adjective / ˈsnärkē / sharply critical, cutting, or snide
Fresh tomatoes have their place. And that place is not in my mouth.
Mexican restaurants are the worst perpetrators, probably because they are simply awash in fresh tomatoes. They put fresh tomatoes on and in everything. Therefore, even when I order my burrito with “NO TOMATOES,” I still routinely find rogue stow-away chunks of tomato pulp hidden among the tender folds of my flour tortilla. I can’t escape them. So I’m forced to eat my Chipotle burritos with great caution, carefully scanning each bite for refugee tomato chunks that have slipped in among the pinto beans unannounced. Sure as shootin’ if I eat my burrito with abandon and blind trust… BAM. I’m going to bite into a chunk of unwelcomed tomato pulp and get a case of the jigglies. *insert shudder here*
Here it is: my distaste for fresh tomatoes parallels my feelings about snark in the Church. I have been known to enjoy hurling a sarcastic tweet into the wild now and again. I admit it. And I admit it with some degree of regret, because I recognize it as a part of my fallen nature. More often than not sarcasm cuts deeper than can be justified. I’m trying tochange my ways in this regard.
Now when I’m listening to a brother or sister in leadership, or reading from a fellow Christian blogger or columnist, when I run headlong into a face-full of snark, it puts a bad taste in my mouth. Like a chunk of fresh tomato. Uninvited. Unappreciated. Unwanted. Ineffective.
Mark Driscoll just got a talking to from his elder board. Mark is a guy with whom I agree on a broad spectrum of theological issues. I’m in his camp most of the time. And I love his passion to minister to and engage the 20 and 30 something MEN of the Church. No doubt, we need strong voices calling men to be leaders and fulfill their biblical calling to be the head of the home they are made to be – and to lead the Church with a mix of Spirit-led confidence and humble grace.
However, Mark does have a cocky side.
The dark side of strong leadership gifts is a propensity toward pride and rash decision-making. As much as I have loved brother Mark over the years, this was a foolish thing to do.
Earlier this month, Driscoll posted the following question on Facebook:
Yep, he did. Yuck-o.
Now blogger/speaker Rachel Held Evanshas publically taken him to the woodshed. His elders have taken corrective action. And Mark responded with a non-apology, but an acknowledgement that he lacked judgement and is glad to be under the authority of elders who will reign him in when necessary.
All of this is like a big, gnarly chunk of tomato in the proverbial burrito of my Mark Driscoll relationship.
I have written about this kind of “since I’m right you’re not worthy of respect” attitude in the Church before – check out the related links below this post. It matters to me because it matters to the church. I don’t bring up the Mark Driscoll junk in order to join any bandwagons, or to make this debate about Mark and his ministry. Rather, this is an example. A real time example. Mark has lost some credibility in my eyes. His snark has a cost. He may have important things to say to the men of the church. But this snarky tone is unwise. Uninvited. Unappreciated. Unwanted. Ineffective.
Because of an overload of pride and snark, Driscoll has lost the opportunity to effectively share the Gospel with thousands of people who will now write him off as an unkind, homophobic chauvanist. I mean, there are plenty of people who already had come to that conclusion. Now even more will tune him out, and that’s a net loss for the Kingdom. When he speaks of the saving power of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf, he is clear, he is potent, he is offering the only hope we have of eternal life. But now, how many will ignore (or worse, discount with prejudice) whatever he has to say about Jesus Christ… all for a moment of snark?
When you are a Christ-follower, and a leader in the Church, no less, the consequences are eternal.
Snarky = sinfully caloused to the spiritual reality that we are ALL sinners who need the grace of Jesus. No exceptions. There is a place for watchdogs in the Church, calling out “Danger! Danger!” when false teachers are threatening to steal from God’s flock. Wolves among the sheep. However, I am wary of those who make “watchdog” their identity – if they wear the title with pride – and wield their opinions with more snark than love. We are to be motivated by awe and love, yes, rather than sarcasm and guilt? Snark is unkind, and it raises defenses. A kind word turns away wrath, and even those we disagree with are more likely to listen if we engage them with respect.
My world will be that much closer to heaven when I see less snarky barbs being hurled between brothers. If you intend to hurl tomatoes at other brothers and sisters in the Church, I’ll ask you to consider a less caustic approach to dialogue. And I’ll ask you not to get any of that pulpy mess in my Tex-Mex, thank you very much.
I was 11. I heard this word more than any other word during my Little League days under the summer sun in Bemidji, MN. Coach Whitey Anderson could say HUSTLE more times in a minute than anyone I’ve ever known. I loved baseball. Still do. In large part, thanks to Coach Whitey.
“Skogerboe, you’re a ball player, son. You’re a ball player. You can play this game right here. Yessir. Skogerboe’s a ball player.”
Coach Whitey was like encouragement on steroids for a young second baseman who otherwise wouldn’t have considered himself much of a ballplayer. I was moderately athletic, but overshadowed by the up-and-coming superstars. I could hold my own in the field and maintained a somewhat below average track record in the batting box, but I kept in the game year after year, growing better in my skill-set and deeper in love with the game. Coach Whitey fueled me to keep getting better, to learn why “hustle” had more to do with a healthy competitive attitude than just physical “hurry-up,” and he helped build into me a deep love of baseball that has never gone away.
Now I have a 10-year-old out there under the lights. I see his coach picking up the mantle from Coach Whitey for the next generation. I see him FEEDING encouragement and high expectations to the young men under his charge. And the boys are thriving. When Isaac talks about baseball, his eyes flash. Coach Haberlie is not just getting the bases covered, and he’s not just getting results… he’s building baseball lovers.
I just got an email from Coach last night, asking me to encourage Isaac, that he was so proud to have Isaac on the Team, and he is consistent in saying, “He is made for this game.” I hear echoes of Coach Whitey… “You’re a ball player, son. Skogerboe’s a ball player.”
