Compelling Content

Where are you right now?  What are you doing?  Is it something you enjoy?  Are you feeling alive as you live your life?  Are you compelled by something bigger than yourself?

What reasons exist behind the way you’re living your life right now?  Are you driven by a paycheck?  By a striving for ambition and accolades that perhaps always seem just out of reach?  While you may not love the line of work you’re in (most don’t), is your perspective drawn down by the weight of what you consider an undesirable role?  For most people, the answer is yes.  It is for that reason that we call can sing along with “Everybody’s working for the weekend!” when it comes on the radio, and we can’t help but crank the volume up just a bit.

We all want to be compelled by something greater than the hum-drum of daily life.  We all want there to be a supply of “fuel” in the tank of our spirit; something deeper, higher, and greater than what we see in the mirror.  In fact, when that sense of compulsion feigns, we are left with a bleakness, a hopelessness, and a weight within that we can’t seem to lift.

I’ve been working with teens in some capacity for nearly 20 years now.  And every so often I am reminded that few and far between are those that are taught and understand how to live a life that is not only compelled, but is itself compelling to others.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is clear to me that the life that is uncompelled is the life that is self-centered and consumeristic.  It is the life that is constantly looking for what it can get from you, from me, from others, from any/all situations it is in, from the world, from life.  It’s constant cry is “feed me, I’m still hungry.”  And in this self-absorbed state, it lives day after day missing countless opportunities to look beyond itself for what can truly satisfy.

As time has marched on, we have become more and more a people who are self-catering.  We are hedonistic, pleasure-driven, and entitled to nothing less in our own estimation.  What this has done to today’s teens is to set the perfect climate for them to be down-cast, lost, purposeless, and desperate; all while perpetuating the guise of being happy, free, fun, and satisfied.  It’s as if the mirror tells them one thing, but the image just beyond the mirror tells them the opposite.  No wonder they’re conflicted, reeking of entitlement, confused, and searching for love, hope, and meaning wherever they can find it, no matter the cost.

But as someone who is not only a “youth pastor”, but a human being who follows Jesus and loves all teens everywhere, I find myself with a deep ache inside to communicate a way of life that will not be dismissive of the inner ills they feel, but instead will face them head-on in a confrontational way; a way that sees the futility of the self-absorbed life and chooses instead the self-denying life.

As much as I’d like to, there’s simply no way to speak about self-denial in a way that is comfortable or even non-controversial.  I’d suppose that some might read these words and think this or that about how naive I am, or simplistic, or just dead-wrong.  But this is the nature of the life Jesus invites us to: it’s gloriously uncomfortable.  And in it any human can find the deepest, most compelling life to live.

Last night, I volunteered at an event called “Bless Richmond”.  And as I type the word “event”, I whisper a prayer that it would not merely be an “event”, but an ignition point, an awakening, and a compelling call to thousands–no–tens of thousands of followers of Jesus (present and future) in the Richmond, VA area (or wherever you live) to move beyond living because of their ability to breathe to living because of uncontained passion for Jesus, the greatest self-denier, the justice-giver, the spotless lamb, the Savior of the world, the Son of God.

Philosophers will call us ignorant.

Educators will call us unenlightened.

Atheists will call us weak.

Cynics will call us idealistic.

Religious rule-followers will call us irreverant.

Historians will call us predictable.

The media will call us do-gooder weirdos.

And they’ll all be right.

But…

God calls us beloved.

God calls us His children.

God calls us ambassadors.

God calls us a royal priesthood.

God calls us agents of His grace.

God call us conduits of His love.

God calls us announcers of His redemptive hope.

There is no greater calling, there is no greater life, and there is nothing more compelling than that.

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Revived.

Last month, I spent 4 days with the people of New Life Baptist Church.  Its been a long time coming, but I wanted to–no–HAD to write about that time we shared together.  And even as I type these words, I pray that they’re moving through what God did among us as we sought/seek that oft-elusive thing we call “Revival”.  If you’d like to read what I wrote BEFORE those 4 days, click here.

What must be said before I get into what we shared together in God’s Word is this one singular fact:  the people of New Life Baptist Church simply want Jesus.  They want Him proclaimed, they want Him exalted, they want Him in charge.  And as simple as that sounds for me to say about a church, it is the most profound truth a collective body of believers can hold to.  Their fellowship was intoxicating, their love for people was infectious, and their embrace of me as their “revival speaker” was humbling to say the very least.  In a nutshell, I absolutely loved every moment I spent with them.

