Christians, What Now?

reconciliation-clipart-sj7The election of Donald Trump has swirled a storm of questions around Christians in America. The deep divisions across the country are mirrored in our faith communities. Some voted for Trump because they agree with Republican economic principles while opposed him because of his outright immorality. Some voted for Trump because they believe that he will help curb abortion in America while others opposed him because of his promotion of war crimes, including torture. Some voted for him because they wanted to “shake up” Washington while others opposed him because he seems to exude sexism and even appears to have confessed to sexual assault. Some ignored his transgressions. Others held their nose and others simply couldn’t pull the lever for this candidate.

And yet we are all part of the same family (John 1:12Romans 12:21, etc.)  with the same Father (1 John 3:1-2, etc.) and the same callings. We are called to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), offering safety, comfort, security, bringing knowledge and driving out the darkness. We are charged to seek the welfare of our cities (Jeremiah 29) while opposing oppression (Proverbs 14:31;  Psalm 103:5-6Zechariah 7:9-10, etc.) and standing for marginalized, being the voice of the voiceless (Jeremiah 22:3; Micah 6:8, etc.) and fighting for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40, etc.). Christians are called to be good citizens while speaking truth to the power structures of our day.

As I wrote about yesterday, because of and through Jesus, Christians are charged with the “ministry of reconciliation” in a divided world. We must seek peace and we must stand in the gap, reconciling warring factions. This is only possible when we understand our calling to be greater than partisan politics.

But that’s not all we’re called to and herein lies some of the difficulty we are heading towards. Trump has peddled in fear and given rise to bigotry. He has demeaned others, bragged about adultery and made a living swindling others. Christians must not only be among the calmest voices pursuing reconciliation but among the loudest voices holding the Trump administration accountable. I’ll be honest: I don’t know what this looks like.screen-shot-2015-05-11-at-3-06-41-pm

How can we strive to be good citizens, fulfilling our mandate to care for others and love our enemies while still retaining the prophetic voices of salt and light? We can accept the results of the election. This is not the same thing as endorsing Trump’s beliefs and behaviors. But he was elected and we are called to honor our leaders. We can separate his transgressions from political policies. We can listen to those whose frustration ushered Trump into the Oval Office while also listening to those who feel threatened by his rise. We can give Trump a chance while not forgetting his past because right now, it’s up to him to prove that he will do good with power and that’s he’s not the person he’s led so many of us to believe him to be.

But we must not expect government to fulfill our mandate. It’s one thing to speak truth to power, asking Trump to change his rhetoric and it’s another for us to tangibly put this love in to practice. It’s not enough to call our leaders to welcome immigrants if we’re not doing it. It’s not enough for us to call our leaders to honor life if we don’t.

Christians are called to speak against oppression. Christians are called to pursue reconciliation. I don’t know where else to look to try to understand this other than the life of Jesus. He condemned the hypocrisy of his days’ religious leaders while spending time (thus validating) the marginalized. Somehow, He was able to pursue reconciling men and God (and men with men) while speaking against injustice. This is the task ahead of Christians.

Those who supported Trump have a lot to answer for. Many feel that turning a blind eye to his transgressions cost Christianity in America valuable credibility. Those who opposed Trump must not give in to cynicism. Both sides must find a way to honor their convictions while coming together. Both sides must show the world that we are Jesus’ because of our love for one another (John 13:31), speaking against immorality and for the weak.

We have a lot to figure out. Let’s work together.

Christians Are The Motel 6 Of The World

porchlightEvery night I do a walk-through, of our house, locking each door before bedtime. I don’t know why, but the past few nights, I’ve peeked out the front door and wondered why some people leave their porchlight on overnight while others do not. And then, as I am often wont to, I spiritualized (shall we say “Jesus Juke”?) the fact that some people leave their porchlights on every night while others do not.

“Light” is a common biblical metaphor. Jesus calls Himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12), saying: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. Later, Jesus gives the same descriptor to people (Matthew 5:14). This is amazing. Jesus says that what is true of Him (being the “light of the world”) is true of His people (being the “light of the world”). But what does this mean for us?

Throughout the the Bible, “light” is used as a symbol of the Divine presence, help and salvation (Exodus 13:21Psalm 27:1, 36:9;  Isaiah 60:19, Matthew 4:16; Luke 2:32, etc.).

The idea of light carries many connotations: safety, a place of refuge, hospitality, knowledge, and more. Light helps people find their way. Light drives out darkness and exposes things not seen. Think of some of “light phrases”: “brought to the light” or “in the light of day”. Most life needs light to survive.

Light is such a pervasive metaphor that it’s even an advertising slogan for a sometimes less-than-stellar motel chain. For years, Motel 6’s slogan has been: “we’ll leave the light on for you.” In other words, they’ll be a beacon of safety, comfort and security in the night of hard travel. Whether or not they live up to those standards is up to you. But it’s great marketing for a hotel chain.

I wonder how many people think of Christians in terms like this, that we bring knowledge, understanding, safety, comfort and life. Especially during this election season, what does it mean for Christians to be “the light of the world”?

Of course, this requires balance: too much light can cause problems as well. Harsh. Blinding. Unpleasant. It can cause you to recoil. I wonder how many people think of Christians in terms like this, that we cause them to recoil or turn away? Sometimes people don’t like Christians because our presence reminds them of their own sin. But sometimes people don’t like Christians because we bring the uncomfortable aspects of light without bringing comfort or presenting a way forward. Light imperfect.

