Tag Archives: discipleship

Sarah Young Isn’t Satan, but her book might make you stumble…

JesusCallingBanner

And so might my blog, David Platt’s books, the latest from Mark Batterson, Tim Keller’s brilliance or even, gasp (this is for you, John) Dallas Willard.

But let’s address the thing about Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling, first.  Clearly this is by far one of the most widely bought books in recent history. And, I assume, it is being read…

Within the Christian sub-culture there is a growing following of Sarah Young’s book – after all, there are calendars, versions for kids, etc. – you know, all the great things that allow us to be consumers first, disciples second, and still feel good about ourselves (maybe a topic for another post someday).  There is also a growing contingent of people who are putting Sarah Young into the category of heretic, new age, occult, etc…  I don’t need to put you, the reader, into either of those two camps – you know where you fit and I love you.  🙂

I have read good portions of Jesus Calling.  Not all of it.  I rarely actually finish a book and believe most books should be a third shorter than they are!  I found the book to be a bit light theologically, designed to give us a feel good kind of experience.  And, to be sure, the amazing love of Jesus that keeps us in the center of his hand (Gospel of John) and which can’t be overcome by anything powerful, big or wide (Romans 8), is a wonderful reality to experience and into which more of us should live rather than by rules. The book isn’t Scripture and doesn’t claim to be (I’m sure some of you disagree with me on this).

I am about to offend some of you now, maybe many of you…

Is Sarah Young the anti-christ and will reading her book lead you astray?  No.  And, well, maybe…yes.  No because, well, its mostly harmless. Is everything Sarah wrote biblical?  No.  Does everything she claims to be her experience line up with Scripture as I read Scripture? No.  But the same can be said of Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson, Michael Frost, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, Tim Keller, Dallas Willard, Charles Swindoll, John Stott, C.S. Lewis or anybody else who might be your favorite author right now.  As a Reformed pastor I should also include John Calvin in my list.

Yes, it might lead you astray and here’s why:  Technically, it isn’t really Sarah Young or her book that might lead you astray, it might actually be you.  Within the Reformed tradition there are a couple of theological truths that I want to highlight for us.  The first being the reality that we are all sinners born with a sinful nature who do life as sinners in every context.  The second is that it is only Scripture which is to be the rule for our faith and life.  And that is the very problem!  I bring my sinful nature into my understanding of Scripture and it isn’t perfect.  I have a lens I read Scripture through and believe it or not, MINE IS THE RIGHT LENS AND YOURS MUST BE WRONG.  Just kidding, but that is how most of us approach life isn’t it?

Let me put it another way.  When John Calvin wrote The Institutes, he was sinning. When Billy Graham gave an altar call, guess what!  Yep…

Let’s take this deeper, to two things I think part of the problem might be.  The first is this: because of the very nature of the Bible, and our sinful natures, most of us are more likely to spend more time reading books about Scripture than reading Scripture itself.  We prefer to read books about Jesus – whichever version of Jesus we prefer – rather than reading the Word.  The problem isn’t so much that Sarah Young’s book, or anyone else’s for that matter, will lead you astray so much as it is that we make idols out of authors, Christian celebrities and what they write, say or sing. 

Interestingly, we only make idols out of the Christian celebrities we agree with and we follow them more than we follow Jesus.  We so quickly are willing to substitute that which is best – Jesus and the Word – for that which is good, sometimes really good and sometimes really not very good at all….

The second part of the problem, I believe, is our tendency to put everybody into right/wrong categories – along with everything they say, write, sing, pray, did, thought, or didn’t do throughout the entirety of their lives.  And, often, we base this judgement upon the thoughts, writings, sayings, actions and etc. of the Christian celebrities we like.  We have become really good haters within the Christian community and we are sending a very strong message to the world for whom Jesus died.

