My Issue With Caitlyn…Is Not Really About Her

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VF_JULY_COVER1433178010If you live under a rock, you most likely haven’t heard of Caitlyn Jenner. She has taken the media by storm following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. I have read quite a few blog posts regarding her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Obviously, people want to be first with their response. Even posting this a week out, I feel like this may still be a bit too reactionary for me. So please, read the following with a grain of salt (I’ve never quite understood this saying…).

There have been some really thought-provoking posts about how she should be treated and why Christians should be setting down their stones. However, there are many who still seem eager to pick up their stones.

My issue with Caitlyn is not entirely with her…it’s more with us.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the transgender conversation, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say…and so oftentimes, I’m silent. Yes, I agree that we should love her where she is (which, in my opinion means respecting her desire to be considered a female). And that is messy. But Jesus taught us that love was never going to be clean.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus’s conversations with “the worst of sinners” would’ve been like. Would He have tried to persuade them to follow Him? Would He have asked them to leave their profession? Would He have asked them poignant questions about their choices in life?

The honest answer is, I don’t know.

It’s always been amusing to me that sexuality has always been the issue that Christians seem to wag their fingers at the most. We say things like, “do you not know that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Obviously, that would make them stop in their tracks and turn toward Jesus. We forget the context of what Paul was saying and just say those words to whomever we view as sexually immoral.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, that married people who had sex for other purposes than reproduction were considered sexually immoral.

Paul spoke quite heavily about sexual immorality in his first letter to the Corinthians. Obviously, Christians are quick to turn their when confronting those we deem sexually immoral. But what amuses me about that verse is that we often neglect the other things mentioned.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6.9-10 NLT)

What do we say to the businessman who tithes regularly to the church but has practices that cheat others?

What do we say to those who continuously consume without giving to others?

What do we say about those who work for companies that steal from many?

What do we say about those verbally abusive preachers who go for the shock value each and every Sunday to get their point across?

We are silent.

Those who use the argument that Caitlyn is sexually immoral and deserves our judgment neglect to point out that the person who gives the most to the church might be running a company that takes the most from those less fortunate.

I am only saying that if we draw a line…then let’s draw a clear line and not one so ambiguous.

This much I know: we live in a world where things are not as they should be. For many of those who identify as transgender, they feel like their gender is not as it should be. Christians should be eager to converse with this. There is a common theme that things are not right. Yet we pick up those stones and take a few throws.

Gender is a deeper issue than sex. The unfortunate thing is that most will not see this. I have no idea what it feels like to go your whole life feeling like this body is not right. That something is terribly wrong. I empathize even though I don’t fully understand.

It is so easy for us to simply say, “be a man! You have a penis, now be a man!” But genitals do not determine gender (for more info on this, see Debra Hirsch’s book Redeeming Sex). This is a truth I am learning more and more.

There have been a lot of blogs about all of this. Part of me is saddened by how much we are analyzing her life…but she also is in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight, and we idolize those in that spotlight (wait, didn’t Paul say something about those who worship idols not inheriting the Kingdom as well???). Sometimes I get tired of hearing how we need to treat things with more grace. I feel like it is just an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in. But I believe in grace…and not cheap grace. I want to stand up for grace.

I pray that God grants the same grace to Caitlyn that He grants to me. Whatever is going through her mind, whatever battles she is fighting, whatever issues she might have — I pray God grants her the same grace He grants me. Many times in my life, I could say that I was a sexually immoral, idol-worshipping, greedy, cheating, thief. God granted me so much grace in those moments…and He still does.

So before we shake our heads at what is going on, can we all just agree that this is more complicated than what it appears? And that life and love is messy? And that grace flows freely? And that we are in need of that same grace…even from our pedestal that we use to look down on our transgender brothers and sisters?

Church should never be the place where someone who is transgender feels even more out of place than he/she does in his/her body. Church should be the place where he/she feels like he/she is part of the body…and then moves toward redemption and restoration…whatever that looks like. God is pretty good at working those things out. So let’s leave it to Him.

