Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Unexpected Conversation With the Apostle Paul about Duck Dynasty

I was sitting in my office scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feed and all of the public conversations about Duck Dynasty. It was all so upsetting. I was getting caught up in the frenzy as I started to think about how I would add more words to the pile.

When all of a sudden, the Apostle Paul was sitting in the chair across the room from me! When I saw him, I was frightened. I didn't see anyone enter my room.

We had a conversation I had to share with you.

________________________

Collin: How did you get here? Who are you anyway?

Paul: Some people call me Saul. Some people call me Paul. But you should have seen the look on your face when you turned around and saw me. I don't know who was more scared...me on the road to Damascus or you just a minute ago. Ha!

What are you doing?

C: Oh, just scrolling through my Facebook feed. Can you believe what all of these people are saying?

P: Excuse me...your what?

C: My Facebook feed. You don't know what a...oh that's right. You lived before the internet was around.

P: What's the internet?

C: Never mind. The last 48 hours there's been a lot of talk about Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, A&E, and homosexuality.

P: Duck Dynasty?

C: Wow. How do I explain?

Phil Robertson and his family have a show on TV...TV is a screen we have in our living rooms...our living rooms are rooms in our houses. I can't possibly describe all of this to you Paul. Just go with me.

Anyway...Phil has a show on TV called Duck Dynasty. And through the show, the Robertson family has received quite a following. Like a bigger following than Jesus had when he was on the earth. Jesus had his thousands and Duck Dynasty has its millions. And Phil was recently interviewed by a popular magazine and he said some things that created a huge media storm. People are going nuts.

Some people are upset about some things he said about homosexuality. Others are upset about some things he said about race.

But others are coming to Phil's defense. They believe Phil was just stating his beliefs, just quoting the Bible. They're upset that Christians in America are now treated differently than other groups when they make public statements about their beliefs. They feel persecuted and like America is losing ground as a Christian nation.

It's a mess! And with every word, the tension grows and the sides become more entrenched.

P: I see...haha! You learn to appreciate seeing after spending three days unable to see.

C: What?

P: Haven't you ever read Acts 9? You're a preacher, aren't you?

C: Oh, right. Funny.

P: I'm just messing with you, Collin. Calm down!

Some things have changed over the past 2,000 years. So, let me ask a few questions. Are you good with that?

C: Sure, fire away!

P: Did you say there are Christians who feel like America is losing ground as a Christian nation? What is a Christian nation?

C: Hmm, how do I explain this? You know how Rome was an empire, right?

P: Yes, that empire killed me, so I do know about what an empire is.

C: Well, today we have nations or countries rather than empires. And there are Christians who feel like America, the country we live, started as a Christian nation.

P: Huh! Imagine that? You mean the leaders of the country didn't try to kill Christians? That would have helped to prolong my life and the lives of the other disciples. Christian nation? That's such a strange thought.

And did you say Christians are feeling persecuted? How so?

C: Well, we have this thing in America called the Freedom of Speech. It's the First Amendment the United States made to the Constitution. And a lot of Christians are upset and feel like Phil Robertson's rights were infringed upon. Christians feel persecuted in America.

P: So, Phil Robertson was killed?

C: No.

P: He was put in prison? That happened to me a few times.

C: No.

P: Then what's this business about persecution?

C: He was put on indefinite leave from his TV show.

P: Hmmm....How much does this guy and his family get paid for his TV show?

C: $200,000 an episode in addition to the merchandise and duck calls they sell.

P: What's a duck call?

C: Paul, some things about 21st century life you just won't be able to understand.

P: So, let me get this straight. A guy shares his Christian beliefs and people get upset about it?

C: Yes.

P: But the guy doesn't get killed? He doesn't get put in prison? He just gets to continue selling these duck calls from his home in this place called America?

C: Right.

P: You Americans, don't seem to understand what persecution is. I didn't lose my job for preaching what I believed. Five different times I received 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. And eventually I was killed by the Roman Empire. I never whined to Herod or Caesar once about any of it.

And why? Because I knew preaching the gospel would bring that kind of response.

I haven't read exactly what Phil Robertson wrote, so I'm not ready to tell you if I agree with him or not, but I can tell you I'm not ready to defend Christians who use the persecution card in defense of a millionaire who gets to live his life without threat of beatings or death.

THAT'S NOT PERSECUTION!!!

