Category Archives: Get Real: Authenticity

Looking for answers in a world of tragedy and hatred

Every generation looks at the news and changing values around them and believes the end must be coming soon.  Each generation believes things are getting worse and it’s only a matter of time.  The early Christians felt there could be no greater evils than what they faced:  a corrupt Roman rule that sought to torture and execute them, feed them to lions for sport and drive them underground.  Every generation believes that things are so bad, Jesus must be coming back soon.

We see awful stories in the news that shock and outrage us.  School shootings, terrorist bombings, domestic violence, acts of discrimination and hatred, families torn apart and treating each other horribly.  We look from afar and judge and wonder how people could act such a way.

The Bible discusses the sinful condition of humans repeatedly.  It began with the original sin that ended utopia in Eden and brought brokenness to the world.  It continued with religious people that ridiculed, imprisoned and killed  God’s prophets, even mocking, torturing and killing the Son of God who brought the hopeful message of the Kingdom of God.  History has seen horrible dictators, genocide, murder, terrorism and evils that shock and sicken us.  In the Bible, Paul wrote the following phrases in his letter to the Romans:

“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23)

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom 7:18)

Writing about sinful people he said they will “invent ways of doing evil” (Rom 1:30)

It’s not all bad news.  Because we are made in God’s own image and likeness humans have the capacity to do good, but because of our sin we have the capacity to do evil.  Paul writes extensively about this dichotomy throughout Romans.  In chapter 7 he notes that he knows the good he should do and the evil he should avoid, but the good and evil inside him constantly do battle.

We all have that battle within us.  When things are going well, most of the time the good side wins.  We may fall into some sinful habits here and there but keep them in check.  Other times, we give into our darker side and allow ourselves to be tempted into sin.  At some points in our lives – and for some people most of their lives – we can become broken, worn out, depressed and decay deeper into sin.

We see awful stories in the news that shock and outrage us.  School shootings, terrorist bombings, domestic violence, acts of discrimination and hatred, families torn apart and treating each other horribly.  We look from afar and judge and wonder how people could act such a way.

And then we look in the mirror.  And we contemplate the hatred we have in our heart for someone that hurt us, the strained relationship with a person we’ve refused to speak to for a long time, the habit that no one knows about and we keep hidden in a dark place, or whatever sin is weighing heavily on our hearts.

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At the end of Romans chapter 7 Paul writes “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Now this is coming from a man who was an Apostle of the early church, who wrote most of the letters of the New Testament and did many great things for God.  To some people, this kind of writing dwells too much on the negative.  Many people just want to talk about happy thoughts and focus on the good things that humans do and are capable of.  And we should do that.  We should celebrate great human achievement, acts of love and kindness and unselfish behavior.  It’s true there is enough bad news out there, we need more positivity.

At the same time, when tragedy strikes or when we have those moments where we feel like we’ve hit rock bottom or are in a bad way, we need to realize the struggle within us.

Some would say we are getting more sinful each generation as morals change.  There are also ways that our morals improve by shedding off ignorant or judgmental attitudes of the past.  But at the same time, stories come along that remind us that for all of our progress, people are still broken and sinful people.

We will never conquer this ourselves.  We will never see peace, healing and love on our own.  Yes, humans are capable of it because of the imprint of God He’s put in us.  But real change comes from real change of heart, a change that only God can bring. In Romans chapter 7, Paul asked “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  And then he answered his own question:

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

People can put their faith, energy and hope in things like political candidates or parties, in social justice initiatives, in communities bound together by common interests and even deep love for each other…and those can be good things but ultimately lacking full potential without the answer Paul points us to:

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We know that we will never see perfection this side of heaven.  There will always be sin, there will always be tragedy, there will always be people using their free will to commit crimes and horrible acts.  And if we’re honest with ourselves we realize we will always struggle with that same area of sin, we’ll gossip about someone behind their back from time to time, we’ll say something we don’t really mean, we’ll hurt people we love with our words or actions.  We aren’t perfect.  At the same time, we can do good.  We can help people, we can stand for truth and justice and help our communities.

We can do good things because our Creator made us in His image and likeness.  We can access the love and charity in our hearts and do good, even great things.  To truly combat evil, we’ll need more than what we’re able to achieve ourselves.  We’ll need a powerful ally.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

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The Freedom of Confession

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

–1 John 1:9

“The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

–St. Augustine

Call it a cultural thing, or societal, generational or even part of the natural human condition.  But people generally don’t like admitting they’ve done anything wrong.  Usually confessions are actually celebrating bad behavior such as in a made-for-TV movie or a “tell-all” book.  However, there is great power and freedom in confessing your guilt and admitting your need for forgiveness.

The mother of a murdered child forgiving the man that pulled the trigger.