Times are hard. Division is the soundtrack of life for many these days. Fear is in the air and protests in the streets. Many feel betrayed while others believe God’s man won the election, even if he lost the popular vote. Others can’t understand how we would elect such an openly immoral person to the highest office in our land. Racists feel emboldened while others mourn. This election season seems to be more about politics. After all, politics are simply display what’s already in the heart. And our country’s EKG isn’t good. We’re not healthy.

What might happen if Jesus’ people radically reoriented their lives around the principles and practices which have always been at the core of our faith? God wants His people to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) and to care for our cities, even when we find ourselves at odds with the leadership (Jeremiah 29). God has blessed His people so that we will be a blessing to others (Genesis 12). So that we will be light in the darkness.

We are facing a vital crossroads for Christianity in America. Many people are questioning what it even means to say you’re a Christian if you voted for the most questionable candidate in recent memory, if not ever. Others wonder what it even means to be a Christian if you didn’t vote for the political party that opposes abortion. And the culture hears our words, watches our actions, and wonders, too, what it even means to say that you’re a Christian in 2016 America. If all it means is going to church once in a while, opposing the sins of certain groups and voting for a political party, why bother?

Through Jesus, Christians have been entrusted and empowered with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). Reconciliation, of course is most often understood as: “the restoration of friendly relations” or “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.” It’s one thing for disputing parties to come together, it’s another to be charged with “the ministry of reconciliation”. If we were a business, Christians could say: “Reconciliation is our business”. This has profound implications for Christians in the current US climate.

It’s OK to have political opinions. It’s OK to have strong political opinions. But Christians have been charged with something more than a political agenda. Though we are free to and probably even encouraged to engage in our culture’s political system, we must not be enslaved to it. We must not engage in demonizing those with different opinions and we must not allow others to do so. We must never allow any political party to count on our vote because our task is greater than politics. Even though we participate in politics, our calling lies above. We are called to listen to both sides because we are charged with reconciliation, with bringing different parties together. This is nearly impossible when we are so blinded by our own views that we dehumanize those who disagree. We are called to rise above our vote and love our enemies. We are called to seek out justice and oppose oppression. We are called to stand in the middle of opposing parties, not among them. We are called to bring an end to the bickering, not be its loudest voices.

We are called to be light. We are charged with reconciliation.

Sometimes this means just listening. Sometimes it means comforting the mourning. Sometimes it means speaking up. It always means standing with the “least of these”, the marginalized and those who have no voice. Sometimes this means standing with the unborn. Sometimes it means not only calling others to humility but modeling it. Sometimes it means not only calling others to listen to model it. Sometimes it not only means asking others to be kind and gentle but modeling it. Sometimes it means calling out immorality, bigotry, sexism, intimidation and bullying and a culture of death. It always means standing in the division.

What are some practical ways we might do so? What keeps us from doing so?

This election cycle has cost American Christianity a lot of credibility. But since Christianity in America often resembles America more than it does Christ this may not be an entirely bad thing. Many who are unwilling to carry the Cross and love their enemies will be blown away with the chaff. Many who have believed that following Jesus was akin to winning at life or having their best life now will be unprepared for the work ahead. But God’s people must be the Motel 6 of the world. We must offer safety, comfort and security to all. We must figure out what it means to bear the burden of reconciliation. We must figure out what it means to be light and stand against the darkness on both sides of the political aisle.

I don’t entirely know what this means. But I do know that God’s church will not be lost (Matthew 16:18) and the need for reconcilers will never cease. I have been convicted over the past year to listen deeper but also to speak up when necessary and to act when needed. My eyes have been opened to the great needs ahead and my heart has been ignited to do more. Not to earn anything but because I’ve been blessed.

Christians. We’ll leave the light on for you.

Christians. Reconciliation is our business.

Now that’s good marketing. But will culture’s experience with Christians live up to the hype?

 

 

 

 

The Problem(s) With Christians Supporting Donald Trump

untitled-2Since I have spent the bulk of my professional life as a pastor, I have avoided endorsing political candidates. I have, in the past, tried to remind people that the current election (whatever year it was) was not the “most important election of our lifetime”. I have also tried to remind people that if they lived in fear of the other party winning, then they likely didn’t fully trust God. But I have refrained from endorsing any particular candidate. I have also urged people to think of people on the other side of the aisle as people rather than enemies. But I have not publicly endorsed a candidate. And I’m not endorsing any candidate this year.

But I am speaking out against Donald Trump.

I have been asked several times this election season why I have been vocally opposed to Donald Trump but not other candidates. It’s because I don’t have a significant number of family, friends and peers trying to convince people that Clinton, Johnson, Stein or even McCullin are “the biblical” choice and the candidate Christians should choose (especially when said candidate is so utterly antithetical to everything else these people claim to value but more on that later).

I have not received unsolicited e-mails from family and friends with pieces from well-known evangelical leaders preying on people’s fear and urging them to support a particular candidate other than Trump. I have not been sent pieces claiming that any other candidate is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy or comparing any of the other candidates to biblical characters.

I have not seen American Evangelicalism eviscerated by any of the other candidates. I have not seen the Religious Right forsake its identity to support any other candidate. I have not seen American Evangelicalism make a deal with the devil to support any of the other candidates and I have not seen people bully others into voting for any of the other candidates the way I see well-intentioned people trafficking in guilt and shame in order to try and persuade others to vote for their candidate.