Have you read the stories about what's going on with Christians in places like China? That's persecution. Their churches are being burned to the ground. Their church services are held in secret. They are being killed for their faith.

And guess what...Christianity is growing in China and the global South. Over the years, it seems that there might be a connection between persecution and kingdom growth.

But as long as American Christians try to fight a culture war about rights, Christianity will continue to decline.

Did you Christians forget who you were following? You're called to follow Jesus who gave up his rights rather than holding onto them (Phil. 2:5-11). But it sounds like what it means to be a Christian for some of you in America is to demand that your rights be upheld. That's the opposite of the gospel!

It doesn't sound like the problem is America and the secular media. It sounds like the problem lies with a bunch of weak Christians who misunderstand what the goal of the kingdom is all about.

C: Wow! Paul you seem worked up about this.

P: Haven't you read Galatians? I once told the Judaizers in Galatia that I wish that when they had circumcised themselves they would have kept on cutting (Galatians 5:12)!

C: That was an interesting image to select. Quite vivid!

I think you're right to push back on American "persecution." There's no way we could compete with your resume of persecution. But...how would you have us live and challenge a culture that chooses to live in such opposition to the morals of the Bible?

P: You preachers should read the Bible more often. Haven't you read what I wrote in my letter to the Corinthians?

Just pick up one of the 12 Bibles with your named engraved on them on your shelf and read it to me. I think the guy who ended up putting those annoying numbers in the middle of my perfectly good letter would tell you that you could find it in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

C: It says,

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you."

P: Do you see a word in there about challenging or condemning outsiders? No!

Why do you expect people who haven't chosen to become followers of Jesus to act like Jesus?

Wait! Hopefully you aren't passing laws to force non-Christians to act like Jesus? You don't do that in that Christian America, do you?

C: Well...

P: None of you would make it in the Roman Empire in the 1st century!

There's no need to judge people by the standards of Jesus who haven't chosen to follow Jesus. You're called to love them and establish relationships with them. And if they are compelled to follow Jesus, then as insiders we hold each other accountable to those standards.

C: It's right there in black and white.

P: One more thing. If you've got time with all of your sermon writing and stuff.

C: Sure, go ahead.

P: I'm still trying to wrap my head around this Christian nation thing. The disciples in heaven will want to know every detail about that.

The Roman Empire enlarged its territory through warfare. Most empires come into existence that way. If America is a Christian nation, surely the original inhabitants didn't kill people like Rome did to acquire land, did they? Otherwise, how could you call it a Christian nation?

C: Are you sure you want to know the answer?

P: Yes.

C: We took the land from the original inhabitants. We drove them off of their land and killed many of them in the process.

P: How in the world would Christians be able to defend that with the Bible?

C: We used Scripture to defend it all. The settlers likened themselves to the new Israel leaving Egypt and wiping out the Canaanites on their way to the Promised Land. Preachers actually defended it with Scripture.

P: That's a terrible way to read the Exodus story.

C: Yeah, and speaking of poor readings of Scripture, you'll never believe what we did to your letters. Preachers defended enslaving people because of what you wrote in several places. America has had a terrible history of slavery and racism.

P: You're kidding me! You're telling me this Christian nation killed indians and oppressed and enslaved people because of the color of their skin?

C: I wish I was kidding. Not exactly Christian of us, was it?

P: Your preachers could sure use some help in biblical interpretation!

Speaking of, do you want in any help interpreting your passage for Sunday?

C: Sure, I'm preaching from Hebrews.

P: I'm not touching that sermon. Even I don't know who wrote that book!

C: Well, thanks for your time.

__________________

And like that, he was gone.

Conversations like that give you perspective.

Perhaps you've heard of first-world problems. A first-world problem is a frustration or complaint that is only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries.

Examples:
-I took such a long shower this morning that the hot water ran out.
-Since that last iOS update, my iPhone is running much slower.

Some people will never experience first-world problems. They'll never have a chance to.

In the same way, American Christians have first-world Christian problems. A first-world Christian problem is a frustration or complaint only experienced by privileged Christians in countries who uphold the freedom of religion.

I'm guessing there are many third-world Christians who would love to have their greatest worry be preaching their beliefs at the risk of their jobs rather than their lives.

All it would take is a week-long trip to a country that has outlawed Christianity to change what we write on our tweets and Facebook updates.

We need stronger Christians.

Not stronger Christians who are ready at the firing of a millionaire celebrity Christian to take up arms in a culture war.

