How diverse is the body of Christ?

How diverse is the body of Christ?

I love the picture of the church as the body of Christ.  Each one of us is unique in our calling, gifting, and passions.  We each have a distinct role to play so that the body can fully function.  There is no hierarchy of body parts, just many parts, submitted under the headship of Jesus, working together for His purposes and glory.  

When we start to think of ourselves as more highly than we ought, when we put ourselves above others, our passions and desire above others, forget that we submit to Jesus, or forget that we live for the glory of Jesus and not ourselves, we become fractured and minimize our impact on the Kingdom of God.  As Christians who have been around the church for a while, this is not a new or revolutionary concept.  We work hard to keep this perspective and live in unity within our churches.  But could this picture be extended to the larger Church with a capital "C."

What I mean by this is can each church, each denomination bring with it their own unique passions, giftings and callings and be used by the headship of Jesus to run after a unique and specific ministry.  On the surface, many of us would say, "YES!"  But how we live, talk about, and interact with these other parts of the body of Christ would say, "NO!"

Why we must grieve our sin

Why we must grieve our sin

This has been a challenging week, much more than I was expecting.  You see, growing up, it was normative to be reflective about your own sin.  Confession was a regular part of the spiritual diet.  But something has happened, something has changed.  

In our culture, nobody confesses.  In fact, we are to celebrate who we are and the way God made us with hostility towards anyone who might suggest that we are not beautiful just the way we are.  This sounds great and makes for nice songs, but this is totally at odds with the life in Christ that we are invited towards.  

The only way we can move towards Christ is by repenting, turning away from the sin, the life, the attitudes, the beliefs, the actions of our flesh, of our worldly selves and then move towards Christ.  We can't go one way while our feet are faced another.  

This passage of scripture actually invites us into an even deeper level of reflection and spiritual work.  We are invited to not just identify our sin, but to grieve, mourn and wail!  Let's be honest, this version of sin does not sell!

Thank God for the artists!

Thank God for the artists!

Talk about an unsung hero!  Bezalel, son of Uri, the spirit-filled artisan who beautified the temple as an act of worship as well as to inspire worship in the people of God.  

It is easy to chalk the act of worship as a spiritual discipline, as focusing your thoughts and life towards God and his purposes.  And while this is true and right, there is this more subjective aspect to worship that is about the stirrings in our spirit that tap into the depths of our being.

The question is who do we lean into a more holistic version of worship that places God on the highest thrown in our minds, and at the same time have our souls stirred to match this intellectual reality.  The way this happens is through gifted and called artists!

What does the church need to affirm?

What does the church need to affirm?

In case you have missed it, the church has zero influence in the culture around us.  And whatever influence we have left, we are squandering it.  We are squandering it with infighting as we try to carve out our piece of the culture by offering virtue signals to those around us to show that we are the most, (fill in the blank), church around.  This is happening to churches from every background, style, ethnicity, and theological perspective.

One of the ways we are staking out the ground us is by letting our people know that we are "affirming." 

The question is, "What are we affirming?"  

In our culture, there is pressure to affirm all sorts of things.  This is true in the LGBTQ discussion but actually applies to just about every issue these days.  Clarifying who or what you affirm allows us to determine who is in our tribe.  We are now as asked to affirm lifestyles, political parties, and theological positions. Without even realizing it, we have changed the direction and purpose of the church.


The more you trust, the more joy you will find!

The more you trust, the more joy you will find!

Experiencing Joy is a strange discipline.  It is not something we can conjure up or try to make happen.  It is an emotion that resides deep within us and is a result of how well we are living into shalom, or at least the hope of shalom. 

It is the hope of shalom where this breaks down for many of us.  

We are situational in our emotional response to life and to faith.  When things go well, we love God, experience his goodness and grace, experience shalom, and therefore experience joy.  But what about when life throws you a few gutterballs.  When the bottom seems to fall out, we get frazzled and often spin out in fear and anxiety.  Here is where our faith in the God of hope is tested.  

We know that our faith is maturing when we can pray like the Psalmist in our lament.  We can cry out to God, we can wrestle with the challenges and even despair of life.  And in all of that, we can affirm that our trust alone is in God.

Our joy is completely linked to our hope, which is completely linked to our trust in God.  

Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the Presence of God

In the 1600's there was a monk named Brother Lawerence.  He wrote a little devotional called, Practicing the Presence of God.  It is a simple book, based on a simple idea, that the day to day moments of our lives are not simply day to day interactions, but moment by moment encounters with the living God.  

This simple idea and change in mindset is a game changer in all of life, but even more so for those of us who struggle with fear and anxiety.  The best way to calm our fears is to recognize we are not alone.  Having someone with you in scary situations or times our trouble is a balm to our souls.  And the stronger, more powerful, and more loving towards us the more our fears subside.  So, when we can get our head around the idea that God, the all powerful, all knowing, creator of the Universe and lover of your soul is walking with you, resides inside of you, and longs to bring you comfort and peace, fear doesn't stand a chance!

Practicing the presence of God is a simple discipline that builds on the discipline of mindfulness.  It is becoming more and more popular in therapy circles to tap into this ancient practice where you get out of your head and get in touch with your body.  Our bodies give us all sorts of data and help us understand the world around us and give us clues to what is going on in our inner life as well.  It is simply a discipline of slowing down, paying attention to the details in and outside of your body.  This tiny step does wonders in grounding us and calming our anger, fear, and anxiety.

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!