The Painful Journey from Happiness to Joy

There’s this place in the Gospels where Jesus tells people that if they want what He’s offering, then they will have to deny themselves.

Of all of the ideas intrinsic to the Gospel message, I don’t know of any more offensive to contemporary culture than the call to deny oneself.  It brings to mind notions of austere asceticism and images of self-flagellation.  It says to us, “Give up who you think you are.  Stop assuming the things you assume.  Reject that which you believe will make you happy.”

I think that last one is the hardest for me to do; to reject the things that I think will make me happy.  I don’t know that I could stop pursuing my own happiness even if I tried.  And so I think, in His strange grace, God gifted it to me.

Happiness has always been my True North.  At the end of the day, if all is going well, the evidence will be that I am happy.  Am I happy?  Then all is well.  Am I unhappy?  Then something is wrong.  My pursuit of happiness was the avenue by which I traveled.  Never stray too far, lest you lose your way back.

And I didn’t stray.  Rather, the path disappeared from beneath my feet.


When you lose your path, you panic.  You look for anything that resembles your familiar route. I can recall, during the darkest days of depression, going to bed thinking, “Maybe I will wake up happy tomorrow.”  In the morning I would wake, and the first question on my mind would be, “Am I happy now?”  The answer always came back: “No.”  I thought that every night and every morning for months.  The path never re-materialized.

I never would have left the path of happiness on my own.  I simply do not have the bravery or emotional/spiritual fortitude necessary to take Jesus seriously in His call to deny myself.  So in a strange act of grace (acts of divine grace tend to be strange) God removed the path.  He removed my happiness.  He gave me depression.

Now, not being a theologian, I suppose I ought to confess my ignorance.  Did God actually give me depression?  Or did He merely allow it?  I have no idea.  I’m comfortable with either option.  What I do know, though, is that spending many months in the absence of happiness forced me to consider a substitute.  What could take the place of happiness?  What could possibly direct my life the way my instinctive sense of “this will make me happy” did?

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but eventually I discovered another path.  It was not happiness.  It was something different.  Familiar but substantively better in every way.  It was a different type of path, but it took me places happiness never could have.  It showed me sweeping vistas from which I could look down on the old path of happiness and see its meandering circling course.  And happiness seemed kind of quaint and unimportant from these new vantages.

So what was this new path?  In a word: Joy.  More specifically, the joy of the Lord.  The joy that belongs exclusively to the Father Himself.  The Joy that He is utterly delighted to share, if only we will deny the things we presently expect to fulfill us.

Lest you think I’m not happy any more, let me assure you that I am often quite happy.  But happiness has a new and less profound role in my life.  Happiness now is submissive to joy.  When I am happy, it functions as a vague foretaste of the main course: joy.  And lest you think that I have utterly conquered depression, let me assure you that I have not.  But depression too has a new and less profound role in my life.  Depression too is now submissive to joy.  When I am depressed, it functions as a signal that I may be straying from the path of joy – perhaps looking for my old routes of happiness.

It’s a strange thing to be able to reflect on depression as a gift.  I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somewhere along the way I became thankful for that season of estrangement from happiness.  It allowed me to put happiness in it’s proper place.  And while the season of stumbling through the brush between happiness and joy was painful and certainly left some scars, the path of joy – the joy of the Lord – delivers things that happiness could only promise.


Two Songs – Reflections on Depression

Only two voices have ever sung songs of certainty to my heart. Songs so strong and profound that I could not deny them if I tried. The first song my heart ever knew to be undeniably true was the rich and full choral canticle of the Gospel of God’s grace. The second was the dirge of depression.

These two songs are impossibly irreconcilable. The Gospel song is the good news of endless hope and boundless embrace in the warmth of God’s mercy and forgiveness. And I have known it to be true.

The song of depression, on the other hand, is a droning hum that promises no hope, no embrace, no warmth, and no mercy or forgiveness. The song of depression is the promise of blackness and nothingness – pure oblivion. And with the same confidence that I have known the Gospel to be true, so have I known this hopelessness.

The Gospel is pure freedom. It is a song that makes you dance and weep and invite others in all at once. It is rare enough to treasure as your prize, but plentiful enough to distribute without partiality. It removes the strain and stress of labor and performance and replaces it with the unremitting acceptance of a mother’s arms. There is liberty because the war is over, and the labor can cease. And all remaining activity is a celebratory parade en route to the courts of the victorious and merciful King. And it can be experienced with unwavering certainty.

Depression is slavery. It is a song so hideous and horrible that its listeners must curl up and cover their ears, shutting out all other voices with it. There is not merely a lack of objects to which hope can be attached, but a realization that hope never existed to begin with. It is a stone around your neck in the sea. Every breath becomes a desperate and panicked gasp for survival. It is the promise that there is no King or kingdom; no mother with her arms wide open; no treasure to share, and no parade to dance in. There is only nothing. God is dead. And contrary to the insistence of the intelligentsia, when God dies, all hope and order and goodness die with Him. The only thing this bleak and desperate landscape has in common with the Gospel is that it too can be experienced with unwavering certainty.

