Monday, July 18, 2011


It's Saturday night. Actually, it's Sunday morning. 12:30 a.m. to be exact. I'm sitting on a couch in my in-laws house, watching some Mel Gibson movie. I think it's "The Patriot." The revolutionary era garb should be a giveaway, but I don't know, maybe Mel Gibson was also in a movie called "White Wigs for Redheads" or "Can I Try This War Over Again: The Patrick Henry Story."

In any event, it's definitely one of those movies that came out during the black hole of my movie-viewing existence known as high school. There was a period of about three years in there when the only current movies I saw were "You've Got Mail" and the remake of "Godzilla." There may have been another one or two in there, but I can't remember what they were.

Anyway, I'm here in their house as my giving and loving wife lends her assistance to her mother and sister as they go about preparing for an upcoming road trip. I don't mind being here at all. My in-laws are gracious and generous people. Their house is one of the rare places where I feel I can truly relax, be myself and not feel like anyone is expecting some big show out of me. They are loving people like that.

Okay, here's the part where I quit rambling and get around to the point. I am wrestling with something in my life right now. I guess it's nothing new. It's probably manifested itself in various ways for the past 15 years or so. I'm just now figuring out how to express it.

I am wrestling with grief at the state of the Church, at least the Church in this part of the world. I'm so tired of the hardness that seems to arise out of the grief. I so desperately want a heart of flesh for the body of Christ. There are many reasons why I feel this way.

I grieve because the Church lives and functions as if Christ died in 1963. Our Church has a rich history spanning 2000 years. Billy Graham is not a Church father.

I grieve because generations of evangelical Christians have never recited the Apostles' Creed.

I grieve because the Church has shunned its responsibility to educate believers in theology and Church history.

I grieve because the Church has done a better job of making customers than disciples.

I grieve because ministry to millions of people has been forfeited because their sins are just too gross to talk about in polite company.

I grieve because moralism and legalism have replaced grace.

I grieve because patriotism has been made into a false, substitute gospel.

I grieve because an inch of Scripture spawns a mile of sermon.

I grieve because I believe Epiphany and Pentecost should outrank Veteran's Day.

I grieve because I desperately want my grief to be an impetus for real change, but just don't know how to take on the corporation.

I grieve because my grief often descends into anger.

I grieve because I'm often part of the problem.

God, please give me a heart of flesh for the bride of Christ. Help me to be the Church.

medium-rare grace

Before I was a music teacher, or at least a full-time paid music teacher, I used to wait tables at Outback Steakhouse.

Waiting tables is quite possibly the worst job in the world. I'm serious. I read about a study recently that claimed employees in the food service industry were the most likely group to suffer depression. I can totally believe it. It's so bad because people are so picky about their food. I mean, it's just dinner. You had one last night and you'll have one tomorrow night. That's a good thing about being in this country. I'm convinced that, besides money, people are most picky about their food.

Because of all the pickiness, servers suffer a whole lot of abuse. Many customers have a strange way of making their displeasure a personal issue. After a while, it's enough to really wear on you. At least it was for me. Some people may have an easier time dealing with it, I don't know.

Would you be surprised if I told you the absolute worst demographic to serve in a restaurant are Christians? I'm speaking in generalities, but one of the worst things for a server is to head out to take care of your tables and finding them bowing in prayer, blessing their food. You just know you're probably going to be run around like crazy, listen to lots of complaints, and at the end of the meal, these folks will find some sort of reason to tip poorly.

I'm not making this up. Talk to servers in any restaurant and they will tell you the same thing.

I'll never forget serving a big family one time that returned thanks in one breath and berated me for their steaks not being well-done in the next. I was trying to explain that what they saw was not "blood," but was juice. The lady jumped up and just short of shouting said, "Look here, boy. Blood, blood, blood!"

What can I say to that? Not much.

Sundays are absolutely the worst. Christians come in droves from God's house to the steakhouse, filling up eateries with prayers and forced evangelism. Religious tracts too often take the form of American currency.

For people who supposedly have been radically transformed by grace, they seem to have little room for its manifestation in this area of their life. I'm the customer and my faith has no bearing in this matter.

