Why I Care About the Islamic Center in NYC

Lately I’ve been posting a lot of links to articles about the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve decided to take a little break from doing that, not because my convictions have changed, but because I’m afraid that if I post too many people will quit reading the articles. In case you haven’t seen the links, let me state my position clearly (in a bold font): I am strongly in favor of allowing Muslims in the United States to build Islamic centers, mosques, and any other meeting spaces they want to have. Why? Why as a Christian would I support building structures that will be used for Muslim worship services? Why do I even care about this issue enough to keep posting links and arguing in the comments section?

1. I have always been very sensitive to oppression in any form.

It’s always been easy for me to identify with the the little guy who’s being bullied by the ones with the power. As a teenager, I read Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. and even though I was a white guy living in a predominately white small town in the South, I began to care about civil rights. I recently read about the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the Europeans and was horrified by the blood I see on my own hands. I hear about Christians in China and Indonesia having to hide for fear of being killed and I hurt along with them as members of the same body.

And now I see Muslims in the United States – not terrorists, not supporters of terror, but peaceful Muslims who simply want to live their lives and practice their religion – being told by potbellied rednecks on TV that “our laws don’t apply to you.” I see victims of the terrorists in New York (many Muslims died that day too and all were profoundly wounded by the attacks) being told that they sponsored the very terrorists that stole their family members away. I see politicians and pundits attempting to deny Muslims one of the fundamental rights that our country was founded on – the right to practice your religion without government interference. I don’t care if you agree with the Muslims or not, but to deny them basic civil rights goes against everything our country stands for. It’s oppression of a minority group in what is supposed to be the most freedom loving country on earth and it’s wrong.

2. I can’t stand it when I see people use lies and fear to manipulate people’s emotions.

Muslims have become the new boogeyman in America, the people it’s socially acceptable to hate, and politicians and commentators have been quick to use this collective hatred to rally their supporters. They do this by lying and stirring up fear. The very name “Ground Zero Mosque” is an example of this tactic. There’s no mosque and it’s not being built at Ground Zero. Heck, when I first heard about the project I was against it and I think any rational person would be against building a mosque (or any worship center) in the hole left behind when the WTC fell. (Incidentally, there is a plan is to build something in that hole – a mall. Go capitalism!) So why do the opponents of this building call it the Ground Zero Mosque? Because it stirs up an immediate visceral emotional response and stirs up people’s fears of an imminent Muslim invasion.

Fear is a powerful emotion and people know how to use it to get the desired results. The guy who tells his girlfriend that he’s going to leave if she doesn’t have sex with him is using fear. Church-sponsored “judgment houses” at Halloween attempt to scare  people into a relationship with Jesus. Tea Party leaders say our nation is being taken away from us by socialists, communists, Muslims, etc. and if we don’t do something about it the hammer and sickle will be flown at the White House, the Constitution will be replaced by Sharia law, and we’ll all be forced to have computer chips implanted inside of us to buy or sell goods. Combine fear with lies and you can pretty much convince people of anything. People who oppose building mosques across the country regularly accuse the builders of supporting terrorists (even if they’ve publicly denounced terrorism and worked to fight against it). Supporters of these projects are called un-American, deluded, naive, insensitive, and a host of other names.

As a Tennessean, I’m particularly embarrassed by false statements that have been made by politicians in the primary elections. Ron Ramsey declared Islam “a cult,” while Lou Ann Zelenik said that a proposed Islamic center in Murfreesboro (the town I live in) would be a “terrorist training center.” I wasn’t aware that terrorist training centers had swimming pools and basketball courts. I guess even radicals need a little breaks from planning world domination. Thankfully both these politicians were voted down, but their statements still rile up their constituents and fuel the flames of fear against Muslims. If you have to resort to lies and manipulation to support your position, your position must be pretty shaky in the first place.

3. Most importantly, if we deny Muslims the right to practice their religion peacefully, we  act unlovingly  and drive people away from the Gospel.