These guys are both great leaders, and I hold them both in high regard.
The consistent ingredient in great leadership isn’t enthusiasm. It isn’t deeper, better, higher knowledge. It isn’t the ability to control outcomes.
The consistent ingredient in great leadership is this: INFLUENCE.
Coach Whitey literally changed my life. My childhood years are full of great memories, and I was a ball player. I believed it to my core. And now I see Isaac out there making plays, wrecking the knees of his baseball pants, and it’s better than the Twins. He’s hungry for baseball. Isaac’s gone from casual to passionate. THAT is INFLUENCE. And Coach Haberlie has been clear from the beginning: His goal is to help shape these boys into young men of character first, great athletes second. He’s not only influencing the boys… he’s influencing their dads. That’s great leadership.
All kinds of people read this blog. Friends and family, Pastors, Ministry leaders, Worship leaders… All kinds of people in all kinds of leadership roles. Here’s where ball meets bat, rubber meets road, hammer meets nail on the head… LEADERSHIP = INFLUENCE.
This has implications for two groups today.
First of all, if you don’t consider yourself a “leader,” you are WRONG. Think about your circle of relationships. Certainly among those relationships are a handful over whom you have some kind of influence. If you have influence, you have leadership. You may lead badly, of course, and influence those around you to make bad choices, to turn away from God or from wise counsel. But make no mistake: if you have influence, you are a leader. Lead well.
Secondly, if you THINK you are a leader, or if you are a leader by position, this is a good measuring stick for you. Are you herding a group, or are you leading? Are you steering outcomes, or are you leading? In other words, are you truly INFLUENCING the lives of those you lead? If you are in a position of authority, take a cue from Coach Whitey and Coach Haberlie… don’t just steer. LEAD. Don’t just point people. INFLUENCE people. Stop, pray, and think about how you can not just get the job done, but how can your influence lead to changed lives. If you are a leader, then LEAD WELL.
The consistent ingredient in great leadership is INFLUENCE. If you don’t have influence, you’re not really leading. And if you think you don’t have a role as a leader, invest in those you have influence over.
We only get one life. Wield some influence and change some lives, because time is short. And in the spirit of Coach Whitey… HUSTLE.
I was mowing the lawn and listening to a message from Rob Bell. I remember the spot. I was between those two pine trees in our yard where it is hard to twist the mower into the right position without scratching up your elbows on the branches. I remember it, I think, because sometimes when you hear something significant that grabs your attention and rings your proverbial bell (no pun intended), the moment is preserved like a snapshot. I had to stand still for a moment. The implications were deep and far reaching. With the muted hum of the mower fighting for my attention behind the earbuds of my iPod, Rob’s words rang in my head, and my heart began to swell in resonnance…
“The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”
I think… I think this is right. I really do. I think not only is is right, it is important. In fact, I think the evangelical Church has often hurt the cause of sharing the gospel and loving people well because we’re too busy judging those who aren’t even on the team.
Let this idea ring in your mind a bit. You – your church – are not called to pour out judgment on the unbelieving world. How does that make you feel? Are you nodding your head in agreement? Are you concerned – blood pressure rising – because this sounds like cheap-grace pandering to the lowest common moral denominator? Or option three… you honestly don’t know what to think. Should the church proclaim the high moral values that the Bible makes clear, or do we save the moral judgments for the pulpit on Sunday morning? Or… is there another way?
Just take note of how you feel. “The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”
If you have a problem with Rob Bell, get in line. Thousands of blog posts and articles have and will continue to examine Pastor Bell’s theological positions with regard to orthodox Christian beliefs. This is not one of those posts. This isn’t about the man. It’s about the idea. “The Church is not called to be the moral police of the world.”
Why does this matter? Because the world is broken. People are hurting. Marriages are stressed, and as people who are far from God try to find peace through relationships, chemicals, distractions, and financial sucess, they often realize that in their core… when it’s quiet… something is still unsettled. God wired us with a conscience and with a need for peace that can only be met by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
So many people are wounded, lost, scared, and faking it. They need God’s love, and they already know they don’t measure up. They know this isn’t working.
So this becomes a discussion of church methodology, and personal evangelism, and just how we ought to relate to our coworkers and fellow soccer moms and little league dads and neighbors. I believe that grace and love, in and because of Jesus, has more life-changing power than moralizing and finger-pointing. If you want to assure that your gay neighbor will never set foot inside the doors of your church, just treat him with contempt. If you want to be sure that the twenty-something administrastive assistant in the cubicle around the corner from you who just moved in with her boyfriend feels unwelcome to come to your church, be sure to offer your unsolicited opinion about shacking up.
Now before you think I’m a conflict-avoider who is advocating a jello-for-backbone approach to morality and culture, let me be clear: I’m a huge fan of living out your convictions with clarity and integrity. I’m not saying we should have no discernable values. On the contrary. I am saying that I agree with Rob Bell here in that just BECAUSE we have strong moral guidelines – Biblical guidelines – we are not necessarily called to FOIST those moral guidelines on those who are not yet a part of the Kingdom of God through a relationship with Jesus.
Real-life parallel: Isaac, our 10-year-old, made the Texas Rangers this year. Plymouth, MN, Little League style. His coach is a man’s man, a leader, and is all about developing disciplined young men of character who also happen to be outstanding ball players.
Games start at 6PM. Players need to be on the field at 5:10PM. Players who arrive at 5:12… sit. This is about Team values. It’s about being there when you’re told to be there. It’s about discipline.
As a Seminary student coming into the end of a crazy busy year, I haven’t been able to stay through every 2-hour game this season. Often I come in half way through the 3rd inning to cheer on the team. Never once has the coach chewed me out for lacking the proper degree of passion for the game or for having the wrong priorities. Why? Because I’m not on the Team. Now, I don’t enjoy the benefits of the Team either. If I jogged out to second base some game-day afternoon, expecting to cover the infield for the boys, Coach would have some direct words for me, I’m sure. But neither does he hold me accountable to the Team rules. When coach yells “Hustle!” between innings as the boys take their positions, he’s talking to the Team, not to me.
