Random Thoughts on the Music that Helped Me Make Sense of the World

1) Of all my thoughts about the new U2 album, the one I keep thinking the most is how much these songs remind me of all the emotions and ideas that drew me in at the age of 16. I keep hearing all those old albums in this one even though this album sounds like none of the old albums.

2) I can understand people not liking their music. A little. But the abject violence with which U2 and Bono particularly are spoken of, is bizarre.

3) Lyrically, this is one of the best albums they’ve done in a long time. This is not to discredit the others. Achtung Baby is the standard for me, not just for U2 but for most bands. And I have to go back to it, to find one with lyrics this good.

4) In those first few years after discovering them, I would scrounge up whatever money I could find. Go without lunch. Lunge at coins left on the ground. I cleaned toilets and even watched kids at church so I could drive my 1979 Chevette over to Century Plaza mall to buy whatever U2 album or EP or single I did not have. So, it’s kinda hard for me to sympathize with those who are upset about how they were given a free album.

5) Nothing will ever sound as good as War on cassette (complete album on both sides) coming through those 100 watt Sony speakers sitting in the corners of my black vinyl backset.

6) If someone broke into my house and downloaded a new U2 album onto my computer, I’d be OK with that.

7) When Rattle & Hum was released I skipped school to wait outside the music store at the mall to be the first one to get it. And then saw the movie in the theater 3 times in the first 8 days it was out. I still love that film with all my heart.

8) U2 was a large part of my growth as a Christian in High School and College. Bono was the only Christian I knew that used bad language and drank alcohol. That was hard for a Southern Baptist pastor’s kid to get. But I began to see the kingdom was bigger than I thought and many of the laws enacted were peculiar to my own cultural context. I also saw a largeness and openheartedness to others and their thoughts and ideas and dreams. Bono didn’t cause me to doubt but it sure was nice to know I was not alone in the doubts I had.

9) I’ve posted a lot on social media about U2 in the past week because the release of a new U2 album is an event we should be orienting our lives around. You know, kinda like Christmas. There should be parties and festivities. Games. A day off, even. The only person who could disagree is the one who has never seen them live.

10) I remember exactly where I was at the age of 16 when the songs broke through. The corner of Esplanade and Mountain Drive. My friend Scott Smith let me borrow War. I had just dropped him off a few minutes before and Sunday Bloody Sunday is what did it on that sunny Summer Alabama day. Still does.

The Otherness of Jesus We Reject

There is an *otherness* to Jesus we reject. Maybe unwittingly. But still, we do so.

We rightly like the otherness of Jesus when it comes to his justifying work on the cross. We need that otherness since he is the only One Who can save us from our sins. He is the only one who is without sin. He alone is truly holy.

But his otherness when it come to our sanctification is rejected. If sanctification is the process by which we are made holy. And Jesus is the holiest one who ever lived, we should look at his life and learn some holiness. But his otherness – his being altogether outside of our expectations is rejected. We want well-adjusted, respectable, starched shirt leaders. And we want to be that. If that otherness ever manifests itself in our leaders or loved ones, such behavior is rejected.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. Following Jesus does not appear to me to be a life of “never do this.” Sex is permitted, adultery is forbidden. Drink is permitted, drunkenness is not . Jesus told the disciples to get a sword and pursue peace. Lying is clearly wrong unless you are Rahab protecting the spies. We want clean and neat categories (and leaders). But the Scriptures will not allow it.

2. The beach is basically people lying around in very colorful underwear.

3. Criticizing Joel Osteen is the theological equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. I assume this is part of the reason why there are so many high-profile pastors going after him. There is no risk. He is outside of their theological camp. The risk comes when you don’t just step away from men like Driscoll but publicly rebuke just as you promoted.

4. I’ve been listening to The Avett Brothers this week. I’d never really given them much of a chance but they kept showing up in a Pandora station and their songs kinda stay with you throughout the day till you have to listen to them again. I was afraid their being likable in their music was gonna leave me disappointed once I got to “know” through interviews, etc. But really, they are as likable as any group of musicians I’ve ever been exposed to.

5. We went to the beach over the weekend and all that time with Bethany makes it hard to go back to work. Not just because of vocational frustration but because of the time away.

6. The world is round. And so is pizza. This is a profound truth worth thinking on for a season.

7. It is hard to believe in a calling to the pastorate if one does not receive a call from a church. If you never make it past the initial phone conversation repeatedly, maybe, just maybe, the calling does not exist. It’s not proof, but it’s a word that should be listened to.

8. If you believe that porn objectifies women and turns them into sexual objects, what do you believe about action movies and video games full of violence? Are any of these helping anyone to love their enemy?

