Recent Reflections

I've been absent for a bit - sorry about that. We just completed Beeson Pastors School last week, and that's a week where my team puts in about 16 - 18 hour days for the week. I did four 90 minute workshops and a great deal of counseling over the week.

it is simultaneously rewarding and devastatingly discouraging. The porn workshop draws a crowd of curious onlookers, and the prerequisite number of people who complain that anyone dare talk about the facts of this plague. Never mind the fact that, statistically, the majority of attendees are hitting porn in their offices every week - we're not supposed to talk about it out loud, right?

The good news? Several pastors wanted to genuinely talk about how to help the men and women (yes, women too - 40% of all hard-core porn traffic is by females) begin to talk about and break free from the porn pit. Many others came to talk to me about their struggle and for advice on how and where to get help. Do you see the power of boasting in our weaknesses? Do you see the power of transparency? Do you see the power of the Gospel?

The discouraging news? There were so many more pastors, and a couple of wives, that I spoke with that were struggling. The problem was they would circle me in rooms, like vultures, waiting for there to be nobody around so they could talk to me. I know why they do this, but make a habit of asking anyway. The response is almost always the same - "Well, I can't be seen talking to YOU. You're the porn guy. If I'm seen talking to you, everyone will know I have a problem."

Do you see the narcissism? Do you see how addicts think that the entire world is always watching them? Do you see how they believe the world revolves around them? Now, I know this because I have been this way, and am still trying to die to this everyday.

I asked each one of them, "Well, you do, don't you?" And they responded, "Well, yeah." They are so trappped because ministers and their wives are not allowed to have problems - especially like porn or sex. If they get caught - they are fired. If they ask for help - they are fired. So, it is in their best interest to keep it all on the down-low and never let anyone know. The problem in that is that it is the power of secrecy and shame that keeps all addicts trapped in the chains of addiction. The only way out is to let the mask drop and shatter. The only way out is to admit you have a problem and you need help.

Most pastors are forced to live out a perpetrated perfection. Parishioners put pastors on pedestals and assume they live perfect little problem free lives. That, my friends, is crap. Nothing could be further from the truth. My main problem with that is that it denies the power of the Gospel. It is the antithesis of the Gospel. It negates justification. It cripples sanctification.

Here's a shocker for you - I'm about to be blunt... There's too much "church" and too much "Jesus" in our world today. Ok, now breathe and let me clarify. Christianity today is actually "Churchianity." It's the culture and not the Gospel.

We talk about Jesus and we toss His name around like rings that never quite hit the ringer. We go to Church instead of understanding that we are the church. We have made the Gospel a system of rules and regulations instead of the relationship Jesus really intended. Many of us believe that the Gospel is behavior modification and that, my friends, is also crap.

If the Gospel is about behavior modification - what happens when we blow it? What happens when we demonstrate our sinful nature? Are we no longer saved? Has our adoption by God been undone? Are we thrown out of the Kingdom? Are we no longer heirs with Christ? Absolutely not. Whether we are ministers, elders, deacons, teachers, or lay people does not matter.

We are justified in Christ, and are being sanctified the rest of our lives. We will blow it, but when we do, we have to remember Colossians 2 - the record of our sin was nailed to the cross of Christ. We are justified and we are to continue to place our human nature on the altar and allow our flesh to be crucified.

Jesus is not just a charm. Jesus is not just a name we cling to when we have blown it. Jesus is not just a name we cry for when we are in trouble. Jesus is not a magic word - not a substitute for "Abracadabra." Jesus is the one who loves us. It is Jesus' blood that justifies us. It is Jesus that hides us - we are hidden in Christ. When God looks at us, he sees Jesus. We wear his righteousness.

What anyone else thinks of us is irrelevant - our significance is in Christ. Not in what we do or don't do. Good, bad, indifferent - it makes no difference in where our significance lies.

