We dine together

We dine together

In my sermon, I told the story of Denis Estimon from Boca Raton High School in Florida.  Denis was a Haitian immigrant who came to this country and found himself isolated and alone at school and spent years eating alone. 

As Denis grew up and grew in status among his peers, he never forgot his humble beginnings and the loneliness he experienced as a young child.  Because Denis came to understand that he was loved and had esteem, he found courage in the love he experienced from his peers and then extended that to others.  

This is exactly what the apostle John is talking about in 1 John 4:19 when he says that "We love because he first loved us." The love God has poured out on us is not to be collected and wrapped up in a cozy blanket to give us rest.  Rather, God's love has been poured out all over us so that we can live free from fear of others and be the actual body of Christ as we express God's love, grace, and mercy to others.  

Can you speak truth to power in a blue state?

Can you speak truth to power in a blue state?

I love the phrase, "Speak truth to power!"  As a Christian and as a Christian leader, there is a strong linage for Christ followers to leverage their spheres of influence to stand up for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  

In fact, all throughout the scriptures, we have stories of the prophets standing up and calling out the people in power.  Beginning with Moses who confronted Pharaoh himself, throughout the rest of the Old Testament witness as prophet after prophet confronted the religious and political leaders on their evil ways that have corrupted the religious practices, and have oppressed the weak and marginalized.  

Jesus continued this tradition as he rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees, stood up for the outcasts, the marginalized, the sinners and tax collectors.  Jesus leveraged all of his personal power for the sake of the poor and oppressed.  

Since the time of Christ, there were seasons where Christians continued this tradition and did this in incredible ways, and seasons where we have totally dropped the ball.  

The real question is, "What season are we currently in?"

Mary Magdalene is, hands down, my favorite disciple.

Mary Magdalene is, hands down, my favorite disciple.

The more I study Mary Magdalene, the more I am blown away at what an incredible woman she must have been.  I love how much she served Jesus, I love that Jesus gave here the distinct privilege to be the very first herald of the resurrection.   And I love the irony of religious people who have often struggled with women and their roles in the church, have given such a high honor, not to Peter, or James, or John, but to Mary of Magdala.

For as much as I love these things about Mary.  What has impacted me the most this week as I have studied her life and reflected on her place in the life and ministry of Jesus, it is her presence at the crucifixion and in the preparation of the burial spices that caused me to do some additional reflection.  

You see, the crucifixion was the lowest part of Jesus' earthly ministry.  It was horrifying and heartbreaking.  It caused huge panic among the male disciples, to the point that they all scattered.  But for the women who followed Jesus, for Jesus' mother and the closest and dearest of friends, this was a time to share in their sorrow and grief.  

Think about how incredible it was for Mary Magdalene to have such proximity to Mary, Jesus mother, in one of the most inner circle events of someone's life.  Being witness to the death and preparing the burial spices was reserved for the dearest and closest friends.  And of all the people to have this sort of proximity to Jesus and to Jesus' mother, it was Mary Magdelene.

Why are so many gifted people leaving vocational ministry?

Why are so many gifted people leaving vocational ministry?

Over the past few months, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of friends and colleagues who are hanging up their ministry cleats and heading off into other professions and industries.  I am not going to lie, it has been pretty depressing to watch so many gifted leaders come to the awful conclusion that the cost/benefit analysis of vocational ministry is coming up wanting.  

Why is this happening?  What is going on in the church and in the culture that is making vocational ministry completely unappealing?  I am sure there are a number of reasons for this.  But there is one reason that I have been mulling over and wondered if you agree.

I think that a number of Gen X and Millennial leaders are fleeing vocational ministry because the basic deal between pastor and congregation has become untenable for the pastor. 

The simple way I see the past is this:  Ministry has always been difficult.  It is a high calling, a calling from God, a call to selfless service to the church and to work of expanding the Kingdom of God.  It was ok to have low salaries, crazy work hours, committee meetings, and always being on call.  It was even ok that it was mostly a thankless job and often pastors had little fruit to show for their years of faithful service.  Planning and watering was the faithful call, and trusting that God would use their efforts to cause faith to grow was their hope!  It was hard and thankless work, but a noble calling!

Has Jordan Peterson stumbled on something vital for understanding the Gospel in a post-Christian world?

Has Jordan Peterson stumbled on something vital for understanding the Gospel in a post-Christian world?

