Hold Me Jesus

Well, sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

I’m singing hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

As recorded by Rich Mullins on the album A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band (1993)

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.)

Every Man Dies… Not Every Man Truly Lives

Originally posted on my long dead Xanga page.

The Lord spoke to me today in such a mighty way that it left me weeping. I have been casually reading Wild at Heart by John Eldredge for several weeks now, and slowly God has been openning me up to prepare me for today. Here’s the premise for the book:

“A Battle to fight. An Adventure to live. A Beauty to rescue. This is what a man longs for. This is what makes him come alive. Look at the films men love. For that matter, look at the dreams of little boys, the games they play. There is something fierce, passionate, and wild in the heart of every man. That is how he bears the image of God. God designed men to be dangerous. Simply look at the dreams and desires written in the heart of every boy: To be a hero, to be a warrior, to live a life of adventure and risk.”

Where are the battles today for men to fight? The truth is, we are already in the midst of it. But, like soldiers hiding in a farmhouse and drinking merrily, we often choose to ignore the tumult around us. The enemy is steadily gaining ground in the church, our homes, and our own lives simply because we refuse to admit that he’s even there. There was a time in my life when I fought a very real battle against Satan and his demonic forces, but over time I had convinced myself that a majority of the attacks are coming from within, that I was a pitiful sinner with no hope of truly fighting. I had defeated myself and thusly handed the battle over to the enemy. Reading this book with the urging of the Holy Spirit has reminded me of who I really am.

The church has often used the title “sinners saved by grace” to describe the church. Yet, this very thought is what often cripples those who should be the Lord’s greatest victors. “A sinner saved by grace” is what I was, not what I am. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:17) What I am now is a child of the King! A warrior for the cause of Christ. My struggle is not with myself as much as it is with sin.

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.” (Rom 7:19-21)

There is a traitor within us, and that traitor is sin. Sin is the one doing wrong. Satan tries to convince that we are still sinners, that we are still slaves, and he gains victory when we answer him by saying, “You’re right.” As long as we believe we are defeated, then we are. Too often Christians make the mistake of assuming that the real battle is the one going on inside of us. While that battle is a true one, to focus on that one is self centered. As long as we are only looking at ourselves, we are ignoring the fight outside of us. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

Men, you are engaged in a battle, not just for yourself, but for the Kingdom of God. You are in a battle for your wife and your children. Often I find myself fighting with the princess instead of for the princess. I imagine that the struggle is with her and ignore the dragon holding her captive. This is not to say that my wife needs me to free her, only God can do that. Only God can free any of us, and only God can give us our strength. However, God designed the marriage relationship to be one in which the man takes on the batttle for his wife. The enemy is real and he is attacking our families. How many times do we see struggles in our lives, our jobs, our families, our churches, and ourselves and immediately try to find some rational, natural explanation? There are supernatural forces at work in this world, good and evil. We may think that our actions and decisions are only personal, but what we do as humans can have cosmic significance. Read the first chapter of book of Job to see God pull back the curtain and reveal what’s behind the scenes. Job’s actions made a difference that he never knew. His refusal to denounce God and curse his name was a victory in the heavenlies. Look at the description of the nativity as described in Revelation:

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (7:1-5, 7-9)

Though I am still learning about the interpretation of this book, it seems clear that this describes the birth of Christ in a way that is a far cry from the description in “Silent Night.” Christ’s birth was a battle, with Satan and all his armies on the attack. We must never forget that we are in a battle. If there is no battle, why are we given armor (Eph 6:11), and why would we be called “more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37) if we are not fighting? Do not let Satan convince you that he is a minor threat, or that he is not concerned with you. Do be persuaded to think that the struggle is with our own human natures. That nature is dead. The struggle is with the evil forces at work in this world. The struggle is with the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8) Be a warrior. Be who God has called you to be. Be dangerous to the devil. A warrior for God who knows he’s a warrior can do some damage.

“Every man dies… not every man truly lives.” (Braveheart)

The LifeWay Rant… Uncensored!

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

The countdown to freedom is on… I only have four more days left as an employee of LifeWay Christian Stores. I think I’m keeping everything in perspective pretty well. I mean, the night that I found out that I was going to be able to give my two weeks notice the day, I only danced around the house for two or three hours (so much so that I accidentally ran smack into the doorframe.) Now, I only have to worry about one thing about LifeWay – exactly what I should include in my letter. The temptation is to simply say thank God that’s over and never finish my magnum opus against The Man (a.k.a. LifeWay). However, I think I almost have some kind of responsibility to look beyond myself and write this letter, maybe to improve LifeWay, maybe just to find out if they really care at all about a former employee (I love the way that sounds… former *sigh*). To help me keep focus, I’m watching Shaft and listening to Public Enemy. Fight the power! Even white kids like me have to fight The Man from time to time.

