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The Gospel According to MJ vs. LeBron

June 5, 2018


If you are a sports fan then you are well aware that the raging debate is in full force about whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest of all time (GOAT) to play basketball.  I’m one of those strange people who wants to know why this matters so much to us.  What does it reveal about the wiring of human nature?  Why do we need to know and debate?  As a pastor, I can’t help but wonder if all longings, including those that produce the GOAT debate, are really redirected spiritual longings.  So here’s some thoughts about what this debate reveals about us.

(1) Something in us longs not just for greatness but for the greatest.  The Bible goes to great lengths to exalt God as the most magnificent, powerful, holy, beautiful, and glorious figure in the universe.  There is no superlative in the Hebrew language so when it says God is “holy, holy, holy,” it uses the triple repeat to say God is the holiest.  Much of the Christian life is dethroning idols and keeping God as the dominant longing of your heart.  I would suggest that the reason for the GOAT debate is because we long to marvel (worship) at a crowned champion who stands above the rest.  Could it be that it is our longing for God that puts us on a hunt for the greatest?

(2) Something in us longs for a hero with whom we can identify.  #TeamJordan or #TeamJames.  We feel that when we associate and are identified with greatness that we are part of the team.  Some of it rubs off on us and we get a share of its glory.  Sports show us that fans who have nothing to do with the outcome of a game on the field or court feel like winners or losers vicariously through identification with the team.  Fans even wear athletic gear while they sit in their comfortable seat eating nachos.  We long to identify with something larger than ourselves.  The gospel is built on faith that identifies with Christ and vicariously receives His righteousness by being on His team (the Bible would use family, kingdom, disciple instead of team).

(3) Something in us seeks worth through comparison to others.  Should MJ or LeBron feel devalued if they aren’t the GOAT?  Of course not, but that’s the way our world works.  We seek worth through comparison to others and Satan loves this.  One of the great deceptions in the world is to evaluate our righteousness in comparison to other people rather than in comparison to the righteous standard of God revealed through Jesus.  Worth through comparison will never satisfy the soul nor will it bring rest.  Worth through grace will.

(4) Something in us longs to belong to a team.  We love being on a team.  It lowers our loneliness.  It affirms that we are acceptable.  It gives us an identity and a purpose.  In fact, our culture is more team oriented ever before.  Are you DC or Marvel?  Democrat or Republican?  Conservative or liberal?  Yanny or Laurel?  We love to group into teams and sides.  This too is a longing for the kingdom of God in which God isn’t just saving us from sin and hell but is adopting us into His family and immigrating us as citizens in His kingdom.  The beauty of this belonging is that it comes graciously to us through Christ.



The Truth About Weinstein, Spacey, Moore, and High Profile Accusations of Sexual Abuse

November 16, 2017

WARNING:  If you are a victim of sexual abuse, this post could be very painful for you.  Take caution before you read it and seek help if it stirs up old wounds.

Can you imagine the damage?  A child.  A teenager.  A female in a workplace.  Confused.  Powerless.  Manipulated.  Perhaps there’s a fight.  Perhaps they are too afraid to fight.  They are touched and made to touch.  They are directed.  They are lured through affirmation.  They are shamed and threatened.

What are the emotional scars left by sexual violation?  Feelings of being tainted or stained.  Viewing sex as trauma.  Viewing sex as useful to get what you want.  Viewing sex as a means to gain affirmation.  Gender confusion.  The decimation of the ability to trust or receive love without strings.  Wondering where God is, if He cares, and if He, too, is an abusive authority figure.  Can Jesus still love me?

If you are one of the 1 in 4 girls or 1 in 6 boys who have been molested or raped, then you don’t have to imagine.  You’ve experienced it.  For the rest of us, we MUST, out of biblical, moral obligation, imagine it and take up the justice of God to offer advocacy, healing, and love to those who have been victimized.