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Let’s Just Forget Communion

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Once upon a time, I worked as a part-time worship pastor at my home church. I probably wasn’t great at it, but I enjoyed doing it. As a part-time worship pastor, one of my duties was to help with the organization of service. Now this usually doesn’t require much because everything is set in stone; but every now and then, I got to change some things around.

It’s crazy for me to reflect on my life since this only happened 3 years ago. 3 years ago, I thought I knew everything. Today, I really know everything…or so I like to tell myself.

I used to try and cut the time spent on communion down.

Could we get more servers to speed the process along?
Can we shorten the long-winded meditation?
How about we cut communion this week?

I grew up in a church where we took communion each and every week. For the longest of time, I thought it was the worst snack possible. It’s unfortunate how the evangelical movement misses the pinnacle of why we gather.

I thought we gathered for worship.
I thought we gathered for a sermon.
I thought we gathered for a really cool element that would bring all the unchurched people to church.
I thought we gathered so we could discuss the potluck next week.
I thought we gathered so that we could go to heaven.

I was wrong.

Communion. That is why we gather. Communion is the pinnacle of every gathering, and yet we try and shorten it each week because it makes us uncomfortable and we don’t know how to approach it. In her book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans writes some of the most beautiful and challenging thoughts on communion (I would love to quote it, but I’ve lent the book out). She understands the importance of communion and also understands how the evangelical church abandons communion each and every week for things like…

a longer sermon.
extra songs.
cool elements.
announcements (I remember someone asking me once if they could have a longer time for announcements to discuss some important things).

But why would that bother us? Most of us aren’t bothered by how communion is continuously pushed to the fringe of many evangelical services.

Most of us don’t care that communion reminds us that Jesus ate His final meal with His friends…and His enemies.

Most of us don’t care that communion shows us how to serve one another.

Most of us don’t care that communion gives us hope for the return of Christ as we recite, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Most of us don’t care that communion is a reminder of what the Kingdom will be like.

It is disheartening to see this. What is even more disheartening, however, is how we have turned communion into a personal time with Jesus to thank Him for everything He did for us. Doesn’t this thought go completely against the word communion?

I grew up in a tradition where we passed the tray. This was a terrifying experience. I always felt like I was holding up the body and blood of Christ from others…or worse yet, that I may spill the body and blood of Christ all over the floor.

31827fee3d937112330f6a7067007ee6Sometimes, I go to the Episcopal Church. Each time I go, I approach the altar with several other strangers and kneel down to receive the body and blood of Christ. In these moments, I truly feel like I am in communion with Christ and with others. It is no longer an individualized moment.

My tradition takes a memorialist view of communion (that it is purely a time to remember what Christ has done). I believe this has a lot to do with why we don’t really care about it. We can remember what Christ has done through other ways, right?

The Orthodox view is The Divine Mystery. Christ is present in communion. We don’t know how. But He is. It is mysterious. If we all treated communion in this way, that Christ was present, wouldn’t we pay a bit more attention to it?

I fear that when we push communion to a 5-minute time slot where we rush people to hurry up and take the body and blood, we forget the reason why we gather.

We don’t gather to make church cool.
We don’t gather to make the unchurched feel welcomed.
We don’t gather for an awesome worship experience.
We don’t gather for a sermon that makes us think.
We don’t gather to spend time with our friends.

We gather for communion. Because in communion, everything begins to make sense. In communion, friends and enemies come together. In communion, Christ’s Kingdom is experienced. In communion, the church finds its hope. In communion, Christ is present and exalted.

It is time to bring into focus this sacrament. May we never push it into a 5-minute time slot. May we never individualize it. May we never think lightly about it. May we never stop someone from partaking in it. Jesus didn’t stop Peter or Judas…so why do we stop others?

In our attempts to be culturally relevant, we have lost all respect for the sacredness of communion. It is time that we repent of our behavior and return to this act that is the focal point the church needs.

