Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year-End Wrap Up.

Well everybody, it's been a wild year, huh? I know it has been for me, at least. I don't really know what most of you went through in the last twelve months. To reflect on 2011, I've decided to offer you a list of Press highlights:

- I tried encouraging more discussion by trimming the volume of content per post (but forgot halfway through the year).

- Saw the agitation caused by words like "Authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency" when talking about the Bible.

- Lived through my house collapsing on me and my comfortable life.

- Wondered if everyone struggles with worshiping mirrors.

- Compared a primarily religious weblog to Judas Priest.

- Reached 100 posts.

- Then began a fairly regular Mon/Wed/Fri schedule for the Press.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you again on 1/4/2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Phony Tactic Or An Authentic Interest? - My struggle with "relevancy" (or Part five of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group)

I had a brief but difficult time deciding whether to make this an extension of the previous post or a part in the youth group series. I have decided to do both.

I'm over a decade older than the kids in my youth group. Even though I don't feel old and out of touch (except once when a college student called Wayne's World a "classic movie" as if it belonged on TCM), I realized something one day: I have little to no idea of what my kids are like outside of our meetings. I know one guy loves metal. You should have seen the other kids when he walked in wearing his Job For A Cowboy T-shirt. I know one of the girls likes Journey and Zooey Deschanel. Some of them play basketball. From there on, I'm pretty much clueless.

And like Francis Schaeffer said, shouldn't I know their culture? So instead of complaining about it, I've given a look or a listen to nearly everything they mention. I managed to get through a whole episode of Jersey Shore before I decided I got the gist of it. Glee is a little easier to stomach than the reality shows, but I only like characters in wheelchairs.

This goes beyond pop culture. Sometimes they mention stuff going on in religious culture, but I pretty feel the same way I did about Thousand Foot Krutch when they first formed ten years ago.

I feel like I should keep up with my youth group because I want to know how they think. I want to know where they get their ideas. I want to know what issues they have. I want to take all of this and help them understand why the gospel matters for them in their day-to-day lives.

At the same time, I want to do everything in my power to avoid ending up like this guy, especially when my kids might ask themselves those types of questions.

If you work with kids, or have kids of your own, how do you learn about their culture? I'm up for some pointers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Think What You Want, This Isn't A Commercial - Opening a discussion on the idea of "relevant".

Francis Shaeffer once wrote, "If a man goes overseas for any length of time we would expect him to learn the language of the country to which he is going. More than this is needed, however, if he is really to communicate with the people among whom he is living. He must learn another language - that of the thought-forms of the people to whom he speaks. Only so will he have real communication with them and to them. So it is with the Christian church. Its responsibility is not only to hold to the basic, scriptural principles of the Christian faith, but to communicate these unchanging truths "into" the generation in which it is living."

I've thought about this all weekend. The Nashville campus of Lifehouse Church recently moved into a building and some of us are beginning to ask, "How can we do more to reach out to our community now that we have a home?"

For my part, this has reignited my enthusiasm to start The Summer Country Podcast. About a year ago, my band had this great idea: We'll start a podcast to tell people about what excites our band without talking about our band. As we developed the idea, it became clear we wanted to specifically focus on exciting things going on in Nashville. Aside from anyone listening, I think it'll do for us what Schaeffer describes.

All that said, how do you feel about the word "relevant" in the context of Christian living, mission, etc?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Meaning In The Seemingly Meaningless - A look at Ecclesiastes.

At some point, I don't remember when, I wrote a post about people ignoring certain books of the Bible. It seems like horny people read Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs, if the translators didn't want us to get the wrong impression of a dude with 700 wives). Sometimes I wonder if the book of Esther was inspired by God just because He knew, in his Omniscience, it would become the perfect topic for women's Bible studies.

And then there's Ecclesiastes. What a bummer, right? Depending on your translation, you may have been shocked to find the Bible calling everything "meaningless".

Whoa, wait. Everything?

Well, Solomon (the Teacher, or Preacher, again depending on your translation), talks about the futility of man's pursuits on earth. We're born, we die. We try to educate ourselves and end up with more questions than answers. We seek pleasure, but keep enduring pain. We work hard, but our work crumbles over time. All we gain we leave behind when we die.

When it comes to God and His purposes, the text takes a very different tone. 3:14 says, "I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before Him." In 5:1-6, we learn that God alone should be taken seriously and has the power to destroy the work of our hands.

While it may seem like Solomon's mood would kill a party in this book, he actually encourages the opposite. Verse 5:18 says, "Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot."

My feelings toward Ecclesiastes have changed during the last two years. I used to ignore that book because I didn't expect to get much from a guy saying, "Ah, what's the point?" But now I think this is the big statement of the book - People get too caught up in all the wrong stuff. They worry and work themselves to death for meaningless reasons. If God's efforts are all that will endure, then shouldn't our focus turn to what He is doing and then join in His work? If we have the proper perspective by putting our trust in God despite the hardships, frustrations, sin, and death around us, won't we look at the things in our life differently?

I think God wanted this book in the Bible because it teaches an extremely important lesson many Christians need to hear. At the end of the book, in 7:14, we're told, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him."

Did you catch that? God has made good times and hard times. When things are good, people thank Him. When times are hard, people call Him mean. But He has purpose for everything, He is in control, and He wants you to both enjoy and consider your life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Could You See If You Were Going Blind? - Why Christians Need Vision.

Who else out there loves Spotify? If you haven't heard about it yet, it's like Netflix for music. I can search for a whole album, drag it into one of my many well-named playlists, and listen. And if that wasn't neat enough, I can share tracks with people, post a song on my Facebook wall, and check out what music my friends have played recently. I haven't been this excited since Audio Galaxy.

But sometimes, I don't want people to know when I listen to some tracks. Apparently, you can make some playlists private, but I haven't yet seen that completely work. More than one person has already made mention of all the Christina Aguilera I had playing despite my private setting. So instead of relying completely on Spotify for my nostalgia, I've begun to listen to the radio. Once in a while, I'll hear some 90's radio rock and momentarily fall back in love with the format.

I'm sorry if this seems like it's going nowhere, but I felt compelled to explain how it was I found myself listening to Korn.

So, I was twelve years old when Korn put out their first record. If you couple my youth with an overwhelming need for acceptance, then maybe you will see why I listened to that album when it first came out. And dang it, when I heard that opening chord in "Blind" earlier this week while driving home from work, I felt completely exposed.  I felt like the radio had pulled out the home videos so I could relive each and every awkward phase.

I made it about halfway through the song and shut it off so I could sing Elvis Costello to myself (Radio Radio, of course). But before I had quit torturing myself, I heard the tagline of the song. "I can see, I can see I'm going blind." "Now that's funny," I thought. "Are people aware when they're losing their eyesight?" And once I thought about eyesight, I thought about vision. And then came the post.

Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law." In this verse, the law, or Bible, has a link with vision. I wonder if Christians can read the Bible without seeing God's overall purpose in it and fail to see the vision He has for us. I wonder if this was the situation in Judges 21:25. "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

The people believed in God. They offered Him sacrifices. They had intentions to obey Him. But they were unrestrained. All of the belief and good intentions didn't stop the people from making a bizarre deal with the tribe of Benjamin. I won't get into it, but if you read that passage for yourself, just think about Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Weird.

This has me asking myself a lot of questions. What is God's vision for my life? What is God's vision for the church? What is God doing in my city? I think I need to know the answers to these questions. I want my decisions to lead to results, and I want those results to help move myself and other people to where God wants us.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Learning To Like My Favorite Book - A thought on Jesus and the Law.

Have you ever liked something enough to where you decided to call it your favorite? Most people have, I think. Even if there are other books, movies, singers, TV shows, roller coasters, or frozen desserts you enjoy as much, you still call that first thing your favorite. For a long time, I did that with Galatians. I called it my favorite because I liked (and misused) one verse (1:10) on a regular basis to justify my attitude with people in authority.

But this post isn't about my attitude with people in authority.

The point is I learned to like Galatians quite a bit as a book while telling people it was my favorite. And even though I wouldn't call it so nowadays, I still find myself surprised at how much I do enjoy that book. It makes me ask myself hard questions and I like it when the Bible challenges me.

Here's what I read today in Galatians 4:4-5. "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."

The phrase "born under the law" stuck out in that passage. If you've read Galatians, you may remember the whole book warns against legalism. But Paul stuck that phrase, "born under the law," into his reminder of our redemption through Jesus.

The law was the standard of holiness set by God, and only God could meet that standard. Jesus was "born into the law" so that He could fulfill the law and show Himself as the only person capable of paying for our crimes. Only He could save us.

