Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Aug
02

The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep
She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep
She filled my life with color, canceled plans and trashed my car
But none of that is ever who we are
– Brandi Carlile, The Mother

Brandi Carlile’s The Mother is a beautiful and moving meditation on parenthood that should be required listening for any parent to be. The song refuses to glamorize being a mother or father but instead balances the sacrifice and joy of it. Parenthood is a difficult calling that will challenge anyone, but it is also a holy and life-changing work full of wonder and surprise. The hard things of life are often the most beautiful.

Being a parent should change us. If not, something is wrong. Carlile unpacks how this process occurs. Through sacrifice, we become someone who we weren’t before. We give up selfishness. We no longer view ourselves as the center of our existence. We must choose the needs of our children over our wants and desires. We have a responsibility to another human being. We receive a new identity. We are now mother or father. 

Throughout the song, Carlile mines the depths of parenthood but it is not just parenthood she is exploring. She is teaching us about life. Where we find meaning and happiness. It is not by doing whatever we want to do or accumulating money or things. These are superficial pursuits and they do not lead to lasting meaning or happiness. What does lead to lasting meaning and happiness is to pursue something beyond ourselves. It is to give rather than receive. It is to sacrifice for a cause greater than us. 

Children are a great blessing but not every parent recognizes this. Some parents have kids and continue to cling to selfishness or refuse to sacrifice. This is a recipe for disaster. In this scenario, parents often end up resenting their children because they are viewed as a barrier to other pursuits. In a family like this, no one is content. There is often friction because people are warring against one another to get what they want.

Carlile correctly recognizes in the final verse that children do not hold us back. Instead, children rightly viewed and appreciated bless us and help us go beyond what we were capable of before becoming a parent. Every moment with a child is an opportunity to grow, delight, and experience wonder.

We live in a world that tells us to pursue our dreams and do whatever we want. Carlile reminds us of something greater than these pursuits. It is becoming a mother or father. It is a challenging calling that if accepted and embraced will exceed any dreams or desires we may have. 

Click the link below to watch a video of the song.

The Mother

Jul
17

One modern idea that needs to die is that love means agreement. Such an idea cheapens love. One may love a person one day but then be forced to relinquish their love because of changed beliefs. If this is love, then every marriage would end in divorce because no two people agree on everything.

I love many people with whom I have disagreements. I deeply love my mother and grandmother, and yet there are things in which we don’t see eye to eye. If love is agreement, I would have to end my relationship with the people who raised me and brought me into this world. This would be absurd. My relationship with my mother and grandmother is better because we do not always agree. I need their wisdom and counsel because I am not always right.

If love means agreement, people would likely lie to maintain their relationships with others. This is not love. Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13 as that which “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” I want my friends and family to be honest with me. Love is telling the truth. Love is seeking the good of the other and this never involves lying.

Christian love is certainly not based on agreement. The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount make this clear.

“Love your enemies…For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt. 5:44, 46)

An enemy is someone with whom we disagree about something and yet Jesus requires us to love them. Evil people love the people who love them. There is nothing virtuous about loving a person who agrees with our every thought and desire. What is virtuous is to love the person with whom we disagree, to love the person who does not hold our beliefs. This is Christian love.

Love based on agreement will never change the world or make society better. What changes hearts and makes the world better is a love that says “I know what you believe and I disagree but I love you anyway.” Christ displayed this kind of love and it is the love we are called to imitate.

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

Jul
07

What is church? A word like church is difficult to explain because we have ideas that are not quite right. It is not a building or Sunday morning worship. Church is people, but it is more than this. It is what we do, and it is who we are becoming. It is a people who are being transformed into the image of Christ acting as a light to the world.

Last Sunday, I saw one of the clearest pictures of church I have ever seen. Ronell Wilson, who is legally blind and has had his hands and leg amputated due to diabetes, led singing for us. Ronell has endured multiple trials in his life, and he remains one of the most encouraging people you will meet. When he was made aware we needed a song leader, he volunteered. He didn’t focus on his limitations. He focused on what he could do. We needed a voice to lead us, and Ronell offered his.

Ronell understood he could not lead singing on his own. He was going to need help. Someone needed to enlarge the songs so he could see them. We needed hands to flip the song pages and operate the clicker for the presentation. Two of our young men offered their hands. It took a team of people to make this happen, and they were glad to do so.

