honoring god with our bodies

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Let’s face it, most of us need to be in better shape. I’m including myself in the “most of us.” I recently got a letter in the mail from my insurance company talking about the average health of most ministers. 76% of ministers are overweight or obese, compared to 61% of the population as a whole. According to studies most ministers:

  • Work more than 60 hours a week.
  • Exercise less than 30 minutes a week.
  • Have above average stress, weight gain, and depression.
  • Are at high risk for heart disease.
  • Experience regular gastro-intestinal problems.
  • Report low morale or exhaustion.

I think it’s a tragedy that many ministers who could have had long fruitful ministries are being cut down years too early because of preventable health problems. That, along with a recent stress related health scare*, is why I’m making a vow to do something about it. I don’t want to be a statistic, and even more, I don’t want my ministry to end suddenly just because I was too busy to spend time in the gym and I couldn’t resist that second helping.

Bad health is not just a problem for ministers though. Remember that statistic I quoted in the first paragraph. 61% percent of the population is overweight or obese. Even if that’s not you, if you honest with yourself, you probably need to work out a little more. The church is all about helping people become spiritually healthy, but we’re supposed to honor God with our whole lives and that includes honoring God with our bodies. (For more about the theology involved in physical fitness, check out this post over at The Resurgence.) That’s why I’m looking at the idea of starting some kind of program for youth and a adults to help us get in shape together. No major commitments, just some accountability and encouragement with occasional times of working on this thing together.

This idea is just in it’s infancy right now, but is it something you’d be interested in doing? Is your health something you’re even interested in at all? Answer the poll and leave me some comments to let me know whether or not this is something worth looking at.

*I don’t want to worry anybody. Nothing serious happened, I just found out the fun physical manifestations of too little sleep and too much stress.

Annoyances or Opportunities?

Yesterday as I was unloading groceries into the back of my van in Wal-Mart’s parking lot, a young man asked if he could take my cart when I finished getting everything out. I assumed he was going to use it himself and wanted to do a good deed at the same time, so I said sure. It was a hot day and that would save me the walk. That’s when I looked up and saw his dark tie, white shirt, and dark pants. He was wearing a small name tag on his lapel that said he was with the Church of Latter Day Saints.

“Great,” I thought, “he’s a Mormon. He caught me off guard while I was looking in the cart or I would have walked away. Here comes the sales pitch.”

He introduced himself and I introduced myself as Jody, the youth minister at First Baptist Church, hoping that throwing around my religious credentials would dissuade him from trying to convert me. Instead, he surprised me by saying that he hoped I didn’t have anything that would melt on the way home since it was such a hot day. He told me that he was on his two year mission and that he had just arrived in town a couple of months ago. Then he surprised me even more by saying that if I ever needed any help with anything, like mowing my yard, to feel free to ask him or any of the other Mormon missionaries. He gave me a big smile and told me to have a nice day, taking my cart and leaving it in the closest cart return spot. No sales pitch, no argument about how the Book of Mormon is just as important as the Bible, just putting up a cart for someone on a very hot day.

As I drove home, a couple of things struck me about this short exchange. The first was my own lousy attitude in assuming that talking with this guy would be a waste of my time and wanting to avoid any contact with him. I was so wrapped up in myself and what I had to do that I was going out of my way to avoid people who might be “annoyances” instead of seeing people that way that God sees them and looking for opportunities to show love.

The second thought followed quickly behind, “I know why the Mormons are getting so many converts while biblical churches are struggling.” This guy was genuinely nice and helpful. He was friendly and didn’t mind going out of his way to help others. He was spending two years of his life not pursuing an education or trying to get girls, but going to a strange city to help put grocery carts up and share a little about his faith with others.

A couple of years ago, Alanna and I went to Salt Lake City and while we were there, we went downtown to the Tabernacle, the headquarters of the LDS Church. Again, I was struck by the friendliness and the willingness to take time and talk with a stranger. How does a stranger feel when they walk into our church? Are they struck by our friendliness or do they leave without being noticed? Do people take time to genuinely talk with them, or is interacted limited to a quick handshake?