Over this last year, I have come across an incredible thinker who has seemed to tap into a felt need through his Youtube channel.  Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and teaches in Toronto, Canada.  He has gone from relative obscurity to a Youtube sensation with almost a million subscribers and is now making his way around the lecture circuit and podcast universe.  And, if you don't know who he is or have't listened to a lecture or two, then I think you are missing out! 

But what does a clinical psychologist and Youtube sensation have to say to the church?  And even more, what can he tell us as Christians who long to make the gospel make sense to a culture that is becoming more and more post-Christian?  Great question!

Becuase he is such a good thinker and has started to be asked in many interviews for his reflection on his rise in popularity, he has come up with a rather succinct explanation, and I agree.  In his lectures, interviews and talks he addresses three main topics:

But what does a clinical psychologist and Youtube sensation have to say to the church and for Christians who long to make the gospel make sense to a culture that is becoming more and more post-Christian?  Great question!

Becuase he is such a good thinker and has started to be asked in many interviews for him to reflect on his rise in popularity, he has come up with a rather succinct explanation, and I agree.  In his lectures, interviews and talks he addresses three main topics:

Can you spend a week without spending money?

Can you spend a week without spending money?

I have loved this series examining our inner life as we conduct a spiritual inventory of our souls.  For the most part, I long to move towards Christ.  But I want to do it on my timetable, at my pace.  Most of the questions we have been asking are pretty subjective and on a sliding scale.  But this week we have a real life, a daily test that confronts us at every turn.

When we allow how we spend money to be an indicator of spiritual health and growth we set ourselves up to examine our motives, to wrestle with our inner life, and evaluate the health of our souls every few hours throughout our day. 

Money, wealth, material possessions, for some reason, are deeply connected to our souls.  Scripture talks about these things over 800 times.  There is something to our relationship with mammon that is in total conflict with our relationship with God.  

God longs to be King of our lives, to be a protector, provider, comforter, and where we find our true identity.  In neutral, we allow money and the things money can buy to usurp God.  By taking a fast from spending money, we are confronted with asking these deeper questions every time we are hungry, bored, anxious, lonely, insecure, or simply need a dopamine rush.  

Why do most Evangelicals support the 2nd Amendment?

Why do most Evangelicals support the 2nd Amendment?

The internet is blowing up Christians and their love for guns and the 2nd Amendment.  How in the world did American Evangelicalism get to be so associated with Gun rights?  I think the answer has less to do with actual guns and the enormous cultural divide that we find ourselves in.    

We are in the middle of a civil war that is happening between cultures and worldviews.  Thankfully we haven't taken up weapons against each other, but the lines are being drawn.  One of the ways we can determine who is on our team is by virtue signaling.  (This is the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.)

You see people virtue signaling all the time, and on both sides of the cultural debate.  Think about why you post what you post on Facebook when it comes to politics.  You have very little political clout and you are not trying to change hearts and minds, rather, if you are like most people, you are trying to prove to your side that you are a loyal member to your tribe.  This happens all the time around issues like Climate Change, Black Lives Matter, Trump, Abortion, Income Inequality.  

This gets us to the latest debate about Guns and all of the weeping and gnashing teen surrounding this issue.  

How can you tell the difference between right and wrong in an amoral culture?

How can you tell the difference between right and wrong in an amoral culture?

This last year marijuana became legal for recreational purposes in our state.  And because our churches have done such a poor job in our discipleship we have no good answer as to the place that weed should have in the life of a follower of Christ.  

For too long we have lazily relied on a shallow understanding of spirital formation and extolled behavior management.  Because we used to live in a culture that had deep roots in a Judeo-Christian worldview, we could simply say, "A good Christian obeys the law of the land." But now that the laws are changing we are forced to take another look at our morality in light of our spiritual formation, not in light of the laws of the land or what is culturally acceptable.  

With that being said, I had an interesting study in Romans 14 the other day with some friends and wanted to share a helpful paradigm in discerning right from wrong in an amoral culture.

Grab your bibles and turn to ROMANS 14:13-18 

Here are a couple of thoughts on what we love in this passage:

How bringing our Children's Ministry team to Orange not only changed our Children's ministry, but also our church! #OC18 #thinkorange

How bringing our Children's Ministry team to Orange not only changed our Children's ministry, but also our church!  #OC18 #thinkorange

One of the best decisions I have ever made in student ministry is to become good friends and colleagues with the children's ministry director.   Here at Marin Covenant Church, I am honored to lead a great team and that team is spearheaded by Stacie Mancini.  As we wrap up Orange Week, I asked Stacie if she would reflect on how going Orange has changed our children's ministry, our church, and our team.  

