The Jesus I Need…

In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.

That’s just one of the worst things I’ve ever read.

Granted that Jesus can stand up for himself,  but the crime of turning him into some kind of Mike Holmes carpenter, here


to save your soul, “or else”, is just as bad as trying to turn him into a proto-buddhist, new age swami.

He simply defies categories, and we own none of them.

That being said, I think that description of Jesus Christ is just horrible. Maybe it’s polemic, and just designed to shake us up a little, but surely there are limits.

Can we not have the Son of God described as if he’s got a spot on next week’s “Jersey Shore”? Can we not have him described as Scott Stapp?

image via

Scott Stapp?!?!?

It’s projection in the highest degree (among other things, a desperate covering up of male insecurity)…

The fact is that we have little idea what Jesus’ personality was—that wasn’t the intent of the gospel writers—but I’m pretty sure he no more some kind of ass-kicking warrior  than he was a metrosexual clothing consultant.

He was a 1st century Jewish teacher and rabbi, convinced that God was bringing something to completion through him as he wandered around Palestine teaching and healing, laughing and instructing his little band of followers.

At least we can say that he probably had sensible shoes.

It’s always tempting to re-make Jesus in our own image. Frankly, if I did that, Jesus would be able to:

  • talk—intelligently and passionately—equally about the Clash, the Black Keys, and Sigur Ros
  • tell me about some obscure documentary on the life a tree slug and how, “no really dude, you have to watch it: it’s profound!”
  • lay my office out perfectly
  • come over to drink beer, eat chips and Frontera Grill Chipotlé salsa and watch European soccer

But you know what? That’s not the Jesus I need. 

I need a Jesus who:

  • fit into his culture, and into the story of God but transcended it and completed
  • loves and accepts sinners and the broken
  • can heal people (even though not always quickly)
  • isn’t interested in what I want, but wants to show me what God wants and is up to in the world
  • was obedient, all the way to the Cross

So yeah, I abhor that comment, and I disagree pretty vehemently with it (never mind his interpretation of Revelation, but that will wait until next time), but I also need to watch my own tendency to reduce Christ to my image.

He’s way beyond that.

(By the way, if you are interested in some highly intelligent work on who Jesus was and what he did, I would highly recommend N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight as great starting points.)


The Power of Story


The new season of Mad Men started last night (finally).

I love AMC’s tag line: they know that everything revolves around story, and they do a great job of finding shows that tap into the beautiful ambiguity that is our humanity. Every character in Mad Men, it seems is capable of acts of great beauty and great depravity…

A lot like all of us.

I, for one, am drawn into this ambiguity and to the power of these characters’ story: who they are, how they got to be that way, and what they are struggling to become.

We also just got back from Walt Disney World, and it can be argued that no one understands “story” like Disney. I grew up in Texas only a short drive from the original “Six Flags” park. Last night, my wife and I were reflecting on Six Flags versus Disney. It actually seems like Six Flags has more thrills, more rides.

But what they don’t have is story.

I haven’t been to one of those parks in a long time, but my hunch is that there aren’t people walking around with Six Flags t-shirts, wearing Six Flags lanyards, with Six Flags buttons on them that represent the 20 years they’ve been coming to Six Flags parks.

Six Flags is a good for a weekend ride, but Disney has crafted an ability to make their story a part of your story. They’ve created an experience that people have integrated into their lives, telling, retelling, and then re-experiencing the park over and over.

I think the lesson is this: events are only the beginning. To create something special, our churches need to be about creating environments where people can experience an event, tell the story of that event, tell the story of their lives, and then allow their story and the community’s story to merge and intertwine.


THE Prayer Pt 3 :: “May Your name be kept holy.” (or, “More Holy Than a Coaster”)

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.

When I was a kid, I had some pretty strange religious beliefs.

For instance, I determined that prayers “bounced”. Since people always prayed with their heads down, and since God was “up there” in heaven (though now I know better), I determined that our prayers must bounce off the floor and then soar up to heaven to God.

Unfortunately (for me), the opposite also held true: if I somehow made the mistake and prayed face up (like lying on my back in bed), then my prayers would bounce off the ceiling and go, you know, “down there.” 

To the devil.

Heavy, right?

I remember one evening when I prayed to go to sleep quickly. Unfortunately, I was facing up when I did. I didn’t go to sleep until like 3 or 4am.

Well, it was probably more like 11:30, but you know how things feel when you’re a kid. It was terrifying!

I was also unreasonably concerned with the Bible. It had to be face-up on my nightstand (even if I seldom read it, much less followed its teachings), and never, ever, could something—such as my ever-present bedtime snack of a can of Coke and peanut butter toast—be set on top of the Word.