The recent string of public figures accused of using their power for sexual gain—often doing so with those underage—seems like a shocking revelation to our culture.  I am most bothered by the acts themselves and the damage they do to our most defenseless and powerless image of God-bearing neighbors.  But there’s something else that bothers me:  THE SHOCK.  We can’t believe this has happened and that astounds me.

I’m outraged, but I am not shocked.  Over the last 20+ years, I have had the sacred pastoral task of holding the tender stories of courageous people as they entrust me to listen to their personal hell that is sexual abuse.  I have heard so many stories of sexual violation over these years that I’ve lost count—and not just by females, but by quite a few men too.  What strikes me is that these are the few that somehow found enough courage to open the festering wound that marks them with undeserved shame.  How many victims are out there carrying this daily heavy burden all alone and too afraid or ashamed to seek refuge?

If you think these public stories of sexual abuse are isolated incidents among older, male politicians and celebrities then you are dead wrong.  Sexual predators can be men or women.  They can be as young as late elementary (often confused and repeating the abuse they received) and old enough to be on their death beds.  They can be strangers, but often are friends and family members.  Those aren’t guesses for me.  They are real stories told by real people, most of whom feel voiceless and are the reason I am writing this in the first place.

Sexual abuse is a major contributor to every social ill you can imagine:  incarceration, divorce, substance abuse, sex addiction, depression/mental illness, and suicide.  It’s not only destroying individual lives, it is killing our world.

God has lead me to several personal responses in light of the prevalence of sexual abuse:

  1. I must repent of my own objectification of the opposite sex.
  2. I must be a person of conviction who denounces sexual abuse as evil no matter what social or political “team” the abuser is on.
  3. I must be ready to call sexual predators to repentance and find blunt and gracious ways to help them change.
  4. I must be ready to build a church culture that invites victims to a safe place of healing with no shame and complete empathy.

The danger of our shock is that it might lead us to the conclusion that this is a problem out there—somewhere in the strange fantasy worlds that are Hollywood and Washington D.C.  If that’s our conclusion, then we will leave millions of voiceless people in a hopeless state because neither they nor their abuser are famous enough for anyone to care.  This isn’t a celebrity problem.  It’s a community problem… school problem… church problem… family problem… and above all else, a sin problem.

Our surprise as a culture over these events tells me just how locked away and protected these secrets are.  To save face, compliant people have built a system of secrecy that imprisons not only the victim but their entire family or organization.  That is part of the reason we are shocked and why we think these are rare cases.  But if you would have heard the stories I have heard, you would know that sexual abuse is, unfortunately, the norm in our world.

So be outraged.  Be motivated to learn the truth about sexual abuse.  Be ready to be an advocate.  But don’t be shocked.  The prevalence of sexual abuse isn’t a swell, it’s a tidal wave.

“Sit” a Poem by Me

October 18, 2017

I found this poem I wrote during a sabbatical from a couple years ago.  I forgot about it until today.  I’m not a poet by any stretch of the imagination but for some reason I was inspired to write this and now share it with you.  Solitude has been one of my primary growing disciplines in my life and this poem expresses why.


When I sit with you I have nothing to give; no request, no offering, no words, no gifts

In the quiet, in the still, it is here that I find you speaking, being, loving

It is here that I find that your love isn’t earned.  No show.  No performance. No pretense

It is here that I learn to love your presence just being with you with nothing to give or gain

When I sit; I cannot go, I cannot do, I cannot give, I cannot run

When I sit; the noise fades around me, between us, and within me

You love to be with me when I sit and just commune…connect

You love my presence too- how can that be?  No expectation, no ledger, no score

The only love I have ever known is a love that runs, stands, walks, and evaluates

But you love me when I sit and my pride is washed away- my delusion of worth by production 