We need stronger Christians who stop living as victims.

We need stronger Christians who refuse to settle for loving the sinner and hating the sin. But who choose to love the sinner and hate and confess our own sin.

We need stronger Christians who in the words of my new friend Paul:

"...have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross."

Friday, December 13, 2013

Kindergarten Tour & School Shooting

The day started with a visit to Peabody Elementary School.

Our oldest child, Maddox, is 4-years old. He was excited about our tour of the kindergarten he will attend in a short 9 months.

As we entered the school, Maddox strode forward with a bounce in his step ready to enter "the real world." Holly and I felt a bit different. We always knew this day would come, but it's so hard to believe the day had actually arrived.

The words I've heard from Rick Atchley rang through my head as we entered the doors, "The days drag on, but the years fly by."

We had a great tour of the school. The principal showed us around and answered all of our questions. She was specifically sure to allay our fears as best she could about the security of the school. She assured us about the security cameras, locked exterior doors, and had lockdown drills in the event of an emergency. It has been said that sending your kid to school is like your heart walking around outside of your body. It was obvious that the principal understood that feeling.

After we got back in the car, Holly mentioned how awful it is to live in a world where students have to prepare for lock-down drills.

Less than three hours later and fewer than two miles away, Littleton Public Schools (including Peabody Elementary) went into lockdown mode after reports of gunshots being fired at Arapahoe High School.

Early reports indicate that a student was shot and the shooter died of a self-induced gunshot wound.

This one hits home. Arapahoe High School is the closest high school to the church where I preach, the Littleton Church of Christ. We have several youth group students who attend the school. Thankfully all are safe and accounted for.

In a first-world country like the United States, we have a certain expectancy about seeing our kids again when we drop them off at school. We take our morning "good-byes" for granted as our kids leave for school. And that makes events like these so difficult to process as parents of schoolchildren.

Events like these shatter our assumptions and cheapen our cliches, which is its own kind of gift. With this gift, comes tighter hugs, more "I love you's," and greater thanks to God for the miracles each day that we fail to acknowledge.

We're months away from sending Maddox to school, but I'll never forget this day.

It was the day when school seemed more imminent and unsafe.

"The days drag on, but the years fly by."

Lord, have mercy!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pronouns, Tribes & the Kingdom

Pronouns are important.

Pronouns tell us a lot.

But we'll come back to grammar lessons later.

I grew up in a generation whose parents were careful to build a strong self-esteem in us. We received trophies for participating on sports teams. Most of my friends received money for the number of A's we received on their reports cards. I got tokens at Chuck E. Cheese, which was more valuable than anything else I could imagine at the time.

The returns on that kind of parenting are coming in and it's not all positive.

And yet...a healthy self-esteem is a part of healthy self-development. When children are born, they have an ego-centric level of awareness. The world revolves around them. That's why when playing hide-and-seek with my 4-year old son and 2-year old daughter, they think they can hide in broad daylight. They assume that as long as they can't see me, I can't see them.

Early on, children are able to begin sentences with the word "I."

This stage of ego development is crucial to human development. And that is why parents nurture love, care, compassion, discipline, and morality in their kids. You want them to have a healthy, formed ego...

But...

If your children remain egocentric, something destructive begins to happen. And if they never evolve out of that stage of development, they will be come sociopaths who will eventually become harmful to society

So, you have them do chores as a way of "inviting" them into the tribe. And over time, mowing the lawn and cleaning the toilet helps them move from an egocentric view of the world to an ethnocentric view of the world. Our tribe (family, school, athletic team, nation, etc.) has a certain way of doing things. In doing this, you are helping introduce them to how the tribe functions. Most tribal cultures have initiations for young men (sometimes women) to mark this transition.

And at that point, young adults can begin sentences with "We."

Beware: You can rush this. If you yell at a 4-year old because they didn’t mow the lawn correctly, you might be rushing it.

But if you stop at an ethnocentric or tribal view of the world, we could have trouble. Because what happens when the tribe goes down the wrong path? You want to instill in your child the courage that when the tribe veers off course (jumping off a proverbial bridge, engaging in certain fraternity initiation rituals, Nazi Germany in 1938), they can do what's right for humanity rather than just following the path of least resistance. 

There are certain times in a tribe when you don't want your child to be ethnocentric or tribal. You want them to question the rules and rituals of the tribe. You don't want them to drink the Kool-Aid.

