Are we supposed to hate hate?

Well, it happened again.  Remember last week when I got a text message from a stranger who turned out to be sending the text message to a wrong number which was mine?  Sure you do.  If not, read it here.

Well, I turned my phone on this morning and sure enough there’s another text message.  This one was more….um….shall we say….”to the point”:

“Do you hate me this much that you are trying to ruin me? I thought you were better than that. What did I ever do to deserve this? How could you?”

Before I had a chance to respond (‘cuz you know I wanted to), they sent another text moments later: “Sorry wrong number”.

Do you want to know which word struck me the most?  The word “hate“.  If you’ve got a soul, hearing that word always kind of stings, doesn’t it?  Especially when it goes from one human to another.  But we were never created to have that emotion toward one another.  Ever.  When we do, it eats away at our humanity. We become less.

Where does hatred fit into the human experience? Are we ever sanctioned by God to hold hatred in our hearts?  Toward whom? Or toward what?

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God’s Will: The uncomplicated version

Having been a youth pastor for 17 years now, I’ve heard and seen my fair share of blurry-eyed students trying to feel their way through the fog of searching for “God’s will for my life.”

They ask questions like:

Should I go to college? Where?

What should I major in?  What field should I go into?

Where am I going to live? 

What kind of job am I going to have?

How many bosses will I have? How many people will I be the boss of?

Should I get married? To whom?

Will we have kids? How many?

What’s the purpose of my life? What path should I be on? How will I know when I’m on the right path? What if I get off the right path somehow? Will I know if I do? Will God still love me and bless me?

All legitimate questions, but I’d suggest that none of them have anything to do with God’s will.  How do I know? They’re all egocentric questions; they’re all about “me”.  And if you want to hear the best news you’ve ever heard, then read this: God’s will has precious little to do with you.

If you want to know God’s will for your life, then I’d suggest brand new questions.  They’re simple and few.  And these questions aren’t limited to high school students just starting out on life’s road, because God’s will isn’t a destination.  It’s not something you arrive at.  These questions are for anyone anywhere along life’s road, no matter if you’re 18 or 98.

#1: “Who is Jesus to you?”

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been following Him or if you haven’t yet started. Jesus Himself asked this question of His own disciples.  Your answer to this question will have a deep and dramatic impact on every other detail of your life.  You can’t skip it and go to #2. In fact, every person who ever lived will be brought to THE answer (Philippians 2:9-11). So, its critical that you answer it now for yourself.

#2: “Where are your idols?”

We’re an idol-driven society. We latch onto an idol until we suck the life out of them. Before they hit the ground, we’ve latched on to the next one.  Name the idols in your life and then smash them against the side of God’s throne.  Is it a job? A girl? A guy? Money? A TV show? Fame? Food? A house? Yourself? What is it in your life that you can’t get enough of?  That’s your idol.

#3: “What’s in your hand?”

Remember Moses?  Sure you do.  Baby in the basket, brought up in Pharaoh’s house, killed an Egyptian, became a shepherd, talked to a bush, returned to Egypt to face Pharaoh, yada yada yada.  When Moses told God he wasn’t up to the task God was laying before him, God answered with a question: “Moses, what’s that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2-5)  The shepherd’s staff in Moses’ hand was his identity, his representation, himself. What has God placed in your life? How has He shaped you? What are your passions? What are your interests? What keeps you up at night? What makes you mad? What invokes emotion? What do you see in the world around you and you think “Somebody need to do something about that.”?  THAT’S what’s in your hand.  God put it there and He wants it back. Lay it down and see what happens.

No, God’s will isn’t about you.  It’s ultimately about the glory that surrounds Him. It’s about His invitation to you to join in on the glory of God.  The best way to do that is to listen to the final words of Jesus before He left earth: “Go and make disciples.”  Four words, but a host of different complexions. You can make disciples as a suburbanite, as a city-dweller, as a farmer, in retail, in the restaurant industry, in fashion, in high finance, in real estate, at home, in the industrial field, in science, and in any other place you find yourself.

I tell students that if they want answers to all the questions they have about the details of their lives, then just keep breathing. All those answers will come. But its quite easy, even after all those blanks are filled in, to have missed the very thing they were created for.

What’s God will for your life?  Its the same as His will for my life.  Its not a tightrope that you easily fall off of.  Its that we would fully surrender to the glory that surrounds Him by making ourselves available completely to His good pleasure of working through us to love others toward Him as we briefly walk this earth.