When I sit, the anxiety evaporates and I can rest in unimportance

The sky will not fall.  The people will not faint.  The order will not fragment

When I sit, you are God and I am not, you are necessary and I am not

That is rest; when I sit, that is peace, that is truth and grace

When I sit, I can listen-  Oh the humility of listening and the pride of talking

I can hear you, know you, dwell with you because you dwell with me

I can sit with you at church, home, work, and at play; in the hospital and at the party

You always sit with me – I want to sit with you because when I find you I find me

You sat with them in the garden, the temple, and the still small voice

You sat with us on the cross – right in the middle of muck and brokenness

You sit with me now – your word, your Spirit, your people, and your work

You sit on the throne as well as with the least

Now I sit with you any moment and any place – with practice I make space

It Took Me 172 Years to Read This Amazing Book and It Was Worth Every Second

October 3, 2017

After 172 years I finally finished The Count of Monte Cristo.  Thanks to the urging of Dax Hughes I picked up this gigantic novel and I couldn’t put it down.  No, it didn’t take me 172 years to read it (actually it took me about 6 weeks to read).  I finished it 172 years after it was published.  One of the best books I have ever read, Amazon lists it as #6 of the greatest novels ever written.  Guilt, sin, revenge, justice, secrets, redemption, love, grace and salvation are vivid portraits throughout the book.  The destruction of sin and our soul’s desire to be set free by the grace of God drives the story.

Below are my favorite quotes from the book.  Perhaps one of them will speak to you as it has to me.

Pride:  “relaxing his sentiment of pride, he addressed his supplications, not to God, but to man. God is always the last resource. Unfortunates, who ought to begin with God, do not have any hope in him till they have exhausted all other means of deliverance.”

Desperation:  “for in prosperity prayers seem but a mere medley of words, until misfortune comes and the unhappy sufferer first understands the meaning of the sublime language in which he invokes the pity of heaven!”

Justice:  “God may seem sometimes to forget for a time, while his justice reposes, but there always comes a moment when he remembers—and behold—a proof!”

Hypocrisy:  “’Pretend to think well of yourself, and the world will think well of you,’ an axiom a hundred times more useful in society nowadays than that of the Greeks, ‘Know thyself,’ a knowledge for which, in our days, we have substituted the less difficult and more advantageous science of knowing others.”

Character:  “it is true, then, that all our actions leave their traces—some sad, others bright—on our paths; it is true that every step in our lives is like the course of an insect on the sands;—it leaves its track!”

Regret:  “Thus, the greater number of a man’s errors come before him disguised under the specious form of necessity; then, after error has been committed in a moment of excitement, of delirium, or of fear, we see that we might have avoided and escaped it. The means we might have used, which we in our blindness could not see, then seem simple and easy, and we say, ‘Why did I not do this, instead of that?’”

Guilt:  “Moral wounds have this peculiarity,—they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

Suffering and Joy:  “There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.”


10 Things No One Told Me About My 40’s

September 18, 2017

Last week I turned 43.  It hurt a little.  For decades I have been known as a pastor who is “wise for his age.”  That’s the benefit of being a young pastor.  No one expects much from you so the bar is set low.  That curve is gone.  Now, I have to actually be wise.

I was unprepared from the developmental tasks of moving out of young adulthood into a season of middle age (those two words are painful to type).  I didn’t expect this transition to be so immense.  I’m now convinced that for me, 38-42 contained nearly as much change as 18-22.  Here are some things about my 40’s that no one told me.

(1) Sleeping hurts.  My greatest body aches aren’t from physical activity.  They are from sleeping in the wrong position.  One poor posture night of slumber can cost two weeks of neck pain.

(2) Success brings its own temptations and challenges.  Most of my life has been motivated by a fear to fail.  But no one told me that success has its own problems.  A midlife crisis isn’t feeling like you’ve failed as much as it if succeeding at your goals and finding out it they aren’t all you thought they would be.  Success can twist your soul toward emptiness, pride, and burnout.