As Christian, my first response to any person should be one of love. That includes people I disagree with. To act differently is to directly disobey what Jesus called the greatest commandment: love God and love people. To quote Dr. David Gushee,  Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University:

For those mainly conservative Christians who are responding to this and other mosque projects with open expressions of anti-Muslim hatred, and open rejections of the principles of religious liberty from which Christians themselves daily benefit, shame on you! As a fellow Christian, I say that you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ, you directly disobey his command that we love our neighbors, and you drive the watching world even further away from any interest in the Gospel message!

As a Christian I benefit every day from the freedoms outlined in the Constitution. How can I deny others those same rights, even if I disagree with them? I truly believe that if we hope to win over the hearts of the Muslim people we must show love and understanding, and that means stopping the needless protests, the name-calling, and the generalizing that I see so much of. I hear pundits talking about remembering the feelings of the victims’ families, but we must also remember that on 9/11 many Muslims in that neighborhood also lost loved ones. Rather than acknowledging their pain and seeing that this center is part of their emotional healing, we instead lump them in with the very people who caused so much pain in the first place. We will only win people by showing love, not fighting.

If you’re interested, here are the links I’ve been posting about the issue:
The leader of proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero defends his plan
Controversy at Ground Zero
There Is Already a Mosque Less Than a Mile From Ground Zero
Why Building the Mosque is Good for America!
Islam has long history downtown
The Shameful Mosque Controversy
Olbermann: There Is No ‘Ground Zero Mosque’
“The Mosque at Ground Zero”

How Forgiven is Forgiven? A Blog Sermon

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

I haven’t posted in over a month, so I decided I wanted my next post to be a good one. After a great discussion in Sunday School yesterday morning, I realized what I wanted to do. It’s a long one so hold on tight…

A year or so ago, I preached to the youth and after I finished one of the adults came to me and told me that he was disappointed about the sermon. I was a little disturbed by this and asked him why. He responded, “Because this sermon is something the whole church needs to hear, not just the youth.” Since I longer have a pulpit, a blog will have to do.

I think that 1 John 1:9 is possibly one of the most harmfully misused verses in the Bible. Sure lots of verses get taken out of context and cause confusion, but the way that this verse is often used cripples believers in their walk with Jesus and buries them under a pile of guilt. Many of you have been told that in order to stay right with God, when we sin, all we have to do is confess and he’ll forgive us. If we don’t confess those sins and receive that forgiveness, we end up “out of fellowship” with God and he doesn’t hear our prayers. When we sin, God still loves us and our salvation is still intact, but he’s not going to talk with us until we “get right with God” and deal with our “unconfessed sin.” Therefore, we often live lives characterized by guilt, sure that God isn’t listening to us anymore because he’s so disgusted with us.

I had a seminary professor who calls this “Protestant Penance.” Catholics to confess the priest and the priest punishes them for their sin; Protestants confess to God and punish themselves. If I had to guess, I’d say that about 95% of my prayers in high school began with “Lord please forgive me for ________.” But is this what the Bible says the Christian life is supposed to look like? Does God want us to feel guilty? I’ll get back to 1 John 1:19 in a little bit but first, let’s see what else the Bible says about sin, guilt, and forgiveness.

From Temptation to Condemnation

When Satan wants to mess with a Christian, he uses two opposite strategies. The one we’re most familiar with is temptation. He coaxes and persuades us, leading us toward sin. He wants us to sin, but once we cross that line and commit a sin, he switches gears.

“See? I knew you were no good. You’re disgusting!”

“Can you really call yourself a Christian after doing that?”

“God can never use a weak, pitiful sinner like you.”

The Hebrew word that we translate is as Satan is ha-Satan a.k.a. “the accuser.” Satan first tempts us to sin and then destroys us with guilt because of that sin. And to make it even worse, he convinces us that God is the one accusing us and beating us down. Romans 8:1-2 tells a different story:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

No condemnation! God does not condemn those who are in Jesus. Instead or condemnation and guilt, we have freedom. This freedom is made possible because we are forgiven, our sins are no longer on us, we have the righteousness of Christ, and we are now at peace with God. But how forgiven are we really? When a person becomes a Christian, God forgives them of their sin because Jesus took their punishment on himself at the cross. Does that forgiveness only cover the sins committed prior to conversion so that a Christian must continually go back to God begging for forgiveness in order to stay in a right relationship with God?