When I am invited to speak somewhere (anywhere), I don’t go to the plethora of messages I have on file that I’ve delivered in the past.  I don’t “recycle” messages like I know many wonderful speakers do.  I go right to God and ask, “What do You want said to these people of Yours?”  Over the months approaching this revival  series at New Life Church, I clearly sensed God’s leading as I leaned in to hear what His heart wanted conveyed to the people He so desperately loves.

For my own purposes of preparation, I broke things down into 4 headings:

1. “Reviving Revival”

In this message, we discussed what life ready for revival looks like.  Namely, we considered 3 things: C.P.R.

Contrite Heart: Contrite is a fancy word for “busted” and without being broken, we are of no use to God.  This flies in the face of the statement I’ve heard so many people say so many times, “I’ve got to get my act together before I come to church/God.”  No, you absolutely do not.  Jesus Himself said He didn’t come for those who are well (no one is), but for those who KNOW they’re sick/broken and need a doctor!

Prayerfulness:  The people of New Life Baptist spent months in prayer for revival before I ever got there.  I could have sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and played Tiddly Winks and they would have been blessed by God’s renewing and refreshing Spirit.  Because as was said about me before my arrival, “He’s not bringing revival in his suitcase.”  Revival is a result of earnestly seeking God, and that’s precisely what they did and are doing.

Readiness: Simply put, readiness for Jesus’ return and readiness for revival are one in the same!  If we’re so distracted by the world’s issues and cares, we simply cannot be on the ready for what God wants to do in us and through us!  The simple question was/is: “Are you really and truly ready for revival?”

2.  “Revival comes from a refocus on Jesus as the centerpiece of both human history and heaven’s army”

We looked at 2 different instances from Jesus’ earthly ministry: when he healed the demoniac at the Geresenes (Mark 5) and his first recorded miracle (John 2) of turning water into wine.  We came to see that while we might follow Jesus (as a disciple), are we believing who He really is?  We learned from John 2 that Jesus had disciples who didn’t yet believe that He was the Messiah!  How many of us are involved in churchy activities without truly turning our lives over to the One who stands as heaven’s Savior as well as humanity’s ransom?  Is He a great idea or is He your intimate, in-control “Lord”?

3. Revival comes from reigniting our passion for salvation.

We exposed the popular doctrine that there is no literal hell; why its popular and why its anti-Scriptural.

We considered the calling of Matthew (Levi) and just why Matthew was so quick to forfeit his tax-collecting, money-grubbing lifestyle and instead take up the sheer uncertainty of following a Rabbi named Jesus.  I challenged those listening that “If you want revival, you can’t stay here.”  And no matter where your “here” is, God wants to lead you on into what He has for you.  But as slothful, lazy, and (let’s face it) disobedient children, we often would rather sink into our spiritual recliners.  I shared an illustration from a conversation with my youngest daughter.  I was having lunch with her one recent Friday when she was telling me about art class she had just come from.  She was working on a painting of a lighthouse and told me, “Dad, my lighthouse isn’t like everybody else’s lighthouse.”  Intrigued, I asked “Well, what’s different about your lighthouse?”  She explained, “Well, MY lighthouse isn’t near the water like the others.  Mine is in the hills with grass all around because I think that looks prettier.”  Are we building churches and growing “Christians” that have chosen to live far from the dangers of the mission we’re called into?  Are we lighthouses that serve no purpose because we’re not near the water, where the light we shine warns the world of the dangers of sin and hell?  Too often we choose safety for us rather than salvation for the lost.

4. Revival comes when we reaffirm our God-given mission.

As we closed our 4 days together, I simply challenged them to identify themselves as one of three things: a lighthouse, a treehouse, or a warehouse.  As a lighthouse (as was mentioned the day before), we are willing to go to where the danger is, to where the help is needed, and shine the light of  God’s love in practical, tangible, visible ways so that those around us might “see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Some churches though would rather view themselves as a “treehouse”.  When I was young, my cousin had a great treehouse in his backyard and we’d love to climb up in there to play with a “Us only!” attitude.  Are we going to be a people who are safe and secluded from the world below, and have we adopted a “no girls allowed” mentality when it comes to who we reach out to, and who we don’t.  Is our church more of a “members only” social club?

And finally (and most ghastly), are we identified as a “warehouse”.  We’ve been “saved” and we reckon ourselves as good-to-go when it comes to our eternity, but until then we’re just marking time as if life after receiving Christ becomes some waiting room while we literally do nothing until His return.  If that’s the case for us, then Scripture is already clear about what the outcome will be.  I closed with one of my favorite parables, the Sheep and the Goats.  When in the end it was not what we believe that determines our eternity, but what we DID with what we believe.  In this, they as a church and as individuals are faced with a “fork in the road”.  Will they move toward being the lighthouse God has called them to, or circle back and enjoy the comfort of the tree house or the rigor mortis of the warehouse?