Don’t worry, I’m not bashing all books, teachings, music, etc…  I read, I pray, I sing (in my car with the windows up and the subwoofer pounding) and I enjoy and benefit from it.  But I am reminded of something one of my professors said in seminary:

Read the Gospels more. Read the Bible more. Read other books less and grow in your love for God and those he created.


A Snowy Encounter

blizzard

The call came early.  Really early.  5 something.  The robocall was telling us there would be no school today.  Weather.  Weather in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  As I rolled over to try and go back to sleep the thought in my mind was, “don’t plan any June vacations!”  We get a lot of snow in Southwest Michigan and I love it!  I like the snow.

At 6:00am I determine sleep isn’t returning so I get up, blow one side of the driveway and then head off to the gym for an early workout.  With close to 8″ of snow on the road I am enjoying how my Subaru Legacy handles in the snow!  It’s dark and so I am pretty close to them when I spot two people walking in the middle of the road.

Why don’t they walk on the sidewalk!?  As I look over to the side I realize the sidewalk is hidden beneath the snow that is falling and being blown around.  Looking ahead again I slow down to drive around the people walking in the road.  It is a man and a woman.  They aren’t wearing hats or gloves and are carrying plastic bags with what looks like groceries. The man has a binder in his left hand.

He is slightly in front of her as I drive up alongside them.  I put the passenger side window down.  “Would you like a ride?” I ask.  He looks at her, she looks at him, he looks at me.  Looking in the car he asks with a bit of skepticism, “are you sure?”

“Yeah, get in,” I respond.  He gets in front and she climbs into the back.  My legacy isn’t a big car and he is a big guy and they both have bags of food with them.  It didn’t matter if we were clogging up North Westnedge Avenue, the only people driving around in this weather are goofy folks like me.  We start heading south again.

“Where are you headed?”

“Downtown,” he says.

“Where downtown?”

“The McDonalds.” He says it like a question, wondering if I am willing to take them that far.

“No problem,” I say and we are creating tracks through the snow.

We chat a bit about the snow.  We remark about how early it feels for this kind of weather to be upon us already.  He shares that they have a car but it isn’t working  yet.  He’s confident he will get it running – in the next couple of weeks – maybe.  They’re both rubbing their hands together to warm them up.

There’s no traffic so it doesn’t take us long to arrive at McDonalds.  I pull into the parking lot and stop.  He looks at me and is sincerely grateful as he thanks me for the ride.  Then he stops for a moment and says, “Well this was really unusual!”

“What is?” I ask.

“This.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there aren’t a lot of white people giving rides to black people,” he states. “Especially at 6:30 in the morning!”

“You’re black!?” I exclaim with mock surprise. He laughs. She laughs. We say goodbye.

Today we anticipate the grand jury in Ferguson will announce their ruling on whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Brown, an unarmed black man and the city is poised for violence.

I can’t help but believe that we can live differently.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? ~ Mt 25:37-39


when integrity is GRITY

integrity or ethics concept

So, I had one of those that moment when moments…  Yep.  It was AWESOME!

Here at Haven we have been engaged in a teaching series about loving one another well.  It has been a really fun and, at times, very powerful teaching series for us.  This past Sunday it was again my turn to teach.  I was geeked.  I love teaching.  I love this community of faith I am part of!  I love Jesus and I love what Jesus says about how we love one another.  Sunday I taught on how we love one another by having integrity with one another.

We talk about integrity often in our context – it’s one of our core values.  One way we define it is like this, “doing what I said I would do, when I said I would do it and in the manner in which it is meant to be done.”  We have integrity when we give our word and we keep our word.  We also believe we are to give our word to BIG things – like restoration, redemption and stuff like that.  We also talk about HONORING our word when we can’t or don’t keep our word.  We talk about honoring our word in the same way we talk about cleaning up a mess.  In fact, when we honor our word, that’s what we are doing. We are cleaning up a mess…

Of course, it was a ground shaking, moving teaching time that deeply impacted people who weren’t even there 🙂  That was Sunday.  On Monday evening, at 7:15, I have a coaching call every week with two amazing men who are pursuing deep levels of transformation in their lives through a process called Faithwalking (part of our discipleship process). We aren’t far into the process, but our calls have been rich and provocative as we pursue a deeper walk with Christ together.  Coaching is one of my favorite privileges!

