Contentment and Thanksgiving

“A Grateful person is rich in contentment.” -David Bednar

Writing about ThankfulnessOne of my favorite parts in the Bible is where Paul is writing back to one of the churches that he has planted. Apparently they had started to argue and create factions within their church, some of them had started to consider themselves better than others, in fact, when they would all gather for a meal each week, some would go ahead and eat,  gorging themselves before the other people (the poorer ones who had to work on Sundays) could get there.

And Paul tells them not to receive the Grace of God in vain.

In other words, Paul says, “Don’t be entitled.”

The Most Dangerous Time of The Year

Sunday at Highland, I mentioned that I think this week is the most spiritually dangerous time of the year.

Because on Thursday we will stop to give thanks for what we have. Then we rush off on Friday, almost breaking the doors down at stores just to get a little more.

There is this time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is about half-way to Jerusalem. His journey is interrupted by ten Lepers who stood at a distance, and screamed to this man they had heard so much about, “Have pity on us!”

And Jesus does. He makes the whole, and then tells them to go show themselves to the priest (the expert back then on whether someone had been healed) and they would discover they could re-enter their old lives.

Now you probably already know just how much these men had lost at this point. They had been cut off from their families, their vocations, their home. Everything, and in an instance, Jesus gives it all back. But what happens next is really the point of this story.

Ten men are restored, but only one comes back. He’s not a Jewish leper, he’s a foreigner, and he’s thankful.

But what’s interesting to me is the story that is right before it. It’s some of the most difficult words that Jesus says:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Now this almost seems out of character for Jesus. Where is all this love and grace stuff? “We are only unworthy servants? We have only done our duty?”

Bu’t what if Jesus isn’t getting rid of that whole Love and Grace thing with this paragraph? What if this is one of the many loving things he could says. And what if Luke puts these two stories together on purpose?

I am a BUICK, a brought up in church kid. And I”m very thankful for that, but one of the dangers that comes with growing up worshipping the LORD is that it can become old hat. Familiarity can breed indifference, or worse, it can breed entitlement.  In the words of Randy Harris, “Many of us were born on third base and think we’ve hit a triple.”

Maybe this is why Jesus says this hard word to us.

Maybe that’s why it’s only the Gentile Leper who comes back to thank Him.

There’s something about familiarity with God that makes us less grateful for His actions in our lives. I think Jesus says this hard word because He knows the toxic kind of life that is void of gratitude. It’s good for us to remember who we are and who God is. We forget that with every rise and falling of our chest we are breathing in oxygen that is a gift. With every sunrise and sunset God gives us another day.

This is a story about being grateful for all of that.entitled

Having Nothing, Yet Having Everything

So back to 2 Corinthians. Paul is frustrated with this church because they had started eating without people. And we can understand their logic can’t we? They probably had brought most of the food, they were wanting to start on time, and if people couldn’t make the party that’s on them.

But Paul knows the toxic nature of this line of thinking and so Paul tells them about his life:

I’ve had glory and dishonor, bad and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

There’s one of the best verses in the Bible. Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul’s answer to entitlement and selfish hoarding is to remember that everything belongs to God, and every meal is a gift.

You know I wonder how often those nine lepers thought about this?  I imagine they followed the Jesus news of the day. They heard about him being killed and raising from the dead. They heard about this group of disciples that actually started going around the world doing the very things he was doing, and they had walked away from all of it.

They had been healed but it could have been so much more. They could have taken part in the healing of the world. Starting with themselves. They might have lived a life of radical graditude filled with the joy of knowing how generous God is.

May this be a season for you to step back and appreciate how good God is. May you come to recognize the shoulders you stand on in life. May we fight entitlement with gratitude. Materialism with contentment, and selfishness with generosity.

May we be rich in all the ways that count.

God is For Love: A Better Conversation For Homosexuality & the Church

So last week the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson and the Well-Spoken Evangelical Gabe Lyons had a different kind of conversation about the Church and Homosexuality. It happened at Stanford University, and it exemplifies the kind of cultural engagement that I believe needs to happen more. This week I watched this whole video, and after seeing it, I wish everyone could carve out time to watch it.

What’s different about this conversation is how both men approach this issue so differently, but both are so conciliatory. Notice how many times they find ways to say “I agree with that part of what you are saying.”

A few observations for those who don’t have time to watch it all:

1. Gabe Lyons (who long time readers of this blog may recall I sat down with to interview earlier this year) talked about orthodox Christian values about sexuality in a humble and Christlike way. He never went ad hominem on Bishop Robinson and in fact helped to reframe much of the conversation. For example, when Lyons quoted the conservative Presbeteryian pastor Tim Keller “Homosexuality doesn’t send anyone to Hell anymore than being Heterosexual sends someone to Heaven. The largest sins of pride and smug self-righteousness sit at a deeper place in the human heart.”

2. Bishop Robinson is incredibly gracious and conciliatory about something that isn’t just an issue to him. This is his life experiences they are talking about. And Bishop Robinson is incredibly pro-marriage. One of the places that he and Gabe (and I) agree on is that the LGBT conversation has forced the Christian community to have a more robust (and better) theology of marriage.

