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!?!


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.



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



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



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.”


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.



When God Looks At Me, What Does He See?

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


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.



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.



CityONE Network Update

As I’ve said before, I firmly believe that collaboration among local churches is the new reformation in our nation–and the world for that matter.

Local churches from various Christian traditions are coming together to solve problems, heal hurts, and extend the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ as ONE.

Seven years ago, young adult pastors in Charlotte began a friendship with one another that led to a deep trust in one another. It was from this foundation of friendship and trust that CharlotteONE began in May of 2006 to reach young professionals in Charlotte with the Gospel of Christ and connect them back to a local faith community.

In a recent survey, 48% of those who attend CharlotteONE stated that they have connected to a local church through our efforts with 31% stating that they were introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. 78% stated that they have chosen to remain in Charlotte due to the connections they’ve established through CharlotteONE.

Over the years, this collaborative outreach model of churches helping other churches reach 20-30somethings for Christ has proven wildly successful.

In April of 2011, PhoenixONE in Phoenix, AZ began and now empowers over 30 local churches in the Valley and reaches well over 1,000 young professionals every other Tuesday. They too have seen hundreds of young adults reconnect to their faith and a local church in the area. Further, the spirit of collaboration and unity among the churches in the Valley has increased dramatically (as it has in Charlotte) as churches are starting to do more things together in the spirit of Christian love and unity.

Over the years, local churches have approached us with how they can start a “CharlotteONE” type outreach in their city to reach young adults.

As a ministry that has been practicing missional ecumenism for a decade now, we have been through it all and have come out on the other side with learnings that are priceless. Further, we are passionate about helping local churches and ministry leaders understand the theological, biblical, and ecclesiological foundation for unity among local churches who tend to approach unity and collaboration from a more emotional and practical standpoint. Emotions and practicality are important, but emotions and practice divorced from a good theology and ecclesiology as it pertains to churches working together typically leads to frustration, further division, and unified efforts that fizzle.

We don’t want that.

So, today we have taken a big step forward in helping to empower local churches to reach 20-30somethings together.

We just launched a new website that is a part of a larger national effort to offer CityONE Network and our learnings to local churches in cities across America.

My hope is that will be a national hub for up-to-date information on the Millennial generation that local churches can access and utilize. Further, the site clearly lays out the process a city can take to become an affiliate along with Phoenix and Charlotte.

My prayer is that other local churches will utilize this collaborative model and experience the “good and pleasant” spirit when brothers and sisters not just dwell in unity but work together in unity.

Please pass this site along to any friends you have in churches in other cities as we would love to start a conversation about how CityONE Network can better serve their efforts to engage the Millennial generation for Christ and His Church.





I’m Writing My First Book

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels–a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:24 (NLT)

This blog began as an online journal to chronicle both the death of myself and the new life that somehow emerged.

It has served as a place for me to give voice to the anguish of being human as well as to the frustrations of trying to live my life for Jesus. I’ve written about being worse than I thought, but at the same time, loved more than I could ever imagine–and the deep mystery that lies between.

Within that mystery, I have experienced a God whose deepest longing and divine objective is not to simply have a “relationship” with me, but to bring me into complete union (or oneness) with Himself.

This mystery has both captured my imagination and changed every aspect of my Christian life.

Through a series of circumstances that I could never manufacture, God has given me the opportunity to begin a book project on exploring the concept of our union with God and others called:

Daybreaking: Awaking To Your Union With God and Others” (as it’s called at the moment).

Wolgemuth and Associates have been gracious in agreeing to representing me and this project. I’m excited about working with Robert and his team (hey Andrew!) on ensuring that this book gets into your hands.

Daybreaking will shed a fresh light on the biblical, theological, and historical understanding of what it means to live in perfect union with God. Made accessible through crazy stories and creative analogies, my prayer is that you will experience a revelatory view of self, God, and His greatest desire for all believers–to awaken us to our union with God the Father, Son, and Spirit.

The book will trace how the protestant church (in particular) lost the language of “union” within her ranks and replaced it with “personal relationship”–which has served to mostly tame and dampen the mystery of our union with Christ and devalue our communal oneness with the entire church (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox).