So here I stand. Two bands playing two songs at full volume, one on either side of me. Both played with such conviction that one would be foolish to dismiss either. To which song do I sing along? Which tune is true? Which do I hum in my head without realizing?

The truth is, I sing them both. There are days when the funeral march of depression is too loud to ignore. I find myself tapping my toe as an act of resignation, confident that the hopeless tune is true. I stomp along with the rhythm like a slog to the gallows. I hate these days. These days are thieves, and they rob me of everything I love. I long to forget the song that plays on these days.

But then there are days when the Gospel tune pours in and drowns out the hopelessness with its bright and sanguine melody. The hope of eternity fills my ears and lifts me up off the ground before I can even muster the strength to stand myself upright. The face of my Savior is smiling and sympathetic, willing to embrace me despite my habitual absence from the parade. And not content to allow me to merely hear the song, He hands me an instrument and joyfully insists that I am part of the band, and that the song sounds best when I join in. And so I do. And I forget the notes, and I am flat or sharp at times, but He insists that it’s OK because the song we are playing is true, and good, and the Composer is pleased to hear it. I love these days. These days are gifts, and they fill me to overflowing with all I need. I ache to commit to memory every note of the song that plays on these days.

So I struggle. I hear two tunes, both claiming exclusive rights to truth. And I sing them both. I dream of the day when I will sing only one. But in the interim, I choose to allow one to ring slightly truer than the other. I hope in it, because I suspect it is the song my ears were made to hear. And at times, I get to join the band and play along.

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A Letter to My Children Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

Dear son(s) and/or daughter(s),

This weekend the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to expand the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to include two men who want to marry each other, or two women who want to marry each other.  This is an historic event, and I wanted to be sure you understood what I believe about this issue.  Hopefully, wherever you are in life, we have cultivated the type of relationship where you still care what your dad believes.  I will try to be as straightforward and clear as I can be.

First, though, I want to say that I realize that if our culture continues in the direction it has been, by the time you read this the whole topic may seem like a nonissue for most of our nation.  It will have been law for many years, and most people won’t see it as an issue worth reevaluating.  I want to encourage you to think for yourself.  No matter what anyone else believes, you are a free person and no one can tell you what to think.  I won’t try to control your thoughts.  I only want to tell you why I believe what I do.  If I’m honest with you, I hope you agree with me.  I have not come to my position on this issue haphazardly.  Many countless hours of thought, conversation, counsel, reading, and prayer have gone into my views.  And while it may be exceedingly unpopular when you read this, I believe it to be true.  Remember that our culture is only capable of exemplifying what is popular – not what is right or wrong.

So, with all of that out of the way, here is what I believe on the issue:

I do not think that it is good for two men to engage in sexual acts with each other.  I do not believe it is good for two women to engage in sexual acts with each other. I do not believe that it is good for two people who are not committed to one another in the life-long covenant of marriage to engage in sexual acts with one another.  I do not believe it is good for three or more people to engage in sexual acts together.  I do not believe that sex is bad, or wrong, or disgusting.  In fact, I like sex very much (you wouldn’t be here if I didn’t).  But like a fire, I believe that sex best serves us when it is contained within certain boundaries, and it becomes a danger to us and those around us when we take it outside of those boundaries.  I believe, more specifically, that those boundaries are a life-long committed covenant (look that word up; it’s important) relationship between a husband and a wife.

I believe that, as humans, our bodies and our sexes are gifts given to us by God and that they ought to be stewarded well.  I do not believe that this is a means of God placing unwarranted restrictions on us.  I believe it is God’s way of protecting us and preventing us from misusing our bodies and the bodies of others.

So, here is the core issue for me: I don’t think that sexual acts between two people of the same sex is a good thing.  I believe that there are good reasons for believing this, not the least of which being our very bodies and the nature of human reproduction.  (As an aside, I recognize that there are arguments and counter-arguments ad infinitum regarding these topics.  I would discourage you from overwhelming yourself with the incessant back-and-forth of these debates, as they rapidly degenerate into vitriolic attacks on people rather than meaningful dialog on ideas.  I would encourage you, rather, to examine the simplest evidences and arguments for both sides as you are making up your own mind.  The simplest arguments tend to be the strongest and least susceptible to the influence of the ever-fluctuating cultural milieu.  But I digress.)  Because I do not believe that sex between to people of the same sex is a good thing, I do not believe that it is good to legitimize those acts as right or proper or beautiful by applying the word “married” to individuals who wish to participate in those acts.

