Monthly Archives: October 2012

Judging the World

I read this story over a decade ago, and it’s been haunting me ever since. A month doesn’t go by that I don’t think about this story. It’s in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace. A friend of Yancey was a Christian counselor in Chicago, and a young woman had come to him with a severe addiction. She had to started to prostitute her body out to provide for her substance abuse, and when that wasn’t enough money, eventually she started selling her 2 year old’s body  as well.

Now this counselor has got to report her. But first he asks her a question, he asks her, “Have you ever thought about going to a church?” And she says, “Church?!! Why would I ever go there? I already feel bad enough about myself.”

Told you it’s a haunting story.

So for the past several weeks I’ve been writing about the need for Christians to live in a community that is able to judge each other in loving ways, and today is the last post in this series. And on some level this whole series has all been a set up for this post.

Because despite that first story, I do think that Christian communities should be known as the places where we are able to speak the hard truths into each other lives. I do think we should be known for being lovingly judgmental, but not in any sense like Christians are known today.

The real problem with the Western Church today is not a lack of programs or leaders, it’s not us not having the right building location. The real problem we have is a lack of American Christians looking like Jesus. The Barna Group is a famous research company that surveys American Christians, they basically ask us “What has following Jesus changed in your life?” And every time the Barna group comes out with another survey, the answer is always the same, “Not much.”

We sleep around at the same rate as non-Christians, we use our money the same way non-Christians do, we are just as likely to beat our spouse or divorce as a non-Christian is. Christians are even more likely than non-Christians to object to someone of a another race moving into their neighborhood.

I like the way Dallas Willard talks about this:

Non-discipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem…It is now understood to be a part of the “good news” that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to “cheap grace” though it would be better described as costly faithlessness

In other words, The biggest problem is that Jesus followers don’t follow Jesus. Continue reading Judging the World

Inspi(re)laity #9: Funerals and Doing the Visitation

 This is another post in a year long series about both the nuts and bolts of practical ministry and how it relates to the reason we got into ministry in the first place. I’ve asked my friend Randy Piersall to write for the next couple of weeks, about best practices that he’s seen from ministers in funerals. Randy is a local funeral home director and one of the best people that I’ve seen at entering into people’s grief and standing with them.  He’s shared tips on how to do funerals with dozens of young ministers, and today he’s going to give some practical tips on how to be and stand with the family for the visitation.

Now that I have given some detail about how I entered into this ministry and why I feel it matters, let’s talk about some practical points surrounding how ministers serve families during loss.  In this blog I would like to specifically look at “The Family Meeting” and “The Visitation” and then I’ll conclude my 3rd blog with “The Service” and “The Graveside”.

The family meeting is a special time for the minister to enter into conversation with the family about how to craft a service that is as unique as the person it is intended to focus on.  There are some important things about this meeting that need to be mentioned on the front end; have no expectations and make no judgments, don’t feel rushed and don’t let the family feel rushed, and like Las Vegas, what happens in these meetings stay in these meetings.

Have no expectations and make no judgments:  If you don’t know this already, not every person was raised exactly like you.  In ministry you will have an opportunity to work with the richest of the rich and the poor of the poor and if you come to this meeting with the perspectives of the world you might miss an opportunity to see how God works in the lives of all people.  This lesson is one I learned all to well a few years ago when I received a “police call”.

In my community, some of the funeral homes serve on a rotation to help families when an unattended death occurs, or when there is a death and the family doesn’t have a funeral home preference.  These calls usually carry with them some very difficult situations and this call I received was no different.  The police said, “there was a young Hispanic male that was shot twice in the back while in an altercation with an unidentified male.”  The shooting took place at a party with many eyewitnesses, none of whom “saw anything”.  The father is a night manager of a local fast food place and the mother lives in another state.  As you can imagine every unflattering stereotype ran through my mind and I couldn’t have been more wrong, but as Jonathan loves to say “I’ll get back to that……” Continue reading Inspi(re)laity #9: Funerals and Doing the Visitation

The Grace of Truth

So I’ve been writing the past few weeks about the need that we have for Christians to be able to speak the hard words into each other’s lives. Next week will be my last post about this, but I’ve been thinking about this because I have a hunch that we’ve reacted so much to the idea of not judging each other, that we’ve used it as an excuse to really living in community with one another. We live in social circles and call it church.

