Customer Service Christianity

If you realize that you are in the hands of the One who made you...

If you realize that you are in the hands of the One who is all powerful, then you can live in peace even during the toughest times. You can have the patience required. You never have to lose your temper. You never have to worry. Just do what you can do as well as you can and let God take care of the rest.

As a pastor, I struggle with the customer service mindset. The idea that we are to please the customer.

Someone comes to our church, and I preach a message that runs them off. I don't think that I preach in a harsh way, but I don't neglect to teach on tough issues. Issues that would be best to leave untouched if I was in the customer service mindset. In the customer service mindset, I would just avoid them or even co-opt their beliefs and express them in the message. People like nothing better than to hear what they already believe. Why not just give them what they want?

A visitor who has come to the church a few times schedules a meeting with me to hear our view on a few issues. If you have ever been in the ministry, you know how churched people coming to your church usually works. You've experience these sorts of meetings. I don't blame them for wanting to find out if they will fit in well before they have made a serious time investment. However, the weird thing about all of this is that I believe God sent these people to our church for a reason. I am constantly praying that God will send people to our church. I believe He often does, but then the churched instincts of those He sends sets in. They will ask me during the meeting about their pet doctrine. I will usually explain, in as lovingly a way as I possibly can, that I don't hold that position. The customer service mindset tells me to agree with them, but I can't. And this encounter usually marks the end of a relationship that could have grown and been used by God to help further His kingdom here on earth. Why not just give them what they want?

I can't grow this church by appealing to the societal pressures to cave and the religious pressures to conform.

As a matter of fact, I can't grow a church.

In the midst of all these thoughts, I came to the strange realization that the customer service mindset isn't a bad one to have. It's just that I have now realized that only One customer matters. I must please Him. I must serve Him. I must cave to His truths.

And then, I can live in the peace of knowing that I am in the hands of the One who made me.

You may not be facing the same pressures in the same way that a pastor faces. But you are placed in similar situations that this same principle can be applied. The world will tell you to conform, yet you only have One to conform to. The world will try to get you distracted, yet you only have One to stay focused on.

Those who follow Jesus passionately will often find that they don't fit comfortably in the world of religion, nor do they fit comfortably in the world of the lost. Yet we are called to worship God in the midst of both and help transform them to His image. We can't change the world; He can change the world through us.

In the midst of all the awkwardness and perceived isolation that comes from pursue God's plan for this world and our churches, we must realize that we are being exactly who we were called to be and are never alone. We are loved.

We are servants of the all powerful God. He will do what He can. He will take care of us. Live faithful.

The Day After. Duck Dynasty. Phil Robertson. A&E. And Jesus.

Yesterday, we all figured out how to digest Phil Robertson losing his job, yet he has more money than most of us will ever have. He'll be fine.

How about today and tomorrow we spend time figuring out how to help those who aren't as well off as Phil Robertson. For that matter, not even close to being as well off as us. The least of these.

It's Christmastime and there are people who are in great need around the world. We can help.

For some reason, we get more excited over an issue like this rather than helping the poor who are dying from bad drinking water and being malnourished. I think our priorities are wrong.

If we mobilized in a similar fashion to stop world hunger, to provide clean drinking water, good education or health care around the world, or to stand up for our brothers and sisters in Syria being slaughtered, I think the church would be a better witness for Jesus.

I wonder how we stand up for our rights and still look like Jesus. Can we do both?

I'm reminded of the humble act of Jesus at this time of year. He had all the reason in the world to not humble Himself, to stand up for His rights, yet He counted others as better than Himself and did it all for our sake.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8 ESV).
This is the Christmas story. God emptied himself and took on the likeness of us. When we refuse to allow the true story of Christmas to be drowned out by all the noise and busyness of this season, we see that this example of God becoming flesh was done to teach us how to live.

It's tough to follow in His steps and consider others better than ourselves. That word, "better" in the original language has to do with something of surpassing or exceptional value. It's the same word Paul used in Philippians 3:8 when he says, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." This is a radical teaching. Jesus had the attitude that we were better than He was. Jesus viewed us as better than Himself. Jesus. Me. Better. That's crazy. But that's what love is. And Paul calls us to have that same view toward others—an attitude that cherishes one another, extols the value of one another, and looks for the best in one another instead of the worst. When we do that--when we start to love others the way God loves them, it will be much easier to be humble and sacrifice for them.

Maybe we need to follow in His steps and do the same, humble ourselves and serve. It's always difficult though. How do we make the executives at A&E feel loved and that we view them as better than ourselves while also encouraging and supporting our brothers and sisters? I fear that they may feel just as attacked as we do. Have we fallen prey to joining in on a cycle of attack? If we cause them to lose their job over the stance that they took, are we any better? Are we actually viewing them like Jesus did, as being more significant than ourselves?

The boycott page on Facebook already has 1.3 million likes. That's amazing. That's more than World Vision has accumulated in years. We could stop world hunger if we had the will as a people. Western civilization eats more frozen desserts in a year than it would take to end world hunger. It is estimated that it would take about 4% of our military budget to stop world hunger. We just don't want it. It just breaks my heart.

I would love for us to mobilize like we are showing that we can for Duck Dynasty, except this time to stop world hunger. If we could channel this passion, fervor, and zeal into that, imagine what could happen.