We preach salvation by grace through faith, but when it comes right down to it, we're uncomfortable with that. We would much rather it be by grace through faith and not drinking, smoking or chewing. Adding extra-biblical, pharisaical elements like these gives us some stability we feel we need. In the end, we still trust ourselves more than Christ.

Because we don't feel like grace is, or at least that it should be, sufficient, the way we treat other people is affected. The grace that has seared our beings gets lost in translation when we deal with servers or other drivers or the lady in line ahead of us at Wal-Mart who pretends not to realize we're there even though she has 3 baskets full of those individual cans of cat food and we just have a small container of sour cream.

And I've got to let grace rule how I deal with others.

I wish I had the kind of grace my poodle has. I lock her up in a kennel for hours sometimes, but she doesn't care. If I accidentally step on her foot, she still runs for my arms. She keeps no record of wrongs. She just loves me pervasively.

If you want your server to notice a difference in you, lavish them with grace. Tip twenty percent always, even if in your gut you feel they don't deserve it. Say "please" and "thank you." Don't act like tomatoes in your salad or flies on your table are the worst things that ever happened. Above all, don't leave tracts. I'll say it again: don't leave tracts.

Honestly, religious tracts are not effective evangelism tools and usually find the trash before the first page is read, but if you must leave one, don't leave it unless you have also tipped over twenty percent. That's right, overdo it. The type of Christianity that ignores physical needs and targets spiritual ones is fruitless. As far as servers are concerned, the gospel won't keep their phone connected or buy formula or fix their car.

If we want our lives to be worshipful, we have to find every possible chance for grace to be manifested in practical ways.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


God's will is our favorite excuse. It's a more serious form of "the dog ate it."

At the end of the last school year, the PE coach at our school invited the music teachers out to the gym during a pizza party for some of the 4th graders. After the pizza was over, the coach asked what game they wanted to play. Of course, the boys in the group wanted to play "Dodge Ball," more commonly known today by its politically correct name, "Avoid the Ball."

The girls wanted to do a more civil activity, like jumping rope or hula-hoops, but if you know anything about 4th graders, nobody heard anything the girls were saying, because Dodge Ball was a possibility.

Of course, being the mature role-model I am, I wanted to play. But Dodge Ball is one of those activities that, unless I want to be on the news, isn't the best idea. Still not fair.

The way we use God's will looks a lot like adults throwing gym balls at 4th graders. There's really not much you can do if you're on the receiving end. It kinda shuts things down.

For example, the following conversation:

Ernie: I want to go to the Outback Steakhouse.
Bert: I don't want to go there, Ernie.
Ernie: Why not, Bert?
Bert: I want to go to the Olive Garden.
Ernie: Why do we always have to do what you want to do?
Bert: It's God's will, Ernie.
Ernie: Oh.

Not much for Ernie to say, huh? Maybe it's God's will they go to the Olive Garden, but my guess is that Bert is conveniently using God's will to support what he wants.  And, of course, there's nothing Ernie can do about it. 

There was this guy in Waco a few years back....


I'm not a parent, but I think parents should chill out just a bit sometimes.

Of course, this is coming from a recovering homeschooler, so my opinion might not be entirely accurate, but I do what I can.

When I was growing up, I wasn't allowed to see movies in theaters, ever. Especially not PG-13 or...gulp...R. And that's not much of a stretch. From 14 to 17, I maybe saw 3 movies.

But, for all those years, I made a list of all the movies my friends talked about. The summer after I graduated from high school, I got to house sit for some folks for a couple of weeks. It took me about 15 minutes to get to the nearest Blockbuster store. I caught up on movies. It was like I could breathe. And all those things my cool friends were talking about, I suddenly understood.

It was life-giving.

Even worse, don't harp on your kids about their behavior all the time. Let them be themselves. From what I've experienced, one of two things will probably happen. Either the years of repression will catch up to them in the form of bitterness, judgmentalism and depression, or they will jump off the diving board of rebellion whenever you can't hold them down anymore.