So there’s a time in the book of James where he talks about how anyone who knows the truth and doesn’t act on it is like someone who looks in a mirror and sees what’s there and immediately forgets it. I like that idea.

Because just about everybody I know looks in the mirror everyday. And for some of us it’s more painful than others, but we do it, and we stand in front of that mirror as long as we have to before we go out into the world. And we do that, no matter how disturbing what we see in the reflection is, because what we are looking at is reality.

And reality, whether we like it or not, is our friend.

A few years ago, a young woman came into my office who I had known in passing. We talked for a few minutes, and then she just kind of blurted out that she had an eating disorder. She was anorexic, and was paranoid about gaining weight, to the point where she was slowly starving herself. And I was shocked. On the outside, this young woman seemed to be emotionally healthy and happy, she was very thin and pretty, had a great job and a healthy dating life. And so I asked her why this was such a concern for her. And she told me that she had always struggled with her weight.

I don’t know what led me to ask this question, but the next thing I found myself saying was, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” And without a second of hesitation she replied, “I see a very fat person.” She couldn’t have weighed over 120 pounds soaking wet.

Sometimes mirrors lie.

And so I spent the next few minutes just talking to her about the lie that her mirror was telling her. I talked about having an identity in Jesus versus identifying with our appearances. And then I asked her about her friendships. I wanted to know if she had anybody in her life who she was very close enough with to share what she was struggling with, and who could speak some truth into her life.  She couldn’t imagine that, and then she went on to tell me that she didn’t plan on radically changing her behavior, or even the way she viewed herself, she just wanted to get it off her chest with her minister. And I think most of us know why she didn’t want to take this further.

Because some mirrors are more painful than others.

The book of James is probably the most practical book in the New Testament. James is trying to create a certain kind of church. And so James talks about judging each other with mercy, he talks about the power of the tongue, and how we should not use our mouth to put people down or gossip, he talks about how faith is something that leads to action, and how we shouldn’t treat people better or worst based on things like how much money is in their bank account. And then here’s how James’ ends his letter:

 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

That’s it. That’s how he ends it. He says that and then drops the mic and walks away.  Continue reading The Grace of Truth

Inspi(re)ality #8: Funerals and The Gift of Empathy


This is another post in a year long series about both the nuts and bolts of practical ministry and how it relates to the reason we got into ministry in the first place.

The first time I ever spoke in front of an actual crowd it was for a funeral I was doing.  One of the members of the 10 person church I was growing up at had died….and it was obviously a big deal for us. We’d just lost 10% of the church. So I stood up in front of a couple of hundred people and talked about Frank and how much he meant to us, and about death and resurrection and grief and hope.

And I was 14 years old.

Which means I actually didn’t write the funeral. Bro. Foy, the patriarch of the church I grew up at did.

Which was meaningful, because Frank was Foy’s brother.

Looking back on it, I can’t imagine the courage that took to allow some punk teenager to speak words in one of your most tender moments. But that’s exactly what he did, and thanks to Foy, I’ve been doing funerals ever since.  There is a weight to this part of ministry that is really hard to explain. And the temptation will be for us to not fully enter into it. If I could give one piece of advice when it comes to helping the grieving family, it would be this: Don’t jump to the resurrection too soon. Stand with people when they grieve. Jesus wept, and he didn’t just believe in the Resurrection, he was the Resurrection.

If this was your dad or spouse, how would you want the minister to enter into this?  Be present and listen, the most important things that people tell you might not have anything to do with what they say. The word for this is Empathy.

I have one suit that I wear for funerals. And in the coat pocket of that suit is the funeral program for Bro. Foy.

The person who taught me to do funerals.

The guy who is the reason I’m a preacher today.

And before every funeral I do, I look at that program. Because I love him. And I know that there are people who are gathering now who love the person who died the same way.

That’s why Empathy matters, that’s why funerals are more than just a task or a necessity for ministry. They are ways of facilitating and helping grieving to happen.

And with that in mind I’d like to introduce you to someone who is very gifted at empathetically entering into these worlds of grief. I’ve asked my friend Randy Piersall to write for the next couple of weeks, about best practices that he’s seen from ministers in funerals.