I doubt we will. Our passion is more directed at this because we do feel threatened that our freedoms could be lost. Although, I don't believe this is a first amendment issue, it is an issue where we feel that we can't express beliefs that we share in fear that people will come after us. I'm reminded of Louie Giglio at Obama's inauguration ceremony, Orson Scott Card writing Superman, and then this. If you upset gay activists, they have proven that they will go after your job. I agree that it is scary.

But we currently have our freedoms yet we still have world hunger. Maybe we aren't using our freedom the way we should.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13 ESV).
We have been blessed to be a blessing.


I just wanted to link three of my favorite organizations doing the work I mention in this post. If you are looking for a place to direct a Christmas gift this year, I am sure they would appreciate your support.

Change Agent Network
Hope 2 Liberia
International Disaster Emergency Service

Six Points For Christians to Remember in the Wake of the Duck Dynasty/Phil Robertson Story

In the wake of Phil Robertson being suspended for his recent remarks on homosexuality in GQ, I thought I would remind Christians of a few points that I think we quickly forget in situations like these.

Here's the relevant section of the interview.

What, in your mind, is sinful?
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

#1. This is not a first amendment issue. 

Phil is not being imprisoned for stating his religious beliefs, nor is he prohibited by the government from saying what he believes. His employer has the liberty to fire him for projecting an image that they don't want projected. That's A&E's right just like it is the right of Phil Robertson to state his beliefs. Don't claim it's a first amendment issue.

As for what Phil stated, I don't believe he crossed the line and expressed anything wrong here. He didn't say homosexuality leads to bestiality like some interpret what he said as. If that is your take on it, then reading comprehension classes are necessary. He was just listing what sin is in response to being asked, "What, in your mind, is sinful?" His jokes about homosexuality being less preferable than heterosexuality were tasteless, but that doesn't seem to be what the furor is about.

Here's the thing. I get in trouble as a pastor for expressing the view that Phil expressed even within the confines of a church. That's to a crowd who should believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. So we have to be careful of where we are when we address certain issues and how we address them. For the world, the issue of homosexuality is not the issue we need to approach them with. They need to hear that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, that we need to be part of the kingdom of God, and that Jesus gives us access to that despite the sin in our lives. Jesus wants them to make Him Lord of their lives. He will deal with the other stuff after that.

We must always be people of grace and truth to the world because we want the world to see Jesus. All grace. All truth. Be graceful, not hateful. Be truthful, not compromising.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV).
#2. This is a persecution issue.

I hate to throw the word persecution around because I think the Christian community sometimes suffers from a persecution complex. Yet that is what this is. A brother in Jesus was suspended from his job because of his Christian beliefs. It may not a persecution of deathly proportions like the founders of the faith experienced or our brothers and sisters around the world experience at times.

Phil Robertson's story isn't anything new. Orson Scott Card lost a Superman gig because of his view on gay marriage. The Superman story itself wasn't controversial. Gay activists just didn't want someone who was against gay marriage to write a Superman story despite the story having nothing to do with the issue of homosexuality. The gay activists won. Orson Scott Card lost the job.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them (Romans 12:14 ESV)

#3. We must remember how to respond to persecution.

We respond in love. Turning the other cheek. Not pounding our chests. We don't go around and take vengeance. We don't stand up and selfishly declare our rights. We're trying to project the light of Jesus into the darkness.

Jesus. The one who, lest we forget in our attempts to force our faith on others, had his rights violated to the point of nails being driven through his wrists. He suffered so that others may live.

He modeled grace and forgiveness in the midst of persecution. We must do the same. That is if we really want to follow Him rather than just claim to follow Him.

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:39 ESV).

#4. The world does not, nor may it ever, understand the difference between us saying something is a sin and not combining that belief with judgement.

We know that claiming something is a sin doesn't mean that we hate the sinner. We claim that homosexuality is a sin, but we don't hate homosexuals. The same is true with every other sin. We love sinners. We hate sin.

I haven't quite put my finger around why this is so hard to grasp. It may have to do with the fact that we also recognize that we are sinners saved only by His grace. We are not worthy of the blessedness of the presence of the Spirit in our lives, yet God gives us it anyway thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. So we recognize the sinfulness in ourselves, so we can't hate other sinners. 

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24 ESV.
#5. God will work this out for His glory.

We seem to always get worried and worked up when situations like this happen. We forget the peace that God has given to us. The patience that we are to live in. The presence of God in our lives, at work in and through us.

This situation will bring Him glory. We just need to remain faithful, pray for the people involved, and be a witness to the love of Jesus in your sphere of relationships even during times like these.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 ESV).
#6. Love.

We need to always be loving. When we don't want to, we need to love. When we find it difficult, we need to love. When we are unpopular and attacked for our views, we need to love. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we need to love. The world needs the love of Jesus now as much as it ever has. We are the way that love is poured out. We need to love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).
The bigger issue is us rather than Phil Robertson. How do we deal with persecution or perceived persecution. Do we lash out? Or do we turn the other cheek? Do we seek vengeance and boycott? Or do we seek to bless?

I can't control GLAAD or Phil Robertson. I can influence myself and hopefully a few others. We need to be more loving, even when we feel like we are attacked. We need to be more graceful when presenting truth.