I know people who feel pressured by family and friends to vote for Trump. I know many people who feel  shunned by evangelical family and friends because they refuse to support Trump and I know many people wrestling with guilt because they feel so surely that something is wrong with Trump while being so soundly rejected by important people in their lives.

The reason all of this concerns me is that I come from an Evangelical tradition which has often aligned itself with a faction of the Republican party often known as “the moral majority”. Founded by Jerry Falwell and others in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, this was a group who insisted that morals not only mattered but were demanded of our elected leaders.

Remember when the Moral Majority said that “character counts” for our elected untitled-1leaders? Such is no longer the case (see here, here and here). We have perhaps no clearer example of this shift than noted theologian Wayne Grudem who, earlier this year, argued that “Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice“. The problem, of course, is that Grudem was among 150 Christian leaders who condemned Bill Clinton’s scandals in 1998. Grudem has now openly admitted that what he held against Bill Clinton does not matter in Donald Trump. What’s different? The political affiliation and perhaps the level of sliminess.

After the revelation of 2005 “hot mic” video of Donald Trump confessing to sexual assault, Grudem changed his mind, saying:

I previously called Donald Trump a “good candidate with flaws” and a “flawed candidate” but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.

While one may initially simply say, ‘Well, Grudem made a mistake,” but I want to point out what he says later in the same article:

Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump.

It’s not that we didn’t know who or what Trump was prior to the sexual assault video, it’s that Grudem didn’t look. Grudem didn’t look because he’s so committed to Republicanism that he didn’t want to look. While many were decrying the absolute lack of morals in the candidate the party of “family values” had chosen, Grudem was one of his most notable and unexpected cheerleaders. Unexpected because Grudem has once so strongly stood against the very behavior Trump revels in. Notable because Grudem now seemed to be willing to trade policy for character.

Grudem has made this clear, now saying: “If You Don’t Like Either Candidate, Then Vote for Trump’s Policies“. Though he still does not defend Trump’s character, Grudem, when faced with voting for Trump or Clinton, (as though those are the only choices) says:

“I overwhelmingly support Trump’s policies and believe that Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever. On the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, sexual orientation regulations, taxes, economic growth, the minimum wage, school choice, Obamacare, protection from terrorists, immigration, the military, energy, and safety in our cities, I think Trump is far better than Clinton”

In other words, policies “trump” character (pun intended). In other words, Grudem will vote Republican regardless of who the candidate is, what they do or what they stand for. In fact, he will lay aside once held convictions about the importance of character when the deviant politician is on his own team; even when it’s unclear whether the candidate in question actually believes anything Grudem attributes to him. And Grudem (along with those for whom he speaks) is willing to make weak arguments in support of Trump, seemingly out of nothing more than party loyalty.

For example, Grudem is willing to make the “supreme court argument” (presumably with a primary view to abortion) even though clear evidence shows that this point is moot at best and misleading at worst. As many have argued, there is no “pro-life” argument for Trump. Not only do we have little to no evidence that he is actually pro-life himself, the point is moot. As a friend recently pointed out on Facebook:

In the 43 years since Roe v Wade, there has been 25 years of Republican presidents. There was a Republican in office when RvW passed. There have been 18 years of Republican majority Senates, and 18 years of Republican majority Houses. There were 12 years where both the Senate and the House were Republican majorities. There have been 40 years in which the Supreme Court had a majority of Republican appointed justices. There was a total of 4 years in which there was a Republican president, a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House, and a majority of Republican appointed justices. Still—no reversal of RvW.

I disagree with many other of the positions Grudem wishes to defend but that’s not my point here. Instead, I want to urge Dr. Grudem and those he represents to stop making light of the true danger posed by Trump and the damage (t)he(y) is/(are) doing to the Evangelical witness in America. You no longer have any ground to assert that morals matter in leadership if you support Trump.

I particularly take issue with Grudem’s approach of “if you don’t like either candidate”. This is not an issue of not “liking” Trump. The man has proven himself to be not only unqualified but unfit for the highest office of the land by demonstrating persistently bad character. In addition to being a thin-skinned, quick-tempered bully who fears losing above all else:

  • Trump traffics in fear and fosters an “us vs. them” mentality, promoting the idea that to be “other” than him and his base is to be dangerous (even within his own party).
  • If Trump is not a racist, at least knowingly traffics in racial invectives and refuses to distance himself from openly racist supporters who claim that he speaks for them.
  • Trump has pridefully announced that he does not apologize for anything and that he had never asked for forgiveness (which, by the way proves that he is not a Christian.).
  • If Trump is himself not anti-Semitic, has at least knowingly trafficked in such invectives and refuses to distance himself from openly anti-Semitic supporters who claim that he speaks for them.
  • Donald Trump confessed to sexual assault. Then denied it and now threatens to sue women who have come forward and the newspapers who reported the story as well as NBC for having the tapes at all.
  • Donald Trump has not only had multiple marriages but has bragged about committing adultery. Numerous times.
  • This is a man who has historically and continues to objectify some women while demeaning others.
  • Donald Trump has encouraged physical violence against protesters, even offering to pay legal fees.
  • Donald Trump paid the maker of the “Project Veritas” videos $10,000.
  • Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns.
  • Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter.
  • Donald Trump attacked John McCain as a failure for getting caught while serving our country, then attacked the family of a fallen soldier.
  • Donald Trump was the public face of the “birther” movement.
  • Donald Trump lies every five minutes, even directly contradicting himself. Even on issues on which his comments are documented.
  • Donald Trump openly said that an American born judge was unqualified because of his Latino heritage.
  • Donald a Trump has threatened to sue journalists who are simply doing their job, ushering in legitimate concerns about limiting the First Amendment.
  • Donald Trump has fostered and encouraged division in his own political party.
  • Donald Trump has used this campaign to pay himself and his family millions of dollars.
  • Donald Trump is on record making inappropriate comments about his own daughter and even encouraged Howard Stern to think of her as a “piece of ass”.
  • Donald Trump has admitted that he does not listen to or even seek counsel.
  • Trump has repeated the assertion that not only does he never apologize, he has never asked for forgiveness (thus dispelling any notion that he is any sort of “Christian” in any meaningful sense of the word).

