Your Church Needs Holy Water

If there’s one thing that is missing in protestant churches, it’s holy water.

I’m not talking about the kind that Catholics put in a bowl in the back of their sanctuary. I’m talking about a different kind of water all together. The kind that Jesus commends.

“Blessed are the pour in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:3-4 (ESV)

Tears. They are the holy water that grows in a heart that is broken before God. They make up the holy water that pour from the eyes of those who are truly broken over sin. And not just the sins of our friends, co-workers and countrymen. Our sins. God is pleased when we are broken over our own sins.

But we have grown comfortable. Our sin isn’t sin anymore. It’s love. Or a medical condition. Or a misunderstanding. Anything but sin.

A while back my son had something in his eye. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Judging from the way he was crying, I’m guessing that there was a Lego in there somewhere. The tears kept coming. They didn’t stop until they had done their job. In the process of crying, my son’s tears had cleaned out whatever foreign object was in his eye.

That’s how brokenness over sin works. Tears clear our spiritual eyes of all of the self-righteous clutter that’s been blocking our vision. They are evidence that we are beginning to see the gospel more clearly.

It’s not that Jesus wanted us to cry as an end in itself. Anyone can cry. And it wasn’t his aim to convince his people to live in a state of continual depression over their sin. Jesus knew that we would never see the beauty of the gospel until we first saw the ugliness of our sin. In him, our tears of brokenness over sin are transformed into tears of joy because we have been forgiven.

But we have no tears because we have convinced ourselves that we have no sin. And as a result, we have no genuine forgiveness. Who needs forgiveness when all that we’re guilty of is a misunderstanding or a medical condition? Oh, what good Pharisees we make.

Jesus didn’t just die for sins.

He died for your sins. And mine.

The cross is not a giant plus sign reminding us of how awesome God thinks we are. The fact that it took the death of God’s Son to take care of my sins, should move me to tears of horror over my brokenness. That fact that God’s Son willingly took my place on that instrument of torture to change my identity from sinner to saint should move me to tears of joy over God’s love and grace.

Sin is not what separates genuine followers of Christ from all others. Sin is the common link that all natural men share. What truly separates Jesus’ followers from his enemies is the reaction to sin.

The self-righteous choose to ignore their sin, looking only to their qualifications and the shortcomings of others. And they miss grace.

Those who truly trust in Christ’s perfect righteousness, cry out to their Savior, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (Luke 18:13).” They are well aware of their sins. And they are well aware of God’s grace.

In Jesus’ story, things are upside down. The good, religious man misses grace. The bad guy goes home justified. But that’s how things work in God’s economy.

The broken are blessed with the gospel of grace.

Those who have it all together are the ones who are really broken. And they don’t even know it.

Which are you?

How To Make Your Church More Relevant: Four Easy Steps

Your church, if it expects to reach anyone, needs to be cool. Actually, cool probably isn’t the best word. It’s kind of dated and, well, not very cool anymore. Here’s a better word. Relevant. Your church, if it expects to reach anyone, needs to be relevant. Here are a few steps that will help you and your church get on the relevant train.

Enough With Church Already

The first and most important step in getting people to come to your church is for you to stop being a church. Instead of meeting regularly in some building where people hold one another accountable, try having your worship services on a surfboard. Or a golf course. Or in your bed. Either way, just stop going to church already.

Stop Being So Preachy

Instead of preaching, try conversing with people on Sunday mornings. And whatever you do, don’t say anything solid. Instead, focus on questions. Ask a lot of questions. Share your own questions. Make sure that people know that their questions are welcomed. But, under no circumstances, should you actually provide any answers. Nothing is more irrelevant than a good solid answer.

If this doesn’t work, you could always just watch the series finale of Lost.

Fight for Justice

Start a big, church-wide campaign for justice. Print up a bunch of banners. Talk about it all of the time. Just make sure that the justice for which you fight is a socially acceptable justice fight. Here is a guide that should help.