Nobody wins in the conversation when you compare homosexuality to any sin because the world doesn't want homosexuality to be considered a sin. Robertson made a big mistake in mentioning bestiality in connection with homosexuality. I would compare bestiality with my sin of materialism or gossip. I am just as much of a sinner as someone addicted to bestiality, yet I am still saved by grace.

Grace. It's a concept that frees us from hating murderers, pedophiles, warmongers, and whatever sin we despise. For if we hate them, then, in a way, we should hate ourselves. Our addictions and sin do not lessen God's love for us. We are made in His image. We shouldn't tarnish that. Yet when we do, God's grace still covers us.

Which Who Are You? - The Grinch And Our Spiritual Lives

Which Who are you? 

Cindy Lou Who is passionate, seeking love in a world that doesn't quite exhibit the love she knows that we should be showing each other.

Lou Lou Who, Cindy's father, knows the right thing to do but is timid in doing it.

Mayor Augustus Who is old, in control, and doesn't want to change.

And the Grinch, who hasn't experienced true love because he was treated unfairly as a child, by Mayor Augustus Who himself, and has since isolated himself from those who may hurt him. And in the loneliness, he has grown a hard, cruel heart that needs changed.

Are you Cindy Lou Who, then Jesus has a message for you.

There are two types of Cindy Lou Whos among us. Those who are zealous despite their age, and the kids among us, who seem naturally passionate. Unfortunately, both types of Cindy Lou Whos run across parents and other Christians who train them to not be so passionate and steer them to focus on the wrong things. Instead of encouraging the Cindy Lou Whos to be radically loving, the world tries try to tame them down.

But Jesus' message for the Cindy Lou Whos is to keep it up. Don't be disheartened by the opposition to your passion. Don't let age stifle your zeal. We have a tendency to lose our passion as we age. As we grow further from the point at which we surrendered to Jesus. To lose our zeal. To let the pain, suffering, and disappointment of our experiences to convince us to give up pursuing the ideals.Yet we can't allow that to happen. We miss out when we let the discouragements and disappointments of this world to destroy our zeal.

I always hear people say that the children are the future of the church. That saying always baffles me. Because children aren't the future of the church; they are a significant part of the church. Right now. Today. 
Despite their age, children play a role in every church.

Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV).
And there is a story about Jesus:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people,  but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away (Matthew 19:13-15 ESV).
I remember when we started doing walk up communion at our church and children just started taking the communion as if that is what they were supposed to do. The leaders gathered together to talk about whether this is something that we should allow or not. And we came back to this passage: "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them."

Whether you are an older Cindy Lou Who or a child, if your heart is in the right place, your joy cannot be taken. This world, though it may try, cannot remove Jesus' love from your heart.

When we try to tame the zeal of a child or a radical fellow Christian--when we stifle their passion, we are doing a disservice to the kingdom. We must let the passion and the zeal of the Cindy Lou Whos among us change who we are.

Which leads us to the next Who.

Are you Mayor Augustus Who, then Jesus has a message for you.

Mayor Augustus Who is the Who who made the Grinch want to leave Whoville. He's like the Christian who causes some to leave the church. The zeal stifler. The tradition holder. The passion stealer. They try to stifle the Cindy Lou Whos because they don't want to be challenged to change. Because being challenged means that I am currently wrong. And Mayor August Whos do not like to be wrong. They make fun of the Grinches and stifle the zeal of the Cindy Lou Whos as a defense mechanism to avoid seriously considering something different. 

Mayor Augustus Who was hateful, scared of change, and set in his ways.
And if not for Cindy Lou, he would remain that the rest of his days.
These types are the worst, for they think they are right.
Instead of showing  love, they just want to fight.

The writer of Proverbs says,
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses (Proverbs 10:12 ESV).
Mayor Augustus Whos need to learn to love, not divide. And to give, not just receive.

As it is recorded that Jesus taught:

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35 ESV).
Mayor Augustus Who is like the Christian who thinks that church is about them. Instead of the church being about God's kingdom and furthering His will here on earth, it becomes about their enjoyment that they have had for years and keeping things the way they want them.

So Jesus' message to the Mayor Augustus Whos, who none of us would like to admit that we are, is to love, is to give. To stop looking out for one's self and to start looking out for others. Stop hating and start changing. Don't stifle the Cindy Lou Whos, but let the Cindy Lou Whos change you.

Are you Lou Lou Who, then Jesus has a message for you.

Lou Lou Whos have a passionate person around them, and they know the passion is right. They feel the pull to be the same way, but they are struggling with whether to be on Cindy Lou Who's side and be passionate or to be on Mayor Augustus Who's side and hold her back.

Lou Lou Whos know that if we take the side of the mayor, we will be accepted. A Lou Lou Who may gain some power themselves. We won't stand out. We will fit in and be part of the crowd. It's comfortable. It's appealing.

We fall prey to being Lou Lou Whos when we forget that we have been saved for a purpose, and that isn't to maintain the status quo.

Paul wrote:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV).

That was Paul saying we have been save to do good works. But if the good don't do the good, then are they really good?

There's a popular quote from Edmund Burke:
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

And the stark warning of Jesus:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21 ESV).

Lou Lou Who.
He knew what was good.
He knew what was right.
He just didn't have the strength to put up the fight.