Confession of a Choir Boy

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poseexampleGrowing up, I never fully identified with what other boys my age did. Sports was never my forte. I was not one to go out and practice a particular sport over and over. I found that boring and repetitive. Watching sports was even more of a challenge because I never understood what was happening and there was not a storyline to keep me interested. Maybe it was sports that caused me to feel alienated from other boys my age, but sports play a huge role in our American society.

Not only that, I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the music to which they listened, movies that were just about fighting and nothing else, playing video games until all hours of the night, or even the popular clothing that all the kids my age wore. A lot of this was because my parents wouldn’t allow me to listen to a lot of the music, watch a lot of those movies, play video games all the time, or wear clothing that was absurdly expensive for someone who would just grow out of it in a few weeks.

In high school, I remember feeling even more alienated because I didn’t want to sit down and fill out a bracket, I was horrible at all PE games (and had the tendency to lose interest), and I was involved in band and choir instead of the illustrious football/basketball/baseball team. Not only did I remain uninvolved in sports, but I also actually thoroughly enjoyed being in band and choir. I enjoyed being in musicals. I enjoyed performance. I enjoyed playing piano.

I heard the litany of insults that students would call me. It was the usual unintelligent rumblings of those whom the evolutionary process seemed to skip. Kids were mean. That was normal. I would much rather watch a musical than a game any day of the week. But the only time I felt different was when I was at school…and sometimes at church.

The evangelical church sometimes has the tendency to stereotype genders. Men play sports. Men eat steaks. Men are reminiscent of those cavemen from the GEICO commercials. Women make casseroles. Women stay at home with their children. Women should always be June Cleaver.

Luckily, I grew up in a home where my parents taught me that boys didn’t play with trucks and girls didn’t play with barbies. I never felt like less of a man because I didn’t want to go outside and stand in the middle of a field. At home, I felt loved and like more of a man. At church, I oftentimes felt like less of a man.

In her book, Redeeming Sex, Deb Hirsch writes this: “The problem is that buying a truck for a kid who would rather paint or dress a doll can lead him to further alienation from his masculine identity. Wouldn’t we do better to raise our kids according to their natural likes, gifts and strengths, broadening out our own categories in order to accommodate them?”

Unfortunately, I know of a lot of kids who feel like they aren’t a man at home. I was fortunate enough to be raised to where my parents taught me that what made me a man was keeping my promises, helping out those who needed help, caring for others more than yourself, and eating steak…but to be fair, eating steak was what made a woman a woman in our house, too. It was a universal truth. My parents taught me that my character made me a man.

My fear is that the evangelical church is missing out on this conversation. Every time you stereotype men for an event that is “manly,” realize that you are alienating quite a few guys. Every time that you consider those involved in the arts as “fags,” remember that David played a harp and danced around…so David was a fag. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. Because your words make me uncomfortable. In fact, every time you call someone a fag or gay or some other term from the LGBT community in hopes that it makes someone feel like less of a man, you should be ashamed. I have many gay friends who are more of a man than you’ll ever be.

Many in the evangelical church still think it’s okay to categorize guys based upon their athletic ability, their diet, or their job status. And we do the same for girls based upon their ability to be a mother, their job status, and their cooking abilities.

I am a man who loves cooking, living in a clean apartment, gardening, making sure everything is decorated and looks appealing, spending a Tuesday evening watching a musical in the city, going to hear the symphony orchestra, listening to a recent musical soundtrack, watching great films about deep topics, watching a stand-up comedian, laughing, reading, and drinking egregious amounts of coffee.

But those don’t make me a man.

Can we, in the evangelical church, move past the idea that what we do makes us a man or a woman? We may not teach that from the pulpit, but we do imply it in several different avenues. I’m not saying that we walk on eggshells…I’m just asking that we become cognizant.

There are rumors going around that “guys” don’t like the church because it is too feminine. So we decide to add more sports, more meat, and more testosterone-driven messages. Maybe we don’t need to add more stereotypical manly activities and instead speak to the character.

