March 2011

Often when I pray, I’ll pray through 1 Peter 5:5-7 as a reminder of how to walk through my day:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

After reading and praying through that verse hundreds of times, I noticed something today that I’ve never seen before: the inextricable link between pride and anxiety.

Pride loudly proclaims, “I can do it all.” Anxiety softly whispers, “But what if you can’t?”

Pride shouts, “Leave it to me; I’ll take care of it.” Anxiety nudges, “You’re probably not good enough.”

Pride boasts, “Let me take that on.” Anxiety speaks a crushing, “You’ll never make it happen.”

Pride puffs up. Anxiety deflates.

But there’s a third key word in 1 Peter 5, a word that is foundational to managing the dangerous dance of pride and anxiety: humility.

Humility reminds us that we’re not good enough, but someone else is. We’re not capable enough, but someone else was. We can’t achieve enough, but someone else already has.

Jesus takes our to-do list and heralds “done” across the cosmos. When I try to build my reputation through pride, I’m quickly torn apart by anxiety. I’m not called to carry the weight of the world, I’m called to trust the one who already did.

My friend Katie Baker wrote a world-class post on dress and modesty. She said what every pastor wants to say from the stage, but can’t. Won’t. Skeered to. Whatever.

The reason that I’m glad Katie said it is because she’s definitely not what you would call an ultra-conservative gal who wears denim jumpers and doilies on her head. Nope, she’s young…just been married a few years…a brand-new mom…trendy…dare I say hip? She’s a role model to many of the college girls at the Summit’s West Club Campus, which is why I’m grateful she’s the one who wrote the post.

Okay, enough from me. Read Katie’s words. And ladies: please. Please. For the sake of the men in your lives and the men in your church, heed what she says. Heed what the gospel calls us to.

Click here to read I See Your Crack.

Our Topical Tuesday series will return next week. Meanwhile, this video just couldn’t wait another day.

For the last few days I’ve been hanging out with the staff team and church family at Wynne Baptist Church in eastern Arkansas. We’ve been talking guest services, bringing outsiders in, structure, strategy, covering the mouse, rice farming, skunk coffee…you name it.

There were lots of great things that came out of our time together, but my greatest takeaway was the video below. This is actual video from an actual church service where my buddy Matt Pearson has a little…well, I’ll let you see (and hear) for yourself:

Matt swears it was “a glitch in the sound system,” but I think he’s a stinking liar…if you get my drift. HUGE thanks to Lisa D. Love for tipping me off to this!

The more I understand the gospel, the more I understand that I don’t really understand the gospel.

The ol’ blog has been quiet as of late. At first it was for the usual reasons: busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest, moving faster than a snake in a belt factory, more frantic than Charlie Sheen on the way to Crazyville.

But for the last two weeks, it’s been because I’ve been in deep despair. Depression, gloom, misery, and angst.

Two weeks ago, I opened my church laptop to a frozen screen. The hard drive was dead. Double dog dead. Cyndi Lauper career dead.

Our tech guy looked it over and confirmed: yes, dead. He shipped it off to a specialist who also confirmed: dead. And not only was the internal drive dead, my backup drive had died two months ago and I didn’t even know it. And with those proclamations, something in me died.

For ten days, I mourned the loss of eight years’ worth of data. Sermons. Weddings. Funerals. Spreadsheets. Book reading notes. Writing ideas. All of my digital life was gone.

And for ten days, I questioned the validity and revisited the stupidity of my sorrow: People in Japan can’t find their family members, and you’re upset over some files? You have friends whose adoptions are on hold, and you’re whining about a formerly-operational electronic brick?

Stupid. Shallow. Senseless.

Were those files important? Sure they were. But their loss signaled something much more important: I continue to place my hope in the wrong things. I like my stuff. I like my comfort. I like my predictable life and ability to control things and keep stuff in order.

I realized I don’t trust the intangible nature of the gospel. I don’t practice my proclamation that “Jesus is enough.” I don’t cling to the cross because I’m too busy clinging to the things around me.

Eventually, the backup drive was able to be restored, thanks to the tireless work of our tech miracle man. And rather than losing eight years’ worth of files, I only lost nine weeks’ worth. Nine weeks? I’ll gladly take it.

