You Know More about God Than You Think

Let's start with a simple truth most people know intuitively: God loves everyone.  Not only that, he offers the fullness of his grace to them at all times even before they choose to follow Jesus. (1)  Wesleyans call this the “wooing grace” grace of God.  It is part of what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon when he explains that God “… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45).  In other words, God blesses everyone whether or not they believe in him.

God not only blesses everyone, he communicates to everyone.  Romans 1:19 clearly states that God calls out to the world through what has been made.  Every time someone has seen a sunset or held a newborn, they have been hearing the voice of God calling out to them. 

All of that without a single loving word from a believer or a single page of the Bible to read.  Why?  Why does God do all this?  Because he loves every single person he created, and he wants to have a relationship with them all.

This wooing grace changes everything! It has a massive impact on everything spiritual.  We no longer see ourselves as “bringing Jesus” to some lost soul.  Rather, we recognize that Jesus has been at work in the life of every person from the moment they were born.  

Our conversations about faith with non-believers are no longer based on fear and judgement, but on helping name the God they already know in part.  We say things like, “I bet you know more about God that people think.” We begin talking about Jesus by recognizing that “I bet you have experienced God more than most people know.”  We say these things not as some trick or clever technique, but because they’re true!

This beautiful Wesleyan perspective is uniquely fitting for life in a pluralistic world where proselytizing is taboo and demeaning other religions is unacceptable.  Into that world we are able to come with grace and love helping people see that God has been at work in their lives from the beginning.  God has never stopped loving them, and never will.  And, if they are willing he will bless them with an even more full life lived in relationship with Him.

All of this is to say, take heart.  You are not some pioneer out in the wilderness of a sinful world trying to convince people to buy something they’ve never seen and walk down a path they’ve never known existed.  God has gone before you preparing the way.  All you have to do is be available to the Holy Spirit and help convey the wooing love of a God who wants to set your friends, neighbors, and colleagues free!

>>> Read More:  Wesley for the Broken Hearted Lover

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1. This idea of God offering the fullness of his grace to everyone (even those who have not yet chosen to follow god) is a key component of Wesleyan theology which is the stream from which I come. 

The Church is Full of Hypocrites (Kind of)

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"Why would I want to go to church and sit next to John Bibby while he acts all holy when I know for a fact that he is cheating on his wife?"  I knew what was coming next.  I knew the criticism my friend was about to level against the church just down the street from his house.  "The church is full of hypocrites!"

It's true.  John Bibby was cheating on his wife and if you walk into any church this Sunday, you are probably going to sit in the pew right next to someone who is a habitual liar, abusive to their family, drinking more than they should, or, dare I say it, eating more than they should.  

You will likely see people whom you have heard utter a choice word about their boss, cheated on their taxes or lied to their spouse. The church is full of people like that.  But the fact that they aren't perfect isn't what makes them hypocrites.

Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another, right?  What makes this all hypocritical is not one's imperfect life, but the fact that the definition of Christianity is tied to some level of holy perfection.  To be a Christian is to be someone who is close to sinless. 

Not really.  At the most fundamental level, to be a Christian means to recognize the exact opposite of that definition.  

The Bible is clear:  Every person sins. Not only that, but we neither have the power to rid ourselves of sin nor the power to repair the brokenness it creates in our lives and in our relationship with God.  The teachings of all Christian denominations say that Jesus is the answer to that problem.  He is the only way that a sinner can deal with his or her sin.  Following him is the only path that leads away from the fractured life created by sin gone unchecked.

What does that mean about Christianity? Being a Christian means recognizing that you are sinful and cannot deal with it on your own.  You cannot fix it, and you need the unconditional grace of a forgiving God to heal the wounds.  

From there, we try to grow in holiness.  When that desire for change gets filtered through our brokenness, it can be expressed sometimes as judgmentalism and at other times as permissive acceptance -- which shouldn't be a surprise knowing that our first step is recognizing that we are hopelessly messed up.  

All of that begs the question: Why do Christians allow the holier-than-thou definition of our faith to persist and make us look like hypocrites?  To be completely honest, I'm not really sure.  Maybe it makes people feel better than the person across the street, or maybe it helps them hide the things they do that make them ashamed.  

All of that is to say that if you know you are broken and are looking for a place to experience healing, forgiveness and restoration, if you are well aware of your own sin and could use a community of sinners to support your quest to change, give that church full of hypocrites down the street a try.  There is grace, forgiveness and healing available to all who ask.

From: Al.com

>>>Read More: 5 Simple Ways to Keep Skeptics Out of the Church

Why Purity Rings Don't Work (and How to Fix It)

Take your pick of teen sex curriculum for churches and you will find a common outcome for the majority of them: a purity pledge often accompanied by a purity ring.  Since this focus has been so widespread and been going on for so long, we have more than what we need for a scientific study on its effectiveness.

You probably know what’s coming.  After doing a large, scientific study around the effect of purity rings and pledges, Janet E. Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that “Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior,”(1)

No effect at all.  Teens who made these commitments started having sex at the same age, with the same number of partners, as if they had done nothing at all.

Which begs the question:  Why?

For that, we need to dive into another field of science:  Economics.  It may surprise you that Economics studies much more than money.  In fact, the field is all about trying to study how complex problems work and how different incentives affect those complex interactions (kind of like how purity rings might affect the overwhelmingly complex world of sexuality in teens).

In economic terms, the purity ring or pledge is something called a commitment device.  That is a device used to make your future self do something that the current self is having a hard time doing.  The problem is that these sorts of methods are notoriously bad at producing the intended result.

Steven Levitt, a renown economist and best-selling author explains that as clever as your current self is at devising these commitment devices, “the future self desperately wants whatever is being denied and finds ways around it.” (2)

That’s not to say that commitment devices don’t ever work, but they are often not nearly powerful enough to work.  That is what is going on with the purity rings.  They simply aren’t powerful enough.  Violating the pledge or ring carries no tangible consequences.  In fact, the only consequences it carries are guilt after it is broken, and guilt is a poor motivator.  Generally all guilt succeeds at is making sure people hide things.