With Father’s Day approaching, churches will most likely celebrate it to some extent (I’m not a fan for celebration of non-liturgical holidays…but that’s another topic for another time). Instead of doing the usual jokes about how men don’t ask for directions, eat too much meat, refuse to do the dishes, or whatever else, speak about character and integrity.

I would much rather sing in a choir any day over watching a football game….even the Super Bowl…and that doesn’t make me less of a man. I’m not the one who’s insecure about his masculinity. In my experience, the one who projects is the one who is insecure.

What We Forgot On Memorial Day

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Question: If you went to church last weekend, what holiday, if any, did your church acknowledge? If your church is like mine, you acknowledged Memorial Day and, hence, the U.S. military. Across the country last weekend, church projector screens donned digital American flags, choruses of God Bless America filled the rafters, and prayers were uttered thanking God for “those who, like Christ, have given their lives so that we might worship here in freedom today.” For many people and churches, this is standard operating procedure for patriotic holiday weekends, and it would seem strange, even offensive, not to honor those who have served in the military on such occasions.

Here’s my question, though. When we gather together to worship, as whom are we gathered? Are we gathered as citizens of the United States who happen to live in the same area and worship at the same church? If so, by all means let us salute our flag and thank God for our soldiers.

However, if we are gathered as citizens of the Kingdom of God (Col. 1:13-14), a Kingdom that transcends national borders and unites the Church as one people regardless of nationality, socio-economic status, or gender (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11), we are a new community—a counter-culture—that operates not by power, violence, and coercion, but by humility, meekness, and death and resurrection (Romans 12:14-21). As a people baptized into this new community, we worship God and God alone in our assemblies. Our new identity in Christ supplants prior allegiances, and the King of kings becomes the sole object of our worship (on Sunday and every other day of the week). Any other power of this world, including nations and their soldiers, we choose to honor in our assemblies is, quite simply, an idol.

Honoring a power of this world in Christian assembly detracts from the worship of God and introduces a competing allegiance to that of the Kingdom of God. To honor the United States or any nation in Christian assembly is to lose sight of who we truly are—we are followers of Jesus, baptized into his new community, no longer defined by worldly socio-political boundaries. Thus, when we salute the American flag, sing patriotic songs, and adorn our sanctuaries with red, white, and blue, we divide our allegiance to God and his Kingdom and we make an idol out of the worldly kingdom in which we live. Our Kingdom, however, is not of this world (John 18:33-38).

Now, back to the holiday question. What I find perhaps even more disturbing than the blatant nationalism displayed in many churches last Sunday is the special day most of these churches failed to acknowledge. There was another day, a holy day, on the calendar last Sunday. At least it was on the liturgical calendar (our calendar). Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.

Most evangelical churches do not acknowledge or operate by the liturgical calendar (outside of Christmas and Easter), and many would dismiss it as antiquated or too “Catholic.” I couldn’t disagree more. (Well, I guess it is kind of Catholic, but I disagree with that being a bad thing.)

The holy day of Pentecost, which coincides with the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22), occurs 50 days after Easter, and on Pentecost Sunday, Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire upon those gathered for the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension.

In more liturgical traditions, Pentecost Sunday is a day of great rejoicing and celebration. Festive, colorful processions make their ways through the gathered people of God as the church universal experiences anew the story of the Spirit descending upon those assembled in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. I worshiped with an Episcopal church on Pentecost Sunday one year, and at a certain point in the service, about twenty people in the congregation stood and simultaneously read aloud a passage of Scripture in different languages to incarnate afresh the coming of the Holy Spirit and the empowering of the people to speak in tongues at Pentecost. This was one of the most memorable and impactful moments of any worship service I have ever experienced.

