Thursday, June 30, 2022


Inside the church, gossips, busybodies, and busy bodies make having authentic connections with one another nearly impossible; outside the church, the world puts the final nail in that coffin.

The world has adopted a sense of something called "relative truth," which boiled down to its basics means that what's true for you is true for you and what's true for me is true for me. We have been conditioned not to question what someone else says because that is "their" truth - it is real for them and to them and is foundational to their life. It has been taught by the culture as a way to respect one another and to enhance relationships. doesn't. Because what happens is that everyone is convinced that their truth is their truth and that it is unique to them. The world has even come out more strongly in recent years and said this - no one can understand your story the way that you do. No one has been through what you've been through in the way that you've been through it. Your story is yours alone, and you don't have to listen to anyone who wants to try to comment on it because they just don't understand. They can't understand. 

So what we have is a whole bunch of persons walking around believing that no one else can understand them, that no one else knows what it's like to have had their experiences in life. They were bullied, and sure, others were probably bullied, but no one was bullied like they were, so they can't possibly understand. Maybe they've had an abortion, but they're convinced that the circumstances of their abortion are fundamentally different than the circumstances of any other abortion that has ever been performed in the history of humanity. (I use abortion, of course, because that's our current culture talking point; no other reason.) They've been wounded by the church and there are entire groups dedicated to those who have been wounded by the church, but all of the members come and sit next to one another instead of together because no one has been wounded by the church like they have been wounded by the church. They were diagnosed with cancer, injured in a car crash, nearly killed by Covid, discriminated against in the workplace...the list goes on and on. 

What is happening is that the world is telling you that you are entirely unique, and when you are entirely unique, something very naturally happens - you become entirely alone.

You become isolated, disconnected from everyone else because "no one understands you." Because no one can relate. Because anyone who tries to, who tries to share their experience of a similar nature or who has wisdom to offer for the road you're walking, doesn't really understand. Their road was different than yours. There's no map for yours. There are no inns along the way. No road markers. No comforts. 

It becomes almost an insult to someone in the world when you try to come alongside them in a real fashion, when you reach out an arm and say, "Hey, I understand that. I've been there." The gut reaction is to recoil and to shout, "No, you haven't! You don't understand! Nobody understands!" and then to be angry with the church for claiming otherwise. 

This is why the world is upset with us, by the way - because we claim to have understanding about the human experience, having lived it, and the world outright rejects the notion that there is anything at all such as "human experience;" to the world, there is only individual experience. 

Do you see how this happens, then? The world convinces you that you have your own unique truth. Then, it convinces you that you have your own unique story. Then, it convinces you that no one else can understand your story. Then, it convinces you to stop even trying to get anyone to understand your story because it's not worth the effort. 

All of a sudden, you find yourself surrounded by an entire world of human beings, none of whom can possibly relate to you on any meaningful level. are lonely. 

And there's no cure (in the world) for that. 

The church has the cure, of course, but then, we're right back where we started - with the truth that too often, it's no better inside our walls than outside them. Which is why we're talking about this problem this week. It's so important. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022


The problem of loneliness in the church comes from both inside her walls and outside of them. We will start, of course, with what happens inside her walls because there's no point in trying to address the culture at large if we can't get our own community right. 

The trouble inside most churches is that they are wildly unsafe environments for intimacy and authentic connection. 

That seems strange to say of a place that is supposed to known for embracing the sinner, for welcoming the sick, for visiting the prisoner, and whose Chief Leader spent His time with persons of ill-repute. And the truth is our churches are hit and miss on whether or not we actually look like this, whether or not we have persons from all walks of life within our midst.

But regardless of who is in our churches, it's who is in our churches that is our biggest problem. We have among us, most importantly, gossips. And second to them, busybodies. And next to them, busy bodies. 

We have a real problem with persons in our churches who can't wait to share everyone else's business. They can't wait to talk about what's going on in your life and make it very public information. Often, we see this under the guise of the "prayer request." Which is, sadly, too often church code for, "Here's the gossip." 

I will never forget the moment a few years ago when someone in my congregation started posting our family prayer requests on her social media page - publicly. Any time a trauma showed up among us, there it was, plastered on her wall for all to see. With names named. Imagine, if you will, confiding in your community your most heavy burdens, the things you would be ashamed to share with anyone else, and then having someone else put your name on it and publish it like that. 

Yet, that's what we're doing all the time. Churches quickly become incredibly small places when there's gossip to be heard. All it takes is one person who can't keep your business to themselves or actually, can't let your business be your business, and it doesn't take long before you know your story is not safe. 

Then, you get the busybodies coming in - the persons who heard the whisper and feel entitled now to know more of it, and they have a thousand questions for you because they want all of the juicy details. Not because they want to pray for you better or more often or even at all, but just because their nature is that they want to know. They're just prying. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have a bunch of persons in our churches who are simply too busy to be bothered by your needs. They have their own stuff going on, their own commitments, and even when you know - or perhaps you are told - that they would be a great resource for whatever you're going through, they don't have time for you.

No wonder so many persons feel lonely inside our churches. They are not safe places to create soul-deep connections. You show up, and either everyone is blabbing your stuff, prying into it, or can't find the time for you - why would you even want to get close to any of these persons? Why would you want to bring your life to church with you? Why would you ever say anything besides "Hey. Good to see you?"

When it's not safe to share your life with your church, then you go on Sunday and worship next to these persons, but not with them. You're side-by-side, but not together. You're surrounded by other human beings, but you're painfully lonely.

We can do better, church. We must do better. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Side by Side

This week, we're talking about an epidemic of loneliness in our churches, and as we saw yesterday, one of our gut reactions to hearing about this problem is to blame those who are lonely. If they would just plug into more of our church offerings, or even get out of their comfort zone and sit in a different pew with another family, for crying out loud, then they wouldn't feel so lonely. Most of us think that if there are hundreds of persons in our church and one of them is lonely, then it's the lonely person's fault for not choosing better for herself. 

(Truth: in a church of hundreds, there are at least dozens who are lonely, if not more. We are not talking here about solitary individuals, but about a real epidemic spreading in our midst.) 

If you're lonely, sit with someone new. Show up to our special prayer service or worship event or community outreach or sports program can name your favorite church program here. 

But here's what we need to understand: loneliness is a soul condition that is not addressed by proximity. That is, you do not get yourself out of a soul-deep loneliness just by being physically close to others or even engaged in the same work/activity. 

Loneliness is about connectedness, true connectedness. It's about not having someone with whom you are engaged relationally face-to-face, soul-to-soul. And if what you're needing is that face-to-face, then it doesn't do any good to be told to come and stand and face in the same direction as everyone else. It is absolutely possible to be lonely while you're literally surrounded by others. 

In fact, that is the most soul-crushing kind of loneliness. 

This is the kind of loneliness that is so straining in marriages that are not going well. The husband and wife spend so much of their time physically present with one another, but relationally distant, and all of a sudden, one or the other or both start to feel lonely, even though they are often together. This shatters the heart, which wounds the soul, and it isn't long before the covenant is dissolved in front of their very eyes. Because both were together, but so far apart that they couldn't stand it any longer. They simply grew too lonely. 