3. Gabe is on to something about the dehumanizing nature of allowing ourselves to be identified by our sexuality. For those readers who are at Highland Church, Gabe actually laid out the very reason that I did our Fall series “The Sequels: A new Perspective on Love, Sex, Romance and Dating” I think that the deeper sin of our day is the idolatrous way we think about relationships and sexuality. Anything that we say, “I cannot be a complete person unless I have that” is taking the place of God in our lives. And no relationship or sexual encounter can bear the weight of worship. images

Notice that Gabe actually talked about how the Church has been guilty of idolizing marriage and sexuality. This is exactly the reason that we talked about this at Highland. In the words of Bishop Robinson, “To deny yourself and climb up on your own cross is self-sacrifice, to make someone else do it is murder.” I get the push-back to that statement, but what he’s saying is touching on the Achilles heel of any honest conversation for Christian sexual ethics. If the Church assumes that the marred life is the best or only way to be fully human, than we have to honestly look in the mirror and ask ourselves if this is really the “Kingdom of God” we are preaching or just a baptized American dream. I know a lot of Christian Singles who don’t want to mingle, and they would like to belong to a Church that realized that singleness is a valid way to follow Jesus (A Single Man!)

If we re-affirm the celibate single life as a robust and valid calling for following Jesus, than suddenly the Christian faith has something to call people toward, not just something to call people away from.

4. Both Bishop Robinson and Gabe said that basic human rights should be acknowledged and supported for every human being. This is vital to being Christian. I affirm the classic Christian view of sexuality, but even deeper than that I affirm that what it means to be Christian is to love our neighbor. And there is not a single label in the world that makes someone not my neighbor. Christians should be the people who are the most against bullying and ostracizing people who are sexual minorities, not because they are affirming any sexual orientation, but because they know that the image of God is present in every human being.

5. Pay attention to how Gabe puts all his cards on the table. He acknowledges that nobody wants to be known as being “against love.” And when this is presented as a progressive-justice kind of issue it becomes really hard to present a dissenting view, but then he appeals to our better instincts of being able to disagree and still respect and love each other. And then he redefines what it means to think of progressive views and the Bible.

Much of the time when we talk about Christianity and Homosexuality, we also say things about slavery and women and how the Scriptures and Christian tradition has slowly but surely progressed to a more just and humane view of the world God wants for everyone. However, in the Scripture, the sexual ethic gets more restrictive as it progresses. People used to be married to more than one spouse, people used to divorce for any reason they wanted to…but Jesus and the New Testament actually call us forward toward monogamy, fidelity and  celibacy (a huge idea for early Christianity). In fact, historically speaking, the idea that sexuality was a gift from God that was meant for a man and a woman only in a covenant, that’s the new idea. 

I think Bishop Robinson makes several great points in this conversation, and I hope we can appreciate and respect the life that has lead him to tell his story. I hesitate to write about homosexuality because it is such a polarizing topic, but I believe the only way forward is to start having different kinds of conversations about it. And if two very different kinds of Christians can talk about it in front of thousands of people at Stanford University, than I figure it’s worth the risk to talk about it here.

Because after all, God is for Love.

And love looks a lot like the conversation in this video.

Strange Fire and Churches of Christ


“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” -C.S. Lewis

Maybe you’ve noticed that over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk around charismatic vs. not charismatic protestant Christians. Some people held a conference, and John MacArthur wrote a book about it. Mark Driscoll even showed up at the conference and started giving away his newest book and just confused everyone.

But what caught my eye is what these non-Charismatics called the conference.

They called it, “Strange Fire”

Which may not mean much to you, but it means a lot to me. Because growing up in the Restoration Movement, that is a reference to an obscure little story in Leviticus that no other branch in Christian tradition really paid attention to.

It’s the story of Nadab and Abihu, some of the first priests in the Torah. It’s 10 little verses that end with God smiting Nadab and Abihu because they offered “Strange” or “Unauthorized Fire.”

When I heard the name of the conference it felt…reassuring. I thought, “Hey, we’re not the only ones who misread the Bible after all!”

And let’s call that’s what it is.

To name this conference that, is a way of misreading the Bible. I don’t care where you go from there, but if you start with that story as your metaphor, you will have a  bad view of God when you’re reading the Bible.[1]

Trust me on this.

But when I saw in Christianity Today, that Mark Noll actually compares this new anti-charismatic movement to Restorationist I had two thoughts, “Christianity Today knows about us?” and then as I read the comparison I realized “Yes, they know us well.”

Here’s what they said:

“Perhaps the major flaw of the book is more attitudinal than methodological. In claiming to see things so clearly–so black and white–MacArthur falls into a restorationist mindset, identified by historian Mark Noll as “intellectual overconfidence, sectarian delusion, and a stunningly naive confidence in the power of humans to extract themselves from the influences of history…”

Apparently Mark grew up in my church.