And even in my elation, I realized that I wouldn’t have been as happy if the outcome were different. Scratch that…I’d have been downright angry. Not angry at myself because I was the idiot who didn’t check his backup drive, but angry because I feel like I deserve better. Like I’m entitled.

This world clings to me so easily, and in turn I cling to this world. We all do. We look to a habit, a job, an addiction, a relationship, a religion…rather than looking to Jesus. The gospel is never enough. Our circumstances carry too much weight. Our desire is never sated. One blip on the radar of our day can send us into overdrive. In our heads, we know Jesus is enough, but our actions say everything except that.

What is clinging to you today? Better yet, what are you clinging to?

Today we’re marching on in our spring series of Topical Tuesday posts, where you pick the topic / ask a question and I start pecking away at the computer like some sort of redneck Mr. Answer Man. (as if that’s comforting)

Want to ask a question about anything – ministry, theology, life in general? Comment here.

Kiani asks: We talk about all sorts of things that we commonly use to replace God in our lives: love, sex, money, stuff. We also talk about good stewardship–wise use and care of the resources that God gives us. Why don’t we ever take the this step further and talk about proper stewardship of our bodies and our health? Food is a God thing to a lot of people. Vanity is as well. God’s provided us with perfect and capable bodies, and so many squander that gift. Why won’t the church address this? Should it?

Yes, the church should. Especially because it gives me the chance to use one of my favorite Charles Spurgeon stories. It revolves around a visit that his fellow evangelist D.L. Moody made to his home. Spurgeon was known for his love of cigars, and Moody was known for his rather rotund belly. It’s rumored that Moody asked Spurgeon when he was going to give up the evils of tobacco. Spurgeon famously replied, “Mr. Moody, I’ll put down my cigar when you put down your fork.”

Everybody has their vice, but church folks tend to like their vices out in front of them where they’re highly visible…and where they can be patted. Or maybe used as a cheeseburger tray. We live in a country where obesity walks a thin line between glorification and vilification. Shows like Man Vs. Food continue to gain popularity while the restaurant industry comes under fire for larger portions.

So how does the church respond to good stewardship of our bodies? The same way we respond to the stewardship of any other gift from God: we submit it to the gospel.

Like most gifts, we take diet and exercise to one of two extremes: idle or idol. If we go the route of idle, we fail to utilize the gifts we’ve been given. If we’re idle in our marriages, our spouses suffer. If we’re idle in our spiritual gifts, the church suffers. If we’re idle with our bodies, our couches suffer (don’t act like you don’t see that big ol’ butt print).

If we take the path of idol, we elevate our bodies to an honor they were never meant to hold. We count every calorie and measure every workout. We become consumed with health not for the sake of health, but for the sake of pride and control. And besides that, we’re no fun when dining out (“You’re going to eat THAT? Do you know how many carbs that thing has?”).

This is an area that has become more personal to me in the last couple of years. For much of my life I was one of those warped and twisted individuals that could eat whatever I wanted and still look relatively healthy. Eventually the Ho Ho’s and Reese’s Cup milkshakes caught up with me, and I wasn’t the man I once was (I was like an expanded director’s cut). I finally decided to take charge of my health and get the splurging under control. And while I’m no longer as adamant about watching every potato chip, it’s still an area I have to monitor.

Our time on earth is brief. Our mission is vital. I already know my to-do list will outlive me, I just don’t want to be guilty of short-circuiting my calling by bellying back up to the buffet.

Much. I meant, “by bellying back up to the buffet much.”

Don’t judge me.

I spent a bit of time traveling down memory lane last week after coming across a sermon on my home church’s website of Homecoming 2010.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of Bible Belt Church Homecomings, you haven’t truly tasted heaven. Guest preacher, dinner on the grounds, afternoon sangin (not a misspelling), and probably more dinner on the grounds, this time with fried chicken and bonus salmonella poisoning. Yes, it’s enough to make a megachurch pastor want to run over himself with his own shuttle bus, but you get the picture.

The guest preacher for H2K10 was my “growing up” pastor. He arrived at the church when I was in sixth grade, shortly after I became a believer. He discipled me, he went along on lots of youth trips, he counseled me through major life decisions, he spurred on a desire for ministry, he officiated my wedding…

…in short, he had a profound influence on me during my teenage and early adult years.