And this is what's happening in our churches. Persons are engaged in our churches, active and constantly present, and yet, they don't have that soul connection with other believers that would keep them from feeling alone. They may be side-by-side, but they don't feel like they're "together." They may know names and make small talk, but they don't have a real connection to others in the church. They sit in our pews every Sunday feeling like islands or maybe like lepers. 

No wonder they keep leaving our churches. (We'll talk about this on Friday.) 

So what's going on? How does a body called to togetherness, to love, and to one another have such an epidemic of loneliness in its masses? 

I think there are a couple of answers to this - one comes from inside the church and one comes from outside the church. We'll talk about both over the next two days. Stay tuned. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Dirty Little Secret

There's a dirty little secret in the church, and it's one that we cannot afford to continue to ignore. It's one that is rarely talked about, one that many church-goers would not automatically assume is their biggest problem, although most are also acutely feeling it themselves. And yet, it goes back to the very heart of who God has called us to be as a people and so, it strikes at the very core of our identity as Christians. 

Ask anyone what the problem is with the church, and you're bound to get an answer. Everyone's got an idea, whether they are inside the church or outside of it. The problem is that the church is too judgmental. Or it's full of hypocrites. Or it picks and chooses which sin it cares about and which it doesn't, and it commits too many of those sins itself. Or, if you're inside the church, the music is too loud, the preacher's jeans are too old, or the color of the carpet isn't holy enough. 

There is no shortage of opinions on what is wrong with the church. 

But this dirty little secret that we're not talking about is, well, one of the things we don't talk about enough. And it is the heart of everything that the church is supposed to be. 

So what is it? What skeleton do we need to pull out of our closet? What issue do we need to bring to light? 


Loneliness is the dirty little secret of the church. At least, the American/western church. 

We, who are called to be a people, whose number two commandment is to "one another" one another, who are called to community and to doing this life together, who are covenantal in nature and who have a special obligation to the other members of the body...are struggling under a weight of loneliness in our churches. 

We are supposed to be a people who love each other, and yet, if you take a poll of church-goers, a poll in which they can be honest about what's going on, most of them feel isolated, disconnected, and downright lonely even in the context of their church

Our gut reaction to this is to say that, well, they should just plug in more. Most of our churches are having programs and events and opportunities. Even if it's just a Sunday morning, if someone is lonely, then they should just step out and sit with someone new in the pew. If you're lonely in our church, we say, then it's because you choose to be. All you have to do is plug in somewhere. 

But loneliness is far more complicated than that. By a mile. And this kind of trite, simplistic, condescending answer only intensifies the problem; it does not alleviate it. 

So let's talk about loneliness in the church this week. As a people who are called to do better, yes, but in full recognition that we are, most of us, lonely ourselves.

Friday, June 24, 2022

King of My Life

When we talk about whether we're allowed to "fight back" against God or not, whether living by faith simply requires us to accept whatever we think He throws our way, this is hard for a lot of Christians. We've been raised on a doctrine that "God is in control" and "God does whatever He wants because He's wiser/smarter/stronger/more glorious than us." And we've been taught that we should just be thankful for that. 

Besides, much like the Jews in the exile, we have this understanding that the King has signed these orders, that they are somehow official. It's an edict with His own mark on it. What can we do? 

And while it's true that God is in control and that He can do whatever He wants, we must be a people - of faith - who hold even these understandings accountable to the heart that God has revealed to us from the very beginning, from the very first breath. We must hold the notion of God's control accountable to the truth of God's love. 

I don't know what the Jews thought of the King. I don't know how much they even really knew about him. Maybe it was a surprise to them to see such an order signed with his ring. Maybe they were shocked that the king they thought they knew would sign off on something like this. Maybe it was completely out of character for what they understood of him. 

Maybe there were whispers in the kingdom that Xerxes had lost his mind. That something was happening to the old man.

We get a little bit of a glimpse into the character of him when Esther talks about what it would take for her to be willing to go into his chamber and speak to him. There was a rule in the kingdom that no one came to the king without him calling them, and if they did, they were beholden to however he would respond. If he held out his scepter, he received them, and all was well. If he did not..., well, bad things would happen. 

Esther said there was no way that she could go into the king; he hadn't summoned her. In fact, he hadn't summoned her in a long time. She might not even have been sure what was going on in the king's realm of things . The only thing she knew was that she was his wife and, at least at one point, he loved her. He probably still did. 

Here's where we see a little bit of the king's heart. (Remember when I said that even minor characters have something to teach us? Here is a king who teaches us about God.) Esther, after three days of prayer and fasting, goes into his throne room, unsummoned. And what she finds there is not a king drunk on his own power who is offended by being disturbed. 

No, she finds the king who loves her and is gracious to receive her presence. And I suppose this is not a huge surprise to Esther; she knew Xerxes loved her. She knew his character. She knew his heart. 

Sure, there was always a chance he was a power-hungry, self-absorbed, authoritative sort of guy, but Esther knew there was more to him than that; she'd lived it. 

So it is with us and God. At every turn in our journey of faith, we should expect to find a King who loves us and is gracious to receive our presence. That shouldn't be a surprise to us. He has revealed to us His character; He has revealed to us His heart. 

Sure, there's always a chance He's a power-hungry, self-absorbed, authoritative sort of God, but if you've known Him, you know there is more to Him than that. He is, at His core, love. He is, at His core, grace. 

And if that's not what we see of Him, if that's not what we receive of Him, if those aren't the things that He is doing in our life, then we have every right to "fight back," to press in, to hold Him to His own standard of goodness. 

He's okay with that. 

We should be, too. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Settled for Less

Maybe you're ready to fight back. Maybe the conversation thus far this week has inspired you that there is another way to engage culture than simply resigning to it because it seems to have some kind of mandate to destroy the Christian way of life. That's great!

But remember when I said there are two important implications from this story of Mordecai in Esther, this scene where he has to send an official edict to all of the Jews and explain to them that they are allowed to fight back? 

My guess is that the second one might be a bit more difficult for many. 

The second implication is this: you're allowed to fight back against God.

That sounds a lot worse than it really needs to, but only because I used wording that puts it in the context of the story that we are looking at. And it's something that we've talked about before in this space, but it bears repeating because it is too persistent of a problem in the church.

There's this faith, this doctrine, this Christian understanding - whatever you want to call it - that we ought to be a people who settle for "whatever" God decides to give us. That whatever He does in our lives, we're just supposed to be thankful for and embrace it like it's the best thing since sliced bread. (Or at least, since bread that you don't have to go out every morning and gather from the dew.) 

There are persons among us who believe, and who even preach, that once you have prayed about something, whatever happens next is God's will, and you're just supposed to be thankful for that. 

The truth is that this kind of thinking introduces more questions than it answers. It raises all kinds of misunderstandings about who God is, about what His heart is really like. And, we should add, it's not biblical. 

