Thoughts on Ferguson

There once was a man.

We don’t know much about this man other than he was walking along the road at night when, suddenly, he was jumped by two unidentified men who beat him into an inch of his life leaving him unconscious and naked along the side of the dimly lit street. Being unconscious, the man could not speak as to identify if he was educated or not. The man was naked, making it impossible to discern his socio-economic status or if he was a policeman or a gang member. It was so dark out and the man was so covered in blood, it was impossible to even tell his nationality or race.

A social activist, late on their way to a community meeting, sped past the man in a hurried frenzy assured that another driver would surely stop to assist the injured man.

A priest, afraid that the perpetrators might still be lurking nearby, looked on timidly from his parish across the street and said a heart-felt prayer for the man lying flat on his face.

Finally, an African-American teenager in an oversized blue hoodie and saggy pants, attended to the man, cleaned up his wounds, and took him to a nearby hospital where he offered to pay for the man’s medical bills with whatever money he had saved up for college.

In Brooklyn, I hear that the story is told that an off-duty white police officer was the one who stopped to help the man by cleaning up his wounds and offering to pay his hospital bills with the little bit of money he had saved for his upcoming 10-year wedding anniversary.

I suppose whichever ending you prefer (I mean really prefer) might be more telling than the story itself.

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What Karl Rahner Meant To Say

Karl Rahner, one of the most influential Catholic Theologians of the 20th Century, once made a controversial prediction that has now become a full-on reality in the 21st Century.

Rahner observed:

“The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will be nothing.”

Rahner’s prediction is proving to be eerily accurate here in the 21st Century but needs two slight modifications in order to be spot-on.

…or he will be “nothing.”

What Rahner meant to say was, “or he will be a ‘none.’

According to a recent Gallup report, the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans represents 18% of all U.S. adults. Among younger Americans, particularly the Millennial Generation (those born after 1980), the percentage is even higher with some studies suggesting up to 30% who claim “no religion whatsoever.”

These “nones,” as they are labeled today, represent one of the fastest-growing and now second-largest religious constituency in the United States. If compared with the mere 9% of Americans 65 or older who are not affiliated with some type of religion, these numbers show a dramatic increase in those who would rather be labeled a non-religious “nothing” than a religious “something.”

Seems like Rahner was on to that “something.”

While there are a plethora of reasons (and opinions) as to why this is the case today, in my opinion, there is not a more compelling (or obvious) reason than what Rahner offered years ago.

“A Christian will be a mystic…or nothing at all.”

Although the word, “mystic” is starting to be retrieved once again in the church (thank the Lord), many are still leery as to its meaning and use in the context of the Christian faith.

What does it mean for a Christian to be a “mystic?”

William Johnson, S.J., defines a Christian mystic as “one who lives the Christ-mystery and is transformed by it.” In this way, Christian mysticism is, according to Johnson, a “living of the Gospel at a deep level of consciousness.” Rahner simply states that a Christian mystic is someone who has “experienced something.”

While I love Rahner’s simplicity, what he meant to say was:

“a Christian will be a Pentecostal…or nothing at all.”

Pentecostalism, in many ways, is leading the church’s charge in America (and around the world).

While most evangelical, mainline, and Catholic churches are in a state of plateau or decline, Pentecostalism is on the rise in America and is spilling over the banks in other parts of the globe.

According to the Barna Group, the number of Pentecostal believers is triple the number of evangelicals in the U.S. and equivalent to the number of adults who attend Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, or non-denominational churches.

Why is this? I think I have at least an answer.

**Dramatic Pause***

Pentecostalism has become the closest thing to Christian Mysticism that is left in the church today.

Pentecostals claim to experience God, Jesus, and particularly the “mystical” Holy Spirit in a deep, deep level of consciousness that is appealing to both believers of other denominations and non-believers on the side-lines. While being “filled” with the Holy Spirit, raising your hands during a worship song, speaking in tongues, or receiving “a word of knowledge,” may not be your cup of tea, it’s wildly appealing when compared with what some consider to be the “bland” nature of evangelicalism or the perceived “lifelessness” of the mainstream church.

I hate to say it, but most evangelical and mainline Christians I know can be summed up in one word:

Bored.

Pentecostalism is anything but boring. It’s lively, upbeat, positive, and encouraging. Now, before you thing I’m arguing that church should be a “performance” or accuse me of going Joel Osteen on you and leaving out “the Gospel,” let me say that I believe the main draw of Pentecostalism today is not the health and wealth message as some say it is. I don’t. It is certainly a draw, but not the draw.