Now, all of this being said, I must make it clear that I do not believe it is right for me to legislate my morality on to others in issues that do not result in the unjust loss of life, liberty, or property.  I believe it is wrong for any government to require The People to affirm a moral, philosophical, or religious position that they disagree with, even if it happens to be something I agree with strongly.

On a more fundamental level, I do not believe that marriage ought to be legislated in any way. The more time I spend thinking about it, the more bizarre I find it that the government is involved in the relationships two people choose to have, or the level of commitment they choose to pledge to one another.  In a purely legal sense, I do not believe that any marriage ought to be legitimized or de-legitimized by the government, nor do I think anyone ought to be forced to recognize (or not recognize) anyone else’s relationships as legitimate.  Going one level deeper still, I believe that any marriage outside of God’s intended order (one man and one woman in a covenant commitment until death) is an illegitimate marriage, and I would not personally acknowledge anything other than that as a “marriage”.  But I would not support restricting others from doing so.

Additionally, I don’t believe in the words “gay,” “straight,” “bisexual,” “pansexual,” “demisexual,” “asexual,” or any other terms that humans may invent between the time I wrote this and when you may read it.  I believe that these words are used to place people into constituencies that can be easily categorized, controlled, manipulated, and marketed to.  I believe, and indeed have witnessed, that these words are used to draw lines between people where lines need not be drawn.  I suspect that if most people are honest, their sexual and relational desires (or lack of) do not fit nicely into one of these categories.  I believe it is a shame that anyone should ever hang their identity on one of these silly words.  Please don’t allow any of these words to be applied to you as a label, my child.  You are so much more than your sexual and relational desires, and so are those around you.  You must always treat others with the dignity of knowing them for who they are, and not for what labels they have had applied to them, or have applied to themselves.

I recognize, again, that by the time you read this, my views may seem closed-minded, outdated, and bigoted.  I promise you, my child, that I have done everything in my power to be none of those things.  I have, in my life, been called a “hater” and “homophobic”.  I am not these things.  And if I am in any way, I will set myself about the task of repenting for those sins.  I fear, and in some ways suspect very strongly, that I will not be able to sway you from the current of the culture.  Your mother and I will do our best to teach you what we believe to be the Truth, but in some ways we fear that we cannot compete with an entire nation who tells you otherwise.  If you do not agree with us on this (or nearly any other topic) please know that we still love you.  Disagreeing with someone, even on issues of great importance, does not mean that you do not love them.

Again, I do hope very much that you agree with me on this (and many other issues).  But regardless of what you end up believing about the nature of sex and marriage, I have some advice for you as you go forward.

First, I want to remind you to treat people with dignity and respect.  If you encounter people who disagree with you, listen to them.  You don’t have to change your mind, but you do have to respect them enough to hear them out.  Even if they do not return that dignity to you, you must extend it to them.

Second, regardless of what others do with their bodies, or how they allow themselves to be identified, or who they marry or have sex with, or even whether or not you agree with them, you must love them.  You must find ever more creative and compelling ways to exhibit that love to them and you must do so ceaselessly.  Remember that everyone has pain in their stories that only love can heal, and if you refuse to recognize their pain and sympathize with it, then you refuse to find the wounds that only love can heal.  Listen to people’s stories and take them seriously.  Remember that they too are made in God’s image.

And finally, do not become cynical.  Cynicism is a poison to your mind and soul.  It is unbecoming to men and women of good character.  It will rot you from the inside out.  Even if everyone you know disagrees with you, and you feel utterly alone in your views, do not let even a drop of cynicism enter your veins.  It will rob you of the faith, hope, and love that you will need to extend grace and forgiveness to others.

I don’t know what the world will be like when you read this.  But I suspect that it will be far more difficult to believe things the way that I do.  That’s ok.  As your grandfather used to tell me, “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”  I believe that is a good thing to remember.

I love you, my child.


It’s a Good Thing

I have been told that I ought to be a good person.
But I know that I am not a very good person.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by being a good person.

I have been told that I ought to be generous.
But I am selfish to my core.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by being generous.

I have been told that I ought to work hard.
But I am lazy enough to consider it one of my defining characteristics.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by working hard.

I have been told that I ought to have courage.
But I am afraid more often than not.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by having courage.

I have been told that I ought to show kindness to strangers.
But I often find strangers to be…strange.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by showing kindness to strangers.

I have been told that I ought to believe in myself.
But I think that is a stupid idea.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by believing in myself.

I have been told that I ought to be an outstanding husband.
But…just ask my wife.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by being an outstanding husband.

I have been told that I ought to be religious.
But I don’t really understand what religion is all about, and I’m not sure I’d like it if I did.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by being religious.

I have been told that I ought to have good theology and doctrine.
But I’m pretty sure I don’t.
So it is a good thing that I am not saved by having good theology and doctrine.