Unacceptable Causes for Which to Fight

- Abortion

- Speaking up for the rights of business owners to practice their faith in public

- Helping a 70-year-old woman who is struggling to take care of her sick husband because of new and burdensome healthcare laws

Acceptable Causes for Which to Fight

- Organic coffee

- Health insurance for the makers of organic coffee

- Free abortions for organic coffee growers whether they want it or not

- Pre-K programs for the villages which produce organic coffee

Watch Your Language

Even the most relevant church can lose people with the wrong vocabulary so you need to watch what you say. Sin is no longer sin. It’s a journey. Your church is no longer a church. It’s a non-profit. And, most importantly, you need to remember the words that can never be mentioned.

Here are a few.

Satan

Holiness

Holy Spirit

Deuteronomy

And here are a few words that any relevant church worth its weight will use at least every two to three minutes.

Journey

Faith-journey

Spirit child

Journey

Coffee

Remember these four steps and you’ll be blending in to your surrounding culture better than a sunken ship in its new found home at the bottom of the ocean floor. Okay, maybe that’s a bad example but you get the point.

Of course you could just listen to Jesus.

Many people don’t know it but the book of Revelation is actually a letter to seven churches. In it, Jesus is straight forward on how he feels about each church. Most of the seven churches get at least a gentle rebuke from him. Some, he completely rips open.

But he never criticizes a church because they don’t have a good sound system. Or for being too old fashioned. Instead, his rebukes center around a church forgetting how to love (2:1-7). Or abandoning the truth (2:12-17). Or, wait for it, a church being a little too relevant (2:18-29). The churches that get the approval of their Leader are the ones where trials are endured (2:8-11) and the ones that remain faithfully obedient during those trials (3:7-13).

But perhaps you’re looking for something more than just the approval of the Creator and Ruler of the universe. You’d rather be popular. In that case, just ditch your church all together and stop doing or saying anything of any real value.

Hey, Rob Bell did it and now he gets to be friends with Oprah.

Ah, the approval of Oprah.

What could possibly be better than that?

Can We Please Stop Talking About Race?

Can we please stop talking about race? Probably not. But I think that we’d be better off if we did.

No, I’m not saying that we need to start ignoring the racism that obviously still exists in our culture. And I’m not telling victims of racism to get over it. I’m just saying that maybe it’s time for a new approach.

For years we’ve been told that we need to have a national conversation about race. So that’s what we’ve done. But the results have been less than stellar. Instead of harmony, this long conversation has left us confused, scared and even more angry than before.

Earlier this week I read an article that was a part of our long national conversation on race. The article was basically saying that everything from your choice of cupcakes at the bakery  to the names you give to your offspring can reveal your level of racism. Pardon my confusion, but how exactly does such a conversation help the fact that we just simply can’t get along in this country? Do we need a National Summit on Cupcake Buying?

Ironically, this so-called conversation has ruined our ability to talk. Shortly after the terror attacks in Paris I was watching a live television news report of the aftermath where two talking heads were giving play-by-play of what was happening on the screen. At one point, a black man stepped into the camera’s view. Here’s how it was described.

Talking Head #1: “The building in question is the one that the African American gentleman just walked out of.”

Talking Head #2: “We don’t know if he’s African. Or American. This is Paris, remember?”

Reports are still coming in but I believe that the man drove an African American car and had a Caucasian American tablecloth in his kitchen.

The end result of our constant conversing about race is that it’s all turned into a joke. Everything is racist. The Academy Awards are racist. The Grammy’s are racist. The guy who wasn’t a big fan of Selma is a racist. The girl who really does believe that Beyoncé’s album was better than Beck’s is a racist.

Everything is racist.

Well, except for the stuff that actually is.

But no one is talking about that. Who has the time with all of the Oscar and Grammy buzz along with that African American fellow in Paris who has probably never set foot in African or America?

