Flying Dragon Kick

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KAIDO – My son Kaiden is currently five years old, about to be six. He is incredible. He is a ball of energy. His favorite thing to do is to wrestle daddy. It starts as soon as my eyes open in the morning. Kaiden has on occasion climbed up into our bed and done a cannon ball straight into my stomach while I was asleep. Not a great way to start my morning…or is it the BEST way to start my morning? Hmmm. Needless to say, he is the only person who can get between me and my coffee. It’s all in good fun though. He will make appointments with me to wrestle. Kaiden has a little OCD in his blood. If I tell him I am too busy to wrestle, things do not go well. He is such a huge fan of mixing it up, that there are times when I come home that he will hide somewhere in the house. The older he has gotten, the better his stealth mode has become. He will only reveal himself when he does a flying dragon kick off of the couch, chair, table…you name it and he has jumped off of it. I never know from which direction he will fly when I come home with my computer bag slung over my shoulder, coffee tumbler in hand and glasses on my face. I just have to be ready for him no matter what.

Have you ever seen some of the old Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” movies? You know, the one with Cato in them. His roommate and friend Cato, who is an expert in Martial Arts, is charged with the duty of attacking the Pink Panther at any time of day just to keep his reflexes sharp. The problem is, Inspector Clouseau can’t stop him from attacking when it is inconvenient. Cato is always on the attack. I feel like that at my house sometimes. I love my son and I love wrestling with him because it is a TON of fun. However, there are times when I’ve had a bad work day, I’m running low on steam or I just need to get my head together after a long day and Kaiden will STILL fly off of the couch, ready to throw down! It can be exasperating.

That is how Satan operates against us. No, I don’t think my son is Satan. I love that little guy like nobody’s business. My son…not Satan. Just for clarification. It’s a comparison people. Seriously though. The Devil operates against us in the very same way. He is relentless in his pursuit to destroy us and then uses us as instruments of brokenness against others.

1 Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

That’s messed up right? He won’t take a time out or a day off. He absolutely will not stop. He’s like the Terminator. He doesn’t take your feelings into consideration or what kind of mood you are in. As a matter of fact he will use those things against you and to his favor because he is your enemy. This makes our job of loving others relentlessly, very difficult.  How can we avoid falling into Satan’s traps over and over again?  How do we handle attacks from others that seem like they come from him and choose the path of love instead?  I’ll talk more about that next time.  See yuz.

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Broken Allegiance

The following post is an excerpt from a book I am writing on loving others relentlessly in a world that tears them apart.  Last time I posted we were talking about the dysfunctions that we see in the Church worldwide.  This is not specific to any local church environment that I have been in but based on my experience with the Church with a capital “C”…as you can plainly see.  Dr. Seuss would have been proud of that last sentence.  

“Galatians is a book written to the early church that urges them to stop living a life of deception and embrace “true life” in Jesus. This group of Jesus followers had bought into the idea that the gospel was true. Let me de-church that for you really quick. In other words these people believed that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, He was in fact God, and that He lived a perfect life, performed miracles, loved the unlovable and then was tortured and killed on the cross for our sins. That death on the cross then paid a penalty we couldn’t pay and we were then free to have a direct relationship with the God that created the universe.

That’s not where it ends though. Jesus then came back from the dead. Sound crazy? It kinda is. However these people that followed Jesus and witnessed both His death and resurrection were then willing to die for what they believed and never let go of that idea, even when they were being tortured. That’s even crazier.

They would take it a step further though. They would go on to say that anyone who believed and trusted in this act and in Jesus (faith) would then be able to have the same relationship with God. But let me emphasize something for a second, it was only through belief and trust that this relationship was accessed. Not by any religious act, not by some great and daring good deed, and certainly not by some religious person clearing you from guilt. It was only by belief and trust in Jesus. That’s it. No other church tradition should tell you otherwise. You don’t need to be baptized to access heaven. You shouldn’t need to have a particular “gift” or spiritual talent to be more spiritual. What you need is a strong relationship with Jesus where you trust Him daily.

The Galatians, much like us, were being fed a line of BS. You read that right. You’re lucky I just gave you the initials and didn’t spell it out because that’s exactly what it is…BS. They were being told, “you aren’t complete as a Christian unless you follow our religion (Judaism) first.” The group that was spreading these lies were known as the Judaizers.

Let’s get real. The idea of having religious structure in place was pretty attractive to first century believers. The Jewish believers at the time had left all of the things that make religion comfortable. There were priests, religious procedures, cultural followers and a temple that you could meet in. Early Christians didn’t really have a place to worship other than homes, there were no priests and since it was a new movement, they didn’t have a lot of cultural followers, just new converts. If you were a Christian during this time you were in the minority.

