Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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My Video Podcasting Debut

You don’t get a chance to see my face too often. I keep this blog primarily devoted to the written word. Today, however, I thought I’d share a video podcast I recently did with the good folks at Goodberry.

In the conversation we touch on subjects like why I became a pastor, why I’m so focused on my generation, and what it means to live a holy life. Hope this is helpful for you. I should have thrown in some humor but we did this at 8am on my day off, so cut me some slack :)

(If you are reading this in an email or RSS feed, click here to watch the video)

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The Church and White Privilege


Two pictures of racial tensions in the US, taken 50 years apart.

History may view this statement as hyperbole, but I’ll go for it anyway:

The events taking place in Ferguson are a watershed moment for racial reconciliation (or the lack thereof) in America. And if the church stands idly by as this watershed moment takes place the Gospel will be further relegated to a place of obscurity within that same culture.

Thankfully, the church of Jesus Christ has leaders who are speaking up, and guiding us with wisdom. One of those leaders is Matt Chandler. He is one of the most influential Christian leaders in the world. I don’t listen to sermon podcasts anymore, but when I did his was always my go-to. I have much respect for Matt, and it has grown after he spoke on the subject of white privilege last Sunday (listen to the full message here). In a post from earlier this week he clarified some of what he shared during his message (read the full post).

The challenge with white privilege is that most white people cannot see it. We assume that the experiences and opportunities afforded to us are the same afforded to others. Sadly, this simply isn’t true. Privileged people can fall into the trap of universalizing experiences and laying them across other people’s experiences as an interpretive lens…

What is so deceptive about white privilege is that it is different from blatant racism or bias. A privileged person’s heart may be free from racist thoughts or biased attitudes, but may still fail to see how the very privilege afforded to him or her shapes how he or she interprets and understands the situations and circumstances of people without privilege.

I want to piggy back on Matt’s post by sharing one more post also related to Ferguson. Thabiti Anyabwile is in the process of moving back to the United States following a time of serving the church in the Cayman Islands. Thabiti is a black man, and on Monday he shared that he has one main fear of moving back to the US:

Truthfully, the Lord has kept us from any fears that we can discern about planting the church or living in Southeast. If I have a fear it would be one thing: bringing my son Titus to the United States. He’s so tender and innocent and the States can be very hard on Black boys.

That’s my one fear. This country destroying my boy. Ferguson is my fear. I could be the black dad approaching a white sheet stained with his son’s blood.

My friend Kyle pointed out last night about how sad it is that Christians get more upset about Gungor’s beliefs about Creation and the flood in Genesis than they do about race relations, specifically the situation ongoing in Ferguson. Considering we just engaged the issue surrounding Gungor last week, this is worth examining.

Ferguson is an opportunity to look at the blind spot so often ignored. Let us dive into it deeply, with humility, and with a posture of listening and learning.

How long, oh Lord?

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Shortcuts are Detrimental to Your Soul

Fork_in_the_roadI spend around 15-20 hours praying, studying, and writing anytime I’m scheduled to speak at our church on a Sunday morning. Inevitably, I run into all sorts of hurdles. It’s difficult to stay motivated for the finish line when the beginning process feels like an insurmountable mountain.

After I’ve studied and determined an outline I write out the whole message into a manuscript. Usually about a page and a half in I’m looking for shortcuts. 2 or 3 hours into typing and the ideas seem to flow less quickly. I begin to feel less confident in the arc of the message I’m preparing. I think to myself, “a quick google search for a good sermon illustration would get the job done.” Or, “you already know what you want to say there, just wing it.” Or, “there’s bound to be an answer if you open Facebook and Twitter” (ha!).

The allure of the shortcut is powerful when the work seems endless and the creative juices are lacking. Typically we refer to shortcuts as pure laziness, but I would say they are in fact much worse.

Taking shortcuts circumvents the Holy Spirit’s desire to work with you into the mystery of creation. Whether we’re lazy or impatient or on a deadline, taking the shortcut is the answer for finishing a job without doing the work—another task completed with unfinished interior development.

In referring to pastors and shortcuts, Eugene Peterson says, “Impatience, the refusal to endure, is to pastoral character what strip mining is to the land—a greedy rape of what can be gotten at the least cost, and then abandonment in search of another place to loot” (The Contemplative Pastor, pg. 57).

Creativity and the toil-some process of beginning something from nothing, and following it to the end is the stuff that makes people who they are. We don’t need more pastors who can preach like Mark Driscoll. We don’t need more musicians who can play like Mumford and Sons. We don’t need more writers like Anne Lamott.

We need people who are going to make the effort of allowing God’s Spirit to do the slow work of creation in their hearts that inevitably bleeds onto the page, even if it doesn’t follow their own deadlines.

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Why Gungor Deserves the Backlash

Gungor4 summers ago Rose and I went to a small coffeeshop in downtown Portland to see Gungor play through songs from their album Beautiful Things. We stood the whole time. There were no chairs. Just one hundred people all singing songs that had become anthems for their lives. One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to despite the awful venue. Michael and his wife Lisa were even kind enough to talk to my mom for a few minutes outside of the venue before the show.