Think about the man in Mark who is blind. He prays, he begs Jesus to give him his sight back. The whole crowd is watching. Jesus takes the man away from the throngs of onlookers, makes a mud, rubs it on his eyes, and wipes it away. And then, he asks the man, "Can you see?"

The "correct" answer to this question is, "yes." Yes, the man can see. He says as much. I can see! But...

But men look like trees walking around. I can see, but I can't see clearly.

At this point, there is a whole segment of the church that would readily jump in and say, "That's not what Jesus asked. He asked if you can see. And yes, you can see. That's a miracle! Be thankful for it." At least, that's the way that many Christians are living. Yes, we can see, but we can't see clearly, but we aren't willing to say that.

Did you know that you're allowed to say that? Did you know that you're allowed to tell God that the gift He's given you isn't as good as the one you expected? Did you know you're allowed to say that you can see, but you can't see clearly? That men look like trees walking around out there?

You are! You're allowed to say that! You're allowed to go back to God and ask what's up. You're allowed to go back to God and tell Him you don't understand. You're allowed to go back to God and admit that you were expecting something better. You're allowed to go back to God and tell Him that you believe He has something better for you than the first thing that came along since you prayed. 

You're allowed to tell God that you know that He is good and that you want the fullness of His goodness. 

What happened to that blind man? Jesus continued to have compassion on him and healed his eyes more. He healed them again. Better. More fully. So that the man could see not just trees walking around, but every detail of the faces of his brothers and sisters...starting with the face of Christ, who was right in front of him. 

You don't have to settle for less just because you think God gave it to you. That's not a Christian faith. You are allowed to "fight back." 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022


Here's what's strange: this world, this culture that is set upon destroying the Christian faith and ethic, it will tell you that it is fundamentally unChristian to fight for ourselves. To fight for our God. They will tell us that God would never approve of us putting our foot down on these things. That it's not "what Jesus would do." 

For example, if you want to take your kid out of that sports league because it's a core value for you to be with the fellowship of believers on Sunday mornings, the world will be quick to tell you that the church is not a place, that you're putting too much stock in a single location, that God doesn't care where you are on Sunday mornings and God doesn't even care particularly much about Sunday mornings themselves. That what God cares about is your heart, and if your heart is tuned to worship, then it's okay if you're out on the baseball field instead of in the pew (we're in baseball season, I think). Therefore, you aren't even a real Christian if you insist on being in church on Sundays. 

Never mind, of course, that one of the commands God gave in the New Testament is that you should not neglect meeting together, as some do. That it's important to commit yourself to a fellowship and be there. And we know that the life of the church is not in the Sunday morning service, but in the togetherness. And if you take your togetherness to a different group, then you take it away from the persons to whom you have committed to do this journey together. Sorry, but you're cheating your brothers and sisters (not to mention, yourselves and your children) when you choose not to be with your church. 

God's model is not that you just worship wherever you happen to be or find a way to fit it into your schedule. God's model is that you join a body and show up. 

Of course, we're also living a world that says that if you don't affirm someone else's life, every bit of it, then you must hate that person. You're such a bigot. Jesus would be ashamed of you. It's unChristian, this world says, to have a moral ethic that is anything but pure and clean and untangled love. (Read: acceptance, tolerance, and affirmation.) 

This is what gets us in trouble when it comes to things like the definition of marriage, the sanctity of life, and even "interfaith" worship. Jesus doesn't want you judging anything, the world says. He doesn't want you to have an opinion about how things should be. He just wants you to show up and be present for all of it. That's what Jesus wants. 

Except that's not what Jesus wants. What Jesus wants is for you to live according to the truth that His Father laid down into the very foundations of the world. He wants you to understand what it means to be a covenant people, and that means understanding covenant as a complementary engagement - a promise in which two things bring a wholeness to each other in a very fundamental way. He wants you to understand that you don't choose when a life is knit together; it is a miracle every time, and it starts with the very first thread. 

And He wants you to understand that you don't stand in the public square and encourage the people to just pick a god, any god, because they are all fundamentally the same. There is never a single word in all of Scripture that tells us that we're supposed to do this. In fact, every time a prophet of God stands with the prophets of another "god," it's to defeat them. Soundly. When Elijah stands on the mountain with the prophets of Baal, it's not so that Israel can see that all worshiping peoples are the same and are worthy of equal recognition and respect; it's so that he can reveal, plainly, that Baal is no god at all and only the Lord is worthy of praise. 

Are you getting this? Are you seeing how this happens? God has a certain standard for the way that His people live, and this world - this world that seems to have the authority to destroy us - keeps telling us that God's way is unChristian. They start their attack by trying to redefine our God for us. ...and it's working! Christians themselves are spewing this same kind of garbage and totally buying in, against all evidence in the Word to the contrary. 

Y'all, we are allowed to fight back. We are. Our King has signed an executive order that we don't have to just sit by and take this. 

So why are we? 

*Note, and I hate having to make it, but here we go: I'm not a bigot. I have zero hate in my heart. If you are gay, trans, Muslim, have had an abortion, are trapped in addiction, worship no god at all, a sinner, whoever you are - I love you. We can be friends. We can hang out. I'm a sinner, too. I can root for you in your life and pray for all good things for you. I affirm you as a human being created in the image of God and believe that you have something valuable to teach me about who He is, just by being you. The fact that I also hold that covenant means something, that life is a precious mystery, and that my God is the only true God worthy of praise does not mean that I reject you. It does not mean that I grumble about you. It does not mean that I am nice to your face while harboring some deep resentment or something in my heart. No matter what the world tries to tell you about someone like me. I love you, just as Christ loves you, and that means I want the very best of all things for you. Life, and life abundant. And I will do everything I can to help you attain that. I am for you, even when I don't affirm every little thing about the way you're living. (It should also be said that I don't affirm every little thing about the way I'm living, but...I'm working on it. Every day.) 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Fight Back

There are two major lessons that we need to take from the edict of Mordecai, the message sent throughout the region of exile to all of the Jews that told them that they were allowed to fight back against those who were given permission to take their lives.

And the first lesson is this: you are allowed to fight back against a world that is trying to take your life. 

Too many Christians are sitting idly by while the culture around us seeks to systematically destroy the things that we hold dear, the very life of the Christian faith. And it's because we've been told that culture has been given the authority to do these things, that the world approves of what culture is doing to the church. Much like Haman's edict, signed with the king's ring, we believe we are nothing more than sitting ducks, waiting on culture to take its final strike. 

We're talking here about things like the cultural ethic, yes. Things like changing the fundamental definition of marriage or what we consider acceptable as lifestyle choices. We're also talking about other things, though. Like the world's insistence that Christianity be part of an "interfaith" reality, where we stand alongside persons of other faiths and affirm them. Even though the Bible is full of God telling His people exactly not to do this. 

Or here's another one: the de-sanctification of Sunday. Man, this one has really taken hold. The world has started scheduling all kinds of things on Sunday mornings and then telling you they are really non-optional. For adults, we're talking about work shifts where if you won't give up your worship time to stock shelves or run a cash register, you lose your job. Period. Or we're talking about kids' sports leagues. Your little sugar blossom loves to play whatever the sport is and you want him or her to have every opportunity to do so, so you give up entire lengthy travel seasons of Sunday worship to spend them at the ball field. 