So it is easy to see why someone might revert back to easier path of belief. Yet, Paul says this: I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;” (Galatians 1:6)

That word for “deserting” carries the connotation with it that someone is switching allegiances. In other words they were traitors (Stott, Glatians) in Paul’s eyes. Easy there Paul! Have a little compassion would ya? I mean, let’s be honest for a second, this following Jesus thing isn’t that easy. A lot of believers were persecuted and killed for their faith. Paul would know. He was one of the worst persecutors of the church before Jesus got a hold of his life. Paul was actively involved in the pursuit and killing of believers and was on his way to do just that when he had an encounter with Jesus that would completely change his life. Paul went from the hunter to the hunted in an instant! Maybe that’s why Paul was so hard-core about this. He was living out what he was asking the Galatian church to do. He not only knew what it meant to be a target, because of his faith, he was a high profile target! One of the Pharisees most highly trained and potentially highest revered agents had himself become a traitor to their cause.

He was now fully on board with following Jesus and had become highly pursued by those wanting this “Jesus thing” to stop spreading.

Not only did he tell them not to desert the cause, he told them “Don’t do it so quickly!” Its kind of funny when you read it that way. “Seriously people. I’m not saying don’t desert the cause, just don’t do it so stinkin’ quickly!!!” There is good evidence that points to the fact that not long after Paul had left them, they started jumping ship. Like rats on a sinking ship, they got outta there!

This passage reminds me of stories that came out of the Gulf War in Iraq. Some of the Iraqi troops were so ill prepared for battle that they were surrendering to camera crews! Can you imagine? Not one of your greatest moments as a warrior for the cause. “I give up!” “Uhhhh, we’re just filming the war. It’s a different kind of shooting, you know the kind where no one actually gets shot and we capture it on film.” “Close enough bro. WE SURRENDER!!!”

Paul was making a point. You were not really prepared to fight for the cause. The first chance you got, you ditched Jesus. I guess they weren’t really rooted in the life of Christ enough. They were slaves to religion and they hadn’t fully embraced the freedom that the love of Jesus affords us. To put it simply, their heart wasn’t in it.”

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Identity drift

I am not a church historian. Some of you just sighed a sigh of relief. Sure I’ve read a few books on church history and we talked about it in seminary but it isn’t really my cup of tea. I’m more of a coffee person while we’re on the topic. Trust me when I say I could keep talking about this issue for a few pages. But I’ll spare you the gory details of my caffeine addiction.

Even though I am not a church history buff, I have been working full time in a church for around eleven years. About ten of those years were in youth ministry and the other year is in the position that I’m currently in, which is a small groups pastor. I have seen the inner workings of church and I have seen certain trends and church models come and go. Some of them good and some of them dangerous. I’ve seen people who are as genuine in their faith as I’ve ever seen and then I’ve seen people that are obviously playing church.

While I’m being honest, I myself started out my faith pretty legalistically. What I mean by that is that when I first started following Jesus, I took every word that He said literally (which I think you should) but at the same time, I held other people to the standard that I was able to achieve while not caring so much about the disciplines or areas of the Christian life where I was falling short.

For example, I hated reading before I became a Christian. Hated it. I would not pick up a book unless it was to put it on some paper that was blowing away on my desk. When I started following Christ, I was told that reading the Bible was a part of the gig. Initially, this didn’t make me happy. But I forced myself to start reading and then I got into the habit of reading my Bible every day. When that happened, I automatically thought that everyone else should do the same. After all, I didn’t like reading to begin with and I am now reading every single day. If I was going to be miserable, dang it, so was everyone else. I started digging into my friends about how their time “in the word” was going. My wife, till this day, will not let me forget that I quizzed her while we were dating about what she was reading and how she was growing “in the Word”. I had to see if she was worthy. I’m kidding now but at the time I was dead serious. I began judging other people’s relationship with God based solely on how much time they were spending reading their Bible. What a turd! I mean, who cares about whether or not I was actually practicing the things I was reading or whether or not I was actually loving my neighbor as Jesus would.

Here’s where I’m headed with this. There are diseases that I’ve seen creep up in the church over time that hinder us from actually being the agent of change that Jesus expected us to be. We have drifted in our identity. We are no longer who we were intended to be. If the truth be told, we have struggled with this since the very beginning of the church. Here’s how I know. Paul addressed plenty of church dysfunctions in his letters to different churches (known as the Epistles). How crazy is that by the way? From the moment churches were created, they struggled with who they were. The truth about the Church was so good, they couldn’t possibly believe that they were free to be what Jesus had called them to be.

For the next few weeks we will take a look at just a few of the dysfunctions that I will cover in detail in my book.  Come back next week and check it out.

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Who’s Clues?