Randy is a local funeral home director and one of the best people that I’ve seen at entering into people’s grief and standing with them.  And today I’ve asked him to introduce himself, and share a bit of the story behind why he is a funeral director, and why what ministers do in funerals matter.

Meet Randy Piersall Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #8: Funerals and The Gift of Empathy

A Graceless World

So I’ve been thinking and writing the past few weeks about the need for Christians to be able to “judge” each other in healthy ways. It seems to me that we have reacted so much to the condemning, judgmental things that we’ve seen and experienced, that we’ve lost being able to see the value in allowing the people we share life with to speak an occasional hard word into us.

We need people in our lives who love us enough to speak these words, but not only those words.

One of the things that is so central to Scripture but so foreign to our church cultures, is the idea that we create with our words. The Bible starts off with the famous lines, “In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth.” God said “Let there be Light.” And because God gets what God wants, light had no choice but to exist.

Now we use this story a lot to argue with science, as if Genesis was trying to have a conversation with Darwin. But the point Genesis wants us to pay attention to is that God creates with language. He creates a world with words.

The Bible tells a story in which the words we use with each other matter a lot.

And that’s important because we talk quite a bit.

Did you know that the average person has, on an average day, 30 separate conversations? 1/5 of our day is talking. An average year of your talking fills 132 books with 200 pages. You are a walking annual encyclopedia.

The University of Denver recently did a study where they discovered that language was the biggest indicator of a healthy marriage. The most accurate predictor of whether or not a marriage was going to stay together was if the couple used a lot of negative language. They found that if a couple had 5 negative comments per 100 comments, than it was almost guaranteed that they were going to stay together, And If it was 10 negative comments per 100, then it was almost guaranteed that they would eventually split up.

We grew up saying that Sticks and Stones can never hurt us, but does anybody really believe that? Our words create, they name, they can heal and destroy.

There’s another part of the Bible that talks about the power of words, a letter written by James says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

The tongue leads to life and it can lead to death. Continue reading A Graceless World

Inspi(re)ality #7: Writing a Funeral


I said a few weeks ago that two of my favorite parts of ministry is being able to do funerals and weddings. That may sound a bit strange, but I believe they are really two sides of the same coin. These are the most sensitive moments in a family’s life,filled with great joy and great pain, but they are also  holy spaces where we get to see Heaven and earth get a bit closer.

And this is the primary job of a minister. You get the privilege to enter into the some of the most sacred spaces of a family’s life and stand with them in a time of grief. It will help you get to know the people in your church better, and the people who don’t go to church in your community. Think about this, there a ton of people who rarely turn to a minister for anything, but this is one of those moments that they do, and you get to point them to a God who is willing to enter into grief.

And so this is a very important part of ministry, and all of it probably needs to start with getting to know them better.

Interviewing the family

No matter how well I know the deceased, I want to talk with the people closest to them. Chances are they knew an aspect of the person that I didn’t. And if I didn’t know them at all, then this is my first place to start.

1) Gather the closest friends and family:  There always tends to be one or two people who raise to the top in helping shape this meeting. Most of the time, the spouse or a child of the deceased are the ones who decide who come to this. Remember, Everyone grieves differently, and every situation is different, so I want to try and enter this space as sensitively as possible. In weddings and funerals, family dysfunctions (and all families have them) tend to rise to the top. So be prepared for awkward comments and moments, I try to enter into this as non-judgmentally as possible. If anybody had to peek into my family at a raw time like this, we would be the same way. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #7: Writing a Funeral

The Sin We Shouldn’t Judge

In the world that I live in everybody loves Jesus, he’s like Raymond, but less threatening. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t think Jesus is great. College Students, Hippies, Seniors, Hippies who are now seniors, Buddhists, Muslims, Nietzsche, heck even Richard Dawkins has started liking Jesus.

And while most of us don’t know a whole lot of what he said, at least one thing Jesus said has been passed around more than other in the West.

Do not judge.

So I’ve been writing for the past few weeks about why Christians need to live in the kind of community where confrontation and a generous judgment happen. And I know it may sound like I’m trying to get Jesus followers to not follow Jesus. But it’s only because we haven’t read the rest of what Jesus says there. So here is that whole section, in it’s entirety:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I’d like to point out a couple of things here. First off, Jesus calls the person doing this a hypocrite, they are an actor, just pretending to care about them but really having an ulterior motive. It sounds like Jesus is being so…judgmental.

