When Guilt Takes Hold

The way our office is set up, if you call the church phone number, you get Dee who is the best phone answerer on God’s green earth.  I’m not kidding.  This lady was born to answer the phone.  Not only is she a veritable abyss of useful information, but I defy you to talk to her for 3 seconds without sensing her smile on the other end of the line.  No joke.  Dee rocks.

If Dee steps away from her desk, the incoming call gets rolled over to someone else’s desk.  If that person isn’t there, the call goes to another person’s desk (Both desks have a specific person at them, but I’m not telling you who they are.  Move on.)  After that, apparently the call just goes up for grabs and flies to the nearest extension.  In this case: mine.

My desk phone rings. I see an unfamiliar number on the screen.  No name.  I pick up the phone and give my standard, “Hello, this is Jerry.”  

“Um….Yes…..Umm….is this a pastor?” the voice asked. (Imagine a voice crossed between Slingblade and Forrest Gump)

I reply with confidence, “Yes, I’m a pastor.”

“Um…yes…hello. I’m wondering what time your church service is.”

“Well, we have a Saturday night service at 6, then 2 more services on Sunday at 9 and 11 a.m.”

“Um…yes…I’d like to come there and I’d like to come to a service.”

“Wonderful! You’re always welcome.”

“Um…yes…thank you. You see, I have an interview at Philip Morris this week and I’d like somebody to pray for me.”

Pastorally I answer, “I’d be happy to pray for you about that.”

Another voice bursts in.  This time, its a woman’s voice.  (This voice crossed between Pearl from 227 and a pitbull.)

“Um, yes. Who is this?”

“Hi, I’m Jerry. I was just talking to a gentleman about praying for an interview he has this week at Philip Morris.”

“He told you what?!?  Look. He’s sick.  He’s been throwing up 3 times already today.  Look, we out here at a motel and we ain’t got nothing and they ’bout to put us out.  We can’t get bus fare and we can’t even get nobody to give us a dollar fifty for bus fare so we can get on out of here.  We’re not from here and there’s a Red Roof Inn across the street and we need somebody to come out here and just put us up over there ‘cuz over there is 47 a night and we just need somebody to help us out.  We ain’t eaten for 2 days and I’m not even lying about that. I don’t have to lie.  That’s the truth. We had to share a McDonald’s double cheeseburger and we can’t even get bus fare now.  And we need somebody to come out there and give us bus fare so we can get out of here. And we need you to come and maybe get us something to eat and maybe put us up over at that Red Roof Inn for a couple nights or more.  Cain’t you come and do that?  We been on the phone since 8 o’clock this morning here in this lobby and they ain’t going to put up with us being here much longer. We ain’t from around here and we need somebody to come and get us bus fare, get us something to eat, and put us up for a few nights at the Red Roof Inn across the street cuz its 47 a night over there…..you postuh be doing the Lord’s work, ain’t you?”

And there it was.  The guilt card.  She slapped that card down on the table with a scowl on her face I could hear through the phone.

And in that moment, I could feel the weight rest down upon my chest.  It was the weight of guilt that had been shifted from this woman’s dire situation (alleged) onto me; brought on by the indictment: “You’re supposed to be doing the Lord’s work, ain’t you?”

My answer to that question?  Absolutely.  

But friends, guilt is the devil’s work.  Never mistake guilt for the Spirit’s leading.  The Spirit brings life, freedom, and joy—not one of which was present in that phone conversation.  The devil brings guilt, shame, and shackles.  Now, I’m not talking my way out of not driving a half an hour to give this woman $1.50, $3, money for a meal or two, or a few nights at the Red Roof Inn.  But when I got off that phone, I did what I could do for them–in fact, I did the BEST thing I could do for them.

Has guilt been at work in your life?  Have you found its crushing weight resting on your chest lately?

There’s no mistake then where it came from.  Turn to the One strong enough to lift from you the heaviest of weights that the enemy can seek to shackle you with.  And in the deepest sense of conviction, hope, peace, and joy celebrate the freedom to do “the Lord’s work” the Lord’s way!

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Treehouse, Lighthouse, or Warehouse?

I’m in the middle of my day and the turntable needle of my brain is stuck in the groove that goes: “Gottawritegottawritegottawritegottawritegottawrite…”  So, here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.  This will be quick, so read it quick and then comment quick…

I’ve been in fulltime ministry for well over a decade and a half, and I’ve noticed that most people have one of three views of the purpose of the Church.  Two of them make sense at least on some level.