Too simple? I mean when we talk about morality and spiritual guidelines, aren’t there ETERNAL consequences on the line?
Yes. There are eternal souls at stake. So we better get this right. In fact, Paul clarifies in 1 Corinthians 5 that not only are we not to judge the unbelievers we rub shoulders with, we ought to intentionally build relationships with them. THAT is the Biblical plan. No bullhorns. Relationships. No contempt. Love. We are not the world’s moral police.
Save your judgement for those inside the church who call themselves “brothers,” but refuse to live by the Word and the Spirit. There is a place for judgement – within the relational family of the local congregation, where we sharpen each other in love, with humility, and with the goal of redemption. Look at 1 Corinthians 5:12-13…
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.”
We can’t expect those who aren’t children of God to live like they are. If we do, we risk alienating wounded, broken, hurting people who are searching for peace and don’t know how to find it.
It is true that Peter’s message in Acts to the unbelieving crowd in Jerusalem pulled no punches. “You killed God. Repent…” he said. And it is also true that many spirit-led, Christ-honoring revivals have been sparked by the clear message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” I know this is true, and I don’t discount that God uses clear Law and Gospel preaching even to reach the hearts of strangers and outsiders who have never thought they would set foot in the door of a church. Sometimes, the Spirit leads, and the Law must be preached.
But I’m not talking about revival meetings and street-preaching miracles here. I’m talking about Thursday afternoon. I’m talking about work tomorrow. I’m talking about that guy who waits tables with you and is far more open about his personal romantic expoits than you’d ever want him to be. Those people don’t need policemen to fix them first. They need to be introduced to Jesus now – while they are yet sinners – because Jesus is pursuing relationship with them now. As long as it is called Today.
The Word and the Spirit will do their refining work on the hearts of those who are on the Team. But let’s not hold the crowd outside the fence to the Team standard. Let’s invite them onto the Team first.
I couldn’t breathe. I just sat in the pew next to her with my jaw clenched. There were eternal consequences here, I thought. I couldn’t belive this was happening. I could feel her retreating from the church – retreating from Jesus.
He was a potential candidate for the now vacant Senior Pastor position in the church where I served as the Worship and Arts director. He was being seriously considered for a call, and this was his day to preach.
She was a relative of a relative. Visiting our church. She NEVER went to church. But this was her day. Prayers, the Spirit, and circumstance brought her here. Could have been the most important day in her life, and she didn’t even know it. She was wounded, hurting, lost. She needed Jesus. She needed “Come to me, all who are weary…”
He was a jerk.
It is one thing to preach the Law in all of it’s sterness to awaken the souls of the complacent and pierce the hearts of the defiant IN ORDER THAT they might receive the life-giving Gospel truth: Jesus has already paid our penalty, we have hope, it is finished. It is another thing to revel in the preaching of the Law. To wield it like a clumsy weapon, clubbing the saints and the searching alike. As if guilt were a better indicator of healthy spiritual life than love.
I realized early in the message she would never come here again. Truth be told, I had decided early in the message that if he took the call, I would not come here again, either. But now I felt hope slipping away and angry walls being built, brick by brick. He was railing. Railing against those who would defile their body with tattoos. Spit in the face of God by piercing their bodies, His temple. Those who would wear their sin proudly like a badge of honor in their dark clothing and Doc Martin boots and heavy eye make-up. How shameful they were. How disgusting their vanity and rebellion must look to God.
She shifted uncomfortably, uncrossing her legs to lower her Doc Martins under the pew. Her plaid flannel sleeves weren’t long enough to cover the ink spilling down her forearm and onto her wrist. She was ashamed. Then she was angry. Then she was gone.
I have never – NEVER – forgotten the lesson of that day, but I’ve never written about it. Here I am in a Lutheran Seminary, learning how to divide all of scripture into two distinct categories: LAW and GOSPEL. God has given us the Law to kill our self-reliance and to point us to the cross. And as a fifth (sixth… more than that?) generation Lutheran, I’ve been taught that the Gospel without the Law is cheap grace. People need to be confronted with their sin before they are ready to receive the Gospel. True conversion involves repentance. We die to self before we are reborn.
That “but” has big implications. I have feared pushing against centuries of Lutheran orthodoxy and thousands of Spirit-led theologians who would warn me that in this regard, there are no “buts.” Law, then Gospel. LAW, then Gospel.
Sometimes, people already know they are broken. Sometimes, people are aware that they don’t measure up. Sometimes people come to church expecting God to view them the way this clumsy, angry, mean-spirited preacher viewed them. And to them Jesus says, “Come…”
Why is this? It is because He created us to be in a relationship with Himself, for His glory and our enjoyment. It is not unholy or selfish to seek to enjoy God. He crafted us with a longing to be satisfied. And NOTHING satisfies like the enjoyment of God Himself. As we express that enjoyment in worship, thanksgiving, service, obedience, and praise, God gets glory. And the two great longings in the universe are simultaneously met. Man hungers to be satisfied, God desires to be glorified. And God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
So I look at the great God-story of the Bible. And I see how it all points to Jesus. And I believe it is the GREATEST truth in all of time – and that people everywhere need to hear it. And I look at the beginning of the story. And I see God there, “In the beginning…” And I see the beginning of man. And I notice something important…
Adam was created in God’s image, bearing His likeness in a personality and a desire for relationship… and God said it was very good. They walked together in the garden and had face-to-face relationship. It was very good. And this is the relationship mankind was created to have with God. This was God’s intent from the start, and it is His desire now.
And all of this is solidified before Genesis chapter 3.
Why is it we start out as preachers and street evangelists, wielding our bullhorns and pointing our fingers from the pulpits, and we start at Genesis chapter 3?