I have been told that I ought to have grace.
But I have withheld grace from those most desperately in need of it.
So it is a good thing that I am saved by grace.

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Christians: Stop Making Crap

Alright, I try to keep a positive tone around here as a general rule, but I’m all flustered right now, so I might get a little…grrr…  Here’s why:

This afternoon I got home and opened my mailbox to be faced mostly with junk mail.  As I was tossing it in the trash, something caught my eye.  It was this little advertisement here:

If you know me, then you know that I’m a self-described technophile.  I have a particular fondness for Google’s Android operating system and its ecosystem.  So you’ll understand my surprise when I saw that this advertisement claimed that the MYeebo Christian Tablet E-reader was using Android 9.0.  Why would this surprise me, you ask?  Because at present, the latest version of Android is 4.2.  There is no such thing as Android 9.0.  In fact, if Google continues on its current trajectory, Android 9.0 will probably be available sometime around 2017.  I understand that this flub could be the result of a number of things ranging from a gross misunderstanding of the product, to a simple uncorrected typing error.  But that isn’t really the issue I’m concerned about.

Here’s what I’m concerned about: why does the world need a MYeebo Christian Table E-reader?  Are the existing tablets and e-readers not “Christian” enough?  Is it sinful to buy a tablet that doesn’t come pre-loaded with the Bible?  Is it better to patronize an explicitly “Christian” technology company even when they sell clearly inferior products? Why do Christians continue to make and do things that by all objective standards…suck?

Ok, calm down Timbo…let’s not say anything we’ll regret here…

 It would be easy for me to use this as a launching pad for a tirade against the Church and how we should all live in Jesus-centered communes eschewing corporations and consumerism thereby decommodifying Jesus.  And, I don’t know, maybe we should do all of that.  But let’s start with a simpler question.

Why does the MYeebo Christian Tablet E-reader exist?  Does it do something a “non-Christian” tablet or e-reader can’t do?  Are the iPad or the Nexus 7 somehow lacking because of their “unChrislikeness”?  If I buy a Christian tablet, what else do I need to make sure is “Christian”?  Do I need “Christian” headphones to plug into my “Christian” tablet?  Should I get a “Christian” case for my tablet?  Do they even make those?  (Answer: yes they do).  If I use my “Christian” tablet in my living room, should I be sure I’m sitting on a “Christian” sofa?  Ok, maybe the sofa is “Christian,” but I’m pretty sure the ottoman is Muslim!  What do I do now?!

We Christians seem to feel much safer when we take someone else’s idea and make it “Christian,” (which, unfortunately, almost always seems to mean making it worse somehow.)

What if we (the Church) stopped making second-rate imitations of what the world already has and then slapping the word “Christian” on it?  This happens all the time.  “Christian” musicians and filmmakers are probably the worst offenders.  “Christian” record labels and film companies make a business out of vampirically sucking the creative juices out of the world, sterilizing them, and then repackaging them as if they are authentic creations of those in communion with God.  And the worst part is that when we imitate what the world is doing, we almost always get it wrong (i.e. Android 9.0).

Genesis 1 accounts for us the fact that God is creative in nature.  He imagines things that once weren’t, and He calls them into being.  When Adam shows up on the scene, God gives him some creative tasks (create more people and name the animals; both creative in nature.)  And because Adam is in relationship with a creative God, he is able to achieve these tasks.

Where now exists this creativity in God’s Church?  Why have we settled for so much less?  Why have we become hucksters of cheap and shoddy imitations of the world’s goods and entertainment?  Where is the creativity?  If we find that we have trouble being genuinely creative, we must ask ourselves whether or not we are in communion with the most creative Being in existence.  Are the beauty of the Gospel and the wonder of grace bereft of their ability to stir up genuinely new creations?  Does Christ make us into “new creations” or simply repackaged goods?  If Christ is capable of new creations, and we know Christ, then why are we incapable of creating anything genuinely new?

Will I live to see the Church recapture its capacity for creativity?  I hope so.  Dear Lord, I do hope so.  In the meantime, I find myself unable to support those who make an industry out of plastering the name of Christ on someone else’s creation, and doing a poor job at it.

Learning How to Hate

Alright, get ready to witness a conversion…of sorts.

If you know me at all, or if you’ve read this previous blog, you are probably aware of my longstanding hatred for all things Apple.  I could try to persuade  you to agree with me, as I have so many times in the past, but that would be counter productive to the intent of this post.  Because I am hereby renouncing my hatred of Apple.

Snicker if you must.  For you, this might seem kind of goofy.  But if you know me, you’ll know that this is actually kind of a big deal.  It comes as the result of some soul searching and conviction by the Holy Spirit; and it goes beyond my preference for consumer electronics vendors.