How Forgiven Are We?

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14) (emphasis mine)

How forgiven are we? Our sins are so far removed from us, as far as the east is from the west, and God remembers them no more. Does that mean God actually forgets? No, but he doesn’t hold our sins against us and when he looks at us he doesn’t see those sins anymore. He sees us like he sees Jesus… completely, totally, perfectly righteous! When God forgives sin, he forgives ALL our sin. That’s ALL of them – past, present, and future. The sins we committed before conversion were forgiven but so were all of the sins he hadn’t even committed yet! I know I’m going to sin in someway tomorrow, but that sin is already taken care of, forgiven, and God won’t hold it against me or pull away from me because of it. I don’t have to go back to God to confess and ask for forgiveness; instead, I can praise him for having already forgiven me!

But What About 1 John 1:9?

See, I told you I’d get back here eventually. This verse says we have to confess our sins to to receive forgiveness, right? So we need to get out our lists every day and start fessing up if we want to stay right with God, right? Wrong. Let’s look at the verse in context with the rest of the passage.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

John wrote this letter to deal with the problem of some false teachers called the Gnostics. One of the claims that these false teachers were making was that they were sinless. In the passage above, John is warning his readers that those who say that they aren’t sinners are lying to themselves. Instead, we should humble ourselves and confess our sinfulness and receive God’s forgiveness. In the Greek language, the words “forgive” and “cleanse” mean past actions that have results today and will continue to have results in the future. This is not a continual cycle of confession and forgiveness. When we come to God and confess our sinfulness, we are forgiven. Period. From ALL unrighteousness.

When we’re cleansed of our unrighteousness and clothed in the righteousness of Christ, our sins are taken care of completely. This obsession with confession keeps us focused on our selves and our sins instead of focusing on the one who has already taken those sins away. Sin doesn’t make God turn his back on us or separate us from him. He doesn’t hold our sins against us anymore.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

So What Do We Do?

This might have shaken you up a little. If you believe what I’ve been saying here, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do now. You know you’re going to sin and you feel like you need to do something to make up for it. After I taught this before someone told me that they still wanted to confess and ask for forgiveness because it made this feel better. I guess that’s okay, but realize that it’s really more of a psychological trick to make you feel better about what you did than anything that actually affects your relationship with God. So what do we do?

First off, realize that you don’t have to do anything to stay in favor with God. There is nothing you can possibly do that will make God love you any less or any more. You can sin in the most blatant obviously way possible and God’s not going to love you less. You can sell all of your possessions, move halfway across the world, and devote your life to spreading the gospel to sick children in a third world country and God’s not going to love you more. God doesn’t play favorites. So when you sin, realize you already have the favor of God, he still loves you as much as he ever will, he’s still committed to being in a relationship with you, and you don’t have to do anything to restore that relationship because it’s not actually broken.

Secondly, if you’re feeling guilty, check to see where that guilt is coming from. Are your feelings driving you to change for the better or are they beating you down, making you feeling hopeless and useless? Sorrow over sin that leads to repentance is a good thing, but guilt is not. God does not make you feel guilty. Instead he convicts you to spur you onward toward change. Godly sorrow makes you turn away from sin and work to be more holy; worldly guilt makes you give up.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11)

Finally, when you sin, stop doing whatever it was that you were doing and go on with your life. Thank God that he loves you and that that he has forgiven you before you messed up. Remind yourself that you have freedom from sin and guilt and you cannot be accused by the one who wants to destroy you. Celebrate that God doesn’t require you to do or be anything other than who you are in order to gain his favor. Smile knowing that spiritually, you’re just as righteous as Jesus himself and that is the way that God looks at you. And live in his peace, his joy, and his freedom.