Calendars carry formative potential. Calendars shape us. Think about how the weeks leading up to Christmas alter your mood (either positively or negatively); so, too, with other holidays. The liturgical calendar is no different. The season of Lent is a time of purging, penitence, and preparation before the celebration of Easter. Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is a time of special reflection and meditation on the last week of Jesus’ life. Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, is a time to both remember and give thanks for Christ’s first coming and eagerly await and pray for his second coming.

The liturgical calendar reminds us who we are. It reminds us where we’ve come from and, with God’s help, where we’re going. For some (myself included), it even acts as a subversive alternative to the American calendar. I love Arbor Day as much as the next person, but disciplining myself to observe the liturgical calendar and its special days and seasons helps me further solidify my identity in Christ, my connection to the communion of saints, and my allegiance to the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom whose soldiers carry crosses, not guns.

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  –A prayer for Pentecost Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer

Confession of a Single Guy…

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In the American evangelical church, a lot of our efforts are focused on families. We offer parenting seminars, we hold marriage banquets, we honor fathers and mothers on their appropriate made-up and non-liturgical holidays, we have youth groups and children’s activities. Much of our language regarding events is pointed toward families (each family bring a dish…or the price is $10 a family…etc.). We gauge the growth of a church by how many babies are in a nursery (which seems borderline cultish when you want to grow from within like that).

As someone who grew up in the church, I loved most of these things. But when I graduated from college and realized that I was going to be working in a church as a single person, these things began to stand out more and more. Let me make one thing clear: I love families and I love seeing families grow toward Christ together. This is by no means a post saying that we should forget about families.

This is a post saying that we need to remember a group we have forgotten: the singles.

When I say singles, you probably immediately think of people somewhere in the age range of 18-35 who are putting off getting married until they establish themselves. But I am not just talking about these people. I am also talking about the widows and widowers who became single due to tragic events. Or to the newly divorced person who is navigating what it means to be single again. This is also about those who took a vow of celibacy because it was something they wanted to do.

Look around, church. There are singles everywhere. And they desperately want to be a part of a family but they don’t know how or where they fit in.

Do they fit in to the numerous sermon series dedicated to marriages? Because the only time we hear singles being mentioned in those series is usually in reference to remaining sexually pure and to stop looking at pornography (because all singles are sexual deviants who continuously look at porn and/or have sex).

Do they fit into the countless married small groups? It’s not that we want to be in a “singles” small group…we really do want to be around married people because they are just people…but many times we hear that we aren’t allowed because we aren’t married.

Do they fit into the illustrations about frustrations with a spouse or with children? As a youth pastor, every time I go to a conference, other youth pastors who speak talk about their kids or their spouses…and I realize that the key to a successful youth ministry is really a family.

Do they feel at home in your church or do they feel the pressure to get married or remarried? You might say that you have singles in your church but how often are they asked about who they’re dating, when they plan on getting married, etc.

Recently, I read a book from Deb Hirsch called Redeeming Sex. Very rarely do I read a book that speaks to the soul as much as this book did. I found it saying everything I have felt and wanted to say for so long. And it was refreshing to know that I was not alone in my feelings for how singles are treated in the church.

As a single, I feel alone quite a bit. This isn’t to evoke feelings of sympathy for me (if you know me, you know that I would just laugh at those feelings). Surprisingly enough, I feel more alone at church than I do when I’m at my apartment.10392377_634829361283_6032125750710341341_n

At church, sometimes I feel more on the outside as families plan outings together and dinners (hey, I get it, if you take a 5th wheel to a theme park, rides get confusing).

At church, I hear sermons about marriage and I hear pastors say, “now if you’re single, this might not apply to you now…but it will someday.” Really? You know that for sure? You know, without a doubt, that this will apply to me?

At church, people ask about my dating life. Luckily, I have not had to endure many of the people who say, “oh…well if you’re still single, I have the perfect girl for you!”

At church, I see marriages celebrated all the time in a variety of ways. I immediately think of those whose marriages ended poorly. Or those who lost a spouse. Or those who took vows of celibacy. What does it mean to them when they see this?