Listening to that one sermon brought back a flood of memories. He was a man who tried his best to pass himself off as a tough, ornery old cuss, but we knew better. We knew that he loved our church, he loved our people, and he loved to see Jesus’ name made great in our little town. He was a master storyteller and had a knack for pointing us to the cross from any story in the Bible. He led our church to dream bigger dreams for the gospel than we knew were possible. He led us through building campaigns and seasons of numerical growth. He led us closer to Jesus.

He’s older now. Retired. He’s pulled his suit out of the closet for three post-retirement interim gigs. He’s still going as strong as ever, still preaching as well as ever, still trying to be as ornery as ever. But his love for our church – the church he left nearly 18 years ago – can’t be hidden. He said in his message that if he had one last sermon to preach, he’d want to preach it in my home church. And I believe him.

Reflecting on all that he did for our church…for me…forced me to reflect on other people who’ve profoundly influenced my life. Last week I buried my friend Curtis. I wish I had one more opportunity to tell him what he meant to me. How he led me to a deeper prayer life. How he made me a better dad…husband…pastor.

Too often we wait until it’s too late to express what people mean to us. We stand behind a casket or beside a grave and reflect on the kindness we’ve been shown or the legacy we’ve been left. We wish for one more opportunity, one more chance to say what has previously been unsaid.

Somewhere today, there’s someone who needs to hear from you. Perhaps it’s a teacher, someone who discipled you in college, maybe your old youth pastor, a parent, a former boss or a current co-worker. Somebody has had a deep and lasting influence on who you’ve become, and you don’t have to wait until it’s too late to say so.

Take thirty minutes today and write a letter or draft an email or make a phone call. Somebody out there needs your encouragement. As for me, I have an ornery preacher I’ve gotta write.

Who has influenced you? Honor their story. Comment below.

People ask me all the time, “Danny, where do you come up with the amazing content on your blog?” (And by “people” I mean “nobody,” and by “all the time” I mean “not once in two and a half years,” and by “amazing” I mean “so mediocre your sixth grade English teacher is probably spinning in her grave.”)

So feel free to listen in as I answer the question that no one is asking. I’ve learned that creativity requires structure. I used to believe that I would write the best when inspiration struck. And while it’s true that just the right moment can inspire a decent writing session, the fact is that inspiration often doesn’t strike enough to populate more than a handful of blog posts per month.

I’m a frequent victim of writer’s block. Whether it’s writing a blog post, a sermon, a wedding ceremony, a funeral, or a grocery list, I tend to blank out and freeze up. (“Wait…I had it…DANG…what was that…oh yeah, Velveeta.”)

That’s why I believe that we have to structure creativity. Whether you’re a blogger or an author or a songwriter or a painter, creativity rarely “just happens.” For me, I have a folder on my computer where I toss lots of ideas until I’m ready to do something with them. They might be original thoughts, or they might be sound bites from a podcast or a line from a book. I capture those ideas on either my Moleskine notebook (always with me) or my voice recorder (sometimes with me). Even if it’s just a good title or a sentence that has nothing to go along with it, that title or sentence gets dumped in the hopper.

When I sit down to write, I’ll often look over that list and see if there’s anything good. Right now I have random thoughts on powder kegs, my disdain for the overused phrase “everything happens for a reason,” and comparisons between the guest focus at Chipotle vs. La Hacienda. Whether any of those things will ever make it into a blog post remains to be seen (you might want to weigh in now and save us all a lot of anguish later), but they’re there for the process.

In Tony Morgan’s book Killing Cockroaches: And Other Scattered Musings On Leadership, he says that “creativity rarely sneaks up on us.” I agree with that statement. If you’re going to write or preach or paint or teach, you have to develop a left-brained structure for your right-brained inspiration.

So what’s your creative structure? I’d love to hear it. Comment below.

Sometimes, we think too big:

Big plans. Big dreams. Big ideas.

We whip out our annual planners, formulate our spreadsheets, calculate our budgets, and recruit our team. We catch a huge vision and run with it…we’re going to create the best event ever…the most life-changing program…the most incredible new initiative we’ve ever undertaken.

But every once in a while, maybe it’s better to think small:

Small tweaks. Small improvements. Small changes.