God Told Me To Write This Blog Post.

“God has been speaking to me, and…”

It’s the card that trumps all other arguments.  It’s the statement that usually precedes big news while simultaneously precluding disagreements against the new big news.  I’ve heard it from friend to friend, from husband to wife, from parent to kid, from kid to parent, from boyfriend to girlfriend, and from pastor to congregation.  We LOVE to use it.  Here’s why:

It makes us sound ultra-spiritual.

Not that spirituality is a bad thing per se, but when “being spiritual” is your pedestal to stand on so you can look down on others, their viewpoints, their opinions, and their values–well, then, you’ve got yourself a problem.  Who’s a jerk.  Who’s you.

It makes us look tight with YAHWEH.

It’s like “Yeah, me and God were hanging out last night at Lifeway and as I stood in the devotional section, I heard Him confirm to me that He wants me to __________.”  It’s as if we’re saying that God talks to me and what He said to me is more weighty than what He might have said to you.

It’s sometimes a disguise for selfishness.

Now, I KNOW nobody who reads this blog has ever struggled with selfishness.  I bet you’re reading these words while also feeding the poorest of the poor bowls of rice and water; rice you bought with your own paycheck and water from a well you dug with your own hands.  You’re such a giver.  But there are actually some people who are both selfish and have ulterior motives behind the “close encounters” with the Almighty.  You know, the encounter where He told them to leave their spouse and kids because they should be happy and they’re not.  The encounter where God told them to dishonor and disrespect their parents through a decision they are making.  The encounter that completely flies in the face of what God has already stated in black and white in His word.  THAT encounter.

So, how are you supposed to know that “God told you so”?  Here’s my 2 cents.

1. What has He already said in Scripture?  He won’t ever contradict Himself.  And I believe the Bible gives more answers than we usually give it credit for.

2. What has He said through the gift of wise counsel?  Seek those who are older, who care about God and you, and are outside your circumstance for a more objective viewpoint.

3. Pray. (You knew that was coming.)  But not the kind of prayer where you’re telling God what you want, tacking an “Amen” on the end, and bolting out the door knowing you’ve heard Him speak.  My first ordination mentor once told a younger version of me that he should not just talk to God in prayer, but to be still and listen to God.  That kid thought that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard.  That younger pastor figured “when I want God’s opinion, I’ll give it to Him.”  That younger me has since learned better.

4. Will what I “heard” from God lead to my glory or His?  I’ve found that God’s not very interested in making me awesome.  He’s interested in His own fame.  His plans for me will always end up in the exact same place the entire world will one day end up: bringing glory to Him.

In what other ways can you hear and confirm God’s direction in your life?

How have I hurt you?

I woke up to a text message on my phone this morning that was sent late last night, after I had turned my phone off.  It was an image being sent to me from a number I didn’t recognize.  There was no text to accompany it; just this graphic:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I didn’t recognize the number it was sent from, I did the only thing I could do.  I asked the only question I could ask:  “Who is this? And I have assumed, judged, or hurt you in some way?”

The reply came back less than a minute later: “Sorry wrong number”

While I was off the hook with THAT person (and slightly entertained by the faux pas), it got me thinking about people in my life who might actually be holding something against me.  I can say with a clear mind and heart that I have no idea who that would be or what the issue might be, but that doesn’t mean such a situation won’t certainly happen again–and perhaps sooner than I’d like.

When it does, how do I best move toward reconciliation?  HOW indeed.

Humility: Coming to that person in a spirit of humility will grease the gears of reconciliation. Conversely, coming with a point to prove or a battle to win will only heighten tension.

Ownership: As humans we’ve been shifting blame since the Garden of Eden fiasco.  Own your decisions, especially the wrong ones. Say what it was that you did wrong and don’t dismiss the weight of it.

Willingness: Be willing to do whatever is necessary to bring restoration and reconciliation.  But if the other person is not willing, know that the Bible lets you off the hook.  We’re instructed “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18.  You have no control over if someone forgives you or not. If they do not, continue to give grace as freely as you have received it from God (completely).  Don’t make your willingness contingent on theirs.

I was thankful for the relationally intimate wrong number this morning. It brought me back to the fact that we’ve been reconciled to God and have been given the ministry of reconciliation.  (2 Cor. 5:18)

As a pastor/leader/writer/communicator, I’m never far from the potential of ticking somebody off. While it sometimes can’t be avoided, I want to be sensitive to when it happens so that I can have a hand in helping healing happen.