9. Compliments used to make criticism more palatable are darkness disguised as light.

10. There is an otherness to Jesus we have rejected.

Mark Driscoll, High-Profile Pastors, and Credibility

Over the past few years there have been many posts by high-profile pastors and Christian leaders about the importance of the Church in the Christian life. Specifically, the subject is the goodness of church membership over against the perceived “just Jesus and me” trajectory of younger believers.

I’ve agreed with much of what they have said. I love my church. I feel I need the community for my good and my family’s. They are the epitome of kindness. So all things being equal I’ve agree in principal if not always in tone.

But all things are not equal.

Take Mars Hill Church in Seattle where Mark Driscoll is the “pastor” as an example. Paul Tripp has called Mars Hill “the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” He didn’t say “only,” he said “most.”

Mars Hill was pointed to for years as a beacon by me and all the high- profile Calvinist leaders involved with The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel. And all of them talked about the value of the institutional church and still do. And now in the wake of increasing scandal, the only thing we have heard is that we should pray for Mark Driscoll and his family.

That’s it.

I want you to think about that.

I am what you would call a conservative evangelical Calvinist. This is my tribe. But all the writings on the importance of the church will be met with skepticism without the acknowledgement of specific abusive systems. In other words, if you’re gonna applaud a leader and his church and point others to him and his ministry when things are fine, you will lose your credibility if your only public reaction is to call for prayer for the leader of the abusive ministry and offer none for the those abused. Because those are the ones who are most likely to question the value of the church in their life.

I know this because I’ve heard from them. And I’ve tasted it myself.

The credibility of the church will rise and fall on how it treats the weak and wounded. Mark Driscoll called former friends and former pastors “bodies under the bus” and was hoping for a mountain of them. I know of no high-profile pastor who has publicly called for prayer for those bodies.

I read a comment on Facebook or a blog a couple days ago, that said something to the effect of, “this is why I left church behind, not Jesus, just the church.” I gotta be honest, it’s hard to blame them. Once pastors start systematically wounding people, they are no longer shepherds but wolves. And the American Evangelical Industrial Machine is protecting the wolves with silence and PR firms. And God help us, calls for prayer. None for those on receiving end of the abuse, though.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) You lose a rootedness when you lose your parents.

2) The more public the ministry of a pastor, the more visible the fruit of the Spirit should be.

3) If you use the antonym of all the words to describe Jesus in Isaiah 53, you get a pretty good job description for the American pastor.

4) I know you like pizza. But I dream about it when I run.

5) Speaking of Jesus, I’m amazed at how unreasonable and crazed Jesus must have sounded. And sounds. His miracles kept him in the game,but man, even the way he taught was outside of expectations.

6) The problem in Matt Walsh’s post was not merely the content. It was the timing plus tone. You can say all the correct things at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

7) My kids are enjoying school too much for me to not consider a paternity test.

8) I have often wondered if those who suffer from depression are seeing something. The common wisdom is that it’s a kind of blindness. And that may be true. A blindness to the light. But I wonder if maybe they are seeing the darkness for what it really is and the props are just no good anymore.

9) I was not a huge fan of Robin Williams. But as a teenager I loved poetry. But there was always this guardedness. I knew no one else that cared about it. Dead Poet’s Society changed all that.

10) He had good form and majesty so we would look at him. And was a good-looking fellow so we would desire him. He was well thought of and accepted by men. A man of smiles, and acquainted with happiness.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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1. Because of my writings on him in the past and my service in an Acts 29 church, I’ve been asked what I think about all the recent controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll. My first response is sadness. I’m too far along to be angry anymore. And I worry if he will ever listen to anyone and repent. The trajectory seems fixed. What makes me sad also is the response of all those who once supported him so vocally. We seem to be in a period of church history where celebrity pastors are more than happy to prop each other up when things are going well, but then step away silently when it all goes south. It’s the kind of behavior we dislike in politicians but we find all too convenient.

2. People ask me all the time how my job is going. It’s a hard question to answer. Behind the asking is their knowledge how I’ve never been comfortable as a banker. On the surface, I can tell them how well I’m doing, numbers-wise. It’s true, I’m actually getting pretty good at what I do. But there is a whole world below that surface.

3. Every now and again, I also get asked about writing. There is a lot of good advice out there and I don’t really have anything new to add. The only way your writing will be any good is if you are reading good writers. So, if you are an evangelical, you will need to read outside of evangelicalism. They are few and will be exhausted soon enough. Don’t try to write like another pastor who has a book or ten on the shelves. Write like Van Gogh paints and Billie Holiday sings.

4. The absence of my parent’s generosity of time, possessions, affections, and love for my family has left a gaping hole in our daily lives. Do you ever get over your father, almost completely blind, loving nothing more than to have my children act like wild animals at his feet? How do you get over your mother’s tears of joy at just being able to share a meal with us? Maybe you aren’t supposed to. Maybe the hole is the soul’s historical marker, telling you and others of what happened there, the indelible marks of love along life’s twisting and turning scenic routes.