Are you excited knowing that when you say your prayers tonight, you can spend a lot more time on thanks than begging for forgiveness? Do you feel more freedom after reading this? Got your pitchforks out ready to string me up as a heretic? The comments section is your place to share.

Unprofessional Christian

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing something that I haven’t done since I was in college. I’ve been going to church on Sunday without being paid for being there. I don’t have to go if I don’t want to. But I actually do want to be there. I even want to serve and I don’t want or expect any money for doing it.

I’ve gone amateur.

I’m not saying that the paycheck was the only reason I went to church when I was on staff, but when going to church is also going your job, it’s impossible not to occasionally have mixed motives. For example, when the average church member misses a church service, they are missed and prayed for. When one of the ministers on staff misses a Sunday, the same things happen, but they also use a vacation day or a sick day. They must refer to the employee handbook to see exactly how many absences are allowed without it affecting their pay. For a minister, missing a day at church is not only missing out on worship and fellowship, but it’s also a business decision that could affect their career.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that.

I realize that every paid job involves hours, absences, time sheets, and all that other administrative stuff, but this is church. Church should be different, right? But it gets even more complicated that. Not only is a minister’s church involvement affected by the job, but the minister’s own spiritual health can get mixed up in the pursuit of a paycheck.

According to a Barna poll, 70% of pastors admit that the only time they study the Word is when they’re preparing for a lesson. Even more, when a church member is struggling with sin, they can go to their Sunday School class or small group and pour out their hearts to get support and encouragement. However, when you’re on staff in a congregationally governed church, those small group members are not only your friends and companions, they’re also you’re employers. Most people only have one or maybe even two bosses to keep happy, but a minister has hundreds and they hold the power to hire and fire you. A minister who confesses their struggles to the church at large could be putting their job on the line (depending on how invincible a congregation wants their ministers to appear.)

So because they need to keep that job, many ministers hold it all inside, putting on a strong outward appearance to keep anyone from seeing their weakness. Then, because they have no one to turn to, the sin in their life is free to fester. Maybe that’s why 50% of pastors polled say they are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry, but they stay because they don’t have any other way to make a living. Sometimes, they keep their job by forfeiting their soul.

I hate talking about church using terms like “paycheck,” “employer,” and “professional.” The church is not a business, but it’s easy to forget that when church is your job. It’s easy to become a professional Christian. I’m definitely not opposed to paying ministers; they work extremely hard and deserve to be compensated. I admire the godly men who are able to serve on a church staff without letting the job (or the fear of losing it) take over their spiritual lives. I just personally am happy being an amateur for now.

If you’re interested in reading more about those statistics and the pressure that ministers face in their jobs, I strongly encourage you to read Mark Driscoll’s Death by Ministry series, compiled here in a handy PDF file.

The Care and Feeding of Your Youth Minister

To avoid any confusion, here’s a quick disclaimer: this is not based solely my personal experience though that has definitely colored my perception. From what I’ve heard, this can apply pretty much across the board.

So you’ve decided to add a youth minister to your life… Congratulations! Your life is about to get a lot more exciting. Youth ministers can be wild and unpredictable, but also very loving and affectionate. Taking care of your youth minister does entail some special considerations. Left on their own, the average life-span of a youth minister is frequently only 18 months or less, but with proper care, your youth minister may last much longer. In the right circumstances, some have been known to thrive for 20-30 years!

Bringing Your Youth Minister Home

• Be careful of the environment where you place your youth minister. Make sure that the environment is open and comfortable, allowing your youth minister a lot of freedom. Youth ministers thrive in environments with a high amount of freedom.

• If you have had several youth ministers in a row, all with short lifespans, it may be that the environment has been poisoned. Don’t place all the blame on the youth ministers that haven’t lasted. Though it may look like a good environment from the outside, some seem specifically designed to kill youth ministers.

• Do not isolate your youth minister.

• When pairing your youth minister with a pastor, a good match can greatly enhance the life of your youth minister by adding companionship and support. Be warned though, a bad pairing can greatly shorten the youth minister’s lifespan. In fact, if they don’t get along, pastors often are the ones who kill the youth minister.

