What I Learned While Sitting in Irish Pubs

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Recently, I went on vacation to Ireland. My knowledge of the country was very limited. I knew of some things because of films, books, or vague memories of Social Studies in Junior High. Overall, however, I went in without much of an idea as to what I was going to do and see.

To some people, this freaks them out. They need a plan that tells them minute by minute what they are going to do and see. To me, however, I don’t view that as a vacation. When I go on vacation, I want the locals to tell me where to go and what to see. It’s how I found out that the view from the Rockefeller in NYC was a far superior view than the Empire State Building. It is how I found little hole in the wall restaurants on a strip filled with KFCs, Taco Bells, and McDonalds. I have always believed that for the best vacations, one needs to find out where the locals gather.

In Ireland, that was in pubs.IMG_3168

Pubs are much different than American bars. Bars are filled with overly loud electronic dance music. Pubs are filled with conversations, laughter, and whatever music they feel like playing. Bars are filled with overpriced cocktails, pubs keep drinks simple and relatively inexpensive. Bars are where people go to get drunk to forget their problems, pubs are where people go to drink (and yes, sometimes they get drunk) and converse about their problems.

In pubs, I learned that we, as Americans, have little knowledge about our history. It seemed like everyone in Ireland spoke about their history as a nation. And in their speech, there wasn’t a tone of entitlement, but a tone of appreciation and pride. Not only did they know about their country, they knew about my country, as well.

In pubs, I learned that storytelling is the best remedy for anything. People love to tell stories there. They will tell you about stories of the country, stories of their lives, stories of famous people, stories of Guinness, and stories of the town. As I sat and listened to these stories, I lost track of time and for a moment, I forgot about worries and troubles in my own life.

In pubs, I learned that they take pride in what they produce. Every single pint of Guinness was poured the exact same way. They would grab a Guinness pint glass, tilt it at a 45 degree angle, pull the tap handle until the Guinness reached a certain level, straighten out the pint glass and continue pouring until the Guinness reached a certain level, let the Guinness settle for about 109 seconds, push the tap handle and top off the Guinness, and serve. Every single pint was poured the same way. They took pride in their product. They knew that good things come to those who wait.

In pubs, I learned that no one is a stranger. People were excited to get to know you. Once they heard my American accent, they asked from where I came and then proceeded to try and make a connection with me to make me feel welcome (everyone there kept saying, “you are very welcome here”). They wanted to know what I thought of their beautiful country. People truly listened to you because you weren’t a stranger in a strange land there.

IMG_3200Ultimately, I learned that God is present in pubs. I had the chance to attend Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. The music, the architecture, the carefully crafted liturgies, the eloquent reading of the Scripture, it all came together to show a piece of the Kingdom. But that wasn’t the first time I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in Ireland.

Shockingly enough, I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in the pub. There were musicians in the corner playing songs everyone knew. People were lifting up their pints of Guinness and singing along. Strangers were becoming friends over a pint or over a cigarette outside. Stories were being shared, laughter could be heard, and embraces could be seen. In pubs, like churches, people might come in pretending to be someone else. But after a few drinks, they tear away the facade they created. People walk into churches all the time pretending to be someone else. After a while, though, they hopefully drop the facade.

God is as much present in the local pubs as He is in the cathedrals. The Kingdom could be experienced through a pint and through the Eucharist. Worship was in the Gaelic tunes and in the hymns. Truth was told in conversations and in the reading of the Scripture.

There are a lot of similarities between pubs and churches. And I think there is a need for both. Pubs remind us that the Kingdom is messy because we are messy. We are drunks stumbling outside trying to remember where we live. But churches remind us to try and create beauty. We are called to create beautiful liturgies, gardens, parks, and art. Both the pub and the church collide to create a picture of the Kingdom that is sloppy and beautiful. But isn’t that what Jesus talked about? The world being in labor pains. It is messy and ugly, but something beautiful is coming.

Pubs reminded me that this world is messy and ugly but that something much more beautiful is coming.

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Stop Going to Church

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church-at-night-iceland_00449588Whenever I hear the phrase, “I need to start going to church” or “I go to church,” a little piece inside of me dies. It’s not that I don’t want people to be a part of the church. On the contrary, I believe everyone should be a part of the church.

But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.

One of my fears as a pastor is that many people in the western evangelical world have the tendency to view church as a service to attend. Because of this line of thought, we focus extraordinary amounts of energy on crafting a service that people will want to attend. I’m not arguing against excellence. I do believe that we should do things with as much excellence as possible. As a person who has been involved in theatre, being a part of something done well draws me closer to God. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong about pursuing excellence in preaching, singing, teaching, or any other aspect to the gathering.