The Church is like a treehouse:

This is where the club members meet.  It’s elevated, it’s away from “them”, and it’s just for “us”.  We hang a sign on the door that says “No girls allowed” but depending on the church,  it looks more like “No messy people allowed”, “No problems allowed”, “No loud music allowed”, “No flip-flops allowed”, “No riff-raff allowed”.  Basically, the treehouse is our protection from the outside world. It’s our haven, our safe place, our treehouse.  We’ll be back down soon, but until we do, don’t bother us.

The Church is a lighthouse.

This view sounds right on, but its not entirely so.  The lighthouse is what alerts those in the dark of the dangers hiding in the dark by shining the light on them.  This is the kind of church that reaches out to the lost, while reaching right past the found.  Now, don’t hear me say what I’m not saying. I know that each Christian is ultimately responsible for their own spiritual growth, but the Bible is clear that the pastor is charged to “equip the saints for the work of service.”  That sounds like discipleship should be present, doesn’t it?  But in some churches, “new souls saved” trump “old  souls sanctified” every time.

The Church is a warehouse.

There seem to be even some Christians that neither want to reach out NOR grow up.  Apparently to them, the Church is a warehouse where they can just be stored away until Jesus returns.  Things are dusty, the same they were 50 years ago, and there is no visible sign of life.  This church does what they do because it’s always been what they do.  Change would be welcomed if it didn’t involve changing anything at all.  And that’s what this church is dead set against.  Operative word: dead.

Is there another category?  Is there another “house” we could add?

You died for THAT?!?

I had some family in town yesterday.  More specifically: my Dad, my Mom, her sister (Auntie K), and her sister’s husband (Uncle Ed)…(his real name is Earl, but we call him Ed. Long story. But so funny. Another time perhaps.)

I went with my dad and uncle to The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA.  I’d never been there on purpose, but my dad paid for my ticket, so I was game.  While meandering through the displays of swords, pistols, knee boots and canteens, I couldn’t help but hear a rather loud-talking gentleman several feet behind us.  He was there with another fella to whom he was talking rather loudly.  Did I mention his booming voice?  Now, there’s no stated rule on a metal plaque on the wall, but I think we can all agree that museums are meant to have more of a library-type atmosphere than a monter-truck-rally-type atmosphere.  But alas, somebody forgot to tell Screamy McWaytooloud over there.

But I’m glad he was so loud because he unwittingly created this blog post in my brain.  As he went from glass case to glass case, I heard him sharing his theory with his friend as to why all these confederate soldiers signed up to fight.  Essentially, “it was so bad living back then, they just didn’t have anything else to live for.”  I silently disagreed with him as I continued to peruse blood-stained hankies.

What kind of reason for fighting and dying for something is having nothing better to live for?  If you’ll forgive that last question’s structure, I’d like to actually pull a point from this blog post.  Or die trying.

I can’t imagine a Southerner sipping his mint julip on the back porch when he finally decides he’s so bored of life on the homestead that being run through with a yankee’s bayonette sounded preferable.  I can’t imagine a line of young men enlisting for the Confederate army, discussing how there was “nothing better to do today”, so they decided to give their lives for some vague or flimsy cause.  I can’t imagine that.

No, it was–it HAD to be–something more than that.  It had to be a proud defense.  It had to be a deep sense of honor.  It had to be a steel-spine resolve to stand and fight for what they knew as the blessed life they lived.  It had to be.

Did you know that Jesus’ disciples locked themselves in a room right after his crucifixion?  They were fearful that they were next on the list, and that sooner than later THEY’D be the one’ s hanging on a cross.  After all, their rabbi had gotten it so they’d be next, right?  In short, they didn’t want to die.  A group of men who formerly followed Jesus were now fearing for their lives, undoubtedly asking “I’m gonna die for THIS?!?”

But take a look at what happened to each of these men.  All but one of them carried on in carrying out the Gospel message and over time, one by one were martyred for their unshaking faith in the power of Christ to save.  Not because they didn’t have anything better to do, but because there isn’t anything better to do.  And the last one of them earned himself a nice island exile getaway where he was led by God to write what we know as the simple, cute little book of Revelation.

What can you learn from all this?  What possibly can come from a brief stroll through The Museum of the Confederacy?  Nothing, really.  Nothing but a reminder that I’m not living this life for Christ because I haven’t found anything better to do.  I’m living this life for Christ because based on His love for me, there’s simply no other response that makes any sense.