But that’s not the most concerning part.  The thing that this commitment device does succeed at is very dangerous.  Though I have my own opinions as to why, the the Johns Hopkins Study found that people who sign purity pledges and wear purity rings are far more likely to NOT use any sort of protection their first time having sex.

When well-meaning people do a great job at getting teens to pledge to not have sex until they are married, they are doing nothing to prevent pre-marital sex while at the same time causing the teens to be more likely to not use a form birth control like a condom.

What do we do?

This definitely doesn’t mean the church should stop talking about sex.  It also doesn’t mean that we should stop encouraging abstinence.  It means that our job is just not as easy as we had hoped.  The solution to helping teens stay sexually pure isn’t as simple as getting them to sign a card or wear a ring.  

Which means that we can drop all the time and energy spent on pushing those things and use that time in a more productive way.  What is that way?  I thought you’d never ask!

We need to be equipping teens with the knowledge and tools they need to make better decisions and get better at self control.  Rather than drawing an arbitrary line in the sand about “how far is too far”  we need to help them understand why certain physical expressions of love are appropriate in some relationships and not others.  

Instead of practicing some form of “just say no,” we need to teach them decision methods that can help them process big issues and help them see right from wrong when they are alone in their boyfriend/girlfriend's house.

All of this needs to be seen in light of God’s presence in the world.  All of this needs to be placed within the context of scripture and discerned in partnership with other members of the Body of Christ.

All of this is what was behind my approach to Sex education in the new UMC Resource Sex: A Christian Perspective on our Bodies, Decisions, and Relationships.  It doesn’t have a purity pledge, nor does it tell students to draw a line somewhere between holding hands and having intercourse.  

Rather, it seeks to equip young students (6th-8th grade) with what they need to live out holy lives in relation to their sexuality.  I hope you’ll check it out.  It’s available for download (coming) or on a USB thumb drive (now). 

>>>READ MORE: 5 Simple Ways to Recruit and Keep Volunteers

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1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/28/AR2008122801588.html?hpid=topnewshttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/28/AR2008122801588.html?hpid=topnews

2. http://freakonomics.com/2012/02/02/save-me-from-myself-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

Going to the Movies with Jesus

Which Jesus is the real one?  Every time I go see another Jesus movie, I am faced with a new version of the Son of God, and I have to ask myself, which is the best?  Which is closest to the real thing, and more importantly, why are they all so different?

All of these films show us Jesus through the eyes of a certain time and place.  Though they have the same subject and similar plot every decision, every casting, every word in the screenplay is made by people who have a particular understanding of Jesus.  From the pacifist Jesus in the 1961 King of Kings to the Hippie Jesus in Godspell, we see much more than Jesus, we see how Jesus looks to the creative hearts of the writers, directors, and actors.  
 
The first talking american film that focused on Jesus as the primary character and story was produced in 1961.  Directed by Samuel Bronson, King of Kings tells the story by expanding the roles of four of the supporting characters in the Gospel.  Through the Roman soldier who saw Jesus die on the cross (here names Lucius), Barrabbas (the Jewish prisoner released by Pilate), Judas (the disciple who betrays Jesus), and Mary (mother of Jesus), we see a messiah of peace and love who lives much closer to the side of pacifism than the oppressive political environment portrayed by the setting in a Roman-ruled province.  

It is a fascinating and incredibly entertaining depiction of this powerful story that everyone should have the pleasure of seeing and it is the first film in the line up for the Imago Dei Film Festival we are hosting at our church.  

Whether or not you live in Mobile and can come watch movies with us, looking at these films is important.  It's important because through these films we not only get to explore the story of Jesus but see how far too often we re-make Jesus in our own image so that he fits comfortably in our life.  We discover parts of Jesus' story we have forgotten along the way in the service of our own re-make.  

Maybe after looking at Jesus through so many different lenses, we might be able to get a good idea of who the real Jesus is and how he is challenging us to live in our world.

Question for the Comments:  What Jesus Movie is Your Favorite?  

>>> Read More: I Don't Like Christian Art (usually)

The Best Sermon You'll Ever Hear

Over 2,000 years ago Jesus delivered the Sermon on the mount to a crowd full of religious people and heathens, men and women, fishermen and tax collectors, powerful and weak.  This sermon did more than just tell them what they wanted to hear.  It challenged them to be more than who they were.  It challenged them to reach beyond their biases and traditions to take hold  of their role in the Kingdom of God.  I delivered that sermon as a sermon in the Newsong Service at Christ UMC.  I want to share that with you here.  

Question for the Comments: What words of Jesus most bothered you?

>>> Read More:  Which Magic Words Get Me Into Heaven?

We Just Don't Do That (The Youth Minister Code)

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There is a rule we live by as youth pastors (a code if you will) that joins us all together as fellow laborers in the body of Christ.  There are things that we agree to refrain from for the good of the kingdom of God and the health of our flock. From time to time it is good to remind ourselves what it is and why it is so important to stay connected to each other.