(3) Accomplishments don’t feed my soul like they used to.  In my 20’s and 30’s I was driven to succeed through accomplishments.  When I earned a degree or led a successful church or ministry I would feel affirmed.  But the numbers don’t mean as much in my 40’s.  I still want to accomplish things but it is no longer a driving force for me.

(4) Relationships feed my soul.  Deeper communion with God, my wife, my family, and my close friends make my soul thrive.  I find myself cherishing these more than ever.

(5) I’ve been growing the whole time.  When you haven’t seen a kid for a couple of years it’s a shock how much they’ve grown.  But when you are around them all the time you don’t always notice it.  In this season of life I have more appreciation for the journey and the growth that has taken place.  I especially feel more equipped in ministry than ever before and can see how God has been shaping me for such a time as this.

(6) Worry about your kids gets worse as they get older.  Little kids have little problems but big kids have big problems.  As my kids get older I feel the weight of their becoming what they will be for years to come.  Who will they marry?  Will they be successful?  Will they be people of character?  Will they avoid devastating pitfalls?

(7) My body needs maintenance.  I’ve been a runner since I was 26 (if you don’t count track in high school).  Back then I would read articles about injury prevention and I thought they were a waste of time.  Now I feel like I get injured walking across shag carpet.  My health and energy must be maintained.  I need a plan for it if I am going to thrive over the next season of life.

(8) Solitude is a necessity. If you would have asked me in my younger years, I would have told you that I am an extrovert.  And it’s true, I am.  But for years I neglected the fact that I have an introverted side too.  Public exposure through ministry and preaching adds to the need for times of solitude.  For me it’s like breathing.  You can only breath out so long before you must breath in.

(9) I’ve started thinking about what I will leave behind. My 20’s and 30’s were all about the mark I would leave for the kingdom.  I still want to leave a mark but now I see that it will be a small influence if my mark comes only from my accomplishments.  Leaving something behind will influence generations to come.

(10) The best is yet to come. I’ve watched pastors grind it out in ministry in their final years.  Understandably, they are worn out and peaked some time in their 40’s and are hanging on for dear life.  I thought that would be me.  But now I see that if I attend to my soul, take care of my body, and value my relationships; I have the potential to be at my best as a pastor into my 60’s.  That’s a game changer.

An Urgent Plea to Parents of High School Students (or those about to be)

March 22, 2017

Parents are a group of weary people.  We carry an unbelievable burden.  God has never given me a more difficult task than parenting.  Every which way a parent turns they are burdened with guilt that if they were a good parent they would do “this” more and “that” less.  The last thing I want to do with this blog is plug in to parent guilt.  I’m not writing this because I think you are bad parent.  I’m writing it because our kids are stepping on a spiritual landmine and something has to be done about it.

I am abundantly troubled to watch massive spiritual casualties among high school students.  I’ve watched the replay over and over again in which middle school students with vibrant faith lose their way, get mired in spiritual apathy, or moral disintegration sometime in the transition to high school.  Something is happening between middle school and high school to many of our students that has to be noticed by the church and by Christian parents.

Why is this happening at this age?

  1. They have new options of how to spend their time.
  2. They are faced with moral situations that they aren’t yet able to handle.
  3. They are at a developmental stage in which they are seeking independence from parents.

I’ve been a pastor for over 20 years and I am begging you as a parent to notice this pitfall.  I’m urging you, pleading with you, and begging you to listen to one simple challenge from me.  The independence your high school student is experiencing means they need you MORE, not LESS, as a spiritual anchor and guide.  We tend to think they are at an age in which their spiritual journey is their own.  Their independence means parents need to take their hands off the wheel, right?  Wrong!  High school students are at a hybrid time in their life where they have access to adult options but do not yet have the wisdom or discernment to handle those options.  At the same time they haven’t had enough life experience with its wounds and exhaustion to know just how much they need a relationship with Jesus to just survive.  Parents, don’t take your hands off the spiritual wheel!  Greater independence requires grater discernment, which requires a greater need for a loving and wise guide through these minefields.  So don’t stop leading them spiritually.  Don’t stop putting them in situations where they are invested in spiritually.