A pastor stepping down from his position and stepping up to admit his need for counseling.

A parent asking a child for forgiveness for wrong doing.

Being the first to make contact after years of not speaking to someone.

 

Confession

 

When it comes to our spiritual life, the Bible says that if we confess our sins before God he forgives us.  He is a just God that demands holiness yet we don’t have to fear confessing our sins before a holy God.  John 3:17 tells us:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Confessing sin frees us from guilt, from shame and from the trap of counting rights and wrongs and hoping the good outweighs the bad.  The Bible tells us not only to confess to God, but also “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” (James 5:16)

Every week at my church, we read a confession together out loud.  I think this is one of the most important and powerful aspects of our weekly worship.  Sometimes as I’m praying the words displayed on the screen I wish that skeptics and people burned by church would be there to witness it.  We confess that we don’t show the love of Christ to people like we should, that we judge people or treat them unfairly, that we let our anger or bitterness get the best of us, and other things that are openly admitting we’re fail as followers of Christ and as the Church.

People usually say they stay away from church because of hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach or have a “holier than thou” judgmental attitude toward others.  I wish those people would hear the Church confess these things and see humble people admitting they fall short but strive to do better with God’s grace.  Now imagine we had a humble spirit and confessed to people in our lives that way.  Imagine the impact it might have on people.

Confession frees you from guilt, builds accountability with close friends and family and can even be a powerful witness tool to share the Gospel.


Jesus and ‘Merica

Independence Day, the 4th of July:  American flags, BBQs, fireworks and lots of patriotic displays.  You’ll see the American flag on bathing suits, beach towels, cooking aprons, paper plates and napkins, tattoos, you name it.

But nothing is greater than when churches remind us that Jesus did not exist before America, and that Jesus is himself an American who loves America.  And he loves ‘Merica the most.

America Jesus 3

 

 

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America Jesus 1

 

America Jesus 2

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I’ll bet you didn’t know that Jesus carried a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the Liberty Bell (don’t worry, it was just a copy not the original).  Jesus wept but he could not repair the crack.

America Jesus 7

 

This photoshop job goes double ‘Merica on us:  Jesus wrapped in an American flag inside another American flag.

 

America Jesus 5

 


The most AMAZING blog post ever! You don’t want to miss this, it’s going to be EPIC!!!

Ah, Christian superlatives. 

Churches LOVE to hype up and over sell any and every aspect of their church.  At some churches, everything is marketed as being awesome, amazing, epic, off the charts, off the chain, off the hook, and other over the top phrases. 

Awesome face

 

 

 

 

 

 

A church will advertise itself as being unique, edgy or not like any other church you’ve been to.  Then you visit and find out it’s just like every other non-denominational “contemporary” church.

 My favorite is when a church advertises “if you only attend one service this year, you cannot miss this Sunday!” and then say the same thing repeatedly throughout the year about other Sundays.   What message could be so important to that degree that hasn’t already been heard?  THE greatest message a Christian church can preach has been the same for over 2,000 years and is the central tenet of our faith.  Having said that, hopefully every message is rooted in God’s Word and you can simply advertise that the message will be impactful, encouraging, inspiring, thought-provoking, challenging or other descriptors. 

Churches will advertise just about anything as being awesome or amazing, from a Sunday School class to a basic potluck.  It’s natural to want to promote events and attract people to attend but the more you use superlatives, the less effective they become. 

 Let’s try to dial it down and set realistic, yet still enthusiastic expectations.  And using a thesaurus wouldn’t hurt either.


Celebrating the good fathers

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, in short due to busyness at work and enjoying my 7 month-old son.  I used to spend time writing a post and proofreading and editing it too much, and I’ve got a folder of ideas that I procrastinate getting to.  Then there’s the stat sheet, which can either excite you or drain your enthusiasm.  My friend Teri on her blog Grits and Bottle Rockets recently posted an inspiration to just get writing.  Just do it, just write.  There’s nothing to proofread or edit if you don’t start somewhere.

So I’ve decided to try and just write when I get the inspiration and knock it out.  And normally I try to write random ideas not associated with any holiday or current event, but this one’s a coincidence with Father’s Day coming up soon.

Baby stroller - this is how i roll

Recently I was out walking my son in the stroller around my neighborhood.  I saw 3 other dad’s hanging out with their kids either playing on the porch or walking with strollers, too.  The thought struck me how great it is to see so many fathers spending time with their kids.  While there are some bad or absent fathers out there, in general fathers often get a bad rap.  Look no further than your television:  whether in scripted shows or even the commercials where usually the man is a bumbling idiot with no clue and the wife/mother looks on and shakes her head at her stupid oaf of a husband.