Hey, this is just the direction that the world is going, we say. We have to get on board or get left behind. We have to accept that culture has so loosened itself from the Christian foundation of the way of life that this stuff is just par for the course now. And it's been authorized by the world at large. Our world has been given the authority to do this to our Sundays, to our culture, to our ethic, so...who are we to fight back?

We're the people of God, that's who. 

Listen, we don't have to put up with this. We don't have to buy into it. We don't have to sit idly by and let the culture come washing over us in a wave and sweep us out to its seas. 

We are allowed to take a stand on the things that are important to us, the things that are important to God. We are allowed to defend our lives. We are allowed to fight back. 

We are allowed to love someone whose lifestyle we cannot possibly affirm. We are allowed to love someone who worships differently than us without affirming their worship. We are allowed to declare, even publicly, that our faith is fundamentally different than these other faiths and that we are not here to pretend that our God is the same as all of the other gods this world wants to worship. We are allowed to stake a claim to our Sunday mornings and tell this world that they are non-negotiable. 

And no, it doesn't always come easy. No, it doesn't mean it won't cost us something. Yes, we might lose our job or our kid might not be able to play on that team or some of our friends might turn their backs on us or whatever. It may come with a cost. 

But the question is - what cost are you paying already? Because I'm telling you, living without a fight in a world that's been given the authority to run us over is costing us something. And it's a price we should not be so comfortable paying.  

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Fight

There's so much to talk about from the book of Esther that it's worth taking at least another week. It's such a gem of wisdom, and it's also a book that raises a lot of questions. 

Here's a question that we need to look at: 

Why did Mordecai have to send an executive order to the Jews telling them that they were allowed to fight back on Purim?

Remember, Haman had sent a letter throughout the entire kingdom declaring that on a certain day, the persons of the kingdom were to take up their arms and slay the Jews. All of them. They were to go out and battle against the men and women who were living among them, in their territories and in neighboring towns, until all of the Jews were completely wiped out. 

After Haman is hanged on his own gallows, Mordecai goes to the king and requests that something be done. Now, ancient custom said that anything that had been signed with the king's signet ring could not be undone, no matter what, and Haman had signed his order with the king's ring. The king then takes off his ring and gives it to Mordecai, whose new plan is that he will craft an executive order of his own - namely, that the Jews are allowed to fight back.

Think about that for a second. When it came to the systematic slaughter of an entire people, was there really so much of a resignation among the Jews that they weren't going to fight back? Were they just going to let themselves be slaughtered? 

It's hard to fathom, but also, not really. The Jews were living as a captive people in a foreign kingdom. The order they read, since Haman sent it to them, too, said that the king had authorized their slaughter. In other words, Babylon was done with them. 

Most of them probably expected this at some point. They were thankful to have gotten this far with their lives, knowing how many Jews were killed in the battles over the territory in the first place. It was a grace that they had had a few more years. But you're never safe as a captive people; your captor can do whatever they please with you. And it seemed to the Jews that it pleased the king now to be done with them for good. 

Not to mention that they understood their exile as a form of God's judgment. They knew that they had been an unfaithful people. They knew that they had sinned and had turned away from their Lord. They knew that God was not happy with them. And without a Cross and a grave, this was a very natural next step for the God who disciplines them - they will die in a foreign land, separated from Him. They will be completely wiped out because they chose not to be His people. To the Jews, this all makes perfect sense. 

And, we should add, it doesn't seem as though God has told them to fight back. It doesn't seem as though God has told them this is their battle. This is...judgment. It's over for them. 

Still, it's hard for us to read this and fathom it. It's hard for us to think that someone really had to craft an official order telling a people they were allowed to fight for their lives. Telling a people not to just sit idly by while they are mercilessly slaughtered. Telling a people of God that God might not actually want death and destruction for them. 

But is it also a message that we still need to hear?

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Gallows

As we wrap up talking about Haman (hasn't this been fun?), it's worth talking for a second about his gallows. This is important. 

Haman built a large gallows in a very public place, on which he intended to hang Mordecai, this Jew whose faithfulness Haman took as a personal insult. There was nothing quiet about his gallows. There was nothing that anyone in this city center missed about this. It was, and it was meant to be, a spectacle. 

Think about how the people must have reacted when Noah started building a giant boat. This is how the people must have reacted when Haman started building a giant gallows. There had to be whispers about what was going on. It had to become the talk of the town. Everyone was talking about Haman and his hatred for this Jew, and then, for all Jews, and then, maybe, for God. 

I think this is too often the story of us. We get in our minds these things that we're upset about, these things that offend our sensibilities or whatever. Sometimes, we try to cloud over all that and say that God doesn't like them, either, as if that's some sort of justification for our breaking His greatest command and being hateful persons. 

We go around bashing those whose lifestyles we disagree with or whose theology we think is backward or whose parenting style is vastly different from our own or whose get the point. We seem to spend so much of our time, even as Christians, building big, public gallows. Some might say, building the hills we're willing to die on, but perhaps that's a little ahead of ourselves at this point in the conversation. 

The talk then becomes about who we hate, not how we love. It's about what we disagree with, not what we're for. The whole world sees us building our gallows right out in the public square (because where else would we do it, knowing how perfect and righteous we are and how right in our assessment of whatever it is we're railing against), and it's all the talk. It's all the whispers.

The world just can't stop talking about the church's hate for this group or that group, this idea or that one, these people or those people. And why should they? We're putting it out there for them on grand display. 

Hey everyone, come look at our gallows. 

But remember what happened to Haman? That great, big, beautiful gallows he built to declare his righteousness over Mordecai's? He was hanged on them himself. 

And that's what's happening to us, too. We're building our great, big, beautiful gallows, and the world is hanging us on them. The world is calling us out moments before we get to our target and revealing that we are the ones to be despised. Just look at us. Hypocrites, the world sneers, right before they drop the floor out from under our feet. They preached love, but just look at this monument to their hate. 

It's something to think about. Hard. 

When you build a gallows in the public square, the people notice. And you might be surprised who they'll watch hang there. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tell Me a Story

One thing that you should notice in the story of Haman is that the king never tells his servant why he wants to honor Mordecai. He hints a little bit, at best, but he never says what's going on. 

Let me remind you what's going on: the king is restless and unable to sleep, so he has someone reading to him from the annals of his kingship. He comes upon the story of that time when Mordecai overheard a couple of the king's servants plotting against him and was able to warn the king so that the unfaithful servants could be dealt with. It is at this point that the king starts wondering what he ever did to repay Mordecai for this amazing act of goodness, and he realizes that nothing was ever done. 

Then, in walks Haman. 

And the king tells Haman absolutely nothing about the story he's just been remembering. He doesn't mention what Mordecai did for the king. He doesn't mention what those wicked servants had done. Nothing. He just wonders out loud what should be done for someone the king wishes to honor. 