When people see Christians out in the world, the malls, the schools, the Wal-Mart parking lots, what impression do we give? I fear that many times, the only thing visibly “Christian” about us when we go out is our bumper stickers. When we witness, do we share ourselves and our God, or do we pass out tracts and read from a script?

It makes me sad when I encounter people like this young man, first because these wonderful Mormon people are being deceived by the enemy, and most Christians don’t care enough to share the truth with them. Even worse, it makes me sad to see how much more effective Mormons are in interacting with the world than most Christians. We must be willing to go out of our way to share our lives with others and show them love. It’s inconvenient. It’s uncomfortable. But for many people, our lives and our attitudes may be the first glimpse of Jesus some people ever see.

Why We Talk About Sex So Much

As most of you parents know, the message last week at our High Voltage service was about sex. After service, I sent the students home a pretty thick packet of information… about sex. Thursday night at Pause, again the topic was sex. Why so much emphasis on sex? Teenagers know to wait, right?

A couple of days ago I ran across an article on MSN’s (Microsoft’s) front page, an editorial piece titled “In Defense of Losing Your Virginity”. This article pretty much contradicted everything I had taught the youth the week before.

The article was written in response to an incident at the MTV Video Music Awards. A good portion of the host’s comedic material centered on the Jonas Brothers’ public stance on sexual purity. All three of these pastor’s kids wear a promise ring and have vowed to remain celibate until marriage. The author of this article believes that the host was right to challenge the boy’s decision, calling their purity rings a “sham” and stating that saving sex is not only an unreasonable expectation, but that it is actually a harmful idea. Unbelievably, the author asserts that abstaining from sex puts teens at an increased risk of getting pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

“Plenty of studies have shown that promoting abstinence fails, and that teens who try this route are less likely to use contraception, making them more likely to become pregnant or infected with preventable sexually transmitted diseases.”

Additionally, the author insists that even if a person is successful in saving sex for marriage, they are more likely to end up in a bad marriage than their sexually active peers.

“But the idea of saving it for marriage is only so useful, and it’s the sort of thing that will no doubt lead to starter marriages between horny 18-year-olds who don’t have any idea what “till death do you part” really means.”

Even worse than the article were the comments that readers left. While some did stand up for those who choose to remain sexually pure, many others applauded the author for telling the “truth” and continued to mock those students who wait.

This article was featured prominently on the front page on MSN.com, not on some obscure blog that few will ever read. Teenagers are getting messages about sex everyday, some subtle, some very direct. It’s is imperative that the we present them with a different vision than the world’s. I say “we” because this has to be a joint effort of parents and the church to teach our children and youth the truth about sex in a world gone sexually mad. Teenagers need to know why waiting is so important, so that when they face temptation, they have something stronger to fall back on than “My dad/mom/youth pastor said it’s wrong.” The world believes that teenagers are going to have sex and that there’s nothing that can be done to stop them. We must challenge that message and show our teens that there is a better way.

Subculture?

Originally posted on my MySpace blog.

I’m always excited when I hear a Christian artist getting some radio play on a secular station. I was especially excited on my way to work this morning though because I hear two underground Christian artists getting some play on my favorite radio station, 90.3 WUTK, the University of Tennessee’s college radio station. College radio is great because you never know what you’ll hear. They’re willing to take risk and play stuff you’re definitely never going to hear on top 40 corporate radio.

When I flipped over to the station, I heard a hip hop song that I thought was pretty awesome and then midway through the song the guy gave shout outs to Deepspace5 and Lightheaded. I love these groups, soI called the station and found out the song was by Ohmega Watts, a member of the Lightheaded crew that I just discovered a few weeks ago. A couple of songs later, I heard the unmistakable sound of Danielson. If you’ve never experienced the Danielson Famile, well, it’s definitely an experience. To hear such great music by Christian artists stuck in next to a song with the F-bomb bleeped out at least once every 30 seconds was a pretty cool experience. Maybe someone hears that song and, just like me, calls to find out who the artist is. Maybe that artist then influences their life in someway through the message of the music. That’s what Christian music should be all about. Listen to good Christian artists. Listen to college radio (and don’t let corporate radio tell you what songs you should like.) Request good Christian music on their request line.

