Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Transformed Through Practice

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25, emphasis mine).

man overlook b and wIn recent years I’ve been increasingly concerned that most churches are doing very little to help provide a Christ-centered foundation for the lives of their people. I grew up in a large, growth-oriented church, and I knew a lot about the importance of faith being relevant to society, but I’ve seen in the last decade that relevance rarely leads to transformation.

In fact, when relevance for Christian ministry becomes a primary goal I think we’re prone toward disillusionment because it’s impossible to ever be relevant enough. Relevance doesn’t provide the foundation for becoming Christ-like, and in fact, often impedes such a goal.

What we need in order to become more like Jesus is to embrace being in apprenticeship to him, seeking to follow him, allowing more of Him to come through in our lives. This starts with a movement of faith where we step out in belief in Jesus, but it is also a daily, moment by moment action and decision to follow him.

The point of discipleship is to become like your rabbi, Jesus. What we should be longing for is a transformation, a continual movement toward becoming more like our rabbi, our teacher, our example, our Savior, Jesus. Dallas Willard describes this transformation as spiritual formation, the overtaking of a human life by Jesus, saying:

“Spiritual formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by the character traits of Jesus as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus our teacher.”

The reality is we are all being transformed all the time. Who you are in 5 years will be significantly different from who you are today. The question is not whether you are being transformed but who or what you are being transformed into. Is it Jesus?

Pew Research recently released a religious study saying 70.6% of people in America claim they are Christians, but if American society does not look more like Christ, it’s clear we have a problem. Too many Christians are not intentionally putting ourselves in position to be transformed by Jesus.

We have bought into the idea of believing in Jesus but not really following him.

What we really believe about Jesus shines through by how we respond to his extravagant grace. Are you willing to give up your life for it?

We cannot live the Kingdom of God and leave our way of life untouched.

We must be willing to shift our daily habits to create space for Jesus to shape us into him through the ups and downs of life.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that it is those who put into practice his teaching that are wise. With this in mind, there’s one question to ask:

How have you put your faith into practice?

If you’re near Salem, Oregon, come join me at New Harvest Church for our summer series titled Practices For the Way. 

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The Goal of a Wedding


I officiated over a small, private wedding ceremony recently, and will be attending several other wedding ceremonies in the coming months. While weddings are a significant spiritual event, fewer weddings are taking place inside a church sanctuary. Certainly, God’s presence can unite two to become one in any place, but I often worry that making weddings more about the spectacle causes us to miss what the goal of a wedding is.

With wedding season ramping up, I’ve had some time to reflect on what the goal of a wedding is, or at least in my estimation, should be. I share this with other pastors as a word of advice. I share this with engaged couples as a source of recommendation when deciding on what matters most in their wedding ceremony. I share this with family and friends attending weddings to highlight things that might be easily overlooked in the formality of such a wonderful event.

A Reflection of the Couple

Many ceremonies are similar in that there are several sections, such as the statement of intent, the marriage vows, and the exchange of rings, which have a familiar wording and flow to them. However, from small things such as the choosing of a venue or the invitation list, to bigger things, such as the wording of the marriage vows or whether to do a symbolic activity representing two becoming one, each of these give the couple a chance to show who they are.

As a pastor this means encouraging each couple to consider what Scripture passages hold significance to the couple, it also means getting to know the couple so the words you have to share with them are specifically for them. For couples getting married, make sure you choose a wedding that fits you, not the expectations others have.

A Focus on God’s Word

A good wedding ceremony includes a variety of Scripture, not just a token Scripture thrown in by the pastor. I often encourage couples to have a family member read a Scripture passage of significance to them, and I try to include one or two separate passages in my homily to the couple.

This focus on God’s Word goes beyond the importance of Scripture to the elevation of Christ as a person of significance in the coming together of husband and wife. Several years ago following a wedding ceremony I officiated over, I had a family member of the bride and groom say to me, “I’ve never heard the name Jesus said so many times at a wedding.” I’m not sure if he was frustrated or joyous, but I took it as a compliment. If a marriage is to succeed it will be to the credit of Christ at work.

A Reminder of What Marriage Actually Is

I know this might be a shock to some but the goal of a wedding ceremony is not exclusively surrounding the bride and groom. Though they are the main characters in the story being told at the ceremony, the announcement of their marriage points to an even greater reality of Christ longing to be one with His bride, the church. Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 5, when after describing the role of a husband and a wife he says, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).

All that talk about husband and wife and marriage? Paul says it was really highlighting Christ and the church. A good wedding ceremony does this as well, pointing the bride and groom, and their family and friends, to recognize they have an example and foundation for how to love each other (as Christ loved the church) in marriage.

Weddings should be about more than centerpieces, gowns, and seating arrangements because they speak to the divine love God has for us all.

While all wedding ceremonies are different, the best wedding ceremonies present the personality of the couple, focus on God’s Word, and provide a reminder of what marriage actually is. These should be the goals of each bride and groom when discussing their wedding ceremony, and they should be the goals those surrounding the couple encourage them to pursue.

Whether you are officiating, getting married, or just attending the wedding of a dear friend, look out for the ways a wedding highlights these goals.

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The Best Quotes from A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman

friedman a failure of nerveAlthough it was written in the 1990s, Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve fits as well today as it ever has. In the book, Friedman outlines what kind of leadership is necessary in the age of quick fixes and anxiety. How can you operate as a non-anxious presence in an anxious environment? That’s a question I think he answers quite overwhelmingly.