“She took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”
It is true. Because of that day, and because of all of the days between then and now that man has spent serving himself instead of our gracious creator God, everybody takes their first breath on earth as a sinner. Disconnected from that “walk in the Garden… and it was very good” relationship. We are hopelessly broken and unable to make our way back to God. And that is why Jesus’ death on the cross is the centerpoint of history. And that is why people need Jesus – to be rescued from themselves. And that is why well-meaning evangelicals swing their clubs of condemnation. They want people who don’t even realize they need saving to be saved. So the Law must do its heart-breaking work. To break up the hard-packed earth of the hearts of men, so that the Gospel seed might take root and grow and bear much fruit.
Sometimes people are broken and they know it already. Must we always skip over the first two chapters of Genesis? Must it always be LAW, then Gospel?
The message I have heard for so many years often sounds like this… (1) You are a sinner. Your sin is ugly, and it separates you from God. There is nothing you can do to avoid eternal judgment. You are condemned by your sin. (2) Jesus came to pay the price for that sin. On the cross, your sin was crucified with Him. When he rose from the dead, He announced once and for all that forgiveness has triumphed. Because of Jesus, we are forgiven, and we can be with Him in heaven forever.
You know what? This isn’t the whole story. I submit that when we LEAD with the LAW, we beat up already wounded souls. Not every time. But often. Way too often. I propose proclaiming a message, over a lifetime of biblical preaching, that looks more like this:
(1) God loves you. He created you for a purpose. God is zealously pursuing a relationship with you, and He will rejoice over you when you turn to Him. This is what we are here for. To enjoy the love of God. God is a pursuing God, and you are made in His image. He wants to restore you to your created purpose.
(2) Sin mucked it all up. God is Holy and can’t be around sin. He is righteousness, and He cannot tolerate sin. Therefore, your sin separates you from Him, and nothing you can do can change that. You will never be “good enough” for God.
(3) In light of Genesis 1 & 2 – in light of your created purpose – God made a way to redeem your soul. Jesus death on the cross was payment for your sin. Repent of your selfishness and self-reliance. God has been pursuing you because He longs to be in relationship with you. Jesus is the answer. There is hope for even you.
Evangelicals will face judgment for the souls they have driven away from God with their clumsy handling of the Law.
Yes, the proud need to be broken. But not by us. By the truth of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. And not all who hear us preach believe they don’t need God in their life. Some come to hear because they simply have no idea how to find Him. Some come to hear because they already consider themselves a screw-up. Those people need to hear Jesus call, “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” And they need to know God is pursuing them.
Some of you are clenching your jaw right now. You feel this is dangerous ground, and that I stand at the precipice of a slippery slope. We cannot soften the full weight of the Law. We cannot compromise. We cannot settle for “gospel-light” just because it’s what people want to hear.
I submit that your uncomfortability may come from the evangelical culture you have been steeped in. What I am saying is rooted in scripture. God created us as deeply valued sons, born with a purpose first. THEN sin broke the ideal. First God created and it was very good. THEN sin separated us from Him. Some people will reject God because the church FIRST reflects His judgment rather than His love. I believe more souls will be willing to hear the truth of their sin and their need for Jesus if they FIRST hear the truth that God loves them, considers them deeply valuable, and that he is pursuing a restored relationship with them out of his zealous love for us.
It’s not all about us. It’s about Him. And when more souls are saved, and more hearts are set free and restored to their created purpose, God receives more glory. He loved first. It has been this way since Genesis 1 and 2. Not just since the 3rd chapter, when we stood condemned by our sin.
So back to that day in the church pew, with my jaw clenched, and the tat-covered, lip-pierced girl sitting next to me…
I wonder what would have happened that day if the message surprised her, instead of confirming her suspicions. “Yep, I am rotten. Yep, the church is all about making sure I know that. Yep, I thought this would be uncomfortable. No way am I coming back to hear this stuff again.”
What would have happened if she would have heard how valuable she is to God? That there is hope for her, and that she has been created by a God who knows her personally with all of her failings and rebellion, and still pursues her.
Tomorrow (Friday, May 13), a number of Christians on Twitter will be using the hashtag #4Giveness to connect with those outside of the church who have been pushed away from God by His people. If this post resonnates with you, read this from my friend Chris Goforth, and join us tomorrow.
Too often the people of God have beaten people up with the Law as if WE don’t need it anymore, and it is meant to be applied as judgment to the sinners “out there.” Too often we have stiff-armed people, making the gospel difficult to reach by way of a long trail of guilt and shame. Jesus says “Come…” It is simple. It is very good.
It is time to tell people that God is loving God who is pursuing them.
Needless to say this seemed totally inappropriate. I wasn’t even talking to her.
“I am not! You always do this. Get out of my… No. YOU are the one who… No.”
I just want to get through this grocery line, man. Buy my bananas and loaf of bread and diet tonic water. I just want to get through the day without arguing with a crazy stranger. It’s kind of a goal.
“Stop it! Stop it!”
She’s not looking at me. She’s looking glassy-eyed straight ahead. This is at first a relief. Then it only ratchets up the weirdness. She’s not talking to me… but there’s no one else around… so…
“This conversation is over. I’m hanging up. Goodbye!”
*facepalm* BLUETOOTH. Couldn’t see the tiny receiver tucked into her ear under her hair. I don’t like it, man. The world is full of people talking to themselves, and it’s getting harder to tell who hears little voices in their ear because of technology and who hears voices because they’re a few pickles short of a jar. I’d like to propose that bluetooth earpieces come with a little stick that extends over your head with a small, tasteful bright orange flag flying, so as to alert the world that you are hip, not simply nuts.
So we’ve established that there is “bad” talking to yourself. If you’ve ever been around true (as in, non-bluetooth enabled) talking to yourself, we can agree… it’s unnerving.