Here’s the story:

The other day I was reading this article about people who are beaten, raped, and killed as they attempt to escape sub-Saharan Africa to find freedom in Israel.  I got about half-way through the article and…I don’t know…maybe I got bored.  Maybe I just didn’t want to make my mind go there.  Maybe the whole issue was just too real for me.  Whatever the reason, I closed that tab, and opened this one, which is a video making fun of the iPhone.  Because, man do I hate the iPhone!

Ok.  Let’s think about this for a second…what do I hate?  I hate a cell phone.  I hate a brand.  I hate a consumer electronics corporation.  This is where I  chose to expend my hatred.  Because let’s be honest, you can’t hate everything.  We’ve only got so much hate to give.  And I use much of mine up on this:

Why does this logo get my hatred, while people being bought and sold, abused, raped, objectified, and murdered in their pursuit of freedom gets…me to close a tab on my browser?

Hatred, I think, gets a bad wrap.  Because it is so frequently used improperly, people assume that hatred is always a bad thing.  But it’s not.  In fact, hatred is commended in Scripture (see Proverbs 13:5 and Romans 12:9, for example), but only when we hate the right things.  When we hate injustice, we hate well.  When we hate wickedness, we hate properly.  When we hate pride and lust and greed and selfishness and deceit and murder and malice and slander and objectification and all forms of evil, we use hate the way God intended us to.

But when I hate Apple, I substitute something ultimately neutral for the things that are crying out for my hatred; the things that the Holy Spirit is demanding I turn my wrath against.

And so, I repent.

I repent of the hours I have spent bickering with people about their digital choices.  I repent of the times I have self-righteously explained to someone why they should not patronize Apple Inc.  I repent of my upturned nose at my brothers and sisters who have made different, albeit ultimately insignificant choices.  I repent.  And I move on to hate the things I am called to hate.  The great injustices in the world and the small injustices in my world.  The sins of mankind and my own sins.  I will be a better steward of my time, my energy, and my hatred.

Let us not swear off hatred itself.  But let us swear off hatred of the things which matter so little.  And let us turn our hatred toward the things that stand against the Kingdom of Love.


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My Real Life Experience With Demonic Possessions

I guess I’ve never really said it our loud before, but I’ve dealt with demonic possessions on and off since I was in middle school. The thing about a demonic possession is that you usually don’t realize it’s evil until it’s already in control of you. It’s scary for other people to watch. But I generally just thought, “What’s the big deal? They’re my possessions. Mind your own business.”

My first demonic possession was a gift: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for the Sony Playstation. If I remember correctly, my parents gave it to me and my brother as a reward for getting good grades. We started off innocently enough, playing video games like two adolescent brothers do. But eventually my brother’s interests took him elsewhere. But not me. I literally played that game until I had the outline of Playstation controls imprinted on my thumbs. At what point the possession became demonic is hard to discern. But I know that before long I was rushing through meals and homework just to get back to my game. If I had to guess, I’d say the point where it became demonic was when I began to chose my video game over time with my friends and family, and time with God. Eventually I got past the video game. I suppose the demons grew tired. But before long, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was out, and the while cycle started again.

A simple possession taking on demonic properties. Robbing me of time with my family, my friends, and my savior. I haven’t played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in years, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have the same effect on me that it once did. I’ve moved on to new possessions; fancier ones. Ones that have far more potential to become demonic because of their capacity to appear useful. I’m talking, of course, about my precious mobile devices.


Exhibit A


Exhibit B

Anyone who has spent time reading CS Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters knows that demons are crafty. They will seldom show up in a red suit with horns and a tail and say, “Boo! I’m a demon!” We wouldn’t likely be duped by such a thin disguise.


Probably not a demon

Instead, they show up in genuinely good and useful things. My smart phone is a good thing. It has proven time and time again to be helpful and worthwhile, not only for myself but for others. But equally as many times it has shown itself to be downright demonic; providing me an instant and ever-present escape from the more immediate and infinitely more valuable task of interacting with human beings and listening for the still small voice of the Spirit.

This became painfully evident to me this weekend as I was visiting my family. My little nephew just turned one, and has learned to crawl and stand since last I saw him. So as I’m visiting, I purposelessly yet instinctively reached for my tablet computer. I honestly don’t know why. Perhaps the demonic voices pointed out just how empty my hands feel without a piece of electronics in them. Regardless, while my nephew was showing me his newly learned feats of humanity, I spent 20 minutes trying to connect to a wi-fi network.

20 minutes.

20 minutes I could have spent enjoying the God-given gift of family, and relishing in the wonder of my amazing nephew’s newfound mobility. Certainly my possessions had become demonic.

So how do I cast out the demons? What exorcist do I call upon? Do I dash my electronics against the rocks?