We don’t bash each other.  No matter if you found out that the youth pastor across the street is giving out $100 bills at his weekly gathering for new people (actually happened), we do not talk bad about them.  We praise them for whatever we can find (even if it is just a nice fashion sense), and we say something good.  We don’t critique their style of ministry, we don’t comment on their lack of focus on “depth.”  We don’t even point out how many churches they’ve been at in the past year.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Recruit Kids from Other Churches.  Numbers are not so great this time of year, and as you are meeting the BFF of one of your core students you think they might be interested in coming to camp.  Then, you find out she goes to another church.  Though you may know it would take just a nudge to get her to start coming to your church, you resist the temptation.  Instead you praise her youth minister for her nice fashion sense and talk about how much their church rocks.  We don’t bash her youth pastor (see #1), we don’t talk about how our church has something that is better than her church.  We don’t even ask her to try it out with her friend.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Stay in Our Office.  As much as it might make the church secretary happy to have you at your desk whenever a call comes through, we don’t do that.  The church does not exist within the walls of the building we call “a church.”  The church is the people in the world, and you are called to minister to them.  You go to where they are, help with their Christian club, chaplain the polo team, or volunteer in the front office.  We don’t avoid our bad memories of the lunchroom by staying in our office, we don’t schedule every second so we can’t get out.  We don’t even use a hostile culture as an excuse to stay away.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Confuse Ministry with Friendship.  There is a need for us all to be accepted and that need was never more pronounced and filled with hurt and worry than when you were a teen.  But even if the cool kids ask you to hang out, we don’t start thinking of teens as friends. The youth you are ministering to are not your peers, they do not need another friend, they need a minister.  They need someone to care for, nurture, and protect their soul.  We don’t invite kids to our party and we don’t take sides in relationship drama.  We don’t even post pictures of teens online calling them “my friends.” We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Meddle When its Over.  At some point you will get a new job and move on.  When that happens the new girl is going to do things differently and may even change your favorite thing.  People are going to call you and ask what you think they should do, and students are going to try and avoid connecting with the new person out of loyalty to you.  When that happens, we don’t keep taking every call from the old place; we don’t ever respond to a request for what we think about the new person or how they do things (see #1).  We don’t even have a Bible study with the old group.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Undermine Parents.  You have your own parenting style (or idea of what your style will be).  At some point a student is going to come up to you and tell you the story of how their parents did something to them that you think is not the best way to handle that as a parent.  You are going to want to side with the student and tell them how wrong their parent is, but we don’t.   We will build up their parent and praise them as if they were a fellow youth pastor.  We don’t talk bad about their parents, and we don’t act like we are their parents.  We don’t even make jokes about how lame their parents act.  We just don’t do that.

We Don’t Turn Denominations into Gangs. I know that you believe strongly in once-saved-always-saved or that God’s grace is offered freely to all people or that free will is an absolute, irrefutable reality of existence, and that’s fine.  It’s fine that you appreciate your doctrinal heritage but we can sometimes start sounding like our fellow Christians who believe differently than us are the enemy who must be defeated at all cost.  Though we may want to produce teens who believe identical to us, we don’t make out other denominations to be foolish or unintelligent, and we don’t act like our group has everything right.  We don’t even ignore other churches and never team up for city-wide events.  We just don’t do that.

Question for the comments: I know I have missed one or two.  What about you?  What parts of the code did I miss?

From YouthWorker Movement

>>>Read More: 5 Simple Tips to Recruit and Keep Volunteers

 

Make Sense of the Bible with These Questions

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It is hard for me to read the Bible sometimes much less understand it.  Part of the problem is that the words were written thousands of years ago and aren’t immediately accessible for a reader in the 2000s. Most of the time I find that the problem is that I am reading too quickly and not spending time seriously processing and thinking about what I’m reading.  

Over the years, I have developed several questions to help me concentrate on the text, understand it, and apply it to my life.  Here are three of those go-to questions:

1. What is the big meaning? 

This may seem obvious, but as we all know, when someone says something like “How do I look in this dress” there can be many meanings, and the literal meaning is not always the most true meaning.  

When reading the Bible, if the literal meaning is it, hone it down to a fine point.  If it says “Love one another”  then ask how?  Look for clues in the surrounding verses.  What was being talked about before?  What was being talked about after?

How do you know if the truth of a passage is something beyond the simple, literal meaning?  Check out this article on understanding when to take the Bible literally.

2. What would this look like today?

Sometimes it takes some imagination to really understand a passage.  Take a moment to imagine it happening at your dinner table or by the coffee pot at work. What would be modern-day equivalents to what is said and done?  How would you react?  How would the people around you react?

3. What is the turning point?  

Often times, passages pivot at a specific moment, and noticing where that occurred can give you tremendous insight into what was going on or being argued.  Take a moment to look for that turning point, and once you’ve identified it ask how its role as the turning point informs the rest of the passage.

These are just a few, but the most important lesson here is: SLOW DOWN.  Think about what you are reading. Turn it over in your mind and allow it to speak to your life and form your soul.

For the Comments:  What questions do you use to help you get more out of your Bible reading?

>>>Read More: 3 Questions to Un-Boring the Bible

 

Curing Religious Hypocrisy

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I know it is rare to find religious hypocrisy today, but that was far from the case in the first century. Hypocrisy was rampant, and Jesus spent much of his time teaching people the cure.

In the first century, the church was divided. As odd as it may sound, though they worshipped the same God, they allowed theological distinctives to divide them. Some believed in an afterlife, some didn’t, and others said it really wasn’t an important discussion.

But the crazy thing is that these groups acted as if they were not worshipping the same God. They met in different places, had different leaders, and some refused to talk to the others!

Each group even had its own ceremonial bath outside the temple and would charge a fee to use it. When you did, it not only fulfilled your ritual requirement, but meant you were signing up for their sub-group. Which did Jesus choose? Was he pro-afterlife, pro-mortality, or pro-this-doesn’t-matter?

How about none of the above? Instead of giving into the isolating sub-groupings, Jesus went out to a river. He opted out of the whole system altogether.

If only theological division were the end of it. The hypocrisy went on to compromise one of the most important pieces of their faith: personal holiness. Holiness was important because God’s people were supposed to live as an example to the world. It was a blessing to seek to try to live more and more like God. But they completely missed the point.

God’s people were using their personal holiness to inflict pain on the rest of their world. Some were so consumed with self-righteousness that they actually thought they had stopped sinning!

What was Jesus’ cure? How did he respond? In a confrontation with some of these self-righteous religious leaders, Jesus pointed out that he had only come for the “sick” people.