The same is often true in our journeys of faith. God doesn't tell us what He's thinking about. He doesn't tell us the stories He's remembering. He doesn't justify to us why it is that we should go and honor someone we don't particularly like, let alone someone that we think is wrong on every major moral issue we hold dear (that was Haman's problem with Mordecai, remember - he wouldn't worship the king). God doesn't tell us the stories that He's holding in His heart when we walk in. 

And...He doesn't have to. 

God doesn't have to tell us why we should go and honor someone He's told us to honor. He's already told us in the very fundamental framework of creation itself - they were created in His image. That alone is reason enough, isn't it? God doesn't have to justify to us any further than that why someone is worthy of honor, why someone is worthy of respect, why someone should be treated with the dignity that is inherent in being a being created in the image of God. Period. God doesn't owe you the story. 

And even if he told you, do you think it would make that much of a difference?

Imagine if the king had told Haman what Mordecai had done. Just think about the possibility for a second. Mordecai exposed wicked servants to the king. Do you think Haman's love for the king makes him think better of Mordecai? Do you think his pre-existing hatred of Mordecai makes him think less of the king? Like, how the king be so fooled by one act of mercy from a guy who won't even worship him? The king must be a fool! 

Or how about this - do you think a wicked servant like Haman is suddenly impressed with a man who has a history of exposing wicked servants to their king? 

How about you? What could God say to you right now about that person you already have a judgment against in your heart that would change your mind about him or her? 

If you're like most human beings, the honest answer is, "Nothing." There is nothing that God could say to you, no story He could tell you, that would change your mind about someone you've already determined to hate. 

But again, He doesn't have to. God doesn't have to change your heart, and He doesn't have to justify His command. All He has to do is have you in a place where you believe obedience to Him is among your highest priorities (love, of course, it always higher than mere obedience, but mere obedience is, as we've said all week, a great place to start). All He has to do is convince you that He is worth your commitment. 

And then, yes, hopefully, obedience changes your heart. And then, yes, hopefully, obedience changes your mind about someone you thought you knew. But even if it doesn't?

Honor him anyway. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Change of Heart

Here's something else that we need to notice about Haman: he did what the king asked him to do, but it didn't change his heart...and he didn't require it to. 

A lot of times, we let ourselves off the hook because we think that if God really wanted us to do something - even something like "love your neighbor," which He already clearly told us to do - then He will change our heart and give us the kind of heart that makes such a thing easy for us. He'll make us want to do whatever it is that He's asking us to do.

Anyone who has lived the life of faith long enough will tell you...nope. God does not always make you want to do what He wants you to do, and He certainly doesn't always make it easy. What God does is He makes you want to want whatever He wants, which is better anyway.

The king didn't tell Haman a story about Mordecai. At least, we aren't told that he did. We aren't told that the king told Haman anything about Mordecai except to honor him. So Haman got absolutely zero new data to re-evaluate his beliefs about Mordecai except perhaps for the data point that now, this Jew - this despicable Jew - was taking the honor that Haman thought was due to himself. 

That's certainly not going to help Haman's heart. 

But again, it didn't have to. 

Haman doesn't have to love Mordecai. He doesn't have to agree with the king's perception of the man. He doesn't have to reconsider his position at all. He doesn't have to let go of the bitterness in his heart. He doesn't have to share the king's opinion of Mordecai in the slightest to do what the king has told him to do. Not at all. 

Of course, yes, in an ideal world, he does change his heart. In an ideal world, he does see Mordecai through new eyes. In an ideal world, he does let go of his prejudices, at least long enough to allow something new to flicker in front of his eyes. But I think this takes something more than mere obedience. And the point of our conversation here and now is that we should not overlook the power, the beauty, the goodness in something so simple as obedience. 

The same is true of our walk with God. Yes, in an ideal world, walking with God changes our heart. In an ideal world, we grow into new persons the more we hang around Him and do what He asks us to do. We do see with new eyes the things that He's trying to show us. But again, that takes something more than mere obedience. 

Also again, mere obedience is a great place to start. 

So if you're waiting on God to change your heart, stop waiting. Just obey. Just do what God is asking you to do. Yes, hopefully, it changes your heart when you do what God asks you to do, but let us not overlook doing - in earnest (Haman acted earnestly in his obedience to the king) - it anyway. Just obeying. Just following the King's command. That is such a huge thing, really. So...start there. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022


The question is: could you be Haman?

If God asked you to set aside your prejudices, to not worry about whether you like someone or not, to not think about whether that person is right or wrong in your eyes, and to honor him, could you do it? Would you do it?

This is the kind of obedience that we all need to have. When God asks us to do something, we need to be a people who just do it. Not a people who take that opportunity to explain to God why He's wrong. Or to talk about our personal beliefs about this or that or the other. Or to point out the gallows that we've already erected because that person that God just told us to love? Yeah, that person deserves to be hanged. 

At least, we think so. 

Haman paraded Mordecai in highest honor right past those gallows. For no other reason than that the king told him to.

Spoiler alert: this is exactly what God has already told us to do. 

God told us to love one another. Period. To honor one another. To encourage one another. Not others who think like us, look like us, act like us, believe like us, but anyone and everyone created in the image of God who bears His name and glory in their very creation. Everyone and anyone who God so loved that He sent Jesus to live and die and live again for them. Which is, by the way, anyone and everyone. 

God's been sitting in His throne room thinking about that person that you've been sitting in your bedroom stewing about. Think about that for a second. God's been opening the book of His own story and reading pages out of it and seeing how that person - that very same person - brought tremendous honor and glory to His name, and He's been dreaming up ways in His heart to honor that person. Yes, that person. 

Then you show up. You, a faithful servant, a trusted friend, a beloved companion, and God realizes that you are a great way to honor that person. You are a great person to send as a blessing into that person's life. You are an excellent choice to carry out what the King wants to do for the man who has honored Him. 

Can you just think about that for a second? I mean, really think about that. Think about that person you've been grumbling about for far too long. Think about that person who disgusts you, whose lifestyle you just can't believe or understand. Think about that person you keep thinking would be better off dead - at least, it would be better off for you if they were dead. 

And then, think about God thinking about that person. Think about God cherishing that person's part in His story. Think about God dreaming up ways to honor that person. 

Think about God asking you to do it. 

Could you? Would you? 

If your answer is no, then I hate to tell you this, but Haman is a better person than you are. Let that sink in. 

Monday, June 13, 2022


If we're talking about minor characters that we're tempted to think have nothing to teach us about being persons of faith, Haman is definitely somewhere near the top of that list. 

Haman is the "villain" in the story of Esther, the king's high-ranking official who is so thoroughly disgusted by Mordecai the Jew's unwavering faithfulness to the God of Israel (and not the king) that he devises a plan to hang Mordecai on a giant public gallows and to systematically destroy the entire Jewish people. If ever there were a villain, Haman is a villain. Through and through. 

Well, almost.

There's this scene in the story where Haman is on his way to the king, very proud of himself for the plan that he has concocted. He's got vengeance in his heart, and it's so close, he can taste it. The hate that he has for Mordecai is right on the tip of his tongue, and he is mere seconds away from finally putting this man out of his sight forever.