This passage tells me the law accomplishes two things. It demonstrates all of my faults and all of God's perfection. Through it all, He offers me forgiveness and life.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Eggshells and Combat Boots - A look at Biblical confrontation.

One of these days, I think I'm going to write a post about how certain books of the Bible have unexpected endings. You've got 1 John, which doesn't end like most letters with a "sincerely" or "yours truly", but instead says "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." After 21 chapters of Judges, where God uses men to rescue and guide His people time and time again, the writer dusts off his hands with the sentence, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." And then there's Jonah, with some of the best drama of any Sunday School story. God asks Jonah a funny rhetorical question before you turn the page to Micah and realize the book has ended. 

I think the book of James also has an unexpected ending. James tells his readers to be humble, mature, and concerned more with spiritual rather than financial growth. Then he signs off by telling them, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." 

This got me thinking about how Christians approach confrontation. I grew up around some people who knew we were at war, and war was all hell. The people around me took James's advice by shouting, gossiping, or in one lady's case, trying to exorcise me. No kidding. 

And then you've got the Christians who swing to the opposite extreme. They don't want to appear judgmental. They don't want to offend people or scare them away from Christianity. They saw the movie Saved and decided they didn't ever want to look like these girls.

So how do we take James's advice without becoming spiritual lunatics? First, as always, I recommend praying. Ask God how to talk with someone and then listen for what He tells you. James opens his book by telling people to ask God for wisdom, so I assume that would apply well to these situations. Second, there's always the Matthew 18 model of confrontation. Discuss the problem with the person in private, then with a trusted third party, and then only in public if the person refuses to change. The third thing to keep in mind when confronting people is Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." If these attributes aren't at the heart of your confrontation, it may be good for you to step back and reevaluate your approach. 

How do you feel about confrontation? Do you tend to walk on eggshells or walk all over people?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Should I Pray About Everything? - Discussing whether God is a good father or a gang boss.

Five years ago, someone asked me, "You listen for God to speak, right? And you ask Him what He wants you to do? At what point do you use your brain?" Since then, several people have asked a similar question. It seems natural to ask God for wisdom and direction when it comes to big decisions like where to live, who to marry, etc. But should we go overboard and stand still, waiting for orders? Is it like working the chain gang in Cool Hand Luke where you have to get God's approval before everything? "Getting a drink of water, Boss."

This question came up last night during a Bible study after some friends and I read James 4. Verses 13-15 say, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'"

We talked for a few minutes and asked ourselves, where's the line? Do we avoid boasting 'I'm going to get a drink of water' and instead say, 'If the Lord wills, I will live to get a drink of water'?

Wise people make wise choices because they have wisdom. That makes sense, right? And according to Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." If we seek to know God, we'll know how to live. Fearing Him could simply mean we make decisions we know will make Him happy. We live for His approval.

Of course we should still ask for wisdom and listen for the Holy Spirit when we pray. When I lived at home, I asked my dad for his advice whenever I needed guidance. And yet there were times I chose to do something based on what he had already taught me. At all times, though, I also had to be open to his correction. I may have thought it was alright to dig for treasure in the backyard, but I had to listen to him when he told me to stop and dig in the woods instead.

Do you ever have trouble finding that line between listening and action? Which side do you lean more toward?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Preventative Maintenance - How I learned to appreciate my least favorite prayer request.

Question: If you went to my fifth grade Sunday School class, what would you say if you couldn't think of a prayer request?

Answer: I don't read my Bible or pray enough.

Believe me, this happened all the time. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure there was a Sunday where this was the only prayer request anyone had at the end of the meeting. Two things about this request made me cringe every time I heard it. One, it didn't really sound like a request.

Them: "I don't read my Bible enough."
Me: "Yeah? I forgot to brush my teeth this morning. Let's pray."

Two, I wondered if it was entirely honest. Not in the sense where I thought these kids read their Bible or prayed all the time and simply lied. I mean I used to feel there was something bigger they wanted to share, but were too embarrassed to do so.

Now that I've said all that, I feel comfortable telling you this. I don't feel like I read my Bible or pray enough. If I were in a prayer circle right now, I would give it as my request. Before my house caved in last Spring, I used to have a morning routine of reading a few chapters and praying for 10-20 minutes before work. But after the Disaster and having my way of life uprooted, I lost the rhythm of my routines.

Last night, I thought about the Disaster and how I felt the presence of God throughout the turmoil. It helped my wife and I endure the hardest trial we had faced as a couple. I realize it's not the routine I miss, but the regularity of coming into God's presence. So even though I do read the Bible and pray, I want more interaction with the Holy Spirit in the prayer and study.

From now on, I'll try to think of my least favorite prayer request as preventative maintenance. Hard times will come, but I want to feel secure in my new life in Jesus when they come.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Doing What Those Guys Did - Finding motiviation through heroes.

When my friends and I formed our band, The Summer Country, we spent a day discussing vision. Why did we want to play music in Nashville? What impact did we see ourselves having on the city? How did we want to achieve our goals?

During this discussion, we wrestled through the idea of merchandise. What would we make to sell and why? For the last seven years, all I had ever wanted to sell were recordings and books. I never even entertained the idea I would once again make the standard rock and roll Tshirt/sticker/button spread. If selling records exclusively was good enough for Fugazi, it was good enough for me.

Eventually, I conceded. We could in the future make non-record or book merchandise to sell. But I made a condition. For every normal business decision The Summer Country made, I reserved the right to do one punk thing. If we made Tshirts, for example, I would also have stencils made of our logo. Not that I'm encouraging anyone to commit vandalism. They could spray their car hood or the back of a hoodie. They could create their own merchandise without having to buy it from me.

So the point of that story is this: I have musical heroes. I look up to Fugazi, Piebald and Meneguar for what they created and how they created it. When it comes to music, I want to do the kinds of things those guys do. I know in the past I've talked about people turning musicians into idols, but I read something in James which made me rethink the subject of admiration.

James 5:10-11 says, "As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured." Then he uses Job as the example. Later, in verses 16-18, James writes, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit."

It's okay to have heroes. We should find inspiration in what others do. Paul once wrote, "Follow me as I follow Christ." But looking at the condition of the church in America, and definitely the church in Nashville, I wonder how many people here really admire the heroes of the Bible. If we look up to Elijah, David, and Paul, wouldn't we see more people doing what they did? Would it become normal for us to meet a Christian who wanted to tell people about Jesus, pray for them, and expect to see results?

Maybe we would see a change in the dead religious culture of Christianity if we found inspiration from heroes in the Bible. And I don't mean that in a daily-devotional inspiration way where we feel good in the morning as we read about what other men did in the past. I mean it in a way where we allow the stories of godly men to motivate us into action. I want to see Christians read the Book and do what those guys did.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Question Of How We View God.

I've been thinking about how we sometimes criticize God. I've heard people try to use the Old Testament as evidence against His goodness or justice. If He says "don't murder" why did He command His people to go to war? If one of His attributes is Omniscience, then how is it possible Abraham and Moses seem to change His mind with their prayers?

And then there's the classic, "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" I could get into the fact that people aren't good in the first place, but something else has occurred to me.  When we criticize Him, aren't we appealing to a sense of "good" over God? But if God is sovereign, then doesn't He set the standard of what is good?

I have a feeling our sense of justice is fueled more by our emotions than our understanding. Who has a better understanding of the law? The person who wrote it, or the people who interpret it?

Monday, November 28, 2011

How Do I Stop Saying Lame Prayers?

Have you ever felt like a wimp when you pray? Your prayer was trying to enjoy a day at the beach, not doing anybody any harm. Then without warning, someone else says a prayer that walks by and kicks sand in your prayer's face. Doesn't it make you want to feed your prayer raw eggs and give it an album by Survivor?

A few weeks ago, I told a woman at my church she didn't have to feel self-conscious about the way she prayed. Prayer doesn't need oratorical magic. I've heard plenty of stories where people prayed stumbling, half-thought-out prayers and saw God move powerfully. John Wimbur once told a story of a woman who couldn't see. She asked one of the church leaders to pray for her and the man misheard her request. So he prays for God to heal her from the flu, or something, and God restored her sight. I mean, shouldn't that make us feel more confident in God to answer our prayers, even if they don't have a set of free weights?

But I've felt like a wimp when I pray. I don't know how else to describe it. I know that Jesus gave his followers authority in Luke 9:1-2 and Mark 16:17-18, but I don't always pray as if I had that authority. Sometimes, I hear myself asking God to please heal someone or to restore a marriage and yet I don't feel very authoritative.