If you really want to do something about racism in this country, stop listening to and participating in the conversation. Start examining your own heart. If you look hard enough, you’ll find some racism. And then repent. But remember, repentance doesn’t mean just saying that you’re sorry or feeling guilty.

Anyone can apologize for the racist actions of his forefathers hundreds of years ago.

Only the truly repentant can apologize for his own racist actions last Tuesday.

But it doesn’t stop there. True repentance will carry over into another conversation. A different one. One that is more sincere. One that does not involve Academy Awards, Al Sharpton or Beck. It’s one that just involves you. And the guy across the street with the different color skin. And maybe your kitchen table and a good home cooked meal.

Racism will never be stopped by some federal summit, confusing newspaper articles or guilt tripping national conversations. Before the return of Christ, racism will always be with us. But that doesn’t mean that we have to get used to it, learn to accept it or participate in it ourselves.

It just means that we need to come to grips with the fact that our long national conversation isn’t working.

What we really need is a long look into our own hearts.

And then a long meal, cup of coffee or talk at your kid’s practice with that guy down the street who looks different from you.

When you actually get to know that guy, he suddenly stops being, “the African American gentleman” or “the white guy in the big truck” and he starts being another human being created in the image of God and in need of a Savior. In other words, he’s just like you.

So can we please stop talking about race?

Instead, maybe we could just start talking to people of another race?

This kind of conversation may not get a lot of media attention.

But it’s likely to change our hearts.

And that just might change the world.

Twenty Years Later: Grace, Forgiveness And Redemption

One of the things that I like best about a good church is the promise that when you show up, you’re going to be hit with a message of grace, forgiveness and redemption. A few Sundays ago, that happened before the official worship service had begun.

Once a month I meet with a group of men before church on Sunday mornings. We talk about how bad our teams got beat the night before and we eat. Terry is our leader. He’s a retired Atlanta police officer. He had the Little Five Points beat. Little Five Points was weird before it was cool to be weird. I love hearing Terry speak to us. His words are always encouraging, enthusiastic and drenched with grace. Hearing Terry is good for me.

But on this particular Sunday, I didn’t get to hear Terry’s words of encouragement. No, this time Terry had someone else speak for him. He was a friend that neither one of us had known for very long. For once, Terry got to be the one listening with the rest of us. This one was definitely worth the listen. You never really know how much you don’t know the people you know until you hear their story.

Our friend told of growing up with feelings of hate and rage. Hate towards certain groups of people. Rage because of the way the system was or was not working. Eventually his hate and rage came to a head. A couple of decades ago, that hate and rage led this man to a parking lot where his gang was squaring off against their enemies. Somehow, the man who was now a member of my church and who was talking to us while we ate doughnuts with our sons, was in the middle of that street fight all those years ago.

This was an ugly street fight. I guess they all are. People were hurt. One man went to jail. The man who was speaking to us. But for him, the next few days spent behind bars made that street fight worth it all. His boss paid the money to get him out of jail. When he got out of jail, his boss met him with grace, forgiveness and redemption. Under God’s sovereignty, those three things came together in a beautiful collision that would change this gang member’s life forever.

While my friend was telling his story he held up a yellowish piece of paper. It looked old. It was. It was the form he had gotten the night the police put him into jail. He still keeps that form as a reminder of what God saved him from. It’s a reminder of where he could be today if God hadn’t intervened.

When the story was over and we all started to head our separate ways, I found Terry. There was a question that I had to ask him about the former gang member who was now a friend, brother in Christ and member of our church.

“Terry, most of the trouble he got into was on your beat, Little Five Points. What are the chances that the two of you ever crossed paths all those years ago.”

Terry looked at me like he had seen a ghost. My friend who had just finished telling his story of grace, forgiveness and redemption looked like he was about to cry.

“I was there that night,” Terry said with his usual enthusiasm. “That’s my partner’s signature at the bottom of that yellow sheet of paper.”