While claiming to have a “relationship” with Jesus is NOT heretical or wrong, the book will attempt to gracefully draw the church back to understanding that our relationship with Christ is rooted in our union with Him and recapture the historical language of union within the church today.

Further, my hope is that by awakening to our union with God, it will provide a firm foundation for many of the unity-based movements and conversations happening within the church today. Without an understanding of our union with God, our attempts for unity with one another will be nothing more than emotional and anecdotal in nature and will prove to be temporary at best.

Please know, Daybreaking will not be an angry, the church is stupid, I’m mad at Christians, type book.

It’s an honest assessment of an average guy who did everything he knew to do to have a healthy and growing relationship with Jesus and ended up frustrated and defeated. And of a God who gently came to him in the midst of his confusion and brokenness, held out His hand, and invited him into perfect union with Himself.

Mine was the same experience as Hudson Taylor when he said:

“…this was not new, and yet was to me, I felt as though the first dawning of a glorious day had risen upon me.”

Pray for me as I continue to pray that you will experience a “Daybreaking” moment when you read the book and awaken to your union with God and others.



Sin and Cigarettes

A good friend of mine introduced me to Noah Gundersen’s song, “Cigarettes” this past weekend.

After listening to THIS VERSON over and over, I finally realized why I connected so deeply to this song although I haven’t smoked cigarettes since my college years.

Noah’s experience with cigarettes is much like my own experience with sin.

Here are the lyrics (watch the video at the same time):

You remind me of cigarettes
The way I hold you in my chest
The way you kiss me
With your filter breath
And I keep thinking
I’m getting over this
Once you had me
You don’t have me anymore
I don’t crave you in the morning
Or at the company store
I don’t use you to escape
In my fingers out the door
Once you had me
You don’t have me anymore
But, honey, you’re smooth
Honey, you’re smooth
Honey, you’re smooth
Honey, you’re smooth
You don’t make me cool
And I can carry on fine without you
You’re a spirit, and you can’t be beat
But when I’m jonesing
Honey, I buy cheap
Once you had me
You don’t have me anymore
I don’t crave you in the morning
Or at the company store
I don’t use you to escape
In my fingers out the door
Once you had me
You don’t have me anymore
But the truth is that you do
Not the way you used to–sucking the poison from the vein
But I buy ‘em
And I smoke ‘em
And in the nighttime
I sure enjoy ‘em
‘Cause honey, you’re smooth
Honey, you’re smooth
Honey, you’re smooth
Oh, honey, you’re smooth

The scriptures are clear that sin no longer has mastery (or control) over us (Rom. 6:14a). However, Paul in Romans 7 also makes it clear that there are major inconsistencies even within (and especially within) the ransomed heart as it relates to sin:

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. (Rom. 7:18-21)

Therefore, I often find myself lighting up and deeply inhaling anger, bitterness, and lust into my chest, holding it in (just long enough to feel the burn) and then slowly exhaling hateful and short words and phrases to those I love the most.

In some morbid way, the very thing that I KNOW is killing me–I keep finding enjoyment with each and every pull.

I keep going back while telling myself at the same time that I’m over it and that these things no longer have control over me any more.

I tell myself that sin used to have me–but it doesn’t have me anymore. I keep thinking I’m getting over them as I no longer crave sin the morning, or at the company store.

I no longer have to use my sins to escape or look “cool.” I carry on just fine without them, but sin seems to be a spirit that can’t be beat.

For example, when I’m jonesing–honey, I settle for cheap–sometimes embarrassingly cheap.

I then have to remind myself that sin used to have me, but it does not have me anymore.

But the truth is, that it does–just not the way it used to when I would suck the poison from its wound.

But I go there…

And I still do that…

And in the nighttime (when no one is around)–I sometimes enjoy it.

It’s then that I remind myself that sin used to have me–but it does not have me anymore.



Union over Relationship

In my last post, I argued that Jesus does NOT want a relationship with you.

Instead, Jesus desires to bring you back in to perfect UNION with God the Father, Son, and Spirit–and through this union a relationship naturally happens.

Therefore, Jesus’s primary goal is not to have a “loving and growing relationship” with you–as this is not found in the text. He wants to make Himself such a part of you (and you such a part of Him) that you find yourself pulled into the perfect love relationship that the Father, Son, and Spirit has eternally shared with Himself.