Just to get a little feedback, here’s what I have so far in my letter. Please leave some comments about what I can do to make it a little better. I know I’ll have to tone it down a little bit for it to be taken seriously, but here’s my unedited, uncut version. And now without further ado, I present…

The LifeWay Rant – Uncensored!

Dear sir or madam:

I recently quit my position as an employee at a LifeWay retail store after several months, and during that time, I have noticed several things about the chain that raise serious concerns. The first of these objections is over plus selling, the suggestion (read “pushing”) of particular products to all customers as they check out. At my store, this is talked about with utmost seriousness and almost worshipful reverence. We are repeatedly told that we should push the products selected by corporate to “every customer, every time.” We are constantly reminded that the money earned from selling these items goes to the cooperative program. We are frequently informed of the ministry that comes from one of these low-cost (and frequently low-quality) sales items. However, I believe that there are times when plus selling is, at best, morally suspicious or, at worst, just plain wrong. If an unchurched customer comes into the store grieving over the death of her only child, I will be there to minister to her. I will guide her to resources to help her deal with her loss, I will give her insights from the Bible, and I will pray with her. After all this, I absolutely REFUSE to pitch a Veggie Tales movie or a Bible cover to this person. To do so would be insensitive and irresponsible and possibly detrimental to the ministry we could have provided. The “every customer, every time” philosophy ignores the individual and his or her specific ministry needs. Despite these objections, plus selling no matter who the customer is or what they need is continually promoted in our store with a Pharisee-like rigidity. When I am on the sales floor, I am there to minister to the people in the store at the time. Some customers might genuinely benefit from our plus sell items, and to those I will suggest them; others neither need them, nor will they be forced upon them by me.

Additionally, I am disturbed to see that by mid-October, our store was already completely decorated for Christmas and much of our sales floor was filled with Christmas gift product. Christians are constantly noting that the secular world has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. We complain that our culture has over-commercialized the holiday and replaced the baby Jesus with Santa Claus and presents. At LifeWay, the baby Jesus is there in a variety of beautiful porcelain and stained glass gift items. We also have 344 small glass angels arranged in a Christmas tree shaped floor stack. We have two lighted Christmas trees, garland with bows, festive music, and even a special sales training meeting to prepare us for the Christmas rush – in October. Over-commercialized? Guilty! We have copied the world’s model for Christmas celebration, only we have justified all the gifts and decorations by taking on a cheap religious sentiment. I have heard the argument that we have to be ready this early because all the other stores have their Christmas product out and we don’t want to be left behind. Since when are we supposed to copy the world? Just because secular stores push secular Christmas with unrelenting eagerness doesn’t mean that we should do the same with a religious one. I am as festive and celebratory as anyone when it comes to Christmas – when the time is right. However, this year it seems that I won’t be able to celebrate very much of Christmas at all. With all our emphasis on Christmas and family for our customers, employs are forced by corporate into a schedule that forbids them from taking even one day off from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas day. Hypocritical? Guilty. I have been told that this is simply the way that retail works, but shouldn’t Christian retail be different?

If our primary goal, our only goal, is ministry, then why does LifeWay place such an emphasis on appearance and image? Would an associate be any less effective as a minister with tattooed arms or a pierced face? Can God’s word only be life changing when presented by clean-cut men and women in ironed button-down shirts and pressed khakis? LifeWay has become a bastion of conservatism in dress and appearance, and has effectively isolated those who do not fit that image. Conservatism of doctrine need not be linked with conservatism of appearance. I have seen applicants’ resumes be rejected because they didn’t wear a tie to drop off their application. At the same time, I rarely see teenagers in the store, especially those who would not fit into the mold that many Baptists believe we should all fit in. Though we stock CDs by artists like Disciple and Living Sacrifice (industrial heavy metal) and T-bone (West Coast rap), I believe that we would prefer that the people who would most benefit from this style of music not come into our store because it might upset the conservative older customers. God’s word is for all. Jesus’ appearance was never made to conform to a public perception of what a religious leader should be. He ate with tax collectors and conversed with prostitutes. He went into the streets, bringing His message of hope to those who could benefit from it most. LifeWay takes great care to uphold an image, but that image is one of church, not of Christ.

On the whole, what LifeWay says and what happens at the store level do not match. Is it about ministry or sales? Do we really believe that family should be a priority in our own lives even if it means that work becomes less important? Remember, Jesus himself spoke most harshly to those Pharisees who claimed one view but did not live it out in their lives. Having a corporate philosophy and goal of ministering to customers is admirable, but if it is not lived out, it is completely and utterly useless.