I wonder if I'm still unlearning my childhood lessons on prayer. The "God, if you would just..." or "Be with them, Lord..." schools of prayer. What if I tried a little more boldness, tried to pray like the people in Acts? Wouldn't it be crazy to hear someone throw out a "Be healed!" during a prayer circle?

But what if it came out wrong? Well, what if they've all been coming out wrong? I have the feeling God already gives us a lot of grace. Why wouldn't He overlook stumbling prayers for the flu and heal a pair of eyes anyway? If I'm listening to the Holy Spirit as I pray, I think I can expect Him to tell me how to pray with greater power and authority. Maybe my first question should be, "Lord, how do I pray for this?" Then it's only a matter of following God's direction in obedience.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Treating God Like A Famous Person

I can't remember a time when I said to myself, "Hey! A lot of very famous people live in Nashville," and then felt excited at the thought of running into them. Once, Carrie Underwood walked by me in a store where I worked and I didn't notice her, despite her picture on the cover of the magazine directly in front of me. I would not be here telling you this story if my friend Bruce hadn't brought it to my attention. That's how much I don't think about it.

However, I am human, and have experienced a "star-struck" feeling at least twice in my adult life. Once, I stood next to Patrick Stewart in Vancouver. Even then, I enjoyed the moment a little too late. I didn't realize it was him (because he stands about as high as my shoulder) until someone called his name and he replied "Over here" in that spectacular accent.

Then there was the time I found myself standing next to John Davis of Superdrag in a crowded bar. He looked up (also a shorter man. I guess I'm most impressed by people shorter than me) and said, "How's it going?" Instead of saying something normal and friendly, I panicked and asked him if he'd let me through to the bathroom. 

We've all wondered what we would say or do should we meet someone famous. I'm sure we have. At least once. Some people think about it more than others. I know because I met them on the Rachel Leigh Cook Fan club message board.

But why? Why do we want to meet famous people so much? Considering the quote referenced in this post, would it have been ironic to feel giddy if I met pre-death Joe Strummer? It's hard to tell. The definition of irony has blurred a little in our culture. 

Fame is so weird. You can't measure it. You could argue over a person's ability to produce or commodify fame, but I probably wouldn't agree with you. I think it's most like a currency. Its worth is determined by the faith or value given to it by people. 

This could be why I've never really liked the song "You are the Lord, the famous one." I know it's accurate in the sense that a lot of people know about God. Still, I can't shake the feeling it describes God as if He were on the cover of Self Magazine (although, maybe that would be fitting?). If meeting Patrick Stewart and John Davis says anything, I don't want to treat God the way I treat famous people. Would I not realize He was there? Would I panic and go to the men's room? 

Is it possible that some Christians treat God like a famous person? Do they think about what it would be like to meet God someday, but not really feel comfortable meeting Him in real life? Is it more of a fantasy than a relationship for them?

Just wondering. What do you think?

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Means and End - Considering the purpose of our efforts.

A short while ago, I wrote about how people either secretly or unknowingly try to worship idols alongside God. You know, just in case He doesn't answer our prayers the way we want or expect. This morning, I realized I had only addressed the means in that post, but not the end.

The end of James 4 and beginning of James 5 address the attitude of both means and end. James 4:13-16 focuses on the means. "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil."

We can make plans and never even consider asking God what steps to take. All of our experience and education can flop in a moment, but we still trust our brilliance. I never thought about it like this before, but is it godless when God's not in it?

James 5:1-3 confronts the ends with a heavy hand. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!"

Why do we want money, success, comfort? Do we want to have more to give back to God and bless other people? Do we want a nice home so we can show hospitality to more people? Or have we fallen into America's Biggest Religion and simply want to satisfy ourselves? "Come now, come now," says James, "Consider the purpose of your efforts."

So I wonder, what does it look like for someone to keep God at the center of both the means and end of something like a business, a home, a relationship, or a church? Anything, really.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I Teach More Than I Speak - Part four of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group

In my youth group, all those years ago in the 90's, a guy named Tim helped lead during the meeting. He wasn't a pastor, but he had a little more authority than the twenty-something college intern leaders. And on the four or five Sundays when he gave the message, I sat on the edge of my seat. If beanbag chairs have edges.

Did Tim have really compelling, life-changing messages? Yeah, definitely. Was he just young enough to know what music and movies to reference? Enough, sure. But that's not why I got excited to see Tim take the microphone. On those Sundays, I thought to myself, "Oh dang, anything can happen. Five bucks says he accidentally swears again."

As a youth leader myself, I like to think I'm the Tim of the Lifehouse youth group. Yes, I also have accidentally sworn during a meeting. Apparently Apples To Apples can occasionally pull the "D" word out of me. This past Wednesday, I learned of one huge difference between Tim and myself. Tim may have been a bit of a wild card and have fun with the youths, but he also had great leadership in his teaching.

The elder who oversees the Lifehouse youth group was away on business and gave me the responsibility of leading the meeting. We planned on beginning a series on grace, but I let myself get so busy I forgot to plan an actual message.

My solution? Buy candy as an object lesson, give a three paragraph explanation of the difference between grace and mercy, then ask "any questions?" Guess how many questions I got? Not as many as I needed to fill time. Mostly crinkling Starburst wrappers and smacking noises. Instead of pulling more teaching out of thin air, I decided the best thing to do was play games for an hour and a half.

James 3:1 says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brothers, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." I used to read that passage and tell myself he was talking to people who thought they wanted to be teachers, but it applies to anyone. Even if you don't want to be a teacher, think about how much advice you give, or think about how people might watch what you do and adopt your traits. We're always teaching, even if we're not speaking.

Now, I thought I was doing the right thing and not imparting half-thought-out teaching to impressionable teenagers, but I forgot that people teach way more than they speak. Did the youths learn more from how I forgot to pray before the message? Did they learn that having fun is more important than digging into the subject of grace? I don't know, but I hope not.

Thankfully, verse 2 of James 3 says, "For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." So I didn't get a hit this time at the plate. I've taught at least one good message out of the three I've now given, and that's a good average in baseball terms. I'm still learning. That's why church leadership only has me pinch hitting once in a while. They don't just forgive me for the blunders, they keep giving me opportunities.

Now that's a gift I don't deserve. I wonder if maybe I learned more about grace from this experience than any of my youths.

Have you ever found yourself on the spot and unprepared? How did you handle it?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Putting the "Pun" in "Pundit"

So after bringing up how nobody pays attention to Millard Fillmore, I decided to look up facts about him on Wikipedia. Turns out he put an end to the shame of bald world leaders. Yes, after Millard, you never saw another Whig in the White House.

I should sell that one to Laffy Taffy.

Lying While Shaking Hands - A question on the source of peace

In grade school, your teachers want you to love your country and its leaders. I had a history book with something nice to say about all but one president (Millard Fillmore, his name wasn't even written in bold face. They just parenthetically threw him in there like I am now. So, just for the heck of it, I want to see what it looks like: Millard Fillmore). When they got to Jimmy Carter, the writers of the book went on and on about how he succeeded in peace talks between Israel and Palestine. I remember thinking it strange to see an illustration of Jimmy smiling with two middle eastern men as they shook hands when I had seen news footage of scud missiles and kids chucking stones in the street. I raised my hand and asked my teacher, "Were those men lying?"

Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about James 3:13-18. Verse 18 says, "And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." The verses leading up to this talked about the fruit of human wisdom creating disorder and evil, while wisdom from God brings reason, gentleness, steadfastness, and so on. The fact that James tied up this talk on wisdom with a verse on peace made me ask this question:

Can human wisdom ever bring true peace?

Monday, November 14, 2011

"What Do I Do Now, Knowing What I Know?" - Seeking God in my outrage.

If you're one of the fifteen people who read my post about anger last month, you might remember my friends Tim and Kelsy. They both have a heart to expose and end human sex trafficking. Kelsy has worked with a group of people making a very important and unsettling movie about the topic. You can watch the trailer here, if you want.

My wife and I went to the Tennessee premier last night and I didn't know how to define what I felt when it ended. I wasn't heartbroken or shocked, exactly. I knew this stuff existed. It took a few minutes to realize I felt outraged.

Emotionally, I've found myself in this place before now. It's possible I'm an easily outraged person. I used to get caught up in campaigns and causes, telling people why they should also care with the same kind of conviction. Every time, without fail, my zeal would fizzle out or get replaced.

Part of this, I think, is because I operated out of my human wisdom. Last night, I was able to recognize this. So I said to God, "What do I do now, knowing what I know? Because I won't do any good unless you give me your heart and your wisdom." Within moments, and I mean just a handful of moments, I received wisdom and direction for how God wanted me to respond. I didn't have emotions zooming around my insides anymore. I had something to do.