But Jesus is saying to the Lou Lou Whos among us that God saved us for something. Not just to be saved. But to do His works. Jesus is saying to do the things that He would do if He was here living among you. Even if it will make us unpopular, uncomfortable or any other "un."

Are you the Grinch, then Jesus has a message for you?

Despite what the Mayor Augustus Whos may say, Jesus came for Grinches like me and you. He came to seek and save the lost. The outcasts and those who have been tossed aside.

God has better plans for us than we experience when we are living away from Him and His community. And he pleads that we would not reject him because of the Mayor Augustus Whos, but that we would seek him.

The prophet Isaiah wrote:
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.  What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:3-4 ESV).

God did everything He could to make His people the people that He wanted them to be, yet they failed time and time again. So God is saying to not judge Him by His people.

I want to be able to say to people, "Look at our church and see what God desires. Love overflowing. Truth transforming. And the Spirit alive."

For when that happens, the Grinches will notice. Just like the Grinch noticed the singing that he thought shouldn't be there on Christmas morning. The Grinches may steal all our presents, thinking that is what makes us who we are. Yet if we continue rejoicing in the Lord despite the circumstances, they will notice the peculiar celebration that, logicially, should not be happening.

Dr. Seuss wrote:
It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! Maybe Christmas, he [the Grinch] thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

Christmas is about more than stores, packages, ribbons, and feasts. This the Grinch learns. Christmas is about Jesus the savior being born.

Lee Strobel, the author of Case For Christ and other books was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune before he became a Christian and a pastor. He has a remarkable Christmas story
The Tribune newsroom was eerily quiet on the day before Christmas. As I sat at my desk with little to do, my mind kept wandering back to a family I had encountered a month earlier while I was working on a series of articles about Chicago's neediest people. 
The Delgados – 60-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny – had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two-room apartment. As I walked in, I couldn't believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls – only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. That's it. They were virtually devoid of possessions. 
In fact, 11-year-old Lydia and 13-year-old Jenny owned only one short-sleeved dress each, plus one thin, gray sweater between them. When they walked the half-mile to school through the biting cold, Lydia would wear the sweater for part of the distance and then hand it to her shivering sister, who would wear it the rest of the way. 
But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace.  
I wrote an article about the Delgados, and then I quickly moved on to more exciting assignments. But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation: here was a family that had nothing but faith and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially but lacked faith – and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment.  
I walked over to the city desk to sign out a car. It was a slow news day, with nothing of consequence going on. My boss could call me if something were to happen. In the meantime, I decided to drive over to West Homer Street and see how the Delgados were doing. 
When Jenny opened the door, I couldn't believe my eyes. Tribune readers had responded to my article by showering the Delgados with a treasure trove of gifts – roomfuls of furniture, appliances, and rugs; a lavish Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents underneath; carton upon bulging carton of food; and a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves. On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash. 
But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English: 
"Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do." 
That blew me away! If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me. 
"This is wonderful; this is very good," she said, gesturing toward the largess. "We did nothing to deserve this – it's a gift from God. But," she added, "it is not His greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus." 
To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything – more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus – because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters. 
They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I only knew the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material – and something made me long for what they had. Or, more accurately, for the One they knew.

The Delgados are an example that helped change Lee Strobel's life for Jesus. I find it extremely ironic that a man who went on to write books on apologetics after coming to the Lord was touched by the love of an impoverished yet faithful servant of Jesus. We don't change the world by being like the world. We change the world by being the light of the world, a city on a hill, the salt of the earth, a royal priesthood who are different.

So no matter who we are, or which Who we are, at this time of year, Jesus wants to wake us up. And not just to be a good Christian at Christmas when it is fun to give, but to live all year  round, passionately doing His works. Jesus came so that we could have so much more than this. And that's what makes Christmas merry.

A Sacrificial Christmas

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without you?

Through the mistake of another, George Bailey was going to lose his business. He had hit rock bottom. Despair crept in. He wondered what the world would be like without him

In his despair, as we sometimes feel in despair, George Bailey went to that bridge intending to kill himself because he thought the world would be better off without him.

I once heard the story of a man who was contemplating committing suicide like George Bailey was. But instead of killing himself, he decided to smuggle Bibles into China. If he was caught and killed, that would be fine with him. But instead, through the process, he found meaning in his life.

I don’t know if that story is true or not. It may just be a modern parable, but it illustrates the point that we truly live - we find meaning in our lives - when we die to ourselves and begin to live our lives for Jesus. For when we surrender to Jesus we start living the life that we were made to live. When we despair and everything seems to be crumbling around us, we should commit ourselves or recommit ourselves to picking up the shards of our dreams and letting Jesus put them back together as we head into the future. To find our true destiny, we should surrender our will to God’s will and live for Him.

We impact the world one way or another. The question is whether we will impact it for good.

When Jesus was asked what the most important teaching was, he replied that God is one, that we should love Him with every bit of who we are and to love our neighbors like we love ourselves.