If there is any hope for our world in a nuclear age, we need the majority of people to move to a world-centric stage of development. Because sometimes, what appears to be the ethnocentric party line is actually bad for other tribes.

Hopefully, we develop into the kind of people who think about what's best for all of humanity and begin our sentences with "All of us."

In Genesis 12, God calls Abram forward in his consciousness. He's called to leave his tribe and start another tribe. But he's not some bandwagon fan. It's not that the new tribe is cooler, stronger, or better-looking than the last tribe. God is calling forth a new tribe who is called to reflect what God is like.

And though some religious tribes make God sound like a tribal God (sectarian, nationalistic, racist, etc.), he isn't tribal. He is well past an ethnocentric consciousness. He's a world-centric God.

He's for us.
All of us.
Every one of us.
He shows no favoritism.

Or as Paul says, "...for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:27-28)

Which reflects exactly what God told Abram about this new tribe in Genesis 12: "...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Which brings me back to grammar.

In baptism, our allegiances change. Our tribal identities are no longer primary. When we come up out of the waters of baptism, our pronouns even change.

I have many tribal identities. I'm a Native Texan...a Colorad(o)an...an American...a Caucasian...a Wildcat...a Longhorn...a Preacher...a Littleton Church of Christer. All of these tribal identities explain who I am.

But...

None of these descriptors identify me best. After coming up out of the waters of baptism, the allegiance that trumps all other tribal allegiances is my commitment to Christ.

So, I struggle with my pronouns.

God's kingdom isn't just about me. It's not just about us. It's about all of us!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Lessons at the Playground

Friday is my day off and the day our family practices Sabbath.

There are lots of legalistic arguments about whether Sabbath is something Christians must do. Those arguments aren't important to me and they miss the point much of the time.

We don't practice Sabbath because we believe we have to. We practice Sabbath because we have found there's a rhythm in the world that contributes to human flourishing. That pattern is 6 and 1...6 and 1...6 and 1. Sabbath reminds us that the world goes on fine without our effort. Sabbath reminds us that God does just fine without our addictive patterns of worry and work. Sabbath calls out the insanity of our other 6 days.

Today, we went to a park. We kicked the soccer ball, threw the football, and played on a playground. It was a blast!

But the coolest part happened while we were at the playground. Maddox is our more reluctant child. He prefers to stay safe and our insurance company appreciates that trait in him. Addison will jump off anything and laugh when she hits the ground.

After a couple of times up the stairs and down the slide, Maddox saw a different way to climb up to the slide. He saw a climbing apparatus. As he stared at it, I could see the wheels turning in his mind.

Should I try it? Could I climb it? Is it safer to just go up the more traditional route?

And as he stared at it I asked him, "Do you want to try it?" And sheepishly he said, "I think so."

So, we moved toward the red ladder and Maddox methodically worked his way up the ladder, careful to ensure his feet didn't slip. I stood and watched as a proud father knowing that this moment would set his self-confidence forward or backward depending on the outcome of this one act.

As he neared the top, his legs began to shake and he looked back to see if I was there to catch him. I rooted him on saying, "Maddox, you can do it." Slowly he climbed up to the top bar, but he had to make a giant step of faith in order to make it across to the playground's terra firma.

I moved to get a closer look and I was there to catch him if something went wrong, but he had to do this one on his own. Would he make the step?

Eventually, with his legs shaking the entire structure, he stepped over the abyss and onto the platform.  And he yelled "Yes!" with a joy I've only heard him make audible on a few occasions. He did it!



















And I was beaming from ear to ear.

There are moments as a dad when your relationship with God makes more sense. This was one of those moments. I could have helped Maddox across. I would have caught him if he had taken one poor step. He was never in danger. But I knew that his confidence would only grow if he took that step.

And it made me realize why God seems so absent sometimes. When Maddox was on the top bar, I'm sure he wouldn't have minded me helping him across. When I'm in a pinch, I'm hopeful God will answer my prayer and fix everything in an instant. But I believe there are times when God doesn't make things easy on us because he knows we need to learn to do some things on our own.

And when we take that step, I'm certain that God smiles from ear to ear as well.

Friday, October 25, 2013

18 Levels of Golf


My son, Maddox, thinks there are 18 levels of golf.