At this moment, I can't recall any passages in scripture where God told his people to react in their outrage. Maybe there are a few. If so, you can tell me where to find them. However, I do know that loving God with everything is the basis of all we should do and I know He wants to give us wisdom.

How do you respond to outrage? What do you see happen as a result?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Human Wisdom - How I used to be the smartest idiot.

You know what I'm doing this weekend? Finishing my FAFSA application. If things go as planned, I'll begin my third year of college this coming August. Nearly six years will have passed since I last went to school, but I'm totally psyched about going back. Any other adult students out there with me?

I love learning. I love it enough to pay someone to teach me. This may explain why I lasted as long as I did in my Baptist background. They may be stiff, they may be legalistic, they may even think it holy to listen to the worst music, but the Baptist church loves to teach the Bible. At four years old, I had already become bored with Sunday School and joined my parents in an adult class as they went through a video series on Francis Shaeffer's How Should We Then Live?

That church shared the gospel with me. I became a believer there. I got my first Bible from them. It was a good place. But when I described Sunday mornings to my classmates, a number of them had the same impression. "It sounds like school." Without saying so, I agreed with them.

Years later, for all sorts of reasons, I began my eighth grade year at an Assemblies of God school. If you don't know what that means, I'll leave it at this: It was a big change. They might have frowned upon social dancing and going to the movies, but they taught me the importance of God's presence in a church meeting.

I'd be a dope if I tried to compare myself to Paul, but I like to think Paul had a similar experience. He grew up as a Pharisee, lovers of learning and scriptural prowess. He studied and studied and studied, but he hadn't yet experienced the presence of God. And when he did, BAM, lights out.

But he didn't toss his learning away. He let the Holy Spirit give him wisdom to finally understand what it all meant. He explains some of this in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."

When I first experienced the Holy Spirit, I thought to myself, "Why didn't I ever get this before?" I thought I was a smart kid. I had read the whole Bible. I won scripture memorization awards. But nobody ever brought up the importance of the Holy Spirit. The answer to my young question was this, I thought I was wise, but I was really a fool. I had relied on my intellect rather than the Spirit, thinking He would make me roll around on the floor and babble crazy words. I was the kind of person Paul described in the next verse, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."

Now I experience God's presence on a daily basis. I've seen miraculous things. I've begun to understand the gifts of the spirit like prophecy and discernment. But more than that, the Bible came alive. I understood it in a more full and complete way.

And looking back on all of this, I wonder, what's the point of reading the Bible and going to church if the Holy Spirit isn't a part of it?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pray Quickly - Understanding how to bear one another's burdens effectively

Throughout my years as a Christian, I've participated in a lot of prayer circles. We gather around, share our requests, then pray for each other. Sometimes we call dibs on requests ("I'll pray for Tony's ear thing."), other times we pray as we're lead. If there's a recognized leader, he or she might dictate who opens and closes the time of prayer. Often, the leader chooses one of those spots. The point is, I've done this at least a thousand times in fifty different ways.

Recently, I've thought about one consistent element to prayer circles, and that's the person who unloads all of what they're going through as their request. Now, before you think me heartless, I should say how I really do care about the person's struggle. I feel compassion for their suffering. But my gut reaction says, "I don't need to hear this." When it comes to praying for others, I find my prayers don't much change even after I've been educated on the back-story of the request.

If I'm honest, though, my attitude has tipped toward never wanting to hear about a person's struggles. And I already know it's incorrect. Scripture talks about holding each other accountable. It also tells us to comfort each other. I especially think of Galatians 6:2, which says, "Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."

My attitude developed slowly during years of prayer circles and other times of ministry. For example, when I was sixteen, I read somewhere that the Greek translation of Galatians 6:2 intended people to bear one another's burdens as if it were their backpack. Literally take on their struggles and give them a break for a while. At the time, I lead worship for six hundred teenagers a week, and some of them would talk to me as if I were their pastor. Seriously, I wish I had never heard some of those things. I remember telling one girl she didn't need the spiritual advice of a teenager, she needed to go to the police. But misunderstanding Galatians 6:2, I kept trying to carry more and more backpacks. One day, I found I couldn't walk with that weight anymore.

I've learned a few things since then. First, I was wrong to take on those burdens the way I had. In a sense, I was trying to be Jesus for those people. But Jesus has already taken on the price and the weight of that evil when he died on the cross. Those people didn't get much help from me in the long run and I ended up wearing myself out.

Second, I never balanced Galatians 6:2 with other verses like 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Yes, I'm supposed to show compassion and care for people who are suffering, but not out of my own power. I need to first receive comfort from God so I can share it with people who need it.

All that said, I still think it best to pray quickly for people in the setting of a prayer circle. The faster we pray, the sooner we give the burden to God, the quicker we see His peace come into the situation. After that, we can listen to their story. It might even change the way they tell it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Idols In The Threshing Wall

I went on a mission trip eleven years ago to help Jewish people immigrating to Israel. For one reason or another, though, we only ended up having about four days worth of real work to do in Jerusalem. The rest of the time, we hired a tour guide to take us around the country. So yes, I too have gone on a mission trip that doubled as a vacation.

But even so, in the two weeks I spent over there, I learned more about my faith and its Jewish roots than all of my college religion courses combined.

On several occasions, the guide took us to places where the people of Israel tried to integrate idols into their worship of the one true God. Some were more obvious than others, such as the alter in the city of Dan where the people sacrificed to a statue of a calf. But one day, we went to a large and ancient threshing floor to learn about their agriculture. The builders had left small recesses inside the round wall circling the floor. Someone asked our guide if the people threshing there had put lamps in the walls to light their work after dark. "No," he said. "That's where they put idols to bless and prosper their harvest just in case they didn't see God answer their prayers."

Okay, so I've read the Bible. I know that God's people struggled with idolatry all the time. Maybe the threshing wall shouldn't have shocked me, but that was the moment I realized these people would have called themselves believers in God. They went to the temple. They put on the appearance of obeying God's laws. But inside of their home or their business or their relationships, they had idols. Just in case.

Ezekiel had the same kind of revelation in chapter 8. An angel takes him throughout the temple and shows him where the leaders and all the people really worshipped idols inside.

I know I'm not innocent of this attitude. In the past, I had plenty of days where I said, "God, I trust you, but I'm in real trouble if I don't get enough money for rent." Or, "God, I trust you, but I feel like I'll never get married if I don't do something about it myself." With those instances, and lots of others, I made decisions with a just-in-case mindset. I put idols in my threshing walls.

Have you ever found yourself saying, "God, I trust you, but..."?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's So Bad About Anger? - And how do you know it isn't righteous?

A few weeks ago, I read a neat little post from Jon Acuff about using out-of-context verses to justify behavior. I especially liked the one about Jesus clearing the temple. I had a friend in Michigan who seemed to "clear the temple" every time the Tigers lost a game. Hopefully he kept his composure last Saturday...

Lately, I've been going through a challenging study on the book of James. One passage in particular got stuck in my head on repeat. James 1:19-20, "Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."

But why doesn't the anger of man achieve the righteousness of God?

I've come to think that most anger is a form of self-worship. Are you mad at the guy who cut in line because it was a grievous sin against the living God? Or did you get pissed because he dared to slight you when you deserve his respect? Did you get into a fight with your brother because he mouthed off to you? Or did it bother you more that he would dare to mouth off to you about whatever?

Now, if you're one of the six readers who have also read all the way through Stark Raving Obedience, then you'll know I don't consider anger inherently bad. Yes, Jesus got angry without sinning. People call it "righteous anger". That's why James pointed out how the anger of man doesn't achieve the righteousness of God. And in Ephesians, Paul tells the church not to sin in their anger. This is significantly different than if he were to say, "Anger is a sin".

My friends Tim and Kelsy have righteous anger. They work alongside people who want to expose and end human sex trafficking. Kelsy volunteers to help women coming out of prostitution. But beyond the anger, I see them hurting for these people. They're demonstrating compassion for the people while still feeling anger for the sin that enslaved them.

Tim and Kelsy were the first people I thought of when I wanted to find an example of righteous anger.

What do you get angry about? Do you know someone who exhibits righteous anger?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Playing Air Guitar At A Funeral - Exercising spiritual gifts with maturity

If you won the title of Best Air-Guitarist in the World, would it be in bad taste to give an impromptu performance at a funeral?

Ever since I wrote the post about how I am not a fraud, I've thought about the idea of time and place. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote about it. He was a smart guy, too, even if most Bible teachers think he's a bummer.