Maybe we decide to wake up ten minutes early to spend more time in prayer. Perhaps we take time to write one note a week to encourage someone. It could be that we toss our pocket change in a jar and surprise the neighborhood kids with milkshakes once a month.

Thinking small won’t take us far in the grand scheme of things. We need long-range planning and big ideas and huge vision.

But in the everyday humdrum of life, thinking small may take us farther than we’ve ever been. Farther in relationships. Farther in generosity. Farther in spiritual growth.

Where do you need to think small today?

On Thursday of last week I became the fearful, fretful owner of a fifteen year old.

And yesterday I became the more fearful, more fretful owner of a fifteen year old with a permit to drive.

That’s right. Merriem and I have entered the world of teenage drivers. Oh sure, Jacob is still living under plenty of restrictions: he can only drive with one of us in the front seat. He can only drive during certain hours of the day. And no matter what happens, he can’t feed them after midnight.

(Oops. Wrong restrictions.)

At 3:30 PM yesterday, Jacob walked into the DMV as a boy. He walked out as a…well, still as a boy, but a boy with a piece of paper and a taste of independence.

Side note here: Dads, you should practice the key toss. You know the one I’m talking about: The “We-Just-Walked-Out-Of-The-DMV, I’m-The-Casual-And-Cool-Dad, and Here-You-Go-Son-You-Drive-Us-Home-Because-I-Have-Confidence-You-Won’t-Kill-Us-Today” key toss. I had one chance to get it right, and by golly it was a Kodak moment. I threw well, he caught well, and it’ll remain etched in my memory forever.

~single tear~

I’ve noticed something about this kid since he’s been taking driver’s ed. He’s a backseat pharisee. He nitpicks the rules of the road. He holds to the law rather than living in grace. And he’s driving me nuts:

“Dad, you didn’t glance in your blind spot before switching lanes.”

“Dad, the speed limit just dropped.”

“Dad, you shouldn’t be typing blog posts while driving. Take your laptop off the dashboard and get off of the sidewalk.”

See what I mean? Nitpicky.

But for all of the annoyances, I’ve realized I’m being watched more than ever. I pay more attention to my speed. I pay more attention to the rules of the road. I pay more attention to the kid in the passenger seat who will soon be the man behind the wheel.

And I’ve realized that what is being watched goes well beyond my driving. I have three sons, all of whom have been watching me for anywhere from eight to fifteen years. Watching. Observing. Imitating. Rejecting. Noticing. Embracing. Questioning.

They’re watching the shows I have on the tube.

They’re watching how I treat their mom.

They’re watching the time I spend with Jesus.

They’re watching to see if my on-stage life matches my off-stage life.

And just like the guy behind the wheel, I realize my responsibility has never been greater. The stakes have never been higher.

It’s the same for us all. You may not be a dad, but there are people watching you: watching how you respond to stress at work…how you demonstrate character when tested…how you talk to your waitress when your order is wrong.

And like me, the stakes have never been higher. The kingdom has never been under such scrutiny. And the potential cost is too much to ignore.

How’s your driving?

How’s your living?

We’re in the middle of our spring series of Topical Tuesday posts, where you pick the topic (i.e., ask a question) and I start typing. As if I’m some sort of authority or something.

Want to ask a question about anything – ministry, theology, life in general? Comment here.

Laura asks: How does the Summit feel about Wider Mercy Doctrine and what is their position on it? I ask because there have been big names in the evangelical world who believed in this, and I found it a little shocking.

I should start by once again confirming some shocking news: I’m not a theologian. Nor do I play one on TV. That’s why I want to stress the words ministry and life in general in paragraph two above. Feel free to ask how I feel about Cook Out milkshakes (passionate), or how I would minister to people who eat Cook Out milkshakes (teach them about generosity). But since Laura is the newest member of our administrative team here at the Summit, I’ll answer this question so that she won’t start the rumor that I’m not all that smart.

Editor’s note: Too late.

The Wider Mercy Doctrine (another type of WMD) is the old theory of Universalism outfitted in a new prom dress and some teeth whiteners. Universalism came to the forefront over the weekend, when it was revealed that Michigan pastor Rob Bell is releasing a new book, and then the interwebs exploded. Calvinists were yelling at Arminians, Arminians were yelling at the Calvinists, and Rob Bell’s publisher was yelling at his real estate agent: “No! I want the beach house with the indoor golf course! And upgrade the hardwoods to gold leaf!”