Jesus didn’t yell or get into a theology debate. He let their self-righteousness do what it does so well: paralyze their growth and alienate them from those who need help.

Jesus didn’t stop there. Jesus took it upon himself to rescue the victims of self-righteous attacks. Jesus stepped in between the hate-fueled rocks and the shamed soul about to be stoned because of her sin. Jesus reminded those wielding holiness as a weapon that if sin required death, then everyone should be executed.

The pinnacle of the first-century hypocrisy was hung on the wall of their church building. God’s people were supposed to be the means by which God blessed all the nations. Yet, on the wall of their church was a sign that read “the foreigner who passes this wall will bear the responsibility for their resulting death.”

How did Jesus react? What was his remedy for the height of religious hypocrisy? He turned over the tables that were in front of this wall. He used their own scriptures to remind them that this place was to be a place of prayer for all the nations. He reminded them that God had destroyed their church walls before and would do it again.

I know it’s hard to imagine 2,000 years later a world where church people separate themselves from non-churchgoers, where people of faith become self-righteous, and where those who are worshipping the same God fight amongst themselves over theological nuance.

If we ever did find ourselves in a place filled with this sort of religious hypocrisy, we could take heart to know that Jesus showed us the cure.

Jesus showed us the way to focus on our God rather than the unimportant theological minutiae.

He showed us that holiness is a gift, not a weapon.

Most of all, Jesus showed us that no religious idea or structure can separate us from his love and grace. It is available to everyone everywhere. All we have to do is ask.

via AL.com

>>>Read More: The Little Sin that Went Mainstream

Make Your Life Twitteriffic

You don’t have to tweet every thought on Twitter to know how pervasive this platform has become in our world.  The service has grown from zero nine years ago to over 500 million users, and has changed how the world communicates and interacts.  They have been the vehicle for everything from political revolution to the taste of your morning coffee.

So, how can we harness their success for our own life? What lessons can we learn? I thought you’d never ask:

1. Make a Life Pivot - Twitter did not start as a way to post little bits of text for the world to see.  In fact, they began as a company called Odeo that was a tool to help people make and use podcasts (internet radio/T.V. shows).  However, with one keynote, Steve Jobs made Odeo obsolete and the company had to figure out whether to close their doors or do something different.  After dreaming for a while, they came up with the idea for twitter and then used the resources (staff, funding, etc) within Odeo to build and launch it.  They made a complete pivot and began moving in a totally different direction over the course of several months.

We need this kind of strategy in our life.  There are moments when we look around and realize our life is not what we want it to be. We do not have to be stuck in a life we hate.  Rather, we can use the resources tied up in the life we have now to create the life we want in the future.  It begins by dreaming of what could be.  Once we are captured by a dream of our future we begin to make small steps into that future using what we have on hand.  

2. Make Your Dreams Invitation Only - When Twitter began, the service was not ready for prime time.  It needed a good bit of work, but at some point no amount of tinkering behind the scenes would make the service any better.  They needed some users.  Rather than throw open the gates to the whole world, Twitter decided to make the service invitation only and control who could be part of it until it was ready to receive the full onslaught of the world wide web.

Our dreams are the same way.  Before we share them with the world, there is a bit of tinkering we need to do.  What is the first step?  How long will this take? What is the plan if it fails?  What resources (time, energy, financial, physical) can be dual-purposed to get this off the ground?  Once you have a good idea of where you might head, whatever you do, DON’T POST IT ON TWITTER!  Until your dreams are ready to bear the brunt of criticism and dismissal, have coffee with a couple friends, take your significant other on a date and make it invitation only as those you love help you refine your idea.

3. Crowd-Source Your Life - In the early days it was all Twitter could to to keep the service up and running. There were no resources available to add features. That meant it was up for the users to crowd-source solutions to their problems.  In order to reference a person they began putting an “@“ before that person’s username in their post.  In order to tag a post as being part of an event or a category of similar ideas people began to put a “#” before a keyword.  By the time twitter got around to adding features, the work had been done by the users and they just incorporated them into the group.

I think that at least 10% of my life could benefit from this.  There are many problems that I look at and get stumped knowing that there has to be someone I know that has the solution.  If only I had a way to ask for help from all the random contacts I have throughout life.  Wait… Facebooked!  

Several years ago we were stumped as to how share the Bible with very young children.  We had a couple of ideas but wanted more.  We made one post on Facebook asking for how people did that with this children and unleashed ten or fifteen incredible ideas from the trial and error of our high school friends and former coworkers.  Don’t forget.  These social networks can be useful beyond locating the next funny cat video.  

So, whether you tweet or not, take these lessons of success and maybe your life can be a bit more twitterrific.  If you are a church leader, I wrote an article about how these lessons can help our churches, you should check that one out too!