Shane Claiborne shares an old story from the early church. Christians were spread throughout the desert and lived in little clusters of communities. Someone had brought one of the communities a bundle of grapes as a gift. That was quite a delicacy, maybe sort of like giving someone chocolate truffles today. They got so excited, and what happened next is fascinating. Rather than devour them all, they didn’t eat a single one. They passed them on to the next community to enjoy. And that community did the same thing. And eventually, those grapes made it through every community and back to the first community without being eaten. Everyone simply wanted the others to experience the joy of the gift....As Shane says: “The best thing to do with the best things in life is to give them away.” (edited from an excerpt from Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical 167-168).

This kind of love doesn't seem to come natural to us. To love others as we love ourselves. But it is the kind of love we are called to. Actually, Paul makes it a little more sacrificial than just that.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV).
This is the Christmas story. God emptied himself and took on the likeness of us. When we refuse to allow the true story of Christmas to be drowned out by all the noise and busyness of this season, we see that this example of God becoming flesh was done to teach us how to live.

But as the Philippians passage shows, there are some obstacles to living the life Jesus lived. Paul shares two obstacles to love.

Obstacles to Love:

- Selfish ambition.

- Conceit.

Abraham Lincoln had a neighbor who was drawn to Lincoln's door one day by the sound of the crying of children. He saw Lincoln passing by with his two sons, both crying lustily. "What is the matter with the boys?" asked the man. "Just what is the matter with the whole world!" answered Lincoln. "I have three walnuts, and each boy wants two. (—London Christian Herald)

But our world teaches us to be selfish. The CEO and Opportunity Shaper at Now Possible says, "Let's get real. If you want a great career and wonderful life, you need to be spectacularly selfish..." We're taught that greed is good. Our society sometimes seems like a bizarro world compared to the teachings of Jesus.

These thoughts go directly against what we were made to be. And if we buy into them, we miss out. Our world misses out. Life isn't about the homes, the cars, the gifts, or whatever physical thing we make it about. Even when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, instead of seeing the culture inundated with profound acts of self-sacrifice, which would be more appropriate in celebrating the birth of Jesus, it's about consumerism, gluttony, Black Friday, and shopping.

Yet Paul unlocks how we can do this. We need to have a new view of ourselves.

New view of self:

- In humility count others as more significant than yourselves.

- Look to the interest others, not just our own.

You may have heard humility described as "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, its thinking about yourself less." Preachers like to come up with these witty sayings. It's catchy, yet I think that disagrees with the teaching of Paul. It makes humility more palatable, but who said humility had to be palatable? Who says we need an easy faith? We're supposed to respond with surrender, with sacrifice. And in our desire to make the faith more appealing, we cheapen the lofty humility that Paul teaches us to have, a humility exemplified in the Christmas story that we celebrate this time of year. God emptying Himself of all his deserved privilege and taking on the form of a baby. 

It's tough to follow in His steps and consider others better than ourselves. That word, "better" in the original language has to do with something of surpassing or exceptional value. It's the same word Paul uses in Philippians 3:8 when he says, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." This is a radical teaching. Jesus had the attitude that we were better than He was. Jesus viewed us as better than Himself. But that's what love is. And Paul calls us to have same view toward other -- an attitude that cherishes one another; that extols the value of one another; that looks for the best in one another instead of the worst. When we do that -- when we start to love others the way God loves them -- it will be much easier to be humble and sacrifice for them.

Then Paul moves on to two characteristics that Jesus exhibited that we are to adapt to our lives.


- Be willing to empty ourselves for others.

- Be obedient to God even in the hard stuff.

"Mary Brenner was a twice-divorced mother of eight children when she began doing volunteer work for the poor in Mexico in the 1960s. She had been active in charity work in California while she was married," living a comfortable life in Beverly Hills "but her devotion intensified after a priest led her to La Mesa state penitentiary, which housed convicted murderers, gang leaders, rapists and other serious felons."

She was faced with a call to self-sacrifice. Or to continue living her comfortable life. She was in her 50s, yet she still decided to heed God's call.

'Mary began providing for inmates’ basic needs, giving them aspirin, blankets, toiletries and prescription eyeglasses. She sang in worship services....If a prisoner died, of illness or in a gang fight, she prepared him for burial."

But this is the amazing part. She didn't just minister to the prisoners at La Mesa. She asked to move in and then actually moved into a cell to live alongside those she was called to minister to. A woman, moving into a male prision because God called her to it.

"Inmates told how Mary once walked into the middle of a prison riot while bullets flew and tear gas filled the air. When the inmates saw her, fearless in her habit, the fighting stopped. She never seemed to stop smiling."

Sadly, Mary Brenner passed away this October. Will you help fill this gap? (quotes on Mary Brenner from Antonia Brenner, ‘Prison Angel’ Who Took Inmates Under Her Wing, Is Dead at 86)

Self-sacrifice makes love real. There is love. We can say we love prisoners all we want. Or we can say that we love so and so. All words without sacrifice. But these proclamations of love are abstract and meaningless to the one we proclaim to love until our words are connected with self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice makes the love we have toward someone become real to them.

Yet we sometimes do a disservice to sacrifice. Stories like Mary Brenner's story are amazing. Yet we can then fell defeated and unable to accomplish such lofty tasks. Maybe that's what you are feeling right now. "I can't possibly go and live in a male penitentiary like she did. They wouldn't even allow me to."