I missed the call.  One day after teaching the congregation to love one another by keeping their word with one another, I freakin’ missed the call!  I know.  It isn’t life shattering – it was just one of many calls.  No biggie, right?  So, because I am the expert on integrity ( I’m the pastor so I must be right? ) I immediately cleaned up the mess.

Nope.  I didn’t.  When I realized I missed the call the shame voice in my head kicked in.  We all have a shame voice.  It’s the committee that meets in our heads to remind us of all our deficiencies and how bad we are.  My shame voice reminded me that if I can’t make a simple phone call not only am I not qualified to be a coach but I am certainly not qualified to be a pastor!  So in the space of nano-seconds I shifted gears to divert the blame.  I spent the next 15 to 20 minutes rehearsing in my head all the excuses I could make in order to look good and still be qualified.  I don’t get to have those 15 – 20 minutes back…

After telling the shame committee that I deeply appreciate all their hard work and insight, I also told them they could sit down in the corner and be quiet for a bit.  In the moment of silence that followed, I quickly sent a text to both of the guys I had blown off.  I owned the mess – yep, the milk all over the table and floor is mine! I also asked for a time within the next day when I could talk to them individually to clean it up.

In cleaning up the mess I asked what impact my not showing up had on them. After listening actively to each, I asked forgiveness and have recommitted myself to be fully present as their coach.

We all have areas in our lives where integrity is lacking.  Places and relationships that aren’t working to the degree they could.  We also have these shame voices that work really hard to keep us from cleaning up our messes in a way that is healthy and restorative.  It takes a lot of courage to honor our word rather than to offer up excuses.

One of the biggest gateways to my own transformation has been a willingness to quiet the shame voices enough to clean up my messes.  I haven’t gotten it right 100%.  I still blow it.  But I keep pressing forward toward the goal to which Christ calls me.

Will you clean up a mess this week?

btw, both Don and Larrie are rockstars and our conversations were filled with grace!


Going Postal

racism-2014

She tilted her head and looked over the top of her glasses and said, “You know I’m joking right?”

Mary (not her real name) is a bright 27 year old follower of Jesus. I know Mary through Jesus Loves Kalamazoo and those are the last words she heard as she left the post office last week deeply embarrassed and offended. Mary is African American and those last words came from the lips of the Caucasian postal clerk at the end of a transaction filled with judgment and racism.

Because I know Mary a bit, when I heard about her experience in the post office, I asked her to share the experience with me. I wanted to know what the impact of that experience was like on her. So today she sat down with me and shared her story. I’m sharing it with you, not because it is the most horrific event known to man, but because I believe it tells the story of so many and highlights what is still so in our culture today.

At this point, many of you are going to be tempted to quit reading. I get that. There’s also a part of me that doesn’t want to know this goes on still.

It is September of 2014 and Mary goes into the post office to pick up a package, from the VA, for her mom. Her mom has all the proper paper work filled out so Mary can pick it up on her behalf. But as she engages the postal worker at the window Mary is harassed, belittled, profiled, accused of being a junkie and a drug dealer by the clerk.

 Loudly, so loud every one in the room can hear, the clerk tells her that often the VA will send narcotics through the mail and that she is wondering if Mary is going to go sell them.   Mary, of course, is horrified and offended. She is embarrassed. “You just don’t talk to people that way,” Mary tells me.

After proclaiming she needs her supervisor’s approval, the worker leaves Mary standing at the window feeling just slightly awkward. When she returns with the package, it is with an equally as loud, “I guess you can go get high now” that she hands it to Mary.