There's a time for birth and a time for death
A time to mourn and a time to dance
A time to watch a Time To Kill and a time to watch Timecop

I've been thinking about time and place in terms of spiritual gifts. I have some friends with strong gifts, and I feel like I can recognize when God uses them with these gifts. Every now and again, though, it gets uncomfortable. And so I wonder, was it a correct thing to say or do, but at the wrong time or place?

This question applies to me just as much as anyone else. I've heard correct words from God while I pray, but have applied them incorrectly to people. A few years ago, I felt compelled to tell my friend, "I think God wants you to know that your disappointment in Him is getting in the way of your spiritual growth." First of all, it was a bad time to do that during the message at a church meeting. Second of all, it really didn't have anything to do with him. He prayed about it for a month and had other church leaders pray about it as well. Everyone agreed, "This isn't for you."

I realized some time later that I was the one who felt disappointed with God. It hindered my spiritual growth. And that impulse to tell it my friend? I was supposed to have him pray for me. Correct words, but incorrect application, and definitely given at a bad time.

Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal Priest from Seattle, wrote about time and place in regards to spiritual gifts. As a pastor involved in a charismatic movement, I'm sure he had more than one disruptive episode of people exercising spiritual gifts. He said some people argued they couldn't help themselves when they felt the Spirit of God come upon them. He responded by saying if a person were in the middle of a prophecy, and someone yelled that the building was on fire, you can bet they would stop prophesying and run out of the building.

Paul had to teach the Corinthians how to order their meetings so it wasn't all chaos. At one point, he says in 1 Corinthians 14:31-33, "For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints."

Bennett elaborates on this passage in his book, The Holy Spirit and You, by focusing on the phrase "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets". We do have a level of control over how we exercise our gifts. Bennett compares it to laughing at a dirty joke. We all have an impulse to laugh when we hear one, but a mature person knows when to suppress their laughter.

What do you think about time and place in terms of spiritual gifts? Do you think any suppression of your gift "grieves the Spirit" or "despises the prophetic"? Or do you think it's all malarky? I'm open to hearing all sides.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Look out, Eugene Peterson! - My condensed version of the book of James

Does anyone remember when I spent six months writing about the Minor Prophets? My friend Abe told me he could summarize the book of Malachi in four words, "Don't F*** With God" Only he didn't say "***" He used the other letters. While you may not hear your pastor say that on a Sunday, I think he'd at least agree with the meaning.

I remember thinking about what it would take to condense the themes of scripture in a way that didn't feel like an Illustrated Children's Bible. This thought occurred to me again on Tuesday with some friends from church. Lifehouse Church has people meeting mid-week to discuss the book of James. The chapter we covered this week had an exercise where we give a title or write a phrase to describe sections of verses throughout James. I haven't actually read the Message, but I thought I would try to Eugene Peterson the crap out of it. More than just paraphrasing the passages, I wanted to see if I could condense the whole book.

I'm not saying this idea is a book deal waiting to happen, but I figure you might like to see what I came up with. Maybe pick it apart.

James - In short

"Look, I don't need to assert my authority. My name is James. You already know who I am.

Don't doubt God's goodness when times are hard. Just ask Him what's going on. He wants you to know. And don't let those hard times justify immature behavior.

You want people to respect your faith? Then help those who are in real distress. Seriously. If you've been freed by grace, then you have to understand it puts a responsibility on you to live like a free person. I need to see some evidence of change.

What you say indicates a great deal of what's happening inside of you, but actions are way more convincing. You've talked like adults but acted like babies. Look at where your version of faith has led you. It's lame. The evidence doesn't line up.

Instead of thinking you have all the answers, you need to listen to what God is saying. He knows how to direct everything better than you, including how you handle your relationships. I mean, what do you know anyway? He's eternal and your life is brief. You're not fooling Him.

So what exactly are you living for? Money? I'm not saying it's bad to have money, I'm just saying how you get it matters to God. If you're in a hurry for genuine gain, just be patient. See all the good God will give you. So don't bet on how great you are or how great you're going to be. Nobody likes a bragger. Ask God for anything in humility.

Now encourage each other in this."

After I finished writing this in my workbook, I thought, "Hey, that's a great way to learn what the Bible says." So simple. So, so simple.

Two questions, then. First, do you have any thoughts on my version of the Message? Second, have you done overviews like this? Sub-question, did you find them helpful?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Celebrating a Milestone.

Today's previous post marked 100 posts on the Press. Can you believe it? It only took three and a half years, or something.

So even if you're not impressed, I thought I would celebrate by posting a video of the song I sang to myself as I drafted Press Post #100.


Who, me? - A look at Moses Syndrome

Last weekend, The Warrior Dash came to Tennessee. If you don't already know about it, imagine a 5K with obstacles like barbed wire hurdles, walls of fire, mud pits, etc. When you get the the end of the race, after having a fire truck hose you down, you get a 32 ounce mug of beer and a giant turkey leg to reward yourself. My company chose this as our yearly team build, and I loved it. Can you tell?

That's me getting sick air over one of the fire walls.

Here's one of me after crawling through mud under barbed wire. Jogging shorts aside, my Finnish ancestors may have looked like this.

Before this race, I had a terrible feeling I was going to embarrass myself, what with never exercising and all. But I felt great. Turns out I kind of like running. When my mom called to ask me about it the next day, I told her, "I expected it to be a lot worse, but I think I could really do well next time if I actually trained."

Then Mom said a very mom-like thing. "You've always been stronger than you think." It's one thing to hear this from someone like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid. I'd probably nod my head without saying a word and continue to catch flies with chopsticks. But coming from Mom, this sort of stuff can still make a guy react like a junior high kid afraid his friends will overhear.

So I fought it. "Nah," hoping a simple dismissal would move the conversation along.

"It's true!" She said, dismissing my dismissal. "I saw you outrun all the athletes on the obstacle course in high school."

My next defense? I fought it. "Yeah, but that was back in high school. And those kids were smokers." This was, of course, a lame defense, since I had only just quit smoking for the second time back then.

Here's what I don't understand. In some settings, I act like the greatest guy in the room, but I act like a nobody when other people compliment me. When I play with the Summer County at some bar, I throw myself into the show. When my pastor asked me to join the rotation of worship leaders for our two campuses, I honestly wondered if I was the right person to ask.

Hesitation is a real problem, guys. And it's nothing new.

Burning Bush: "Moses, I want you to lead my people out of Egypt. You are now my official ambassador."
Moses: "Um, are you sure?"

Voice of God: "Jeremiah, I want you to prophecy to the King and all the people in Judah. You're just the guy I want for the job."
Jeremiah: "But I don't even have a degree, Lord. I'm just a kid."

Angel of the Lord: "Hey, Gid, God wants you to raise an army and overthrow your oppressors."
Gideon: "I'm a part of the weakest tribe and I'm hiding out in my dad's barn. Have you got the right guy? You'll have to give me a sign or something."

I wonder what it was that made Moses or Jeremiah or Gideon balk when God called them great men. Some people have a christ complex and think they're the saviors of the world. Other people have Moses Syndrome. But God saw something in these three guys. I mean, shoot, He created something in them. Think about it.

Does God ever have unreasonable expectations? Is it ever really possible for Him to be disappointed?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Image vs. Person - Considering the possibility that I am not a fraud.

After my house caved in a few months ago, I got a job as an office administrator. I say that as if I realized I needed better work so I could give my wife a new home, but that's not how it happened. I got the job because a guy saw something in me and offered me the position. I wasn't even looking for it, but then, that's how God blesses people sometimes. Theologians call it "providence".

This post isn't about providence.

I didn't want to confuse anyone when I told you about a startling realization I had as I walked into my office building. It's one of those fancy places with huge windows and glass doorways. I caught a glimpse of myself as I approached the door and thought, "Geez, do I really look like that? Didn't I have a huge beard and limp mohawk earlier this year?"

I sort of felt like a fraud. I'm not a corporate kind of guy. What happened to the fifteen year old kid who sang this song after school?

So this has me thinking about the idea of image versus person. Who I am and what I do doesn't match up to the image many people normally give Christians. I smoke a pipe and drink bourbon and listen to Planes Mistaken For Stars. Those are parts to Isaiah the person. I love Jesus and have given my life to serving him. That is also a part of Isaiah the person. But when people see me shouting on a stage, they might not think of me as the typical Christian. And when people read my weblog or meet me at church, they probably don't picture the dude with a tallboy of PBR singing T Rex on karaoke night.

