Friday, March 28, 2014

The worst verse in the Bible

I feel like I'm a pretty good person. 

I do my very best not to lie, cheat, steal. I've never killed anyone. 

I keep the "thou shalt nots" of the Bible.

I always put the seat down.

I am a good person. 


Let me tell you about the worst verse in the Bible. It is the verse that totally messed up my life.

When I was in high school, our youth group was talking about how fragile the future is. We studied James 4:13-16, which says, "Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil."

Heavy stuff, right?

In short, you can make all the plans you want, but the future is in God's hands, and you need to be seeking after his will and his purposes for your life.

Actually, this is kind of freeing for a high school kid about to go off to college to try and figure out who they are to become. You don't have to have the future planned out! It's all in God's hands! 

But then I read verse 17. The worst verse in the Bible.

"If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them."

Dang it.

I've been really good at keeping the "thou shalt nots," but I've stunk at keeping the implied "thou shalls." 

It means that every time I've minded my own business after recognizing injustice, big or small, I've missed the mark God wants me to aim for.

It means that every time I've looked out for myself instead of my neighbor, I've failed to be Christ-like.

It means that every time I've avoided getting involved for the sake of comfort, I've made the cross a little more uncomfortable for the one who had to bear it. 

And what makes it worse is that the four preceding verses talk about how short life is. Doing good isn't just something you should do, it's something VITAL to do because life is short. 

"If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them."

But where is the line here? I mean, is Jesus expecting me to sell my home and all my possessions and live on the street so I can give my money to the poor? Am I supposed to make my family uncomfortable just so my neighbor can be comfortable?

Grey areas bother me. I want a definitive line of how good I have to be.

"Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect."

Oh come on.

I think the problem is that it seems like too much, so we decide to just do nothing. I can never be perfect, I can never do all the possible good, so why even try.

Instead, here's how I've tried to live this out. I think what Jesus is asking of us is a little more. Do the good you can do. Start small if you have to. See how it changes your life, your outlook, your understanding of the message of the gospel. See how it changes the lives of those who are recipients of your good works. What I've found is that each time, God pushes me to do just a tiny bit more, and I've never regretted giving it a try. 

James says another thing: "What good is it, my brothers and sister, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?...Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds."

When we come to recognize that following Christ is not just about the things we avoid doing, but also about the things we know we must do, it changes everything. 

James 4:17 is the worst verse in the Bible because it has made me change everything about how I live. And I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bill Nye vs. God?

How can you not love Bill Nye the Science Guy? This was my favorite episode.

Maybe you heard that tonight, Bill Nye the Science Guy will face Ken Ham in a debate entitled: "Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?" Ken Ham is the President and Founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum.

This will be a creation vs evolution debate, with my childhood hero Bill Nye as the enemy of God! NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

But is that really the case?

Is belief in evolution totally opposed to belief in God?

Ham would say yes. In a nutshell, Ham believes that if you can't take the first chapter of Genesis literally, then you can't take the rest of the bible literally. Which would mean that you can't take anything Jesus said seriously. Which would mean Christianity is a sham.

So Ham has devoted his life to proving that a literal interpretation of Genesis and the creation account is not only possible, but is the way it actually happened. He shows how dinosaurs and humans could have walked the earth together. He shows how carbon dating techniques must be totally flawed.

I've never been to the creation museum, but know plenty of people who have been. By all accounts you could spend numerous days walking through and seeing the evidence for creation that Ham has laid out. And apparently, the place is pretty awesome.

If you'd like to watch the debate live from the Creation Museum, you can do so here.

But if you do, here are a few things I would encourage you to keep in mind:

1) There are several views of how God created the world. The main ones are listed in this graph:
Comparison of major creationist views
AcceptanceHumanityBiological speciesEarthAge of Universe
Young Earth creationism40% (US)[44]Directly created by God.Directly created by God. Macroevolution does not occur.Less than 10,000 years old. Reshaped by global flood.Less than 10,000 years old (some hold this view only for our solar system).
Gap creationismScientifically accepted age. Reshaped by global flood.Scientifically accepted age.
Progressive creationism38% (US)[44]Directly created by God (based on primate anatomy).Direct creation + evolution. No single common ancestor.Scientifically accepted age. No global flood.Scientifically accepted age.
Intelligent designProponents hold various beliefs. for example, Behe accepts evolution from primatesDivine intervention at some point in the past, as evidenced by what intelligent-design creationists call "irreducible complexity"Some adherents accept common descent, others not. Some claim the existence of Earth is the result of divine interventionScientifically accepted age
Theistic evolution(evolutionary creationism)Evolution from primates.Evolution from single common ancestor.Scientifically accepted age. No global flood.Scientifically accepted age.
Ham will be speaking specifically about Young Earth creationism, which is a view that the majority of theologians do not hold.

2) Evolutionary theory is what is on trial, not God. No matter what Ham or Nye try to say in this debate, the real issue at hand is how the world came into being. Was it literally the way it is written in Genesis 1? Or was there some sort of "big bang" involved? I love the way Louie Giglio says it, "I tend to believe that when God spoke the universe into existence, it would have created a fairly large bang." Our God is big enough and powerful enough to have created the world in numerous ways. 

3) Science is not the enemy of God. Instead, I would say that science is one of the coolest ways to learn about God. It doesn't disprove God, but shows the amazing complexity to the way in which God works in this extraordinary world that has been created.
4) Ham is not the elected representative for all of Christianity on this topic. At least, I didn't vote for him. It is always a little unnerving to me when someone speaks in such a way that they hold themselves to be the apologist for God and all things Christian. That feels dangerous to me. 

5) Christians are allowed to think. Faith is a good and beautiful thing, but it is ok to try to discover solid answers. Faith is meant to fill in the gaps, but has too often been used as an excuse to suspend logical thought. I believe God wants us to search and discover scientific truths that will reveal more and more of just how awesome he is.

So I wish both Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Science Guy good luck tonight. My hope is that in all of this, people will come to discover the awesomeness of God, and maybe...just maybe...Bill Nye will build an awesome model of a working volcano or something.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who is the church for?

This question is probably the trickiest one I've had to navigate as a pastor. Here's the deal: I'm called to feed both the members of my church and the people in our community who have yet to hear about the love of Christ. The problem is, they don't like the same food. It's like inviting a vegan and a person on the Atkins diet over for dinner.

Lots of times this issue is manifested in terms of music style. A lot of us grew up in the church and love the old hymns. they invoke a spiritual memory in us that unites us to God in a very powerful way. But if you never grew up in church, the tendency is to gravitate towards music that sounds at least a little closer to what you would listen to on the radio. Both are good, both are valid. To make it trickier, some life-long churchgoers like the contemporary music, and some folks new to the faith like the hymns.

So who is the church for? Which of these groups should I try to please?

Ok, yes I know, worship is about pleasing God, not us. But is it more pleasing to God to feed God's sheep, or to go after the one who is lost? Jesus suggests we should do both!

Who is the church for?

Ok, yes I know, the church is the people, not the building or the event that happens at 9:00 and 10:30am on Sunday mornings. But the church building is where the church gathers and the church service is what the church does. Wait..."service" that supposed to mean something? Who are we serving?

Who is the church for?

Ok, yes I know, Jesus calls us to seek and save the lost. Maybe I should put aside the feelings of the life-long churchgoers, push them out of their comfort zone, and focus solely on the totally unchurched. I mean, have you read the parable of the prodigal son? It's about the son who is totally lost and comes home to the Father after falling deep into the muck and mire of sin. It is beautiful, poetic, grace when the Father runs to embrace his son. He goes out to him. The church should go out to the lost of our community as well.

But then...the Father goes out the the older brother. The one who had been there all along. Who knew the Father...or did he?...and had never left him. This brother is lost, too, in a much different way. Somehow, both the righteous and the unrighteous are lost. They both need brought to the Father. The Father goes out to both of them and pleads with them to come home. And when the older brother sees that the Father wants to bring in the younger brother and that there is a cost to this restoration for the older brother...he refuses to come in.

So is God choosing the younger son over the older son? Is God choosing the 1 lost sheep over the 99 he already has? Is God choosing the sinners over the saints?

Or are the saints choosing their own sainthood over a God that would choose sinners?

Who is the church for?