Now I love Churches of Christ, and the Restoration Movement, I’m not just saying that. I  really do. And I’m glad to be a part of Protestant Christianity…except for this one tiny slice of it. We protest…a lot…and often.

We love to argue and parse words and ideas, and I love the idea about Sola-Scriptura, but like Mark Noll hinted at, Sola Scriptura is naïve if you don’t acknowledge that you are a person culturally conditioned to read the Bible in certain ways and ask certain questions (one that the Bible might not be trying to address) and not ask the questions the Bible is trying to answer.

I get the Cessasionist argument, and I really respect John McArthur, his writings and ministry have blessed me. I love Joni Erickson Tada (who spoke at the conference) and I very much understand why someone who has endured the suffering of both physical limitations, and the suffering of spiritual bullies who might say, “If you just had enough faith…”

But I believe I’ve heard the voice of God, and I’ve prayed for people who I believe have been healed, and several who haven’t.  But I didn’t always think this way.

The problem for me started about 9 years ago, when I went to Sri Lanka to do Tsunami relief. We were with a small gathering of Christians there, and a blind woman came up to get prayed for, and God opened her eyes.

I’ve got a bachelors and a graduate degree in Bible, and I immediately said to myself, “I know seven reasons why that cant happen.”

But as I started to think about it, I realized that the reasons I knew that this couldn’t happen had nothing to do with the Bible. It had everything to do with the philosophy and ideology I was reading the Bible through.

The problem was I had been using the Bible, to be right, to make a living. I was standing on it, but the Bible is telling about a world that we are supposed to inhabit.

And in that world anything can happen.

Because God is in it.

As an aside, there is a reason that Charismatic Chrsitianity is spreading all through the third world. Last week, a few Christians and I were having a bible study with a Muslim man from Sierre Leon when we got to one of the excoricisms in the Gospel of Mark. I told him, that none of us at the table had ever seen anything like a demon possession, and maybe he could speak more to the issue.

So he started talking about the Witch doctor in his village. How he could point at a goat and kill it with his voodoo, and about how he put spells on people making them go crazy.

When my friend read the Gospel of Mark, he was glad to see that demons obeyed Jesus. Because he knew what a demon was in a way that we don’t.

My friend sure hopes God hasn’t ceased working in the world, because he knows first hand that evil hasn’t.

Anytime we start having a conversation about God that only works in certain parts of the world (the wealthiest, most educated and the most access to medicinal resources) we are going to miss large parts of the Gospel.

Love and Elitism

The real problem that I believe MacArthur is trying to address is the division that has happened around the way we talk about the Holy Spirit and God’s activity in the world. I spend a lot of time with some Charismatic brothers and sisters, and I understand the critique.

It’s very possible to think that you’ve arrived at a place superior than others because of your spiritual experience, or what you’ve sensed God work through you to heal or prophesy. It’s very easy to fall in love with the gifts more than the Giver.

I’ve also been around Cessationalists enough to know that this isn’t just a “Charismatic problem” Knowledge, after all, does puff up.

And it is ironic, that the main verse in the Bible that Cessationalist and Charismatics argue about is in Paul’s magnificent chapter of what Christian love looks like.

And that context matters just as much as anything else in this conversation. Christian love defers to one other, it esteems one another, it doesn’t accumulate priviledge and status when God gives you gifts like healing or preaching or the gift of knowledge.

Christian love shouldn’t crash someone’s conference or take away someone’s books and then tweet about it.

In fact, I believe that for these two groups to be able to reconcile and apologize and humble themselves before the other, that would be a miracle. Perhaps the best kind of miracle.

I Can’t Only Imagine

It seems to me that the way most Christians talk about God in the world today is either that God is something like magic (good for the occasional miracle, if you just pray the right prayers, believe the right way etc.) or we are Deist’s (the idea that God created the Universe, wound it up like a top, and stepped away.) The universe is either empty of God, or God is someone we can control.

This is a problem.

I was talking to an Anglican priest friend last week about this, and his answer was so good I think it might be helpful here.

He said something like, the main problem really isn’t what we think it is. The real problem is that we’ve lost our imagination.

There is a fundamental difference between a Catholic Christian’s imagination and a Protestant Christian’s imagination.  In Catholicism, the whole world in enchanted, God is closer than we are to ourselves, and the entire Creation is dripping with the Glory of God.

So back to us Protestants, both the Charismatics and the Cessationists are basically talking with the same limited imagination. We believe that either God punches a whole in the roof of the world and tinkers in from time to time in order to heal our Aunt’s cancer or give me a better parking space…or we believe that He doesn’t do that.

But both are operating from a posture that fundamentally believes God is somewhere else.aslan3

This is why we use language like, “And then God showed up.” As if there are places in the world where God wasn’t!

And don’t think for a second I’m trying to ignore the Bible. I’m just trying to start reading it better. Think about how the Psalms talk about Creation, the mountains clap for joy, and the rivers sing!

According to the Bible the whole earth is enchanted!