But there is another kind of talking to yourself that I am sold-out for, passionate about. It’s the kind of crazy we need MORE of in our churches. Last month I wrote two posts on sermon preparation (here and here). One of my friends left a comment and shared this quote from John Calvin:
“If the preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.”
Amen! I mean, as it applies to me. I wish no ill to befall my fellow pastors trying to serve their congregations with fresh insights from the Word of God week after week. I mean no harm to the Sunday School teachers who wrestle their gaggle of 13 fourth graders to attention each Sunday morning. In no way do I want injury to befall the bazillions of small group leaders who are trying to lead Bible studies week to week with no formal training, wondering if they are qualified to serve but gladly doing it anyway because they love Jesus.
I am you. All of you who handle the Word of God and try to share it’s power and insight with other people. So I’m writing as a fellow crazy person, believing that somehow God can use me and my limited intellect and wavering allegiance to teach His people. It’s crazy, because, who am I to be a leader, a teacher, an example? I’m a broken mess.
And therein lies the mystery and the genius of God’s Church. His Word is alive, and it speaks today. His Spirit is the true teacher. We human preachers and teachers and Bible study leaders… we’re just His servants, serving other servants. Not higher than. Not holier than. Side by side. All sinners in need of grace and all being reformed into Christ’s image for the sake of God’s reputation, not ous.
So as a fellow servant… who happens to teach the Bible some times… I want to let you know something about me.
I talk to myself.
I’m a rookie preacher, you know. A first year of Seminary under my belt in the next couple weeks. So as a preacher, I’m got a lot of learning to do. We all know the difference between a preacher who seems to be “up there,” just doing his own thing, and those preachers who are talking right to you. Like the Bible is piercing through the religious veneer and the “I’m at least as put-together as the guy next to me” front we wear to church, and messing with our heart itself. I only have one life, after all, and it’s already half spent. I don’t want to waste a minute giving random religious self help talks, or even disconnected exegetical Bible lessons that fail to pierce the fog between the pulpit and the pew.
I’m praying the the voice of God and the nearness of His Spirit are unmistakable when I preach. And that’s crazy. I’m nobody. But God uses nobodies all the time.
Maybe it’s because the “have-it-all-together” crowd doesn’t feel that reckless desperation for God to be behind the wheel. I don’t know. But I do know that God has tons of refining work to do in me. And the times, it seems, when my teaching makes the deepest impact or resonates with the greatest connection between my notes and the people facing me are the times when what I am teaching has grown out of a deep realization that God is working this truth out in ME. When His Word has broken through my walls and reached my inner self and shined the light on my dark corners… then I am ready to teach. When God has spoken to me, then I’m ready to speak to my fellow servants.
So if you’re me… a fellow teacher in the Kingdom, trying to rightly handle the Word of God and realizing how daunting that responsibility is, rember this:
It IS as crazy as you think it is that God would speak the truth of His Word through cracked pots like you and me. Lunatic fringe crazy. But that’s part of the genius of His plan. He knows that we’re a mess, and that leaves lots of room to teach us about His character and power and grace.
Don’t spend this one life you have making religious speeches. Get into the Word where God can break our heart and make it soar. Be moved and changed… and THEN teach. Not before. The church needs more preachers and teachers and Bible Study leaders who think it’s crazy that God would use them. That crazy keeps us desperate. And His power is made perfect in weakness, not in self-reliance. That’s why when I get get up in that pool of light in front of my friends and fellow servants, notes in one hand and Bible in the other, I pray and pray and I remember that I’m not up here simply to talk the talk in their direction…
“I know I’m right. And no, this isn’t an issue of excess pride. Scripture is clear. And yet, here you are, expressing what you think is a valid opinion to the contrary. No. Having a favorite ice cream flavor… THAT is an opinion. But this is in the Bible. This is indisputable. I’m right about this right here.”
Pick your favorite hot button theological issue. Or your strongest opinnion on church methodology. You know you’ve got one. Everybody’s got one. Now, stir up some of that internal tension… just picture your most vocal adversary on this issue and instert yourself into a conversation wherein you use the paragraph above. Got it?
Good. Now I’m sure you can rustle up your favorite verses that back up your point of view. Go ahead… access the memory banks. Take your sword from its scabbord. Good. Now are you ready to defend your ground? Steel yourself for conflict. Jude 1:3 tells us to contend for the faith. This is that moment. Are you up to the task?
You are now in the right frame of mind to read this post. I’m talking to you right now.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:21)
“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” (2 Timothy 2:14)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, butkind to everyone,able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponentswith gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
A few months ago now, I saw a contentious theological discussion on Facebook in which someone made the comment, “Truth at all costs.” Really? At all costs? Like the eternal soul of your opponent? All costs? I immediately thought back to something a mentor of mine once said at a worship leadership conference…
“Sometimes I can just be SO RIGHT that I roll right over people… with the authority of the Lord. That crushes love. LOVE is the first commandment, not ‘thou shalt be right for my name’s sake.'”
I had this clever blog post all planned out. But I think it would better if you just read those verses above one more time. That’s really all I want to say. Yes, I belive in absolute truth, and I believe in living with strong convictions, and I know there is a time to confront and a time to contend. But without love, we’re just a clanging gong.
I’m not linking to a hundred blog posts. I’m not starting another op-ed column. Because this post isn’t about Rob Bell. Or Hell.
If you haven’t seen for yourself what has the Christian subculture all stirred up, watch this… …
So Rob Bell’s upcoming book may or may not suggest that there’s no Hell. Or nobody is in Hell. Or they won’t be. Or not for long. We don’t know. The book comes out March 20 something. But his publisher (HarperOne) says that Rob is (among other things)… “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”
But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell. To the point then.