A chance encounter

We’ve all been there.  The Walmart check-out line.  In my most recent visit to WallyWorld, I was in line to check out with my few items as the customer in front of me (with about a million-billion items) was finishing up.  The great thing about Walmart is that there’s always interesting things (people really) to look at while you wait.

As I stepped up to the “bag my stuff and let me pay” position, the cashier mumbled something that I’m pretty sure was intentionally loud enough to illicit a response.  She said, “Well that was an awkward conversation.”

She went on to tell me about the conversation she had just had; one in which she felt judged by someone identifying themselves as a Christian.

I know.  Shocking, right?

She then said, “Religion makes people feel awkward.”  I replied, “For most people, I think that’s true.” She then told me about a comment she had received earlier about the earrings she was wearing.  They were small skulls dangling from her ear lobes.  I saw them and thought, “Yep, those are skulls…big deal.”

The cashier went on to tell me that she was agnostic.  An agnostic is someone who doesn’t believe that spiritual truths can be known. They don’t believe that the existence of a higher power can be proven or dis-proven.  It’s a “limbo”, a “jury’s still out”, a “hanging chad” kind of worldview.  It’s euphoric in its inconclusiveness.  And for better or for worse, its right where this young lady had landed.

I believe that respect is the cornerstone of talking with someone of a different worldview.  I think Christians would do well to listen more and talk less.  I believe that this young woman deserved to be heard, not merely spoken to and definitely not spoken at.  So, that’s what I did.  In my brief time standing there as she talked and swiped my items over the “beepy” thingy, I simply listened to her.  And when she was done I told her that I actually teach religion, and I find it fascinating and know a bit about a variety of religions/worldviews.  Throw rocks at me if you want, but I did NOT want to say “I’m a Christian too.”  She had just had an interaction with Little Miss Earring Critic over there and I didn’t want to be painted with the same brush.

What would you have done in my situation?  How would you have responded to her?  What would you have said/not said?  Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

The Rumored Death of Youth Ministry

 

I’m no alarmist, but people are talking.  They’re nameless, faceless people and some other people call these people  “experts”.  They’re saying that youth ministry as it is now is nearing its end; in five to ten years tops, we won’t even recognize youth ministry anymore.  It’ll be gone.

Why would I care about what “they’re” saying?  Well, one reason is because I have a college degree in Bible and Youth Ministry.  What the heck am I gonna do with THAT if youth ministry goes belly up?

But more importantly, why do I not care about what “they’re” saying?  Let me give you a few reasons that will paint a picture on my take on the rumors swirling around about the imminent expiration of student ministry:

1.  Student ministry isn’t going anywhere because people won’t tolerate not having sex, which will (eventually) produce teenagers.  That point might be a throw-away point, but its true nonetheless.

2. When the Church stops focusing on the younger people in the crowd, the Church signs its own death certificate.  My first internship was at a Reformed church in New York.  When you walked in the front door on a Sunday morning, you experienced 2 things simultaneously: you could smell the Ben-Gay and you could hear the coroner’s clock ticking.  No joke.

3. Student Ministry morphs.  Its part of its beauty.  In fact, when student ministry stops morphing, it becomes adult ministry.  Just kidding.  Mostly.  The wonderful thing I love about most of the student ministry leaders I meet is their insatiable appetite for effectiveness in their calling and mission.  And they’re not going to stand idly by and let any shift of any paradigm NOT include a seriously passionate revolution of how students are reached, discipled, and multiplied.

So, no.  I don’t think ministry to students is going anywhere.  But I DO think that student ministry as its been done has got to make some hard shifts:

First off, we need to do a better job of connecting students with the Kingdom of God.  We think we do, but most are doing an awesome job of connecting students with their own programs and activities.

Next, maybe you’ve heard the words “Intergenerational Ministry” thrown around.  The concept here is that there is a stronger tie among the age groups in a local church.  Whether that means all ages worship together all the time, some of the time, and whatever–that’s got to be something all ministry leaders think about.

Those two things will likely lead us to this result:  Teens feel better connected to the community of the whole church, not just to the student ministry.  They get to see adults’ faith in action and they get to shape the faith of the younger children too.  What if students weren’t plucked out of the family, entertained, and plunked back in after 2 hours each week?  In other words: What if student ministry addressed the whole family as a part of the whole church?