My daughter Savannah is amazing. Can I say that without it sounding self-aggrandizing? No? I’m cool with that. I love my little girl who is not so little any more. As I write this, we are staring down the barrel of sixth grade. Since I was a youth pastor for almost a decade, this worries me. Middle school is tough and sixth grade is the equivalent to juvenile detention in our academic system. Eat or be eaten. I need to switch gears before I go into a full-blown panic attack. One of the things I love most about my daughter is how she is fearlessly…herself. She is so unique and unafraid of being different. Yes, I’m aware junior high can choke that out of you but I am praying non-stop that God will preserve that about her.

That being said, part of what makes Savannah unique and courageously herself is that she loves and has loved being other people. I know that’s confusing so you might need some examples. When she was really little, she loved the show “Blues Clues”. Back then, the host was Steve. If you ask me, there never really was any other host of Blues Clues except for Steve. Don’t get me started on that. Joe was a hack and I’d say that to his face. Actually, I’m already sorry for saying that. My apologies to the actor who played Joe.

Back to my daughter wanting to be Steve from Blues Clues. So Savannah, without any prompting from us, would find a striped shirt and khaki pants and would just appear in our living room. She would begin to act out scenes from Blues Clues. When I would ask “Savannah, what are you doing?” her answer would always be “I’m not Savannah, I’m Steve.” “So sorry…Steve.” As a matter of fact it seemed like there was a whole year where I’d have to call my daughter Steve, which is a little disheartening to a dad of a beautiful little girl like Savannah. “Savannah go clean your room.” “I’m Steve.” “STEVE GO CLEAN YOUR ROOM!!!” To be honest, at times it was SOOO frustrating but I look back on those times with fondness because she was so great at embodying those characters. Would it surprise you if I told you she has been in numerous drama camps, school musicals and anything that allows her that outlet? We’re on the same page then.

Savannah has the unique and uncanny ability to be other people while still remaining herself. The Church does not have that ability.  In my next post, I’ll discuss why.  See you next time.

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The Secret To Living A Defiant Joy: An interview with Margaret Feinberg

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For any of you who have had a loved one struggle through cancer or maybe you yourself have been through it, one of the authors that I really enjoy reading, Margaret Feinberg, has been through a brutal fight with cancer and shares the unexpected lessons she discovered along the way in her new book and Bible study Fight Back With Joy.

It’s been inspiring to learn how Margaret has been practicing a defiant joy, and I and thought you might like to get an insider’s look, a sneak peek of the video and read an interview with Margaret.

Your newest book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, was born out of your fight with a life-threatening illness. What was your difficult diagnosis, and what has your journey to health entailed?

 For the last 18 months, I’ve been battling breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t just one disease represents thousands of different diseases with their varying components and factors. Being diagnosed under the age of 40 is significant. I’ve been through a brutal year of chemotherapy, radiation, and more surgeries than I can count or want to remember.

Why did you write Fight Back With Joy?

I studied joy for a year and was putting the finishing touches on book on joy—just two weeks from turning it into the publisher, when I received the diagnosis. I had been pursuing and activating joy in my life in the relatively good times, now I had to do it in the midst of darkness, depression, and torturous pain. Through the process, I’ve discovered the breadth, depth, and power of joy—that despite hundreds of sermons and many decades in the church—no one had told me of before.

In Fight Back With Joy book and Bible study, you really push the reader to reevaluate their definition of joy. Why do you think this is so important?

Much of the teaching I’ve heard on joy over the years is oversimplified. I remember those days in Sunday school learning that JOY is spelled Jesus, Others, Yourself. While that made perfect sense at 9 years old, I’ve seen how distorted that can become as an adult.

I see friends who love Jesus but spend so much time pouring into their kids, grandkids and others that their joy looks something like this: jOy.

Technically, it still spells joy, but more than anything, these men and women who are so exhausted, so empty, so running on fumes from pouring into others need to pause and take time to focus on themselves. Laying hold of joy right now will require them to reevaluate for a season and discover the joy that comes with JYo.

I also noticed how most of the definitions of joy define it more by what it isn’t than by what it is. I constantly heard that happiness is based on circumstance but joy is not dependent on circumstance.

Biblical expressions of joy turn out to be far different than what I had been taught. I am now convinced the writers of the Bible would say that, the reason we have joy is because we have great circumstances. If you are a child of God, you are drenched in the grace and mercy of God.

No matter what you’re facing: Your circumstances are better than you think.

If you’re not experiencing joy, perhaps it’s because your definition of joy is too narrow.

On a scale of 1-10, how hard was it for you to write this book and Bible study?

An eleven! This journey has been the most painful experience of my life. And, to share about it requires some vulnerability. Okay, a lot of vulnerability. And, that’s really, really hard. But I feel like I’m finally ready to share what God has stirred in my heart along the way because although cancer has been the most painful journey—it has also been the most joyful. And no one is more surprised than I am.