What is church? It is the body of Christ. It is people with mouths, eyes, hands, and feet who see a need and offer whatever they have in the service of the Lord. It is people coming together to be and do things they could never do on their own. It is giving and receiving. It is following Jesus together in Christian love.

Last Sunday, I saw Christ’s body and I was blessed.

Jul
05

Lots of churches are looking for advice. The reasons for this are plentiful:

Attendance is not what it was pre-COVID. How do we reach our community? Our congregation is aging. The world we live in is confusing.

Some of these issues are complex. There are no easy answers. However, the worst thing a church can do is nothing.

What are churches to do? Where should they begin?

Find something and do it well. It could be any number of things. It could be serving the poor, caring for widows, teaching young people, VBS, adopting a school, feeding the hungry, mentoring youth, showing hospitality, etc.

Figure out what you can do well. Tell people this is what you are going to do. Come up with a plan. Get people on board and do it.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the challenges you face. Focus on what you can do. People will take notice and be encouraged. You can make a difference simply by doing one thing well.

Jul
02

The ways of the world are plentiful. They often shape us more than we realize. One worldly way that continues to grow in prominence is the temptation to share our opinion about every headline. Social media is continually filled with outrage over whatever is happening. 24-hour-news channels train us to have opinions over minor things that should go unnoticed. Words are used as weapons to lash out at anyone who disagrees. This is not the way God wants us to live. His way is different.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

We never see Jesus commenting or giving his opinion on the events of his day. The one time he was asked about the latest headlines, he refused to speak on the matter and instructed everyone to repent (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus changed the world by other means. He did not follow the world’s ways.

We are not being a light when we do as the world does. When we act like the world, our words and actions go unnoticed or we are seen as hypocrites because our actions (ways) do not match our words. If we are going to stand out and make a difference, we must resist the temptations of the world and adopt the ways of Jesus.

Does this mean we never speak out or comment on what is happening around us?

Absolutely not! What it means is we go about things differently. We are slow to speak. We do not speak out of anger. We refuse to use our words as weapons. We focus on loving and serving the people around us so their hearts may be opened to receiving the truth. Our focus is on souls rather than on winning arguments. We choose the Jesus way.

Jun
23

Why is Christianity declining in America?

Successful movements get three things right. They give people a sense of identity. They form vibrant communities where people feel welcomed and can find support. They provide a mission in which people naturally want to share what they have discovered.

We need identity, community, and mission. We need to know who we are. We need a place to belong. We need something in which we can believe. If the church does not provide identity, community, and mission, people will look elsewhere.

What has happened?

The church has in many ways failed when it comes to identity, community, and mission, and cultural groups and movements have succeeded. People have abandoned their faith and replaced it with political parties, sports teams, LGBTQ, NRA, BLM, QANON, etc. Why? Because they offer identity, community, and mission.

How does the church move forward?

We must focus on identity, community, and mission.

Identity: Christianity is distinct from the culture. It is not the same as being an American, or being a Democrat, or being a Republican. Being a Christian means something. It is a unique set of beliefs that sets us apart from those around us. When we cannot articulate what sets us apart, we don’t have a strong sense of identity.

Community: Christianity was never meant to be something we do for one hour on Sunday. The church is a family. We are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers to one another. Without community, the church dies. God calls us to do life together. We are to regularly share meals together, serve together, and spend time with one another. Christianity should be attractive, not because of a worship service, but because we offer a place to belong.

Mission: What gives us our identity and binds us together is Jesus, and we should want to share this message with the world. If we do not understand who we are in Christ, we have nothing to share. If we profess to be a community but do nothing that looks like community, we have no place to invite people to belong. A strong sense of our identity in Christ and a Christ-centered community will naturally lead to mission. We will want to tell people who we are and what we have discovered.

May
05

Christians are called to be a voice for the voiceless (Prov. 31:8-9) and to care for the least of these (Matt. 25:40). Unborn children belong to both of these categories. They cannot speak for themselves, nor are they able to defend or care for themselves. Thankfully, Christians have been a voice for the unborn when no one else would. As many championed individual rights, Christians called people to think of others. As many embraced libertine ideals, Christians upheld moral principles. Christians shed a light on one of the greatest injustices our country has ever known. The shedding of innocent blood is not something that should ever be taken lightly (Prov. 6:16-17).