Anyway, all this to say, these artists wouldn’t be getting any play if they weren’t putting out music that’s up to par with what secular artists are putting out. Christian music has come a long way since I was in highschool. I remember when dcTalk released Supernatural on Forefront (Christian label) and Virgin (secular label) at the same time. The way some people talked about it, you would have thought they’d made a deal with Satan. But, the music got out into the secular world. “Just Between You and Me” got a lot of play and paved the way for Mercy Me to hit the top of the secular chart with a praise song. People were slow dancing at their high school proms to a song about heaven and what it will be like to be face to face with the One who created us. It blows me away.

As Christians, we’re called to do everything for the glory of God. To me, that means that we should strive to be excellent in all that we do, including making music. The stereotype is that Christian music is usually just a crappy knock-off what’s popular, but some really unique, excellent artists are changing that perception. I love it. We’re also called to be salt and light in a dark world. Christian artists on the college station is pretty dang salty.

A Few Thoughts on Postmodernism

One of the buzzwords in evangelical circles today is “postmodernism.” Should the church be postmodern? How do we deal with postmodernity. The problem we run into when we start talking about terms like “postmodern” is that there’s no general consensus about what the term really means. So when people ask, “Should the church be postmodern?” I think our first response should be to ask “In what way?”

Should the church embrace relativism? No, absolutely not. But not all postmoderns do this either. Often this can mean simply bringing the message to people where they’re at and speaking to their experience. For example, first presenting God as “Father” to someone who longs to have a relationship with their own father. Does this approach deny absolutes? No, but it doesn’t ignore the fact that experience does affect our perception.

There’s no denying that there is a danger in taking this too far. We absolutely have to make sure our doctrine is sound. At the same time though, the church can’t just cover its ears or dig in its heels over methods if those methods aren’t reaching people. Post moderns favor discussion over being taught. The popularity of the blogosphere and message boards speaks to the desire for that approach. (Assuming, of course, that those who are discussing are doing so respectfully with a longing to learn.) Post moderns make a big deal out of community and creative approaches to worship. I think these are also good things.

The church needs to make sure not to tie itself to any philosophical system whether it’s post modernity or modernity. Modernity has plenty of problems too, including the idea that everything can be categorized, codified, and understood in its entirety. This is a pretty arrogant concept. For all its faults, post modernity does admit that there are a lot of things that we don’t know and that is okay.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the issue. (This is kind of long though. Maybe it was five cents worth.) We shouldn’t be gung ho postmodern, but at the same time, we need to stop being so gung ho about modern approaches. Let’s be clear on the essentials of doctrine, but let go of methods that aren’t speaking to those who need to hear.

Blurring the Lines

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that several Christian bookstores prominently display and sell this picture?

My problem with this has nothing to do with Bush’s politics or personal convictions. I’m sure he’s a nice man. The problem I have is that this particular painting is that it is blatant propaganda for the GOP. Both parties have propaganda, but the Democrats’ propaganda doesn’t carry Christian bookstores’ seal of approval. This painting is being sold in a store whose sole concern should be the kingdom of God. These bookstores also carry books written by Republican politicians George Bush Sr. and Newt Gingrich. You can also buy biographies of Dubya, his dad, and Condoleezza Rice. Since when did being Christian automatically mean being Republican?

I’m not trying to argue against or in favor of the Republicans at the moment. What I’m bothered by is the way that Christianity has become synonymous with a political party. It’s no accident either. In order to gain votes from Christians, the Religious Right has sought to Christianize political parties and policies which they support (i.e. the Republicans) and to demonize political entities which they oppose (i.e., anybody else).When people are told that they are voting “Christian” by voting for Republican Party candidates, it is being insinuated that they are voting anti-Christian by voting for any other candidate.