Pick up a copy of Fight Back With Joy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

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1st Church of the Broken: Excerpt from the Intro

We often treat our churches like we would the place where we get our haircut or the restaurant that the service wasn’t that great. If we don’t like it, we leave, never look back and look for the next service, the next small group and the next worship experience. Let me be perfectly clear, you will never find that place if this is how you’ve done church up until this point. There are people at every church you will attend that have the potential to rub you the wrong way and say things that you don’t like. Welcome to humanity!

That being said, we as the church do have a responsibility to be like Jesus. John puts it this way: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” 1 John 2:6

This sentence comes from a letter that is written by John, a disciple/ follower of Jesus, but it is unclear exactly who the recipient of this letter would be. More than likely it was written to church leaders who were in Ephesus, which was the capital of the Roman province in Asia at the time. The people who were in the churches at the time were really struggling with who to follow. Some of the Christians were doing a good job of sticking to the things Jesus said to do. Others…not so much. There were followers who had decided that they needed to become Jewish first and then a Christian afterwards. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through right? First become this religion and then you can join our religion. I’m tired just typing that, so I’ll move on.

The next group just took the life of Jesus and added it to all of the other religions they had adopted. Many years ago my mom and step dad told me a story about a guy they met in a restaurant bar while they were waiting for their table. He had the Star of David hanging around his neck with the cross behind the star. Puzzled by the necklaces he was wearing, my mom asked about it. He politely answered, “The Star of David is because I am Jewish.” My mom then said “And the cross?” The man replied “Just in case I’m wrong!” Funny story but many of us do this with what we believe about Jesus. We just add it to the many beliefs we have “just in case we are wrong.” Ancient Christianity suffered from the same problem. They weren’t sure that this Christianity thing was going to take off so they added it to their current beliefs.

John writes this verse to make it clear. The essence to a strong connection with God is to hold unswervingly to the life of Jesus. That’s it! At the time this passage was written, walking was the primary means to get places. Walking meant that you were going from point A to point B. Progress was happening when you walked. To make progress in your life with God, you have to imitate Jesus’ life.

If this is true, why is it that most of us don’t look like Jesus. Please understand me, I’m talking about myself here as well as the whole of Christianity. Why don’t we look more like Jesus if we are “disciples” or “followers” of Him?

We are often identified as bigots, hate mongers and hypocrites. Something’s broken right? We need to fix this don’t we? What are our options you ask? That’s why I’m writing this book. Let’s go on this journey together. I think this is where we start. A life spent following Jesus might be identified as people that love others relentlessly. That’s why the premise of this book is this:

Relentlessly loving others in a world that tears them apart.

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New Year. New Goals.

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Here we go people.  2015 is here.  Its time for New Year’s resolutions.  I know, I know.  You don’t do resolutions.  We gotta have goals though right?  As the old saying goes “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” What goals are you setting for yourself in 2015?  One goal that I have for myself is to finish a project that I’ve been working on for a few months.  I’m writing a book.  I know, a real original goal.

For quite some time now I’ve had a some ideas that won’t let go of me.   For a long time I’ve pushed those ideas down mainly because I listened to the voices.  There should be no surprise that I, of all people, hear voices.  Let’s be honest though, we all do.  Its funny to me how the voices never tell you “Hey, you’re awesome.  You’re very good looking and really talented.  You can do anything you set your mind to.”  Instead the voices say things like “A book?  That’s silly.  Why would anyone want to read something you wrote?  That’s a complete waste of time.  By the way, you really need to work on your abs.”  That last one was a low blow voices.  Incidentally I truly believe that the “voices” are Satan’s attempt at sabotaging God’s will in our lives.  The Devil is a thief, an accuser and baits us into traps where he destroys us (John 10:10, Revelation 12:10, Matthew 4).  Are we going to stand for that?  No, I don’t think so.  Let’s ask God to annihilate those voices and give us power to move forward.

So here’s me, stickin’ it to the voices.  Here’s me ignoring my fears and kicking doubt in the teeth.  A proverbial stiff arm to the face of my charging inadequacies.  Hey voices, get ready for a flying dragon kick to your neck because I’m doing this thing.  I’ve already outlined the chapters, chosen some passages from the Bible that are giving me fuel, praying for God’s power and guidance and I’m doing this thing!  Heck, I’ve already written an intro and I’m wrapping up chapter one.  I’ve even chosen a title.  Ready for it?  “First Church of the Broken.”  Pretty snazzy right?  My premise?  “Relentlessly loving others in a world that tears them a part.”  I’m convinced that to be like Jesus we have to love others with a relentless kind of love.  That’s my premise, that’s my book and here we go!  Over the next few weeks I will be posting excerpts from it for you to take a look at.  Nerve racking?  Yup.  Scary?  Absolutely.  Is that going to stop me from doing it?  No way.  Voices, get ready for a trip to the ER.

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