Your sacrifice does not have to look like hers. If each of us are committed to following God, He will orchestrate us all into a symphony. We will be living out our faith in the places where we need to. Our self-sacrifice may be giving time to make a meal for someone, visiting someone who is lonely, taking care of a sick loved one, or whatever it is you that you sacrifice your own life so that you can give to others. Those acts of love, when they are in response to God and intermingle with the Holy Spirit, are just as meaningful as moving into a prison and ministering to those prisoners. God has this amazing way of meshing our meager sacrifices together to bring Himself glory. One sacrifice at a time, we are being used to create a song of love.

See how this all works.

We are so often, as Christians, focused on receiving the blessing, whether it is a blessing from God or someone else. We may hear people complain about not getting something out of a church's worship gathering or that the church isn't doing this or that. But God is saying, "Stop being the kid at Christmas; it's time to give the presents."

Christmas is about being reminded of the sacrifice God made to live as flesh among us. It's about him emptying Himself of all the privilege and honor that He rightfully deserves to be a blessing for us. We often miss the beauty and majesty of this story and respond by getting hung up on the being blessed part.

This is a difficult issue because being blessed is typically a byproduct of the Christian life. People's lives are often transformed and improved, even by the world's standards, when they become a Christian. But being a follower of Jesus can never be about the blessings. We have this tendency to explain Christian teachings through the framework of selfishness to appeal to the selfish people around. Even to our own selfish natures. But we shouldn't. We have to remove our selfishness to be who God wants us to be.

And this goes against all modern sales methods. In sales, the salesperson tries to show the potential customer a product or service and convince them that their lives will be improved if they just use that product or service. The door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman tells us how his vacuum will pick up dirt that we didn't even know was there. The gadget manufacturer convinces us that our lives will be better if we have this or that gadget in our pocket. Selling is all about the benefits.

And we fall prey to that tactic as Christians. Being a Christian becomes about getting to heaven. Or the temporal blessings in this life. And we, the church, have made the gospel of Jesus all about the benefits.

But that is not what being a Christian is about. Being a Christian is about following Jesus. And we follow Jesus, not because of the blessings - although the blessings at times are great and the eternal blessing is worth living for - but we follow Jesus, not because of the blessings, but because He is worthy to follow.

We must empty ourselves of our selfish ambitions and vain conceit and just follow Him. And we do that, by doing what He did. He viewed others as better than Himself and looked to their interests, not his own. He was obedient, even when it got hard.

We follow Jesus because His vision of the world is the right one. We follow Jesus because He is worthy to follow. Forget the blessings. Those are just a byproduct of faithfulness. And even if they don't come, we know that we are following the One who is worthy to be followed.

Jesus did not come to be blessed. He came to be a blessing. Likewise, we live not to be blessed but to be a blessing.

On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River near Washington DC., tumbling into the icy river in the middle of a snowstorm. All but six passengers were killed. Some 20 minutes later, a helicopter arrived to rescue the survivors.

After getting one man to safety, the helicopter threw a life ring to Arland Williams. He immediately gave it to the passenger next to him. They threw two lines down and Arland helped to strap it on to other passengers who were struggling more than him in the freezing water.

When the helicopter came back a final time, Arland was gone. He had slipped under the water. He’d used his last ounces of strength to save complete strangers. Sacrificial love.

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without you?

In the end of It's A Wonderful Life, George Bailey was able to see all the lives that he had touched.  And they reciprocated that love and helped him get his business back. It's beautiful.

It's a Hollywood ending. We like it. It's what makes It's A Wonderful Life one of the most popular Christmas movies of all time.

It's stories like this that makes us say to people when they suffer, "It will get better." Because when George Bailey suffered, it did get better.

But Hollywood isn't where we should get proper doctrine.
It may be unpopular, but things may not get better. Many of you know this all too well. Someone who has alzheimers. It's not going to get better on this side of the grave. Or a debilitating disease that you or someone you love is going through. It's not going to get better on this side of the grave. Some of you have experienced tragedy all too much. I have been in too many ICUs and done too many funerals. Things don't always get better. Sometimes they may get worse. Tragically worse. It's true that it may get better, but I don't think we're implying when we say "It will get better" that we may have to die to receive that "better."

We want the better. And we want it now. We think we deserve the better, especially if we're trying to be faithful to Jesus.

The idea that "things will always get better" just shows how inundated we are with concepts like the health and wealth false gospel in Christian circles. But the truth is that it may not get better. I may be the only person to tell you this because everyone is trying to build a facade around you, but the situation you are currently struggling with may not get better. You may be sick, and it could lead to death. You may work hard and not prosper. But even if we don't get better, even if we don't get wealthy, we still serve a worthy King.

We don't worship God because of the presents; we worship Him because He is worthy. When things are going well, we celebrate. We know things won't always be this great, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ruin the good moments by worrying about their end. Celebrate the moment of beauty if that is what you are experiencing. Celebrate it without worrying about tomorrow.

And for those of you who aren't living in a moment of celebration, remember that He is there with you. Offering you comfort and peace where there should be no comfort and peace. Even in our darkest valley, God is still worthy of our worship.