It’s the mystical experience they offer.

Pentecostal’s emphasis on the mystical (that which you cannot fully explain) and ones personal and corporate experience with the mystery of the Christian faith is, in my opinion, the major fascination with the present day Pentecostal and Charismatic church.

But their mystery is flawed!!! You may yell at the screen.

Ok. Well, what are the other options?

Be a nominal mainliner who only experiences the mystery of Christ during Handel’s Messiah once a year?

Be a systematic evangelical whose main mystical experience with Christ is getting “saved” again or during that “one cool worship song” at the end of the service?

Maybe being a stale Catholic who focuses more on ritual and rote prayers than the mystery that surrounds the Eucharist might be a better option?

William McNamara, O.C.D., gives a piercing clarity to the options that are left when the church at large throws the mystery of the Christian faith out the window and neglects to teach believers how to live (and yes experience) the Gospel at a deep level of consciousness through the historic mystical experiences of contemplative prayer, silence, solitude, table, drink, the sacraments, and lingering conversations when he says:

“A Christianity that is not basically mystical must become ether a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.”

While I don’t consider myself a Pentecostal, I have many dear friends who are. And for those that I do know, Rahner’s prediction is why they have embraced the Pentecostal faith over any other. However, I believe it is time that the church at large begins to embrace the mystery of our faith and point congregants into that mystery–the profound mystery of what it means to be in Christ.

If mainline and evangelicals (as well as Catholic and Orthodox) continue to neglect building up Christian mystics who live in the Christ-mystery and has been transformed by that mystery, then there will be more and more “nones” in the world, and a lot more Pentecostals–which might not be a bad thing.

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Christmas and Depression

The Christmas season is known for triggering anxiety and depression among many–especially young professionals.

Although there are a myriad of reasons for this, I’m going to highlight what I have seen and experienced to be the #1 cause.

Unrealistic Expectations.

The Christmas season is “supposed” to be filled with “joy” and “peace.” However, for many young professionals, their lives are anything but joyful and peaceful during November and December. They are blitzing through work trying to finish up every lingering project and frantically trying to tie a bow on and close out their lives for the year.

They go from their normal cruising speed of 200/mph to light-speed emotionally and then expect themselves to all of a sudden, and within a matter of a few days–slam on the breaks, stop, relax, unplug, smile (really smile), be joyful, peaceful, and present to those they love and themselves!?!

Please.

I’m reminded of the scene in Forest Gump when Forest scores the touchdown but continues to run right out of the stadium. We run so fast and hard to get past the goal line of Christmas break only to realize that our emotions continue to sprint right on past us!

It’s like trying to stop a locomotive on a sheet of ice.

Anxiety and depression then falls upon us when we realize that we weren’t who we thought we would be for Christmas. We were supposed to be peaceful, thankful, and kind but mentally and emotionally we were absent, agitated, and pissed.

We emotionally envisioned ourselves, others, and the Christmas season to be one way, but when we found ourselves in the moment, nothing or no one was as we expected–especially ourselves.

So, as you sprint towards Christmas break, have realistic expectations of yourself and others. Give yourself and them the grace to not be perfect and to not be “all there.” Don’t beat yourself up for not being as “joyful” as you “should.”

If you do, it will be in that moment of grace that you will glimpse into the meaning and hope of Christmas…

Emmanuel–Christ with you–just as you are.

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King or Pastor?

Human beings have three great needs in terms of spiritual leadership–we need a prophet, a priest, and we need a king.

We need a Prophet to help us clearly see who God is and hear what God is saying.
We need a Priest to stand as a mediatory agent between us and God.
We need a King to exemplify power and prominence.

In the Hebrew Bible, God was gracious and provided Israel with all three. He provided His people with prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos), priests (i.e. Aaron, Levi, Samuel), and kings (i.e. Saul, David, Solomon).

Although Israel desired to have a prophet and a priest, they demanded God to give them a king.

“We want a king to rule us and lead us…,” the people exclaimed in 1 Samuel 8.

The people lusted for a physical king–someone they could establish as an earthly symbol (or idol) that they could see, touch, and “celebrate” (which is where we get the word “celebrity” today). In many ways, this allowed the people to vicariously live their own life through the wealth, success, and celebrity of their earthly king.

I’m not sure times have changed that much.

