Feb 21, 2012

When Something Crashes Your Normal

My friend Michael Kelley has written a new book about his family's journey though his son's leukemia and the spiritual lessons they learned.  Michael is a gifted writer and theologian whose experience with his son Joshua has taught him deep spiritual truths that we as the body of Christ need to absorb.  I have closely followed this family's journey as Michael has lived the story on his blog.  I have lifted many prayers for this little boy who is a living example of God's sustaining grace in times of darkness.  I think Michael has an important story to tell in a church society where we tend to equate God's goodness with prosperity and the freedom from pain.  I haven't gotten my copy of the book yet, but I can't wait to dive in.  Get this book and plant its message deep inside your soul.

Feb 15, 2012

Real Marriage (A Book Review)

I was excited about my latest book to get my hands on and review.  It's Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll.  I have read several of Driscoll's book and appreciate both his commitment to biblical theology and his stand on biblical issues and preaching in a very pagan culture in Seattle.  Sometimes I think I like Driscoll because he has a platform to say some things that I am thinking but that my involvement in conservative, Bible-belt, Christianity doesn't always allow me to say.  Driscoll definitely has an edge to him that has gotten him on opposite sides with other Christian leaders I admire.  He speaks sometimes with an abrasiveness and has been known to throw curse words in his sermons (although I think he has tempered that after his conversation with John Piper).  Nevertheless, Driscoll's theology is usually sound and his advice is usually very practical.  That is why I was interested to see how he would tackle the subject of marriage.  Some have praised Driscoll's book and some have criticized how he handled some sensitive subjects of marriage. (Tim Challies did a fair review of it here.)

Real Marriage is an appropriate title.  In this book, Mark and Grace try to get very honest and candid.  They deal with some very difficult subjects and questions that many books on marriage don't deal with or do so very lightly.  Some have asked if this is the kind of book you want your children to read about marriage.  My answer is "Probably not when they are teenagers, but they aren't thinking marriage anyway."  However, I wouldn't have a problem recommending this book to a 20-something who was looking at marriage.  It is frank and raw, but I think many young couples are looking for that.  I appreciate the Driscoll's honesty about all the flaws that were in their marriage for many years.  I appreciate Grace's vulnerabilty to talk about her abuse and how it affected her marriage and her understanding of the gospel.  I think the Driscoll's chapter on "Sex: god, gross, or gift?" is a very helpful look at a subject that is rampantly destroying our culture and many marriages. 

One of the most helpful parts of the book is the premise that the Driscoll's have that marriage should be about building a friendship.  This is an area that isn't covered in most books on marriage and consequently many people go through their marriages as "partners" in raising kids and splitting money, but not as friends.  Many times we marry someone we feel like is almost a best-friend and then we don't spend time working on that friendship once the wedding cake is gone and the bird seed is swept up. 

The chapter that raises the most eyebrows and concerns is called "Can We _____?" and covers questions that the Driscoll's get often on sex and marriage.  I wouldn't agree with all their conclusions.  I don't think everyone will.  However, there is much more in this book that is very profitable outside of that chapter.  It's written in a style that is raw and will be received well by many people.  It's a readable and doable book.  It's an honest book.  It's one that I would be happy to recommend to most people (probably with a caveat at first). 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Feb 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day...

As I start this post, I wish my wife of soon to be 15 years a Happy Valentine's Day.  I got her flowers and candy yesterday and am about to go home to cook steaks for tonight.  I love the fact that I get to show her how much I love her.  However, I shouldn't have to feel compelled to do it one day out of the year.  I should be more inclined to show her daily by being a servant and spiritual leader.  I think periodic moments of getting off my rear watching TV to sweep the floor or wash the dishes does much more (and is much cheaper) than flowers and candy and steaks.  My wife is so awesome, she deserves both.

Unfortunately, Valentine's Day is one more example of the tendency in our culture to go to commercial extremes.  It's a day we feel pressured to perform acts of love.  However, true love is not a performance.  It shouldn't be about commercialization.  In addition, Valentine's Day has a tendency to feed that fallen part of our nature that believes that the measure of love is to be made much of by someone else.  Our hearts are idol factories and many times the chief idol we worship is "me." This becomes a problem when we don't have someone to make much of us - when our loved ones are taken away, when we are single, etc.  When the idols of our love and affection are taken away from us, they often reveal how shallow our understanding of love really is. 

If you are a follower of Christ, I would encourage you to find your identity in the gospel and know that much has already been made of you, not because of anything you bring to the table, but because "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  The cross of Jesus is the ultimate display of God's love.  Not because it makes much of you, but because it shows the brutal price God paid to redeem you of your sin.  A friend of mine said it well today on Facebook, "John 3:16 is not a "valentine." It is the declaration of holy God that He sent Jesus to earth in order to crush Him so that He wouldn't have to crush you. Don't cheapen it."  (Thanks Dave!)