Parent, your high school student needs you to be a Christ following source of grace and wisdom more than ever!

Let me unpack this:

  1. We’re not talking indoctrination. Your kids can’t live off your faith.  Faith can’t be forced.  They have to own it apart from you.  I’m not talking more discipline.  I’m talking more spiritual investment, guidance, and roots in Christian community.  I’m talking being more intentional with their spiritual growth.  More discipline might be needed but that’s not my point here.  As I parent, too often I have reacted to my kids poor choices by trying to make up for a lack of spiritual investment in a quick and fierce manner.  That won’t work.
  2. However, parents are meant to set a culture for their family.  That means that you decide where your family spends its time and how you are going to operate.  When no spiritual priorities and expectations are set, there is a clear lack of Christian leadership in the home.  The kids can easily lead the home in the light of a lack of clearly stated parental priorities.  Trust that what you pour into your children spiritually won’t depart from them.  Don’t take your hand off the wheel.  Your independent teenager needs you more than ever!!!
  3. Parents, it all starts with your fellowship with Jesus.  Are you in God’s word?  Are you a worshiper who sings to Jesus with passion?  Do you live with a calling toward mission?  Are you being shaped through Christian community?  Your faith matters.  It is nearly impossible for followers (kids) to go where their leaders (parents) are unwilling to go.
  4. High school students rarely thrive spiritually apart from Christian community.  It’s common knowledge that during adolescence our peers become more important than our parents to us.  With that said, Parents, you should fight hell and high water to get your kids rooted in student ministry.  I am utterly amazed to watch high schoolers disconnect from student ministry with seemingly little urgency from parents.  Stop what you are doing right now and decide to do all you can to get your student plugged in to their student youth group!
  5. Be steady and stay gracious when faced with resistance.  What do you do when they have no interest in spiritual things?  Do they have a choice whether to go to Christmas or Thanksgiving with the family?  Do they have a choice about how late to stay out?  You set limits all the time.  This is no different.  It’s best to establish your family as committed to being regular and rooted in a faith community so that it isn’t a question whether you are going to church or participating in student ministry.  It’s expected.  It’s part of your family culture.  If regular worship attendance is “iffy” for your family then don’t be surprised if it is “iffy” for your student.  What kind of parental investment do you make so that your kids can be successful in sports, academics, dance/cheer, or other activities.  What if you invested in their spiritual growth with the same passion and commitment?  At the same time when they resist don’t react, but be steady and consistent.  Being a parent means doing what’s right, not what’s popular.
  6. Disciple with a long term plan in mind.  Often, the seeds we plant now don’t produce fruit for a while.  Only an insane person would plant a seed and expect a fruit-producing-plant the next day.  We are making spiritual investments in our high school students not because it is working in their life now, but because we only have about 18 years to pour into them and we are going to make the most of it.  Parent out of gospel conviction, not out of what gets immediate results.  It’s common to hear a mature adult believer talk about past rebellion and about those who refused to give up on their faith.  Your child’s story isn’t over.  God isn’t done.  Believe that what you do now can make a huge difference in the years to come.
  7. All that’s at stake is their life and their eternity.  What good will it do if your kids gain the whole world but their own soul is ruined and lost for eternity?  Make their spiritual journey a priority!!!

I’m urging you to pray, stay vitally connected in conversation, and set a tone of spiritual commitment with your high school students.  Don’t make the mistake of believing that independence makes you less necessary.  It makes you more necessary.  High schoolers need a gracious but steady “home-base” to come back to that is helping guard them from pitfalls, live with wisdom, and set their eyes on Christ as a worthy prize as they explore the world.

There are no guarantees.  You might pour the truth and love of Jesus into your kids and they might reject it.  That would be bad.  But at least you would know that you did your part.  What would be worse is to watch them reject Jesus or spiral in life destruction knowing that when you had the most influence, Jesus was neglected.