God discouraged the establishment of an earthly king as He Himself was The Great King. Nevertheless, God relented and gave the people what they desired–an earthly King in Saul. However, King Saul and others would only point to the ultimate King who was to come–Jesus Christ.

Although the people praised Jesus as a prophet and a priest, they were grossly disappointed in that He did not establish Himself as the conquering celebrity king they desired.

Instead, Jesus’s kingship was shrouded in the form of the suffering servant as outlined Isaiah 53. Isaiah prophesied that a King was coming who would have “no form or majesty that people would look at Him, and no beauty that people would desire Him.”

The people wanted a powerful king they could celebrate not a lowly suffering servant to serve them.

Again, I’m not sure times have changed that much.

Our enormous desire for both a pastor (someone to serve us) and a king (someone we can serve) is so intertwined in the human heart that I can see how it’s easy to start making pastors kings or celebrities out of pastors–whichever way you want to put it.

Either way, pastors usually aren’t the ones begging for celebrity–we are. More often than not, the rise of the “celebrity pastor” is due to a venemous codependency between a people who desire a king and a pastor who desire celebrity. Yet, history will teach us that kings normally do not crown themselves–the people do.

This underscores the great need for servant leaders and pastors today who deflect this tendency and redirect the people’s natural desire for an earthly king to the Great King Himself–Jesus Christ.

If this does not happen, God might just allow both to have what they desire–which usually proves disastrous for both.

“And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and make them a king.’” – 1 Sam. 8:22a

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The Point of Being a Christian?

Several years ago, I stumbled across a survey that asked thousands of church-going young adults age 18-29 what the number one priority was for them as a Christian.

The answer?

“To do good and not sin.”

I cannot find the exact survey today, but the answer didn’t surprise me as much as it greatly concerned me.

For many, the point of being a Christian is to try to always make the right decision and not sin privately or publicly. When we fail to live up to our Christian standards, we ponder things like, “As a Christian, I should have handled that differently,” or “I should not have done that as a Christian.”

While I do believe that Christians should be conscious of their actions, I’m concerned that most think their perfection somehow proves their piousness. Although this may be true to a certain extent, what proves someone really loves Jesus isn’t their perfection, but their willingness to admit their faults.

This does not mean that Christians shouldn’t try to act in a Christ-like manner. We should.

But to those around us, sometimes the Gospel is most clearly portrayed not when we “do good and not sin,” but when we do bad and have to go back and admit our sins to those who are around us.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. – James 5:16

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Right vs. Wise

Before you read this, read THIS.

According to the first chapter of Proverbs, the book was written for young men to know “wisdom” and to understand “words of insight/wisdom” so that they may be “wise in their dealings,” and use “discretion/wisdom” in all they do.

Solomon, who was the wealthiest king in all of Israel, was the author. He also was the wisest man who ever lived.

Wealth and wisdom are best when exercised together. However, this isn’t always the case.

As king, Solomon had the “right” to do whatever he pleased with his power and wealth. No one could tell him what was “right” or what was “wrong” to do with his money or his power. No person, no subject, no resident had the right to pull into question the kings decisions regarding these things. No one–that is–except wisdom.

Wisdom will tell you that there is a major difference between what is “right” and what is “wise.”

Do I believe that Steven Furtick has every right to build whatever size house he wants with money he has earned as an author? Yes.

Do I believe that Steven Furtick was right to build the house he did with the money he has earned as a speaker? Yes.

Do I believe that Steven Furtick, as the pastor of Elevation Church, was wise for building a 16,000 sq/ft (8,400 sq/ft heated) home? No. No I don’t.

Sometimes, the best decision to make with the money you earn as an author or a speaker isn’t the best purchase to make as a pastor–and that takes wisdom.

Because wisdom comes from the Lord, and all believers are IN Christ as a part of His ONE body, the body will usually tell the body when an unwise decision was made.

If I eat Mexican after midnight, my body will wake me up at 3:00am to alert me of my unwise decision. Do I have every right to eat Mexican after midnight? Absolutely. Is it wise for my body? Well, my body usually tells me (and normally it isn’t pretty!).

The sheer disruption and indigestion among the body of Christ in Charlotte over the purchase of this 1.7 million dollar home should alert us that this might have not been the wisest thing for Steven Furtick to do.

Did he have the right to do it?

Yes.

Was it the wisest thing to do?

The body will tell.

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How You Should Respond To Steven Furtick’s House

In the wake of the news that area mega-church pastor, Steven Furtick, is building a 16,000 sq/ft (8,400 sq/ft heated) home/mansion, many Christians have been at odds as how they should respond.