And the danger of having conversations like this, is that we strip God out of the world He made and we do it, not by using the Bible, but coming from an “Enlightenment Worldview” that has very little to do with imagination, and very much to do with scientific reductionism of the Good world that God created and still inhabits.

Think about the words we use in this argument. It’s words like Natural vs. Supernatural. Where did we get those words from? It’s not Scripture, so if we are going to have this conversation then lets at least admit that it’s not Sola Scriptura we are arguing with.

We are humans, located in certain places and ideologies.

And God help us if we make boxes so tight that God can’t help us.

The Catholic (think Pre-Enlightenment) imagination is rich and filled with different ways of talking about reality. It is what Tolkien and Lewis drew from to tell about the Enchanted world of God.

I’ve spoken in tongues, because all Art is speaking in tongues, I’ve seen God heal people, and I see God sustain the Billion miracles everyday that hold our intricate hearts beating just because of His creative word. I’ve seen babies born and people sacrifice their lives, I’ve seen people healed in “normal” ways like through doctors at hospitals and people healed in unusual ones.

Am I a Charismatic or a Cessasionist? Neither. Because I think both of those stories are two small to contain God.

I believe Aslan is on the move.

The Fire of God is real, the world is ablaze with it.

And when Christians are unable to see that, I think that’s strange.

[1] Rabbinical tradition teaches that this story in Leviticus isn’t about them disobeying or misunderstanding God, it’s about them not revering Him. The very next verse after this story is a prohibition against drinking while performing priestly duties, so the Rabbi’s have said that was Nadab and Abihu’s sin.

The Gospel According to Youtube: All The Lonely People

The Gospel According to Youtube

“The tragedy of modern man is not that he [or she] knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.” -Vaclav Havel

“In the beginning was the Word, but in the end, it appears will be the image.” John Seel

Once upon a time, Leslie and I were on a mission team. We were trained by missionaries to think about why people do what they do, what they hope to get out of it, and whether or not they feel it is working.

We were taught to approach culture asking questions like “What way of looking at the world makes someone create/do/hope for something like this?

And that all starts with asking the first question. What kind of world are we in?  What is the nature of ultimate reality?

And to answer that for the world that I live in, I think we have to turn to YouTube. Obviously.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Now the way most philosophy works is that it just works. It’s not something we talk about, when a philosophy is working well it’s like our health…we only pay attention to it when something starts going wrong.

For some reason we humans try to protect ourselves from asking questions about “life’s deeper meaning.”

Maybe it’s because we think we wouldn’t like the answers we’d get back.

But when it’s not working, we start to poke around with questions like “Why do we do this?” “How did we get this way?” and of course “Why do we put all those cat videos on the internet?”

And that’s why I’d like to start a short blog series on the Gospel of YouTube, because there is a reason that over 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! There’s a reason that around 20% of the world’s population regularly visit this website. But what is it?

And the answer sounds a bit like magic.

Now Magic isn’t what you see at shows in Vegas or at a little kid’s birthday party, Magic for thousands of years was the way that you controlled the world around you.

And sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But eventually we stopped using it…or at least we thought we did.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this well in The Abolition of Man when he says:

“I have described as a ‘magician’s bargain’ that process whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power…The fact [is] that the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed [so] You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better…There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.”

Did you catch that last part? Instead of trying to conform our soul to reality we are now able to conform reality to our wishes, and to do that we will do almost anything…Which at least explains this part of YouTube.

Lewis is right about us. We live in a world of technology that is so advanced we’ve actually been allowed to control the reality around us. We no longer have to suffer the ways our ancestors did. We don’t get hot or cold or hungry or lonely without an immediate solution to our problem. Reality is no longer dependent on our surroundings or our community because reality now has a thermostat and a button.

And this creates a reality that says if you peel away the layers of the Cosmos, at the center of the universe you will find… yourself.

And so we better make ourselves as presentable or provocative as possible.

“The Shiny Surface Of Our Own Devising”

Now to be clear, I like technology and YouTube and Social Media, and I’m going to write more on the good ways that it’s influenced us. But the reason I am wanting to write on this is because I believe in thinking like a missionary. And there’s not many things on the planet that have influenced the way more people think than the way we use our internet and the way we let the internet use us.


If you have ever cared about baseball, chances are you know about Joe DiMaggio. He was labeled the greatest living baseball player of the 20th century. Everywhere he went people applauded him, he was praised by the sport reporters as if he were a god. On top of his extraordinary talent, Joe also married Marilyn Monroe. He was living the dream.

And then he died, and it turned out that it was a dream.

When they released a biography of Joe’s life, everyone was suddenly shocked that Joe wasn’t who they thought he was.  The author said that Joe lived “a flat life.” Because he was so committed to “show nothing but the shiny surface of his own devising.”

Joe as it turns out, was famous, well-loved, wealthy and absolutely miserable.