While it kept my Bible in pristine condition, this is not what God means by “holiness.”

Keeping God’s name holy is much more than setting him aside and making sure that he doesn’t get sugar or toast crumbs on Him or His bible. It’s much more revolutionary and active than that.

To state it succinctly: God’s people are entrusted with maintaining the “holiness” of God’s name. 

“The house of Israel, as the chosen people of God, were the guardians of His reputation in the world. By worthy actions they brought credit upon Him and ‘sanctified His name’ … A bad action more than involved the Jew in personal guilt; it was treachery to his God and people.” (Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, 23)

In the book of Ezekiel, God lays it out plainly: “But when they (the Israelites) were scattered among the nations, they brought shame on my holy name. For the nations said, ‘These are the people of the LORD, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land.’ Then I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations.” (36:20-21)

There’s something almost human and tender about the idea that God—the Creator of the universe—allows His reputation to hinge on the behavior or humanity. He is not above being hurt by us, and He openly entrusts this to us.

So to pray “may Your name be kept holy” is to actually pray , “God may I live my life in such a way that I enhance your reputation in the world. May my life be filled with the fruit of Your Holy Spirit so that people will see my life and wonder, ‘What fuels her life? What or Who is behind that?'”

It’s about a whole lot more than just making sure your bible isn’t a coaster.

  • What does it mean to you that we are entrusted with God’s reputation?
  • Understanding that your life is on stage, are you “keeping God’s name holy”? On Facebook? On Twitter? In “da club”?

Leadership Commandments, 6-10

As promised, here are the last five “Leadership Commandments” I gave to my friend as he entered into ministry.

  1. (6) Thou shalt remember that people need you to lead them; don’t be afraid to. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, people actually crave legitimate leadership. If they trust you, they will entrust a lot to you, and they will do it willingly. Don’t miss an opportunity to lead just because you’re afraid to speak into someone’s life.
  2. (7) Thou shalt remember that it all starts with what God is doing in your life. Though I don’t necessarily agree that you can’t take a person somewhere you haven’t been yourself (because God is way, way bigger than that), you do need to take your spiritual life seriously, and you do need to minister out of the fullness of your own life. Tend to your soul.
  3. (8) Thou shalt realize you reproduce what/who you are. I learned this the hard way. You can talk and lead until you are exhausted, but ultimately you will reproduce who you are, not what you do. In one of my first ministry callings, I worked extremely hard to build a great team; we did great work together. However, I began to notice that a couple key members had become cynical and sarcastic, and lost the sense of wonder that they’d had when they began their journey with me. I realized that had helped them become that, because that’s what was stirring around in my soul. That’s who I was becoming.It still crushes me.
  4. (9) Thou shalt lead by faith, not by sight. When you lead musical worship, it’s tempting to either watch people “really getting into it” and decide that you’re doing a great job, or watch people sitting on their hands and decide that you’re doing a horrible job. Both are error. We minister to God first, and we trust that He is working. If you watch the people who are enthusiastically responding to your leading and decide that you are really hitting it, you are actually closer to idolatry than it is to leading faithfully. If you watch the people who are not responding at all and decide that you are failing, you are allowing yourself to become needlessly discouraged. Do your best, and trust God for the results.
  5. (10) Thou shalt immediately begin working yourself out of a job.More than any other vocation, ministry is not meant to be hoarded. There’s a fine line between allowing yourself to “do the things that only you can do,” and just holding on to ministry roles that you really should be giving away. Ministry is meant to expand, which means you need to actively look for people to pour into.Caveat #1: It will take a long time to find them. 

    Caveat #2: There will a couple instances where you think you’ve found “your replacement”, and you will be disappointed. 

    But keep looking.

So that’s it. There will probably be a “third tablet” of commandments, someday, but these were enough to get him started.