Maybe it’s because of the color of Mary’s skin? Maybe it’s because Mary is young (a whole two decades younger than me!)? Maybe it’s the combination of the two? I think we all know there are white folks selling drugs and doing drugs. I think we also know there are old peeps who also sell and do drugs. And if we all know that, then why profile Mary?

I don’t know if it was the look on her face as Mary turned to leave, but the clerk – probably realizing she has crossed a line, finishes their interaction with “you know I’m joking, right?” What I can say is this, the only time I have ever said that is when I KNOW I have crossed the line, said something unacceptable, and want to cover it up and make sure I don’t get into trouble.

When I asked Mary what the impact of that exchange was on her, I could tell it was difficult for her to identify it. She felt humiliated and embarrassed – like her dignity was being stripped away. She didn’t make eye contact with anyone else in the crowded lobby as she got out of there as fast as she could.  At the same time, however, she also said it is what she has always experienced.

Mary went on to tell me about being ignored by white teachers when asking for help, of being snubbed by white students at school and how even being on the same sports teams didn’t make the playing field level.

In Galatians 3:8 Paul tells us, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one…” If that is our spiritual reality, I wonder how long it will be before we live that way?

I don’t know how many times I have been to the post office – often looking like I have been dragged through the gutter. Never has anyone assumed I was doing drugs or selling drugs. And, if they did, nobody has ever said as much out loud to me. And certainly not in a public space like the post office.

Because of the way I look, speak and dress, nobody has ever profiled me for anything except for being the amazing upstanding citizen I am! (ok, I see that look!)  Whether you want to believe it or not, because of the way I look, because I was born to white parents, I live in a position of white, male privilege. And in order for me to live in privilege, that means somebody doesn’t get to – that’s the nature of privilege, some get to have it and others don’t.

In this instance, Mary doesn’t. Mary doesn’t get to go to the post office and assume it is a safe place for her to do business. Mary doesn’t get to believe that others will just assume the best of her. Mary doesn’t get to have the privilege of being able to go in and out of places, like the post office, without wondering if she will once again be harassed, belittled, profiled and accused.

Not unless something deep changes in our nation. My hope is that the church will lead the way and that we will learn to love the way Jesus loved.


Love Travels Far

family at lake   I have avoided writing for awhile.

I knew I was going to write about our experience with Tikumporn (Fah) for a couple of weeks but I didn’t want to face all the emotions and be that vulnerable.  But love is vulnerable isn’t it?  Love puts itself out there, feels deeply and risks everything. We risked it all! In September we welcomed a new daughter and sister in our home.  Fah is 16 and came to us as an exchange student through AFS (find out more about AFS here).

We made the decision while kayaking on a Saturday and in just over a week all the paperwork, background checks and home visits were done.  We knew we wanted a daughter (Hayley argued strongly for this) and that she would share Hayley’s room.  We read her bio and became friends on Facebook.  All of a sudden we were picking her up in Ann Arbor, MI.

I thought we made a huge mistake!

We, Andrew, Hayley and I, bought her flowers on the way to getting her. We had the truck so we would have room for all her luggage (she came with one suitcase). And we believed we were ready.  It was mostly nervous smiles until we hit the road back to Kalamazoo when all of a sudden Fah began asking questions.  That’s when I thought we made a mistake.  I had no idea what she was saying!

All the paperwork said she was great in English!  I looked at my daughter in the rearview mirror, looking for help, I found none.  Hayley looked at me with a look that said, “Panic!”  I looked over at Andrew sitting next to me in front and he said, “why are you asking me?” After 10 minutes the first question was understood.  An easy one, “what is the difference between Catholics and Protestants?”  This is going to be a fun year!  The panic and thinking we made a mistake soon gave way.

Panic and fear were quickly replaced with joy and love.