In their book “Reading Scripture Through Western Eyes” two seminary professors talk about their years as missionaries in SouthEast Asia. In their first few years on the mission field, they could never get any alone time. They kept trying to communicate to their village that they needed some privacy, but the culture that they were in didn’t even have a word for private. When they asked their language teachers what the closest word was for “Private” they told them:


That’s the problem with the reality we believe in, we are at the center of the universe and we are incredibly lonely.

Turns out you can be alone with millions of people.

Just ask Joe DiMagio…or get on YouTube.

The Fight of Your Life

Photo Taken From Rich Kids on Instagram
Photo Taken From Rich Kids on Instagram

So this Sunday at Highland, we concluded our Sequels Sermon series, by talking about the ancient Jewish/Christian tradition of Wisdom…specifically how we reap what we sow. But there was one part of that sermon that I wanted to flesh out a little more. Namely, what it means to have a good life, and why in the ancient world people used to eat so much they would throw up, and then they’d eat a little more.

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

The Good Life

One of the interesting things about the ancient world is that, historically speaking, they answered the question, “What does it mean to have a good life?” much differently than we do today.

Recently,  Forbes magazine researched what people in America mean when they say “the Good life.” They said that what most of us think of is something like: living in a four-thousaand-square foot home, owning a 2nd home in a beautiful place (like a beach or mountain home) having several luxury cars, dinner once a week at a ritzy restaurant, three vacations a year, private school for your children, an upscale college when they graduate.

You know standard stuff like that.

Now, I know people who have all of those things and more, but I also know that if you were to ask them they wouldn’t say that this made their life good. It might make it comfortable, but chances are it makes life terrifying. The more you have the more you have to protect, and the more afraid you are, and the more afraid you are the less you enjoy the life that you have.

That’s not a good life.

From a historic perspective, what it meant to live a good life was to be able to master all the impulses and desires, and not be controlled by them. This is actually what the ancient Greeks thought it meant to be “A Manly Man.” Not to just be able to have sexual conquests with everyone you met, but to be able to restrain and retrain that desire (and all desires) toward a more focused goal.

The word for this was virtue.

And virtue is something I think those of us in churches need to start talking more about.

Today we don’t think about the Good Life like this anymore. We’ve been taught through an onslaught of advertisements that we are the center of all that matters, and that what we need to live the good life is “More.” We need to consume and take and receive as much as we can.

Now this line of thinking isn’t new entirely new either. Back in the day of Paul there was a common saying, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” It was this notion that if you had an impulse than you should fulfill it. If you are hungry than eat. It was the idea of unrestrained consumption.

Back in the day of Paul, the noble elite would go to feasts where they would eat so much, that someone invented something called the “Vomitoriam” (not the brightest moment in human history) just so they could throw up and then go back to eating. And Paul writes in this culture to a church and he references this whole idea of over-consumption and he calls it something less than a good life.

Paul calls it Idolatry.

He says, “There god is their stomach…and their glory is their shame.”

According to Paul, something has gone horribly wrong when we think of a good life as something like that. When we start celebrating over-eating as if it was a mark of what it means to be fully alive.

When we eat so much we throw up…and then we eat some more.

Mike Tyson’s “Hell of a Match”

So back to that idea of the ancient idea of what it meant to be a real man.tyson

Last year I read this article in the New York times about how Mike Tyson now lives in the Suburbs. And it was fascinating, because it made clear Tyson hadn’t given up fighting, he has just chosen a harder fight.

He was a man who had been, in his own words, “addicted to everything.” He once had a pet tiger, and he still has a face tattoo, but now he goes to bed before 9, and he and his wife have childproofed their home.

He refuses to do reality shows, and he is suspicious of fame. And in the words of the author, his wilder impulses are being held in check, by his inner solid citizen. But as hard as the writer was trying to not reach for religious language, the story of Tyson’s life is best understood by a man fighting demons and him losing that fight often.

He’s made his life, and those around him, Hell.

And this is where the article lets religious language begin to creep in. Because the final sentences of the article say:

 Now the focus is not on invincibility or greatness, but on the perhaps more elusive goal of keeping his furies at bay and trying to master his unrulier impulses rather than letting them control him. It’s sure to be one hell of a match.

This is the fight of our life.

It is what leads us to the kind of person God created us to be.

It’s why Paul moves from the idolatry of consumption, to the solution of contentment. Because to be fully human…to live the good life is to recognize that what we have is enough…and that our impulses are not always the best compass for our heart, and then Paul says this:

We eagerly await the Savior, who’s power enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies, so that they will be like his glorious body.

The fight of our life is discipleship.

It is to learn God is good.

And that He alone brings life.

The Sequels: The Greatest is Love


So this coming Sunday, we will finish The Sequels sermon series that we’ve been going through for the past 3 months. It’s a series that has gotten more feedback than any one I’ve ever done, and I’m glad that I’ve done it and that it will be over. But what is interesting to me is that the question I get more than any other is Why talk so much about marriage and singleness?

I think that’s a great question to ask…the Bible.

Marriage Ministry

Have you ever noticed how much the Bible talks about or implies how important marriage is? The Bible insists that while the married life isn’t for everyone,  marriages exists for everyone.