This is not a Christian book. Friedman was a rabbi and family therapist. It may not be written by a Christian but it is a helpful book, becoming even more helpful in the years since Friedman’s passing. Here’s a few of the best quotes from the book.

“It has been my impression that at any gathering, whether it be public or private, those who are quickest to inject words like sensitivity, empathy, consensus, trust, confidentiality, and togetherness into their arguments have perverted these humanitarian words into power tools to get others to adapt to them.”

“A major criterion for judging the anxiety level of any society is the loss of its capacity to be playful.”

“Children rarely succeed in rising above the maturity level of their parents, and this principle applies to all mentoring, healing, or administrative relationships.”

“It is the integrity of the leader that promotes the integrity or prevents the ‘disintegration’ of the system he or she is leading.”

“The ultimate irony of societal regression, however, is that eventually it co-opts the very institutions that train and support the leaders who could pull a society out of its devolution. It does this by concentrating their focus on data and technique rather than on emotional process and the leader’s own self.”

“What chronically anxious families are largely incapable of seeing is that trauma is often, and perhaps usually, less the result of the impacting agent than of the family’s own evolving emotional processes.”

“The critical issues in raising children have far less to do with proper technique than with the nature of the parents’ presence and the type of emotional processes they engender.”

“A focus on being empathetic toward others, rather than on being responsible for one’s own integrity, can actually lessen the odds for an organism’s survival by lowering the other’s pain thresholds, helping them to avoid challenge and compromising the mobilization of their ‘nerve.'”

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Called Out Episode 010: Barnabas Piper

called out episodes (1)


One of the prevailing attitudes of our day is cynicism. This form of cynicism shows itself as a state of negativity and questioning where we can never believe anything at face value, and then we do our best to keep everything at arm’s length, rather than embracing it. You see this in the constant talk about fake news, because if some news is fake none of it should be believed, or so we think. We see this in relationships, because if one relationship or friendship fell apart, then none of the future ones are worth trusting in.

In order to look at the subject of cynicism from various angles, I had a conversation with my cynical friend Barnabas Piper. Having known him for several years I knew he would self-describe as cynical (as I would), and be able to share not only how cynicism develops, but also how it wreaks havoc on those around it. Then, toward the end, we share some encouragements for helping you stay away from cynicism.

You can listen to the full episode below (click here email readers):

Or find the episode wherever you listen to podcasts, including:

Apple Podcasts || Soundcloud || Stitcher || Overcast

A few links mentioned in the episode:

—Barnabas Piper’s books The Pastor’s Kid and Help My Unbelief.

—The book mentioned in the episode by Barnabas is his latest release The Curious Christian.

—Barnabas also has a podcast he’s one of the hosts for, called The Happy Rant.

—Brett McCracken’s article on Hallmark movies: “Formulaic for a Reason: The Existential Appeal of Hallmark Movies”

—Theme music by Shoring.

We’ll be back with new episodes starting again in September. Between now and then you can support this podcast by leaving a review wherever you listen, and by sharing episodes you have found helpful. Thanks for your support!

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Reliving 90s Youth Group

screen-shot-2014-02-05-at-6-23-25-pmWhile I did not graduate high school in the 1990s, I spent the majority of my church youth group years of middle and high school in the 90s.

If you haven’t noticed, nostalgia is all the rage. From Stranger Things to IT to 80s rock synth on every indie album, you can’t escape the push toward the past.

So with that in mind, I created a playlist of the best 90s youth group music. If you have Spotify you can find it directly here, or by listening below.

Enjoy some nostalgic bliss.

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The Gift of Encouragement

A few weeks ago I preached on the section of Romans 12 where Paul mentions about spirituals gifts: “if it is to encourage, then give encouragement” (Romans 12:8). This verse has always stood out for me because in one of my first years of my seminary studies I had a professor say to me, “you don’t have the gift of encouragement do you?” It had never stood out me that I tended to be analytical and critical, but it’s never left my mind since then.

Ever since then I’ve believed (at least in part) it wasn’t my job to encourage, because ‘it wasn’t my gift.’ I’ve focused on playing the devil’s advocate, I’m comfortable being a contrarian, and I have no issue with confrontation. But what I do struggle to do is encourage people around me, except in obvious situations.

thank you cardAround this same time, I received a card from an elementary-aged child in my church, telling me that when I lead worship he is inspired. Some of the children at my church have started writing a thank you card every week for a different person. The card reminded me how easy encouragement is. If a 4th grader can do it, you can too.

In preaching this section of Romans I challenged my church to specifically and intentionally encourage 7 people over the course of the next 7 days.

This shouldn’t even be difficult to accomplish. Encouragement costs nothing but blesses the encouraged beyond measure.

I chose this specific application for my sermon because I firmly believe people never develop the gifts they don’t practice. Maybe I don’t have the gift of encouragement because I never encourage? Somehow, despite my lack of encouragement gifting, I was able to accomplish this 7 encouragements in 7 days challenge.

Yes, some gifts are given by God immediately following the Spirit indwelling, but most often I think God works through what we put our time and energy towards, and He more greatly allows those things to develop in us.

One thing is for certain, I am who I am today because of the encouragement many others have given me for the past three decades of my life. You would not be where you are had it not been for the encouragement of others either.

Put plainly, all of us should seek to encourage others, whether we sense it is our gift or not. Yes, for some, encouragement oozes out of their pores all day, every day.

For some, encouragement takes more effort and intentionality (I am one of those people).

But all of us should be encouragers.

The Body of Christ is missing out when you choose not to stretch your encouragement muscle.

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