 But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.


But church cannot be confined just to people gathering to view a service. It has to be so much more.

I, like many of you, have been guilty of using the phrase, “The service wasn’t that good today,” or “The service was really great today.” Our view of church is primarily based upon the quality of the songs or the emotional weight of the sermon. Because of this, our involvement within the church is shallow, at best. What I mean by this is that when things change or when a particular church doesn’t meet our standards, we are quick to abandon.

We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.

There are various reasons we do this:

  1. We don’t like turmoil. We have an unrealistic utopian view of what the church should look like.
  2. We like to be surrounded by people with similar beliefs and opinions. It makes us feel more comfortable.
  3. Church is more of a hobby than a defining characteristic in our lives.

Church isn’t something that we can attend. Church is something that we must be. In our own lives, we all have good and bad days. There are days we wish that we could go back and and redo. There are days we celebrate milestones. There are days we mourn over missed opportunities. There are days we curse God. And then there are days we praise God.


 We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.


And just like in our own lives, the church often functions the same way. Which is why we cannot just attend church. This is why church is something we must be. When we are the church, then we work together to prepare the bride for her bridegroom.

Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding. He wants us to be active. He wants us to serve. He wants us to remain faithful. But many of us are just sitting in the crowd waiting for the wedding to start while the bride remains in the back waiting for her faithful bridal party to join her in preparation for her big day.

Perhaps I am a bit optimistic in my belief that people can still gather and disagree yet partake of the Eucharist together. But wouldn’t that represent the Kingdom a bit more than what we have today? Wouldn’t Christ’s prayer in John 17 be a bit sweeter if we did that?


Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding.


Here is what I propose: we stop going to church.

We stop attending and we start participating. We stop sitting in on a service and we start helping. We stop looking to the church as a place and we start looking to the church as a people. Just like we have our good days and our bad days, so the church has her good days and her bad days. We wouldn’t abandon our own lives, so why do we abandon the life of the church?

In an age of consumeristic driven churches where there is a brand for everyone, we spend too much time shopping around and not seeing the damage that is doing to the bride. I said it before and I’ll say it again: we treat the church like numerous whore with whom we divide our time. This is the problem with simply going to church. It makes it easier to leave. It makes it easier to separate oneself from the life of the church (and I’m not talking about potlucks and game nights). It makes it easier for one to abandon when things get rough or when things don’t go “the right way.”

I have “left” 2 churches in my lifetime. I was heavily involved in both churches. One, I was active in the youth group. The other, I was serving with the worship team. Whereas both circumstances may have seemed right on paper, I cannot help but think, “is this what Jesus had in mind when He established His bride?” I never left the Church but I have left local churches. And how we view/treat local churches determines what our view is of the Church.

Just like all throughout the Bible, the life of the church (both local and universal) is going to be messy. There will be disagreements, fights, uneasiness, and pain. But aren’t these the signs of the earth groaning in labor? Aren’t these the signs that the Kingdom is “now but not yet?”

If we all stopped going to church and started being the church, perhaps things might change. If we remembered that Christ called us to serve His bride, perhaps reconciliation before desertion would be our first thought. If we remembered that one day we will be united in the Kingdom with the Church, perhaps that would change how we treated one another. Heaven could be awkward for many of us (myself included).

Let us begin serving through disagreements, fights, arguments, uneasiness, complacency, apathy, and anything else that stands in the way of us preparing the Bride for her Bridegroom. Let us begin being the Church that Christ called us to be.

Changing the Conversation on Abortion

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Abortion_debate_20121010115149_640_480The Church has been involved quite a bit in regards to the conversation on abortion. It is a controversial topic on which everyone has an opinion. Unfortunately, the pro-life and pro-choice sides are having two completely different conversations. One advocates the sanctity of life while the other advocates the importance of choice. One is trying to protect the rights of the unborn while the other is trying to protect the rights of those already living. The conversation is obviously a deeper one than just “yes” or “no.”

But sometimes the Church treats the conversation as a “yes” or “no” conversation…myself included.

Most of the conversation, for Christians, surrounding abortion has been, “when does life begin?” We propose that life begins at conception. I am not going to argue with that. Therefore, we consider it murder to abort a life. We debate this with people who are pro-choice and we never back down from our stance. I’m not proposing we do.

I am proposing that we change the conversation on abortion.

I think that much of our conversation on abortion has been so centered on protecting the life in the womb, that we have neglected the life when it is born. I remember John Perkins once saying that he was more pro-life than most Christians…because he was pro-life after the baby was born. My observation is that many of us, like Perkins proposes, are pro-life…until birth. Even the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are misleading because they don’t really paint an accurate portrait of either side. This opens up a conversation on labels that I don’t want to get into during this post.