Have you ever noticed how in Deuteronomy 24, God tells all the men that they have to serve in the Army…except for one group? It’s the newly married guys, they don’t have to serve in the army, because they are serving God by serving their wives. Does that strike anyone else as strange? No nation that I know of still does this? We’ve all seen the pictures of husbands and wives being torn away from each other by war. But God refuses to do this.

In fact, God seems to think that the best way that newly married Husbands can serve Him is by serving their wives. Their marriage is their ministry.

Because their marriage isn’t just for themselves.

Think about the Bible for a second, it starts off with a young married, naked couple who blame and disobey. The context for the first sin was marriage, and the main metaphor in the Bible for sin leans on marriage. The Bible calls sin adultery.

I think that is just fascinating.

Why Be Good?

In the letter to the Romans, Paul is trying to help this church learn the best motivation for obeying God. He doesn’t want them to do it out of some attempt to obligate or control God. i.e. “If I don’t steal God will make me rich.” But he also doesn’t want them to just think that Grace means they can live however they want.

Paul is trying to answer the question that everyone is asking, even if we don’t know it. “Why should I be good?”

In his letter to the Roman Church, Paul is writing a community filled with both Jewish people and new Gentile converts, and both groups are leaning to different sides.

So Paul starts off his conversation by talking about how Sin leads to death. This is an important factor, because the Bible is constantly reminding us that “We will reap what we sow.” And the reason that God tells us not to do certain things, is because they will lead to Death. Thousands of years before Vince Gilligand introduced the world to a High School Chemistry teacher “Breaking Bad” by cooking meth, Paul is telling us how that story ends…with death.

But then Paul moves into talking about sin as slavery. I think this is an even more appropriate word for us today. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends talk about Grace, and I realize that the way they use it the word could be used as a synonym for Freedom. Grace to many of us is seen as a kind of relief from some kind of oppressive religious rules.

But have you noticed how so often, what starts off as an expression of freedom quickly can become a master? The vices that we religious people use to express our freedom, like tobacco, pornography, or gambling, lead us to a new sort of bondage?

But then Paul turns to a third illustration to talk about why to live differently in light of grace, it is the logic of love.

In Romans 7:1-6, Paul says our Spirituality is like a marriage.

In his great book, “What’s so Amazing about Grace” Philip Yancey tells a personal story to summarize Paul’s line of thinking:

When he was younger, Yancey spent an entire Summer learning basic German in order to get a Master’s Degree.  For five nights a weeks, three hours a night He basically memorized all the basic word endings and how to parse German verbs. This was especially disheartening because it was a language he knew he would never use again. It was all for a degree. But looking back on it, Yancey wondered if there was any other way he would have done that.

What if the school registrar had promised him, in advance that he’d get a passing grade, and that his diploma had already been filled out. Would “grace” have compelled him to have studied? Not a chance.

This was the problem that Paul confronts in Romans, and what every church member confronts to this day.

But notice where Yancey takes this:

What would inspire me to learn German? I can think of one powerful incentive. If my wife, the woman I feel in love with, spoke only German, I would have learned the language in record time….I would have stayed up late at night parsing verbs and placing them properly at the ends of my love-letter sentences, treasuring each addition to my vocabulary as a new way of expressing myself to the one I loved. I would have learned German unbegrudgingly, with the relationship itself as my reward.”

Here’s the thing I know about us religious people, guilt and shame can get us to do anything. Our Greed, our attempts to manipulate God, through some kind of If/then contract, we’ll work tirelessly for that.

But that leads us to become a certain kind of person an older angry brother, we start to judge everyone else who’s not living out the contract as well as we are.

And then, on the other side, there are those of us who have discovered “Grace” But we’re no better!

Do you know what researchers have found out about “Grace” Christians? They’ve found out that people who feel forgiven of their sins, don’t tend to serve and work toward making the world better.

We religious people either ignore the love of God, or take His love for granted.

But every now and then, I’ll meet someone who loves and serves the world well, not for God to love them, but because they know the expansive love of God.

And you want to know what those people are?


I want to be a saint.

I want to be able to love and serve God for who He is.

Not for what He can give me.

There are lots of good reasons to do the right thing, and to try and make the world a better place, but the greatest of these is love.

Good and Evil: When Bad is Broken

“The Doctrine of (no Hell) can only be born in the quiet of the suburbs.” -Miroslav Volf

“Vengeance is Mine says the LORD.” -St. Paul


Last week, I started a Bible study with a young Muslim man from West Africa. A few of us are reading through the Gospel of Mark together talking about the life of Jesus.

When we came to the part of Mark where Jesus exorcises the demon from the man in the synagogue, I told our African friend that most of us around that table had never seen this kind of evil, and I asked him if he had anything to say.

Turns out he did.

Today I’d like to finish this little blog series on Evil, with one more final, and I think timely observation. I started this series because Vince Gilligan had captured America’s imagination with the story of a High School Chemistry teacher turned Meth Cook, drug kingpin, and murderer. Little by little, Walter White broke bad. And I’d like to remind you one more time of the Creator’s philosophy of this story:

“If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something…I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”

What an interesting way to say that.