>>>Read More: Steve Jobs Your Life

10 Things I Want My Boys to Know

  1. God loves you. I am going to do my best to model this for you.  With every fiber of my being I am going to try and act loving no matter what, but even when I don’t I want you to know that God loves you.  You see, God and I are on the same team when it comes to loving you.  No matter what you do or who you are, we love you.  We love you so much that we want to have a relationship with you that helps you grow into a better person, but even if you reject us, we will still love you.  
  2. Dream Big Dreams and Work Hard.  You can do great things.  However, doing great things starts with dreaming big dreams.  So dream big, make big plans, aspire to greatness.  You can do it.  You can be great because there is a simple secret: you can do big things if you are willing to work hard.  Greatness comes by the grace of God and the sweat of your brow, so set your eyes on the sky and work day and night until you are in the clouds!
  3. Sports are Fun Games.  I hope you enjoy sports and being part of a team.  If you want to play, I hope you play with all your might, but even more I want you to know that they are not more important than friends, family, school, work, and God.  In the grand scheme of things they are relatively unimportant, and are not worth sacrificing what IS important.  Which leads me to the next thing.
  4. You Should Fight Big Fights.  While your peers are busy spending their emotions on video games, football, and television, I want you to discover the fights worth fighting.  I want you to get angry about slavery.  I want you to rise up for the poor.  I want you to shout for the victims of injustice.  I am going to do my best to help you find and fight the fights that are really worth your heart and passion.
  5. We are Called to Defend the Poor and Oppressed.  God loves everyone, and has a special place in his heart for those who are poor and oppressed.  I don't want you to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist.  I don’t want you to turn a blind eye to the big issues like homelessness or bullying.  Some people do not have a voice or power, and God wants us to give them our power and voice.
  6. Take Time to Enjoy the Beautiful. I want so much for you to enjoy beautiful things: people, printings and music.  Oh yes, music.  I want you to like it all from Mumford and Sons, Nirvana and Guns and Roses to James Taylor, The Doors and the Beatles. From Norah Jones, Harry Connick Jr., and Frank to George Gershwin, Thomas Luis DeVictoria, and Mozart.   I want you to lose yourself in the work of Michelangelo, Raphael and Monet and have your imagination captured by  Surrat, Picasso and Klee.
  7. Women are Worthy of Respect and Honor.  One of the most beautiful things in creation is a woman.  I want you to see that their beauty comes not from their skin or their clothes but from the image of God within them.  They are incredible comrades and brilliant partners.  Because of all that and because they are human like you, they are worthy of respect and honor.  I want women to feel they are better for having been around you and desire to one day meet someone like you to marry.
  8. Friends Alter your Direction. Don’t fool yourself.  Your friends will help determine where you go and how you act.  They will influence what you think is good and what you treat as funny.  I do not want your friends to choose you.  I do not want you to just hang out with the first person who is nice to you.  I want you to surround yourself with people who are headed where you want to go.
  9. Honesty works.  Your world is filled with lies and people who use half-truths to manipulate others.  But what they don’t know is that everyone, deep down, desires the truth.  Proverbs says that “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips."  When you offer anyone a loving truth, they are better for it and will almost always thank you in the end.  
  10. Be You.  There will be no end of people who try to define you, place you on their path and confine your soul in their box of what they thing you “should” be.  There will be a constant stream of people wanting you to march to the beat of their drum, but you don’t have to.  God created you as a unique, precious gift to this world and being anyone else is depriving us all of the wonder that is you.  So, let go of people pleasing, let go of the need to be like everyone else and be you.  Whoever that is, however that changes, be you.

Question for the Comments:  What is your list?  What would you add?

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The Seven List: Articles You Must Read

These are seven articles that sparked my imagination, made me laugh or helped me act like a human being this week.  Enjoy!

  1. Learn To Dream Again (Four Helpful Steps) - Dayna Bickham goes beyond challenging us to dream to giving four steps that will help spark your dreams.
  2. In Pursuit of Treasure - Christine Mendoza sparked my imagination this week when she pictured studying the Bible as a treasure hunt.
  3. Are You a Fret Fanatic? - Mary DeMuth is giving up fretting for Lent this year.  I am not sure if I can do the same, but her article challenges us to live into the scripture's call to let go of fretting.
  4. How to Fight Feelings of Futility - Donald Miller offers a hand up out of the occasional funk we all get in... I feel like these should be written on a post-it note somewhere for me.
  5. Four Benefits of Planning Well -  Brad Bridges helps you remember why that planning meeting is worth it.  For the non-planners in the crowd, this will let you know what you'r missing.
  6. Sabbath – You’re Probably Doing it Wrong - Erin Jackson offers easy instruction and solid encouragement on what Sabbath is (and isn't), and how you should practice this gift from God.
  7. The Weekend Roundup Roundup - Like lists like this?  Jamie Wright offers a list of lists!  

My Stuff:

  1. Looking for All the Wrong things in the Bible - It turns out that the story of Noah has nothing to do with whether or not there are enough water molecules to cover the surface of the earth.
  2. Tips for getting people to open (and read) your email - What should it say? How should it read? What are the tricks to get people to open it in the deluge of emails that come every day?
  3. Bill Nye and the cancer that is killing the church -  The recent debate between Bill Nye and Dr. Haim put on display that which is eating the church alive from the inside.


5 Simple Ways to Keep Skeptics Out of Church

The Bible clearly says in Mark 2:17 that Jesus came for those who know they are righteous (ok, it says the opposite, but we all know he didn't mean it). This all means that we must be careful to keep skeptics, atheists and the like out of the church.  After much research and even having to talk to some of these godless heathens, I have some simple tips to help you keep them far away from the church and even farther from God.  

  1. Talk as if there is one, unanimous Christian viewpoint on controversial issues. There is only one way to think as a Christian.  There is only one right viewpoint on controversial issues, and it just so happens that the one correct viewpoint is your own.  After all, if you were incorrect, you would change your mind.  When a skeptic points out that there are other Christians who disagree with you make sure to remind them that those people have been led astray and probably aren’t real Christians anyway.
  2. Make sure they know how horrible they are.  The “image of God” stuff is in like only a handful of verses in the Bible and is totally overplayed (and far too attractive to these contagious little-faithers).  You need to concentrate on how horrible, depraved and broken they are.  Make sure before you end any conversation with someone who is skeptical or non-believing that they know they are a sinner and will burn forever in a literal fire.
  3. Don’t actually listen or respond to them.  If you respond to them, that just validates that they have something to contribute to the world. Sure, they may make a credible point that should be considered, but that danger is precisely why you should do your best to look interested while ignoring them by thinking about what you are going to say next.
  4. Remember APSAR (Always Pit Science Against Religion).  This probably should have been number one.  Modern science is possibly the worst thing that has happened to humanity.  Not only has it cured many of the ways God used to smite people, but it has tried to help us understand how everything works.  That is bad.  These people are usually highly logical with a mind for data, and acting as if science might have something to contribute to the world or that you might be able to believe science and Jesus could break through and make them consider faith once again.  If they give you data, respond to it with Biblical poetry or see #3.
  5. Whatever you do, never trust the Holy Spirit to save them. Sure, the Bible says that it is the role of the Spirit to call them back to God and unleash the sanctifying grace of God in their hearts, but we all know he generally takes his precious time.  No matter if you met them for the first time a moment ago, do not finish any conversation without reviewing the plan of salvation with them.  Do not take time to build a relationship.  Do not take time to earn their respect because those things make it more likely for them to respond in a positive way.  Cut to the chase and make the move for salvation.