• The office may be your pastor’s preferred habitat, but too much time in an office may make your youth minister suffocate.

Feeding Your Youth Minister

• It is often assumed that your youth minister will feed himself. While this is true to a degree, youth ministers still need to be fed by others. Many people simply drop their youth minister off in their environment and then ignore them until they starve or until something goes wrong.

• Youth ministers can be fed on the job in many ways: encouragement, listening, support, prayer, volunteering, and others. Make sure you also feed them outside of their job through friendship and relationship.

• Youth ministers often spend so much time feeding students that they forget to eat. Make sure that they have plenty of meals and plenty of time to eat them.

Important Considerations:

• Remember that your youth minister is an individual and may be very different than other youth ministers you’ve had before. Don’t expect two youth ministers to do things in exactly the same way, even if one had success with their methods in the past.

• While youth ministers and senior pastors share many similarities, they are not the same thing.

• Youth ministers love building relationships with students, but just being with students is not enough. Though they may be close to students, they also need close relationships with adults.

• Following these tips does not guarantee that your youth minister will have a long life, but they will greatly increase the odds that your youth minister’s life with you will be happy and healthy.

So youth ministers (and youth ministry supporters), anything else you’d like to add?

Random Thoughts on Calling

Well, today was my first official weekday at home since I submitted my resignation as youth minister a few weeks ago. Being asked to resign shook me up pretty bad, and since that time, I’ve done a lot of thinking about calling. I’m not sure yet exactly what to think about it all right now but, here are some of the random thoughts I’ve been having. Feel free to add your thoughts to the mix.

When God calls you to something, does he necessarily call you forever? I feel very strongly that I was called to youth ministry almost a decade ago and I always assumed that was a lifelong call. However, I also feel like I was called to both of my last churches and those calls were only for a certain period of time. Could my call to youth ministry also be for a particular period of time after which I will be called to do something else?

Sometimes calling feels like a cage. Sometimes when somebody reminds me that I’ve been called to youth ministry, I hear, “You are stuck doing youth ministry until you drop over dead, whether you like it or not.”

There are times when I know that I was made to do what I’ve been doing. Yesterday night, my last youth service at FBC, was a really tense, emotional time for me until I stepped up on the stage to speak. When I preach, I’m in my zone. The tension vanished and I preached. I love preaching.

It’s easy to look at your future options when you feel like God is saying, “Do this.” It’s much more complicated when he says, “Look at the gifts and talents I gave you. Listen to the desires I placed within you. Now, what do you want to do with these things?” I’m not sure which method he uses more often. I definitely feel like I’ve had those “do this” moments, but I’m not sure that’s the way it always works.

I do believe that God has a plan for each of us, I’m just not as sure that he always lets us in on it. If God gives a direct “go” or “stop”, you should definitely listen, but I think sometimes, he’s a lot more subtle, drawing on your own talents and desires to show you his will.

Am I done with youth ministry? Probably not. I still feel called to reach out to young people, but I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to look.

More From Mike Yaconelli

I ran across another great quote from Mike Yaconelli at the close of Getting Fired for the Glory of God. I may come back to this with some commentary later, but for now, I’ll let it stand on its own.

When I was 20, I knew everything about Jesus. I swaggered into high schools afraid of no one’s arguments. The Bible was true, Jesus was God, and we all needed him. I still believe those things, but the swagger is more like a limp now. I know Jesus, but I don’t know much about him. I love the Bible–it’s even more true to me today than it was 40 years ago–but the truth I see is now more complicated and mysterious. Jesus is very real to me, but he’s also very elusive. Sometimes I wonder if I’m following him, or he’s following me. Life has left its scars on me. My soul is thick and leathery, faded and torn, knocked around a lot. I’m not as sure about things as I used to be.

Yet here’s the amazing part, the one absolute I cannot shake: Jesus.

As many times as I have disappointed him, as often as I have run from him, he hasn’t given up on me. Every time I turn around, he’s there. Every time I run from him, he’s there.