Culture shifts. It swings like a pendulum. I often find myself looking at the pendulum of cultural ideology with a mix of fascination for the psychology of it all (like watching people you don’t know in the airport) and concern for souls (like watching a family member get on a plane to fly somewhere far away… maybe for a long time). I carry a mix of modern-age cultural realism and heart-ache-inducing care for souls. Always there. Watching culture swing.
Watching Rob Bell, whom this post isn’t about, I was reminded again… and then again by the Twitter explosion last Saturday… and again and again by a dozen and a half bloggers in rapid response…
One thing this current parabolic shift in Christian evangelical sub-culture has embraced that we can be sure of is… we can’t be sure of anything.
I don’t mean to use hyperbole. We might embrace mystery. Wonder. We might say we just seek Jesus. Or we want to live like Him. But we don’t really want anyone to tell us what that means.
Relevant Magazine (giving voice to the twenty-something generation at the intersection of Christian faith and real life) just published their list of “50 ideas that changed everything.” Number 19? Yep. “Nothing says FAITH like DOUBT.” Then they sucker-punched me in my email inbox with this excellent article about “Why Doubt isn’t a Dirty Word.”
One of the many blogs that was sent to me on the whole “Hell” debate, which this post isn’t about, was from thirty-something faith-life observer and Christian sub-culture Pocket-Guide author Jason Boyett, whose latest book is titled “O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling.” (Which, by the way, I think you should buy for the cover art alone. Genius.)
In the Christian realm of conversation “relativism” is frowned upon, even by those of us who have grown up steeped in post-millennial stew. We know enough to reject “relative truth.” Right? I mean… right? I think the postmillennial babies that are now emerging (some pun intended) in the life of the Church as young adults believe that there are some things that are just unshakably true… if they are pressed. But we aren’t supposed to press, as far as I can tell.
The truth is, doubt is cool right now.
In fact, doubt is seen as a sign of true humility, honest faith, open-mindedness, reasonableness, approachability. Questions are hip. The guy this post isn’t focusing on asked 25 of them in his two and a half minute video above. But that’s OK. Questions make people think. It’s just that while questions foster exploration of the possibilities, clear statements made with conviction don’t leave that kind of creative space. Conviction communicates faith in absolutes. And absolutes are exclusive because they rule out other options. And if you’re reading this right now, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth… exclusive, absolute, clear-cut conviction… I’m asking the question today: why is that?
Somehow, conviction has become equated with haughty self-righteousness and narrow-minded mean-spiritedness, pride, vulgar stubborn offensive… conviction is a lesser value.
My heart breaks.
Who will write the book, “My Faith is Strong, and I Know in Whom I Believe”? What has happened to the William Wallaces, crying “FREEDOM!” against the odds? Is it no longer admirable to take a stand for a belief, or is it only admirable to take a stand for somebody else? I know, that’s a false dichotomy. But it has some teeth.
I think the next generation Church would readily embrace the poor and broken and marginalized in our communities – take a stand for LOVE – and that is commendable. New passion to be Jesus-with-skin-on in a way our parents often weren’t. In a way I haven’t been. God bless those who LOVE in Jesus name.
But will this generation also take a stand for TRUTH? Is it admirable anymore to hold to ideals even when those ideals may be unpopular, or uncomfortable?
If someone you love is on a self-destructive path, what is the most loving thing to do? Comfort does not equal compassion. the Bible isn’t clear about everything. But many, many things are ringing with clarity and urgency. There is a life and death reality that follows every soul, every heartbeat. Even among the hostile and the apathetic.
Church! For Christ’s sake – decide what you believe! Stand for it. Live it out. Doubt is acceptable as a process – a pathway to further understanding. But I don’t believe it is a virtue as a perpetual excuse to substitute personal experience for higher ideals.
Doubt may be the new faith, but I have greater respect for those who can humbly, respectfully, but unflinchingly demonstrate that they believe something to their core, and they are willing to rise or fall on that conviction.
Now to the passionate, to the men and women of conviction, the the truth-tellers and safeguards of Biblical inerrancy… please love people. It is rare to see someone stand for the Word with an iron will and the patience to engage in respectful discussion. We have a responsibility to be Christ-like, which is impossible. So I ask the Holy Spirit to keep shaping me, that I can be a man of great conviction and great humility.
There is this huge part of me that wants to tell you what I think about Rob Bell. I know his book isn’t even out yet. Certainly the world will be in a better place to have that discussion freely after four hundred bazillion of us buy his book on March twenty something. Congratulations HarperOne. There’s this part of me that wants to talk about hell – about the hundreds of references to this place of darkness and pain and fire spoken of in plain language in the Bible from cover to cover – and laced through Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom like a stubborn thread… making people uncomfortable.
But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell.
It’s about the value of CONVICTION. And the necessity of HUMILITY.
The Gospel is the seed. Their heart is the soil. A congregation openly adoring God with freedom… that’s the heat lamp.
There is a discussion going on in the Church about the “power of worship.” Some churches staunchly stand on the preaching of the Word of God being the central focal point of every worship service. Other churches believe that it is often in times of corporate worship when God moves among His people most visibly in supernatural power. Some churches intentionally pull back from much corporate worship in a setting where evangelism is the goal. But the idea that worship is isolating or alienating for the unbeliever is being reexamined… and reexamined again.
My good friend Dallas Jenkins (Film-maker, director of Midnight Clear, and more recently, What If) recently produced a video story for Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, where Andi Rozier is an Associate Pastor of Worship. If you’ve got eight minutes, this is a powerful example of worship and the Gospel at work together to change a life. Depending on your theological background, that statement could fall anywhere on the scale from “obviously true” to “dangerously misguided.” Watch this, and I’ll follow up with a few thoughts…
(1) I believe in “Worship Evangelism.” In a nutshell, it is a belief that as unbelievers encounter and experience worshippers of Jesus Christ adoring Him with honesty and freedom, they will see and experience the nearness of God, alive and interacting with His people. If you really want to flesh this idea out and explore it deeply, I’d encourage you to find and read “Worship Evangelism”(1995) by Sally Morgenthaler. Although Jesus makes it clear in John 4 that unbelievers aren’t even able to worship God, I fully believe that when God’s people worship, they interact with the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Word, and the beauty of that honest interaction draws unbelievers toward God.