Does that make me a fraud? Before you decide, let's look at this good idea/bad idea list I made:

1. Having a glass of bourbon and smoking a pipe with other adults, maybe after a meal: Good idea.

2. Drinking/smoking around kids who might already struggle with staying clean and sober: Bad idea.

3. Cranking Mastodon on my turntable: Good idea.

4. Sneaking Mastodon into the pre-service mix on the church iPod: Bad idea.

I don't think of this as hypocrisy. I think of it as a mature sensitivity to the people around me. My co-workers would have a hard time working around a guy who doesn't shower. Clients might not know what to think of the dude at reception with a viking beard. Likewise, there are some people I know who have a hard time with alcohol, rock and roll, my wife in a skirt, and other things I think God made for me to enjoy.

Here's my point. We're taught to consider who we're around in Romans 14:13-23. We're supposed to live in grace and pay attention to our conscience, but still consider how it will affect the people around us.

How do you deal with image vs. person? What do you think about it?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thanks, Joe Strummer - A Question For Other Christians Who Play Music

Those who know me well know I love punk music. And even if I don't buy into the fashion or posturing or misguided egalitarianism, the music still greatly inspires me.

I made this video a few years ago to tell people about my introduction to punk and why I think it's so important. Sorry for the swears. and the video lag.

One major archetype in punk music is the anti-rockstar. Sometimes it's just a part of the show while the dudes have their napkin rings polished in the passenger bus. Other times, you'll find guys like Joe Strummer who said, and I think in earnest, "Fame is an illusion and everything about it is a joke."

I think the idea of fame should greatly concern Christians who make music. Musicians, good ones at least, will always struggle with fame and celebrity. Some want to achieve rock-stardom more than anything. Some don't know what to do with it once they get it. They will all have to make a decision of what to do with applause and cheers.

I didn't know why it made me so uncomfortable until I had a conversation with my friend Mirf a few years ago. He ran an all ages venue in Michigan and was deeply involved in the world of music. While talking one night after a show, he said, "You know, I have to wrestle all the time with the fact that I'm in the business of idolatry. I bring bands in to this venue so people will come and adore them. The kids even buy shirts, albums, and posters with the band's image because of their admiration of the artists." I didn't say it then, but this rattled me deep. If he felt conflicted about bringing in those artists, how was I supposed to feel about being one of those artists?

Now, I don't get the impression God feels anger at my writing and performing music. In fact, there are plenty of days where I think He likes it. I'll probably like it when my kid learns how to draw pictures or play an instrument. I wouldn't like it, though, if my kid were to let fame get to his head.

I'm not sure there's a simple answer to this, but I know some of you are Christians who also play music. So what do you think about this? Is the pursuit of fame the pursuit of self-worship?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Membership vs. Ownership - Another look at the fan club idea.

Some of the first posts I did on the press came directly from my book, Stark Raving Obedience. I put it in there partly because I felt self-conscious about starting a weblog and wanted to appear authoritative. Also, I figured if I was going to say things like "God said such-and-such to me", I should probably have an explanation of my reasoning behind that before people started writing me off as a mentally ill slacker.

One of those early posts came from the introduction of the book and talked about how my relationship with God paralleled my membership in the Rachel Leigh Cook Fan Club. I read all the material, knew all the work, went to fan club chats, wrote her fan mail, but I didn't really know her. We didn't have a relationship, even though I did all the stuff and knew all about her.

Yesterday, MorsIndutus (whom I may or may not know in real life) left a comment which reminded me of another fan club analogy. I joined the RLC fan club at the age of 19 because I got a celebrity crush after watching Josie and the Pussycats. That same year, I joined the Kiss Army because I watched Detroit Rock City with a few friends one night. At first, I think I did it because I wanted to be outrageous and make people think I was interesting. But then, at some point, I thought it might be cool to legitimately get involved in the Army. 

If you're not in the Kiss Army, you're probably not aware that they do indeed promote you through the ranks based on a point system. I won't go into detail of what activities earned you how many points, but I will say that I worked on it for while. They start you out as a Kiss Army Recruit. After a few days of mild activity, you can reach the level of Kiss Army Private. I got there easily enough, but no one likes to walk away as anybody's private, so I felt determined to become a Corporal. I wanted to be able to tell people I was in the Kiss Army without sounding like a weekend warrior, so to speak. It sounded more genuine to say I'd been promoted twice.

But after I got that Corporal status, I didn't do anything, and I mean anything, with the Kiss Army. I did just enough to feel like I'd really been a part of things and then I let it go.

Again, like I said yesterday, I don't want to veer toward legalism. But I have paused to think about this.

Is the idea of "membership" so focused on me and what I get out of Christianity that I'm actually a follower of America's Biggest Religion instead of a Christian?

Or is it better to look at Christianity like ownership? Am I serving, contributing, giving, and sacrificing because Jesus has changed me? Does accepting Jesus include a responsibility for demonstrating my faith in Him?

If were to call myself a Christian because I've attended something, is that like telling people I'm a Corporal in the Kiss Army? Would I be fooling myself to say I'm a part of something when I've been inactive for nearly a decade? Is saving faith simply the recitation of a few certain words?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

America's Biggest Religion - Part three of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group

It wasn't long ago I used to work at an old folk's home. I had some co-workers who found out about my faith and began to ask me questions. Some of them were simple, like, "Did God really flood the earth?" Some were sort of funny because I didn't expect them, like, "Do you think God could be a woman?" Once in a while, maybe most of the time, I got a serious question that turned into a lunch break-long discussion.

During one dinner shift, a cook went into some fit about churches getting tax breaks and said America's biggest religion didn't need it. "Christianity isn't America's biggest religion," I said.

He stopped and looked at me. "Really? What do you think it is?"

"Sex. More people worship that than Jesus." I think I said it because I knew he was a sex addict and I wanted to shake him up.

Fast forward to a youth group meeting where we got into a discussion about worship and idolatry. One of the girls asked, "What idol do you think people worship most?"

And because half of what I say is rehearsed to death, the word "Sex" began to form in my mouth when two things happened. First, I saw the look on my wife's face because she knew what I wanted to say. Second, I realized it wasn't the right answer. So instead, I told the girl, "Ourselves."

Of all the idols we worship instead of Jesus, I think we worship ourselves. Yeah, sex plays into that. But so does food, relationships, entertainment, and even religious activities like going to church. We do whatever we want to make ourselves feel good.

I wonder if some people hate themselves because something about their looks or personality doesn't please the idol of Self. Does that make sense? Can people hate themselves because they actually love themselves too much? Could it be such a person unconsciously knows they make for a poor god, unworthy of the worship it demands?

After all that, I don't want you to read this and think I'm promoting a new asceticism. Jesus told his disciples not to worry about themselves, but instead to seek God's kingdom first and He would give them everything they needed for their joy and happiness. I don't think Jesus meant, "Don't eat or wear clothes, but worship God," but rather, "Worship God, and you find your contentment and joy in Him."

What do you think is America's biggest religion?

Friday, September 9, 2011

How I discovered the Press is sort of like Judas Priest - the Flashback Episode

Three and a half years? I can't think of another weblog I've consistently maintained for that long. Xanga, maybe, when I was a younger man.

I first used the Press to keep my writing skills sharp while between other projects. When I realized a few people besides my parents payed attention, I attempted to address questions from readers and friends. That was fun as long as people asked questions. I did some expository stuff, a series or two, and the occasional apology.

Then something happened. My house collapsed and my routine with it. Within a month, my whole life changed. Last week, as I drove from my fancy office job to my beautiful wife, I thought about how badly I'd neglected the Press. I've written enough ideas down for essays. Why hadn't I taken the half hour or so to type it into Blogger?

As I thought about it and prayed, a question popped into my head. "What is it for?"

Yeah. What is it for?

For all of the forms and topics, what purpose did I have for the Press? Wasn't it to tell people what God had put on my heart? Had my pride really made such a simple thing so complicated? Who cares if it's not a running list of theological essays? I've seen the numbers, and I don't have much to lose if I reinvent the Press again.

So, as they say in the PG-13 movies, Eff it. I'm going to post whatever is on my heart, as always, and not worry about dressing it up for Sunday morning. Who says you can't change things up a few years in?

These guys went from this:

To this:

So maybe it's never too late to try something new. However, I promise the Press will not wear studded leather vests or carry a whip. We'll leave that to Mr. Halford.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"What Made You Want To Worship God?" - Part two of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group

My wife, Chelsea, used to manage a coffee shop in Franklin. Before she left for her new job, she hired a sixteen year old girl who lives near the shop. During her first training shift, the girl said she was interested in learning more about Jesus. This sort of stunned Chelsea because they had only just finished going over how to make Gelato. Nobody handed anyone else a wordless book. Chelsea encouraged her to keep asking questions and invited her to church one week.