Fast forward to the past few weeks when Michael Gungor found himself in hot water with many in the Christian community for calling into question the traditionally held understanding of the creation account in Genesis, and the role that Scripture should play in the lives of believers. If you’re just catching wind of this, here’s the interview answer that has received the most backlash:

“I have no more ability to believe, for example, that the first people on earth were a couple named Adam and Eve that lived 6,000 years ago. I have no ability to believe that there was a flood that covered all the highest mountains of the world only 4,000 years ago and that all of the animal species that exist today are here because they were carried on an ark and then somehow walked or flew all around the world from a mountain in the middle east after the water dried up.”

“I have no more ability to believe these things than I do to believe in Santa Clause or to not believe in gravity. But I have a choice on what to do with these unbeliefs. I could either throw out those stories as lies, or I could try to find some value in them as stories.”

With that backstory, you might be wondering why Michael and his band Gungor have earned the pushback many have passed along. Let me explain.

Michael writes music for the church. He wrote an entire album based on the storyline of The Bible. Many, many churches sing songs he has written every weekend. Michael has a responsibility to lead the church toward Christ. I believe he knows about that responsibility.

It isn’t that Michael called into question the typical understanding of the creation account, it’s how he did it. I interact with people all the time who are questioning the exact same things Michael is choosing not to believe, but they choose to do so in a place of humility, with an effort to understand through faith. Michael, instead, chose to belittle those who come to different conclusions.

Your HOW reveals your WHY.

How Michael went about voicing his concern was in poor taste, at best. Now we’re left to wonder why Michael would choose to do this. No one who holds to God creating in seven literal days, or believes that Adam and Eve were real human beings created by God should have their understandings of Scripture compared to believing in Santa Clause.

While consistently disputed, Christianity has, by and large, held to a literal 7-day creation, a literal flood, and a literal Adam and Eve. Christians have also held the Bible in high esteem, placing it as a foundational voice of God for them to follow. As I’ve said before, we create a false dichotomy when we say Jesus > The Bible, an idea Michael pushed at length on Twitter this past Sunday.

Confusions, disagreements within Christian Orthodoxy, questioning Scriptural understandings, all must be done with nuance and grace. We must choose to ask our questions with open hands, instead of a clenched fist where we belittle those with differing conclusions.

This fall I’m teaching a one week course on the book of Genesis, and I plan to present the valid conclusion of a non-literal creation account. But I want to do so, through the grace of God, by holding Scripture above my conclusions, pushing others toward a posture of humility when approaching The Bible.

In my estimation, Michael Gungor has earned the pushback he’s received because the tone of the conversation he started is one of pointing fingers instead of promoting a conversation. I will still listen to Gungor’s music. If I could afford to I’d have them to my church on a Sunday.

Michael’s questions are nothing new to the Christian faith, but I hope those near to him can steer him toward a more graceful questioning.

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A Conversation on God’s Will

I wanted to share a recent conversation I had with Ed Underwood on the subject of God’s will with all of you. Ed is a pastor in the Los Angeles area, and in recent years he has been a great encouragement to me in person and through various online venues as I’ve started in the pastoral role. Ed just released a book entitled The Trail which follows the same subject as our conversation. Be sure to check it out.

Tyler: How has your perspective on God’s will shifted in recent years?

The-Trail-HB-0071Ed: My perspective on discovering God’s will has shifted dramatically. As a young pastor and fresh out of seminary I was skeptical of any teaching on how to discover God’s will. I had tried to help so many believers who were trying to recover from horrible decisions based upon what I would call formula-Christianity. By that I mean the teaching that if you get it right by following these three steps, having these four experiences, or praying these words, then God has to show you His will. Then, over the years, I started feeling as if something must be missing. It seemed that if God loved me He would delight in showing me His will. Finally, I’ve been teaching the Scriptures expositionally for over 30 years. By expositional I mean going through the books of the Bible verse-by-verse. As I’ve been studying through the Bible I noticed a pattern. Often a verse that I thought I was familiar with, even a verse that I had memorized and used in discipleship, was actually a verse or a passage teaching us how to determine God’s will for our lives. One prime example would be Romans 12:1-2. Those believers who respond to God’s mercy by giving Him their lives will know His good and perfect will. As the pattern developed I set aside a folder in my files marked “God’s Will.” Eventually, I was able to categorize these verses and passages under eight principles. From that folder I developed a series on how to discover God’s will. I’ve taught the principles for years, in churches, at conferences, and in Bible Schools, Colleges, and Universities. It’s one of those series that people respond to dramatically and positively. I get responses like, “I never understood how to discover God’s will before.” So, I wrote a book presenting the eight principles, but decided to write a different book that stories the principles. Hence, The Trail.

Tyler: Your book is written in story-form, differing from how most pastors would choose to convey a specific perspective. What are you hoping the different format accomplishes?