I don’t know as much about Jesus as I used to, but I know one thing for sure: He’s closer.

The Truth Shall Make You Odd

Okay, so I didn’t actually write this post but it was so good that I had to share it. I’m spending this morning reading some writings by Mike Yaconelli from Getting Fired for the Glory of God. Unfortunately I didn’t discover Mike until after he had already died in 2003, but his words have touched and inspired me more times than I can count. Mike was the kind of wild, messy youth minister that I would love to be. Read the article (written to youth ministers) and if it resonates watch the video clip below to get a peek at this crazy man who challenges and encourages me every time I hear him.

The Truth Shall Make You Odd
Mike Yaconelli

What characterizes Christianity in the modern world is its odd-ness. Christianity is home for people who are out of step, unfashionable, unconventional and counter-cultural. As Peter says, “strangers and aliens.”

I pastor the slowest growing church in America. We started twelve years ago with 90 members and have un-grown to 30. We’re about as far as you can get from a “user friendly” church-not because our congregation is unfriendly, but because our services are unpredictable, unpolished and inconsistent.

We’re an “odd-friendly” church, attracting unique and different followers of Christ who make every service a surprise. We refuse to edit oddness and incompetence from our services. We believe our oddness matters. We want our service filled with mistakes and surprises, because life is full of mistakes and surprises.

One Sunday morning, during the time for prayer requests, a member began describing the critical illness of her father. Because she was close to her father, her request for prayer was frequently interrupted by tears. Those around her reached out a hand or nodded with sadness. Some found their eyes filling with tears as well. The woman finished her request as best as she could.

Seated in the front row was Sadie-a young woman with Down’s syndrome. Sadie stood and walked up the aisle until she saw the woman in the middle of her row. Stepping over the feet of other people in the aisle, Sadie reached the woman, bent down on her knees, laid her head on the woman’s lap, and cried with her.

Sadie “inconvenienced” an entire row of people, stepped on their shoes, and forced them to make room for her . but none of us will ever forget that moment. Sadie is still teaching the rest of us what the odd compassion of Christ’s church looks like.

Someone said “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” Whoever made that statement understood what it means to be a follower of Christ. Followers of Christ are odd. Oddness is important because it’s the quality that adds color, texture, variety, and beauty to the human condition. Christ doesn’t make us the same. What He does is affirm our differentness.

Oddness is important because the most dangerous word in Western culture is “sameness.” Sameness is a virus that infects members of industrialized nations and causes an allergic reaction to anyone who’s different. This virus affects the decision-making part of our brain, resulting in an obsession with making the identical choices that everyone else is making.

Sameness is a disease with disastrous consequences-differences are ignored, uniqueness is not listened to, our gifts are canceled out, and the place where life, passion, and joy reside are snuffed out.

Sameness is the result of sin. Sin does much more than infect us with lust and greed; it flattens the human race, franchises us, attempts to make us all homogeneous. Sameness is the cemetery where our distinctiveness dies. In a sea of sameness, no one has an identity.

But Christians do have an identity. Aliens! We’re the odd ones, the strange ones, the misfits, the outsiders, the incompatibles. Oddness is a gift of God that sits dormant until God’s spirit gives it life and shape. Oddness is the consequence of following the One who made us unique, different . and in His image!

May our youth ministries be the home of oddness, the place where differentness is encouraged, where sameness is considered a sin, so that the image of our holy and odd God will be lifted up for all to see.

Anybody Want to Buy My House?

For my friends who don’t go to First Baptist Lebanon and for those of you who missed the service tonight, I want to let you know that at the end of this evening’s service, I resigned from my position as Youth and Children’s Minister. I did so after talking with the pastor and the personnel team who felt that those ministries needed a fresh start. Despite the fact that I was not expecting this decision, I have no hard feelings towards anyone involved. They are simply doing what they think is best for the church and, in the end, I believe that this could be best for me and my family as well.

