The newly updated, expanded, unabridged, unpublished, unedited (mostly) sermon library of me is available for FREE–yes, FREE

You might expect to pay as much as $19.99 for what amounts to thousands of hours of work on my part.

But no!

You can can listen to even MORE sermons from one of the top 20 preachers in Bluff City, TN (self-designated based on there being about 20 churches in said city) with just the click of a button and your own over-priced Internet plan.

One day I may get crazy and make a podcast. Baby steps, people.

Ash to ash, dust to dust

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I remember the first time I saw someone with ash on their forehead in observance of Ash Wednesday.

It was in college (that’s how denominationally aloof I was). It was a professor of mine, Dr. Dillon–great American History professor. [If you read this, Dr. Dillon, I fully regret not caring more about your courses…aging often speaks its own rebuke.]

I thought it strange, though, the ash. Messy and unnecessary. Uncivilized perhaps.

I thought myself as somehow beyond such ancient practices.

I also grew up a little during college, and a bit more since.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I need that reminder.

The psalmist captures it in a hauntingly beautiful fashion: Psalm 39:5 “Lord, let me know my end and the number of my days, so that I may know how short my life is.”

Microscopic organisms and Mack Trucks and malignant tumors are no respecters of persons.

It’s going to end.

Life, that is.

When is the variable, not if.

Ash to ash, dust to dust…

For what or whom are you living? Spiritual or not, everyone has to answer.

Do you live for what you get more of when you die? If so, you could say, like St. Paul, “to live is Christ; to die is gain.”

 

The censorship of Christian community

lion-predator-big-cat-cat-162093There is so much I want to say.

So many comments I’d like to make.

More questions I’d like to ask than anything else…

But the Christian community is extremely sensitive. We–I include me in the we–are so sensitive! [don’t use an exclamation point unless you mean it!] What are we so scared of?

It’s like anything we disagree with or anyone who disagrees with us is immediately blacklisted and deemed a heretic or apostate or, dare I say, liberal!!!????!

Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Nashville, tweeted on February 12

“I am too conservative for liberals, and too liberal for conservatives.” – Everyone who follows the whole Jesus

2,400 people retweeted. I can only assume it’s because more persons don’t know who Scott is.

Point being, yes. This is an amen deep in my soul. One  of the hardest aspects of doing ministry of any kind in the South is being pigeon-holed by others, feeling like there’s a mold one has to fit into, and then fearing the backlash of not fitting in.

I get diplomacy, I do. But what if the prophets of the Old Testament had been diplomatic? Would they have been prophets? No. They wouldn’t have been thrown into cisterns or killed. They probably would’ve been…wait for it…promoted.

Prophets speak.

         They are a voice.

                      They ask.

                                They tell.

                                           They prod.

Subsequently…

They are isolated. Lonely. Blacklisted, ignored, imprisoned, fired, demonized, etc.

I guess what I’m saying is, can we Christians–bought with the blood of Christ and freed from the strictures of this political world–be truly free? Can we refuse the titles and categorizations that the world requires in order to make enemies?

Why the titles, the categories, the sides? Because we have to know who’s wrong, right?

Following the whole of Jesus really leaves us as misfits. We can’t be contorted to fit into any one corner or box. Too liberal. Too conservative. Can’t be nailed down. Enemies on every side. Sounds like Jesus.

Here’s the thing. If nobody is upset with you. If nobody is frustrated by what you say. If nobody is really bothered by you. You’ve picked a box.  And turns out it’s a perfect fit.

 

Maybe you aren’t disgusted enough just yet

road-mountains-street-countrysideSojourner. Exile. Pilgrim. Alien. Foreigner. Immigrant.

These are words that most uniquely describe God followers throughout Scripture and history. You might say such designations find their ultimate expression in Jesus’ words from John 17.16 “They [my disciples] are not of this world, as I am not of this world.”

But most Christians–in America, at least–are indistinguishable from the world.

Why?

Jesus is so clear. The prophets are clear. The apostles Paul and Peter and John are clear. James, the brother of Jesus is clear–friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.

So why the willingness to get in bed with the world, to lay there, strewn about in an adulterous sprawl?

Maybe we aren’t disgusted enough. That’s Eugene Peterson’s answer in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. More accurately,

A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.”

There’s Eugene. Whispering wonder into world-weary souls that have been consumed by consuming everything and having nothing to show for it.

Until you’re really disgusted with the pattern of wanting, getting, and regretting, nothing will change. Until the tastes of momentary indulgence and fleeting happiness are no longer appetizing, nothing will change. Let alone choosing the way of Christ. The Way that says the more of yourself you give away, the more you find.

How much more will you have to get, consume, envy, or lease before you are disgusted enough to change? And when that disgust reaches a tipping point, to what or whom will you turn as an alternative?

