Monday, December 27, 2010

Sad but true...

A missionary friend of mine in Guatemala recently posted the following blog, which I felt compelled to share.

Hope from ashes

"This morning a young man, 25 yrs. old, knocked on our door for about 30 minutes straight. When we finally answered, there stood Daniel Gonzalez. He nervously explained his situation.

He did not want to come to our house today, but some friends had convinced him that it was his best and last chance. He said he was not the type of person to ask for things, so he was sorry for coming. He explained that yesterday he had lost his home in a fire. A husband and father of 2 young kids, they had lost almost everything… house, bed, clothes, TV, food, and belongings - all ashes.

We were his last hope. I am thankful for that much – just being here, able to be that hope for somebody. That hope has a name – Jesus – and it is always amazing to me that we can “be” Jesus…

Now to the frustrating part. Why exactly were we his “last” hope?

Before showing up at our house, Daniel had exhausted his options. Most alarming was the response from his church, from whom he was misled regarding “God’s justice.”

Rewind just 2 months… to when Daniel and his wife Martha lost their 3rd child. Following childbirth, Florcita (little flower) spent 20 days on life support. Born two months premature, she hung on for 3 weeks before letting go. Daniel spent all 20 days & nights in the hospital at his wife’s side, praying for Florcita to pull through.

Following their daughter’s death, they returned to their church. Daniel, who was striving to become a deacon and took seriously his role collecting the weekly offering, was put on “probation” for missing 3 Sunday mornings and several other gatherings. He was told that missing church, for any reason, is a sin and requires discipline from the church authorities.

Now, after losing his house and all his belongings in the fire, the “church authority” explained to Daniel that God is righteous, punishing them for missing a few church services while clinging bedside to their dying daughter. The only effort to bring comfort was a simple reminder of the story of Job, and how God won’t give you more than you can handle.

After being denied by his church for help, they decided to try another church, this one well known for helping the people of his neighborhood. This specific church has been working in his neighborhood for years, even recently completing a new community center to better serve them.

Martha returned home with the news. The church said there is nothing they can do, because they only help families in the community who are members of their church.

Broken, denied, and ready to give up, he knocked on our door.

When we showed up at the site of their house this afternoon, Daniel made small talk for about 5-10 minutes. He was cheerful, seemed thrilled actually, to see us. When he introduced us to his kids, and showed us the extent of their remaining belongings, he got quieter, clearly trying to hide some emotion.

When he shared about the response from the churches, he broke. Confused and hurt, he began sobbing. It wasn’t the loss of his daughter, or his house, that brought on the sobbing. It was the pain inflicted from the “church” that ultimately crushed him.

The very thing that is supposed to bring life, support, love, help, and hope… was killing him.

I wondered to myself if Daniel’s pastor that avoided helping (but reminded Daniel about God’s justice and Job’s sufferings) had forgotten, or ever read, where Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul’s teachings about carrying one another’s burdens also came to mind.

I also wondered how, as members of the same body of Jesus Christ, we could possibly deny help to those who aren’t “members” of our own little private congregations.

But as we prayed, grace and hope started replacing the anger that was raging inside me. As frustrating as the pious, prosperity-blessing, false religion that poisons this culture is, in this moment God was giving us another opportunity to demonstrate His grace.

We prayed that this time of suffering would somehow bring freedom and set them free from the bondage of legalism. I hope that as we love on them they will experience the real Jesus, his grace, and his church.

Praying for hope to rise from these ashes." - Brock Johnson

This is the kind of thing that can cause people to give up on church and even God for that matter. It is so sad and unfortunately it's not an isolated incident. It never ceases to amaze me how people can be so heartless and manipulative all in the name of God and religion.

Now for the encouraging part...

As sad as this story is, I am encouraged that there are people out there who represent God differently. Those who love Jesus and genuinely desire to follow and serve Him in such a way that they show His love to others unconditionally.

The morning after this message was initially posted, I received an email informing me that someone from our small fellowship took it upon themselves to commit to raise the money to build a new home for Daniel and his family. That money has already come in and it is my hope and prayer that this family feels the love of Christ through this tangible gift, given in His name with no strings attached.

This world can be an ugly place at times. But be encouraged, you and I can make a difference. We have the ability to bring beauty out of ashes and joy in the midst of pain and heartache.