5. It is looking more and more likely as if we will taste the bitter pill of being totally at odds with the surrounding culture in my country. Or at least those who are in power. Actually we always should have been. But we saw money and power as opportunities for influence and advancement. We never saw them as something dangerous, poisons that travel fast through the veins of our institutions. What we thought would make us stronger has in fact made us sick and weak. We thought partnering with politicians would do a world of good. We are not the first religious people who thought partnering with those in authority would make things better.

6. If you read through the gospels and you use your imagination even a little, the stories of what Jesus did and said begin to separate themselves from modern-day evangelicalism. Like oil and water. We try not to say anything too crazy or provocative and we tie our ties and button our coats after a clean shave. I imagine most read a stoicism into Jesus’ words, when instead there was often a wide-eyed stare. Maybe even wild-eyed provocation. Sure some of those crazy things he said were probably done in the quiet as the listeners leaned in with bated breath. But let’s not wrap the life of Jesus in a clean-shaven respectability and so smother the life out of it.

7. You ever been on a journey and you looked over and were glad for the companion you had? You feel if even a tire went flat, the journey would still be enjoyable. Who cares where you eat along the way? It will taste like Prime Rib regardless. Everything out in front and whatever lies in the rearview mirror is a gift for the two of you. That’s what it’s like with Bethany.

8. I miss Michael Spencer. I never could predict what he would say in his dispatches from the “post-evangelical wilderness.” We need more guys like him.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) Jesus does not appear in the NT to care about protecting the brand.

2) I tend to assume the worst of those I disagree with and assume the best of myself. The gospel of grace *should* change that.

3) Most of the things we argue about in the church assume wealth and liberty.

4) I think Christians should be far more afraid of money than we are.

5) Fundamentalism sees error everywhere but within.

6) Spellcheck recognizes “cheesiness.”

7) When the Cherokee walked the Trail of Tears, many were heard singing “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.”

8) The *fix* for the greatest problem in the Universe is grace. Why do I try to fix everything else without it?

9) My wife’s cooking > everywhere else.

10) The loss of both parents in such a short period of time is starting to overwhelm.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1) My friend at work is leaving. He has been here a year. He’s good at his job and still leaving for another.

2) I keep reaching for my phone to call my mom.

3) I can sit in the heat of my hometown with relative ease. The air is alive with memory.

4) The greatest threat to me is myself.

5) In an interview for a job in ministry I had to admit our fear of leaving the kindness of our church for the unknown of another.

6) At Bible Study last night, some students asked me about being married for 15 plus years and I thought “she is really now the best part of me there is.”

7) People keep telling me I should be good at sales because of my previous work in ministry.

8) Hemingway.

9) On social media you can say something provocative to no one in particular and then get personally insulted for saying it…by people you have never met.

10) It is a uniquely good these days when you can call your pastor your friend. I’m glad I can do that.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

1. If you are frustrated with God, good. That means 1) you believe in him, 2) you believe he is in control, 3) and that he is not like you.

2. On Sunday, at church, two men came up to me after and talked about the orphan feeling when both parents have gone on ahead. I have felt more comforted by those two conversations than you can imagine.

3. A lot of people are talking about how we Christians can talk less freely about our faith these days. Not due to the law so much as societal pressure. The church must not mirror this. People need to be able to talk about their faith among Christians without fear of judgmental reprisal. One small example is the authors a person likes. Let’s not assume the worst because someone likes a particular author we have rejected because of a particular view. Just because someone likes Doug Wilson doesn’t mean they are part of the patriarchy movement. And just because someone likes N.T. Wright doesn’t mean they buy into the Federal Vision.

4. There is a freedom in Christ the flesh finds hard to tolerate.

5. The other day I posted a joke about how parenting is hard. And once again someone told me I was being insensitive to parents who are struggling with infertility. It happens every time I’ve done this. Parenting is hard. We need to be able to laugh about it. Those who know our situation know how hard it is. Yes, some have it harder. And some do not have it all. But we need to laugh. Man, do we sometimes need a laugh.

6. I’ve been listening to the music of Bill Mallonee relentlessly over the past couple of months. Mainly, because I need some words to process what we’ve been dealing with. With words that stand entirely on their own as poetry, his songs have given me “nomenclature” to understand the struggle and the grief. A compass to navigate the sea with its wide open fears. His music has been a companion for over 20 years, shaping me and my own use of words. If I were on an island or jail cell or hospital bed, I’d want his writings stuck in my head. Sixty albums later, he’s still making unbelievably great music.