After a few visits to Sunday services and Youth Group meetings, Chelsea invited the girl to our house to hang out. When they arrived at our house, Chelsea excused herself into the other room. I think I was writing a weblog post at the time, not really paying attention to the teenager I had just greeted. The girl sat down on the other end of our couch and asked, "So what made you go from believing God exists to wanting to worship Him?" I'm not sure she realized I was wearing headphones, so I had to ask her to repeat herself.

"What made you go from believing God exists to wanting to worship Him?"

Having had no time to think about it, I started rambling about the time I began taking Him seriously in prayer and study. Ugh, forty-five minutes of frantic storytelling about stuff that didn't much answer her question. While prayer and study did have something to do with my conversion experience, the simple answer could have been, "When I understood that God is more than real, He's active."

The Civil War was real. Long Division is real. But either those things are either history or they require you to do all the work yourself. In the past, I might have compared my faith to long division. It existed before I did, it's more complicated than I think it is, and it does me no good unless I make it work for me. Like that moral to Aesop's Fable which some people confuse with a Bible verse, "God helps those who help themselves".

The truth is, God moves when He wants and how He wants. Yes, an answer to prayer does mean that I pray first. And learning something from the Bible means I have to read it first. But I also think God created a desire in me to talk to Him and study His word. Besides, He's moved in my life and the lives of people in my family without anyone even thinking to ask. When he rescued my brother from a life of total destruction, when he healed me of a decade long dairy allergy, when he gave my parents the idea to listen when we prayed together as a family, He showed Himself alive and at work.

Realizing God was more than a story or a specter to fear if I misbehaved made me look at Him in a completely different way. He became bigger, wiser, more gracious, and so on. I began to see myself as more selfish, foolish, and bad-tempered. Verses in Psalms began to make more sense. "What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:4) " O Lord, what is man, that you take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that you think of him?"

And yet God sent Jesus to bear the burden of our punishment. He doesn't need me, but He still decided to rescue me and adopt me into His family.

That's why I want to worship Him.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Still Sacrificing? - A word about shame.

On a handful of occasions, some well-meaning people have asked me this question, "You seem like a really smart guy, so why are you a Christian?" And when this happens, I try to remember one of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon, "Defend the Bible? I would just as soon defend a lion. Just turn the Bible loose and it will defend itself." It's a good thing for me to remember in those instances because I've sometimes succeeded only in stumbling my way through a quick explanation of some philosophical part of Christianity while somehow leaving out the gospel.

But the Bible is powerful and alive. It is truth which can speak for itself. As my friend Luther would tell his muslim friends back in Africa, "Just read it, and then you can disagree with me." So for this post, I'm going to leave out most of the rambling stories and shoe-string references. Instead, I'll type out a passage which hit so hard I had to stop after only eight verses.

Hebrews 10:11-18 says, "And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

"And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,' then he adds, 'I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more.'

"Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin."

Here are a couple of questions I want you to think about: If you accept the sacrifice Jesus made for the wrong you do, is it right to ever feel ashamed? Do you ever try to "do better" to "make it up to God"?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Three Recent and Hasty Conclusions - My stumbling way of encouraging other restless believers.

Last week, my friend Jamie and I talked about vision for our church, evangelism, and boldness. At one point, he said, "We should hang out more often. It only took ten minutes of talking with another believer for me to feel encouraged." I felt it too. Spending time with other passionate Christians does encourage me.

I've realized a few things since that conversation.

1. I'm restless and I think more Christians should also feel restlessness. Until Jesus actually comes back, we should always feel a tug in our insides like there's something for us to do. The commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28 to make disciples, baptize people, and teach is called the Great Commission because it's such a dang big job. The world lives in darkness. People walk calmly to their destruction. Doesn't that make you want to do something? It makes me want to do something.

2. I don't feel like I do very well when it comes to telling people about Jesus. I get hung up by telling myself it's not the right timing or that the direct approach would only make the gospel noisome to unbelievers. I felt especially lame after reading Hebrews 10:38. "But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." Yeah, I know the author was referring to a messianic prophecy given to Habakkuk, but that doesn't make me feel better. It says elsewhere in Hebrews that without faith it's impossible to please God. But isn't faith a gift from God? It has to be. I need encouragement to live out my faith. I need the Holy Spirit to give me boldness.

3. I sometimes allow people to intimidate me. But who intimidates me more? People or Jesus? Lame people like me or the risen and triumphant King of all creation? Where does my confidence lie? I asked myself these questions this morning while reading 1 John 2 when it said in verse 28, "Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming." John's tone is gentle, like he's talking to his kids. I think he knew these people loved God. I think he knew these believers may have already recognized their lameness. I think he knew people needed encouragement to live out their trust in Jesus. This is a comfort. God's aware of my shortcomings, so He offers encouragement instead of making me feel like a loser. He wants to help me do good with my restlessness.

You can expect me to think about how to spur you on to live our your faith and tell people about Jesus. And, you know, if any of you feel compelled to do that same for me, I'd totally appreciate it.

Have you ever come to any of these three conclusions?

Has anyone or anything encouraged you to live out your faith in a new way?

Monday, May 30, 2011

My Perfectly Good Explanation.


Okay, let me explain. About a month ago, as my wife and I slept, a crashing sound woke us. It had stormed all day (the same storm that rocked Alabama), so we assumed it was thunder. But then my wife says, "Why does it sound like it's raining inside of our house?" Walking into the living room, I saw that about a third of the kitchen ceiling had caved in and water poured all over our kitchen table.

Goodbye Bibles, goodbye prayer journal. Blurg.

As I stared into the kitchen chaos, the living room ceiling fell. For a moment, both my wife and I thought that maybe the big tree in our backyard had crashed through the roof. It was that loud.

And so began the craziest month I've had since moving to Nashville. We lost some stuff. We had to move out of our home and find a new place to live. We slept on futons and air mattresses in our friend's spare rooms. We daydreamt about having our own kitchen and some time alone.

Now, I've learned plenty about God in the midst of this ordeal, but I want to hear from you (it's been so long, right?) before I jump into a homily. Have any of you gone through crazy stuff like this and wondered if God was sleeping on the clock or had in some anti-septic religious sentiment decided you were too happy and needed a stiff dose of Old Testament suffering?

Have you looked up and asked "what the hell? Why me?"

It's okay. This is a safe place. You can be honest.

As a bonus, I'd like for you to hear a song I wrote before my home disaster, monstrous tornadoes in the south and midwest, or people recently expecting the rapture.

   History Lesson at the End of the World by The Summer Country

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sparrows and Lillies, Insurance and Silverchair - A question on living out our trust in God.

The 90's had better radio rock than any other decade in America. I'll suffer no discussion on this. It's just the plain truth. I love 90's radio rock so much that I've told my wife I'd like to name a daughter Seattle.

But who would have known, who could have known, one of the best 90's radio rock albums would come from a trio of 15-year-old kids in the middle-of-no-place Australia? That's right. I'm talking about Silverchair and their hurricane debut album Frogstomp. Even if the rest of the album sounded like a dry fart, you have to love the song Tomorrow.

Now, I bring this up for one tiny, seemingly unconnected reason. The opening line in the second verse says, "You say money isn't everything. Well I'd like to see you live without it." And there I see a point of tension with a lot of people in the church.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells people not to worry about stuff like food and clothing. Several people walk away from Him disheartened by the cost of following Him (as in Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 9:22-24). But does that mean we really give away everything? Give up the security of money, family, and career? Consider the possibility of homelessness, persecution, and death?

If not, why not? Where does Jesus tell us to hedge our bets?

Yes, Proverbs does tell people to make plans, and Paul does tell Timothy how men should work to provide for their families. My problem comes from the attitude culture fosters in us. "God provides, but just in case, there's UnitedHealth."

While writing this, a guy at my wife's coffee shop asked me to talk with him about God. Within two minutes he tells me how he needs to pay his landlord a certain amount of money by 9:00pm or else she would throw him out. As I'm talking with this guy, I tell him what I can do for him. Then I say, "But I really think we should pray. I've seen God answer prayer over and over again when it comes to this sort of thing." And then the guy got mad. He says, "I don't need prayer, I need to pay my rent!"

Before you or I go tsk-tsking this guy, let's be honest. We've all felt that way in very desperate moments. Haven't we all at one point reacted just like him? We know we need God, but in the middle of a crisis we want the material means to alleviate the situation first.