Leadership Commandments, 1-5

Last week I had the privilege of sending out a dear friend to the beginning of what I believe will be a long career in ministry. I decided to jot down some leadership “commandments” for him, and I thought I’d share them (with commentary) here. Here are the first five:

  1. Don’t forget to care for yourself artistically and spiritually. It’s simple, but we lose sight of it all the time. You have to have something in your tank in order to give something out. My wife and I bought our first really good kitchen knife just last year. When we first got it, it would slice your skin effortlessly. By now, however, it’s beginning to get dull. If we refuse to sharpen it, eventually it be as useless as the $19.99 set of 9 steak knives that I bought for Christmas one year (but that’s another story).
  2. Closely watch cross-gender relationships. Again, it should go without saying, but … um … it doesn’t. When you step into a position of leadership, it becomes very, very easy to confuse relationships with all kinds of people, particularly with those of the opposite sex. Lines are too easily blurred, too easily crossed, and then every single thing that you have you have invested in in your ministry will be incinerated, and you will be left with wreckage and ash.
  3. Know your job description, but know what you are paid to do (they don’t always match). Knowing your job description gives you a target, and makes sure that you are giving the church what they need. Knowing what you are actually paid to do, however, can focus your efforts even more, and relatedly allow you to say “no” more freely. When I started in my first ministry job, I was overwhelmed. I asked my supervisor, “How am I supposed to do this overwhelming task?”He replied, “I just want you to do two things: ensure excellence on Saturday (when we gathered) and shepherd the music team. That’s it.”That was what I was paid to do.
  4. Don’t be afraid to “just” be faithful. There will be times when you simply don’t want to lead people. There will be times when the feelings and emotions of praise and worship won’t be there. At those times, you must commit to just opening your mouth. Don’t confuse the feeling of worship with obedience. Sometimes it’s just enough to show up and lead the best that you can, out of whatever reservoir is available to you. Doesn’t mean you want to stay in that place, but neither can you just walk off the stage and leave it up to someone else.
  5. Character trumps ability. It will always be tempting to look for a “short-term” win and add an amazingly gifted—but fatally flawed—person to your team. Do this at great risk. They have the capacity to sabotage your efforts, and also to hold the rest of your team emotionally “hostage”. Choose long-term, holistic growth over the short-term sexiness of the glittering image. I’m not saying character can’t change; I’m merely saying that you should keep guard the safety of your team fiercely.
The next five are coming shortly…

“All I Did Was Pick Up the Phone…”

Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath

If you deal with any kind of change—whether personal or organizational, internal or external—this book is really amazing.

One of the key concepts that Chip and Dan Heath communicate is that in order to achieve really big goals you have to “shrink the change.” Our brains can get overwhelmed with the enormity of some of the “big things” we are trying to accomplish, so in order to keep from being paralyzed, we need make change manageable, turning it into small bite-sized chunks.

For me, an unexpected result of “shrinking the change” was that sometimes I lose a bit of the sense of doing some crazy, enormous thing (the goal or change), and instead acquire the thoughts of doing these seemingly meaningless tasks.

Sometimes it actually feels less inspiring to me.

But then I got to thinking: I wonder if people who do really amazing things are aware that they are doing really amazing things.

I wonder if they just know that they are simply following the next logical step in a sequence in order to accomplish their given task…

  • To write that book…
  • To lose that weight…
  • To change their character…
  • To complete that record…

It’s tempting to focus on the “Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goals” in our lives, and to use that focus as motivation to do them.

But it’s more important to actually accomplish the goals than it is to dream them up…

… and that’s considerably less sexy.

So, the irony is that to accomplish really cool things—to change your life, to produce something, to “ship”,  you have to sometimes surrender the thought that you’re doing really cool things, and simply do the next thing that’s in front of you.

  • Taking 10 minutes out of your day to pray can change your character forever
  • Picking up the phone to call someone who is lonely and isolated can send a powerful message of significance and love
  • Writing for 10 minutes a day can unlock the creative ideas for a book or a song
  • Going to bed 30 minutes earlier can give you the added energy you need to be more engaged at work

Is it sexy? No.

Does it work? Probably.

Surrender a little of the grandiosity of your dreams in order to actually achieve them.

Ira Glass, pastor.

Well, not quite, but take 2 minutes and watch this.


Now ask yourself, “What if instead of ‘creative work’, Ira Glass was talking about the spiritual life?”

Does this change the way you view growth, sin and “failure”?

It should.

Three quick thoughts.

  • We don’t necessarily need to be “people of taste” in order to determine what God might want for us; rather, we are a people of “The Book”. The scriptures tell us what God wants for us; that’s where we find the vision for our lives.
  • Knowing that there’s a “gap” between that vision and where we are at, we should expect to fail. We won’t be perfect. Not for a long time.
  • That being said, the point is to keep doing the things that pull and push us toward that vision. I’m not talking about merely “exterior”/visible things like service; I’m referring to the quiet, secret things like prayer, meditation, scripture study and reflection. These “creative” things make room inside us for God’s Spirit to take hold and begin to mold and change us.

The point is to allow God’s Spirit to “close the gap” between where we are and what He wants us to be.

To become “Gospel Artists”

To “ship” our lives.