So take some time to celebrate your loved ones today.  And take some time today to remember that the love that God has shown in our hearts is infinitely greater than any displays of love that we will show to one another. 

Feb 10, 2012

It's not fair...

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the word "fair" and how much we talk about it.  Being a father of four children under 13, I am accused a lot of not being fair.  I really don't worry about it much because I have come to the conclusion that life is not a matter of fair and the sooner my kids learn that truth, the better they will function in life.  The dictionary defines fair as "free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice".  That would be a great understanding of fair.  I would agree that we should all strive for freedom from dishonesty and injustice in our dealings with everyone.  I don't know that we can accurately be without bias.  I have beliefs and those beliefs create "biases" in me that shape my decision.  It's the bias that causes us to feel and scream "unfair", especially when the bias goes against us.  But isn't that the way life is?  Isn't it unrealistic to believe that I can live without bias?  Shouldn't I naturally be more biased with my sexual inclinations towards my wife than other women?  Shouldn't I naturally be "biased" that my children should seek for excellence in their lives and expect them to rise above the standards of this world?  If I really believe what Christ says in the Bible is true and that the gospel is the only hope of salvation for mankind, shouldn't I be biased towards that opinion and shouldn't it influence my relationships with other people? 

Here's another problem I have with "fair."  Fair "dumbs" everything down to the "lowest common denominator."  This is what is happening in our culture in America right now.  We used to believe in a society where people had a strong work ethic - where we rewarded hard work and applauded the financial success that followed.  Now we gripe that the rich "should pay more taxes than me because they have more money than me."  We've created government programs that either foster a mindset that people should expect something for nothing or that creates a system that even if they wanted to rise above their circumstances, they can't afford to.  A couple of years ago our church was doing mission work in the Appalachian area of Kentucky.  One of the missionaries there told us that they had a program to train some of the women in the area to clean houses for income.  One young lady went through the program and began to get some income.  Then, she suddenly quit.  Why?  She told the missionary that when her income increased, she lost all her government benefits and free childcare and it cost her more to work than it did to stay home and let the government take care of her.  She wanted to work, but she couldn't afford to.  That's what a system that caters to the "lowest common denominator" creates.  Fair; whether in a society, a business, or a church, has a tendency to reward mediocrity and stifle creativity and excellence.  Ironically another definition of fair in the dictionary is "neither excellent or poor, moderately or tolerably good."  THERE IT IS!  That's fair in our society.  Fair breeds mediocrity.  Take one look at where we are right now and tell me that we are not just a mediocre group of people.  No one wants a steak that is "neither excellent or poor".  A mediocre steak might fill your stomach, but it doesn't make you want to come back for more.  Nobody goes out and rents a "mediocre" movie that they've seen before. 

Spiritually, fair brings condemnation and means that we all go to hell because that is what we deserve.  This is the problem when fair is brought into the church.  When we deal with God, we don't want fair - we want mercy and grace.  Fair cheapens grace.  Fair attempts to paint God as some sort of socialist grandfather rather than a holy God who in an outstanding act of grace takes upon himself the sins of the very people he forgives.  Fair doesn't adequately explain the existence of evil and its consequences.  Fair doesn't motivate me to worship.  Fair doesn't create in me awe and majesty. 

Ultimately, the essence of leadership is the art of learning how to rise above "fair".  Instead of asking what is fair, here are a couple of other questions to ask instead:
  • Is there a "right" thing to do in this situation?  If so, do it no matter the cost.  Sometimes there is no definitive "right".  Right is not based on your opinions, but God's standards.
  • What is the "wise" decision?  In the lack of a right, the best question to ask is about wisdom.  I owe a great deal to Andy Stanley and his book "The Best Question Ever" on this one.  
  • Instead of asking what is the "fair" thing, ask "What is the "just" thing to do?"
  • What decision will lead the organization best to accomplish its mission and lead towards a culture of excellence?
  • Even if this decision doesn't seem "fair", what will be the cost of inaction?

I've come to the conclusion that the only thing "fair" is good for is to be a place where we get to go to get some cotton candy and ride the Tilt-a-whirl.  Fair is good for cattle auctions and car shows.  Otherwise, let's stop spending so much time on trying to find "fair" and instead be people of grace who strive for excellence and expect others to do so as well.  Let's quit dumbing ourselves down and through the grace of God start rising up.  This doesn't mean that there isn't a time and place to make a "fair" decision when we are referring to justice.  God always expects us to be just because he is just.  But let's allow our vision of fair to be colored by the justice of God and not the opinions of men.

