Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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I’m Not OK

im-not-ok

It seems that for a few weeks every year I get in a funk. A “is-this-really-all-life-is?” kind of funk. A funk where I ask “who am I and what am I doing with my life?” but I struggle to land on an answer I like. A funk where nothing satisfies.

Sometimes this funk is hard to notice. Recently I found myself being short with my kids, uncharitable to my wife, and unmotivated in my aspirations. I started to wonder if something was wrong. On the surface, life was great. I still worked as many hours as usual. I exercised as much or more than usual. But none of life was particularly enjoyable. About two weeks into this I realized, I was in a funk.

As a pastor, when I engage with people who are in their own funk I try to emphasize the gospel. I tell them that they don’t have to earn anything. I tell them that who they are in Christ is the only thing that matters, and out of that identity true life is found.

This focus on identity is something I honed in on in my book, believing that if people could understand the implications of imputed righteousness it could shift how they navigate life. And while I stand by my words, and my focus on identity, I wonder if too much focus on identity in Christ makes for disciples prone to disillusionment.

If you only rely on identity in Christ to be a cure-all pill, what happens when life doesn’t seem right? “You’re supposed to be ok, you are in Christ!” you tell yourself.

The Gospel not only says you are made right in Christ (imputed righteousness), but it dares to say that you’re not ok, you’re a lot worse than you could have ever imagined. So my question of “is this all there is?” is actually spot on. It admits the truth. The Gospel says something is wrong, but it is being made right.

And that process of being made right is where the funk happens, but something better is promised.

I’m still in that funk, it hasn’t resolved. I’m not quite sure what the answer is. But I do know this:

I’m not ok, and that’s ok because better is promised and it is coming.

(Image: Evan Rummel)

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Worthy of Suffering

About 6 months ago a team of men I’m involved with launched a devotional app for Apple devices. Today I’m sharing one of the almost 100 devotional posts you can read through the app.


suffering man

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin (local religious leaders), rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Acts 5:41

The entire chapter of Acts 5 deserves a look in order to understand the magnitude of verse 41. The apostles, led by Peter, were preaching about Jesus all over town, generating quite a following. This, for obvious reasons, irked the religious leaders. So they arrested the apostles.

Thanks to the help of an angel the apostles are set free from prison and make their way into the city to again preach about Jesus to anyone who will listen. And again the religious leaders find them, this time they are upset because they thought the problem had been resolved.

The apostles are arrested again and brought before the Sanhedrin, a local religious governing body. They are asked not to speak about Jesus anymore, to which they reply, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Not exactly following marching orders, as the Sanhedrin had hoped.

Ultimately the religious leaders know they can’t charge the apostles because the local people will riot. Instead, the apostles are flogged, and told not to speak about Jesus, but they are not charged with a crime.

The apostles respond to this beating by rejoicing for being counted worthy of suffering.

Just let that sink in.

No crime. Flogging punishment. Rejoicing.

These men were arrested though they had broken no law. These men were threatened for speaking about Jesus. These men were charged with nothing, and yet they are brutally flogged. And despite this incredible suffering and agonizing pain, they chose to rejoice.

Some days the greatest suffering you face is 5 minutes of extra traffic on the way home from work.

These men were charged with nothing and were flogged for it.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

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Shifting to Weekly Communion

communion

Starting this Sunday our church is going to take part in The Lord’s Supper every week. For the entire life of our church we have only partaken of the bread and cup on a monthly basis, so this is a fairly dramatic shift in practice for us.

Scripture speaks to the importance of Communion but there’s a multitude of approaches churches have in terms of how often to partake. Some don’t ever partake, some once a year, some for special events, some once a month, and others every week.

A book could easily be written on the subject of Communion and it’s other namesakes the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, but today I want to summarize in brief why we’re putting The Lord’s Table into our weekly gatherings.

Here’s the 3 stand out reasons for our shift in practice:

Sacrament Over Sermon

In most churches, the sermon is given the greatest weight. Some of this is positive: it elevates God’s Word, it encourages us to submit ourselves to His Word and the messenger God has placed in our path. But there is something we need more than a sermon, it’s the sacrament of Communion.

I can’t break down what I mean by sacrament in depth, but let’s simply call a sacrament a visible sign of grace. Brian Zahnd builds on this emphasis by saying:

“Christian faith is more about connecting our lives with Christ than it is about gaining spiritual information. Making church more about the sermon than the sacrament is a move toward secularism…What the sacrament of Communion does that the sermon cannot do is offer the worshiper a direct encounter with the life of Christ” (Water to Wine, 147).