And, twenty years later, the cop and the gang member were standing in the same church building, eating doughnuts. Together.

That’s how grace works. It takes former enemies and shows them that they have much more in common than they ever imagined. They are both enemies of God. Neither are beyond the grip of God’s grace, forgiveness and redemption.

Sometimes God sovereignly allows us to see how our paths of sin, grace, forgiveness and redemption come together at the cross.

Even some twenty years after a seemingly random street fight.

Even before the official worship service begins.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

Jesus Is Not Concerned About You

Jesus is not concerned about you.

Maybe your mother is. Perhaps a friend or coworker is. You may even have quite a long list of people who are concerned about you. But Jesus isn’t on that list.

Jesus is not concerned about you.

In Matthew 4, we get a good summary of Jesus’ ministry.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Matthew 4:23 (ESV)

Teaching. Proclaiming. Healing. But no concern.

Concern is what happens when you see someone in a bad situation and do nothing about it other than perhaps making that bless your heart look with your face. Concern is passive. It’s not that it likes it when bad things happen to others. It’s just that it doesn’t hate it enough to do something about it. Concern, all by itself, never changes anything.

Jesus is not concerned about you.

Notice what Matthew says after he tells us that Jesus healed people.

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:24-25 (ESV)

He started to get famous. In verse 23, Jesus is doing his work in Galilee. By verses 24 and 25, people all over Syria, Jerusalem and even beyond the Jordan start to catch on. That’s because, regardless of our geographical, racial, financial or political differences, we all have a few things in common. We don’t like sickness and death. But there’s nothing that we can do to stop them.

And Jesus is not concerned.

So how did he respond to his fame. How did he react when families came from miles away just to see their baby healed? What was his response to the strange woman who was tormented by demons? What did he do to the man who hadn’t seen in years?

Matthew uses four words to tell it all.

“…and he healed them.”

He could have walked away. He could have assumed that it was some sin that caused their sickness and said something about that instead. He could have stayed at home and never bothered with Galilee, or earth for that matter. He could have simply been concerned for the grieving hearts and broken bodies that were drawn to him and given them his best bless your heart face.

But he did none of that. Instead, he showed compassion. Jesus’ compassion is nothing like even the best examples of compassion we see today. His compassion came with power. Power to change. But he wasn’t content merely to change the eyes of the blind. No, he was about the business of building his kingdom. You know, the one where there is  no more crying and no more death. So with each message that he proclaimed and body that he healed, Jesus was beginning the work of tearing down Satan’s kingdom on earth that was established when Adam and Eve sinned. He was building his perfect kingdom.

There’s this old church saying. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Garbage.

God consistently gives his people more than they can handle. But there is nothing in this universe that he cannot handle. Nothing.

So it only makes sense for us to take our concerns to him. And when we do, we are not met with one who is merely concerned back. Instead, we enjoy the active and infinitely powerful compassion of the God who rules over all things.

Maybe God will not heal you here on earth.

Maybe your timetable and his timetable just can’t seem to get together.

That’s okay. God never promised that he would do things your way on your timetable. Could it be that your disappointment with God is rooted in the reality that he just isn’t doing things your way? So stop counting on God to build his kingdom with your blueprints. Instead, follow the example of those broken people who lived in Syria, Jerusalem and beyond the Jordan a couple of thousand years ago. Take your concerns to the only One with the power to really change things.

When you do, you will not encounter a god who is simply concerned for you.

But you will encounter compassion like you have never known. Compassion with power. Compassion that doesn’t settle for the window dressing of simply healing a sick person. Compassion that loves and cares enough to overthrow Satan’s kingdom on earth. Compassion that promises to one day establish a kingdom where every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus is not concerned about you.

But he does show compassion toward you.

And that is enough.