There's a really popular saying among churchy people right now: "The church is meant to be a hospital for the sick, not a museum for the saints."

Can it be both? Does Jesus hate saint museums?

Have you noticed there were never such things as "seeker services" in the early church? The church gatherings were initially for the family, those who were "in," and the lost got saved on the weekdays.

Somehow we've gotten to the point where we're so bad at saving the lost on weekdays we have to do it on the weekends when the church family get together was supposed to be. So we have to ask a new question:

Who is the church for?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Everything You Need to be Doing

There are 168 hours in a week.

Doctors recommend 8 hours of sleep each night.

That leaves you with 112 hours.

You should work at least 40 hour work week.

That leaves you with 72 hours.

Everyone needs to eat, take another hour each day. Down to 65.

Now you need to work off what you just ate. Hit the gym! 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week.

62.5 hours to go.

Have a commute to and from work? The one-way average is 30 minutes. You're at 55.5 hours.

And you can't go out looking like that. On average it takes 30 minutes (both men and women) to get ready each morning. I'll even let you slum it on Saturday. 52.5 hours left.

Then there are other things that take our time. Vacuum, laundry, dishes, mowing, car maintenance, paying bills...let's say an hour each day. 45.5 hours to go.

Now follow me on this one: you're supposed to drink 8 glasses of water every day. This means you will also be making a run to the little boys or girls room a LOT. Plus 30 seconds of handwashing each time. 6 times a day at five minutes each time. We're averaging here. That's three and a half hours a week in the bathroom. 42 hours.

You need to keep dating your spouse! Take another 3 hours, down to 39.

Go to church! 37 left.

You should probably buy some groceries. 35.

Did you know that kids are spending on average 5 hours a week in extracurriculars? And guess who is driving, which adds another hour to each day?

Bam 25 hours to go.

How about volunteering? Are you on the PTA? School board? Church committee? Average for that is an hour every day.

Down to 18.

Hopefully your family is healthy. But if someone gets checkups, dentist, optometrist... let's be generous and say just 1 hour a week.


You're spending at least an hour a day with your kids...right? Reading, playing...or more likely being a referee. Then putting them to bed.

12 to go.

Everyone needs at least an hour of leisure time each day. The average is 2...let's say 1.5 in this case. Reading, tv, surfing the web, just unwinding. Minus 10.5 hours.

You have 1.5 hours left in your week.

Oh yeah, you should probably walk the dog.

Zero. Perfect, you did it!

So how was your prayer life this week? Get much Bible reading done? Spend much time meditating or just listening for God's voice?

It sure is easy to feel guilty when we don't get to these things. We promise ourselves every Sunday morning we'll do better next week. But look back at the list...what are you going to cut out? It's easy to say "leisure," but that's probably why the majority of us are on antidepressants.

It's a hard thing to order your life in a way that allows you to grow closer to God. So I'm do you do it?

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Death of Facebook?

The great Yankee's catcher Yogi Berra once said: "No one goes there anymore; it's too crowded."

At last check, Facebook has 1.26 billion active users, and every social media junkie you talk to says that Facebook is dying and no one is using it anymore.

So what gives?

Two types of social media have developed: broad-based, and narrow-based. Broad-based intends to reach as big an audience as possible, while narrow-based is for a smaller circle of friends or around a shared interest or a specific kind of media like pictures or videos. The narrow-based are growing in number and popularity (i.e. - SnapChat, Kik, Vine, Instagram), but do not have the influence or saturation of a broad-based like Facebook or Twitter.

While many are saying that the growth of these smaller social networks is signaling the impending death of Facebook, that seems really unlikely. Instead, think about other big corporations.

I like really good food. There's a burger joint in Cincinnati that still makes what I believe to be the best burger on the planet. There's a restaurant close to where I live now that has an incredible baked potato the size of your head. Lots of places specialize in some really good food. But mostly, I wind up in the drive thru of McDonalds. It's quick, easy, everywhere, and sometimes you just want McDonalds fries.

I love mom and pop specialty stores. They know their stuff, they have fantastic customer service, and they sometimes have specialty items you just can't find anywhere else. But mostly, I shop at Walmart. It's cheap and convenient and they have most everything.