Feb 4, 2012

Just A Little Laugh...

Josh Hamilton and Public Failure

News came out late Thursday that this past Monday Josh Hamilton had a relapse in his ongoing battle against drug and alcohol addiction.  Yesterday he had a press conference to explain his side of the story.  I can't find the video to post here yet.  However, Josh did an excellent job at public contrition and repentance.  As a matter of fact, the media wasn't sure how to react at the sight of real biblical repentance.  We are so used to a blame-shifitng, vicitimization society that when someone publically admits personal responsibility, the wrongness of the action, and the need for accountability we as a society don't know what to do.  However, Josh Hamilton is a real man.  He did everything a real man is supposed to do.  He rejected passivity over his actions.  He accepted responsibility for both the choices and the consequences.  He owned up to his leadership over his family, his team, and his public ministry.  Bravo Josh, Bravo.

Here is a video of Josh from "I am Second".  This is the key for Josh to remember now in his repentance and recovery.  This is the real Josh Hamilton, not the guy who childishly ran away from a fight and decided to drown his problems in a bottle. 

Feb 3, 2012

The Lure of Conformity

I always feel this need to conform to expectations around me. I think all of us do.  Let me illustrate.  The other day I came across a fellow pastor in my city.  He's a new guy in the area and he had that look of a pastor: dress pants, shined shoes, pressed blue shirt, yellow tie, distinguished glasses, and closely cropped hair.  Me? I had on blue jeans, polo shirt, tennis shoes, and a three-day growth of stubble on my face.  He looked like a pastor.  I looked like one of those guys who sits around playing video games and eating oreos. I began to think to myself, "You need to do a better job looking like a pastor when you go out."  There is a group of pastors that meet on Monday in my town and when I go to their meetings I usually put on khakis and a golf shirt or something business casual.  When I went to the Dominican I brought all athletic pants and Under Armor shirts because I knew all the guys were baseball guys and coaches.  I wanted to look the part even if I wasn't the part.  When I go to a gospel conference in April, everyone will be dressed in the standard YRR attire (except for Al Mohler who will still be sporting the suit and tie seminary president look). 

The lure of conformity is a powerful thing.  It doesn't go away when we graduate from high school.  Peer pressure isn't just something teenagers face.  We all face it everyday.  There's pressure to conform to the fashion trends of our tribe.  There's the pressure to conform to the large-scale SUV when you have two kids and live in suburbia.  There's pressure to preach like Andy Stanley, have music like Louie Giglio and Passion, and have a church big enough to transport people in golf carts across the parking lot.  There's pressure to get your son or daughter lessons so he or she can be as good or better than all the other kids at baseball or soccer.  There's pressure to be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and every other social site to be relevant. 

Even those who say they are non-conformists have their pressures to conform.  Ever seen a skinhead with long blonde locks?  If you want to be a "non-conformist" you need to have multiple piercings, a long goatee, like wearing black, and have an angry demeanor most of the time.

The issue really isn't whether it's wrong to feel the pressure to conform, but what you are being conformed too.  The things we conform to can often times reveal to us what our functional idols really are.  My need to dress more like a pastor can possibly be signaling a need to be validated by external measurements rather than spiritual ones.  My desire for new golf clubs might be a sign that I want people to be impressed with the "Callaway" on my 9-iron. (However, I really think it's because my current clubs stink.)  When my need to conform is driven by other people's expectations or acceptance rather than my personal convictions, it will usually lead me down the path of idolatry and be less fulfilling. 

The real question is "Why do I feel so strongly the pull to conform to those around me, but don't always feel the need to conform to Christ-likeness as strong?"  It's not my desire to conform that bothers me but the things I desire to conform to and my struggle to conform to Christ-likeness.  The Bible says I am "predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son."  It will happen eventually.  That's the plan of God for me.  The word also says "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance."  It's my choice what I conform to.  When I allow myself to be conformed to the pattern of this world, I show my ignorance of the gospel and all the things that God has done for me already in Christ.  I think that word "ignorant" best describes much of the conformity I see in my life and in the lives of those around me.  That's what I think bothers me the most.

Anyway, let's all conform (which is a statement asking you to conform) to the things that really matter in this world or the next.  And let's pay careful attention to the lure of conformity and ask ourselves why we feel so drawn to what we are.

Now I got to go press my slacks.  I have a pastor's meeting to go to...

Feb 2, 2012

Just A Little Laugh...

I loved Gary Larson's humor in The Far Side.  From time to time, I'll post one of them here.