Then, he gets to the king and the king speaks before he can. "What should a king do for a man who has been incredibly good to him?" And Haman, of course, thinks the king must be talking about him because who is as good as a man in his own mind? So Haman comes up with the greatest reward, the most public commendation, the thing that he would most like to have done for him...and the king says, "Great. Go give all that to Mordecai. Go do all that for Mordecai."

And Haman goes. And Haman does.

Haman does not stand there and say, "Well, actually, King, that's the very guy I wanted to talk to you about...." He doesn't try to tell his story right then. He doesn't let his own personal distaste for the Jew get in the way of his sense of duty to the king. 

And this is really, really remarkable, don't you think? 

Haman has every reason in his own heart why Mordecai should not merit such treatment. He has every grudge, every bitterness, every hate telling him not to do this. But his sense of obedience, his sense of duty, that sense of integrity that he has about having committed himself to the service of the king trumps all that and Haman puts Mordecai on an animal and parades him right past the gallows that Haman has erected to hang the man. 

We could all learn a little something from that. Couldn't we?  

Friday, June 10, 2022

The Story of God

It's hard for some to imagine reading the Bible and looking for God. After all, it's not like God is named in every passage the way that the human characters are. 

It feels a little bit like Elijah in 1 Kings 19. There was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. There was a strong wind, but God was not in the wind. There was a fire, but God was not in the fire. And still, we read our Bible and when we're looking for God, most of us are looking for the wind, the earthquake, the fire. 

We aren't really looking for the still, small thing. 

Or more realistically, the still, small things.

What I mean is that if we are looking for God, one taste of Him seems to satisfy us. We figure out one thing that we think must be true of God in the story, and then that's what we take away from it. Like every story that God has given us is meant to show us only one thing about His character. 

So take, for example, the story of David and Goliath. If we read that looking for God, most of us come away thinking that God is the kind of God who uses a small thing to defeat a big thing. Who guides a rock right into the forehead of a giant. Who acts with such strength that the mighty fall before Him. 

And that is true. God is certainly that kind of God.

But if that's the only kind of God that we think the story is trying to tell us about, then we're missing out on a whole lot of other truths that are also just as real. 

Like...our God is a loving Father who cares about His children when they are engaged in the battle, the way that Jesse was worried about his sons on the front lines. 

Our God sends His Son with provisions, with a little bit of bread and drink, to fuel us and sustain us while we fight, the way that Jesse sent his son with provisions for his other children. 

How's that for just two? We could also talk about our God being the kind of God who hears the enemy taunting us and gives us a power to rise up in faith. We could talk about our God being the kind of God who throws off the weapons of this world because they aren't right for the battle and they make Him weaker. We could talk about our God being the kind of God who puts weapons in our hands that we know how to wield well and so makes a mockery of what the world thinks it offers.

Like I said, we could go on and on, but most of us don't. Most of us stop at the first thing that we think we understand about God, and we make that the thing when really, every story that God has given us reveals more about Him than we can fathom. We just have to keep looking. 

So read the Bible looking for God, but don't stop when you think you've found Him. Keep looking for Him and see what else there is to learn. It really will change the way you believe. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Most Certain

(You've figured out by now that we are just full-on down this rabbit trail, right? But it's important.) 

Yesterday, I said something that is key to all of our spiritual development and growth, and I want to pull that little sentence out and expand on it because it is so central to our very being. That something was simply this: 

We read the Bible looking for the characters we are most certain of.

And those characters are the ones like us. We read the Bible looking for ourselves. Because if there's anything in this world that we're certain we know, it's us. If there's anything we understand, it's us. If there's anything we can relate to, it's us. So we read the Bible looking for us because we know that's where we're going to have the most understanding. 

But do you want to know something? Something that would absolutely, totally, completely change your faith? 

If you read the Bible looking for God, it will make Him the one you are most certain of. 

Read that again: if you read the Bible looking for God, He is the character you will become most certain of. 

It's hard at first, I get it. There are so many questions that we have in our hearts about who God is, whether He loves us, what He's doing, how to talk to Him, what it all means, and so much more, and it's easier to just focus on what we do know. 

But God, as He reveals Himself in Scripture, reveals the answers to those questions that we have. He exposes Himself, and He keeps showing us more and more of Himself until we can see clearly that our worries, our concerns, our hesitations have already been addressed. He's already acknowledged them and thought of them, and responded...just by being who He is.

When you read the Bible looking for God, you find Him. One hundred percent. You start to know Him, and when you know Him, your faith starts to build itself around who He is - not what He's done for you, not what you need, not your own depravity and redemption story, but God's incredible grace and His amazing character. (Sorry - is it supposed to always be "amazing grace"? That felt wrong.)

Over time, then, you get this faith that is just insanely strong, that believes in God unshakably, that just knows in the depth of your soul that things are okay because God is who He is. 

Because here's what happens: you read the Bible looking for God, and you find Him. God becomes the character in the story that you are most certain of. Because God is the character that you are the most certain of, He becomes the character that you look for in every story...including your own. And you find Him. And when you find Him, the things you are most certain of about Him become the things you are most certain of in your own story and you can't help but live your life by faith. 

I'm telling you - this changes everything. 

So what would it mean for your life if you stopped reading the Bible looking for you and started reading it looking for God?  

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

The Story of Us

I promise that at some point, we're going to get to the story of Haman that prompted me to even start down this road, but now that I've started this direction, I find that I keep having more to say on the fundamental idea of biblical characters and how we read our Bible stories, so here we are for a third day.

As I was writing yesterday's post, the truth about our Bible really stuck out to me; maybe by now, it's sticking out to you, too. The Bible was given to us as this double story - it is the story of God and the story of man, the story of Him and of us. It is about God's work in the world, in the kinds of lives that we live. And because of this, we have to be able to hold a certain tension with it as we read.

But most of us can't hold that kind of tension. So we read our Bible looking for the thing that we are most sure of in all the world: ourselves. 

We read God's story and look for us. We read, and we think the point is to tell us more about ourselves. We read, and we look for the points God is trying to make about how we are supposed to live. Our sermons, at least for many decades now, have been targeted in on this. Our music, too, captures it. Just look at a song that I absolutely love (and I do absolutely love this song, and it is a very good song, so don't take this the wrong way - shoutout to Sanctus Real): 

Give me faith like Daniel in the lions' den. Give me hope like Moses in the wilderness. Give me a heart like David; Lord, be my defense. So I can face my giants with confidence. 

This is how we're reading our Bible! We're reading it looking for us, looking for the kind of faith that we're supposed to have instead of reading it looking for the One we are supposed to have faith in. We have somehow gotten to the point where we believe the Bible is God's story about us...and not about Himself! 

We read the Gospels, and we talk about Mary and Martha. About Lazarus. About Zacchaeus. About Peter. About James and John, the sons of Thunder. You know the Gospel character we seem to be talking about least? Jesus. And these are supposed to be the stories about Jesus! The writers of the Gospels even told us this themselves - "this is the story of Jesus of Nazareth." Cool! But we read it like it is supposed to be the story of us.