What McDonalds, Walmart, and Facebook have figured out is that by not specializing and offering a very generic and convenient experience, they can dominate the field.

What does that mean for your church if you are using social media? Unless you are looking to reach a certain niche audience, stick with Facebook as your primary tool. That's where the people are.

Don't believe me? Try finding a parking space at Walmart on black Friday.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Re-Launch! My New Year's Resolution. Also, why do bad things happen to good people?

Welp, I've decided to re-launch my blog. Probably because I'm just so bored and need more to do.

January is a great time to re-evaluate your life and what you spend your time doing. I want to make sure I'm doing more things that matter and fewer things that don't.

Truthfully, I just enjoy putting my thoughts down in writing, sharing them with others, and hoping that you might find them worthwhile to read.

In the past, this blog was mostly about churches and using social media, though I wavered from that some. For now, I'm going to keep an focus on social media in churches, but sprinkle in a lot of my own thoughts about what I'm thinking about or dealing with in my own walk with Christ and struggle to be a good husband and father. There might be an occasional rant about how bad Cleveland sports are. But yeah, mostly social media and church stuff.

OK, that stuff aside, I'm feeling very small today.

I had the "brilliant" idea a few months ago that I would begin this year with a sermon series on the BIG questions. I would call the series "Why?" You know, why do bad things happen to good people, why aren't my prayers answered, stuff like that. He's a video trailer for the series:

Here's the issue: I'm still wrestling with these questions myself. (Disclaimer: if you're hoping that pastors know all of these answers and never have doubts or problems or faith issues, you should probably stop reading this blog. Permanently.)

More than that, I realize I'm about to stand up in front of a bunch of people this Sunday and give them my very inadequate answers to really important questions. When I was making the video above and put in the words "the answers will change your life," that was maybe more of a prayer for myself than a declaration.

God, give me the answers to these questions so you can change someone's life.

It's a small feeling, to feel as if you are charged with explaining the workings of Almighty to God's people. It's like being an interpreter who only kind of speaks the other language. All the while, the church is clamouring, "Tell us what He is saying! We know its important, we want to understand!"

So do I.

But here is where my job gets really fun. I get to dive in to exploring these questions and answers. I get to seek God in prayer. I get to examine my own life and how I've answered the questions at different times in my life. And I know, on Sunday morning, I'm not making an argument for how well I understand a certain topic. Instead, I'm making an argument for the Gospel: that God loves us, that Jesus came for us, and that through Him, we can have the Life that has been promised to us from the beginning of time. And when it's all over and the last hymn has been sung and I'm walking out the back of the sanctuary, I will feel even more inadequate than ever, thinking I've not even come close to explaining the fulness of the goodness of God. Because it's impossible to do in 25 minutes.

And yet...somehow...God will take a little sliver of something I say...and use it to change someone's heart.

I still don't know why bad things happen to good people...but I'm starting to understand why some bad things have happened to me. And this Sunday, I'm going to make the strongest case I can that in the midst of the suffering of the innocent, there is a God who loves you more than you ever thought possible.

And that God has allowed me to have the best job in the world.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Renewal and Rose-Colored Glasses

I'm starting to dislike the term "renewal" in the church. It seems like we've been renewing every single generation since time began. I was reading some of our church history info from the early 1900s, and they were looking to have a renewal of Spirit like they had before in the 1860s. It always implies that it was better before than it is now.
I just don't buy that. It was DIFFERENT before. But even then, the good old days were often times of "revival," meaning they were dead and needed brought back to life.
No matter what we do, we'll never make people who remember the good ol' days think we've "made it." It will never feel as perfect now as we think it felt then. The term "renewal" is becoming one that to me precedes feelings of inadequacy. No matter the new successes and new followers of Christ. In the church world, hindsight isn't 20/20. Instead, it wears rose-colored glasses.
Every generation believes theirs is the one going down the tubes and the previous ones were the last to really "get it."
What if we stopped "renewing," and started believing that we have the devil on the run? What if we went on the offensive instead of believing we have to find a way to hold together the tattered strips of our denomination? What if the previous generation of believers wasn't seen as an unattainable goal but instead as a mountain to build upon?