What if instead of having debates about when life begins, Christians began having conversations about preserving life? I am not saying that Christians should back down from their stance that life begins at conception. Instead of focusing on that, what would happen if we added to the conversation aspects of preservation?

Conversations on adoption reform?

Conversations on quality of life for underprivileged children?

Conversations on parental upbringing?

Conversations on equality for all children, despite what they are born into?

I honestly believe that we, as Christ-followers, believe in these tenants. I just don’t think that we are talking about them as much as we should be.

We have seen how far arguments get us. It just gets everyone disgruntled and frustrated at the other side. We paint each other as enemies — when, as Christ-followers, we are told that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Could our fight against abortion have become more of a struggle against flesh and blood? Are we fighting against something or for something.

I believe there is an extreme difference. If we believe we are pro-life, then let us begin fighting for life…even once that life leaves the womb. It’s easy to say, “it’s a sin to kill an unborn child.” It’s more difficult to say, “I believe it is such a travesty that I will be willing to care for your child if you are willing to give life to him/her.”

Remember, where death was once seen, Christ brought life. Where hopelessness was once a grim reality, Christ brought the beauty of hope.

Instead of picket signs, let’s hold up letters to our senators advocating a restructuring of the adoption process.

Instead of yelling, let’s encourage parents in the upbringing of their children — both born and unborn.

Instead of proclaiming that people are killing an innocent life, let’s advocate for the underprivileged children that receive less-than-adequate care.

Instead of complaining about the government rulings on this being unfair, let’s fight for the equal treatment of children, no matter what they are born into.

Where there once was death, let us bring life.

I don’t advocate we back down from our beliefs; although I am certain that many will believe that I do. I advocate we change our message to one that promotes life to its fullest — life as Christ intended it. I advocate we shift our language to one that provides opportunities.

Will it change anything? The optimistic side of me would like to believe that it will. The more realistic side of me says it may not. However, I do believe that it will move the church away from being seen as something that’s anti-abortion and something that is truly pro-life. One that protects life. One that preserves life. One that fights for life. One that moves mountains so that life may take root.

We show how serious we are about this issue by what we are doing to protect and fight for the life of the children once they are born. Where some see how death is the only option, may we show them how beautiful life can be. Because in all reality, some of these women are in dire situations where death seems like the humane thing to do. True, some aren’t in that situation. However, let us fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Truth be told, my heart breaks for those who believe abortion is the only option. Perhaps it is because I do believe there is much work that we, as a Church, should be doing to make life the only option. Inequality, poverty, injustice, and abuse will only fully end when Christ establishes His Kingdom on this earth. But we can begin to make that Kingdom evident in our fight for life…and life that exists far after the child is born.

We have fought for so long. I don’t think we are done. I don’t think we should be done. But I do believe that we need to be fighting for life instead of against abortion. For in the fight for life, we show how much we are really against abortion.

Nebraska & Reconciliation

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Image“Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!” — Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern)

I’m a huge fan of Alexander Payne. I could talk for hours on his ability to craft a humorous and yet painful look at serious subject matter. Nebraska wasn’t any different. Although it still isn’t my favorite Payne film (The Descendants definitely stands at number 1, still), it is still highly ranked.

[Some of you may view what follows as spoilers]

The film is shot in black and white and has this sort of faded grittiness to it. It centers around a son and his father going on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska so the father can claim his million dollars that a Publisher’s Clearing House type company told him he won. The father, who is either senile or suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, has not had an ideal relationship with his family. Alcoholism has consumed him for a majority of his life. But family is family. And the sons still love and care for their father no matter how mean he can get. Even though they don’t know much about his life, they empathize with him and stick up for him as a good man who provided for his family. He was a man that was always willing to help out when someone needed help.

But I don’t want to focus on the details of the film. Instead, I want to focus on the beauty of seeing relationships reconciled.

Nebraska pulls on the heart because we all long to see relationships mended. Brokenness was never in God’s plan for humanity. And yet, it rears its ugly head in every single relationship. There are several things we can blame the brokenness on: alcohol, addictions, self-harm, disagreements, finances, etc. But here’s the point: it all comes back to us.

We’ve all been hurt by people. It’s inevitable. Unless you live your life as a hermit and don’t talk to anyone, you will undoubtedly walk around with scars from what someone has done to you. Likewise, someone is probably walking around with scars from what you’ve done to them. We all hurt each other. But how do we move toward reconciliation when the deepest cuts are ones that will never heal?