So youth leaders everywhere, put down that iPad (you used the ministry budget to pay for) that you’re now using to craft your resignation.  If student ministry is dying any type of death, its the good kind of death that happens whenever something has run its course.  That won’t mean you’ll stop doing youth ministry, it means you’ll stop doing it the way its been done.  And that my friends, is called progress.

Whether you’re a youth leader, a teenager, a parent, a lead pastor, or someone else who’s reading these words, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

An unsettling writing prompt…

I got a photo from a friend of mine, Myles Bristowe.  Myles sent me the photo and asked if I’d blog my response to it.  If you’ve been paying attention, you remember Myles from a previous blog post.  Myles sent me this photo as a type of offshoot of a conversation we’ve been having about the Church.  You can see that conversation in the comment section of this post.

Here’s the photo he sent me.  Take a good look at it and then I’ll tell you what I think of it.

First of all, its true.  I can’t argue the fact that technically speaking, there will be all of these kinds of people (listed on the sign) that will indeed be in hell.  It’s not pleasant to think about, but its nonetheless true.

But please don’t stop reading here and not let me add my own labels to the list:

Accountants, Teachers, Nurses, Consultants, Software Programmers, Marketing Specialists, Exterminators, Car salesmen, Insurance underwriters, Authors, Pastors, Construction workers, Gas station attendants, Cashiers…you get the idea.

But here’s where this particular church makes its fatal error: They seem to be saying that its THESE people who will go to hell because they have THESE labels.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.  This simply couldn’t be more disastrously wrong than it is.  And it breaks the heart of God for those who represent Him to do so in such a way that makes Him seem like the kind of God who would say, “Welcome to heav—-oh, wait—is that a skateboard under your arm?!? Well then, in that case:  Depart from Me, I never knew you were one of THOSE people.”

Those who inhabit hell will be those who do not receive the free grace gift of forgiveness that only Jesus has the right to give.  THAT’S who will be in hell.  And believe me, I know how unpopular that message is, but simply because a message is unpopular, doesn’t mean its not true.

Also, whoever put this sign up needs to get a better grasp on the word “repent”.  Of course, our response to the message of the Gospel has repentance as a critical piece, but it must come from a heart of brokenness, not from responding to a proverbial gun to your head.  I have a handful of really close friends.  None of those friendships started when I pulled out a handgun, pointed it at them, and said, “We’re gonna be friends aren’t we?  AREN’T WE???”

Of course repentance is necessary. I’ve read the Bible and I understand that.  But in my opinion this sign puts this local church on the same level as the Westboro kooks who tote their “God Hates Fags” signs and who protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers (the same soldiers who died defending their freedom to protest at their funerals).

My conversation with Myles centered around the importance and role of the Church.  The Church is the people of God, surrendered to Him, following Jesus, giving grace as freely as they’ve received it, and following the commands of God in the power of His Holy Spirit.  When we say “church” we often think “church service” and I’ve seen plenty of church services that quite honestly need to be tied to the nearest tree and have a bullet put in their head because they are neither drawing people to Christ nor are they “equipping the saints for the work of service.” (Eph. 4:12)  Believe me, I know “church people” can be condescending, judgmental, bigoted, and hypocritical to name a few adjectives.  And so can atheists, Roman Catholics, Buddhists, mechanics, alcoholics, and Muslims.  Its the human condition to be flawed, and a common mistake non-Christians make is to expect Christians to be perfect.  Trust me–I KNOW better than you how imperfect I am. I’m flawed, broken, messed up, and prone to sin.  I do not ever want to perpetuate the farce that I’ve got anything together.

But that’s the glory of the cross.  I, you, we, ANYONE can go to foot of the cross of Christ and find forgiveness, full and free.  There is NO ONE outside the reach of God’s gracious redemption of mankind.  Many will turn from that offer for a myriad of reasons, but not one of them is a good reason.  Many will point their finger at flawed “Christians” and say, “If that’s what God does, I’ll take my chances on my own.”  Many will consider their sin so deep, so encompassing that there simply isn’t anyway out.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

As much as I hate this church sign and the completely inaccurate perception of God it perpetuates, I hate even more to think that people will see it and decide that it accurately represents the God of the Bible, His love, His Son, His Church, and their mission.

So, what do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’d even love to hear/see other church signs that leave you scratching and shaking your head.