Here are her thoughts: Our Children’s Ministry went Orange last summer. And I am so glad we did. We had been writing our own curriculum and had found a rhythm that was working for us. And everything was going fine…I just felt like we were missing something. Orange’s appeal is evident when you first see their dynamic presentation. I wanted the clever, fun and engaging multi-media curriculum for our kids. But even more than that I wanted what Orange offered to our families. After implementing Orange I see how much we have truly gained.

Run towards suffering

Run towards suffering

This last week's message was a challenging one.  If you are in the middle of the dark night of the soul and walking through the valley of the shadow of darkness, there are no trite words or even wise and insightful words that will comfort in this season.  Suffering and heartbreak are devastating and groaning is really all we can do. 

But for those who are not currently in that season, we have been invited into a high calling, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and run towards the suffering.  We are called to selflessly give more and more of our heart, time, resources to those who are struggling and suffering and even to those who may be the cause of some of our suffering.  (Remeber Jesus even washed Judas' feet.)

As our world seems to be experiencing more and more suffering, the church has an incredible opportunity.  Not to stand on the sidelines and point our finger at those who do wrong, but to roll up our sleeves and walk towards those who suffer and bear with them.  

Free to dive deeply into the abyss

Free to dive deeply into the abyss

This passage of scripture might be one of the least memorized passages of scripture for all time.  I mean, who really wants to come to terms with the depth of their sin, dysfunction, and brokenness.  Who wants to own that their own choices and rebellion have crushed and ruined things, people, and our intimacy with God.  Who is willing to grieve, mourn and wail their own depravity?

Do you want to know who?  You do!

Because the larger story of the gospel is that because of the work that Jesus has done on the cross, the punishment for our sin has been paid for and according to Romans 8:1 there is now no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  THIS IS GOOD NEWS!

Remember when you were fun?

Remember when you were fun?

Remember when you were fun?  That was the question I opened my sermon up with.  And the more I have been thinking about it, I think fun, and more specifically joy is a good barometer of what is going on in our souls.

Joy comes when we have found internal peace with who we are, what we are and how we are.  And when we are at peace and content, joy naturally follows.  Think of the times when you experienced the most joy, chances are it was a time when everything seemed to be coming together.  

What is challenging is whether or not something is "coming together" or not is really an internal state of being.  And the biggest hindrance of not being content so you can experience joy usually has to do with some hidden and not so hidden brokenness between you and someone else, and even between you and God. Once sin and brokenness enters the equation, all bets are off.

The best way to ruin your big plan is to break trust

The best way to ruin your big plan is to break trust

I have been having a lot of conversations with young people who deeply love God and who long to follow Jesus, and are deeply wounded by the church.  As someone who hasn't been that wounded by the church, my instinct is to give a compelling argument and challenge them to push through.  But, as you could guess, that strategy is not working.

There is a giant cultural shift afoot and every institution is under assault and being taken down.  Some of this is healthy housecleaning for sure.  While we continually need to be reflective, own our garbage, repent and change, we must still move forward.  What is happening is different than that.  What seems to be happening is everyone is waking up and realizing the institutions they have put their trust in have betrayed them or those they love and in doing so have become totally unsafe.  

I do not use "being unsafe" in any sort of light way.  Unsafe in this context is not simply a skinned knee unsafety, but a true danger that could lead to death.  

You are all just two bad decisions away from ruining your entire life

You are all just two bad decisions away from ruining your entire life

I spent this last week on vacation and while away I consumed a lot of media, listened to many lectures, read through some blogs and skimmed a book.  One of the movies I watched has been haunting me personally and has triggered some follow up thoughts regarding the church and the direction she might be heading in.  

The movie, Shot Caller is about a successful businessman who has it all.  He makes good money, has a beautiful wife, kind son, and good friends.  After a night of fun and drinking with his wife and friends, he runs a red light and accidentally kills his best friend.  It is an accent, but the letter of law is a DUI manslaughter and he pleads to reduce his sentence from 10 years down to 2.  

His wife says that "You don't go to prison for an accident."  Oh, how we long for that to be true!

I wonder when the Church is going to wrestle with the 1st of the 10 commandments?

I wonder when the Church is going to wrestle with the 1st of the 10 commandments?

You shall not have any gods above me.  

This seems pretty straightforward.  But I am afraid that we in the church have been co-opted by our culture and embraced strange and foreign religions that are no longer orthodox Christianity but have been changed into something totally different by syncretism.  

Syncretism: exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions.