I hope this helps you.  If we are able to do this, we could possibly keep all these weirdos out of the church.  Since society is moving more in this direction it may mean the church is gone in thirty years, but that will give us plenty of time to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic.  After all, you know how important straight rows of chairs are to God. 

Disclaimer: Please note the use of sarcasm in tips 1-5.

Question for Comment: What Tips did I Miss?

>>>Read More: Why Science Causes People to Leave the Faith (and how to fix it)

Looking for All the Wrong things in the Bible

“Oh!  You’re just missing the point!”  The revelation dawned on me after about an hour of intense discussion on everything from evolution to abortion to the meaning of the book of Revelation. “You are asking questions of the scripture that it was not meant to answer.”

I cannot tell you how often we (ok, mostly me, but I’ll include everyone here to make myself feel better) focus on things in the Bible that are far from the main point of scripture.  Let me explain using a little something known to those of us over 18 as a phone book (for the younger, read this wikipedia page before you continue).

The point of a phone book is to help you find someone’s phone number, but that’s not all you can do with it.  You can compare the percentage of different ethnicities names, you could count the number of bars as opposed to the number of libraries, you could even count the number of churches to the number of schools.  All of that could tell you something about the area covered by that phone book, but that data has a high potential to give you unreliable answers.  What about the unlisted numbers?  What about places that closed or people that moved?  The reality is that if you go to the phone book and ask it questions it wasn’t designed to answer, you will likely get wrong answers. 

Every text is the same way.  If you go to a car manual looking for a way to cure an infection or if you look at a science textbook for evidence of God, you may find something, but it is VERY likely that it will be wrong.  It’s the same with the Bible.

All of this leads us to an incredibly important question: What is the purpose of the scriptures?  In a sentence, the purpose of the scriptures is to form you spiritually (see 2 Timothy 3:16).  That means that whenever you open it and ask a question that is not aimed at spiritual formation you have to realize that you will get some weird answers.  

It also means that no matter what, the deepest truth of every passage in the Bible is a spiritual one.  The point of every story is spiritual.  Let me show you what I mean…

The point of the story of Noah has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there are enough water molecules to cover the earth.  It is a story about the consequences of sin, God’s desire for obedience, and the fact that even the obedient mess up.

The point of Jonah has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there is a type of sea life that has a digestive system that will not break down a human body.  It is about running away from God and that when we repent, God will forgive… also that Jonah is a whiner.

Is it ok to believe that there are enough water molecules to cover the earth or there is a fish that doesn’t have acid reflux?  Yes.  But focusing on that, rejecting the scriptures based upon that, or not uniting with a fellow Christian over that is completely missing the point of the Bible.

So, repeat after me, “I do hereby solemnly swear to focus on the profound spiritual truth in the Bible and learn to love the people who disagree with me on the other stuff.”  Amen.  I may have to repeat that again before I go to bed.

For the Comments:  What story's spiritual truth has formed you most? 

>>> Read More: Please Don't Take the Whole Bible Literally

Forbidden Stories about Jesus You Have to Read

“Did you know that when Jesus was a kid, he made birds out of clay and brought them to life?”

I remember asking something just like that in college to a minister I knew. The answer was simple, he said, "You mean the Gospels that aren't in the Bible? T hose Gospels are not true and you should spend your time on something productive.” Of course, I immediately ran back to the dorm to read every word.  What about these words were so so scandalous? Why did this pastor feel threatened? Why was the church trying to suppress these stories about Jesus?

As it turns out, these accounts of Jesus’ life are as interesting and engaging as they are unreliable.  Somewhere  between their taboo-ness and their sensational and/or philosophical content is something which makes them fascinating to many people.  These stories of Jesus teach us about who we are, who God has called us to be, and how we should live in the world.  They have the power to teach us but not in the way we may expect when we first sit down with a copy.

First off, these works make the history of how the Bible was formed sexy and fascinating in a way that nothing else does.  There is nothing else that makes people beg me to tell them the history and theology around the formation of the Bible like these Gospels that aren’t in the Bible. 

Many assume that Dan Brown is right when he says that Constantine made the call. When there is a document called the Muratorian fragment that dates from the 200s and has almost every book of the new Testament listed.  That is just one of the pieces of  the early consensus that formed around which books were considered scripture, and knowing that history not only engenders confidence in the Bible, but it shows the curious the importance of Church history in their everyday relationship with Jesus.

Though the history is interesting, the power of these texts resides in the origins of these stories of Jesus that weren’t included in the Bible. When Jesus ascended and then sent the Holy Spirit, the disciples fanned out taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Those stories were passed on from person to person and sometimes lost or forgotten.  In the regions where specific disciples went, later stories would arise and were attributed the disciples who first brought the story of Jesus to that region.  Everyone came with what they remembered of Jesus and shared it with whoever would listen.  Was it all correct? Did it all come down perfectly? No.  That’s why we will randomly find these crazy stories about Jesus’ life.

That is where the power resides. You see, these gospels teach us something far beyond their actual content.  Every Christian doesn’t have to be a brilliant theologian.  We don’t have to have everything right.  We don’t even need to know the whole story before we share the Gospel with our friends and family.  We share what we know.  As incomplete and incorrect as it may be, we share what we know of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit use our words to woo those around us closer to him.  And, that is powerful.