We all make mistakes. I don’t list these things simply to hold Trump’s past mistakes against him but to show that he has persistently showed the world just what kind of person he is. In a newly surfaced video, he brings a beauty contestant in front of a group with the express purpose of humiliating her while saying that he had decided not to humiliate her. He literally denies doing it while doing it. This horrifying scene is introduced with Trump very clearly laying out his life-code: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe that.”

As if his character were not enough, Trump is genuinely dangerous. In addition to his character, we have many legitimate “policy” issues which should concern everyone:

  • Donald Trump has encouraged foreign powers, namely the Russians, to engage the US political process through cyber-attacks and hacking. Then denied saying such things. He has then ignored security briefings demonstrating that the Russians have, in fact done these very things for the benefit of Trump’s campaign.
  • Donald a Trump has threatened international stability by suggesting that the US abandon NATO.
  • Donald Trump has threatened international financial stability by threatening to walk away from free-trade agreements.
  • Donald Trump has praised authoritarian leaders, praised Vladimir Putin as being a stronger leader than Barack Obama and received the support, not only of Russia but of North Korea.
  • Donald Trump openly undermines the foundational underpinnings of democracy, leaving open the option that he would reject the election results if he loses and urging the country to simply cancel the election and declare him the winner.
  • Donald Trump has advocated racial profiling.
  • Donald Trump has advocated voter suppression/intimidation and has not rebuked supporters who threaten violence if he loses.
  • Donald Trump has advocated torture.
  • Donald Trump has advocated killing the families of enemy combatants.
  • Donald Trump has made light of war, even nuclear war.
  • Donald Trump has threatened to thrust the US in to trade wars with China and Mexico.
  • Trump supports tax plans that not only benefit himself but threaten trillions of dollars added to the deficit.
  • Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand or care how government actually works.

gettyimages-484797712_custom-695b9781e4a550ac0cdd3eba481660feefd333a8-s900-c85Again, I don’t list these things to simply nitpick someone but to demonstrate that Trump has consistently lived the exact kind of life and held the kinds of positions that the “Moral Majority” (sometimes equated with the “Religious Right”) has just as consistently condemned. So what changed? The political affiliation of the candidate in question seems to be the most obvious and disturbing answer. If this is correct then the “moral majority” was really only interested in “morals” when they furthered a particular political agenda (now we see, ironically, the political party identifying with “family values”).

We are left wondering what “morals” the “moral majority” really ever cared about. We are left wondering what religion the “Religious Right” was really advocating for. A man like Trump is fairly vocal about being in this first and foremost for himself and yet he has enjoyed the support of those who once decried men like him in the town square. It appears that now, morals only matter when they fit your agenda. It seems that, as Russell Moore has warned: “The Religious Right turned out to be the people the Religious Right warned us about.”

The “Moral Majority” has traded in credibility to cling to a perception of cultural power and influence. They no longer have the right to condemn the morality of the other party because they have condoned one of the most openly immoral candidates in my lifetime, if not ever.

I want people to know that there are Christian voices who have remained adamantly #nevertrump from the beginning. I want people to know that, it’s OK if your family and friends have chosen to support Trump. We’re all entitled to our own opinions. But it’s not OK if your family and friends somehow try to convince you that support of Trump is somehow the more “Christian” option. It’s just not true. He will receive undying support from some simply because He is the Republican candidate. But he should not receive the undying support of those who claim that character counts.

If you support Trump, I will still be your friend (and/or I’m still your family whether you like it or not). But please don’t try to say he’s a good choice other than the party placeholder he really is. If you are so committed to Republican principles that you have now realized that you will vote along party-lines regardless of who the candidate is, please, at least, admit that this man is no leader. If you are a Christian supporting Trump, at least admit that the man directly contradicts everything you claim to value other than partisan policies (and there’s good question of what the candidate himself actually believes or how he will govern). If you are voting for Trump simply out of opposition to Hillary, don’t say he’s any “better” of an option.

Christians who support Trump must weigh whether the ends justify the means? Are we willing to give up our prophetic voice to the culture for short-term political gain? It is inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst to continue to claim that character and morality matter to us if we are willing to support a man like Donald Trump. Is this worth it?

It’s not enough to vote for a candidate simply out of opposition to another candidate. To vote for a candidate, I believe that you must be able to objectively argue that you think they are the better choice. Is it worth it to sacrifice our position as the voice of faith in our culture in exchange for party loyalty? Apparently, many not only think so but actively condemn those who won’t take such steps.

No matter who you vote for, don’t be like this man. Don’t hold grudges. Forgive. Seek reconciliation. Walk in humility and think the best of others. Seek the best for others. If you are part of God’s family (and even if you’re not), please commit to being a minister of reconciliation. Don’t judge those who vote differently. This is a contentious and important time for our culture. Christians, let’s not make it worse.

 

I Get It. And We Should Talk About It.