Live like Jesus, love like Jesus - Change the world! (check it out)

Monday, December 13, 2010

I don't really like church

A phrase that I often hear these days is "I don't really like church". That may not be an exact quote but I hear that communicated in different ways quite a bit. In fact, rumor has it that a pastor even said that from the stage this past Sunday ;)

Church has fallen out of favor with many today. Right now I am sitting in Panera and there is a guy sitting next to me and I am going to turn to him right now and ask him what he thinks about church and then I will write his response. Seriously, I am going to do this. Hold on.

OK, I did it, really I did. I found out the guy's name was Ron and the conversation went something like this...

Me: "hey, I'm sorry to bother you but can I ask you a question?"

Ron: "sure"

Me: "what do you think about church?"

Ron: "In what context?"

Me: "I don't know, I was just wondering what you thought about church. Do you go to church? What's your opinion of church in general?"

Ron: "Well, I became a Christian in 1986. At first when it was just me, Jesus and my Bible everything was great. Then I started going to church and it was OK for a while, I guess. Then after a while I started to see a lot of stuff and, well... I don't know. I know it is bad to say this but it got political, or maybe it was just people's egos that got in the way. The church ended up going through a split and some other stuff. So eventually I just stopped going."

Me: "That's hard."

Ron: "Yeah, it seemed like people had more bad things to say than good. For instance in my denomination people would really slam Catholics and I pretty much just listened and went along with it. Not too long ago a friend of mine was in a situation where he was really in need. The Catholics were the ones who helped him out. No questions asked, they just helped him in his time of need. They helped him when people from my denomination wouldn't lift a finger. If I were to talk to someone from that group now, I would be cordial. But I can tell you if they ever said anything bad about the Catholics I would tell them to take a hike!"

"So when it comes to church, I guess I can take it or leave it to tell you the truth."

Me: "Man, I'm sorry it sounds like you have seen some ugly stuff along the way..."

There was more to our conversation but I think you get the gist. Ron didn't come out and specifically say "I don't like church" but he clearly isn't big fan.

Our conversation was a good one and as it continued he reminisced about his time leading a small group for singles in the church he attended. He told me a few stories. Like the time after one of their meetings they all decided on a whim to just go swimming with all their clothes on. Then there was the time that they ended up helping a homeless guy. He had a smile on his face and you could tell it really meant something to him. He said that he misses that at times.

This makes sense to me because those are the things I love about "church". Not necessarily swimming with my clothes on, but being with people, doing life together and serving God. And the reality is that the things that turned Ron off, turn me off as well. In fact when he was finished he asked me what I thought about church. So I told him that as far as I could tell from reading the Bible, church is all about people. It was never described as a place or something we do, it is the people who gather. I went on to say that there are a lot of things about church that I don't like and that I wondered if God liked them either.

Can you believe it? What are the odds that I would get that kind of response from the first guy I ask? Unfortunately pretty good these days. When the church becomes an institution or an organization rather than the life giving organism described in the Bible, I think we are in trouble. That is where we find ourselves today. Many people see "church" as somewhere they go or this entity that has a life of it's own. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are the church and the church has life because we have life. The church reaches out to those in need, when we reach out to them. The church also can be inward and self absorbed if we become inward focused, self absorbed people.

While the "church" may not be at the top of the opinion polls today, Jesus is still held in high regard. His love is still compelling and His Spirit is still at work in people's lives. Just during a short conversation with Ron today, I saw a part of him come alive as he recounted the times that he was "being the church" with others. So what is going to take for him and others like him to reengage or engage for the first time? As simple as it sounds, I think that they need to meet Jesus. They need to meet the Jesus that is alive and well, living in His people, and they need to see the beauty of the church lived out before them. There are too many cheap substitutes these days, people are looking for the real thing.

Sometimes I talk to people about this and they say "what can I do?" It's really not rocket science, just start by doing the things that Jesus did. Show compassion to the poor. Find a way to help someone less fortunate than you. Extend grace to people who have been marginalized or shunned by society in some way. Extend love and forgiveness to someone who has hurt you and take time to pray for them. Turn to a guy or girl sitting next to you in a public place and ask a simple question like I did. Find a group of people to share your life with on a deep level. Be vulnerable. Live for God and His purposes the best you know how and don't hesitate to share your story with others.

If you do this be prepared. Be prepared to tell God's story of love and redemption expressed to us through Jesus. Because if you live like Him, people will be drawn to you and they will ask...

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..." 1 Peter 3:15

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Searching For True Religion?