Therefore, just as Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” union says, “If you have seen me, you have seen Jesus”–and not claim to be the second person of the Trinity, but instead, someone who has been made one with Christ.

This is why St. Teresa of Avila will write:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.” – St Teresa of Avila

St. Augustine will echo this by saying:

“When God rewards us for our labor, He is only crowning his work in us.” – St. Augustine

This is exactly what Paul says in Philippians, when he will write:

“for it is God who works IN you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” – Phil 2:13

Paul will go on to say things like:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives IN me.” – Gal. 2:20a

“For me, to live IS Christ…” – Phil 1:21

Then Paul will deliver the knock out blow in 1 Cor. 6:17 when he says:

“But he who is joined to the Lord becomes ONE spirit with Him.” – 1 Cor. 6:17

Therefore, it is clear from the text that Jesus did not just die to forgive you of your sins so you can have a relationship with Him in order for you to go to Heaven.

With our broken understanding of relationships today, a relationship can be viewed as something that you have to maintain in order to stay in good graces with the person in which you are in a relationship with. Therefore, if you hurt or anger the person, then the relationship could be in danger. This leaves us striving over time to ensure that we don’t do anything to “hurt” the relationship. This “Gospel” can quickly lead to legalism, bondage, and fear–which equals death.

Union with someone, however, ensures an everlasting, enduring, and eternal relationship.

Union says, no matter what–come hell or high water, come sickness or death, come fidelity or infidelity, I’m in you and you are in me–we are ONE forever. Actually, since we are ONE, union says, wherever you go, I go. Sound familiar?

Union says, there is NOTHING that can separate you from me or my love.

Union says, if I die, you die (Gal 2:20). If I live, you live (Phil 1:21). If you hurt, I hurt. If you laugh, I laugh. If you cry, I cry.

Union says, whatever you do to the least of these my brothers (who I’m one with) you do unto me.

Union says, I will never leave nor forsake you–ever.

Union says, even if you slap me on the right cheek, I will not leave, but will turn my left cheek to you so we can continue to work out the problem.

Union says (with a twinkle in her eye), unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you can have no part of my kingdom–because just as bread and wine becomes a part of your body, that’s what I want.

Union says, you are my bride and I am your husband. Union says, we are not in a relationship, but are now ONE and what God joins together let no man separate.

Union says, I’ll never expect anything from you that I don’t first expect from myself. Union says, I’ll never ask you to do anything, that I am not willing to do in and through you.

Union says, I’m in you and you are in me and we are in the Father and if anyone wants to get to you they will have to first go through the Father, then through the Son, and if they succeed, they will find you filled with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Union says, no one can snatch you out of my hands because your hands aren’t members of your body, but mine.

Union says, I have created for myself ONE new humanity. Therefore, as a part of ONE body there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, Catholic or Protestant, male or female, we are all one IN Christ Jesus.

Union says, since we are one IN Christ then you are all ALREADY one with one another–so start living and acting like it.

Union says, there is NO place for division among the same body and that a body divided cannot stand.

Union says, if those who are already ONE will embrace and live in light of their perfect union with me, then world will know that God sent me and that God loves the world as much as He loves His very own Son.

Union says, I vow to make every effort to maintain the unity that we have.

Union will sometimes ask sarcastically, “Are we divided?”

Union goes on to say, it’s not good enough for me to be on the outside of you in a “healthy relationship.” I want to be INSIDE you and you IN me.

Union is so in love with you that she says, “I want to eat you!” as the old saying goes when you see a chubby 6 month old.

Union says, I want my breath to be your breath, my life–your life, my death–your death, my ascension your–ascension, my glorification–your glorification, my reigning–your reigning. My kingdom–your kingdom.

Union says, I am the Gospel and the “good news” is that I have come so that you may have Eternal Life and that Eternal Life is not a place, but a living, breathing, person who wants to be your life–not someone who wants to be in a relationship with you.

Union gets on one knee and asks:

“Now then, will you throw your life away, surrender your rights, dreams, hopes, and aspirations, and allow me to live my life in and through you?

That is a lot different that praying a prayer to be forgiven and then living life on your own and under your own power while trying to do or not do certain things to stay in a good relationship with Jesus.



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