104633512Nashville mega-church pastor Pete Wilson recently resigned from the multi-campus Cross Point Church which he and his wife Brandi planted in 2002.

As the church celebrated its 14th anniversary, Wilson delivered a video message in which he said (among other things):

“Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays, especially those of you who watch online. You just see me when I kind of come up here on Sundays but the reality is as leader and the pastor of a church, what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership and it requires a lot of leadership energy. And leaders in any realm of life, leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe that the best thing for me to do is to step aside from Cross Point and so I am officially resigning as the pastor of Cross Point Church”

Wilson went on to say: “We’ve said that this is a church where it’s OK to not be okay, and I’m not okay. I’m tired. I’m broken, and I just need some rest. I love you guys; I love the vision of this church.”

Wilson then resigned from vocational ministry.

I don’t know Wilson.

But I get it.

In November, 2014, I discussed my own decision to resign from vocational ministry. In that post, I wrestled with what sometimes makes resigning from ministry different than resigning from any other career:

How do you tell people you need a break from teaching others when it seems like that’s what you’re gifted at? How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is to care for people? You can’t take a break from caring. How do you tell people you need a break from your job when your job is “Christianity”. You don’t take a break from Jesus.

There are many reasons a pastor might resign.Ministerial dropout rates continually hover around 50%.  The Tennessean quotes Lifeway Research, who in 2015, asked 734 former senior pastors why they left, finding:

that 40 percent left pastoral work before age 65 because they had a change in calling, 25 percent cited a conflict in a church, 12 percent left because of personal finances and 12 percent left for family issues.

Aside from unrepentant sin, the most controversial explanation of pastoral resignation seems to be the all-dreaded but ill-defined “burnout”.Though “pastor burnout” is often ill-defined, it is often equated with spiritual failure that could have been avoided simply by following the right formula.

Consider Thom Rainer’s post “Autopsy Of A Burned Out Pastor: 13 Lessons“. Rainer acknowledges that: “Perhaps the autopsy metaphor is not the best choice”, but the implications of failure (or maybe even spiritual death?) certainly stain his choice of words. In fact, in the “lessons learned” section (i.e. things you can do to prevent the same fate for yourself) includes such nuggets as:

  • Being a short-term people pleaser became a longer-term problem.
  • The pastor had no effective way to deal with critics.
  • The pastor did not have daily Bible time.
  • The pastor’s family was neglected.

You get the gist.

Any pastor who experiences burnout could have prevented it.

If only.

They’d followed the right steps.

This seems sort of like Donald Drumpf saying that soldiers who return from battle suffering from PTSD simply “couldn’t handle it.”

The Christian community has been frustratingly slow to to develop holistic approaches to mental health care. Popular counseling approaches vilify the use of antidepressants while many believe that pastoral burnout can simply be avoided if we check off the right spiritual-workout boxes.

Instead of acknowledging the complexities of mental and spiritual health, we have adopted a formulaic approach seemingly borrowed more from the world of self-help than from the Bible. Follow these simple steps and you too can live a worry-free life (Of course this is related to the self-help model of preaching many of our churches have adopted but that’s a post for another day).

Pastoral burnout is a complex issue that requires more than self-help steps (as is most of the spiritual life).

Pastoral burnout is often the result of clinical depression marinated in a culture in which it is nearly impossible to discuss job performance without suffering a critique  of one’s spiritual health (even though the two may not be related at all).

It is the result of feeling like you are alone. Even when you’re surrounded by people who may have your best interest at heart (and some who don’t).

It is the result of unrealistic expectations. From Everyone. Including yourself.

It is the result of feeling like you can’t confide in your “fellow leaders” because you’ve set yourself up to “lead” them. After all, there has to be a “first among equals, right?”

It is the result of feeling like it’s all up to you because the buck stops somewhere and the captain goes down with the ship and I just haven’t quite gotten to the point of true shared leadership yet . . .

It is the result of a culture which skips over some of the Psalms and equates depression with spiritual failure.

My own experience has led me to find many of the discussions of either depression or pastoral burnout are shallow at best, superficial in the middle and outright judgmental at worst. Burnout is nearly always equated with spiritual failure.

No wonder why more pastors aren’t honest with their struggles until the best option seems to be the last option of resignation.

This is as much an issue of mental health as it is the result of ill-defined and unrealistic expectations. We have set up our pastors to be entrepreneurs, salesmen, counselors, managers, public speakers, accountants, human resources specialists and nearly everything in between. And we have created cultures in which, despite our best intentions otherwise, it’s not OK to not be OK. Especially if you’re a leader.

I hate that Pete Wilson and his family have to go through this season. But I am thankful that the issues surrounding the spiritual and mental health of pastors and all Christians is having a moment of national conversation. I am thankful that more and more people are opening the public eye to this much-needed conversation.

We must commit to fostering environments of acceptance. Many of us simply don’t feel safe to say that we’re not OK. If that’s true for many Christians in general, its certainly acute in our leaders. We need more leaders who display the humble confidence to demonstrate the multi-faceted tapestry that is the Christian faith. Some times are good. Some times are bad. We must be honest enough to voice both. We must be caring enough to accept others.

My prayer is that Wilson’s resignation sparks a worldwide discussion of how we structure our churches, what we expect of our leaders, what we expect of one another and what an authentic Christian life really looks like.