The Hell of It

As fans of the show watched the unraveling of the character we’d grown to love to hate or hate to love, we noticed that there was also another character to Breaking Bad. Karma. Underwriting every scene was this idea that the other shoe was going to drop and evil people would get their comeuppance in proportion to their crimes against humanity.

But this is where I think Breaking Bad is more naive and hopeful than almost any fairy tale that has gone before it. Because the world doesn’t work as cleanly as that…and in some ways that is the point of the whole show. This is how Vince Gilligan wished the world worked.

And it’s why I believe in Hell.

But not the way you might think.

I’m not sure how God’s final judgment is going to work, I’m pretty sure it’s different than what most of us think of when we think of Hell and Satan with pitchforks. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t what most of my American friends think of when they bring it up. Because when the Bible talks about God’s final judgment it seems to always assume that this is a good thing.

In fact, the doctrine that God will judge the entire world was always seen by God’s people, not as a condemnation, but as a comfort. And it was also seen as a great resource for how to respond to evil in the here an now.

In the jarring words of the great theologian Miroslav Volf:

The practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword…It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind…if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.

Is God a Pacifist?Mark Driscoll

Over the past week, it seems that there has been a resurgence of people claiming that the idea of non-violence is un-manly. Controversial Pastor Mark Driscoll is once again is being controversial, and once again the argument seems to be something like, to be a man means that you need to own a gun and be willing to take up arms against evil.

Now I own a gun, and understand the God-given instinct to protect the weak, but I don’t like this conversation at all.

It seems to me that the people who talk the most about Hell understand it’s implications the least. Because the good news about the coming judgment of God is that God will set the world right, And that His judgment works differently.

Think about how Jesus deals with those demon possessed. Whatever Jesus says, the demons obey. there’s no arguing with the Son of God for them. In Mark 5, Jesus kicks a whole legion of demons out of a person, and the person is still standing. Jesus’ judgment is for the person, and against evil.

Think about one of the few times that Jesus talks about the eternal fire of judgment. Look at what he actually says In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and His angels” 

Hell wasn’t made for people. Hell was made to judge the evil of the world. Hell was made because God cares about all the ways we’ve hurt each other. It is God’s final way to break bad.

Which brings me back to my friend from West Africa. He told us about Witch Doctors and goat sacrifices, about voodoo spells that drove a friend crazy, and ultimately about the civil war that ravaged his country and killed his father. He had seen men light other men on fire, behead one another and he saw dark forces at work behind it all.

My African friend has no problem with the idea that God has some judging to do.

The good news about the judgment of God is that there is such a thing as justice for us to work toward, but we must also recognize we will never be able to fully bring it because we are a part of the problem too. None of us know exactly what people deserve, and if we are honest none of us are qualified to dispense the judgment of justice toward others because we are deeply broken ourselves.

If there is a judgement day, then we don’t have to take the burden of justice all on ourselves. If God will set the world right, we don’t have to worry about trying to fix it all by ourselves. And we don’t have to take up the means of evil to defeat it.

Is God a pacifist? In a word: No

But that doesn’t mean that God’s people can’t be.

Because vengeance is His. One day God will make every sad thing come untrue. At the restoration of all things, when death itself is dead, when bad is fully broken.

Zoe 2013: Here With Us

If you grew up in Churches of Christ, chances are you haven’t heard much about Advent before. But for over a thousand years Christians have observed a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

For the upcoming Zoe conference this weekend, Jeff Childers and I sat down to talk about what Advent means and why it matters. If you are interested in digging deeper into this for your churches go to the Zoe website. Jeff made four separate videos talking about why Advent matters,  or, if you can come, to the Zoe Conference this weekend to learn even more.

Here are some highlights from hearing Jeff Childers talk about Advent:

  • Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.
  • In order to understand Advent, it helps to understand the ancient Christian Calendar. Christians have had for thousands of years certain ways of thinking about time and space, and Advent is one of the ways that we can understand the way that the whole world revolves around Jesus.
  • Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts. And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow. And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone.

Jesus is coming to the world.

He does every year.

Ephesians: A Gospel Mystery

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. –Ephesians 3:6


I was reading this morning in the book of Ephesians, and something stood out to me that I’ve never noticed before.

Paul was a single man, and Paul really, really appreciates marriage. And our churches need to notice constantly both of these things.

For the longest time we’ve mis-read Paul. We’ve thought that Paul was trying to get all the churches that he planted to think that the Jewish law was a bad thing. We got this idea from Martin Luther, that the Law was a burden that was given to break the Israelites into realizing that they can’t keep all of those rules.

But that’s not true at all.

Remember that God gave the Israelites the Torah after He gave them Himself. They had just come out of centuries of slavery in Egypt, and they don’t know how to live. You don’t want to just drop off a bunch of slaves into a foreign country and let them figure out how to live on their own. That’s how we got Australia.