Why Our Church Has Multiple Senior Pastors

January 25, 2017

Recently our church, at the direction of our elders, changed the title of Dax Hughes, who was our Senior Associate Pastor, to “Senior Pastor, Leadership”.  My title changed from Senior Pastor to “Senior Pastor, Preaching”.  Dax and I were college roommates 22 years ago and God has formed a special brotherhood between us.  Really, this title change makes clearer how we actually function, namely, we have shared the senior leadership role for years.  We aren’t trailblazers.  Many other churches have done this before us.  We aren’t evangelists who think everyone should do this.  In fact, many churches shouldn’t do it.

With that said, we’ve had a lot of people curious about this change knowing that it departs from the traditional norm.  So, I thought it might be helpful to express why we made this change.  So, here’s a list of reasons.

(1)  We believe plurality of leadership is biblical.  It’s a rarity to see Christian leaders in the New Testament alone.  Jesus sent disciples out by 2.  Paul makes it clear that he works in teams most of the time.  Even our one true God expresses Himself in trinitarian plurality and rejoices in the love and collaboration between the Father, Son, and Spirit.  This alone does not mean every church should have multiple senior pastors.  It simply means that God’s plan for all of us includes the plurality of life in community.  We can say then that having multiple senior pastors  is at least not unbiblical.

(2)  Because we have the option.  It’s an option for us and we believe it is the best option when it’s available.  We can do this because of the kind of brotherhood, trust, and compatibility that exists between Dax and I.  We realize not everyone has that.  In fact, churches would be better off not having multiple senior pastors than having the wrong chemistry.  Our harmonious chemistry gives us this option.

(3) Empowerment.  Our multiple senior pastor model reflects the strategy of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 where he describes the body of Christ functioning more powerfully as a unified but diverse group.  Diversity enhances the body’s ability and unity makes sure that it works in cooperation.  Dax and I have the same philosophy and doctrinal convictions but we do find that our unique gifting make us each more effective.  In other words, we have the belief that we are both better when working together than apart.

(4) Increases wisdom and decreases burdens.   We are an elder led church.  A lot of churches are scared of elder led because they fear that it will give too much power to leaders.  I think it does the opposite.  Every decision we make occurs among spiritually mature and trusted brothers by consensus.  When leaders are isolated they make many of their decisions on their own.  This increases the burden on the individual who is alone in convincing an entire church of their direction and it decreases the wisdom of the decision. The larger the church, the larger the burden.  I have no doubt that multiple senior pastors works better in an elder system than a congregational one because it is the consensus of the whole elder group that determines the path rather than two individual perspectives competing with each other.  If we are willing to share leadership in humility to trusted, proven people then we will also share the burdens and be less likely to burn out.

(5) Application of a kingdom understanding of power.  Some folks have not been able to understand my motives because they see me as someone who is relinquishing power.  However, doesn’t the teachings of the New Testament and the example of Christ lead us to a different understanding of power than our world’s understanding?  Christ taught that those who are great don’t “lord” their power over others but instead serve.  He lived this vision out as well, especially through the cross.  We have to be careful making a wholesale application of business models to church because we are a different kind of society in which those who are last are first, and those who serve are the greatest.  We have a different version of power.  I haven’t lost.  I have gained.

(6) Displays Christian community and brotherly love.  I’m afraid our strict hierarchies are a reaction to sin not a reflection of the heart of God.  Since we are sinful and full of ego, we think have to have one dominant leader or there is a lack of harmony.  It’s a safeguard because of pride.  However, shouldn’t we long in our church leadership for a modeling of humble, selfless, submitting, cooperating brotherly love that looks more like Christian community and less like the power structures of the world?  I realize sometimes we can’t have that because we still live in a fallen world and church leaderships are not immune to it.  However, when it is possible, it seems to me that it should be the goal.


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