I’ll need to counter the demonic possessions from two angles. First, I will need to submit my possessions to God, allowing them to be possessions of the Holy Spirit an none other. This means being consciously aware of my time, place, and setting, and then asking God, “Is this an appropriate time to utilize my possessions? Will it help people and bring You glory? Will it speak of my love (and Yours) for other people? Or will it build walls? Will it be an escape from the beautiful, if sometimes difficult, task of interacting with other human beings? Guide me, Lord.”

Secondly, I will rely on the wisdom and watchfulness of my brothers and sisters in Christ (that means you). If you catch me hiding behind a screen, a text, a call, a status update, or any of an infinite number of other potentially evil uses for my possessions, I am calling on you (and giving you the authority) to treat it for what it is: a demonic possession. Grab my phone, tablet, game controller, or whatever it is out of my hands and refuse to give it back to me until I realize just how much I don’t need it. With such brash acts, you will be ministering to my spirit.

So, probably these aren’t the type of demonic possessions you expected to be reading about. But they probably come far closer to the reality you know and live every day. I encourage you to take an inventory of your life and identify the possessions that have become demonic. When you discover what they are, submit them to the King and to the authority of your brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. And may we find that relationship with those we have submitted to is far greater than anything the evil spirits have convinced us our possessions could possibly bring.


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The Amazing Story of the 27-Year-Old Youth Pastor Who Lives a Perfectly Consistent Life

This might come as a shock to you, but I have never acted inconsistently with my beliefs.


Never have I ever once done anything that goes against my core beliefs.

Want to hear something equally crazy?  Neither have you.

Now you might say to me, “Wait just a moment, Tim.  I’ve heard you describe yourself a conscientious consumer; someone who works hard to buy fair-trade items and avoids supporting sweatshop labor.  But aren’t you wearing a Hanes T-shirt?” (Hanes was listed in the 2010 “Sweatshop Hall of Shame” by the International Labor Rights Forum).

“Why, yes I am indeed.”  I would reply.

“Well, isn’t that inconsistent with your beliefs?” you might ask?

“Apparently not,” I would reply.

Because, you see, if I did believe that sweatshop labor was wrong, I would live differently, wouldn’t I?  So when you heard me describe myself as a conscientious consumer, evidently I was being dishonest.

You remember that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”?  What if that was…you know…true?  Better yet, just imagine yourself living as a mute.  Add to that the inability to write, or sign, or pantomime, or otherwise convey your thoughts.  All you can do is live.  What will people conclude that you believe after watching you for a day?  A month?  A year?  A decade?  A lifetime?

Here is a list of shameful things you might conclude about me if you just watched me live for a while:

  • I don’t care much where products come from before they get to me.
  • I think my own leisure is more important than people.
  • It’s OK to say something hurtful, as long as the person you’re hurting isn’t listening.
  • I’d rather eat deliciously than eat ethically and healthfully.
  • I think most people are stupider than me.
  • Lust, anger, pride, and selfishness…really aren’t all that bad.

Apparently these are things I believe from time to time.  Someone might comfort me by saying, “Those aren’t things you believe, they’re just areas that you struggle to be consistent in.”  Well, I respectfully disagree.  I think I am consistent.  I think I live the way I believe.  Perhaps the only thing that is inconsistent in my life are the words I use to describe my beliefs.  Because when I call myself a “conscientious consumer,” yet buy sweatshop-produced items, I don’t live inconsistently; I describe myself inconsistently.  Let me give you an example from earlier in my life.

When I was in high school, I was punk-rock through-and-through.  Mowhawk, tattoos, piercings, chains and patches…the whole bit.  And of course, along with the punk-rock ethos, came the rallying cry of the punk-rocker: “I don’t care what people think about me.”

I used to love saying that, because it was “proof” that I was unaffected by mainstream society.  Only problem was that after making that statement, I would spend an hour (or more) in front of the mirror getting my hair to do this:

I wasn’t about to let the tuxedo take away my street cred.

But I wasn’t living inconsistently.  I was simply describing myself dishonestly.  I did care what people thought about me, and I lived in a way that proved that.  But I described myself as someone who didn’t. The inconsistency was in my description of myself.

Our actions will never be inconsistent with our beliefs.  Because our actions will always reflect what is going on in the depths of our hearts.  Consider what Jesus says:

“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit.  If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit.  The fruit tells you about the tree.

You have minds like a snake pit!  How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded?  It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.  A good person produces good deeds and words season after season.  An evil person is a blight on the orchard.”

Matthew 12:33-35 (The Message)

Nobody lives inconsistently.  People only describe themselves inconsistently.  Jesus says here, in essence, that the things we say about ourselves don’t matter much when compared to the way we live our lives.

So, here’s where the rubber meets the road spiritually.  Watch this clip from thinker/theologian/activist/heretic Peter Rollins.  Skip straight to 1:41:

Make no mistake: your actions are your beliefs.  The way you live today will tell of your adherence to the doctrine of resurrection (among others).  Your words merely describe you either correctly or incorrectly.