There are a lot of good Christian politicians who love Jesus and seek to follow his guidance when making political decisions… and they’re Democrats. You shouldn’t be shocked. Former President Jimmy Carter immediately comes to mind. He was outspokenly Christian, even teaching Sunday School in a Southern Baptist Church while President. Believe it or not, many Democrats are not the left-wing liberals that the Republicans have painted them to be. I personally know Tennessee State House Representative Charles Curtiss and can vouch for him when it comes to standing up for his Christian convictions. Many Democrats vote against the party’s official position on values issues while voting with them on more fundamental issues like the economy. (When I say “fundamental” I’m not implying that the economy is more important than values. However, in reality, the basic differences between the parties are their economic views, not values.)

Not all Republicans care about Christian values. Some do, some don’t. The Republican positions are not necessarily Christian positions. Some are, some aren’t. When you’re looking for a candidate who stands for your values, look at the specific person, not just the party. If Christians can’t recognize the difference, then the rest of the world won’t either, leaving the door open for statements made by Pat Robertson and other Republican politicians to be taken as the “Christian” view. Christian bookstores, when it comes to politics, don’t put on blinders and just stock items that make you part of the GOP propaganda machine. The Republicans often make statements that God is on their side, but, as I’ve said before, Jesus was not a politician… and he certainly wasn’t a Republican. And neither am I.

Real Love

Christian faith has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Believing that there is a God who created this world we live in feels as natural as breathing. I could no more stop believing in God than I could stop loving my wife. I know that because of Adam’s sin, I’m fundamentally flawed, and that I need to be rescued from myself. I also know that Jesus is God and that he left heaven to come down to earth to rescue me by giving his own life in my place. I know that in trusting him to forgive my sin and turning away from those sins, I have become clean in the eyes of God. I know and believe a lot of things. It’s just been a long time since I’ve really felt anything. I’m in seminary and that does a great job of increasing my understanding on an intellectual level, but there’s just something about a faith based almost entirely on intellect that is wrong. I know I’m supposed to love God with all my mind, but what about the part of loving him with all my heart and soul? Heart love seems deeper and truer than just head love.

For the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel again. For some reason, I’m on the verge of tears now when I start really thinking about God. What I’m starting to feel again is love. I think my eyes are being opened. After several very difficult years with trials and difficulties dragging me deeper and deeper into self pity, I’m starting to feel God’s love again. Not because those situations have changed. The trials are just as bad as ever. I’ve been so wrapped up in myself that it’s been hard to see that Jesus loves me.

When you’re a kid it’s easy to believe that Jesus loves you in a real way. As you get older and go through more of life it can start to seem like he loves you out of principle because it’s the right thing to do. People in the church make you feel like love is a conditional thing. You have to act, dress, speak, and vote a certain way to earn the approval of other Christians. I know this is a blanket statement that is wrong in a lot of ways, but it’s how I’ve felt. I’ve based my feelings about Jesus love on the love (or lack of love) I’ve received from the church. When my paycheck from the church hasn’t been enough to stretch across my bills, it’s made me feel like I wasn’t valuable. I’ve felt like a lot of people in the church have seen me as a means to an end. Like as a person I wasn’t that valuable outside of what I could do for the church. These people may love me in a way, but I definitely haven’t felt like those same people really like me. And somewhere in my head, I got the church’s version of love mixed up with Jesus’ love. Like he loves me as much as I deserve to be loved. That’s a pretty depressing thought considering how undeserving I felt.

There’s some kind of profound change taking place now though. I’m starting to feel like Jesus is not someone who just loves me in some kind of cosmic God way. If I met him face to face, I feel like Jesus would really be interested in me. He’d want to know my story. He’d ask me about my hopes and dreams and he’d really listen while I rambled about my frustrations. He’d let me get angry and once I calmed down, he would look me in the eye and tell me the truth. He would smile and I would see on face and in his voice that he really liked me. He would rebuke me, too, and he would tell me that I have prejudices against some church people that I need to deal with. He would tell me there are other people out there who need love and that he wants me to love them the same way that he does. I think he would tell me what my gifts are and why I have them, and help me know how to use them. He would point out very clearly how God has taken care of me through all these years, all the things he’s protected me from and all plans he has for me.