I am in the middle of reading two pretty good books right now. Currently I am rereading "Searching For God Knows What" by Donald Miller and "True Religion" by Palmer Chinchen.

Chinchen does a good job of reminding us that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) He points out the ways that the "American church" has failed in this regard and challenges us to align our agendas with God's. He reminds us of the global horrors of pain and suffering that exist in our world today and challenges us to do something about it. It's a great book that I highly recommend.

As for Donald Miller, he is funny and does a great job of getting his point across in such a way that most anyone can understand and enjoy. Although I love his humor, I find a lot of depth in what he writes. In Searching For God Knows What, Miller talks about how our lives are a story and how God has written a story to help us understand the meaning of why we exist and what it is that we are all searching for.

What has stood out to me recently is how we have taken this beautiful love story found in the Bible, dissected it, and reduced it to a formula. Although we all like routines and formulas with predictable outcomes, relationships don't always work that way. God invites us into a relationship, not some formulaic religion. Although relationships can be messy, they are also exciting and exhilarating. This has helped to remind me of the relational side of our faith. It has also caused the Scripture come to life as I read it through a relational lens as opposed to a more academic approach. I understand that there is a need for both but I am convinced that although our theology must be good, it is worthless outside of a relationship with the creator.

All of that said, if you are looking for a good read check out either of these books. I think you will be both challenged and refreshed in the process.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

money, money, money...MONEY!

So as I look at the landscape of the American church and reflect on the things that God has been doing around me lately, I thought this would be a good time to put some thoughts out there on what is probably the most controversial topic in the church in America today - money. We all should be aware of the fact that money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Therefore how we approach this topic as well as how we handle money within the church is very important.

One of the biggest complaints that we hear from people outside the church is "all they want is your money." My suggestion is that before we try to counter this in any way, we simply admit that, yes there are churches, pastors and ministries out there that this would be true of. There are television ministries that exist for the sole purpose of raising money. There are churches that spend so much time talking about money and taking offerings that it would be hard to not conclude that it is the most important thing to them.

There are churches and pastors that do ridiculous things with money, that is reality. The fact that this reflects on the church as a whole, drives me crazy. Therefore, I have to say to those looking in with a jaded eye, "I understand your questions and concerns and I share many of them as well." There are a lot of things that we do in the church in America today that I simply do not understand. So much so, that maybe I should reserve that for a much deeper discussion which may fill many more pages, if you know what I mean. But for now let me just say that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and He has enough money to do all that He desires in and through His church. Does this mean that we are not called to give? No. Does it mean that we don't receive offerings? No. It simply means that we should give to him with a cheerful heart and not under compulsion as we are taught in Scripture (2cor. 9:7).

God desires for us to give and even give sacrificially. However for this to take place in a biblical way where there is no compulsion and with a cheerful spirit, one must have confidence in the people and place they are giving. The needs of people must come before bigger buildings and church budgets. We must have a global awareness of how rich the poorest person in America is, in comparison to the rest of the world. Church books should always be open and no question about church finances should ever be shunned. People shouldn't feel bad when they ask questions about where money goes. Answers should instill confidence and not more questions.

The lives of church leaders should look more like Jesus than they do the CEO of a company that is comparable in size to the church they lead. A humble spirit should accompany a modest lifestyle. I have heard people say crazy things to justify the extravagant lifestyles of some church leaders like "I am glad that my pastor is blessed, because that means I am going to be blessed as well." That is messed up on so many levels. First of all that's not biblical, that's prosperity propaganda. Also when we equate blessing solely with finances, we miss the fact that blessing can come even in the midst of trials, pain and poverty (take the lives of Jesus and all the apostles for example).

Jesus desires that we give him our lives. As we give him our lives, that means we submit our finances to him as well. We have an obligation to be good stewards. This applies to us as individuals as well as to the church as a whole. We are all on a journey of growing and following Jesus. The key is that we must be led in order to follow. When we are led by him and seek first his kingdom we are promised that all of our needs will be met (matt. 6:25-34). If our needs as individuals or as a church are not being met, I think the first step is to look at what we are seeking first and foremost. Are we building and seeking His Kingdom or our own?

I am so glad that I do not have to be a fund raiser for Jesus (as I was once told that all pastors need to be). It is hard enough to try to stay close to Him and follow His leading. I can't imagine having to try to raise funds to build giant facilities and support exorbitant salaries.