Active Response

Many have brought the critique toward worship in church today by calling it passive. They see a band on stage in a dark room with loud music. While we do our best not to create a corporate worship environment like this, there’s no question that the stage vs. seats dynamic of a church gathering can create a disconnect. Coming forward to The Lord’s Table, however, is not passive, it is active.

By making it a weekly practice of responding to God’s Word by standing up, walking forward, partaking of the bread and cup, we begin to teach ourselves that the way of Jesus is found in taking up His life, surrendering our own.

Habitus

Habitus is a sociology term meaning that we each have dispositions or tendencies that frame the way we engage the world around us. Put more simply, you make very few conscious, deliberate decisions in your daily life. Instead, you often do things a certain way because you have established a tendency in that direction. And in fact, this has everything to do with the importance of weekly partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

A weekly practice of sharing in the broken body and shed blood of Christ pushes the partaker toward a habit of living in light of Christ’s sacrifice instead pursuing life by their own merit, for their own gain. It’s a gospel-empowered habitus.

James K.A. Smith, in his exceptional book You Are What You Love, focuses on the importance of consistent practices that form our habitus. He says, “The church—the body of Christ—is the place where God invites us to renew our loves, reorient our desires, and retrain our appetites” (65).

By partaking in Communion each week we reframe our lives—we find our lives by laying them down, to take up what was broken on our behalf. The weekly practice helps us to form the habitus of being people who follow the way of Jesus even when we might not consciously choose that way.

I’m looking forward to watching this weekly practice become part of the ethos of our church.

I’m curious if you have a response to this. And also curious, how often does your church partake?

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What I’m Feasting On

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This is my 4th installment of “What I’m Feasting On”–a post where I share some of the new music, books, blogs, and television I’ve been engaging with lately. As a dad of two toddlers, these posts are extremely infrequent. Why? There’s only so much time for free time hobbies that involve reading, listening, and watching.

Let’s go.

Reading

Listening

Watching

  • Come on, you really think I have time to watch movies?

What have you been reading, listening, or watching lately?

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The Christian Power Complex

Trump power complex

The story told in Luke’s gospel about two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus is striking. The story tells of these two downtrodden men, in disbelief that the man they had once believed was the Messiah, was now dead.

But Jesus disguises his identity and joins these men for part of their journey to Emmaus, listening to them share their grief, pain, and sorrow. Jesus jumps into the conversation, reminding them of what the Messiah had come to do. At their arrival to Emmaus, Jesus breaks bread with these 2 disciples, though they still do not recognize him. As the food is passed, in a flash they recognize Jesus for who he is, and subsequently, Jesus vanishes. But the bread remains.

Has Jesus truly left the room? Well yes, but no. No he hasn’t. He is in the room, embodied in the form of bread, because he had only days earlier told his disciples that the bread signified his body, broken for those who would follow him (Luke 24:30-31).

The Play for Power

The story has consistently been a reminder to me about how even disciples of Jesus want something from God he never desires to give. These disciples were in shock over Jesus’ death primarily because they saw him as the one who would fix Israel, by again redeeming it and raising it to prominence. And based on the response Jesus gave them, it’s quite clear, they missed it!

The redemption Jesus came to bring about was not of power, but of sacrifice. Many followers of Jesus had hoped he would give them a seat at the table of power, overthrowing Roman rule. Instead, Jesus gave them bread and a cup.

About this Brian Zanhd rightly emphasizes that,

“The false hope for the kingdom of Christ to be one of conventional political power was always bound to disappoint those who fail to understand the true nature of this new kingdom, whether it’s the Emmaus Road disciples, the architects of Christendom, or the modern-day Religious Right. Jesus will not be with us as a means of conventional political power” (Water to Wine, pg. 133).

A month ago Donald Trump met with a large group of Christian evangelical leaders, a group I consider myself to be part of. While the entire meeting really deserves a larger discussion, I want to focus on one particular aspect of the meeting. In directing his thoughts toward these church and ministry leaders Trump put his emphasis on power, saying:

“You are the most powerful group in this country. But you have to realize that. You have to band together. You have to band together. If you don’t band together, you’re really not powerful. You have a powerful church. I see it. I see some of these incredible pastors and ministers and people that speak so brilliantly. And I see it. But they’re great within their audience but then outside they don’t have it. You have to band together as a group. And if you do that, you will bring it back like nothing has ever been brought back.” (read the entire meeting transcript here)

One Last Grasp

Based on the polling data from the New York Times, a large majority of evangelical Christians are planning to vote for Trump this November. His appeal to power has, thus far, worked like a charm. If it’s power you want, Trump is your guy.

I see many within my tribe walking this same Emmaus Road of fear and disillusionment, wondering what grave circumstance will overcome them next, looking for anyone who might speak to their basest fears. Meanwhile, Jesus is sitting at the table, breaking bread.