An argument against full-time ministry

Let me start by saying that I’m not necessarily trying to make a case here. I’m simply opening up my skull and pouring out thoughts. It’s highly likely that in a short period of time, I very well may disagree with what I’m kicking around here. So, don’t hold me to anything just yet. Just hear me out and if you’d like to, post a comment.

Also, there are way more things in my head about this to come.  Stay tuned.

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I’m a full-time student ministry pastor.  Some people reading that might not be able to believe such a thing exists.  I receive full-time pay, including benefits, vacation time, sick days, etc. in exchange for loving, leading, and discipling middle school and high school students.  Some might think that’s barely more than pizza parties and dodgeball with the occasional “spiritual high” thrown in once in a while to keep things looking legit.  But let me assure you: it’s much, much more than that.

I’ve been in full-time student ministry for nearly 17 years now.  I began at the age of 21 and if you’ve done your math correctly, you know that I’m currently 27 years old.  Or so I feel.  Student Ministry is where I’m most useful to God, I believe.  Student Ministry isn’t an easy gig, but its the most rewarding thing I can think of to be doing with my life.  And I love it, love it, want s’more of it.

But therein lies a reality I’ve discovered.  I’m certainly not the first to discover it any more than Christopher Columbus discovered anything whatsoever.  But let me share with you my thoughts on full-time ministry because I’m pretty sure if you’re someone in full-time ministry like I am, you’re pretty ticked at the title of this blog post and you’re wanting me to hurry up and “‘splain myself.”  So here goes.

Being a pastor means I’m all about people.  But being a full-time pastor means most of my time is geared toward people who are already “Christians”.  This is the necessity I’ve found as it relates to my responsibilities as a pastor.  The bottom line is this: The lion’s share of my time is dedicated to keeping the ministry ball rolling, which by default keeps me out of the flow of culture, community, and evangelism.  I’ve been given a title, a job, and a long list of responsibilities.  None of them bad; all of them good, quite actually.  However, when there is an absence of intentional leeway given to a full-time pastor, then what you have here is what I fear is the reality for far too many full-time pastors: the Jesus bubble.  The Jesus bubble is that barrier that keeps me in here and the world out there.  While I complete my tasks and accomplish stuff, I am simultaneously not in a position of rubbing elbows with non-Christians.  Yes, I know about my neighbors, I know about the lady at the bank, I know about the other parents at my kids’ schools…and I love them all.  But I don’t spend 6-8 hours every day with any of them.

I kid you not; most of nearly every one of my days, I am surrounded entirely by people who love and follow Jesus.  While you may read that and find aspects (or all) of it euphoric, I want to assure you that leaning too far in either direction leads to you falling over.  You can either lean toward the Jesus bubble and enjoy your “Christian ghetto” as I’ve heard it referred to, or you can lean too far in the other direction and say, “Well, there shouldn’t be pastors at all because we need all the people we can out in the trenches, getting dirty, spreading the Word (as if what I do now doesn’t include any of those things).  Are pastors bad ideas?  What am I, crazy?  I’ve read the Bible and pastors are God’s idea!

I’m on staff at a larg(ish) sized church and enjoy being a part of a dynamic, sold-out, talented group of people.  I mean that.  I truly enjoy working with the people I’m surrounded by.  Every single one of them is stellar in what they do and I’m honored to link arms with them.  But I’ve got to admit that sometimes I talk with other people who follow Jesus and who work in a wide variety of workplaces from corporate to blue collar, and I wonder what would happen to my ministry as a pastor if half my time were spent in an orange Home Depot apron, or in marketing, or spraying down cars at the Car Pool.  What would become of my testimony? What would be the impact on my pastoring?  Would my fervor for the Lord be as loud and proud as it is from here behind my full-time desk? I’d certainly think so.  But when I talk to those who work in those places, I hear about the struggles of sharing the truth of Jesus with their co-workers.  By contrast, if you come to where I “work”, you’d think I was weird and not doing my job if I DIDN’T ram the Son of God down you’re throat.  (I’m overstating, but you get the idea.)

Some people might think that pastors are “paid to love Jesus” and while I get that, I hate it.  It’s not true at all.  I’m not loving Jesus for money (how freakishly twisted would that be?); I’ve simply been given the freedom to pastor students while knowing that my income is covered.  That’s the best way I can explain it.

I feel like I need to throw in a caveat; a disclaimer of sorts.  I LOVE that God has allowed me the opportunity to be where I am and do what I’m doing.  I’m not inviting my senior pastor to fire me.  And I’m not resigning or even quitting.  I just wonder what would happen to the ministry I lead if I were part-time here and part-time somewhere other than a place where little Jesus’s are literally around every corner.