Even if it's something stupid, like...I don't know...putting a household chemical into their shampoo bottle to slowly and secretly lighten the color of their hair and accidentally turning it orange....which is something I never did....

Relax. You'll be happier and their hair will eventually go back to its original color.


Why is it that we naturally assume extremely emotional people are more sincere? This happens in churches all the time.  We figure that the person tearing up like Meryl Streep and performing ungodly physical contortions must be a real worshiper.

Sometimes the things we fell the strongest keeps us most calm.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How Should We Sing? (part 4)

IV. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

It's a policy of mine never to try to judge the authenticity of individuals in a worship service.  Of course, a time of corporate worship is focused on being the visible body, not a segmented, isolated time of personal devotion.

So please don't take my following comments as being judgmental of anyone's heart.

The difference between a singing congregation and a gathering of half asleep or half dead or self-conscious people slopping and muttering their way through a time of singing is huge.  The fact is that when we sing together, we should do the very best we can.  One of the hallmarks of traditional corporate services is hale and hearty voices raised in chorus together in the praise of the wondrous and holy God.  

So, sweet mercy, SING.  Sing with abandon.  Sing with thanksgiving.  Sing the very best you know how.  And if you don't feel like it, fake it. 

The life of worship feeds off of invested participation with God's church.

Of course, the inverse is true.  What we do on Sunday together doesn't influence the rest of our lives as much as the rest of our lives influence what we do on Sunday together.  Let your singing at church reflect a life wholly dedicated to the worship and service of God.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Position on Patriotic Celebrations in Worship Services

Much of this conversation has previously been posted on this blog, but I have reworked my points and expanded the discussion a little bit.

These Are Reasons Why I Don't Do Patriotic Celebrations in Church

1. When our services focus on country and patriotism, there are conflicting messages sent as to what being a Christ-follower is all about.  It can easily sound like being a good U.S. citizen is the first step on the road to living the gospel.  In reality, we are called to take up our cross and follow Christ.  Our primary allegiance is to Christ’s Kingdom.

2. Most patriotic songs and hymns, even if they mention God, say little if anything that distinguishes Him as the Christian God, and instead focus on a perceived inherent goodness in this country (for instance, “America the Beautiful”).  Others contain theology that many find problematic (“Battle Hymn of the Republic”).

3. It may not be an issue for all congregations, but many churches are attended by internationals.  For their sake, it is important to make sure they see an accurate representation of the gospel.  Furthermore, we want them to understand that we are all, regardless of earthly citizenship, one in Christ.

Adding to that point, when we refer to the United States of America as “America,” we are excluding Canadians and Mexicans and Cubans and a host of other individuals who are Americans but are not native to the U.S.A.

4.  There are, sadly, instances in our history where we have not been the “land of the free” to all people.  Even if we don’t agree with them, there are many cultures who find themselves still disenfranchised or affected by decisions our culture has made.  For those people, the U.S.A. is not such a beautiful place with a strong sense of Christian heritage.  The gospel demands that we be sensitive to these cultures.

We also must be careful that we’re not advocating a sort of modern-day manifest destiny, where we operate under the assumption that everything we can do and take whatever we want, simply because God is on our side.   

5. Patriotic celebrations draw us in with sentimentality and warm feelings and direct our focus off of Almighty God.  When our focus is shifted off Christ, our worship ceases to be Christian worship.  It becomes something else entirely.  We are all deeply committed to idols.  Because we are still deeply affected by sin, our hearts still lead us to bow down to God-substitutes.   

Many of these idols are actually good, acceptable objects or endeavors.  Family, children, career, food, sex, homeland; all of these things are good, but if not kept in their proper place, they can very easily become idols; God substitutes that ultimately leave us empty and broken.  And they compromise the very purpose of our worship gatherings if given the chance. 

These are the reasons I do not believe it is appropriate for times of gathered worship to become patriotic in nature.  While many agree with me, there are other very devoted believers who do not, and I do not for a minute condemn them for their position.  My hope is that they do not condemn me for mine, either, and my prayer is that this would not be a divisive issue for any, but that we would graciously allow ourselves to follow our conscience on this matter, knowing that we are all still one in Christ.