letters. (Dad’s was WA5JSE. The JSE stood for “Jesus saves everyone”) The cards might come from anywhere in the country, sometimes from around the world. Seems like I remember among them were Alaska and South American. I thought that was way cool. My kids don’t think this story is such a big deal and understandably so. It’s nothing to them to contact someone in Alaska or South America. Their world is smaller. They don’t get postal mail anymore. They are not as fascinated as I am in our ability to communicate around the world in an instant. I, on the other hand, am always amazed to think that when I publish this or any blog post, it becomes instantly accessible to anyone with a computer hooked into the Internet from anywhere around the globe. Such is the generation gap. So if you would humor me a bit, allow me to go back to my childhood and relive the fond days of my dad and bringing in from the mailbox those QSL cards, If you read this blog, could you simply leave a comment stating your city and state, and country if outside the US? I would greatly appreciate it. Over and Out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Disease of Comparison

Those of us afflicted with the Disease of Comparison know the effects it has within. See, the soul is just like any other part of the body when it hurts; it demands relief. The headache begs an aspirin; the heart looks to contempt. When you feel like a nobody, you have two options available to relieve that pain. You can use contempt on yourself or you can use it on other people. Either is an attempt to try and feel better. It’s ironic that both are equally destructive. What does this have to do with anything? With all the change that is occurring in the Church As We Know It, naturally what comes with it is comparison. Take Emergent Guy for example. Let’s say he doesn’t fit in with MegaChurch Guy and what he is doing. Emergent Guy finds himself feeling marginalized and left out and doesn’t know where to turn. This is where contempt comes in. Emergent Guy has the option of pouring contempt on himself or upon MegaChurch Guy, the one with whom he compares himself. Since he doesn’t know what to do with the pain of feeling like an outsider, he may beat himself up for not being a better person, assuming he is to blame. He buys the line, “If God feels far off, guess who moved?” thinking he must be the problem. It’s easier to feel bad and guilty that to risk doing something legitimate about how he feels. His other option is to turn his contempt outward, toward MegaChurch Guy, making him the problem. He immediately feels better as he passes judgement on all the money and people MegaChurch guy has show up at his deal. He condemns their work, calling it shallow or soft on real issues. I’ve used both pain relievers in my day. I’ve been from one extreme to the other. I’ve felt contempt for my own work and I’ve had plenty of bad things to say about others. I wish I could take back the number of times I bad mouthed other collegiate ministries. I now see I did so because my soul was not healthy. Comparison is a sad disease. It stunts growth; it keeps one very small. It limits potential. I’m finding that its only effective tonic is joy. A happy heart is good medicine. Its only downside is that it is in short supply and often very hard to find. When my spirit is inebriated on joy, comparison seems a million miles away.