Now, I'm being harsh. Yes. It's more complicated than this. Because as I said in the opening to this post, the Bible is, to some degree, the story of us. It is the story of men. There's a reason that God filled it with men and women just like us, men and women we can relate to, men and women He was working through. He wants us to know what faith looks like lived out. He wants us to see what kind of difference it can make in our lives to be persons of God, to be a people of God. All of that is true. 

But that's not all that He wants us to see. He wants us to see who this God is - who He is - that offers us this kind of faith, this kind of life, this kind of promise. He wants us to read His stories and see Him first. To see Him being exactly who He says that He is. To see Him delivering on the promises that He makes to His people. To see Him loving His people the way He wants us to want Him to love us. 

If you read the story of Daniel in the lions' den, and you don't walk away knowing that you have a God who shuts lions' mouths, you've missed the point. If you read the story of Moses in the wilderness, and you don't walk away with a deep sense of the God who promises and provides, you've missed the point. If you read the story of David and Goliath, and you don't walk away with a sense of the God who wins battles, you've missed the point. 

If you read the Gospels and you don't walk away knowing the very heart and presence of Jesus, you have missed. the. point. 

The the story of God. First and foremost and forever. He has been gracious to write us into it so that we can see ourselves under His glory, but it is His story first. 

We have to make sure we're reading it as such. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Minor Characters

Before we move on an actually talk about some of the minor characters that got me thinking about this, I wanted to take one more day to talk about how important the so-called "minor" characters really are. And to this, I wanted to point out that we actually already know this. 

There are Bible stories that we read all the time in which we look to the minor characters to teach us something important about the faith, about what it means to live as God's people, about how to do this life. 

These stories are...pretty much every story about Jesus. 

Listen, you would think that when we read the Gospels, the main character would be Jesus. He'd be the one we're looking at, the one we're trying to learn from, the one we're paying the most attention to. Sadly, this is true only with a very small number of the Gospel stories.

For example, Jesus sees a tax collector in a tree and invites Himself over to the guy's house. Remember, one of the criticisms that the Pharisees leverage at Jesus is that He eats with tax collectors and sinners. But to us, this is the story of Zacchaeus, and the whole point of the story is either 1) that we should be so eager to get a glimpse of Jesus that we'll do whatever it takes, even climbing a tree in the middle of a crowd or 2) one encounter with Jesus will change our corrupt hearts enough that we repent of our sin and atone for it.

How about Mary and Martha? We spend a lot of our time talking about whether it's better to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him teach or to spend our time in the kitchen washing dishes to feed our houseguests...when the truth is that we've actually decided that it's best to spend all of our time talking about two women and not about the Jesus who not only visits their home, but is an actual true friend of theirs. 

We have a lot to say about the demonaic who was chained up in a cemetery and kept breaking those chains, running around naked and cursing and foaming at the mouth, and we have a lot to say about the herd of pigs into which those demons were cast, and we have even quite a bit to say about the townspeople who came out to see what in the world was going on and were terrified by peace...but we seem to have so little to say about the Jesus who crosses the sea just to heal this man and then crosses it back. 

Strange, isn't it, that when you give us the stories of Jesus, we immediately start looking at all the "minor" characters to try to figure out what the story means for us...but give us the story of Esther, and we can't be bothered by characters like Mordecai or Haman. 

Because, I mean, clearly, we are Esther, right? Clearly, the whole point of the story is that we were made for such a time as this. That's what we take from it. We all imagine ourselves to be David, not Jonathan - the warrior/king, not the faithful friend. 

But what if we're not? What if we're not the heroes of the stories, but the supporting cast? What if we read the rest of the Bible with the same eyes with which we read the Gospels - knowing that every single character is there to teach us something about what it means to live the life of faith?

What if we're missing part of the beauty of the story because we're too quick to read it only in one dimension?

Monday, June 6, 2022

Biblical Character

Let me ask you something - how many biblical characters can you name? 

Our culture is familiar with a few. Even those outside of the church can likely name characters like Adam and Eve, Noah, Jesus. Maybe even David (especially in tandem with Goliath), Joseph (and his amazing techni-color dreamcoat). If you've been around the church for a bit, you can probably name a few more: Paul, Peter, Solomon, Abraham. Maybe even a couple of disciples. Maybe even more. 

But our Bible is full of names. Full of them. Some of them are the main characters in their scenes (well, except for God, of course, who is always the main character in every scene) or they are names that we hear over and over again until we know them well. Some of them are secondary characters; they show up a few times in what looks like someone else's story, and we sort of have a sense that they are there, but we don't pay a whole lot of attention to them. Some of them are just names, names that show up once, maybe twice, in a list of names or something like that, and we read right by them. 

What's interesting in this last group is that we read right past the genealogies like they are super-boring and totally unimportant, but we also reward children and young Christians for memorizing the names of all twelve disciples, at least a handful of whom are simply listed by name in the list of the disciples and we never know another single thing about them. They seem important because they are at least, we think, secondary characters in the story of Jesus, but if you actually go looking through the Gospels, they are not really anything more than mere names. Not in our version of the story.

The point is, our Bible is full of names. It is full of characters. Some of them, we pay a lot of attention to; some of them, we barely notice. We get the sense that God is using some of them to teach us something important about life or faith or grace or hope, and then we figure that He's using the other ones to teach us something important about the real characters who are the ones teaching us about life and faith and grace and hope. 

What if...that's not quite true?

What if those "secondary" characters in the Bible are there to teach us just as much about life and faith and grace and hope as the characters whose names we more easily remember?

I was thinking about this in recent weeks as I read through the book of Esther. This short little book is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. We read Esther, and we think that the main character in the book of Esther is...Esther. Duh. The book is named after her. But if you actually read the book of Esther and count, she's not a major player in the story. She has, like, one big scene and that's it. 

The book itself is actually a story about Mordecai and Haman. Mordecai, you might know because when you read this story, you know that he was the man of God (the Jew) and that seems important, so you might have tucked that one into your noggin at some point. Haman, you're probably less familiar with because he's the foreigner, the bad guy, the schemer who ends up losing his life hanged on the very gallows he was going to hang Mordecai on. If you know the name, you know him probably as a villain. No more and no less. 

But what if even Haman has something to teach us about what it means to live the faithful life? Not in the example that he didn't set in his foreign, scheming, evil life...but in an example that he did set? Even as "wicked" as he was? 

We'll talk about that example this week, and other things that I'm thinking about when it comes to so-called "minor" characters in the Bible. It should be interesting. At least, I think it is. 

Friday, June 3, 2022


This is why the world thinks we're hypocrites. 

This is the final point that we need to talk about this week, although I'm sure there are many others I could have made, about the crisis it brings upon the church when we lend Jesus to our culture. When something is happening in the world and we step up with a Jesus who sounds just like the world's talking points, then we try to take Him back and proclaim the true Gospel of Christ, the world just throws up its hands and says...wait a minute. That's not Jesus.

That's not what you told us about your God. That's not what you told us about where His heart is. That's not what you told us His teaching is. 