And then notice what Jesus actually says, “Remove the plank, so that you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In other words, Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t judge, he’s just saying we have to start with ourselves first.

In his book, Beyond Evangelical, Frank Viola tells a story about a couple of the most famous preachers in the past 200 years. Charles Spurgeon was a Baptist preacher in England, and he had been impressed with the ways God was using D.L. Moody, a famous American evangelist, to bring revival to cities in America. So Spurgeon invited Moody to speak at his church. Moody accepted, took a ship across the pond, and preached an entire sermon…on the evils of tobacco.

Because Spurgeon smoked cigars.

So Spurgeon goes up to Moody after the sermon, and pokes him in his overweight belly and tells him. “I’ll put down my cigar when you put down your fork.”

Needless to say, the friendship got off to a rocky start. Continue reading The Sin We Shouldn’t Judge

Inspi(re)ality #6: A Theology of Funerals

This is another post in a year long series on practical ministry tips and tools. For the next few weeks we will have a few different people sharing tips on how to do a funeral. The following is a guest post by Josh Graves on the Theology of Funerals. Josh serves as the Preaching Minister at the Otter Creek Church of Christ in Nashville. He is the author of the Feast and co-author with Chris Seidman of Heaven On Earth, due out in November.

Josh is a very good friend and one of the most hopeful people I know. His theology of Resurrection inspires every aspect of his ministry, including how he enters deeply into times of death. Josh blogs at

The Christian funeral is a sacred moment when people of faith (because all people are technically people of some sort of faith) come together to make sense of their lives, God, and perhaps what lies beyond death. Some practical theological observations for the minister and leader serving the role of pastor or officiate. Jonathan asked me to frame the theology, so I’ll refrain from chasing other paths.

1. The body matters in Christian theology. Despite what some of our old and new worship music suggests, the body matters as much as the soul. In I Cor. 15, for instance, Paul saves his theology of resurrection and the body as the antidote for the disease of destruction and divisiveness plaguing the Christian communities in Corinth. A proper understanding of the body and the future of the kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus bodily resurrection is an inauguration or a new commentary of God’s ultimate hope for the body. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he says, in Luke, he’ll refrain from taking the Lord’s Supper (a bodily activity) until all people are with him at the great banquet party (Lk. 22:17). Jesus wasn’t a ghost or hologram. He was a resurrected Jewish prophet, the son of God, who definitively embodied God’s passion to redeem creation and the bodies within it. After all, it’s in these bodies that God made us in God’s own image. God has vested interest in something that ultimately connects back to God. This is not to suggest that “cremation” is a sin. God made you from dust once, God will do it again. But, having the body present is helpful in talking about resurrection. It’s difficult to evoke the imagination of resurrection without a body. Continue reading Inspi(re)ality #6: A Theology of Funerals

Judging the Cost

If you get a chance, watch the video above. I think this is a good parable for what it’s like to live in Christian community.  It’s an actual intervention. With people actually judging other people on national television.  A woman named Amber is about to lose her daughter and her life to alchohol, and her friends are taking the step to “judge” her.

It’s heartbreaking.

You can tell that her friends and family really do care about her. You can tell she’s angry and bitter. And you can tell that this is an extremely awkward situation to have put on cable T.V. She doesn’t want to be in that seat.

Nobody wants to be in that seat.

There was a season last year when I was going through a difficult few weeks in ministry and life. I had begun to make some personal decisions that were not very healthy. And at one point a very good friend sat me down and asked me about what was going on. And then he suggested that I make some behavior modifications.

And I on the outside I was great. I was smiling like an Olsteen, but inside I was immediately defensive and upset.. I suddenly realized this was no dear friend I was talking to, this is Judas. Outside I was trying to diffuse the tension with humor, but inside I was asking, “Who does this guy think he is? I have a mother and she’s not here.”

I immediately started wanting to point out the log in my friends eye, or at least make one up.

It’s often pointed out that Western Churches are not very good at Discipleship. The surveys show that Christians in America live shockingly similar lives to people who are not Christian. Churches are great at helping people become “Christian” but not very good at helping them become disciples of Jesus. We can get people into buildings or programs, but not much Jesus into people. Continue reading Judging the Cost