To keep it simple, we must live for Jesus and use the money that He gives us to do the things that He calls us to do. When that is happening there will be no need for arm twisting and manipulation. People will see the beauty of serving, loving and giving to those in need and they will find that attractive.

We would all do well to remember the following verse...

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." - Matthew 6:24



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Alive and well...

Since it has been about 3 months since I have blogged I thought I would at least write and let anyone who may read this know that I am alive and I am well. To be perfectly honest it has been a strange couple of months. My role has expanded from pastor to project manager and even amateur, hack, construction worker as we renovated our new building. It has made for an interesting time to say the least. I am very grateful for the blessing of our new facility and I will share that story another time. However I have also seen how easy it is for church people and pastors to get caught up in things like buildings etc.

What I have realized is that while it is nice to have a cool place to gather, it should never take precedent of the mission of God in the lives of His people and His Church. With that said, I am ready to go Guatemala to serve the poorest of the poor with a group of Kingdom minded people with huge hearts. We leave in the AM and will be back in a week. Pray for the leading of God's Spirit and for His will to be done as we show the tangible love of Jesus to those we come in contact with.

Oh and don't forget that simply living in America marks us among the richest people in the world. We are also some of the loneliest and most medicated people as well. Go figure...

"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" Luke 9:25

Monday, April 26, 2010



So what does love look like?

Love looks like a person who sees a woman on the side of the road with her two children and feels a compulsion to stop, so they do. Love looks like a guy who decides to take blankets downtown to offer to those on the streets on a cold winter night. Love looks like a group of people who decide that it is more important to build houses for those living in third world abject poverty than it is to invest in a bigger building for their growing church. Love looks like a wife and mother who makes it her mission to see human slavery abolished in her lifetime. Love looks like someone who gives anonymously to the couple who are out of work during economically challenging times. Love looks like those who don’t give up on the drug addict who continues to fall time and time again but expresses a desire to be free. Love looks like a founding pastor who walks away from a big established church after sixteen years of ministry with a group of people, because he feels led to take a step of faith into something unknown.

Love looks like people who choose to die to themselves to do things like those stated above, expecting nothing in return.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Ultimately love looks like Jesus.

When we look at the life of Jesus we see that his love is very different than ours. Rarely do we love people without expecting anything in return. Even if it is a simple “thank you” we expect there will be some reciprocation for our love. Jesus loved people, period. He loved with no strings attached. He expressed love to people who had no ability to repay him. He loved simply because it was the right thing to do.

Freely we receive love and freely we should give. I think that would make the world a better place.


Friday, January 29, 2010


Well since it has been two months to the day since my last post I figured I ought to say something...

I am in awe of the things that I see God do in this world. I know there are a lot of people out there (maybe reading this) that don't even believe He exists and that baffles me in some ways and in others I totally understand. It baffles me because of the beauty and many miracles that are seen throughout creation. I guess it all could be by chance but honestly I don't have enough faith to believe that. I have also seen God interact in "my world" on numerous occasions in ways that I would have to deny my very being in order to chalk it up as coincidence. On the other hand I have witnessed things done in the name of God that are nothing short of evil. So I do understand how people could look on at the church and people who claim to represent God, with a jaded eye.

I'm a pastor and I am far from perfect. However my heart's desire is to please God and to love the people that He puts me in contact with, so that in someway I might reflect His glory in this world. We live in a kingdom that is full of pain, sickness, heartache and death and I believe that God would have those of us who follow Him, do our best to help alleviate that by expressing His love and grace to people in their time of need.

Today I heard a story that broke my heart. I listened as a brother of mine shared how he was treated by a man who claims to follow and serve the same God as I. Without saying too much about what happened, let me just say that it was just WRONG. Now I'm not going to go so far as to say that this guy doesn't know God or serve God, but in this instance his actions looked nothing like the God that I know. When I see christians and particularly pastors doing things that serve nothing but their own self interest and egos, I begin to understand why there are so many people in our country who don't believe.

So tonight I simply wanted to say something to all of you who have been hurt, disappointed, letdown or abused by people who claim the name of Jesus...
I am sorry. I am sorry that you have experienced what you have, but I can tell you that there is a God and He looks and acts nothing like those who have wronged you. He is a God of love, grace and mercy and personally I rely on that everyday of my life.

It is my prayer that somehow His love and grace will breakthrough the pain and that the people of God would wake up and begin to live for that which really matters. God let it begin with me...