(2) Worship doesn’t save people. Jesus alone saves people. And Romans 10:13, 14 and 17 make it clear that salvation comes by hearing the Word of God, which contains the Gospel in all of its power and purity. So yes, I think God moves in power and interacts with us when we worship Him. And yes, I believe that being in the midst of a worshipping congregation can move the hearts of unbelievers to want to know more – to look more deeply into the message of God. But we must not trip over that line… we must not ascribe some supernatural power to the worship experience itself, or we are creating an elevated “theology of worship” that equates our experience with the power and holy authority of the Word of God.
(3) Life-change takes time. In a discussion with Dallas about this piece, he mentioned something that the Worship Pastor, Andi, said that didn’t end up in the final video. “We’re about life change, and worship leaders need to remember that it’s not always something that happens over 30 minutes, or 30 days, or 30 months, or even 30 years.”
Great perspective. God can blow the doors off of someone’s heart in an instant if He so chooses. But often, people who really, REALLY experience God’s power in a life-changing way are led through a PROCESS, not simply brought to an instant that changes everything. Process… investment… relationships… and the truth. People are stubborn, and me more than most. We shouldn’t expect “our ministry” to change a soul in one hour-long moment. God is the heart-breaker and restorer, and He often chooses to plant the truth like a seed, and over time, allow the truth to take root.
When I lead worship, it is an honor to help that seed along with a little toasty goodness from the heat lamp…
As a Worship Leader, I am quick to say HE is the seed planter, and His Word is the seed carrier, and His Spirit is the seed deliverer. My job is to give the congregation of believers in our church an opportunity to respond to God with adoration and honest thanksgiving for His love and grace and unchanging character. Because the Gospel is the seed. Their heart is the soil. And I’m just flipping the ON switch…
When you watch Rob’s story, or when you read the ideas presented here, what do you think?
I just saw a bumper sticker on a Ford F-150 that read, “YES this is my truck. NO, I won’t help you move.”
That’s how it is, right? Those of you hybrid-driving, eco-friendly, foreign-car-owning suburbanite friends of mine. You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. It’s getting to be that time. Almost moving day, and what do you start to think about? That’s right… “Who do I know with a TRUCK?” Let’s face it. Fahrvergnügen can’t help you move the sofa.
So a couple of years ago I found myself the proud owner of a nice three bedroom rambler in suburban Minneapolis. One of the reasons we loved the house was the wrap-around deck in the back. But we had lived in the house for several years, and the deck was showing its age. A few cracked boards, and a little too much bounce in the corner revealed that some of the frame had been built with untreated wood, and that wood was starting to crumble. It was one of those projects that I thought would begin and end on a Friday morning with one well-planned run to Home Depot. Not so much. As I began to pull out the soft wood, the more problems were revealed, and suddenly I had several pieces of the frame, a set of steps, half a dozen planks, about a third of the railing frame , and almost all of the railing spindles to replace.
At the time I owned a hammer, a worn out drill, one rechargeable electric screwdriver with no working battery, and a jar of miscellaneous small screws and finishing nails. I was like the anti-Bob Villa. I mean, don’t get me wrong… Other than the meager tool set, lack of a modeling career, the international acclaim, and any measurable skill in carpentry, Ty Pennington and I have a lot in common.
Let’s just say I needed back-up. So I have this friend Brandon. He’s got a pick up AND an air compressor. And nail guns. That’s right. Plural. And a sawzall. And talent. All things I didn’t have.
So Brandon was the guy to call. Also significant… he’s one of the greatest guys on the planet. For roughly the cost of lunch at Arby’s (maybe EXACTLY for the cost of lunch at Arby’s), Brandon basically spent one good Saturday – sun-up to sun-down – tearing apart, re-planning, and reconstructing our deck. He and I were able to do in one 12 hour period what would have taken me… I still wouldn’t be done with it. If it were up to me alone with my hammer and half-baked power drill, circa 1983, my poor family would still be coming in and out the front door, avoiding the sad half-torn-apart reminder of my few non-Ty Pennington-esque qualities that used to be our deck.
Come to think of it, I probably owe Brandon another Medium Roast Beef. WITH the curly fries this time.
Smash cut to me this morning at 5:04 AM. I find myself literally groaning out load as I roll out of bed. I’ve got 2 hours and 56 minutes until my Chapter 20 Greek Quiz. My nemesis. My kryptonite. My poke in the eye. My bad dream.
Studying Greek at 5:04 in the morning is like whacking yourself in the knee repeatedly with a mallet. It’s hard. It hurts. At least for me. A couple of the boys in our Sem class seem to feed on Greek like a Sumo wrestler at a sushi bar. Like well trained athletes, the pain of the process is part of the joy of it for them. Personally, I have to put my trust in the delayed gratification – the joy set before me, if you will – of being able to wield my Greek knowledge like a Dragon Warrior some day. But for now, I’m just a lowly inexperienced noodle-serving Panda with a dream, and Greek is my Tai Lung. It’s pounding on my brain cells.
So why do I do this? Why get up at the crack of early and take up my knee-whacking mallet and endure the pain of self-inflicted Future Active Indicative Greek Verb Paradigms?
Same reason I bought Brandon a sandwich. He owns two nail guns, and I do not.
On our first day of class this Fall, Pastor Moan stood in front of our Seminary classroom and spoke about the marathon ahead of us as Greek students. I remember some of it. I remember the part about when you’re so tired you can’t see straight, and you want to quit, bang your head against the wall and get back to work. I remember the part about “if you want to learn Greek, you need to SWEAT.” I remember, “Building endurance. Discipline. Discouragement. Carrying on when you hit the wall.” And my favorite Pastor Moan quote from the first day… “We’ve had a few casualties. I’ll admit it.” Nice.