I was honored and humbled to be a part of those few days at New Life Baptist Church and pray that not only them, but you and I would continually strive for a steady sense of “revival” as we walk hand-in-hand with our Creator, Savior, Messiah, and Lord!

You’re breathing Grace.

I wrote a blog post yesterday called “Moral Failure” (scroll down for that one) and while most of my posts have readership in the 10s, that post had readership in the 100s.  I was astounded to watch the “hits” on that blog post rise throughout the day.  Clearly, I hit a nerve.  And I wanted to follow it up with a somewhat related post today.  Go with me as we get there.

She may not know it, but my wife (before she was my wife) gave me one of my most valued possessions.  When we were in college, a folk musician by the name of Michael Kelly Blanchard came to a chapel service and sang.  (I wasn’t really into folk music, but I really enjoyed what I heard.)  That night, he held a concert for the student body.  I will never forget how mesmerized I was and still continue to be at the lyrics of his songs.  Some of them you may know, but perhaps didn’t know that he was the songwriter.  A popular tune in the Church is “Be Ye Glad”, made popular by an A Capella group called “Glad”.  The words though, were written by Michael Kelly Blanchard.

Last Saturday my wife and I were cleaning out our closet and I came across a box of cds.  Nostalgic as I am, I couldn’t resist sitting on the floor, opening up the box, and going through its contents.  I came across a cd called “Mercy In The Maze” by Michael Kelly Blanchard.  It was a cd my wife bought for me back in college when Blanchard visited our school.  Clearly, she saw how moved I was by his music and wanted me to have my own copy.  More on that in a moment.

Thousands of years ago, God spoke and created every thing you see.  The sky, the oceans, the forests, the mountains, the fish, the animals, the flowers, the grass, the deserts, the stars, the moon, the Sun, the galaxies.  Everything came into existence by the very will of God through the very spoken word of God.  He simply spoke and order came.  Perfect design flowing from the  mouth of the Perfect Creator.  What power is His, evidenced by what happened when He simply spoke.

But God didn’t speak humans into existence.  Genesis 2:7 tells us that God “formed a man from the dust of the ground”.  While God could have most certainly simply spoken man into existence just as He did the stars and fish, God wanted man to be a “hands-on” project.  Look down at your arms, your hands, your feet.  You are literally the work of God’s hands.  Psalm 139:13 finds the psalmist declaring, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb…”  God created you with His own hands.  Do you see how precious and priceless you must be to Him?

And after God formed man from the dust, Genesis 2:7 tells us that He then “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…”  While scientifically it’s true that you’re breathing oxygen right now, can you embrace the truth that spiritually speaking you are breathing the breath of God?  You are alive right at this moment because of the breath on loan to you from God Himself.  Pause just a moment and contemplate that truth.

The book of Genesis, in the very next chapter no less, tells us that the serpent was the most crafty of any creatures the Lord God had made.  Let me tell you what one of the greatest and yet most effective lies the serpent speaks is: “You’re beyond grace.”  Everyday to as many people as he can, Satan whispers into their ear that they are beyond help, beyond forgiveness, beyond repair, beyond the reach of God’s love.  They’ve done too much, they’ve sinned too much, they’ve hurt too many people.  They’ve simply gone too far and nothing can bring them back to the redemptive embrace of their Creator.

How I desire for every person who is taking the time to read these words to understand and embrace this fact: No matter what you have done, no matter where you have been, no matter what you think of yourself, no matter how painful the pain is that you’ve caused or that you now feel; there is NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING that can keep you out of God’s reach.  I beg you to please reject the lie of the enemy as he seeks to pull you further and further into the darkness of your own shame.  Whatever you have done, the blood of Jesus Christ covers it.  You are still the object of God’s affection.  You are still the target of His love.  You are still breathing the very breath of God; the grace-filled breath of your loving Creator.  Please believe that.  Please embrace it.  Please accept it.  Please take that truth in to the deepest part of the darkest pain you have and allow it to be the salve, to be the balm that heals the hurts.  It is not merely words on a screen you’re reading–it is the most real reality there is.  It’s the truest truth that exists:  God loves you right where you are.

I want to introduce you to a song by Michael Kelly Blanchard.  The video that follows is dated, but the message being conveyed is as relevant and needed today as it ever has been.  And as you listen to this song, I invite you to place yourself in it.  Hear the words as they come from the singer and realize that this is God’s loving anthem over you.  If you have failed morally, if you have reckoned your situation as hopeless, if you have been convinced that you are beyond repair, beyond redemption, beyond God’s reach….listen to His message of grace today.  And breathe His grace in.