What is challenging is that in our context, syncretism is not as blatant as simply combining other religious belief systems.  That would be easy to see.  We don't believe in some strange Christian / Buddhist blend religion or a Christian / Islam religion.  Rather we have strange philosophical and political systems that we treat like religions and have formed a deformed version of Christianity.  

It might be time to get back to some good old-fashioned personal responsibility.

It might be time to get back to some good old-fashioned personal responsibility.

If you have been paying attention to the outside world, to your kids coming back from college, or to the cultural debate about everything from Sexual Harassment to Race to Economic Policy, you will notice that there is one thing that has gone absent from these discussions.  Personal Responsibility.

Personal Responsibility has gotten a bad rap in our culture.  I mean, how can you expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when you are talking about poverty or the deep systemic issues that are hindering women and people of color.  In every conversation I am a part of the issues always are about environmental factors for the situation people find themselves in.  (Don't get me wrong, situational factors are significant and worthy of conversation.)  

But there is another part of the conversation that no longer gets air time.  And on a public policy level, this has some implications, but those are for another day over a drink.  I want to talk about how this cultural shift is hindering the work of the church and worse, hindering the work God longs to do in His people and the world.

Adoption as a helpful way to share the good news about Jesus

Adoption as a helpful way to share the good news about Jesus

I find it interesting that Jesus' first words to people were not a fierce call out compelling people to repent of the kingdom of God is near.  John the Baptist had that ministry and it was pretty successful until he got his head cut off.  When you read through the Gospels, Jesus does have some stern words for the self-righteous but does seem to have an entirely different approach to the alienated and disenfranchised.

I would argue that people in our context have much more in common with the alienated than with the rebellious sinners or self-righteous. And if that is true, we can look and see how Jesus engages people, and when he does, it is rarely with confronting language, or finger-pointing, or even rebuke.  Rather, Jesus simply invites:

What the church can learn from Louis C.K.

What the church can learn from Louis C.K.

It seems like the floodgates have finally opened up and the years of sexual abuse by men in power is finally being exposed.  What the Catholic Church experienced over a decade ago is now being extended to every part of our culture.  Politicians and powerful media elites are facing the consequences of an entire culture filled with sexual assault and harassment.  Of all the revelations and responses, I think Louis C. K. marks out a path that might be most helpful for church people as we are being confronted on our patriarchal systems of power and the explicit and implicit way we have handled sex, sexuality, and expanding to race.

Although C.K. didn't explicit apologize to the woman specifically, he did recognize some facts that we in the church should be quick to acknowledge.   As people become more and more free to share stories about their wounding church experiences and how people in power have intentionally, or even unintentionally wounded them, the church is going to have some reckoning to do as well.  

Here are four things specifically I think we should be quick to recognize:

How is your tribe holding you back from caring for the marginalized among you?

How is your tribe holding you back from caring for the marginalized among you?

As our political discourse gets more and more dysfunctional, the chances for the poorest, weakest, and most marginalized have less and less a chance of protection.  Think of how many issues have become politicized, and done so in the most toxic way.  What is so sad is that most good-hearted people are in agreement that there needs to be change and that people need help.  But the fact that the solutions so deeply divide us is not helpful.

This is where the church might be able to step in.  

Unfortunately, in the past, the religious right has gotten too close to the Republican party giving away all of their moral authority to fight for the justice issues that mattered to them.  In the same way, the religious left is currently giving all of their moral authority away by linking arms so closely with the Democratic Party as they fight for the justice issues that matter to them.  And in the end, the weak and poor are not protected, and the church's moral authority gets destroyed.

What a hard lesson to learn, but an important one to learn.  We are the church!  We stand up for the poorest and weakest among us and fight for human dignity for all humans.  We can advocate, yell, scream, and work towards legislation that will do this, and we should.  The trick is doing this in a way that doesn't get us in bed with actual politicians.  (I have no idea how to do this).  But as the Christian world comes to its senses, maybe someone smarter than I will figure it out. 

Use whatever God has given you to serve others!

Use whatever God has given you to serve others!

I could not be more excited about this new series.  For the next few weeks, we are going to be leaning into our true calling, taking on the mantle of Jesus, and figuring out how to be good news to a world that is in desperate need of it!

The basic idea is simple; Jesus came to bring good news.  And we, by being followers of Jesus, by being adopted into the family of God, part of the body of Christ, a masterpiece created for good works, it is time to live more fully into our calling!

As followers of Jesus, we don't simply use our time, efforts, and resources to deepen our faith and intimacy with Jesus.  That spiritual work is done so we are fully equipped to do the incredible things that God has called us to do!  To be good news!