We don't extend the Gospel in our world, and that's why it is making little difference today. We have made it about behavior modification, and that assumes that we are actually capable. What does Jesus say? "Apart from me you can do nothing." Nothing. Let that sink in for a bit.

According to Jesus, you are actually incapable of sitting on the sofa doing nothing without him. We cannot be couch potatoes without Jesus. Isn't that amazing? Jesus is so much bigger than we understand, isn't he?

The behavior modification pedaled by "Churchians" today is what he came to rail against. The law, by itself, is impotent to save us. Think about it this way - if the only reason I'm not looking at porn is because my accountability partners would catch me and be angry at me, then I'm screwed. I'll find a way around it, or at some point I may simply not care what they think about me.

Jesus says it is not about our behavior, it is about the condition of our hearts. It is not our behavior that changes first - it is our heart that must change, and our actions will follow our hearts. When we understand the work of Jesus on the cross, and we understand that all of our sin was paid for at that moment so that we are justified in God's eyes and the record of our sin was destroyed on the cross that ought to radically transform our hearts.

We ought to want anyone and everyone to understand that, but the sad facts are that too many pastors don't understand and live that today, and as a result, too many people don't understand that today. They are too busy hiding sin that has been paid for, and too busy doing things to make others think they have been captured from hell instead of pointing to the incredible work of Christ on the Cross so that God is glorified.

We can boast in our weaknesses! God is glorified in our weakness! If we have no weaknesses or failures, God was right to save us - He just has good taste. That's not the God I serve. I don't deserve it. That He chose to save me is incredible. I don't care who knows how much I didn't deserve it, and neither should you.

We have emasculated the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it breaks my heart. When people know we have problems, we can also tell them of our Savior. We can point to the Glory if his work on the cross for us, and the power of his resurrection. Can we, or more importantly will we, break out of trying to live out the concept of Christ and put on the character of Christ?

Abide, abide, abide, abide, abide, abide.

It's Hard to be the Waiting Father

My dad used to say, "One phone call can change your life." Now there's a new twist on the whole "is the glass half-full or half-empty" thing. That can be a very frightening statement, or one filled with hope. For years and years that statement made me want to unplug the phone - well that's when we had those types of phones, but you get my point, right?

A couple of months ago, I received a phone call from a man that I know here in Birmingham. He had the sound of death in his voice - flat, no emotion, nothing. He told me that he had been having an affair and had just been caught. He told his wife, quit his job, and did not know what to do.

He came to Tapestry one Sunday evening, and I watched him try to come in the room. He made several hesitant passes and just could not come in. It is so hard to enter a church when people know you have really screwed up, isn't it? It should not be, but too many have made it that way. Anyway, a friend who is part of our community saw him and simply walked over to him and said, "Hey, so I hear you are a sinner. Welcome." They both chuckled and our friend was able to smile and felt safe taking a seat in our community.

Worship was difficult for him that evening. He kept walking out, but he always came back in and sat on the floor by the door. Have you ever felt like that?

He and I had lunch shortly after that, and he told me that he just did not know what he felt, or what he wanted to do. His wife was willing to work on things, but on that day, he wasn't sure he wanted to. Facing our mistakes always sucks, and it requires work. She was willing, but he was unsure.

Affairs are difficult to break free from. Everything in the affair seems perfect. It is fantasy land, isn't it? There are no screaming children, there are no bills to pay, there is no reality. It's all romance, affirmation, and sex. This is why affairs are some of the biggest lies in the world.

They are clandestine, and when that element gets tossed into the mix, you have one very potent cocktail that is hard to put down. They are intoxicating, and can even be euphoric. It's always hard to walk away from the exhilaration.

There is absolutely NO reality in affairs. And this is why they are so devastating to those engaging in them. When reality strikes, all parties involved are stunned beyond their wildest dreams. Panic sets in, shame sets in and cements the guilt. Then no one really knows quite what to do.

All too often, the two involved in the infidelity can not see the truth at all. They think they really love each other. Do you see how this really works? A relationship starts with both partners lying to their spouses, and then it's not long before they are lying about their spouses in an effort to generate sympathy. And it is often in that moment that they begin to say, "You understand me!"