Moral Failure

You’re about to read a blog that comes from an extremely passionate and angry part of who I am.  Without any attempts at sensationalism, I’m going to be quite candid.  If you’re in a marriage relationship, please feel free to comment or even call me on the carpet for what you’re about to read.  I welcome it.

Nearly 3 years ago I had a friend.  He was more than a friend really; he was a partner in ministry.  In fact, he was someone I’d consider my closest friend in student ministry.  We spent tons of time together, we always got along well, we had a similar passion for students, we shared many interests, and we really enjoyed each other’s company. All in all, we were close.  Yet as it turns out, not close enough.

I say that because I clearly wasn’t close enough to see what perhaps he kept hidden from everyone; his inch-by-inch journey into moral failure.  Until one night, seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself sitting face-to-face with my friend, pleading with him not to leave his wife and kids.

He left anyway.

Soon after that, I heard someone say something about the situation that I still to this day disagree with.  It was a statement I’ve heard in other situations as well. You’ve probably heard it too.  It’s a statement that has nearly reached the status of cliche’:  “There but by God’s grace go I.” or more to the point: “That [moral failure] could have happened to any one of us.”  I completely disagreed.

You see, my friend who left his family didn’t slip and fall into a hole.  He climbed in.  Moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, he CHOSE to keep hidden an inappropriate relationship; one that he KNEW would ultimately bring about the end of his marriage.  Do I feel compassion for him?  Absolutely.  But do I also hold him responsible?  You better believe it.

It’s utterly flabbergasting to me how many people in ministry (and those who are not) wrongfully justify immoral behavior.  And in today’s world of hyper-connectedness, we’re literally surrounded by ways that we can step into an inappropriate relationship.  But no matter how many traps are set for us, it is always our choice that leads us into sin.

Consider 1 Corinthians 10:13:  “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Simply put, Satan sets a trap but God gives an escape.  According to this verse, you’re NEVER cornered by the enemy’s schemes.  God is always faithful to provide you with a way to get away and free from the destruction Satan desires for your morality and for your marriage.  ALWAYS.

Now, I know better than anyone else just how imperfect a human being and husband I am.  That being said, one of my desires for my life is to be one of those men that–if you know me–you think of as a man who is head-over-heels crazy in love with his wife.  But more than that, a greater desire is for my wife to know that and to feel secure in it.  To that end, there are certain things that I’ve set as principles/boundaries/habits in my marriage (I recommend them to every husband):

1. My wife has full access to my phone & computer; including all text messages, web history, call history, & calendar.  Period.

2. My wife and I have a standing weekly date–just the 2 of us–to talk about anything and everything.  (It’s the highlight of our week!)

3. I swat my wife’s behind every chance I get.  It’s my silent “I love you.”  (This is a multiple times daily occurrence.)

4. I tell my wife not only that I love her, but that I’m IN love with her. And when I say “love” I don’t mean “you give me butterflies” (though she does that too), but that “I’m completely committed to God, to you, to us, to our kids, to this life together. This love is a committed decision. Period.”

5. I consistently confirm that I’m in a spiritual relationship with my wife, not merely a physical and emotional relationship.  I faithfully remember that on our wedding day while I was surrounded by family and friends, I stood before God and made a covenant vow to Him that it is to this woman I am giving my everything; and all for no other reason than to have the joy of her company, the strength of her friendship, and the security of her love.  And God helping me I would provide these things to her as well.  That was my VOW TO GOD.  Oh, that husbands and wives would study carefully and understand the word “vow” before they make one.

No, moral failure such as my friend had (and still lives in) wasn’t a “oops, I slipped and fell” kind of situation.  We CHOOSE to fail.  We CHOOSE to stop loving. We CHOOSE to look where we ought not look.  We CHOOSE to get reconnected with that old “flame”.  We CHOOSE to show interest in that co-worker.  We CHOOSE to send that text message or picture.  We CHOOSE to cross the line of our marriage covenant into moral compromise.  We CHOOSE to put our spouse and children aside while we pursue utterly selfish and lustful desires.  We CHOOSE to get emotionally entangled then physically involved with someone other than the one we’ve made a vow to.  We CHOOSE.

And here’s what I CHOOSE:

I CHOOSE to grow old with the same woman I once was young with.

I CHOOSE to put on display for my kids the fact that their mother has no reason to worry about her husband’s commitment to her.

I CHOOSE to show my wife that I take completely seriously the fact that I am standing in God’s full view and accountability as I live my love for my wife out on a daily basis.

I CHOOSE to be a man of integrity, of passion, of morality, of mind-blowing monogamy, and of Godliness.

And when my vision fades and my eyes close on this life, I will look back and know that I have shown the world that in regards to marriage: “THAT is how it’s done.”