This turn, biblically speaking, is called repentance.

 

A church plant thought experiment

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Here’s how the question–which I am still gnawing on–was posed to me:

         What if you started a church with the aim and intent of killing it in 10 years?

This question should push us past preconceived notions of what church has to look like.

For the most part, when someone plants a church, the intent is to grow larger, build wealth for funding buildings / programs / staffing / etc. and carry on in similar fashion until Jesus returns.

Some of those churches get very large. Others stay quite small. And there are all sizes in between.

But what if you shocked your imagination to go beyond the consideration of size? What if the main component of a new church was time?

The first vision casting would go something like —

We are going to exist as this faith community for 10 years, Lord willing. And in that 10 years, we will not buy or build anything but will fully devote monies to spreading the gospel in word and deed. Whatever is left at the 10 year mark will be funneled into another ministry, or, 10 year church will begin anew in another city.

The follow up question to the possibility of a church like this is whether anyone would dare sign on?

Here are two immediate implications, at least in my mind, of such a model.

  1. A renewed urgency around the gospel
  2. A renewed responsibility to steward resources

You get the sense when you read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus and his crew really believed the message of the gospel was urgent. That lives depended on it. Eternities, in fact. And the gospel, lived out, could change communities, cities, countries, and continents. Which explains why I’m typing this in the United States of ‘Murica more than 2000 years after a nomadic carpenter from Nazareth died on a tree.

Beyond the urgency to share and proclaim, how would knowing you have 1o years and only 10 years change the way you allocated the kingdom dollars people would give? I think it would look drastically different than most of our churches now, including the one I pastor in which we are trying to pay off a $1million note on a building with 100 people in it each week. That same story is multiplied, sometimes by 30  or more, across the US.

Isn’t it an exciting question to at least consider? 1o years, All in. And then all out.

What might be? Aiming to kill a church may very well mean the preemptive death of divisive preference wars, because what’s the point? There’s no establishment, no old guard…naïve? Maybe. But plausible.

What do you think could be different with 10 year church?

 

The inevitable loneliness of leadership

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The really hard thing

Sorry, let me start again…

One of the really hard things about being in Christian leadership (and maybe any leadership) is the unspoken expectation that you have it figured out.

As someone serving on two sides of the aisle in Christian ministry, both in education and the church, the following are representative of the unspoken–

  • You believe all the right things about all the right things, especially those things that other people really hang their theological (or ideological) hats on
  • You uphold tradition because tradition is, well, tradition, and to question it means you’re a troublemaker
  • And you don’t change things, at least not too quickly, because someone might be offended. Someone’s feelings could possibly, perhaps at some time, be hurt…in fact, please don’t change things

It’s a lonely place.

For those in leadership, being in process on matters remains private, just like your obsession with CrossFit should be kept to yourself. I can’t even tell you what I mean…that’s how private it has to be, because to raise a question in voice or print is to signal to the congregation or constituency it’s open season on you.

What’s the point?

When dealing with educators, administrators, elders, pastors, and other Christian leaders, bear in mind that it can be/is lonely, more lonely than you realize.

  • Words are scrutinized and decisions are scandalized…

Usually in the most passive aggressive manner possible, though sometimes by a boisterous, victimized minority. And in the south it’s even portrayed politely at times, which just means the knife is pushed in at a slower rate.

I get it. I’ve played armchair preacher critic, teacher critic, and so on. But how much more do these folks–me, folks–need your prayers and grace?

We need a lot. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll have regrets–so many regrets. We’ll be judged by God more harshly for how we have stewarded these opportunities. We really don’t need other gods.

We need grace-filled, prayer-saturated, meal-sharing, cheer-leading men and women who will help us finish well.

Does that mean never ask questions? Of course not. But what are the motives? Speech should be seasoned with salt that it might give grace to the hearer…that’s how the apostle Paul put it.

I’m working on all of this myself. I’m extending more grace towards leaders. I’m slashing my suspicion quotient and choosing to trust.

That’s hard.

 

A question I could have used 10 years ago…but at least I have today

pexels-photo-298018Some questions are clearly rhetorical, right?

Some, however, are not. So let me share one I heard in an interview of Bob Goff.

When asked about growth and personal development, here is what Bob said he asks himself

What does the next humblest version of me look like?

In other words, I’m this level of humble now. What would the next level of humble look like? What would change? How would I treat people differently? What are things I wouldn’t say any more? What are things I would begin to say or say more often? What habits would I need to form to reach that next level of humble?

Some questions are meant to be answered.

And in order to answer them, you have to accost yourself, your preferences, opinions, defaults, self-perception. After all, there is no growth without struggle.

What does the next humblest version of you look like?