The easy (and extraordinarily difficult) answer is that we must learn how to forgive even if they will never ask for forgiveness. That’s a difficult process. It’s one that I still am trying to navigate how to do in my own life. As a person who wants justice, I feel like my grudges are forgiven because of how much the person wronged me. That’s not true. I know it isn’t. But most of us walk around our entire lives believing things we know aren’t true but refuse to admit it because of our self-righteous attitudes.

But Nebraska reminded me of the urgency to reconcile relationships. If you asked me right now of a name of a relationship I needed to reconcile, I could probably give you 10 names. If you asked me what I’m doing to reconcile those relationships, I would probably mumble something along the lines of, “but they are the ones who hurt me…” It’s almost like we forget what it is like for someone to come up to us and say, “I forgive you,” and we refuse to allow someone who has wronged us to experience that same grace.

I understand that there needs to be healing. I am not trying to diminish the pain that you are going through. Believe me, I wouldn’t do that. Work through the pain…but work toward reconciliation, as well. The problem with working through pain is that many times we work through something to find ourselves…when we really need to work through things to find Jesus. Christ will always point us toward reconciliation because Christ was all about reconciliation.

And He gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

Are we doing anything to work toward reconciliation? Are we asking ourselves questions each day about what we are doing to reconcile broken relationships? Has the sun gone down on our anger one too many nights?

I think too often we convince ourselves that we are in a healthy place because we only have a few broken relationships. And since we aren’t around those people anymore, we are fine. But do not be deceived: a shred of leftover bitterness is enough to destroy every single relationship you will ever have. We would be naive to think otherwise.

Nebraska looks at a broken relationship between a father and son. It’s humorous as much as it is heartbreaking. The truth is, is that the film will be true of many relationships in our lives. The truth is, is that God never intended it to be that way…nor does He want us to be content with things being that way.

Reconciliation will hurt. But so does most of life. What hurts even worse is seeing, at the end of your life, all of the relationships that you will never be able to reconcile because you waited too long or allowed your heart to become too hard. Let’s begin being the church and seeking reconciliation before we begin justifying our actions because of our scars. We all have scars. And we all cause scars. Let’s move beyond that and to something greater. Something that resembles the Kingdom.

God Doesn’t Deserve Us

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So many times I hear people saying, “I don’t deserve you, God.” I’ve never understood that. It seems to be a bit of a pity party. It’s like you look at your life and say, “You’re too good for me. I don’t know why you haven’t abandoned me.” What does that do for self-worth? What does that do for motivation for mission?

I’d like to propose the exact opposite of this mindset. God doesn’t deserve us. I mean, look at us. We’ve got it all together. We’ve put out hundreds of thousands of books on ministry. God has one. We’ve written several blogs about the Church. God doesn’t have a blog. We’ve created innovative worship. God has the Psalms.

We’ve formulated messages to where you can reach people wherever they are in relation to God.

We’ve translated the Bible into almost every language and are working toward having it available in every language.

We’ve written several commentaries about what the Scriptures are really saying.

We’ve built huge churches to bring in thousands of people.

We have denominations for every single taste. Much like that of Baskin Robbins.

We’ve simplified church to an hour long so that it can fit in our busy schedules.

We’ve put out one-page devotionals so we can have accessible spiritual growth.

We’ve made church available online so that you do not have to leave your home.

We’ve done a lot if you look at it. What makes God think that He actually deserves us? When looking at it, we run a pretty tight ship. These are accomplishments of which we should be proud. Look at all that we have done to advance the Kingdom (I mean, we can give praise to God, but we played a pretty key role in all of it).

I fear that we sometimes move toward this mindset. We move toward the mindset that God doesn’t deserve us. But in reality, it’s true.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she can fix the Church.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she is going to be the next leader of the Church.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she is the greatest worship leader.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she is the best preacher.

God doesn’t deserve someone who thinks he/she knows the best direction for the Church.

God doesn’t deserve us. He deserves better.

He deserves the woman who gave all of her money to the synagogue.

He deserves the fishermen who left their occupation.

He deserves the prostitute who begs for forgiveness.

He deserves the repentant disciple who previously disowned Him.

He deserves the thief who recognizes His sovereignty.

He deserves much better than us. Many times, He deserves the exact opposite of who we are. So why is it that we are scared to try and become what He deserves? Why is it that we are scared to become “perfect as I am perfect?” Why is it that we are scared to admit we don’t have it all together? To admit that we are sinful? To admit that we are not in a position to lead a church (but that for some reason He still desires to use us)? To admit that we sometimes try to steal His fame? To admit that sometimes we are in the wrong?

Perhaps instead of saying, “God, I don’t deserve you,” we should say, “God, you don’t deserve me.” Because when we understand that concept, I think we begin to understand grace and mercy a little more.