Ed: The primary reason I decided to write this as an allegory is that I believe in the power of story. Most of us will remember a story far longer than we’ll remember the principle behind the story. I have it in my heart to write books that help everyday Christians follow the Lord Jesus. I’m so convinced that the principles I’ve discovered on how to discern God’s will in decision making will help people that I can’t stand the thought of them reading some boring Bible study and then, in the heat of the moment of facing a choice, forget the specific principle that would make every difference. This story thing must be special because it’s the way the Lord Jesus chose to teach. You never read of Jesus saying, “Okay, disciples. Sit down and I’m going to teach you the three reasons why you should read the Old Testament.” Story is life, and Christianity is life. The other reason is that it intrigued me. I have been messing around with writing fiction for years. I had about six chapters of fiction finished on a book I was writing for young men based upon my experiences as a wildland firefighter. Finally, I’ve often led a group of Christians on the same trek Sam takes the couple on in The Trail. It’s provided some awesome opportunity for mentoring because up there, in the high country, they’ve been dependent upon me in ways that have given me access to their lives. I’ve just seen the Spirit work of there because, as Sam says repeatedly in the book, “The high country humbles a person.”

Tyler: The age-old question everyone asks is how do you discern God’s will. How would you encourage people who are asking that question?

Ed: I would tell them that it all begins with relationship. The first step in discerning God’s will is to draw close to God. So, before you start looking for signs, putting out a fleece, go online, ask others, or even read a book, ask yourself this question: “Am I intimate with Jesus right now?” If the answer to that is no, then you can be sure of God’s will for your life: Rearrange your priorities and seek intimacy with Christ in community. Those believers who are intimate with Christ are the ones who will recognize His guidance when it comes. And, with my view of spiritual maturity, this will have everything to do with not only knowing God’s Word but also living in community. One of the constant threads of advice in the Scripture when it comes to discovering God’s will is to relate deeply not only to God, but also to His people.

Tyler: In what ways do Christians often think wrongly about discernment of God’s will?

Ed: The biggest and most damaging misconception people have about God’s will is that discerning it is possible through some formula that they must get right. This saddens me because I’ve seen so many sincere believers over the years make some of the most ill-advised decisions because they have fallen victim to formula-Christianity. That is, some weirdo has taught them, “if you do this, then God will tell you exactly what to do.”

Apart from the formula-Christianity, the second most common mistake comes from performance-driven Christianity. This is the teaching that if you perform for Jesus, He has to help you in whatever way you demand. It isn’t about a sovereign and loving God guiding you and caring for you, it’s about you being good enough so that God has to do what you want Him to do. And, since Jesus refuses to be tamed, these people inevitably throw up their hands and conclude that God doesn’t guide His people.

Finally, we’re all susceptible to manipulating our thinking so that we conclude that what we want is God’s will. One illustration I’ve seen over the years is people moving to a new place. They are absolutely certain that it’s God’s will for them to move to a better climate, a less-expensive area, or to their dream geographical location. But, when we consider what God says about our lives and especially what the Bible teaches about community and the guidance that He provides through discipleship and spiritually mature people speaking into our lives, they have totally missed the way God could guide them. It could very well be that God wants them to move, but when they leave community out of it, they are living unprotected by one of God’s primary provisions for us as believers.

-Pick up Ed’s book on Amazon-

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The Problem with Praying For Your Enemy

Whether it be with people who disagree with me online, or people who disagree with decisions I make in helping lead a church, I can easily create fake enemies. I say fake because nearly all who come to mind are actually my brothers and sisters in Christ, so to call them an enemy of mine is over-the-top.

muslimschristiansprotectAs someone who prefers to have hard conversations, engage difficult subjects, while consistently pursuing openness over isolation, I can create a “me vs. them” mentality where those who don’t unequivocally support me must actually hate me.

When I read the Psalms I place these supposed enemies in the spot of David’s prayers about the wicked pursuers trying to take his life. I know that isn’t fair, but my flesh-driven self often goes there. And the Psalms pat me on the back, saying, “God is on my side, those of you who are against me, you’re going to lose.”

And then there’s Jesus’ teaching on how to treat your enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

I think Jesus teaches to love your enemies and pray for those who are against you because when you pray for them you can no longer see them only in a negative light. And herein lies the issue with praying for your enemies—you start to care for them.

Prayer changes the posture of your mind from vengeance to loving-kindness.

The picture above is of Christians in Egypt who are surrounding and protecting a large group of Muslims during one of their times of prayer. These Christians had chosen to first care for those who are different from them, rather than drawing a line in the sand. I think it would be fair to assume these are Christians who prayed for their enemies.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew isn’t just a checklist, praying for those who persecute you ends with you extending a hand toward them as well. Anyone can care for those who are with them, but praying Jesus-followers care for all.

Last fall I wrote a few posts that many saw as controversial. Lines were drawn in the sand. Sides were chosen. I held many ill-willed thoughts toward those who were noticeably against me. In recent months I’ve had difficult conversations with people who I sensed were “against” me. Choosing to pray for them made all the difference.

My enemy is only my enemy when I choose not to pray for them.

When I pray, I see them as Jesus does, and the perspective shift changes everything.

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