When you complete Level 1, you go to Level 2. And obviously Level 18 is the hardest level. I don't correct Maddox because there are certain things he says that are too cute to correct. For example, when he says "I want to go to Ah-dive Gah-den," Holly and I smirk at one another and drive directly there because we know there's a day coming when he'll want to go to Olive Garden and that's not near as cute.

His 18-level golf idea is an interesting theory I believe he developed playing video games on his various game systems. That's the way the world of video games works. You complete Level 1 and move to Level 2. That's how games work.

Every time we go to do something fun as a family, Maddox wants to know if he's winning. It doesn't matter if we're bowling, playing Wii, or picking out pumpkins. The boy wants to know if he's winning.

Everything's a competition!

And as a parent, we have larger things we want Maddox to learn in competition. Competition isn't so much a chance to win at something. It's a chance to learn life lessons without the high stakes of the severe consequences that will be on the line later in his life. And most often, losing will bring the greatest life lesson. Which makes we wonder why we push so hard to place our kids on the best sports teams. A 5-year old soccer championship trophy won't sit on Maddox's shelf when he goes off to college. It'll be bad enough if he chooses to wear his High School letter jacket during his first year at his university. He won't take his trophies with him, but he will take his lessons with him.

But as I listen to Maddox's language, it's hard to be critical of him. Because 4-year olds don't come up with these kinds of theories on their own. They learn to be competitive somewhere.

And that's the most difficult part about hearing his competitive language...18 levels of golf. I'm guessing he learned it watching me. He hangs on to every word I say after every shot on the golf course. He hears me in anguish on Sunday afternoons when my Fantasy Football team isn't putting a "W" on the board. He hears my frustration when I can't pass Level 254 on Candy Crush.

And I wonder what he hears in the backseat in my lament on Sunday afternoon when the attendance totals were down.

And it won't take Maddox long to make the computation in his own brain. 4-year olds are better at math than you would suspect.

(My level of success at school & on athletic fields = My parents' love for me)

And that's a deadly equation.

After a soccer or baseball game, most kids just have to check their parents Facebook pages to determine what their parents thought about their performance. If there's a post about how many goals they scored, things are good. If there's no post about a "W," then you must not have done enough.

You can say all day, "It's not whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game," but actions speak louder than words.

I'm excited to enjoy many hours on the golf course with Maddox. I'm excited to celebrate his first birdie with him. I'll be his biggest fan.

But at this point, what I want to hear most from Maddox is: "Dad, do you want to go and play 18 holes with me today."

Because they're not levels. They're holes.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Blessing Ranch Covenant Group


Last week, I spent several days in Livermore, CO at Blessing Ranch. Since 1992, Blessing Ranch has been a place where thousands of pastors and their wives have retreated to receive the best Pastor Care available in the country.

Yes, I said Pastor Care, not Pastoral Care. Many people throughout the world have received care from their pastors, but Blessing Ranch is focused on giving care to pastors and their families. Dr. John Walker and his team have a fantastic reputation for reviving the ministries of many pastors over the years.

Recently, Alan Ahlgrim, former Senior Pastor of Rocky Mountain Christian Church, began organizing Covenant Groups for pastors at Blessing Ranch. That was the purpose of my visit. I spent several days with 2 Senior Pastors and Dr. Ahlgrim.

My experience was nothing short of life-changing. 

There are many conferences out there that focus on professional development. I've attended many of those events. But nowhere else, has my soul been cared for like it was last week at Blessing Ranch.

Whether you realize it or not, your pastor is probably the loneliest person in your church. Our calling is to minister to people, but often we lack meaningful, deep, and transparent relationships. We know how to talk about the importance of community, but many of us lack true community. And that is recipe for disaster.

Don't get me wrong. I've been surrounded by caring, spiritual, and wise people for the past 10 years. I also have mentors who regularly speak into my life. I'm blessed in my relationships.

But in the past 5 years, no conference, event, or group has nourished my soul and clarified my calling like my Covenant Group last week at Blessing Ranch. There I found a rare combination of intentional soul-care, Sabbath, a helpful mentor, caring peers, and vulnerable dialogue with people who are choosing to do life together for the next few years and beyond.

I am returning to my ministry more assured of my calling, more committed to loving my people, and more clear about my identity as a child of God.

I look forward to future times with my Covenant Group.