I need to stop here, but count on a Part 2 and in the meantime, whatever your situation, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Holding steady at 90%

I got introduced to Jon Acuff recently.  And when I say “introduced” I mean I saw him on a stage from 50 yards away at a convention I attended recently.  I liked what he said and how he said it, so I bought his book “Quitter“.  I’m working my way through it and came across a wee-bit of wisdom for those of us who are trying to do stuff.  My “stuff” (among others) is writing and creating.  And in his book, Jon nailed me to the wall when he said:

“Whether you’re seventeen or forty-seven, there’s always the temptation to think that something has ‘passed us by.’  And now that we feel a little buzz to get things going, now that we feel a little momentum starting to build, it’s easy to get a touch of procrastinating perfectionism.  And that tends to cripple our ability to finish.”

He continues…

“The things you create and share will always out-perform the things that stay stuck in your head or your desk or your laptop. You might love the ideas you have inside you. You might be more proud of them than any other project you’ve ever put together. But if you don’t follow through with them they don’t do much good.”

I have honestly feared clicking that “Publish” button to the right of my blog screen because for me, that’s a HUGE commitment.  That’s a “shoving the baby bird from the nest” moment for me.  That’s a “Okay, world. Be good to my kid” moment.  It’s why I don’t publish more than I do.  Because if its not what I consider ready for its close-up, it never sees the light of day.

There’s a game app I downloaded to my phone a couple of months ago.  An app to increase my efficiency? An app to boost productivity?  An app to get more organized?  No.  None of those.  It was “Moto X Mayhem” and I love it.

It’s a free download game that puts me on the back of a dirt bike, navigating steep uphills, treacherous downhills, underground caves, thorny thistles, and death-defying cliff drops.  I’ve gotten pretty good at it because I repeat the same levels over and over.  I know each pebble on each course. I can see the drops before they appear on screen.  I know just the right angle to lean in order to land the jump just so.

I’ve gotten pretty good at daily life in just the same way.  When I approach the end of the on-ramp leading to the highway on my commute to work, I know there are 3 successive potholes toward the left of the lane.  I avoid them without even thinking about it.  After the 5th light, there’s a manhole cover that is recessed into the asphalt just a little bit that causes a bump when I drove over it.  I know that as I approach that light, I mindlessly veer right to avoid that manhole.

Safety is nice, isn’t it?  So is its first cousin, Predictability.  They’re best buds with Security who holds hands with Control. But whether you’re seeking a dream, chasing an ambition, starting a new venture, or even following Jesus, Safety and its posse aren’t who you want to hang around.  Instead, shake hands with Passion.  Say “How-dee-doo” to Wonder. They’ll introduce you to their BFF’s Aliveness and Danger.

And maybe you’ll stop wondering if what you’re doing is good enough and start knowing that the life you’re living is the best life you can live.

“There has to be a morning after…”

As I stood there last night, watching all that was going on around me, I couldn’t help but feel a swelling sense of gratitude for what was happening.  Our worship team (totally made up of middle and high school students) was leading children, teens and adults in authentic worship.  Those who came to our NOW (Night of Worship) gathering were genuinely encouraged, recharged, and blessed. Adults and students alike lined up to share what God was speaking to them and what He’s been up to in their lives recently.  One of our students, Tyler gave a passionate, Spirit-led, power-filled message from God and it didn’t matter who you were, you knew that was a supernatural thing unfolding in front of you.  And God allowed me a front row seat to watch it all.  It was more than I/we had envisioned, but it was precisely what God had in mind all along.

And here I am sitting in my office on “the morning after”, just replaying the evening in my mind.  One thing that really struck me last night was the power of intergenerational connections.  In a hilarious moment while Tyler was sharing last night, he inadvertently defined “old” as 60 and above; with a quick apology to everyone in that age range; including me.  (What in the world?!?)  But what blessed me was seeing adults being challenged by students and students blessing and thanking adults for their investment in them.  I saw teenagers testifying of God’s goodness shown in their parents, thanking God for their siblings, and even holding out hope for unsaved moms and dads who weren’t there.  All in all, it was a firestorm of rediscovering the call to simply “make disciples”.  (Matt. 28:19)

We literally had no idea who was going to show up for NOW, so when we saw such a beautiful mixture of faces it was the perfect setting for God to ignite and reignite passion for Him and for others.

So, here I sit as a youth pastor, a mere hours after the fact thinking about the new watermark that was created last night and how to see a “new normal” emerge from it.  Here are a few thoughts:

1.  I invited anyone who didn’t have a chance to share their testimony last night to send it to us via email. These can be used to encourage others.