Now, it could be easy for us to walk away from this devastated and hopelessly aware of our inability to reach any level of real holiness.  To this I say two things:

First of all, good!  It is only in these hopeless moments of clarity that we are made aware of the depth of our sin and our need for a savior.  Use the feeling of hopelessness to propel you into the arms of the One who offers hope!

Second of all, don’t get angry or discouraged without getting honest.

Live honestly.

Live your beliefs.

Let us become the people Christ calls us to be on the inside so that we no longer need to hide behind our faulty descriptions of ourselves; so that we no longer need to masquerade as people of good standing.  And, when our lives display that we believe counter to the Gospel, may we have the courage to say the words that will ring consistently with our brokenness.  Have the courage to say, “Today, I denied the resurrection.”

And then go out tomorrow, and refuse to deny it again.


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Christian Pastors Should Suffer

If you’ve stuck with me for a while, you know that I’ve been obsessing about the idea of suffering.  It’s a word that God put in my head a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since then.  But, I promise that this will be my last post about suffering for some time.  Maybe I’ll move on to some happier topic soon (ponies anyone?)

But today at the church office I was going through an old binder full of students’ medical release forms that have accumulated over the past few years.  As I flipped through the binder, I passed the names and medical details of numerous students who are pursuing Christ and are making great strides in their faith, and I found myself encouraged by the lives and faiths represented by those names, birthdates, and medical policy numbers.  But the longer I spent flipping through that binder, the more names I noticed that belong to students who I knew well, but who are no longer actively pursuing Christ in community.  I don’t speak out of an arrogant assumption that just because they don’t show up to church every week it must mean they are off worshiping the devil.  I speak from the knowledge I have through my passing interactions with them and their friends.  I speak as an observer, witnessing their lives unfold via social media (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)  I feel my heart ache a bit every time I see evidence against the Spirit of God guiding their decisions.  I want so badly to see them re-enter the fold of their faith; to return from a prodigal journey all the wiser to the rich love and grace they nearly walked away from.  I ache.  I hurt.  I suffer.

Now a confession, and a plea for forgiveness.  I have been accused (rightly so) of being too pushy at times.  My zeal to see students embrace the call of Christ has often taken on an unintentionally forceful tone, and my eyes are being opened to the fact that this may serve to push more people away than it draws in.  And so I ask for forgiveness from anyone who has felt cornered or harassed by me.  Please have grace with me.  I beg you to bless me with the room I need to grow.  And I beg you to try to see what is at the core of my “pushiness”: a desire to see the Church grow and Christ transform.

So, back to suffering.  Today, I suffered.  I experienced the suffering that is perhaps only shared by pastors and parents; the suffering that comes from seeing someone you have nurtured make a series of decisions that you believe will bring them harm.  It is an awful feeling.  I hate it.  I don’t wish it on anyone…

…Except for every Christian pastor in the world.

A little while back, I was having lunch with a pastor friend/mentor.  He imparted some important wisdom to me regarding the role of a pastor.  “A pastor,” he said, “must be comfortable feeling like a victim.  Being hurt.  Suffering.”  What a job description, huh?  Who in their right mind would sign up for this?  But as he expanded on the idea, my eyes were opened to the truth and beauty that exists within the call for a pastor to be constantly willing to suffer, and to expect it every day around every corner and in every situation.

There are two types of pastors out there, I suppose: those who are willing to suffer, and those who are not.  And within the subcategory of those who are not willing to suffer, I suspect that there are two reasons that pastors do not suffer:
1. Because their church community is made up of perfect people (never mind, this doesn’t exist).
2. Because their hearts are not willing to be hurt by the losses they must necessarily witness regularly in ministry.  They are either calloused or they are blind to the the people in their community who are attempting to wriggle free of the Father’s grasp. 

As our culture grows progressively…”flexible” (I suppose that’s a nice way to put it), I suspect that we will see more and more people walk away from Christ when it becomes boring, inconvenient, offensive, or difficult.  Any pastor who ministers in a church made up of human beings will experienced this from time to time, and will be forced to stand by and watch, feeling helpless, attempting to encourage and convict, but witnessing some people drift (or sometimes run) further and further from the God who loves them so deeply.  The time to suffer has arrived.

A suffering pastor is, paradoxically, a healthy pastor.  The moment I begin to feel completely content in the health of my ministry and my flock, I must be quick to check if my contentment is based on true health, or if it is a result of the fact that I have stopped caring for those who are lost, hiding, hurting, and/or escaping. 

I want every Christian pastor to suffer, because suffering means that they are tuned in to their community; they see how many people are forfeiting their lives to gods other than Christ, and they are unwilling to let them go without a fight.  And so they fight.  And they suffer.