 

summershimmer (A Late Summer mix)

coverHere’s a late summer mix based mostly on a mood I like to call “summershimmer”. Some old songs, some new songs and some in-between songs.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

  1. Can’t See At All by Woods
  2. Wonderful Wizard by Guggenheim Grotto
  3. LA Lately by Israel Nash
  4. Out of My Mind (On Cope And Reed) by GospelbeacH
  5. On The Road Again by Canned Heat
  6. Vibration & Light Suite (edited) by Chris Robinson Brotherhood
  7. Paths by Seryn
  8. Heavy Sails by Steve Gunn
  9. Greens of June by case/lang/viers
  10. That’s How by Mike Cooper
  11. Dagger Bones by Los Halos

Download other mixes I’ve made:

  • Download Music From the Dash
  • Download three volumes of He Shines In All That’s Fair
  • Download a mix of my favorite 2015 songs

External Processing, Thoughtful Dialogue and Pride

dialogue-tagsI find myself in the curious cultural position of being an external processor. I think out loud and I learn by considering other viewpoints and talking through ideas. I sometimes put ideas out in the public sphere specifically to facilitate discussion and learn from others. But I have been accused of “trolling” (I had to actually Urban Dictionary the phrase the first time it came up) because this sometimes means posting about controversial topics. I am offended by the trolling comment because it assumes ill-intent in my motives for posting about controversial issues. As if I’m simply wanting to incite people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I guess I can see where the accusation comes from. It’s our natural bent to avoid controversy. Unless you’re a power hungry reality television star, who believes that all press is good press. But I digress. After all, it is considered impolite to discuss religion and politics at family functions. But why? Well, because faith and politics are issues held with the head and the heart. Our beliefs become convictions. And we often can’t seem to really figure out how religion and politics go together in the first place, can we? Much less how to thoughtfully discuss issues without becoming needlessly offended or needlessly offending.

When you disagree with my political position, you also disagree with my religious position which also means that you’ve attached me personally (or so we think). Emotions are the track for these roller coaster discussions. Tempers flare from crests of emotions because to disagree with my convictions is to disagree with me. And how could any sane person believe what you just said. I’m saying you’re a moron. But . . .

Cultural Arrogance, Christians and Political Independents

Arizona_flagOver the past couple of months I have had two nearly identical situations in which different Christians have said nearly the exact same thing to me. I won’t say what it was but I will say that the nearly duplicate events set me to some thinking. Each situation centered around the other person offering their (unsolicited) opinion that (I’m paraphrasing here): “Of course all Christians in America think like I do and I’m going out of my way to point out that you don’t think like I do”.

I don’t think either person meant to really insinuate that they thought I am not actually a Christian but that was certainly an unintended implication of their statements. Either that or that they think I’m less intelligent than them. Or both.

Essentially, the bigger picture made manifest in these two conversations is that many Christians seem to believe that there is only one way to think. Of course this tendency to sweep entire groups aside is not isolated to Christians. This is the heart of what the two-party system now engenders. But, Christians, of all people should resist such urges. And yet, we seem as susceptible as anyone. Consider, for example,  Arminians and Calvinists continually nipping at one another. I have known people in both camps who have said that if you were in the other camp, then “of course you can’t be Christian”. Poppycock.

Perhaps one of the areas where see this tendency made most evident is with politics. “Of course a Christian belongs to “X”  or “Y” party”. The problem, of course, is that there are Christians in every political party who believe this (Google here or here).

There is a certain type of cultural arrogance on display here. We forget or ignore that, in some theological areas and in politics, we are dealing with interpretations and opinions. Your worldview leads you to believe that political approach “x” is better for society but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those who hold approach “y” are wrong, just that you hold different viewpoints.

We (Christians included) have come to believe that, if only the other group were smarter or would think more critically, then of course they would agree with me because, after all, “I’m right”. But we forget that this arrogance of opinion is no less present in the other group. Instead of admitting that we hold certain opinions, even if we hold them strongly, we turn our positions into “facts” which cannot be disputed. The two-party political system was designed so that those holding differing views would compromise and meet in the middle. Yet both parties now decry centrists as somehow being weak on the party line. The result has been that the far edges of each party controls the narrative and is left with nothing to do but simply denigrate the other resulting in gridlock and a broken political system.

Instead of working together, we demean and belittle the other side of the aisle (no matter which side you’re on) instead of striving for compromise, we dig in our heels. Welcome to politics (and theology) in America.

Christians have no place in such shenanigans. I’m not saying that Christians should not be involved in politics. But I am saying that Christians should never stay with a party of our “party loyalty”. This is fine for career politicians but not for Christians. When Christians pledge party loyalty, we give up our prophetic voice.

We are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). We add flavor and preserve but we are not actually part of the main dish. We’re there to make it better. We are supposed to be in but not of the culture. We are to strive first and foremost for the kingdom of God and proclaim our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. We are to work for the good of our cities and this require that we rise above political bickering. We are to call out evil and injustice no matter where it exists and that includes every political party. Ours is a calling above partisanship and ours is a family with people on both sides of the aisle.

Christians should avoid divisiveness. We should find plenty to disagree with in every political party and we should remember that our allegiance lies with none of them. We must stand above the fray and speak the Truth and lead with love. We must demonstrate humility that is demonstrated in a willingness, especially, to work with those with whom we disagree.

It seems to me that Christians should nearly always be political independents. I understand that you believe that your worldview (as biblically-minded as you insist it is) lead you to support one political party or the other. But, remember, it is possible to be a Christians and belong to the “other” party. And Christians should avoid “party loyalty.” When any political party feels like it can “count on” Christians for our support, we are no longer holding them accountable for the betterment of society, we are nothing more than voting blocks (i.e. pawns).