The bond then begins to tighten, and soon they find themselves dancing a bit too close to the flame, and they wind up in bed together. The sexual bond created is mistaken for love, and since that "love" is in fantasy land, the spouses left behind cannot possibly compete with it.

This is what happened with this particular friend, and the hard part is that it does not matter how many times he hears that from people - he has to see that on his own. Lots of ministers will say things like, "well, when you repent of this and go back home, we can talk." That breaks my heart, and seems so counter productive.

I've only seen that result in people doing things because they are supposed to, as opposed to doing it because they want to. It's radically different when my daughters do something because they are supposed to and when they want to. Now, I realize there are times when they do need to do things whether they feel like it or not. It's just that in this type of situation, that usually doesn't work.

It is hard to be the father waiting for the prodigal to come home, isn't it? But the father waited. He delivered no ultimatums, no conditions, no restrictions - he waited. One day, the prodigal came to his senses and went home because he wanted to. He knew it was best, and he wanted to go home. He was contrite, and repentant. He came home begging to be a day laborer, not to come in as a member of the family - he just wanted to work for food.

The Father ran to him, hugged him, and welcomed him home. He threw a party for him to reconcile him to the community. He let everyone know that this is his son.

Last night, this particular prodigal called me to say that he was coming to his senses, and he wants to go home.

A great reminder that I can't save anybody. Only God can do that, and if I'll get out of the way and trust Him to work, He will. Standing on the porch is hard to do, but it can be the best place for us to be.

I need to sit and pray for a long list of prodigals that I know. I've been chasing them instead of waiting for them.

Anybody got a rocking chair?

Dispatches from the Front Lines

Ok, so this is my first attempt in the blogosphere, so go easy on me. I've heard the horror stories, and am well aware that there are people who love to pick apart each word and thought and criticize the author beyond the realm of reality.
I am more than happy to tell you that I don't have all of the answers, and it brings me great comfort to say, "I don't know." The Holy Trinity will not become a quartet when I die, so I will continue to make mistakes, as will you. Let's extend grace to each other, and learn from each other along the way.
This week, I am tired. Beyond tired. Fatigue does not come close to describing what I feel at the moment. Have you ever been there?
Today, I ran across these words from Thomas Merton and they drove a nail of conviction deep into my skull. Let's see if they have the same effect on you and your skull. Merton writes, "The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation with violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his/her own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his/her own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."
Those words pierced me to my core. I have succumbed to a great deal of violence in recent weeks. Being involved in ministry can just wear you slap out, and that's where I am. My boundaries have caved in, but that is my fault. Too often, I fall into the prideful trap that I can help everybody. I can't turn away a plea for help - be it in person, over the phone, or through e-mail.
Suddenly, the impostor has me on the run from his hyenas of "busyness." Fatigue and fear set in, and the instinct of self preservation takes over until a wise friend or mentor reminds me of the words of Jesus. "Die and you will live." Self-preservation is not the gospel, is it? It is the antithesis of the gospel. We are to die.
Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 that we are to boast in our weaknesses so that the gospel of Christ is magnified and glorified. Because, what does it really say about God if we were worth saving? It would just say He has good taste, right? We are not worth saving - that's the blinding grace of His glory.
The fact is that I am comfortable boasting in some of my weaknesses. My addiction to sex and pornography is easy for me now. My inability to say no? That's not easy for me to boast in. My innate ability to screw up a 3 car parade? Not so easy. My tendencies to do things under my own strength, virtually ensuring their doom? Not so easy. My inability to ask for help? Not so easy. Again, I find myself in the far country fighting pigs for scraps of food. I need to come home to the Waiting Father - again.
Sanctification is a long road, my friends. We all have a long way to go. Want to ride along with me? I'd love the company. Hop in, and let's go home. The car is a bit of a mess, hope you don't mind...