2. I’ll connect with our student leaders and worship team who were all instrumentally used by God to encourage and challenge all those who came to NOW.  We’ll celebrate God and ask Him what’s next.  Then we’ll do it.

3. We will continue to shift the culture of our worship experiences/venues away from “come and watch worship” to “come and worship”.  Worship isn’t a “come and see” but rather a “Go & Be”.

So thankful to God for what I saw last night. And so humbled to be a part of it.

What’s a “KONY”?

If you’re currently living under a rock, first off, how the heck did you get down there and what do you eat?  Next, you may not have noticed the sweeping link that is currently ravaging nearly every social media page you see: KONY 2012. In a nutshell, it’s an awareness campaign orchestrated by a group called Invisible Children.  The stated goal of the campaign is to see the arrest of Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) in Central Africa.  Kony is responsible for atrocious crimes against humanity and more specifically, children.  A man of evil action, to be sure.

But what I’d like to point out quickly are the implications for those who care about and lead teenagers and young adults, because that’s what I do.

First off, the teenage population in America (and most of the planet) has ALWAYS been causal.  This age group has always been and will likely always be the ones who display the most passion, are first to “sound the alarm” of injustice, and fly the banner of “I’m in!” when it comes to marching toward a better world.  (Coincidentally, they’re also the ones with the most time on their hands.)  In essence, its the teenage/young adult’s experience to be this for the rest of us; not in place of the rest of us but rather to continually remind us what it looks like to live a life of passion.  And I’m so glad they do.

Next, it should be pointed out that we’re all looking for something to be passionate about.  KONY 2012 would be the perfect example of someone sharing information with someone who shares it with someone who shares it with someone who shares it with someone, but it’s not.  Instead (due to technology) it’s the perfect example of an organization (Invisible Children) sharing information with a massive audience, who then shares it with a massive audience, who in turn shares it with a massive audience.  There are literally people who woke up this morning thinking KONY was Ben & Jerry’s latest flavor and by sundown will be completely immersed in and committed to the idea of bringing Joseph Kony to justice.  They’ll have signed the pledge, ordered the kit, and have already bought the war paint for their April 20th nighttime canvasing campaign.

Something we can glean from the KONY 2012 (among other things) is the reminder that young people are wired to move.  Unscrewing the top of their head and putting information in is futile unless it pours down to their legs and gets them moving.  Truth is learned when truth is lived.  As a youth pastor, it challenges me to continually put in front of my students the opportunity to act on truth.

But I’m careful and even suspicious when I see links like KONY 2012.  I’m not the kind of guy who gets his sense of superiority by NOT liking what everybody else does (I still say TOMS are hideous), but I do realize that while enthusiasm is great, educated enthusiasm is even better.  I wonder how many people watched the first 60 seconds of the half hour KONY 2012 video, decided that was enough, and “shared” it with their Facebook world.  Or maybe more likely, who didn’t even watch the video and just shared it because it seems to be the hip thing to do…..”Oh, you hate KONY?  Well, then me too!  I hate KONY!  Who’s with me?!?”

Finally, I want to share my conviction about something.  This might come off as a given, but I think it bears stating.  Social action and justice-driven activity is NOT the Gospel.  Those who receive salvation are not always those with the most banners flying.  Tons of people will climb aboard the Kony Express and never know the love of Jesus and the power of His forgiveness.  Likewise, tons of people will love and follow Jesus, and not participate in the KONY 2012 campaign.  I know that seems harsh and I’m not at all saying that social issues don’t matter or that Joseph Kony should be left alone.  Of course not.  But we need to understand that you can love Jesus, watch the KONY 2012 video and choose to not sign the petition.  You can know nothing of Joseph Kony and still be welcomed into the family of God, the forgiveness He offers, and the eternity He has prepared.  I’ve seen the enemy use campaigns exactly like this to drive wedges between Christians because some feel passionately about a particular issue while others don’t.

So, go check out KONY 2012.  Or don’t.  Go sign the petition.  Or don’t.  Get a nap on April 19th so you’re fired up and ready to vandalize your own community on April 20th.  Or don’t.

Quick take-aways for leaders of students:

1.  Harness the energy of your students passionate to do something.  Just make sure its the right something.

2. Keep in front of them opportunities to move.  And I’m not just talking about The Interlude.

3. Keep the Gospel central to any social justice activity you’re a part of.  Too often, the Gospel message becomes an “oh, by the way” addendum rather than a “this is why we’re here” passionate invitation.