This current political season is a vital time for Christians in America. Many Christians who should be holding hands, praying together and working for justice and peace are more than willing to simply sweep aside those who disagree. May we regain our prophetic voice and shirk the yoke of political loyalty.

Will You Help Us Plant A Church?

o-SUPPORT-FRIENDS-facebookIt’s an interesting phenomenon that asking for help is often seen as some sort of weakness by our culture. We mythologize figures like the Marlboro Man, the independent spirit who don’t need nobody. We idolize the “self-made” man who didn’t have to rely on anyone to get ahead. But we forget that even the “Lone Ranger” didn’t actually travel alone. Tonto was a faithful companion.

We instinctively know that life was not meant to be lived alone. This is revealed to us time and time again in God’s redemptive story. God created a companion for Adam. He promised Abraham a family. He worked through a nation. And, though He saves us as individuals, He saves us into a family. The Christian life is fullest when we bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2). We weep and rejoice with each other (Romans 12:15). Following Jesus is a community endeavor. We are to “speak the truth to one another in love” (Ephesians 4:15), and it is by our love for one another that the world will know that we belong to Jesus (John 13:35).

Though Christians come from every culture, we are brought in to a new community. We are expected to do good to everyone, especially fellow Believers (Galatians 6:10). Not only are we called to be sensitive to each other’s needs but we must also speak up when we have a need ourselves.

And that’s where you come in.Mosaic_Church_logo-Stack

In July 2008, after serving as a lead pastor in TX, I planted Church of the Cross in Glendale, AZ. We planted a church because we believe that church planting is vital for the gospel health of any city. By God’s grace, we saw exciting Gospel growth and God transformed an initial plant of 12 adults and 16 kids into a thriving, multiplying group of gospel communities on mission. We saw lives transformed and people grow closer to Jesus.

After adopting four children at once (putting us at 8 children), I made the difficult decision to resign from the church I had poured my life into. We had grown with our church plant but our suddenly expanded family deserved our full attention. We spent most of 2015 focusing on family stability but towards the end of 2015, God began to tug at my heart again.

Now, after nearly eight months of praying, planning and imagining, we are excited and humbled to announce that we are moving to Gilbert, AZ to plant another church. We will be joining our friends Steve and Christine Valero who are also experienced church planters. Mosaic Church was birthed from convictions regarding the importance of applying the Gospel (our need for Jesus) to all of life. This leads us into community where we share one another’s burdens and joys and then overflow in sacrificial love for our communities.

We are raising $100,000 of start-up funding. This will ensure an initial salary base and cover launch costs (such as a quality children’s ministry, insurance, etc.) for the first year as we become self-sufficient. Your one-time or recurring gift will help ensure church stable for the long-term. We need to raise at least $15,000 by the end of July in order to move. Any help is appreciated.

You can give online via PayPal.





You may also give by check. Checks made payable to Mosaic Church may be mailed to:

19619 North 67th Drive

Glendale, AZ 85308

 

 

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We know that you don’t need extra incentives to give. The warm feeling under left rib and knowing that you’ve helped is enough. But because we are so grateful we want to offer a token of our appreciation.

If you give $350, you will receive your choice of one of Brent’s original drawings in a frame. See a sampling of the drawings available here.

If you give $500, you will receive one of Kristi’s original string art pieces. You will have your choice of a “Home” sign in which the “o” is the state of your choice or a “gather” sign.

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If you give $750, you can have one of each.

We can’t thank you enough for your support in helping make this new church a reality.

  • Read the story of our adoption.
  • Read the story of my resignation from ministry.
  • Read some of our spiritual journey in 2015.
  • Read about my call to plant another church.
  • Visit the Mosaic Church website.





Striving To Be Consistently Pro-Life(?)

deathpenaltyI have not read it yet but Christianity Today‘s review of Shane Claiborne‘s new book Executing Grace has much that resonates with me. My views on this issue have changed drastically over the years. I used to believe that capital punishment was not only justified but required because murder is the taking of a human life which is made in the image of God, therefore it was not only a de-valuing of human life but blasphemy (Genesis 9:6, etc.).

I now believe that it is more consistently “pro-life” to oppose the death penalty, precisely because all human life reflects the image of God. When the Supreme Court approved the modern death penalty, they declared that

capital punishment is an expression of society’s moral outrage at particularly offensive conduct . . .

For a Christian to defend capital punishment, it seems to me that we must argue from a theological perspective. It is worthy of death precisely because murder attacks the image of God. But we do not live in a theocratic state. Christian or otherwise.

Instead, the Supreme Court basis its justification of capital punishment on “society’s moral outrage.” A major problem with this, of course, is that society’s moral compass can sometimes seem like Jack Sparrow’s treasure compass in the Pirates of the Carribean movies. Wonky and ever-changing, especially when it comes to “society’s” norms. It wasn’t that long ago that we put suspected witches to the “swimming” text and burned heretics at the stake. What might have earned capital punishment at one time might not at another. Without the Christian under-pinning, there is no consistent ethic with which to decide which cases deserve death and which do not. In short, we cannot be trusted to be consistent. Since all people bear the image of God, we owe ourselves more than this. The taking of a human life cannot be left up to the shifting winds of “society’s moral outrage”.