Now it is time for you to go read some of these gospels that aren’t in the Bible (There's a summary of their content and several quotes in my book), and let them cause you to figure out where they diverge and converge with scripture, letting their clarion call spread wide in your heart, filling you with the confidence to share the story you know.  After all, there’s no way you could be as wrong as the story where Jesus smites a kid for making fun of him!  Go tell what you know. 

via UMR

>>>Read More: The Forbidden Gospels (Not in the Bible)

I Don't Like Christian Art (usually)

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I don't like Christian art.  I'm not talking about the works Michelangelo and Raphael.  In fact, when I come face to face with the Pieta or the Sistine Madonna, I am in awe. The difference between those brilliant masterpieces and what I see when I walk into a Christian store is depressing. So, what happened?

In response to what they saw as idolatry and distraction, the reformers in the 1500s over reacted and said that the words of scripture were the most important and should stand on their own.  

They built sanctuaries devoid of art that lifted up the person speaking the words of Jesus above the crowd where they could be the sole focus of everyone's attention.  Many of them even tried their hardest to speak without any emotional inflection so that nothing at all distracted from the words themselves.  I know... BAD idea.

By the time we let go of these unfortunate over reactions, all serious artists were pursing their craft outside the church.  Somewhere in the twentieth century a new breed of art was born: Christian art.  What was most important was the message, and no matter how poorly done it was, no matter how cliche or cheesy, if it had a "good message" it would sell.

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Awash in a sea of bad art, many Christians have begun asking why.  Why have we let go of craft and nuance in favor of derivatives?  Why have we eschewed metaphor and subtlety for mere depiction?

Enter Joseph Novak.  A presbyterian minister and graphic artist, he has created one piece of beautiful, simple artwork for every book of the Bible: 66 in total.  Some of them are pretty obvious expressions of a book's content while others are far more abstract, but they are all beautiful. It is definitely worth your time to browse through the selection and purchase a couple of your favorites for yourself or your favorite pastor/writer.

While we are far from recovering from the artistic mess created by the reformation, Joseph Novak helps me to feel that we are at least headed in the right direction.

>>>Read More: Art and the Wailing Wall

Steve Jobs your Life

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“Steve Jobs” is my new favorite verb.  He was successful, definitive and inspiring.  He changed the world, held fast to his principles and rocked the mock turtleneck.  Whenever I find a person like that I want to look at their life and find the advice written into their actions or, in the words of Proverbs 19:20, "Listen to advice and accept instruction and in the end you will be wise."

When Steve Jobs walked into Apple after a brief hiatus in the 80s, the company was being pulled in a million directions.  They were producing product after product with some that competed with each other and others that had no business being brought to market at all.  They were scattered and stretched thin like to little jam on a big piece of toast. 

As unbelievable as it sounds today, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy.  Each day, after keeping all their balls in the air, they didn’t have enough energy and resources to devote to what mattered most. I know exactly how that feels. 

Too many times I have found myself with too much to get done and not enough time to even think about it.  I have done a poor job at delegating and reaped the rewards in the form of a double-portion of stress.

The good news for Apple is that Steve Jobs returned with a vengeance.  The story told in his brilliant biography is that he walked into a board room and drew a cross on the whiteboard.  Above the two columns, he wrote: "consumer" and "pro," and beside the two rows he wrote: "desktop" and “mobile." He told those in the meetings that from the hundreds of listings they produced, they were now only going to make four products.  

The rest is history.  Apple’s laser-focus has allowed it to make really brilliant advances, upset major markets, and totally revolutionize how we live our life.

Which is, of course, what the Bible has been instructing me to do all along.  In Ephesians, it says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

So, with the Bible as our guide and Steve Jobs as our template, what would it look like if we drew a big plus on a blank piece of paper at home?  Across the top you might write “spouse” and “parent,” or “Being” and “doing”  Then in the rows you write “Big Dream” and “Every day.” Simplify everything. Laser focus.  What is most important now?  What are you going to complete?  

If you must add another column or row go ahead, but remember that the goal here is to help you stop some things and decide what belongs on the front burner because there is a secret to life that I discovered a long time ago:  You cannot make time, you have to take time.  But, that is another article altogether.

Go fourth and Steve Jobs your life!

I talked about this in church terms a while ago for UMCOM.  Find out how to Steve Jobs your church here.

>>>Read More Make Your Church Like an Apple Store

What is the Internet Giving Up For Lent?

Chocolate, alcohol, twitter, social networking, school, swearing, sweets, soda, chips, and fast food. That's the top ten from twitter according to Open Bible's processing of twitter's firehose of personal data.  But, why?  Why do Christians fast from things for lent?

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In the Old Testament, fasting was often a sign of mourning (as were ashes) which is part of what is going on during Lent.  Lent is a time of self-examination as we prepare for Easter.  Part of that self-examination is the discovery of (and hopefully turning from) sin.  Since sin separates us from God, it is worth mourning,; hence, the first reason for fasting.

However, fasting has another aspect: through it we focus on God and on our spirit.  Fasting helps us remember that we are more than our bodies.  We are more than the sum of all our desires and whims, and we are definitely more than our sins.  Taking time to let go of something that we desire, or some practice that often ends in sin, we refocus our spirits and live on God.

Hopefully, we do not merely stop doing something but replace something.  The idea of this sort of fasting is to replace something (like maybe watching three or four reality television shows every night) with something that draws us closer to God like reading the Bible, praying, or creating something beautiful.  

So, that's why.  Christians try to be intentional during lent about letting go of sin, disciplining our mind and souls, and growing closer to God.  

I have witten several other articles on lent and Ash Wednesday if you are interested in more:

Question for the Comments: What are You Giving Up for Lent?

Temptation Never Looked so Good

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We need to fast forward to the part we need: virgin birth, weird guy at temple, did teen Jesus just sass his parents, dunked by cousin, bird, voice of God, hungry for 40 days.  Then, the devil shows up and tempts Jesus.