I’ve enjoyed my time on staff at FBC and the friendships I’ve made there, but if you’ve been reading my blog lately you know that I am not your typical youth pastor and ultimately we simply had too many differences in ministry philosophy and style. Like I said, and it’s worth saying again (in bold font), I am not upset with anyone at the church nor do I have any hard feelings towards any of the church leadership. They are all great men and it has been a privilege to work with them. Resigning this evening was hard and I’m sorry for the people who were shocked or hurt by my announcement, but I do feel that it was the right thing to do.

So what’s next for me? Honestly, I have no idea.

I do know that despite not having a job, I do have some pretty great things going for me right now. I’ve got the God who will never leave me or forsake me. I’ve got my amazing wife who has been right by my side through this whole thing. (Read all her blogs from the week leading up to this announcement here, here, here, and here… she’s awesome!) I’ve got three smiling happy kids who help me keep my perspective. I asked Ben the other day if he wanted to go live in a brand new house and said, “Yeah!” jumping up and down and laughing the whole time. For him, change, even big change, is just the start of a new adventure.

Alanna and I are looking at the possibility moving back to my hometown of Sparta. Houses cost a lot less there and we have lots of friends and family nearby to help us get going. Since graduation I have lived wherever my career has taken me, but I would like to put down some roots now, choosing where to live first and then seeing what jobs are available in the area. Thanks to a particularly crappy job market at the moment, I can’t afford to be picky with where I find my paycheck though. For now, I’m open to anything. So (again in bold font)…

If you live in or around Sparta (or anywhere else in Middle Tennessee) and you know of any available jobs, please let me know immediately.

Seriously, I am open to any and all suggestions. As far as credentials go, I’ve got a B.A. in History and English and seven years experience working with teenagers in ministry. I am skilled in digital desktop publishing and graphic design (but no coding yet). Also, I can make some pretty awesome coffee drinks that end in “cino.” For now though, I just need to find a job, so I don’t have to work in those fields if that’s not where the jobs are.

Also, another big deal coming up in the near future will be selling our current house. It’s a great little house but it’s more than we will be able to afford soon, so we really need a buyer soon. Next Saturday (March 20), we’re going to have a painting party to bring back the beige that seems to be all the rage with house hunters. If you’re in the area, we’d love to have your help. Just bring a roller and a paint tray and we will find you a wall. I’ll be cooking up a couple of awesome homemade pizzas as payment for your hard work so come out and help us get this place in shape.

It’s pretty weird to be floating freely like we are right now, not knowing where we’re going or what we’re going to do when we get there. I’ve gone through plenty of other major life transitions in the past, but in those cases we were always transitioning from one place/position/paycheck to another one that was already waiting. Now, I just have to trust that God is going to provide for our needs.

And I do trust Him. Most of the time. As the great Rich Mullins said, “Surrender don’t come natural to me.” Man, I struggle with this one sometimes, even though I know God has never let me down in the past. Sometimes I trust people too easily (like the guy who managed to get $80 out of me for his “broken car”) but I struggle to trust the one who always keeps His promises. If He cares about feeding sparrows and clothing lilies, I know He’ll take care of me.

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me

Odd Man Out: God Bless the Weirdos

Main Entry: mis•fit, n. 1: something that fits badly 2: a person who is poorly adapted to a situation or environment. See also: outcast, outsider, oddball, weirdo, fish out of water, square peg

One of my earliest clear memories was when I was a little boy, probably around six years old, and one of my friends said to me, “You’re weird.”

I said thank you.

I still like being weird. You probably wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I still don’t always fit in very well. I never really have. That doesn’t really bother me 99% of the time. I like being different, charting my own course, marching to the beat of a different drum, [insert cliché about being different here]. In high school, the land of the cliques, I was much happier floating around on the fringes of a bunch of different groups without ever landing in any one of them. Drama, chorus, yearbook… not exactly a recipe for coolness, but I loved it.