The Husband’s Guide To Selecting A Quality Romantic Film To Watch With His Wife On Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s weekend. So that means that you’ll probably spend some time watching a romantic movie with your wife. Fellas, you want to be sure that you pick the right one. It shows initiative on your part. It also lets your bride know that you haven’t lost the spark. So it’s important that, just this once, your movie doesn’t include explosions, machine guns or Bruce Willis. I know, I know. That just made your job much more difficult. Fear not, I’m here to help.

Here are a few tips for selecting a solid romantic film that your wife is sure to love.

1. Make sure that the movie is depressing.

Depression is perhaps the single most important ingredient in any romantic film. Girls love this in their movies.

Try to find a movie about a new father who was just diagnosed with a rare and deadly disease and who decides to secretly make a video journal of his last few weeks on earth for his wife and infant triplet daughters. If you can manage to make it through this one, you, my friend, will hit the jackpot. You won’t have to worry about your next six Valentine’s Day gifts if you pull this one off.

You in 2017: “What do you want for Valentine’s Day this year, dear?”

Your wife: “Nothing. I’m still riding on the high from that delightful movie about the dying father you showed me a couple of years ago. What a gift. This year, I thought we could just sit around and watch old pro wrestling clips on YouTube while eating tacos.”

Jackpot.

2. Make sure that the hero of the movie is a simple girl with a big dream.

I use the word simple loosely here. There’s nothing quite like seeing an actress who has never set foot inside of a Dollar General trying to play a common woman. But your wife will look past this. So, for example, the newly widowed mother of infant triplets needs to decide to follow her dream of becoming the first woman to kick the game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl.

3. But don’t forget the evil.

Your movie can’t be a cake walk though. Every girl movie has to have the over the top evil woman who was put on earth for nothing else but to make the hero of the movie have a  miserable life. It’s best if this character is played by Glenn Close, Meryl Streep or Hillary Clinton.

4. Every movie of this sort needs a quality leading man. Just not too quality.

Be careful here. You don’t want to choose a movie with a leading man that you in no way can measure up to. So stay away from Brad Pitt. Well, unless you’re at 0% body fat in your 50s.

You’re better off picking a movie with an actor who looks like he’s been to the Waffle House a few times. I suggest Larry the Cable Guy.

But your wife probably won’t go for that.

So pick a movie with an actor who’s gotten in trouble a few times. That way, when the two of you talk about what a great guy the leading man was, you can remind your wife that he’s been arrested 3 times in the past year and that you’ve only been arrested twice.

5. Finally, no Valentine’s Day movie is complete without these two elements.

An airport scene.

This is where the leading lady ends up at the end of the movie after she finds out that her dream of being the first woman to kick the game winning field goal in the Super Bowl will never come true. And all because the head coach, who also happens to be her love interest (not played by Brad Pitt or Larry the Cable Guy), cut her the week before the big game. So it’s back home to Birmingham for this girl. No dream. No man.

But wait!

There he is, in full coaching attire, running through the airport to catch the simple girl with big dreams before it’s too late. But will he make it in time? Of course he will. He’s wearing a whistle around his neck. When our leading lady hears that familiar sound, she knows that her dream is back up and running again. Cue the Taylor Swift song.

But don’t forget the second important element.

Rain.

Our new football power couple makes it to the big game just in time for our hero to win it with a last second 67-yard field goal. In the rain. And she celebrates by kissing the coach. In the rain.

Rain, gentlemen. No romantic film is complete without it. Never forget this.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’re sure to have a fantastic Valentine’s Day. Also, keep an eye out for my new movie that should be out in theaters this time next year. It’s called Kickin’ It With The Coach and it stars Reese Witherspoon and Hillary Clinton. And Brad Pitt.

Sorry. It was the best that I could do.

The One Thing Missing In Your Church

Your church does a lot of work. Good work.

Your church has endured through some very difficult times.

Your church knows the difference between right and wrong. It pursues what’s right while rejecting what is false.

But something is missing. It’s the one thing that holds together all of the good things you are doing. Without this one thing that you have forgotten, your good works are nails on a chalkboard.