The thing is, when I step out of my last Seminary class and into my life’s calling, I’m not going to be building a deck. Lord willing, I will be a pastor. I’m going to be shepherding souls. It will be my high calling to rightly handle the Word of God, and preach the truth with clarity and in the power of God. Who am I to do this? I’m just a panda with a hammer and a lousy drill.
A Panda who is learning Greek.
Martin Luther said, “In the measure that we love the Gospel, so let us place a strong emphasis on the languages. For it was not without reason that God wrote the Scriptures in two languages… Keep hard at the languages, for language is the sheath in which the Sword of the Spirit rests.”
The REASON we do this hard work is that it is a tool for ministry. And ministry is the goal. If I want to build a great deck in one day instead of a lousy deck over the course of… years, most likely, I need a decent saw, an air compressor, and a nail gun. Or two nail guns. Even better.
If I want to really dig into the Word of God, understand it deeply, and prepare to teach with due diligence, I need to learn Greek. And then I’ll pray like crazy and trust God can use a clumsy panda like me to preach His Word with the boldness of a Dragon Warrior. Souls are on the line.
“The modern preacher in his study is a man with his tools. The man with the best tools, all other things being equal, does the best work.” -A. T. Robertson
Greek language, look me in the eye. You are going down. Ska-Doosh!
There was this blank spot on an otherwise meticulously detailed program. 1:30PM session… TBA.
To be announced? What?
It was August of 2000. We were in South Barrington, IL. Willow Creek Church. 4,500 church and ministry leaders from around the world shoulder to shoulder in a sprawling auditorium for the annual Leadership Summit. End of the last session before lunch, and we still had no idea what was coming up.
And then came the announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we need you to exit the auditorium immediately following this session. Please do not stay and chat. We know you have tons of ideas to process with your teams, but we’ll need you to have those conversations over lunch. For reasons that will soon become apparent, we have been unable to publicly announce our 1:30 session interview. We have been told that the Secret Service will need a full 90 minutes to sweep this auditorium and secure it for our next session’s guest… President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.”
There was an audible gasp. On the one hand, it is stirring to be at an event with the leader of the free world. On the other hand, for those of you who know your history, you might remember that in the year 2000 President Clinton was not exactly regarded as a model of Godly leadership by the evangelical community. President Clinton may not have actually been the devil, but they were at least drinking buddies, in the eyes of many.
But I don’t want this post to get tangled or hijacked by a discussion about the wisdom or morality of bringing Bill Clinton in to talk about leadership to thousands of church leaders. This isn’t a political discussion. Nor is it a discussion about the dangers of mega-churches or the personal theological failings of Bill Hybels. It’s a leadership discussion… about babies and bathwater.
Several months ago, in a Seminary class on Theology, on of my classmates began to decry the sad state of affairs in the modern church, and how deplorable it is that church leaders today are willing to listen to “outside voices” to learn leadership principles, rather than looking to the Bible for direction and guidance.
“Wait a minute…” I said. “What?”
“We’re supposed to be transformed into the image of God, not conform to the patterns of this world. What in God’s name are we doing looking to BUSINESS models and so-called ‘leadership experts’ to learn how to run our churches? The Bible gives us everything we need to know.”
Flash back to Willow Creek, circa August, 2000. Just after lunch. The crowd has been readmitted under the watchful eye of the Secret Service. There is a nervous buzz in the air. Bill Hybels comes to the microphone, and I’ll never forget his first words to us. “You think YOU lead a big deal…”
If ever there is someone who knows something about the demands of being a leader, surely the President of the United States is that person. Politics aside, to say that being President requires a high degree of leadership is like calling the sun hot, water wet, or “Three Amigos” hilarious. Willow Creek over the years has consistently brought high level leaders to the Leadership Summit, to speak and teach about leadership principles to a crown made up of mostly pastors, church staff, and ministry leadership teams. Many of these speakers and presenters are vibrant Christians, sharing powerful real-life examples of Biblical leadership methods in action. But Willow unapologetically invites non-believers, as well. Because they belive in the Babyregardless of the Bathwater. And some of my most memorable God-encounters, Holy-Spirit promptings, and ministry-changing leadership discoveries have come through the ministry of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.
What is this “Baby” of which I speak? Basically it boils down to this…
Truth is truth.
I know… God’s Word is truth, and evangelicals believe it is our sole authoritative standard in all matters pertaining to faith and life. Yes we ought to be forsaking the sin of the world and allow Christ to shape us and guide our ministry direction through His Word and by His Spirit. All good. All necessary.
But when my Muslim neighbor, gay coworker, Catholic mail carrier, goth pizza delivery guy, angry right-wing radio talk-show host, heathen President of the United States, [fill-in-the-blank] has something TRUE to say, the bearer of the truth does not change the truth he or she bears. Truth stands on its own, and all truth is God’s truth.
Therefore, if we can gain wisdom from the CEO of Southwest Airlines, or the leader of International Justice Mission, or the rock star Bono… why not? Yes we must be discerning. Yes we need yield to a higher authority and disregard whatever they bring to the table that does not square with scripture.
Babies and bathwater. I say let’s be open to conversations with all KINDS of people – and humble enough to learn from them.
I know… some of you, like my fellow Sem student, might see this as dangerous – or foolish. A slippery slope. “Conforming to the pattern of this world.” I hear that. I get it. I’m not talking about SUPPLANTING Biblical truth with any man-made business plan to run the church. No way. But I AM saying, how about BOTH/AND? Why not be open to learn from smart people who might have something true – something wise – to teach the church? Or are we so proud that we think we have found every good idea that’s ever been had about leadership?
Eternal souls are at stake. More humility. More conversation. Let’s hold onto those babies, regardless of the bathwater.