The only time this “otherness” bothers me is when I come to church. In my last post, I talked about how people with political views that aren’t GOP have trouble finding their place in many churches, but you don’t have to be a socialist to not fit in in church. I have been in Sunday morning services where I feel like a band geek in a room full of jocks and cheerleaders. I don’t dress the same, act the same, listen to the same music, read the same authors, or watch the same movies. I couldn’t care less about sports but the sermon is filled with football analogies. I’m quiet a lot of the time, not working the crowd shaking hands and filling up the air with small talk. During handshaking time, friends seek each other out and say they’re glad to see each other while I shake hands with the pastor. After church, everybody goes out for lunch together while I head home.

I want to be part of the family but sometimes I feel like the black sheep.

And I know there are other people just like me. They visit a church and before the organist has finished playing the prelude they already know that they don’t fit in. They’re (let’s just say “we,” not “they,” cause I’m part of this group too) the artists, the poets, the creative types who think out of the box, and we just can’t seem to find our place among other Christians. This doesn’t mean that we don’t love Jesus madly. We do. And it really doesn’t even mean that we don’t love the church. We do, but often we feel like the church doesn’t love us back. We feel like a kid who has just been told he’s not cool enough to sit at the lunch table with the popular kids. Church is about the only place where I really do want to fit in, but that just doesn’t happen very often.

Out of context or not, I like the Bible verses that say that Christians are “peculiar people” and “aliens” (thanks, KJV!) That resonates with me. I Iove the others out there like me. Jesus said that all could come to him, not just the ones who have managed to navigate the complicated social waters of the church. Who did Jesus spent most of his time with? Outcasts. Loners. Losers. The people shunned by society and rejected by the church.

So God bless the weirdos, the freaks, the non-conformists, the band geeks and yearbook nerds, the kids in all black and dark eyeliner, the hippie girls who wear organic cotton skirts and don’t shave their legs or under their arms, the indie music snobs…

God bless the kids who would rather be on stage in a costume than on a court in a uniform, the guys who know fashion and the girls who fix cars, the artists whose work will never be sold in the front of a Christian bookstore…

God bless the guys who can’t stand to wear a suit on Sundays, the church members who don’t vote Republican but don’t put bumper stickers on their car for fear of being branded a heretic, the A/V guys who hang out in the back of the sanctuary and run the soundboard…

God bless the sinners and the Samaritans, the unclean and the lepers, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the “peculiar people,” and the “aliens.”

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

Blogging, Self-Censoring, and Youth Ministry

Holy cow! Is Jody really posting a new blog? Yes, yes I am.

Inspired by my amazing wife’s new blog, I think I’m going to give this thing another shot. You see, I used to post fairly regularly but somewhere along the way something changed. My early blog posts were passionate manifestos about life and the church. I confessed to sins and struggles while challenging traditions and taboos for what a youth minister could write about publicly (a few examples here, here, here, here, and oh my goodness here.) What changed? Did I mellow out a little as I got older? Did I realize I was going nuts over stuff that didn’t really matter? Did I just get less cocky? Some, but that’s not the main reason my blog cooled down and eventually died.

I started going to a church where church members know how to use the internet.

At my last church, where the average member could tell you personal stories about WWI, I could post my thoughts and feelings in relative anonymity. Heck, I taught the pastor how to use email. No matter what I posted (“Sex is good!” “Obama might not be the devil!” “The church does stupid stuff sometimes!”), I didn’t have to worry about any repercussions. But once people in my church could actually read what I was writing, I got timid.

You see, as a youth minister, I’ve never really felt what you might call “job security.” From what I’ve seen and heard, youth ministers are apparently very fireable. I would hate for a blog post to be the reason I’m flipping burgers to feed my family. However…

I don’t think faking it is the right way to be a minister. I don’t think the way to do church is for me to simply be silent when I feel like I’m in the minority. I don’t feel like I can live up to my calling without be authentic.

So I’m going to start posting again, this time with freedom. I know people will read it and will probably disagree with me at times, but I pray that where we have differences, grace will abound. I preach about being the person that God designed you to be and not letting other people’s opinions be the main governing factor in your life… I think it’s time I lived up to that as well.