Being a Christian and following Jesus, isn't about things getting better for us. That may happen. It often does. I've seen crazy, unexplainable blessings come to people who start giving and are blessed in return. God does seem to bless radical faithfulness. But we serve a savior who was executed, along with most of the apostles who followed Him. Being a Christian is really about humbling ourselves and serving others, being Jesus' hands and feet in this world because His hands and feet were nailed to a cross for us. It's about being Jesus to everyone around us. It's about following the example that Jesus set and living for others. That little baby born in a manger in Bethlehem was going to face a lot of pain, discouragement, obstinate people, and a disgraceful death in His days here on earth. Who are we to think we deserve differently?

"It will get better." That's the false gospel of Hollywood, happy endings, and many Christians. The message of Jesus is to humble yourself. To love God and to love others. Arland Williams was doing God's will and it didn't get better for him. The early Christians who gave away those grapes were doing God's will and didn't taste the pleasure. Mary Brenner, imprisoning herself for Jesus, was doing God's will. Jesus, emptying Himself, being born as a little baby, and living a life of suffering for us, was doing God's will.

If you're just focused on life getting better for yourself, then you will be unable to live the life of self-sacrifice that shows the love of Jesus to our world. You will be out of step with the song God is performing.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe one of the children asks one of the beavers about the lion named Aslan.

"Is he safe?"

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

When we teach that things will always go well for Christians, we make it difficult for those who are having tough times. In our bad times, our bad theology makes us ask, "Am I right with God? If I am, why all this pain, suffering, and sorrow? Do others think I am a bad Christian because I am suffering?" The truth is that you are still right with God, even if things are going bad. Even when you think you are a small star, alone, suffering in the darkness, Jesus came to show you love. This is Christmas.

So when we see someone suffering and feel the need to utter "It will get better" to give encouragement, recognize that it may not get better for the person we want to comfort on this side of the grave. But for you--following in the steps of Jesus--you should be willing to follow the teaching of the Christmas story, sacrifice yourself to make it better for them. Jesus was in the form of God yet did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Instead, he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of us. Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

It may not get better, but like Jesus, we need to be willing to remove our self-perceived loftiness - not self-perceived in His case - , be willing to get dirty, and make it better for others.

We sacrifice so that life is better. Like George Bailey did when he gave up his own plans and stayed in his small town to make it better. Like the people around George Bailey did when George needed loved back. Sacrifice makes the world better.

At this time of year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. His humble arrival to this world. And this world will not be the same, especially when those who claim to follow Him model his humility and life of sacrifice. You were called to make this world better for others by sacrificing yourself. 

A Public Self-Reflection Of A Pastor

"What Wolf slowly realized was that the secret of Roseto wasn't diet or exercise or genes or the region where Roseto was situated. It had to be the Roseto itself. As Bruhn and Wolf walked around the town, they began to realize why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited each other, stopping to chat with each other in Italian on the street, or cooking for each other in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town's social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2000 people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the town, that discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures."
From Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. The intro chapter that this quote comes from can be read here


My first few years as a pastor where I am at, I really strived to create a healthy community. People just weren't into it. We tried game nights every Friday. Few would show. We tried fellowship meals every week. The same three families came. So I gave up on trying to create community. Disappointed, discouraged, and saddened. 

Then I started reading this Outliers last night. And I realized once again how important community is. We were made for community.

But I tried to create an environment for health community to flourish and failed. 

So I just pray that we will have real community within our church. I can't create that which needs to be a byproduct of lives inhabited by the Holy Spirit. I fear that the American way of living prevents us from doing that. 

But Church is truly just us having relationships with each other and Jesus. If we don't have real community, we are just pretending church rather than being the church. 

Any ideas?


I wrote Church Differently way back in the beginning of my time serving at the church I have the privilege of pastoring at. It is weighing on my heart.

I dream of a different kind of church.

I want to gather together to worship God with friends, not strangers. 

I want to be able to be myself all the time. 

I want to drive by houses and not be able to resist the urge
to stop in and say hi to dear friends. 

I want to share meals together and learn together. 

I want to go on vacation together. 

I want to enjoy life fully, with friends in Christ. 

I want Christ to be in every part of my life, transforming me and those around me. 

I want to see Christ in my friends and let it transform me. 

I want to share my needs and know they will be met. 

I want to hear friends’ needs and for them to know they will be met. 

I want to be transparent and to be surrounded by others who are transparent. 

I want to share my beliefs and not be ostracized
or condemned because they might be different. 

I want to kick back and have a drink once and a while with friends in Christ
without feeling like someone will judge me. 

I want to be myself without being judged. 

I want to eat curly fries with friends in Christ, be messy on my face and hands
and not be afraid to kiss others and make them messy. 

I want to get together with my spiritual family, not strangers, every Sunday. 

I want the church I am part of to be so much more. 

I want us to be friends in Christ. Real, transparent friends reflecting Christ’s glory. 

I want to be part of Christ’s church.

Now it’s time to wake up from this dream and make it a reality. Let’s be the church rather than just continue pretending and doing “church”.


For further reading.

Church Differently: Pickled and Parsed.

The Disappearance Of The Fellowship Meal.

A Season Of Hope

Like Buddy being excited for Santa and then only seeing a fraud, we also experience tremendous letdowns when we have placed our hope in things that cannot deliver. We may hope in a friend who betrays us, a philosophy that proves itself empty, a job that leaves us, or a family member that dies. Hope in anything other than Jesus cannot deliver.