Yes, you are doing a lot of good. But you have forgotten how to love. And you need to repent.

That’s what Jesus told the Church in Ephesus 2,000 years ago (Revelation 2:1-7). His words are just as applicable to us today. They reveal to us what really matters to Jesus. They show us that there is no amount of good works that can cover for the absence of love.

It is possible for our churches to be active in the community, discerning in our teaching and enduring in our faith and still get it wrong.

But Jesus didn’t just tell the Ephesians how they were messing up and then move on to the next town. He offered them a solution. And that solution may not be what you would expect.

Many of the church experts of our day would tell the Ephesians to quit worrying so much about the difference between right and wrong. “It doesn’t really matter in the end anyway,” they might say. “Just love. Love is strong enough to cover our differences of belief.”

Jesus said quite the opposite.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5 (ESV)

Jesus tells the Ephesian believers to keep doing their good work. But he tells them to do it with love. Love for him. Love for others.

We need to make a bold stand against homosexuality and gay marriage. But if we’re not loving homosexuals and gay couples while we’re making our stand, we are a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.

We need to be quick and intentional about sharing the gospel with the Muslims next door. But if we’re not sincerely broken over those Muslim neighbors spending an eternity in hell, our alleged missional engagement is nothing.

We need to answer the door when the Mormon’s come knocking and we must not give in to their argument that there really is no difference between our two faiths. But if we’re only trying to win a debate and not win the person standing at our door, nothing is gained.

We must carry on with our mission. But we had better do so out of a sincere love for God instead of an empty devotion to religion or tradition. Otherwise, we may discover that we never were a part of Jesus’ true Church to begin with.

There is nothing more irrelevant than a culturally relevant church that has forgotten how to love.

Break-Up Letter

Hey. How’s it going? Have you been okay? Look, I’m sorry you haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ve just needed some time away.

Things haven’t been okay between us for a while. It’s like you’re trying to take over my life. Nothing is fun anymore. It’s all lies, empty threats, slanted stories and hype. I’d love to say that it’s not me, it’s you but I can’t. It really is you. So I’m calling it quits between us before you start to effect me anymore than you already have.

News Media, I’m breaking up with you.

Don’t worry. We can still be friends. I’ll check in to read you quite often. But I just can’t watch you anymore. Or listen to you. The yelling is just too much. It’s making me nervous.

It’s been a few days since I’ve seen you or heard your voice. A lot has changed with me in that time. I feel less tense. I’m not constantly wondering if I’m being lied to. Life is a little easier.

But I’m sure that nothing has changed with you. The Republicans and Democrats still aren’t getting along. Or maybe they’re getting along too well. I forget. Everything from movie awards to the Grammy’s to the First Lady’s trip to Target is about race. You’re always talking about that. And, of course, there’s still the usual murders and robberies.

I hate to say it like this. I really don’t mean to be rude. But I don’t miss you. I’ve enjoyed the extra time listening to music. It’s been nice processing events on my own instead of having you trying to tell me what to think or what a bad person I am for thinking like I do.

Look, I just don’t think that we were meant to be together. At least not as much as we have been in the past. But you’ll be okay. There are plenty of other fish in the sea. Believe me. And besides, you’ll manage to stay busy getting your helicopter shot down and rescuing puppies from burning buildings.

A while back I heard a pastor say that if you really want to reduce the amount of tension in your life, cut back on how much news you watch and listen to. I’m only a few days in but so far, that pastor is looking like a genius. There is so much more to life when there is less of you.

So I guess that this is goodbye. There’s a book waiting for me. And you’ve got a lot of yelling, accusing, name-calling and finger-pointing to do.

So let’s just be friends.

Distant friends. The kind that only communicate through the written word.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but it would be fine with me if I never saw or heard you again.

So long, News Media. Thanks for the memories. I guess.

Sincerely,

Jay