If you would like more information about a Covenant Group at Blessing Ranch, check out the website at www.blessingranch.org/578-2/conversations. And if you'd like to talk more with me about it, feel free to e-mail me at collin@littletonchurch.org.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

They Stole More Than Sunglasses

On my way to work Monday morning, I discovered broken glass outside of Holly's car. And when I looked for the source of the glass, my heart sank. Apparently, someone had broken the front driver's side window in her car in an attempt to search the car for valuables. Fortunately, we don't leave much for people to take. Today, we discovered they had taken a pair of Holly's sunglasses.

And not only were they just sunglasses. They were Toms sunglasses. Toms does a "2 for 1"charity deal on their sunglasses. When you buy a pair, Toms gives prescriptions glasses to a middle schooler in need. Toms does a wonderful job capitalizing on our values of consumerism and charity. We're suckers! It's a worthy company to look into (www.toms.com). Apparently, we gave Toms a "2 for 0" deal.

So, if you see someone with a pair of these glasses, clutch your children a little tighter. He/she might be a charitable hipster or a car thief. Either way, protect your children.
A small loss compared to what could have been taken, but they stole more than Holly's sunglasses. They stole our illusion of security.

Each morning when I walk to my car, my heart stops a bit as I scan the lot for broken glass. Will it happen again? Will I come upon a man or woman in Toms sunglasses that I will have to interrogate? And what is the question you would ask a possible suspect to determine if he/she is a charitable hipster or car thief? (Make sure and comment below if you think of the perfect question.)

And most mornings, that would be all I would get from this experience. A loss of security. A growing pessimism about the human condition. A conspiracy theory that local auto body shops were taking on extra shifts to break car windows so they could repair said windows.

But on this morning, something miraculous happened. On second thought, the miraculous part might not have been what happened. I think the miraculous part was my openness to learn and see God do things he often does if our vision is open to seeing God in the mundane.

The thieves didn't just steal Holly's glasses or our illusion of security. They stole my insular bubble, which normally keeps me from truly "seeing" the people around me.

Every day, I leave my secure house (doors locked) to enter my secure car (music & windows up) and drive to my secure church office (with secretaries as my bouncers). I spend a few hours at the office before I repeat the process. I leave my secure office to get into my secure car and walk the short distance to my secure house.

Security is a high value in our culture. Our security protects us from harm, but a negative side effect of our security is how it protects us from interactions with people who desperately need contact with devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

So, on Monday morning, my short walk from my secure house to my secure car was disrupted. After the police had arrived to take the report, a neighbor walked out to see what the problem was. He helped me clean up the glass, sympathized with my situation, and eventually invited himself to my church.

Which makes me wonder...what does my tight schedule and secure routine protect me from? Interactions with neighbors who want to go to church with me? If so, then I'll drop the routine.

On my way to work with my window down broken, I heard the city in a way I don't usually hear with my music & windows up. I actually "saw" the people around me. And on my drive, I prayed that God would give me a heart for the city.

Which makes me wonder...what does my tight schedule and secure routine protect me from? A heart that is broken and prayerful about the world around me? If so, then I'll roll my windows down and drive without my music on.

No one wants to pay their deductible. But I wonder if the price of our window was worth the lessons God wanted to show me on Monday.

So, to the thieves who broke into our car on Sunday night, thanks for stealing my secure route and routine from me.

But if you'd like to return the sunglasses, my wife would appreciate it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mosquitos & Storks


The other day during my devotional time, I was spending time listening for the voice of God. But I was having a hard time focusing because of several mosquitos that were trying to extract my blood. I don't know what it is about me, but mosquitos seem to like me more than other people. At first, I was having trouble listening. I probably looked like a lunatic as I waved my arms around trying to swat them away.

I don't know what you assume about preachers, but I often get requests from people like, "Could you pass on a prayer to God for me about ____?" It's almost as if some people think I have a direct line to God that they don't have. But to be honest, I don't hear the voice of God very often. It's a rare occurrence.

But the other day I was sitting there swatting mosquitos and praying, "God, would you please get rid of these mosquitos so I can focus on you."And in the midst of that prayer, I sensed God saying, "Get rid of the mosquitos? The mosquitos are the point. The mosquitoes are the only way I could get through to you about what I want for you. If you want to hear my voice, pay attention to the mosquitos. Get rid of the mosquitos."

I don't know about you, but mosquitos like me. Not just real mosquitos, but figurate mosquitos. Mosquitos are people who feed on your time and energy in order to derive life for themselves. And all too often, I am a willing host for mosquitos and other parasites. Perhaps it's part of my people pleasing tendency.