See Paul is a good Jewish Rabbi who knows that the law was a gift from God, so why does Paul talk so much about Jewish regulations in his letters? Because Paul is trying to create communities that transcend Jewish and Gentile labels.

He’s trying to create church.

See back in the day, one of the main indicators of a ruler’s power was His ability to create unity in diverse places. This was one of the ways that Caesar “proved” he was Lord. By being able to bring peace, or the Pax Ramona (Peace of Rome) to the world. But the way Rome brought peace was not by forcing unity at the end of a sword.

And Paul is trying to create unity at the foot of the cross.

A Unity Movement

This is what Paul’s ultimate ministry is about. Creating communities of people who have different backgrounds, genders, races, and perspectives but who all can come together to worship the God of Jesus.

And it’s interesting that Paul uses the word “Mystery” to describe this.

Go back and look at Ephesians 1:9, and then go read Paul unpack this idea in Ephesians 2:11-17. The whole goal is to reconcile very different people groups in the name of Jesus for the glory of God. And the way Paul has to do this, is by stripping these different clichés of their ways they used to separate and justify themselves.

See back in that day, people used to try to one-up each other. So people would come to church thinking that there was the “enlightened” and the “primitive-minded” or the “rich” and the “lazy” or the “poor” and the “greedy” or the “religious” and the “Spirit-Filled” or the “intelligent, thoughtful person” and the “charismatic” The single, the single again, and the married…the Jew and the Gentile.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but that was the kind of church Paul was addressing.

That’s the mystery. That somehow people could get over defining themselves over and against another group, and how they were better than someone else, and just define themselves as people who were united and loved by God.

So over and over again in Ephesians, Paul refers to this as a Mystery.

And then He gets to marriage.

And we love to focus on the part of Ephesians 5 that talks about power and submission. We’ve even created camps about who takes what position and how wrong “they” are and how right “we” are.

But that goes against the very spirit of the marriages that Paul is talking about, because it goes against the mystery of the Gospel.


In Ephesians 5, Paul actually calls marriage a profound mystery. In the Greek, he says this is a Mega-Mysterion. It’s something that is hard to explain, even harder to live, but easy to understand when you see it. the-sacrament-of-marriage

Because when a Christian marriage is on, when he’s giving himself fully to her, and she’s giving herself fully to him…they aren’t trying to define themselves as better than the other, or justify their own behavior, they are trying to, in spite all of their differences, reconcile together for the sake of the Gospel.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this time and time again. I’ve preached so many funerals where the husband or wife was saying goodbye to their spouse, and the whole church was moved. I’ve seen what can only be described as a tangible change in the atmosphere when the church gathers to mourn a spouse losing another spouse, and celebrate their faithfulness to one another. There is a holiness that is hard to put into words. It’s is a mystery.

Because there is something so powerful about a marriage that has gone the distance. But it’s more than some kind of Nicolas Sparks romance, according to Paul it is a glimpse of the Gospel.

In a marriage, we are forced to reconcile what previously had been separated.

And this is why I believe marriages in the American church matter for the single person, and the divorced person. Because marriages are a way God reminds his people of the kind of community He is creating. And in this community, you aren’t better than someone else because you aren’t divorced, and you aren’t better than someone else because you happened to get married. You are all being reconciled to the same God, and so we each have to make room for one another.

This is why Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians by saying this:

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.

What Paul is doing in his chains, he thinks Christian couples are doing in their marriages.

Paul, a single man, appreciates marriage as a symbol of the way to unify everyone. 

Divorced people, single people, married people, rich people, poor people, tall people and smart people. Now all people can come together because of the Gospel.

That’s the mystery

Making it Home

So this coming Sunday is Homecoming for ACU, and at the Highland Church that means a lot of friends and family that we haven’t seen in a while are back in town for worship. This video is a promo that we shot for this weekend back in July. It’s about the series we are going through this Fall, but for me it’s a lot more special than just some promotional video.

It’s the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, the place were Elvis was married, where Sinead O’ Conner was married, where Brittany Spears got married….twice. But for me it was Holy Ground, because I got to make this video in the very room my parents got married in 50 years ago.

They eloped to Las Vegas, and were married in the middle of the night by a Church of Christ “Reverend”. Their only witness was a woman in a Chanel House coat (who I actually got to meet back in July!) It was holy ground not because of the place, but because of the promises made there. My parents had promised to give their lives to each other, and for the past 33 years I’ve watched them do just that.

So Mom and Dad, thanks for making that promise. Because of that promise you didn’t just give me a house to grow up in, that promise was how you made it home.

And If you are in Abilene this weekend, we’d love to see you at Highland. I’ve never seen somebody do what we are going to try and do this weekend, and I’ve been dreaming about it for years. But you’ll have to come to see! Services are at 8:15 and 11:00 and our Instrumental service is at 5:00 P.M. at our Grace Campus (N. 9th and Cypress St.)

So if you happen to make it to Abilene this weekend, we hope you can make it home!