Our justice system is not only deeply flawed and often unreliable, it is infected with systemic racism. Even if we agreed that murder is the consistent base-line for capital punishment, our application of any standards are not only inconsistent but often unjust. The ACLU argues:

the evidence from the past 33 years demonstrates that capital punishment remains arbitrary and that society’s moral outrage continues to be expressed loudest when wealthy white people are homicide victims.

Our court system simply cannot be trusted to always be impartial and “just” when it comes to this issue. The ACLU article continues:

empirical research across the country consistently demonstrates that a defendant who kills a white person is far more likely to receive the death penalty than a defendant who kills a person of color, and the racial configuration most likely to result in a death sentence is a black-on-white crime.

Amnesty International argues that “the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim” even non-whites are just as often the victims of murder. Time magazine comes right out and says it: “there is significant racial bias in the administration of the death penalty.” If we believe that all men are not only created equal but that all people are created in the image of God and therefore human life always has intrinsic value, then we must oppose the death penalty as it is currently practiced.

Capital punishment also carries the idea that certain criminals do not deserve even the possibility of rehabilitation. It simply negates some lives based on norms that we’ve already seen are shaky at best and likely to soon change.

Though there is more to be said, this serves as a brief summary of why I’ve changed my mind over the years. I’ve come to believe that the pursuit of wisdom necessitates that we are willing to sometimes change our views. I’m not saying that if you disagree with me on this issue that you are unwise but that my pursuit of wisdom has led me down this path. As I grow older and understand perspectives which my own experiences never provided, many of my views change.

I know that many of you will disagree and I look forward to hearing from you. But remember to express your views with humanity and kindness. After all, we are all God’s image bearers and deserve respect.

The Long Strange Trip Continues (We’re Planting Another Church!)

church_planting-400x300In 2008, my family and I moved from TX where I was pastoring back to AZ to plant Church of the Cross (which has since become Missio Dei Peoria).

In January 2015, a year after adopting four kids at once (putting us at 8 kids), I resigned from ministry in general and specifically from the church we planted in 2008.

2015 has been a whirlwind with a consistent theme from Psalm 46:

Be still and know that He is God.

When I resigned, it was important for Kristi and I that “vocational ministry” not be a career option for an unspecified period of time. With over ten years of lead pastor experience, I probably could have been hired at an existing church. But that just wasn’t right. Throughout 2015, I applied to more than 153 jobs (I stopped counting at 153). Most of those were jobs for which I was well qualified (at least on paper). But nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkiss. A big goose-egg.

That’s not to say that I haven’t worked hard during this time, just that God has not provided full-time employment. Kristi and I both have worked part time for our friends Mark and Jill at Twigs and Twine. This has been a great experience. We’ve learned a lot but we’ve always known that this was not a long-term solution to our situation. It has felt like God was arranging our circumstances so that we would rest in Him even without knowing what was next. To be still. And know that He is God. And we are not.

This is a difficult lesson. It is often uncomfortable but it gets to the very heart of faith itself. Following Jesus means submitting our wills to His and trusting. God has been teaching me this tough lesson over the past year or so.

As I stated, it was important for us to have an unspecified period of time during which full-time ministry (at least in the pastoral sense) was not an option. Not only did we want to see what else God might have for us, we knew that one of two things would happen:

  1. The “indefinitely” would simply progress and we would not ever return to vocational ministry and we would be OK with that, or
  2. God would change our hearts and the “call” to ministry on our lives would return.

As 2015 wore on, the latter happened.

Before I explain what this means, I want to pause for a couple of side-notes.

First, my wife Kristi and I have been remarkably on the same page for every major decision throughout our relationship. This has helped serve as a natural form of discernment for both of us. Believe me, Kristi is not afraid to tell me when she thinks I’m wrong. It is important to me that my wife is on the same page. And she is.

Second, the idea of a “call to ministry” is fuzzy and nebulous at best. But I can say is that our decision to once again consider full-time ministry was not motivated by the fact that I had trouble finding employment. I hope that this goes without saying but I wanted to say it regardless. I have a healthy respect for ministry which requires that it be more than just a job.

In late 2015, not only did I start to miss vocational ministry but Kristi confirmed that I was once again being called to return and that we as a family wanted to give our lives in this way. As we wondered what this might mean for our family, we began talking with my friend Steve about planting a church together in Gilbert.

Steve planted a church called Ekklesia in 2009. Through mutual involvement with the local Surge Network, Acts 29 and Soma Communities, Steve and I became good friends. Around the same time I resigned, Steve shut down his church plant. However, because he’s so awesome, Steve has maintained great relationships with the people of that church, retaining a core group ready to plant another church.

After nearly eight months of prayer and consideration, Steve and I believe that the time is right to move forward with planting a church made up of Gospel Communities on Mission. We are humbled to announce that we are in the initial stages of planting Mosaic Church.

The Thomas Ten is in the process of moving to the Gilbert area so that we can devote ourselves to this exciting new gospel work. Since our ministry conviction is based on relationships and everyday life, it is important for us to be where we minister. We are currently raising the necessary funds to launch this new church and we appreciate anything you can give towards this goal.

Once we can get to that side of town, we will move forward with forming Gospel Communities and launching a Sunday gathering. Our goal is to move as soon as possible so that the kids can transition schools smoothly.

There’s still a lot to figure out and I’m sure you have questions. Feel free to ask them. And please pray for us. Please pray for wisdom, for discernment, for joy, for clarity and conviction. Please pray that God would provide the necessary resources and prepare hearts.

  • Visit the Mosaic Church website.
  • Visit the Mosaic Church Facebook page.