It makes me feel alone because it reminds me that I don’t quite fit the mold for who should be attending an American evangelical church. Because I’m perfectly content with remaining single until I’m 35 or even older. I don’t have an end in sight. That’s okay with me. But it’s not okay for a lot of people. They think I won’t be happy until I find the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I am perfectly happy, as is.

As a single guy, I do not…

order takeout or pizza every night

have a crazy messy bachelor pad

get super depressed because I come home to an empty apartment

abandon my responsibilities (just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want…I have other responsibilities)

pile on extra work because I don’t have a family to worry about

go to clubs or bars picking up women

or have a computer that’s filled with images of porn.

My typical day includes: cooking, cleaning, reading, watching some tv, hanging out with friends, talking with friends, and maybe going out to do something fun. It’s not that bizarre. And it’s not unfulfilling.

So please, church, let us stop making singles feel like outcasts. It’s not that we get upset when: you include a sermon about us in your series over marriage, or when you include us when you celebrate moms and dads, or when you graciously open up events for us by saying something like “it’s not just for families…but for everyone (thanks for that),” or when you remind us that one day we will have a family, or even when you tell us we can come to your small group but we should really try to find a small group that we can really identify with.

We don’t get upset by those things…we just feel like we don’t belong. And we desperately want to belong. We don’t hate marriages and we don’t hate families. We don’t want the church to stop celebrating these things at all. But we do wish that the church would start celebrating us.

I love how Hirsch reminds us that Jesus redefined family. He really did. Everyone was His mother, brother, father, sister, etc. We all want that. We all want to be a part of that family. But we don’t have to already have a family to be a part of that family.

Easter Is Not About You

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crosslambAs we finish out this Lenten season with the hope of Resurrection Sunday, I have been reflecting on some of the verbiage that I know will be used on Easter Sunday. Many evangelical churches gear up their services for this weekend (albeit, we do not do much remembering up until that weekend — in fact, many churches neglect the entire Lenten season and instead only focus on Easter Sunday, which I have written about before). They add extra “elements” to attract those who have not been at church in a while. They make sure that everything sounds and looks great. They will add extra services to make sure that people will attend.

We do all of this in hopes that the Gospel message of Easter is heard by many.

I am not here to discuss the effectiveness of these techniques, although I do have my opinions. What amazes me even more is the language that many pastors will use this coming weekend.

“God loves YOU so much…”
“On the cross, Christ thought about YOU…”
“He rose so YOU wouldn’t have to go through…”

Much of our language around Easter centers around individuals. Whereas this might be true, I believe it does a great disservice to the heart of the Gospel message. The Easter message has digressed into a selfish plea.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock considering that even when reading the Bible, many of us ask the question, “What does this mean for me?” We have taken God’s grand story and dwindled it down to a personal application. Our lens for reading Scripture is, “How can this help me in my life?” When this represents many in the evangelical church culture, of course our message on Easter Sunday will contain verbiage focusing on individuals.

As a kid, I remember someone telling me that if “I was the only person in the world, God would’ve still sent His Son for me.” It was a nice sentiment, but I think it does a great injustice to the nature of God. In trying to express God’s love, we have, instead, romanticized God’s love.

You are not the single affection of God.

Easter is about a reconciliation of ALL things. Easter is about ALL of creation being reconciled to God. Easter is about God.

It is true that Easter is hope for you. That because of what Christ did, we no longer have to fear death. That resurrection of all will occur. That death has no victory over you.

But it isn’t just about you.

If we continue to dilute the Gospel message, we will continue to perpetuate a selfish society. Instead, we need to take the complete Gospel message and penetrate a selfish society. It is like we are trying to preach Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John without preaching the entire Old Testament.

This is the difficulty of Easter. In order to understand the significance of what Christ did, we need to understand the story of Israel and the story of God…we need to understand the Old Testament.

The story of Easter is larger than you. It is larger than me. It needs to be. It has to be.