I thought it’d be nice to acknowledge and celebrate when we do see good examples of fathers who are spending time with their kids, being good mentors and showing them love and care.  There are more stay-at-home dads these days that do a fantastic job.  There are dads who aren’t afraid to change a diaper or get up and comfort a crying baby back to sleep at 4am.  There are dads who help out around the house and bring relief to tired mommies.  When you see any children’s sports team, you’ll no doubt see fathers who volunteer to coach.  They leave work early to teach fundamentals and wipe snotty noses.  When you drop your kids off at their classes at church, you will find more and more men volunteering to work with children.

Men grow up in competition mode all the time, taught not to show emotion or weakness and are constantly having to prove their masculinity.  When a man becomes a father, you see him no longer care about himself but put his family first.  A good father would sacrifice himself, would embarrass himself in public, attend a tea party or wear a ridiculous costume to make their kids happy.  A father will display failed craft projects and wear horrid clothing items if purchased for him by his children.  There are all sorts of reasons to be thankful for your father, and I invite you to share yours in the comments.

I am blessed to have grown up with a great dad, and had prep from my brothers and friends with kids to learn by their example and advice.  Who would you like to acknowledge?  If not your own father or a father figure in your life, do you know any dads who are a great example and deserve some thanks and recognition?


The simple path to God.

You would think more Christians would be fulfilled and content in their faith now than in the past.

 We have more information, resources, material, access and connectivity than ever and we are well past the point of information overload.  We have great buildings, excellent leaders and large congregations full of talent and commitment.  We have thousands of books, websites, blogs, seminars and conferences.  We have rich tradition and heritage, modern mega church campuses, online streaming services and charismatic pastors and leaders.  And there are also a lot more of us than in the first century.

 Yet in each generation, we still find ourselves searching for God and trying to find fulfillment.  It’s not for lack of the afore-mentioned things that our spiritual lives suffer, nor is there anything wrong with them in and of themselves.  But sometimes we over complicate things.

 Jesus liked to boil things down to some simple points.  Love  God, love others.  Forgive people.  How many times do you forgive them?  Too many to count, you just forgive. 

 Serve others.  If someone is hungry, give them food.  If thirsty, a drink of water.  If they’re cold, offer them your coat.  You don’t need a complex theological model with charts and graphs to tell you how to help someone in need.

 I think sometimes we make approaching God and growing our faith more complex than it needs to be.  What I’ve found is that it’s hard enough to get the simple things right.  We are sinners that fall short every day but we can keep striving for better. 

 Just take time out of your week to pray to God.  And when you pray, try not to make it all about yourself and asking for things.  Crack open the Bible more often than you used to.  Attend church and try to focus and not be distracted.  Sing along with the hymns and songs and try to mean it.  Turn off the media and quiet yourself and get some perspective and think about God, and sense His presence.  Get through your week doing more good than bad and try to be a good example of Christ to others.  Try harder at showing people love and mercy than trying to be right or win the argument.

 If we do better at those simple things, we might catch a glimpse of the Divine.  Our differences in theology and the name on the church sign might not matter so much.  Non-believers might be more open to a faith they see lived out honestly and genuinely.  Remember the acronym KISS:  Keep it simple, stupid.  If you had to apply that spiritually:  pray, read the Bible, go to church, get involved, love others.  And mean it

 That last part could change the world.


Truth vs Perception

Did you know that Olive Garden is an awful joke of a restaurant and no one likes to eat there?  That’s the impression you’d get from stand-up comedians and late night talk show hosts, yet most people I know like it.  Their parking lot is always full so their business seems to be doing ok.  Yet somehow, Olive Garden has become a target for jokes.  I think one main reason is that people today don’t care if something is true or not, they just want to follow the trend and be in on the joke.  So someone laughs off how bad Olive Garden is because other people did it, too.

This happened to Sarah Palin.  This is not a political point and I’m not saying one thing or another about her politically.  But this is about perception.  Tina Fey famously impersonated her on Saturday Night Live during the 2008 campaign.  Tina’s caricature of Palin said “I can see Russia from my house.”  That is the quote people now often attribute to Palin.  However, what Palin actually said was “They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”

This kind of thing happens all the time in politics but also in simple things like movie quotes and song lyrics.  It’s like the telephone game kids play where you whisper a message from one person to another and as it progresses, you find that the message has changed over time.

A famous movie quote regarding truth comes from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!”  His character’s take is that there are truths in life that we sometimes would rather not know about.  We’d rather ignore them and go along with the popular perceptions, or keep our heads in the sand altogether.

The prophets in the Old Testament knew a lot about trying to speak truth to a people that preferred popular perceptions.  They dealt with kings who only wanted to hear good fortunes, and people that only listened to what they wanted to hear.  Not only did that problem extend to the New Testament era as well, but is a problem with humanity of any time period.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 says “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

I’m going to begin taking a look at some misquotes, misperceptions and myths about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity.  I’m not a Bible scholar but I did do some study in college toward my pastoral degree and I’ve observed plenty of poor perception of Jesus and the Church.  Some things are simple enough to look at the context in the Bible or dig deeper into the story and find the truth.