I want to know Jesus the way that Bill Bright did. When an interviewer asked him about Jesus, Bill Bright just broke down and cried right there at his desk. I want to love Jesus like that. I want my heart to break when I think about how unconditionally he accepts me as I am and at the same time wants me to become more like him so I can love other people the same way. I repent of letting other people define my self worth. God is getting into my heart and showing me how to love by showing me how loved I really am. Real love is something beautiful and magical, but it’s hard to put into words. I think I’ve been trying to hard to understand, without letting myself feel. There are parts of the Christian life that I don’t think you’re supposed to understand. You just have to know and believe.

Confession: Moving Toward Authenticity

I’m feeling very convicted about what a fake I am a lot of the time. I want to be an authentic person. I believe the church needs more authentic people. By that, I don’t mean people who genuinely change who they are to match their talk, but people who are simply honest about who they are. I believe God made me exactly the way he wants me to be, and to be dishonest about who I am is just another way of saying that I know how to do things better than God. So from here on, I’m shooting to be real and I think the first step of that process is to get a lot of the fake crap out in the open.

Most of the time, I act like I am absolutely the most important person who ever lived. I think I’m cooler than everyone else and that my ideas are better than anyone elses. Deep down I’m pretty insecure and I don’t believe any of this, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of time and energy I spend making myself happy.

I’m not a Republican, and I don’t believe they are any more on God’s side than the Democrats. I’m not a Democrat either, but a lot of times I lean more to the left than the right. Jesus wasn’t a political figure, and I doubt he approve of everything either party does. I think a lot of things that politicians do “in the name of God” are really motivated by other agendas and add to the reasons why the world hates Christians.

I’m more comfortable hanging around a group of artists and pot smoking hippies than I am around some of the people in the church. Even though I grew up in the church and love it on one level, I feel out of place a lot of times. People in the church have hurt me very deeply. A lot of times when I’m in church, I become really fake, putting on a cheesy smile saying things like “God bless you” and other Christian slogans while I shake hands. I don’t even know what I mean when I say those things. Honestly, I don’t hold a grudge against the church, I just realize I’m different than a lot the other people there and don’t feel like I fit in very well.

I struggle with lust. A lot.

I dress the way I do because I think that makes me look cool. I wear a cross around my neck as more of a fashion statement and a way to make people think I’m spiritual. Overall, I’m very concerned with my image, how I look, how I talk, how I walk. I’m very afraid people will stop thinking I’m cool.

I don’t share my faith outside of the church very often. The way I’ve been taught to share my faith makes me feel like I’m pushing Jesus like a vacuum cleaner salesman. Also, I’m afraid that if I tell people what I believe about Jesus they’ll think I’m stupid.

When I get angry, I tend to say cusswords.

I have doubts at times, not about whether or not I believe what the Bible says, but more about whether or not I can really do anything about it. I feel totally unqualified to be a leader. I think a lot of Christian leaders should quit pretending to be Moses and just admit that they helped build the cow statue.

As a Christian, I’m supposed to be known by my love for others, but there are a lot of times when I don’t feel very loving and don’t act that way. I want to be loved, but loving others is hard.

I’m always afraid that the people are going to figure out how phony I am. I’m afraid to be real with most Christians because experience tells me I will either be lectured or rejected. I feel like I have to be godly in order to be accepted.

This is by no means everything I want to say. I feel like this could be a good first step though. By being true, I hope that I will allow people to get to know the real me and that they will still love me for who I really am. I don’t feel like God wants to use fakes. I may not have everything together, but I do know I want to be the kind of man that God can really use.

A Good Day for Youth Ministry

I had a particularly good Sunday morning with the youth today, so I thought I’d show my appreciation by posting a pic of the group that went to Centrifuge this year. It’s days like this that make me glad I’m a youth minister. (Don’t think I don’t occasionally have those days that make me consider running away and joining the circus.)