Just so you know, the man did let me pray for him. Within twenty minutes, I worked out a solution with his landlord and the guy got two phone calls for odd jobs. Without looking me in the eye, the guy mumbled, "Maybe that prayer did work." Ha.

Maybe you don't think you would react like that guy. If so, let me ask you this: What if you somehow lost your health insurance? What if you had an emergency that your insurance wouldn't cover? What if it affected your wife or kids? Would you pray, trusting God to take care of you? Or would you honestly wonder if a good God could allow such a thing to happen to you and your loved ones? How would you feel if someone said, "Let me pray for you" when you had 24 hours before the end of your known universe? Is it wrong to say we worship what or who we trust most?

I'm not saying insurance itself is evil (although I can't give the same confidence to insurance companies), but I do think we should consider our heart in light of what we find in the Bible.

What kind of attitude do you think Christians should have?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Purpose Of Doctrine Is Not Doctrine Itself.

For those of you who read Stark Raving Obedience or maybe the first post in the Press, you may remember how I compared my relationship with God to joining the Rachel Leigh Cook fan club.

This morning, I heard pastor John Privett say something similar in his message. "It's one thing to know about a person but another to actually know them. Some people try to substitute the Bible for a dynamic, active relationship with Jesus."

At one point in time, I felt like I knew quite a lot about Rachel Leigh Cook, but I didn't know her. In fact, I sometimes think of how I could have only hung out with her if she initiated it. It's sort of like how Jesus told His disciples, "You didn't choose me, I chose you." But that's beside my point here.

I realize that I've put a lot of focus on the Bible lately. I've done so because people seem to have a lot of questions and want to talk about it. A Charles Spurgeon quote comes to mind today, "Defend the Bible? I would just as soon defend a lion. Just turn the Bible loose. It will defend itself." Like Spurgeon, I don't feel like I need to defend the Bible. If you want to wrestle with it, you'll find it hard to overpower.

I mentioned having a point earlier, so here it is. I wrote about this stuff because I want to encourage you to have a dynamic relationship with Jesus. I think knowing doctrine allows this, which may explain why Paul told both Timothy to be nourished on sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6) and Titus to hold fast to the Word so he can teach sound doctrine. Now, the purpose of doctrine is not doctrine itself, but to explain how a person can know, love, and have a relationship with God in the way He wants. But it's the very fact of God wanting things on His terms which (I think) scares people most. G.K. Chesterton once wrote "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

What do you think? Would you rather know and love God on His terms? How would a person even know such a thing?

Does Jesus, or even the mention of Jesus, make you nervous?

Does the Holy Spirit scare you, even though He's offering gifts?

How important is your control to you?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

One Possible Reason Why People Don't Want To Believe in Scriptural Authority and Inerrancy.

God bless my parents for reading books. Not just because it fostered in me a love for the written word, not just because reading leads to understanding more of how people behave, feel, and think, but because reading made my parents good teachers. Both of my parents teach inside and outside of the church, so throughout my life I would hear them quote from the books piled up on the sofa end table. I made this connection early, "Reading makes you smart. Smart enough to tell other people stuff they don't know. Stuff they want to know. And when you know stuff they want to know, they'll listen to you. They'll like you." And of course, most of our lives are spent trying to get people to like us...

But really, I'm glad my parents read because I could never buy all of those books on my own. Every time I visit Michigan, some of their books vanish while others mysteriously reappear where mom kept looking all those months. During one visit, I thumbed through a book called "A Third Testament" by Malcolm Muggeridge. He covered writings from several respected Christian authors and gave it this hilariously exaggerated title. I wonder what Lewis or Bonhoeffer would have thought about it...

But I'm getting off topic, and Sarah won't read anything too long on here. The point is, I think my mom bought the book because it contained selected writings of Soren Kierkegaard. That guy wrote more in his life than most people read, so I can understand why mom wanted bite-sized portions. Admittedly, the only Kierkegaard I know I first heard from a Swedish girl commenting on Jon Acuff's Blog. But seriously guys, read this slowly, openly, and questioningly:

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except  pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

"Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close."

It's almost disheartening to think about how true those words are, isn't it? So I wonder, does the underlying motivation of Christians to deny Biblical authority and inerrancy come from the fear Kierkegaard describes? What does that say about us as Christians if we tell people, "Read the Bible, but don't take it too seriously"?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Where Did Sin Come From?" - Part one (?) of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group

My wife and I help lead the youth group at Lifehouse Church. I've been doing this for about two and half years, Chelsea joining soon after we started dating. For a long time, the group only had five youths, three of them siblings. We played games and went on trips and studied cool books like Crazy Love, but nothing seemed to spark real excitement in the group. Then we began studying Wayne Grudem's Bible Doctrine. By this time, our church moved into two locations and we met a few teenagers from the Spring Hill area. Then our youth group more than doubled.

I mean, twelve teens might not seem like a lot to the seasoned youth group leader, but for us, it was a little dizzying.

I don't know if I can credit this all to the church now having a location in Spring Hill or if it's because we're digging into questions regarding deep truth, but the  conversations during meetings have changed dramatically. We're discussing Common Grace, Sin, Prayer, the Trinity, the Gospel, and the like. And I'm learning something from them about how I lead a discussion. First of all, nothing makes you feel so much like a dope when you ask a question and hear silence from a room full of teens. But instead of accusing them of disinterest, I try to figure out ways to ask questions about the topic so they want to answer.

It's one big reason why I've changed how I do things on this weblog. Not that you're a bunch of teenagers.

The kids also teach me how to ask good questions by, well, asking me good questions. During our discussion on Sin, one of the girls asked, "But where did sin come from?"

How beautifully simple. So I said, "From rules." Only after I said it did I think about it. Paul seems to say as much on his explanation of sin in Romans. Sin didn't exist on earth until God told Adam and Eve "Don't eat that fruit." That's not to say I think God gave men sin by giving them a rule. I mean to say that God created men with a will that would sin. The Fall may have easily happened if God said, "make sure to eat that fruit every day" because the serpent might have countered with, "Aren't you a little full?" and we'd be in the same mess.

I may be wrong. I may be only partially right. But where do you think sin came from? Do you even think sin is real (I'm looking at you, relativist reader)?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Old Guard vs. Young Guns - Two Ways For Believers To Look At Things Like Biblical Authority, Revelation, And The Church.

Before writing my last post, I told my wife, "I think I'm going to poke a hornet nest and talk about biblical authority again." Lots of people seemed to have read the post, even though Matt and William became the voices for what I think are the two major camps within the Western church. The Old Guard and the Young Guns.

I used to pride myself in my religious angst. At times, it was justified, like when a high school classmate told me, "You know, maybe you're not doing so well in Algebra because of that music you listen to." And other times, I think I wanted to see holes in the church, holes in the Bible, and "elasticity" to Christianity because it allowed me to justify almost anything. What can I say? My argumentative style is persuasion.

Even though I agree more with William's comments, I think I know Matt's point of view. I tried my best to grind an axe with the Bible, "institutional church," and every aspect of Christianity all the while calling myself a Christian and claiming to follow God. In hindsight, I think I was fighting God kind of like Doug in this sketch (not that I think it's a perfect example. Sorry if you think it's a little blue, but I hope you get the idea). I think I wanted my friends outside of the church to think I was savvy like the Young Guns and not judgmental like the musty, dusty, Bible-thumping Old Guard.

I used to say that human writers and translation errors made the Bible untrustworthy as a perfect book.

I used to say that I trusted the guidance of the Holy Spirit more than the Bible.

I used to say that every Christian was a part of the church, so why couldn't I call a group of believers in my living room "church"?

I gave up that kind of thinking when I realized this: I'm an idiot. I have a serious pride issue when I think I'm the wisest dude in the room.

If God wanted to explain Himself and His ways to men in a way they can understand, wouldn't He have some awareness of human folly and short-comings? If God allowed men to insert anything into the scriptures apart from His perfect truth, doesn't that mean the book is (at least in part) deceptive? Do we really think God is limited by human wisdom or even a deceiver?

If I feel like the Holy Spirit is putting something on my heart, but don't have an authority on the true nature of God, how can I know God is talking to me and not something foolish or evil? How could I know if I was feeling the Spirit's direction or just my own human passions?

If a group of people say they believe in Jesus, gather together in one place, and get drunk like those old friends of mine at our "men's Bible study," should I call that a church meeting? Do I grow closer to God, gain wisdom, or learn how to operate in my spiritual gifts?

But that's my story. What do you think? Do you think the Bible is inherently flawed because people wrote it? Can a person discern the direction of the Holy Spirit apart from Biblical understanding? Do we need the church or is it a breeding ground for antiquated, hateful codgers?