As someone who has a degree of pastoral influence among a wide swath of local churches, pastors, and area believers, I feel compelled to help provide some guidance. Some may argue that it’s none of my business and that I should mind my own affairs.

I would love to. Really, I would.

However, over the last week Christians have been debating, arguing, and dividing over issues surrounding this pastors home. That’s when it becomes my business, to be honest. As someone who strives to cultivate unity in Christ’s mission in Charlotte and beyond, I’ll take my chances on being “that guy” to help us navigate this divisive issue.

So, how should you respond to the house that Steven built?

1) Gracefully. Like Daniel, it’s always best to approach any divisive issue with “wisdom and tact.” That means knowing what you believe about the issues at hand, why you believe it, and being able to gracefully and tactfully voice your opinions or beliefs to others. When you aren’t speaking or typing, listen respectfully to others–even when you violently disagree. Then gracefully, with a heart of love for the person (not your beliefs), continue to challenge, affirm, or (Heaven forbid) change your own understanding of the issues at hand.

2) Resolutely. Jesus commands believers that “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Many have seen this as a call for Christians to be gluttons for punishment. Not true. This is a call for Christians to be resolute in staying present when offended. Instead of slapping back, running away, or breaking fellowship with those who offend you, “turning the other cheek” means to stay put before the one who offended you NOT so that you can win the argument, but so that you don’t lose the relationship. Turning the other cheek means, “I love and value you so much, that I’m not going anywhere until we resolve this conflict–even if you slap me again.” Getting slapped hurts, but walking away hurts more.

3) Fairly. In our postmodern society, if you simply disagree with someone or something (especially a high-profile leader or issue) you are said to be “judgmental.” This is where postmodern dialogue absolutely breaks down. If someone disagrees with you, Steven Furtick, or Elevation Church, this does not mean that they are judging either one–or vice-versa. I disagree with my wife often, but she does not label me as judgmental (which would only serve as a power-play for her not to be disagreed with!). This is why so many Christians (and pastors for that matter) keep silent on issues because if they publicly disagree with someone or something (particularly another pastor or local church), they might be labeled judgmental, jealous, or just plain insecure. This is simply unfair and beyond unhealthy for any form of healthy dialogue. Fair dialogue means allowing someone the freedom to disagree with you without labeling them as one of “them.”

I, like Furtick, am saddened by all this. I’m sorry for how this issue has already caused division among so many of my friends, the good people of Elevation Church, and Charlotte as a whole. It grieves me deeply. Taking my own advice above, I’ll be posting more around this issue in the following week as my heart has much to say–not to slander, but to guide.

I pray you’ll read my words and listen to others this week with grace, resoluteness, and fairness.

If we do, who knows, we all might become stronger and more unified than we were before.

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Why I Live In A 900 Sq/Ft Apartment

I know there has been a ton of hoopla over the mega-church pastor in Charlotte who is currently building a 16,000 sqft home.

Typically, I swim-move these debates/conversations as I don’t want to address topics that I don’t have first hand knowledge. This does not mean that I’m unwilling to interact with these issues. There are just so many hot-topic issues within the church today that I find it impossible to address some and not others. Further, I try to stay as focused as I can on the topics that seem to matter.

As a pastor, though, I believe the issue surrounding a pastor’s habitat matters.

The word “pastor” in the original literally means, “shepherd” or “to shepherd” and is typically used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus Himself. The imagery here is one of a shepherd living among his flock, personally caring for their needs, and defending them from harm. Jesus refers to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” and implores Peter to “Shepherd My Sheep.” Peter then goes on to use this exact imagery when he writes to those who are called to lead the church in saying, “shephard the flock of God that is among you.” Paul will remind his friends in Thessaloniki that he loved them so much that he not only shared the Gospel with them, but shared his very own life with them as well. Jesus, as God Himself, became flesh and blood and “moved into the neighborhood”–not out of it.

These are the images of a New Testament “pastor.”

With.
Among.
Into.

My wife and I own what we could consider a “nice” home in a subdivision of Charlotte. Some may say that it’s a bit too nice for a pastor or that it’s in too nice of a neighborhood. Others may say that it’s “not that big” whereas others may argue differently. Honestly, I find the whole home comparison game silly as we all live in mansions compared to the worlds wealth and living conditions.

However, after living in our new home for less than a year, my wife and I felt called to go live among those we serve.