7. The list of those I know who have been burned by the Mars Hill/A29 firey machine continues to grow.

8. My wife asked me why there are so many pastors who cover up crimes of sexual abuse by other pastors they work with and by parishioners. It’s a good question. And my gut tells me it has something to do with money…money over integrity.

9. We are to never accommodate legalism. For some reason, we’ve bought into the idea we can and sometimes should. After all, it’s “safe.” Or seems so. But underneath it’s deadly. And a slavery.

10. My wife is a gift like no other. We have seen our fair share of troubles over the past few years. Her presence and support are of incalculable value. Glad I get to gather wrinkles with her.

A Father’s Day Sermon…If I Had to Preach One

 

(This is a repost of one from three years ago.)

I had not planned on this post. But there were enough requests to get me thinking. A few guys were encouraged by the Mother’s Day Post so they wanted one for themselves. But I just wasn’t sure. The Mother’s Day Sermon post is my most popular post. It went all over the world and was used in pulpits everywhere. I didn’t want to do one for Fathers that was unpopular. Or worse, was seen as  trying to capitalize. And to be honest doing one for Fathers felt self-serving.

And then it turned out to be so.

For whenever I lacked imagination, I just inserted myself in, and voila. I’ve been doing this whole preaching-the-good-news-to-myself thing for so many years – as my pastor asked me to so long ago – that I figured I might as well do so here.

Further, as I thought about this, an irony struck me. It is less acceptable to feel condemned for men than for women. (I could be wrong about that, sure. But I’m gonna err on the side of being right here.) It reveals weakness. And weakness is social kryptonite for men.

Then you must add this overlooked reality – failure has a weight, a weight with all the pressure of a culture which pushes relentlessly against the soul of a man. The net effect of wanting to be Superman as a boy is not just dusty comics in moldy cardboard boxes pushed into the corner of attics. There is also the failure to become one. Whether unconscious or not, the reality is Fathers want to be super and seen as being so, if only by those citizens, plucked up out of harms way, residing within his own home. But deep down, the weakness is known to be there, like a scar needing to be covered up.

Fathers are more likely to brag on the scar than confess their displeasure with it.

I’ve no wish to create a movement of weepy men, though Jesus did weep over a friend. And I’ve no wish to guilt Fathers into being more in tune with their weakness. To share it, even. Mainly because the guilt is already there, residing. It’s feet are propped up on the coffee-table and it knows where the silverware is in the drawer.

I’m calling it. The guilt is real and it’s there whether I say anything about it or not. It gnaws like mice and slithers through veins like an asp. It feels like poison. It feels as if it’s thieving life from under your very nose. And sometimes the taking of a deep breath is as the death rattle.

And when the dust settles and the echo ceases to bounce around inside your skull and the night is still, more than anything the Christian Father is faced with the specter of condemnation. An accusing finger rises up and points at his heart and says “condemned” for one thousand failures. Or worse, one in particular.

So Fathers need to also hear the message that in their God-given calling, they are not condemned. The following is not the only sermon that could be preached for Fathers. But it’s one.

Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Thesis: Fathers, if you are in Christ Jesus, you ought to have no fear of condemnation because of your standing of righteousness because of Christ’s work on your behalf on the cross.

Fathers, even though you may feel you are…

You are not condemned because you cannot take your family on a dream vacation. Or on any vacation at all.

You are not condemned by the sins in your past which haunt like unsatisfied ghosts.

You are not condemned by your need for rest.

You are not condemned by your inability to fix all the broken things.

You are not condemned by your lack of promotions.

You are not condemned by your child’s lack of abilities in comparison to others.

You are not condemned by the obscurity of your job.

You are not condemned by the check engine light.

You are not condemned by a dwindling savings account.

You are not condemned because you are divorced.

You are not condemned by your son’s lack of interest in what interests you.

You are not condemned by a lack of desire to play with the kids after work.

You are not condemned by your failures as a father, that repeat themselves like the days, themselves.

You are not condemned by your wayward daughter.

You are not condemned by being fired or laid off.

You are not condemned if you find it difficult to talk to your children.

You are not condemned by not being able to afford to throw the birthday party of the year for your kids.

You are not condemned by the size and state of your home.

You are not condemned by your introverted personality.

You are not condemned for not living up to the standards of your Father or Father-in-law.

You are not condemned by the debts hanging over you like death itself.

Fathers, even though you may feel condemned, if you are in Christ, you are not condemned. This is the real reality.

You are not condemned, because if you are in Christ, your identity…your righteousness is Christ alone. Therefore, enjoy the unending love and affection and acceptance of being a son perfectly loved with an unwavering love that flows from your Father in Heaven.

And to all those who are not Fathers…do nothing to diminish this reality. Nothing.

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