We must not view the final days of Roe as an end but rather as a beginning. Our work is far from over. The work ahead of us will require more time, energy, and sacrifice. We must now provide for the unborn and unwanted children for which we have so boldly fought. Our calling to care for the least of these remains the same. We cannot fight for life just to give up on life. We must press on with the work we began.

What are we to do?

Adoption needs to become more common. It is something parents and young married couples should seriously consider.

Churches need to encourage adoption by stepping up and helping. Adoption is not always cheap or easy. Parents who choose to adopt need a support system. They may need financial assistance. Those who cannot adopt need to find ways of easing the burden of those who do.

Adoption is the ideal scenario for unwanted children, but not all children will find a loving Christian home. Foster homes will need additional help and support in the coming months and years. Churches need to do more than send $50 a month. Foster homes need financial support, but they also need more. They need partners to help them with their various needs.

The world is angry, and it is watching. It will not be easy, but we have a great opportunity in front of us. The world needs to see love. They need to see our love for unwanted children. They need to know we are a people who back up our words with actions. They also need to see our love for people with whom we disagree. Many ugly things will be said out of anger and frustration. We must continue to choose love.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

Apr
27

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

“Nostalgia is a very human trait. When school children returning from summer vacation are asked to name good and bad things about their summer, the lists tend to be equally long. As the year goes on, however, if the exercise is repeated, the good lists grows longer and the bad list gets shorter, until by the end of the year the children are describing not their actual vacations but their idealized image of ‘vacation.'” – Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were

Nostalgia is a drug that inoxicates us into believing an idea of the past that is not accurate and often ignores the problems and hurts that were present then. Nostalgia entraps us by causing us to cling to an idea that can never be recreated. Nostalgia can cause us to be overly critical of others because no one can live up to its perfect standard.

Nostalgia robs us of being able to make a difference. It causes us to have an unhealthy focus on the past rather than addressing the present or looking forward to the future. It is helpful to know the past, but we shouldn’t live in it. We need to live in the present while working towards a better future.

Nostalgia is a temptation for Christians and churches. A church that has declined over the years wants to look back to its glory days. The problem is that nostalgia only leads to further decline. No one wants to be a part of a church that only talks about what they used to be. Christians who embrace nostalgia are in danger of turning away the next generation of Christians. Young people do not want to be a part of a group that continually looks down upon them and thinks they cannot do anything right.

What are we to do?

God has put you in this moment. Live in it. You will not be judged by how greatly you long for the past. You will be judged by what you do now.

You can make a difference. Turn your attention to the present. Pay attention to what is happening all around you. There are people in need. There are young people who need mentors. There are lonely people who need friends. It is not always easy living in the present, but this is the work God calls us to.

You do not have a time machine. No matter how much you long for the past, you can never go back. Things will never be as they were. That’s ok. God does not promise to take us back to our childhood. He promises us a better future. He is at work now to redeem creation, and he invites us to be a part of this work. Look ahead and focus on what God is doing.

Apr
25

I wrote a post in September of 2020 entitled 5 Reasons Why Ministers Are Leaving. At that time, tensions were high in many congregations. People were anxious and frustrated by COVID. We were in the middle of a contentious presidential election, and racial issues were a hotly debated topic in our nation. Ministers and church leaders were feeling the pressure, and some took this opportunity to leave full-time ministry.

We now know more than we did in 2020. We know the exodus from one occupational field to another was not unique to ministry. Healthcare, education, and other professions experienced the same thing. We know from surveys that many more ministers contemplated leaving than left. Does this mean we will continue to see ministers exit ministry in the coming years, or was this a season of learning and growing for ministers who now plan on staying? We do not know, and it may be a mixture of both. We also have more data about why ministers left and what was happening in our society.

So, why did ministers leave?

It wasn’t just because of COVID. Most people blame the pandemic because that was what everyone was talking about, and it was on most people’s minds. COVID directly impacted churches. They had to stop meeting in person for a period of time. Church leaders had to make difficult decisions. There were tense meetings, and there was criticism no matter what was decided. The pandemic was stressful for ministers, but most ministers are used to dealing with stressful and challenging situations. If COVID was all we faced, I don’t believe we would have seen as many ministers leave.