Because hope is only revealed to be authentic hope when hope is actually needed. If it isn't found in the despair, in the rubble, in the darkness, then it isn't really hope. It's just happiness disguised as hope. For hope is found in the death of things.

It is to the sick and sinners that Jesus came to bring hope. And this is a message that we, those who are greatly blessed often forget. We think Jesus is contained in the lives of the righteous and worthy.

"The hope of Jesus is heavy and hard. It contrasts sharply with the cheap and cross-free hope of the wealthy who have plenty. Hope is easy and flimsy for those who already have richness, fullness, and laughter now, but hope is hard for those who are denied the riches, prevented from fullness, and have no reason to laugh." (my changed version of Bruegammann, Prophetic Imagination, 104) 

The truth is that our righteousness is but filthy rags. We get our fill of the Proverbs or some modern self-help Christian teacher and begin to think that we live in such a way that we deserve the blessings that God gives us. Our pride prevents us from recognizing the truth that we are not worthy of the blessings we receive. We are not deserving of the grace that comes through Jesus. We are sinful, spiritually sick, and in need of a savior. We are but bones in a grave wasting away. And our pride prevents us from recognizing how blessed we really are.

The most disgusting thing in the world is a self-righteous, self-proclaimed Christian who acts like they are right with God while living a life devoid of loving those who Jesus came to love. They read their Bible and they pray. They're religious but not a follower of Jesus. A self-righteous, self-proclaimed Christian who isn't willing to sacrifice their blessings so that others may see Jesus. The solution to this problem is to recognize our sinful state and the role that Jesus plays in our lives.

For God emptied Himself of all of His privilege and became human when He came to earth as Jesus. That is the beauty of the Christmas story. He who is worthy of all worship became a servant to those unworthy. He became a vulnerable, fragile, little baby to save people like you and me. He gave up all that He deserves to give us that which we don't deserve.

Jeremiah wrote,

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country. Jeremiah 31:16-17 (ESV)

Like the Jews in the Old Testament, in Christ, we can always look expectantly for a better tomorrow. We can have hope for the future. The deliverer and king has come.
Yet He came differently than expected. He came in a manger. Being removed from that culture and having been inundated with the Christmas story since birth, the meaning of this element of the story may have lost its significance to us. But to the people of the time, especially to the poor, it had a significant meaning. Jesus was born in a barn. God's grand entrance if you will. He came down to earth to live with us in the flesh, and He slept in a feeding trough for animals. He became the least for you and me, so that in Him the least would have hope.

If I were God, I would have planned it so that I arrived into a rich family, lived in a palace, and slept in a crib lined with gold with nannies meeting my every need. I would grow up with all of the comforts of this world. Leisure, entertainment, and toys. But I'm not God. And God was trying to teach us something in the way He came. He came through the poor and powerless. He came in a manger, setting his tone for his ministry. The first will be last. If we want to be His followers, then we need to give up what we feel we deserve and serve others.

He came differently than the Jews were expecting. The Jews were expecting a Messiah to save them from the Roman rule. Actually, not just to save them from Roman rule, but to establish  Jerusalem as the ruler of Rome and the rest of the world. Yet Jesus came differently than expected. He came and died on the cross. He didn't come to rule in the traditional ways of the world. True, he still wants to be our king, our master. True, He established a different sort of kingdom, the Church. But He came differently than the world expected. He came to serve rather than to be served. His weapons were love and truth, not swords and war. And He wants his followers to do the same, to serve rather than be served.

He also came in love - not might, not strength, not power. The world falsely believes that the things of this world are what's important. We see this in Black Friday. Some think that toys, gadgets, and entertainment devices will bring them happiness. They hope in them. But then, a month after the gifts are open, life is still the same. The gadgets, toys, and entertainment didn't change us. Without Jesus, we are still the same hopeless person we were before all the gifts.

We keep ourselves busy with false fixes. We place our hopes in the wrong things, time and time again. All this time wasted when the real solution is readily available. Jesus is the real solution. He's not the solution in some impractical "spiritual" yet non-political, non-physical way. We like to keep Him locked up in a prison we call "spiritual," so that He can stay there and not mess with our "real" lives. Our thinking is that if we keep Him spiritual, then He doesn't have to mingle with our marketplace life, our physical life, our political life, or any other aspect of our life. Yet Jesus wants all of our life.

He always was and still wants to be practical. He may have been born in a humble manger, but His teachings caused the powers that be to execute Him in a disgraceful fashion. For He wasn't just spiritual. He was upsetting the status quo. He was literally changing the world. And the powers of the time didn't like that. The spiritual answers that Jesus provides aren't just to give us spiritual guidance; they're supposed to change the way we live and the world we live in.

Our spirituality is not supposed to be just some personal, self-reflective wonderland. In every issue we face, whether politically, personal, at work, in the community, or at home, we need to follow Jesus' example that we are reminded of this time of year and serve others. Instead of force through government or in being someone's boss, we serve. Instead of all of the ways of power in this world, we worship the One who has true power and surrender to Him. God works in strange ways. He always has. The question is whether we will accept his strange ways as our real solution. He came in a manger. The world tells us that we need to be strong; God teaches us to be weak and depend on Him. Then we will be strong in His way, a strange yet amazing way.