Let me be clear: we don’t know for sure that Rob Bell is a Universalist. It’s hard to know exactly what Rob Bell is, because he always talks in riddles. If you’re at Burger King with Rob Bell and you ask him if he wants french fries, he’ll say something like, “What is this conglomeration of affinity within the paper sleeve of immediate satisfaction? Have we become too salty in a never ending quest for tastiness? Or have we simply embraced the cholesterol of our culture?”

So it’s hard to know exactly what he believes, but I’m not jumping on the Whack-A-Bell Bandwagon just yet. Let’s wait on the book to come out before we label him a heretic. Or before his publisher installs the private helicopter pad.

But back to universalism. I think the best way to tackle this is going to be with a Q&A with myself, which could get me committed in most states. This is kind of an Idiot’s Guide to Universalism, which should remind you that I’m not a theologian.

Editor’s note: Once again, too late.

So what is universalism, anyway? In a nutshell, it’s the belief that everybody gets into heaven eventually. Christians, non-Christians, perhaps even your hamster who escaped the cage and chewed up your baseboards. Explicit faith in Jesus isn’t necessary, and God changes his mind and says, “Hey, that whole wrath thing? I was just kidding. Get on up here, you wacky kids.”

Isn’t that…um…not at all biblical? Abso-stinkin-lutely. Open your Bible. Throw a dart. You’ll likely hit a passage that talks about the necessity of Jesus for salvation (on second thought, don’t throw a dart. Use your finger. It’s less destructive.). No one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6), forgiveness of sins and access to heaven comes through Jesus (Romans 6:23), there’s no other alternative to salvation besides Jesus (Acts 4:12), the gospel calls us to repentance and faith in Jesus (Acts 20:21).

So you’re saying it’s Jesus. Yep.

Then why do universalists believe it’s not Jesus? Because that sounds so much more loving, more tolerant, and more in line with today’s “everybody gets a gold star” culture. 2 Corinthians 4:4 talks about people being blinded so they cannot see the truth that is found in Jesus.

So what about hell? Fictional? If the universalists are correct, it becomes sort of like a big ghost town. Or Circuit City after the bankruptcy.

Do you have a list of six closing statements you’d like to make? Yep. Here goes…

  1. If universalism is true, then God is a liar. In Luke 9:35, God said, “This is my beloved Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” If everybody gets in, then Jesus was wrong about his exclusivity, which means that God knowingly misled people to follow and listen to Jesus, who didn’t need to die.
  2. If universalism is true, then the cross wasn’t necessary. The purpose of the cross was the redemption of sins. If our sins are ultimately wiped clean and Jesus had nothing to do with it, then the centerpiece of Christianity was unneeded.
  3. You don’t want a judge who is ultimately loving but not ultimately just. The cross was where God’s justice and mercy met. It allowed God to both punish and forgive sin at the same time. Jesus received the Father’s justice, we received his love.
  4. The gospel doesn’t begin and end with our understanding. It begins and ends with God’s sovereignty. I learned a long time ago that I’ll never completely understand God. As our pastor is fond of saying, our mind has the capacity of a tin can, and God’s love is the ocean. Just because a doctrine doesn’t make sense to us doesn’t mean it’s in error.
  5. A man-centered theology starts with the assumption that we are innocent and must be proven guilty. A gospel-centered theology starts with the assumption that we’re guilty and have been declared innocent. Forgiveness of sins is available, free, and abundant. But we gain that forgiveness through Jesus, and Jesus alone.
  6. This isn’t a doctrine to gloat over. I fear that many pastors, bloggers, and armchair theologians will use the Rob Bell controversy to prove once again that they’re cackling pharisees waiting to blast someone for error. If Bell proves to be a universalist, that’s most certainly an error. But universalism isn’t something for us to be self-righteous over, it’s something for us to weep over. Heaven and hell are on the line, and we can’t waste our time getting into heated debates in blog comments. We must be all the more passionate about clearly sharing the gospel and calling people to repentance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pre-order Rob Bell’s book. His publisher needs to drop a deposit on the beach house.