“You want answers?”
“I want the truth.”
“You can’t handle the truth!”


Ok, I just love that scene.  :)

I’ll end with a somewhat funny one that happens in church.  At least it’s funny to me.  In the song “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” the last line of the first verse is “on earth is not his equal.”  When this song is sung in church, you’ll inevitably find someone raise their hands or pump their fists in excitement.  Yes!  There is no equal to God on earth!  Except, wait.  Look at the lines just before that:

For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe
his craft and power are great
and armed with cruel hate
on earth is not his equal

That portion talks about our ancient foe:  the devil!  He seeks to work us woe, he’s crafty and armed with CRUEL HATE.  That’s not God, that’s the devil.  On earth, there is no equal to how incredibly evil, cruel and hateful the devil is.  In contrast, the song describes how our God is greater.  But those specific lines are describing the devil.  I always get a kick out of someone raising their hands in worship…singing about how there is no greater evil on earth than the cruel hate of satan.

Glory!  :p


Avoid the trap of a boring church routine

Let’s face it:  sometimes we don’t feel like going to church.

Most don’t like to admit that because it doesn’t sound spiritual.  Or worse, people might call you a heretic or ask you if you’re back-sliding.  But when church gets boring or stale, it can cause people to skip and spend their time in other ways.  Anything we do in life can become stale at times, from work to relationships to our favorite TV shows or weekly restaurant choices.  Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up.  Take on a new project or hobby.  Have a date night on a random weeknight or take a spontaneous trip.  Try a new restaurant or prepare a recipe at home you’ve never tried.  Turn off the TV and do something different.  We encourage individuals to freshen things up now and then.

So why not do the same for church ministries?  Even the most unique churches usually follow a certain format or pattern.  It can feel too programmed, regimented or manufactured. 

Church leaders go to conferences, read books and websites and talk amongst themselves about how to attract people, keep people, grow in number and spirituality.  They say that to reach adults, have a great children’s ministry and provide great programs.  They say that doing a series that lasts 4-6 weeks will make people want to come back to enjoy that series.  (They don’t consider if someone doesn’t like the series, they could choose to skip the next 4-6 weeks).  It’s “different” to have coffee and donuts in the lobby, or call your small groups “life” groups, or “community” groups or some other wording.  I’ve sat in on meetings where pastors discuss calling it a program instead of a bulletin to not be too religious, or have to plan how they’ll walk up the steps.  They think they are doing things “outside the box” when really they’re just slightly rearranging items inside the box.

Pastors these days have to plan and regiment everything.   Services are timed in great detail.  While it’s good to have a plan, and try to accommodate a schedule that includes more than one service on Sunday, the spontaneity and fun (and passion) can often be subdued. I’ve been to many churches that claim to be edgy and different, but really are a carbon copy of every non-denominational styled church these days.

Regimented.  Programmed.  Manufactured.  Cookie cutter.

I took a leadership class in college taught by the President of the University.  The school had a policy to take attendance each class and to write students up for skipping too many times.  He took attendance the first class and told us that he won’t be doing that every class, only the first couple times.  He just wanted to get to know our names.  He acknowledged the policy (again he was the President) but said that the responsibility should be on the professors:  “if your class is interesting enough, students will want to attend.  If students aren’t attending your class, maybe you need to do a better job of keeping them there.

Don’t get me wrong, I know churches mean well.  And some people like repetition and shy away from change.  You don’t want to change just for change’s sake and you do need structure and stability.  But we also could use some variety, to experience something fresh and new.  Mix it up a little. 

In the same way that individuals are encouraged to shake things up to bring some refreshing to their lives, here are some suggestions churches can do to bring variety to their ministry life.

  • Do an acoustic worship set, or even acapella (or a totally different style of music altogether). 
  • Do something creative like more visual demonstrations and modern day parables. 
  • Get more people from your church involved so it’s more about community and less about watching a show on stage.
  • Shake up the order of service: perhaps spend more time on worship and prayer and shorten the sermon
  • Have special services with no sermon but more involvement from people, creative performances or even viewing a Christian short film.
  • Invite guest speakers, artists and performers to bring some fresh perspective (and give your volunteers a break)
  • Plan more community events
  • Team up with other churches in the area for joint service and outreach projects, and have a joint worship gathering after to celebrate what God is doing in your community.

 There really is no limit to the number of ideas you can try.  I encourage you to pray and seek God about what ways you can liven things up to bring some variety and add interest to your ministry.

What are some creative things you’ve tried in your ministries that you’ve found successful?


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