Looking back I think about how silly those first feelings really were.  It didn’t take long and I was watching my family fall in love with this young lady.  It wasn’t long and I was too.  It wasn’t long and she had captured the hearts of many in our church, youth group, school and community.  She might have been born in Thailand to a different set of parents, but she is every bit our sister and our daughter.

Fah laugh Over the course of nine months as we watched Fah change, grow, learn, and become very comfortable in the family and in the community; we also changed and grew.  We discovered just how capable of deeply loving we are.  We learned what it means to fully invest ourselves into the life of another.  We learned what it really means to let others in so that everyone is impacted and transformed.

Leadership is really discipleship and discipleship is courageously loving.

That’s really at the heart of the Gospel isn’t it?  Jesus even tells us that the heart of the Big Ten are summed up in loving God and loving others.  Really loving others is a risky proposition because it can’t happen outside of relationships. This week has been hard.

Monday we took Fah to the train station and watched her load with a few other students while a cranky Amtrak employee barked orders and complained about their luggage.  He wasn’t what made that moment so hard, though.

As Fah borded the train we all felt a part of our hearts board that train as well.  As the train pulled out and went east to Ann Arbor, we felt our hearts speed away as well.  I walked upstairs yesterday and saw her closet, empty. Today we saw pictures of her with her family in Thailand (after 17 hours of flight time!).  We saw the smile on her face and the love in her family.  And while it feels like part of our heart is now in a time zone 12 hours ahead of ours; it isn’t a part that has been taken away.

It is a part that has been added.


We’re Talking About Sterling For The Wrong Reason

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It’s still there.  Racism is. It’s still in the NBA, the NFL, the MLB and even the NHL.  It’s still in the United States. It’s just less overt. And because it is less overt, it is harder to deal with. What Sterling said in the privacy of his home, with his mistress (why aren’t we talking about this?), offended me.  I think it offended most Americans.  Really smart people with battle out the implications of his ban from the NBA on racism in the country.  And I am not minimizing his racist remarks or actions, but…

I am more concerned with what we aren’t talking about.

From what I gather from all the news reports I’ve read and the ESPN coverage I watched, is that Donald Sterling, an incredibly powerful white racist, was telling his mistress (i.e. they’re not married) who she could and could not hang with, particularly at the games.  He didn’t want her bringing any black people to the games.

Let me break it down a little differently.  Old, powerful white man with lots of money wants to control the behavior of the young lady he sleeps with.  Let me say it a little more boldly:  sugar daddy with money seeks to control the actions of the woman who meets his physical needs.  That isn’t love.

Sexism and the abuse of power.

Why aren’t we talking about the fact that an 80 year old married man has a mistress who financially benefited from their arrangement?

Why aren’t we asking deeper questions about why an 80 year old man with a lot of money believes it is alright to try and control her behavior?

Sterlings racism has been publicly obvious for years.  It is offensive.  The double standard of his racism (his mistress is of mixed race – whatever that means) is offensive.  His sexism, however, has subtly gone unchecked.

Are we ignoring the implications of an 80 year old married man sitting court side with his lover who is less than half his age?  What signal does that communicate to the young ladies in our culture today? When watching the games on tv and they zoom in on the owner with his girlfriend, do we with our sons about why unfaithfulness in marriage isn’t something to be celebrated? Do we remind our daughters in that moment of how beautiful they are?

Are we ignoring the fact that he wants to control her interactions with others?  Are we ignoring the fact that in any other setting we would call that sexism and an abuse of power? What a great opportunity to have a conversation about how we can use the resources God has given us to bring restoration to our world rather than pursuing our never ending appetites.

All over the world there are men who are trying, and are too often successful, to control the behavior of women.  When the tapes of Sterling’s conversation became public, what struck me most wasn’t the racist remarks. It was the fact that he thought that because she was his mistress he should be in control of her behavior. 

I don’t want this for my daughter.  I don’t want this for my sons.

Why aren’t we talking about this?