So, after 10 years of shepherding young professionals through “lights, lyrics, and lessons” we decided to see what our “lives” might do–so we moved into the neighborhood, not out of it.

We rented our home and moved into a 900 sqft apartment (with our three small children) in the heart of where young professionals live. We are one of the few married couples in the entire complex as it’s nothing but 20-30something single adults–and I love it.

The thing I love most about living in this environment is that I’m helplessly myself.

People see me as I truly am–not how I want them to see me. They see how I relate to my wife. How I treat my kids. How I conduct myself. What I wear when I take out the trash. What I look like early in the morning (or after too late of a night!).

They see me in flesh and blood not in pixels and high definition.

They see how I live every bit of my life, not just how I appear for 60 minutes on a Sunday morning. They can either affirm or deny whether or not my life aligns with Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3–not assume based on my sermons or blog entries.

Simply put, our habitat reveals our habits to those we lead–and that is why habitat matters for any pastor.

Are we going to live in an apartment forever? Probably not.
Is my current living situation the standard for all pastors? Hell no.

But have we learned that our lives are more powerful than any lesson or sermon we’ve ever preached?

You better believe it.

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When God Looks At Me, What Does He See?

When you look at God looking at you, what do you see?

Disappointment?
Anger?
Frustration?
Confusion?

When Adam and Eve sinned against God, they made clothes for themselves out of fig leaves to cover their nakedness and their shame.

However, in Genesis 3:21 we read:

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
– Gen. 3:21

This clothing exchange is one of the parts in the Bible that I wish we were given more detail.

I wonder how Adam and Eve felt when God bid them to take off their fig leaves and expose their nakedness to Him and each other once again? I wonder if God removed their fig leaf for them or if He asked them to do it? I wonder how Adam and Eve felt when their bare bodies were exposed (this time in fear and shame) to each other and to God? I wonder the look in God’s eyes when the fig leaves were finally pealed away? Was it a look of disappointed? Frustration? Hurt? Confusion? Did He shake His Holy head and say, “I told you so, I told you so….”

Most of all, I wonder what Adam saw when he looked at God looking back at him?

I’m not sure, but I think THIS VERSE might give us a glimpse into what Adam might have seen between the fig leaf and the animal skin.

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Satan And Pastors

I cringe at even linking the two together in the title. Seems heretical and unneeded, I know.

However, over the last decade of working with and leading unity based initiatives, I have noticed a common trait between both pastors and Satan–they each are leery of Christian unity.

Now before you think I’m bashing pastors, let me explain as this post is quite the opposite.

Both Satan and pastors are leery (and discourage) unity among believers for one very good reason–they both understand the power of Christian unity.

However, they each have 100% valid reasons to discourage unity among believers.

For Satan, he understands the power of believers coming together. He knows the prayer of Jesus in John 17 for the Church to be ONE and the promise it holds that the world will know the love of God through Christ. He knows that all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples if we love and serve one another. He understands that the type of church that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against is the one holy, apostolic, and Catholic church. Therefore, because he knows the power of Christian unity, Satan has pretty much made it his mission to ensure that it never happens on earth as it already is in Heaven.

For Pastors, they are shepherds, gate-keepers, servants, and protectors of Christ’s Church. They too understand the power of Christian unity. They understand that believers united in love and mission are an unstoppable force that can change the world. However, they also know that if the power of Christian unity finds itself the WRONG hands, it can cause more damage, more division, and more discord among the Church. They also know that there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing who would love to wield the power of Christian unity for their own fame and fortune.

So, if you have a vision for seeing unity based initiatives in your city, give pastors a break and quit laying blame on them as being divisive, competitive, and disinterested in unity.

From my experience, most pastors don’t oppose or question unity-based initiatives because they are flat out against the concept. They question and push back on them because they understand, like Satan, the power these initiatives have. Therefore, as shepherds, they will not (and should not) flippantly support, endorse, or involve their flock in something just because it has the word “unity” or “one” in the title. They are NOT obligated to involve themselves in every unity based initiative that comes across their desk–and there are a ton these days. They SHOULD ask intelligent questions about these initiatives. They SHOULD ask deeply theological and ecclesiological questions. They SHOULD be suspicious of both the initiative and YOU. They SHOULD be a “hard sale.” They SHOULD frustrate you. They SHOULD have time to do their due diligence on you and your vision. They should want to know what you believe and why you believe it. They should check you at the door and not just welcome you (or your groups vision) into and among their flock just because you want to see believers come together.

They are doing their job–and I deeply respect them for that.

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