It feels like a bait-and-switch - because it is - and it turns the world off to Jesus, right at the time when you were pretty sure you had them at least interested. 

This is really the gravest sin that the church as a whole commits. When we dangle Jesus out there as bait to a ravenous world that is ready to devour anything that will stand with it, and then we try to reel them in and draw them into a more comprehensive Gospel where, quite often, they see just how much we have twisted Jesus to fit their narrative just to try to draw them into our church, what we have really done is that we have lied to the world about Jesus. 

We have lied to them about Him in the hopes that they might love Him and at just the moment that we think they're ready to dive in and take the plunge and really commit, we reveal the lie (by proclaiming the truth), and the world's response is not, "Wow! This Jesus is even more incredible than I thought He would be!"

No, the world's response is, "Wow. You Christians will do just about anything to try to get me to buy into your dogma."

It's repulsive. 

And it may be the case that what we tell culture about Jesus when we loan Him to them is true. Or true-ish. Or true enough that we can make a legitimate case that it might be where Jesus would come down on an issue without a whole lot of theological gymnastics. But even in that case, what we're doing is giving the world a one-dimensional Jesus that we hope they're falling in love with and then, when we try to take Him back, when we try to proclaim the full Gospel, the world just can't tolerate it. 

Because here's the thing about Jesus: He's messy. He curses the Pharisees, but He keeps going back to the Temple. He heals the woman's child, but He calls her a dog first. He sets free the chained man, then hops on a boat and heads out of town. In the fullness of who He is, there's a lot of tension that we have to deal with. There is no one-dimensional Jesus.

So when we use a one-dimensional Jesus to try to draw our culture in and then try to take Him back and reveal how complex He really is, a world that can't handle that kind of tension just screams about our hypocrisy - about how this Jesus who is one thing can't possibly be the other, too, and how we just keep moving the line and changing the narrative and spinning the tale. It is intolerable to them, and it turns them away. 

Just one more reason why we have to be careful about our willingness to lend Jesus to our culture. It may seem like a good investment, but it just keeps coming back empty - or worse, piled high with penalties that the church simply isn't prepared to pay. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Someone Like Me

Our practice of lending Jesus to our culture results in a number of crisis points for the church. The first, which we looked at yesterday, is that we turn Jesus into someone that we don't recognize, and it becomes hard to get Him back. 

A second challenge of lending Jesus to our culture is that it actually hinders our ability to draw others into the church. 

It seems like the opposite would be true. In fact, that's why we do it - so that we can present Jesus to our culture in as non-threatening and highly-relevant a way as possible so that perhaps they will join us on a Sunday morning and get to know Him better. Perhaps they will ascribe membership to our community and turn their hearts toward God. Perhaps this culture, who is getting to know Jesus through our willingness to lend Him to them, will become part of the movement of God in our world and expand His reach even further than we can imagine. 

That's why we lend Him so freely. We have all of these grand ideas about how this is going to be a gigantic boost for our evangelistic efforts. All it takes is first convincing the world that Jesus is not so unlike them after all, that He looks more like them - and cares more about the things they care about - than they might think.

But wait...didn't I say this is precisely not what is actually happening? I did. And here's why:

When you convince the world that Jesus is a lot like them, how do you then convince them that they need Jesus? 

How do you convict them of their desperate need for grace when the God you are offering them is essentially the same kind of being that they are?

We try to create a difference between the two, we try to highlight what it means that Jesus is God and that God is sovereign, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. We try to establish what it means that God is God and Christ, His Son, is Lord of all. But what happens when your starting point is that Jesus is not so different from the men of today is that you end up convincing the men of today not that God is God...but that they are gods. 

They are just like Jesus. They think just like Him. They have the same heart for the world that He does. They have the same cultural engagement that He does. It's not a far step from there for a man to start thinking himself righteous, to start thinking himself god-like. 

And certainly, a man who is already a god does not need a Lord. 

The point is that the more we make Jesus look like the world, the harder it is to convince the world to come to Jesus. The harder it is to convince them that He has anything to offer them. That they need anything that He has. Though we think we're bridging the divide when we loan Jesus to our culture, we're actually making it deeper, wider, longer, harder to cross. We are creating more space between God and men by trying to lend Jesus straight into the muck of our culture. We are doing exactly the opposite of what we think we're doing. 

This is just another reason why lending Jesus to our culture is creating a crisis point for the church. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Jesus on Loan

When it comes to cultural crisis points, today's church is far too willing to lend Jesus to the world, to let Him be co-opted by whatever is blowing in the winds right now. And as I said yesterday, this creates a crisis point for the church herself.

The trouble is that when you loan Jesus to the world, at some point, you're going to need to take Him back. You're going to have to come back and stand on the truths about Jesus that are given to us in the historical record of Him (a.k.a. the Bible). And this creates at least three major challenges for the church, which we will talk about over the next three days. 

The first question that arises when we have to take Jesus back from the world to which we have lent Him is this: can we even do that? Can we take Jesus back?

I'm not talking, unfortunately, about whether the world will let us have Him back (we'll talk a little bit more about that idea, sort of, on Friday), but about whether we're even capable any more of taking Him back. 

What happens is that we change the narrative of Jesus so that He has a lot to say about things like gun control or abortion or whatever else our culture happens to be facing at any given moment, and this becomes the Jesus that we preach. It's the Jesus we preach from our pulpits, and it's the Jesus that we preach when we're standing on the corner talking with our neighbors. It's the Jesus that we start thinking about all the time. 

A lot of the time, this is because we're trying to shape the narrative ourselves. We're trying to take what we know about Jesus and spin it so that it seems directly relevant to whatever our culture is talking about. We spend our time crafting all of these talking points about Jesus so that we can show that He really does have the answer to every problem that we have. 

But there comes a point where we have twisted and contrived so many of the narratives in Jesus's story to fit our current cultural needs that we lose track of the story itself altogether. We lose track of Jesus Himself altogether. The point we're trying to make becomes the lens through which we see all of Jesus, and when we try eventually to take Him back, what we have to do is make Him bigger again than the box that we've put Him in, and that is incredibly hard to do. 

Did you know there are entire collections of things that even Christians believe God said in the Bible that God never said at all? Things like "God helps those who help themselves" or "Cleanliness is next to godliness" or "God works in mysterious ways" or "This too shall pass." See, what happened is that we came up with these ideas as talking points to meet our culture where it was at, to offer some kind of Jesus-christened platitude to make the church seem relevant or seem like it has a response, and now, we don't even know what's true any more. Christians are using these phrases left and right and attributing them to God, and they aren't willing to listen when you tell them that God never said these things because they are so sure that God said these things!

And that's precisely why this is a crisis point for the church. Because when you lend Jesus to the world, when you start crafting stories that meet the cultural talking points, when you start shaping Jesus in the image of whatever the current crisis is, it is so hard - almost impossible - to take Him back. Even in the minds of many of your fellow Christians, Jesus forever becomes whatever you're shaping Him to be today. 

That is just one reason we have to be careful about loaning Jesus to the world. Tomorrow, we'll talk about a second reason.