Hang on did it just say…that’s right… Jesus was TEMPTED.  Let that sink in.  If Jesus was tempted, then that means that temptation itself is not bad.  

In fact, I think it could be quite the opposite, but not if we insist on feeling guilty for being tempted.  Why do we feel guilty?  I feel guilty about temptation because I think it means I am weaker than I should be spiritually, but (unlike the dowager countess) I am wrong.

You see, Jesus 40 days of fasting was an indication to the people in Jesus’ time that he was at the height of spiritual strength. If Jesus, at his strongest point is tempted, then that means that temptation has nothing to do with whether or not we are spiritually strong or weak.

It means that being tempted does not mean you’re bad.  Being tempted does not mean you’re spiritually weak.  In short, being tempted is nothing the feel guilty about.

Why not?  Jesus didn’t wallow in guilt because he was being tempted after 40 days of fasting.  Rather, when he was tempted, his response was to quote scripture.  For him, it was an opportunity to lean into his relationship with God.  Jesus used the lure of temptation to motivate him to get closer to God.

If we will let go of our self-imposed guilt and respond by drawing close to God or opening the scriptures to hear God’s voice, temptation can be a gift.  Temptation can cause us to grow closer to God.  

I don't know if your temptation is chocolate, gossip or something else, but this week let go of the guilt and draw closer to God.

Polygamy in the Bible... What's the deal? (Your Questions)

Abraham had a couple of wives as did David, and Solomon had seven hundred! In a society that values monogamy in life and law, this part of the Bible is downright weird. That is why in response to an earlier post, one of you asked this tough question.

I will keep it brief because though it is very different from our culture, it is not that complicated an issue in scripture.

1. It was a cultural norm
When God began speaking to Abraham, God was speaking to a man living in a well established culture, and like most cultures of that time, Polygamy was normal.  It was accepted for many reasons not the least of which is the fact that it was a way for families (who needed many members working together to survive) could deal with fertility problems.

2. It was always allowed and never endorsed
Though there are several characters that are involved in polygamy in the Bible, there is never a verse where God says, “Polygamy rocketh, thou shalt all participate within it.”  In fact, every time polygamy comes up, it is a source of strife and tension with Solomon’s record breaking matrimonies explaining his tragic disobedience: “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3).

3. It’s Adam and Eve not Adam and EveS
Though this is definitely an oversimplification, Genesis clearly chooses a monogamous relationship as the model for marriage in the future, and underscores it by saying, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

4. A Sign of Commitment and Holiness
While people were apparently permitted even in the New Testament to have multiple wives, a commitment to monogamy was seen as a higher standard to stove for as you can clearly see in firs Timothy 3:2 “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…”

In the words of my philosophy professor, that’s clear as mud but covers the ground.  However, it puts on display one of my favorite attributes of God:  he loves us right where we are and challenges us to grow.  God doesn't make you get your act together before you can follow, you are loved and accepted as-is and challenged to grow closer to God's ideal for you.  Thank God!

Question for the comments: What is your favorite tradition people use in weddings?

>>>Read More: (Your Faith Questions Answered)

The Little Sin that Became Mainstream

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I am very concerned about American culture.  There is a sinful cancer spreading throughout every nook and cranny and it is showing no sign of stopping.  Though fifty years ago this sin was clearly a sin and everyone knew that. Little by little, bit by bit we have allowed our culture to wander away from God’s plan for humanity.

Now, it is everywhere.  It seems to be present in almost every television show I watch even creeping into some of the “Christian” shows.  But what troubles me the most is our church leaders.  We now have a crop of pastors who blatantly disregard the principles of scripture and violate its commands IN PUBLIC.  They act as if they are not ashamed.

All of that is to say that I am concerned.  I am concerned that there is no turning back.  I am concerned that the church has forgotten its first love.  I am concerned that my children are growing up in a world where this way of life (that is CLEARLY a sin) is never even given a second thought!

I know the sin you are all thinking of: Gluttony.  And while I agree that this is a pervasive sin that is affecting our culture, it is not given the same pride of place.  It is not treated as “normal.”  There are many self-help books that are geared toward getting your weight under control, but that would never happen with this sin.  

Not only that, the sin that is concerning me is not only far more accepted than gluttony, it has rock solid scriptural support.  In fact, its foundation is written into the Genesis story as part of the foundation of the entire creation.  

I am, of course, talking about Sabbath (and the lack thereof).  From the very beginning, we are told to find our identity and worth apart from work.  We are commanded to recognize that we ultimately serve God, submit to his authority and find our worth in him.  

The profound truth of sabbath is that we are not machines.  Our value is not in how much we can produce, how many souls we can save, or how many dollars we can make.  Our value comes from the image of God within us, and nowhere else.

Yet, every show on television fights against this ideal showing people working seven days a week, skipping vacation, and burning the midnight oil.  Primetime is filled with shows that reinforce the lie that we are our jobs and nothing more.  If a Law and Order or Suits shows something besides someone working, it is to help give us a stronger connection with the work-a-holic character.  

I mean, this is one of the ten commandments!  THE TEN COMMANDMENTS!  This is not some boutique sin mentioned as an aside in an instruction manual for priests.  This is central to our faith. This is central to our identity, and it’s time to stop. 

Its time to stop acting like its not a big deal.  It’s time to stop ignoring it in our Sunday School classes. It’s time to stop making excuses and start practicing Sabbath.

The “how” is another article entirely, but suffice it to say that it’s not about which day or what you do, but taking the day.  You need to work towards taking 24 consecutive hours to not be productive in your job, to rest, to listen to God and do whatever it is that restores you.  

My bet is many may see this post as ridiculous and overreaction, and that is my point.  We have fallen too far from faithfulness in this central practice of holiness.  We must return.  We must move forward, and take back the practice and identity.  Right now.

Question for the comments:  what is a sabbath practice you have experienced that worked?