So may our pastors suffer, suffer badly, suffer long, and suffer well.  But never stop suffering.  Because when pastors stop suffering, they have closed their eyes to those who most desperately need a pair of loving eyes to rest upon them.


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Airplanes and God’s Unwillingness

I don’t like airplanes.  Call me crazy, but there’s something about 400 tons of steel, suitcases, and human flesh that leads me to believe that it doesn’t belong in the sky.  Even though I’m growing gradually more willing to fly (thanks in large part to this book) it’s still difficult for me to feel comfortable on an airplane.  The door swings shut, my ears pop, and scenes from countless films involving air disasters flood my mind.  Remember that Uruguayan rugby team that had to eat each other to survive after their plane crashed?  That’s the kind of stuff I think about when I get in an airplane.

Pictured: My worst nightmare.
Suspiciously not pictured: People freaking the hell out.

I just returned from an 11 day trip to Chile with the high school students from our church, and I somehow survived the twelve-hour flights (each way, plus an hour layover in Lima, Peru.  It was a long freaking time to be in an airplane.)  But as is my ritual, I spent some time with God the day before our flight left.  I asked Him humbly to protect our flight and to bless our trip, and to get us to and from our destination safely.  As I was wrapping up my time of prayer, I snuck in a request, hoping to receive a quick response to put my uneasy spirit at rest.  “God,” I asked, “Can you please give me the assurance that the flights will be safe, and that I will return home in one piece?”  I shuffled from my seat, ready to wrap up my prayer time, when suddenly the voice in my head that I frequently attribute to God came back to me clear as day.

“No,” it said.

Wait.  What?  Why not?

Lately I’ve been asking God this question a lot: “God, if you’re so big and powerful, then why won’t you just _______?”  It sounds like a childish question for a pastor to ask, but it’s a question that rings in my head every time something doesn’t happen the way I want it to.  So, if God is so big and powerful, then why wouldn’t He just tell me things would be ok?  Looking at this situation retrospectively, I see now that I am indeed alive and well, and that my plane did not go down in a horrifying ball of flames like I had feared.

So why wouldn’t God just let me in on that?  All I needed was a little, “You’ll be fine,” and I would have been content.

But I got no such thing.

I thought about this for a while that night, and I pondered the possibility that I might die on tomorrow’s flight (statistically laughable, I know.  But a lingering fear for many nonetheless).  Why does it seem like God rarely gives me the assurance that I am looking for?

If you’ve been following me blog (or talking with me face-to-face) lately, you’ll know that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of suffering.  It’s an infuriating mystery to me.  Why must we suffer and, perhaps more importantly, why are followers of Christ called to suffer?  If we are called to suffer, you’d hope that God would at least give us a heads-up when we’re not going to suffer so that we can have peace of mind.

But maybe there’s something to learn about God here.

It came to my attention, in asking God for assurance, that He was unwilling to give me any.  I don’t mean this to say that God was arbitrarily opposed to giving me information or comfort.  I mean that my having this specific information and comfort was counter to His will.  He did not desire that I should have it.  His desire was that I face uncertainty head-on.

One of my favorite songs of all time is The Self-Employed Chemist by Norma Jean.  Towards the end of the song, there is a haunting refrain in which vocalist Cory Putman asks, “What if I have to lose?  What if I have to suffer?”  This is a question I return to often, and the very question God forces us to ask when He refuses to give us the assurance we so desire.

Anxiety is a longing to avoid uncertainty.  Perhaps herein lies our love affair with logically repeatable experiments and predictable outcomes.  While certainly not altogether bad, such desires for the repeatable are perhaps symptomatic of a deeper fear of the unknown.  We want to see the same sort of predictable outcomes in our lives.  But it doesn’t always work that way.  And apparently God doesn’t want it to.

We face uncertainty everyday, provided we chose to go on living for one more day.  Will I slip and fall in the shower?  Will I experience something embarrassing today?  Will I lose my job?  Will a loved one die unexpectedly?  Will I die unexpectedly?  Will I go to heaven when I die?  Is there a heaven at all?  Is there a God at all?  Do I really exist?

What do we chose to do in the face of the necessary uncertainty of life?  This is the question that defines the type of people we are; the type of Christians we are.  God’s desire, it seems, is not that we be certain about anything, but that we be faithful in everything.

I was forced to answer whether or not I would heed the call to lead students to serve God in Chile even if it meant that I may die en route.  I asked God, “Will I die in a plane crash on the way to Chile?”  God responded, “What if you do?”

What if I have to lose?

What if I have to suffer?

Every day is an agonizing opportunity to answer these questions.  Do we continue to progress, to move, to wake up, to love, and to hope in the face of potential loss?  If we truly want to live, we must.  And, perhaps, the more uncertainty we face, the more we truly live.


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