Ministers left because of politics. We cannot put all the blame on politics, but it was the main culprit. Every minister I know who left full-time ministry attributed some of the cause to politics, and many of them named it as the primary reason. Why? COVID caused stressed for ministers, but what was happening politically was disheartening. Ministers would preach on truth on Sunday and see church members spread lies on Monday. Ministers would teach a lesson on loving others, only to log on to social media and see members participating in hate and name calling. Ministers would teach on Christian ethics and then see members defend or dismiss sexual immorality, lying, murder, slander, greed, etc. Experiencing this week after week was too much for some ministers. Ministers began questioning if what they were doing even mattered. Stress can be handled up to a point, but when one begins to think their work does not matter, it is difficult to keep going.

People have lost trust in institutions. People no longer trust government, media, police, educators, and even church like they once did. What does this have to do with ministers leaving? According to research done by Barna in 2020, “Less than a third of Christians said they ‘definitely’ consider a pastor a ‘trustworthy source of wisdom.'” Ministers continue to prepare sermons and classes but these messages do not have the influence they once did even among Christians. Ministers feel the weight of this shift. Why keep pouring your life into something when the majority of a congregation may not see you as a trustworthy source? Ministers are frustrated when political pundits or sports figures have more discipling authority than the person who has dedicated his life to following God. They wonder if their gifts could be better utilized in a different setting. Some ministers have left traditional ministry positions to do ministry in house churches or other settings that do not resemble an institutional church.

Churches sometimes gave in to those who were loudest. Chris Bail in his book Breaking the Social Media Prism and Jonathan Haidt in a recent article for The Atlantic have both highlighted how social media silences the moderate majority and gives voice to extremes on the left and the right. Both authors are commenting on what is happening in our nation, but it is also true of some congregations. 90% of a congregation might hold to a healthy Christianity with orthodox views, but they are being held hostage by the 10% that is most vocal. These extremes can also play out in regards to the minister. 90% of the congregation may think the minister is doing a great job, but all the minister hears from are the 10% that are most vocal. In this scenario, a minister might get the impression that the 10% speaks for everyone. Obviously, ministers need to be aware that a vocal minority does not represent everyone, but congregations also need to find ways to give voice to the quiet majority. It is not healthy for a church to be ruled by a small minority that shouts the loudest.

There is still much more to be learned as data and studies continue to be released. Churches need to do what they can to keep and encourage their ministers. They need to be raising up young people who know the importance of ministry and witness firsthand how ministers are valued in their congregation so that one day they might become ministers. It is essential that we invest in the future and seek first the kingdom of God.

Apr
01

“People disagreeing everywhere you look
Makes you wanna stop and read a book”

– Bob Dylan, Watching the River Flow

At first glance, one might not think there is anything special about this line from a 1971 blues-rock song from Bob Dylan. However, there is always more than meets the eye with Dylan lyrics. One might consider that Dylan wrote political songs but never involved himself in politics. He was aware of what was going on and concerned about right and wrong but never wanted anything to do with the partisan wranglings that consumed people. Instead, if one pays attention to Dylan’s lyrics or listens to his Nobel speech, you know he has immersed himself in great literature. Rather than keeping up with the headlines and sound bites (people disagreeing everywhere you look), Dylan spent his time with wisdom that has been proven over the years (makes you wanna stop and read a book). 

I believe there is something to learn here from Dylan. We live in a time where there is more obsession over headlines and sound bites than when Dylan originally penned this song. We now have social media where opinions are plentiful and disagreements are many. People are transfixed by what is trending and move rapidly from one controversy to another without ever pausing to seek wisdom from a deeper source. In this context, Dylan offers us sage advice.

“People disagreeing everywhere you look
Makes you wanna stop and read a book”

What is needed is not another opinion on whatever is trending. We have too many of those already. What we are lacking is people who have spent time with the classics, people who have read ancient literature, and people who have wrestled deeply with Holy Writ. Just because we have more opinions nowadays does not mean we are any wiser. We are in need of individuals who have logged off and spent time growing in knowledge and wisdom.

Having knowledge of the latest headlines and an opinion does not equate with having something meaningful to say. More is needed and that more is wisdom. The problem is that wisdom takes time and effort. It means pausing to read a good book that might not be very easy to read. We may encounter words we do not know and ideas that are unfamiliar. We may have to learn about a culture that is unlike ours. We may have our own ideas and opinions challenged by those who came before us. Wisdom comes at a cost, but it is worth it. 

I believe Dylan is on to something. I think I will pay less attention to the people disagreeing everywhere I look and spend more time in old books that have much to offer. Hopefully, I will grow a little wiser along the way.