Let us move away from speaking the Gospel message to individuals and instead move toward inviting individuals to be a part of the Gospel message. This is one of the things I love about liturgical/high church services. I never walk away with a little fortune cookie saying of God’s love for me. I always walk away with a better understanding of God’s relationship with the world and what that means for creation.

May we not try to look at the Easter message in a new, fresh, or relevant (horrible word) way, but in the way it was meant to be viewed. This Easter, let us focus on what it means for everything…not just what it means for you.

Sabbath For Yourself

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IMG_3159I usually know when I need to sabbath (or rest). My personality is usually a bit more cynical and I am easily angered. Stress seems to be all around me. It becomes difficult to remember my daily schedule. God is likely a distant thought for me.

Unfortunately, when I know I need a sabbath, it is usually too little too late. When your body tells you to rest, it’s usually because you should’ve rested long ago and now you are running on fumes. Is it any wonder why we see so many health issues among people who are young? They feel like if they stop, then they will fail.

For those in the church world, we tend to ignore the Sabbath because we are “doing God’s work and God never takes a break.” This thought is utter nonsense. Of course God takes a break.

Some equate their love for God with how much work they do for Him. This is disheartening because it loses sight of the Gospel message.

Some believe that the eternity of mankind rests on their shoulders. It must be hard to play God like that…which is why it is probably better that we let God play God.

Most that I know in ministry will say, “I rely on God.” However, that statement proves false unless sabbath happens. Our reliance on God is directly connected to how we sabbath.

We need to get rid of the image that working late from home is a good thing.

We need to get rid of the mindset that turning off our phones could be disastrous.

We need to stop fostering a culture that enables people to become solely dependent upon someone other than God.

We need to stop thinking that the eternal fate of humanity lies on the shoulders of those who work in a church.

We need to learn that it is okay to say no.

We need to learn that the same email will be there tomorrow.

We need to learn that work was never meant to destroy.

We need to learn that martyrdom is not spending all your time working in a church.

We need to know that we aren’t God.

I say that phrase a lot because I have to remind myself of that frequently. This is why I believe it is so important to sabbath for yourself. As a pastor, I can easily succumb to the thought that I am God. Of course, I wouldn’t come right out and say that; otherwise, I would be a heretic. But it is easy to think to yourself: “If I don’t meet with this person, what will he/she do?” Or “If I am not at every single thing this person does, then I am failing as a pastor.” Or “The more I do, the further God’s Kingdom is advanced.” Or “People need to know and I’m the only one who can say it.” Or “I am in charge of their discipleship and I have to be there for them at all times.”

When I begin to think those things, I realize that I think I am God.

If Jesus needed to get away every now and then, why do you think you don’t need it?

If God, after creating the world, decided to rest, then why do you see resting as weakness?

I fear sabbath because I fear the truth about my motivations.

Clear away all of the religious phrasing (doing it all for the Kingdom, running on Jesus, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, etc.), and I find that I refuse to rest because I fear my motivations. Pastors, just like everyone else, want to leave their mark. They want to be remembered. They want to be the next Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We can say that we want to impact our community for Christ…but that can often transform into, “Caleb impacted the community for Christ,” or “Caleb’s church impacted the community for Christ.”

Sabbath puts us in our place. Sabbath humbles us. Sabbath reminds us that we are not the most important person in the world. Sabbath forces us to admit that our motivations are not pure. Sabbath tells us that God does not desire a martyr who died because he/she refused to take a break. Sabbath is the truth that in my weakness, Christ is strong. Sabbath points us to community. Sabbath is part of the Kingdom. Sabbath lets God be God.

How about you?

Do you really work as hard as you do to provide a good life for your family? Or are you working as hard as you do because you want to be remembered? Because you want to be successful?

Did you really take that second job to make ends meet? Or did you take that second job because of greed?

Do you refuse to rest because you don’t have time? Or do you refuse to make time because you are fearful of what you might hear from God?

If you take a break, I’m sure the world won’t come crashing down…but if it does, at least you’ll be reminded that God is God and you are not.