My entire life the Religious Right, Moral Majority has set fire to Democrats for the lack of morality within their platform, now at the end of their shelf life, they have abandoned their own moral compass for one last stab at power. The dying wish of a hugely influential group is not to wash the feet of those who wish them dead, but to grasp at power.

But, of course, for the Christian, power is not what Christ calls us too.

A Reason for Hope

While fear may categorize these times, I firmly believe these hard times are a new opportunity for Christians to show that the kingdom which truly matters comes not through power, but through sacrifice. Hope is not found on a ballot or in a house in DC. Hope is found only in the gospel.

If nothing else the 2016 election is forcing Christians to reprioritize where politics fits within the hope they have. Voting is not even the most important thing a Christian will do on November 8th. Let’s lay down our power to take up our prophetic role within a society soon to be let down by false advertising.

I believe the best days are ahead, no matter the outcome in November, and I believe that because the kingdom of God is coming and it is here. Through the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for you, we inhabit the presence of God, and His presence fills this world through our hands and feet.

Friends, be the church.

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Whose Lives Matter?

blue_lives_matter_black lives matter

There’s a debate taking place right now, maybe you’ve noticed too because it has been impossible to ignore: #BlackLivesMatter followed closely behind by #AllLivesMatter followed recently by the #BlueLivesMatter push.

This is my attempt to cut through the noise.

Let me first acknowledge that I have little to no ability to claim experiential authority on this subject. I am a 31-year-old white male (I wrote about white privilege 2 years ago), married with kids, living in a predominantly white city. When it comes to the plight of what our culture sees as discriminated people, I miss the boat. Instead, I share my thoughts as a pastor, and as someone who wants to provide a better way forward in the midst of our racial division.

The Dividing Labels

If you are a #blacklivesmatter supporter you’ve been labeled a liberal progressive. If you are a #alllivesmatter supporter you are against the liberal progressive. If you are a #bluelivesmatter you are a super-conservative. This is my unscientific explanation based on how I’ve seen people using these labels. We are easily divided by talking around each other.

This kind of division is nothing new. The New Testament gives lots of coverage to the division between Jews and gentiles, both during the earthly ministry of Jesus, and even after his ascension. This division had a title, “The Dividing Wall of Hostility.” It refers to a specific place within the Temple courts in 1st century Jerusalem, which then symbolically represented the division within society as a whole for Jews and gentiles.

Archaeologists found something connected to the outer courts of the Jerusalem temple, inscribed with the words: “Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.” Meaning gentiles who went beyond that outer court would be killed. This was the kind of relationship Jews had with gentiles. Divided.

What has Jesus done to this dividing wall? Paul explains:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Ephesians 3:13-16

Through Christ, we are offered reconciliation both with God and mankind. In him, we are one.

Throughout the book of Acts the apostles had difficulty knowing how to bring Jews and gentiles together into the body of Christ, as one. Early in Acts the church was one only in principle, never in practice. At first, they thought all gentiles had to become like Jews, but ultimately they decided that the body of Christ could be unified while having diversity. Their principle of reconciliation and oneness became their practice through intentional effort.

Exactly, So Don’t All Lives Matter?

Yes, of course, all lives matter. But what does saying that accomplish other than stating the obvious? Mike Erre made the point that within the human body all your bones matter. But the broken bone matters most. You care for the broken bone. You give it more attention and focus.

So too with matters of race, those who are broken deserve care—they deserve more attention and focus. Why? Because they are broken. In recent weeks the black community and other minority races have voiced their pain and frustration. When the response is #alllivesmatter or #bluelivesmatter you have stated you would rather not listen.

Movements like #Alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter silence those who spoke up first saying #blacklivesmatter.

Now I know many of you have used #alllivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter and I know that in nearly every instance you are doing so to try to bring unity. I’m not judging you. I’m encouraging you to think of this from a black man’s or woman’s perspective. This doesn’t mean you support everything related to the #blacklivesmatter movement, but it does mean you choose to value and listen to the broken and the hurting because God does.

In speaking to his church, Matt Chandler had this to say about race and the division of it:

When we fight for deep relationships with those we are tempted to view as racially divided from us, humility results on both sides. We learn to value differences and to recognize how much we have in common as children of the same God. And we cease trying to rebuild walls that have been crushed to dust by the peacemaking work of Christ, by which many are made one.

#Blacklivesmatter is most often a cry of lament from generations of oppression. By linking arms with those who mourn, we put into practice the hard fought oneness Christ desires of his people.

Friends, let us never tire of doing good (Gal 6:9).

Next Steps

Wondering what you could do next? Here’s a few helpful things I’ve read:

 

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