That’s it folks. Let me know what you think. Peace out, brothers. Don’t let The Man bring you down. Word.

She Must and Shall Go Free

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

I’ve decided it’s high time that I stopped simply documenting the things that are going on in my life and started actually writing about something. This revelation occured for two reasons: 1) What’s happening on a day to day basis is usually not very interesting. 2) With no column, I have no place where I can force my opinions on others. There’s all the exposition you’re getting tonight. On with the show!

In my first post I mentioned that most Christians are ignorant of the most fundamental concepts of how the world works and that in many cases the church is at least partially responsible. I said that mostly for shock value because as we all know, good church kids never question what they are told or try to change the church. All the people who have been there for years have done a good job and it is not our place to shake things up. I say unto you… baloney. I have no doubt that there are many churches that are working in exactly the way that God has planned. I believe that in many churches, gifted people are using their gifts and talents to advance the kingdom of God and make His church into the bride He desires. However, I also believe that if we are not questioning the health of our churches and honestly measuring them against the standard set forth in the Bible, then we are not doing our jobs as members.

If you ask the average church member why they believe what they believe I dare say most will either not have an answer or reply with a human source leading them to their beliefs. In rural East Tennessee most belief systems are determined by the way the church has always believed. If it was good enough for my great-grandpa, then its good enough for me. And the church often fosters this intuition-based belief system for fear of offending the members. Offended members are not as active in the choir, nor will they help the church meet its annual budget. Beyond that, many pastors in this area do not offend by challenging grandpa because they got their belief system from grandpa too! A friend of mine was taking a preaching class at Temple University in Chattanooga, and was preaching directly from an untranslated Greek Bible, providing literal translation himself as he taught. The professor stopped him and said that in that class King James was the only translation allowed. My friend explained that he wasn’t using a translation and proceeded with his message. He was asked to sit down and received a D in the class. When he asked the teacher why he felt that the KJV was the only Bible worth using, he replied that it was more accurate. My friend then asked if the professor was basing this claim on his own study of Greek and Hebrew and a detailed comparison with other translations. The professor replied that he knew that it was more accurate because that’s what he had been told his entire life. I would like to say that the professor saw how ludicris this reasoning was, but instead he stood by his assertion. If it’s good enough for grandpa… In these churches scholarship is outlawed as a sin. Why would you need to study when you already have all the answers? In the minds of these church members, theology and doctrine are just the devils tools used to deceive believers from the truth. Grandpa’s truth. But there is a second element in this blindfold on truth…

The church is supposed to stomp out sin and darkness, letting light flood into these strongholds. Unfortunately, in this respect, I think many churches do more harm than good. The church should be a place where broken-hearted people can stand confess their sins; then, stripped of pride and exposed before brothers and sisters in Christ, they can be lifted up and brought back into the fold. However, a streak of judgment runs though many churches and this causes sin to be hidden. Though all in the church sin, rather than confess they compensate by looking down on others in the church. “At least I’m not as bad as…” The tradegy is that this is exactly what the enemy desires for evil thrives in secrecy. Rather than destroy sin, many churches provide inadvertantly have created the ideal evironment for sin to slowly choke the life out of people needing freedom from their bondage.

These two elements, tradition and judgmental attitudes, keep many Christians in the dark about the basic truths of life. You don’t know where to turn for answers because according to what everyone else in the church says, everyone else in the church is where you go for answers to begin with. You can’t ask questions for fear of condemnation for not being more faithful. You feel guilty for asking questions in the first place, but you can’t even confess to this supposed sin because then you will be judged. You only option is to follow blindly and supress any question or conviction; in due time, you will become a good church member and all these questions will slowly disappear on their own. That’s how many churches keep their own members blind to the very truths of life, intentional or not.

This dark picture is not the picture of all churches. Hopefully, this kind of church is a small portion of a healthy, active body of believers. Maybe I am just in a an area where this is more widespread. I’m afraid, though, that I’m being overly optimistic if I say that that the church in America is not in dire need of real revival. We need to break done the walls of judgement and free ourselves from the bondage of tradition. We need to foster an environment of forgiveness and service, not one of judgement. We need to be a force, fighting the darkness in our culture before it swallows us whole. We need to be in the Bible, pouring over the truth of God’s revelation even if it’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow. No more hiding in the darkness! No more feel-good churches that cater to comfort! No more anti-intellectualism! No more closemindedness! No more being judge, jury, and executioner! If we are to be the bride of Christ, it’s time to clean ourselves up.

More to come….