Ministers tend to attract their fair share of mosquitos. Am I right? And over time, it's easy to allow your whole ministry to be overwhelmed by giving life to mosquitos. In fact, in time you can begin to believe that mosquitos are the focus of your ministry. And sometimes we even pride ourselves on the number of mosquitos we can host without burning out.

But good leaders can't last long hosting mosquitos. And the good news is not everyone is a mosquito. In fact, part of becoming a healthy person is moving from feeding off of others to giving to others out of the overflow of our lives.

We need fewer mosquitos in our lives and more storks.

Storks have an innate instinct to care for their young. And one of the most loyal mother birds is the stork, which is part of why we've used storks in the mythical stories we tell our young kids about "where babies come from."

But did you know that Hebrew word for stork is chasidah, which means "pious, faithful, or kindly bird" because of the stork's loyal devotion to its young? But even more amazingly, did you know that the root word for stork chacad, is the same root word for one of the prevalent words used to describe God, chesed, which is often translated "loving-kindness" or "mercy."

As Moses receives the 10 Commandments in Exodus 34, the Lord proclaims his name to Moses saying, "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love (hesed) and faithfulness."

Our God is a God of steadfast love who wants to jealously protect and nurture you.

Church leaders: Who do you surround yourself with: Mosquitos or Storks?

Ministry brings its share of both and Jesus was able to minister to the mosquitos as long as he was jealously defensive of his relationship to his Father in heaven.

Find a group of storks and set aside time in your calendar to be built up by them.

Mosquitos are part of ministry. But no leader should pride themselves in their ability to host parasites. Good leaders are able to help mosquitos become storks. A large part of leadership involves nurtuing and equipping mosquitos to mature past the parasite stage of Christianity.

I'm grateful for the storks in my life. God has blessed me with so many.

Father, I pray you would give us enough Mosquitos in our lives to keep us humble and enough Storks to fill our lives with encouragement and blessing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Uncut: The Bible We Thought We Knew


Many of us have fond memories of attending Vacation Bible School as kids. The snacks were good and it was acceptable to be loud and silly in the church building.

And if your VBS was anything like mine, you learned about the great heroes of the Bible. Noah, Jonah, and Elijah were some of the most vivid stories I remember. I put these men on such high pedestals.

Until...I read the Bible...the whole Bible. And I realized most of those Biblical heroes were scoundrels that God somehow used for his glory.

Jonah is a terrible preacher who hates lost people. Isaac is sandwiched between two dysfunctional generations of family members. Abraham is a compulsive liar who knows when to pass his wife off as his sister. Paul is a religious terrorist. And David knocked out 7 of the 10 Commandments in one weekend.

Children's Bibles can be a hazard to your faith. It's one thing for an 8-year old to read one, but there comes a time when you have to set the Children's Bible aside for the real story.

Children's Bibles serve a great purpose. They play the same purpose that radio-edited music serves in your car with your children. The Adventure Bible filters out the objectionable content in the Bible. And if you don't believe there's explicit content in the Bible, then try reading Song of Solomon as a bedtime story for your kids. That's one way to ensure you have the "birds and the bees" talk sooner than you had hoped to have it.

Children's Bibles are appropriate for...well...children. But they're not appropriate for adults.

So, over the next few months at Littleton, we're going to hear the "uncut," unedited stories of the great "heroes" found in Scripture. Because while many of us think we know what's in the Bible that we defend at all costs, a closer look might reveal that we don't know it as well as we need to.

There's lots of reasons why people don't come to church. But I think one of those reasons is that we've inoculated our children to the true power of the gospel with our VBS and Children's Bible stories. We told our kids that God uses perfect people (superheroes) to accomplish his vision for the world, people like Noah, Jonah, and Elijah. And if God used them, then we assume he can't use us...unless we put up a brave facade of perfection.

The good news of Scripture isn't that God can use perfect people for his glory. The good news of Scripture is that God somehow uses broken, corrupt, messed up people for his glory.

And when we know that truth about the Bible, then we're empowered to trade in our facades of perfection and confess that we're broken too. And if we'd take off our socially constructed personas of perfection, then perhaps new people would start to realize that Christians aren't perfect. Instead, Christians are people in process and everyone is invited to join in.
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Below is a link to a teaser for "Uncut." Check it out!

https://vimeo.com/72588624