We use them everyday. They help us evaluate ourselves. We use them to fix our hair, shave, brush our teeth, make sure our clothes match, put on makeup, and make funny faces. We use them to back out of the driveway, watch for traffic on the interstate, and make sure we still look okay after driving to work. Nowadays people use them to take selfies while puckering up their lips. They call it ‘duck lips,’ although ducks don’t have lips. Anyway… let’s talk about mirrors.

When we look into a mirror we’re use to seeing a clear reflection. However, that’s not what the folks of Jesus’ day would have been accustomed to. Mirrors were not crystal clear reflections. They weren’t even made of reflective glass. They were made of polished copper or brass. The image in a copper mirror would have been extremely vague and distorted.

Because the image wasn’t as clear as ours is today people had to stare at themselves intently for long periods of time to make out their reflection. They looked carefully so that they would know exactly what needed to be done with their hair, their make-up, their clothes, etc. With a better understanding of what a mirror would’ve been like in the 1st Century, let’s read from James chapter one.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25)

Let’s read a few verses again…

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

This passage has a lot of implications if we understand what mirrors were like in the 1st Century. James is comparing scripture to a mirror. He’s teaching us that God’s instruction for our life doesn’t only need to be seen and heard, it needs to be obeyed. In other words, don’t be hearers only, be doers.

James is saying that anyone who listens to the Word of God, knows it, learns it, and doesn’t live it, is like someone who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what they look like. He’s comparing that kind of person to someone who spends a lot of time studying what needs to be done, but doesn’t do anything. They see their spiritual reflection, then walk away and forget what needs to be fixed.

These people get distracted and neglect what they saw needed to be improved. They did it all for nothing. Their hair is still a mess, their shirt needs ironing, their tie needs straightening, and their makeup is smudged all over their face. Why in the world did they spend all that time trying to see and then walk away and do nothing? Excuse me, but that’s not very smart. In fact, it’s pretty stupid.

James is saying that God’s Word is the ultimate mirror. He’s teaching that if there’s a separation in our life between belief and behavior, between knowing and doing, between hearing and growing, then we may just be spending time in front the mirror then walking away and doing nothing.

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we practice what we believe more often? I think it’s because we’ve bought into a warped opinion of life-change. We’ve accepted a messed up view of discipleship. We believe that spiritual growth is something that happens “to us,” or is done “for us.”

That’s not the church’s job…

Never has been and never will be.

People say, “Make me close to Jesus.” It’s not the church’s job to make you close to Jesus; it’s your job. “Save my marriage.” It’s not the church’s job to save your marriage; it’s your job. “Raise my kids.” It’s not the church’s job to raise your kids; it’s your job. “Give me friends.” It’s not the church’s job to help you make friends; it’s your job. “Feed me” (that’s my favorite). It’s not the church’s job to feed you; it’s your job to feed yourself.

It is not the church’s job to give you the life you want. It’s the church’s job to connect you with Jesus by offering opportunities to grow. Whether you do it or not is up to you. The church can’t change you; only God can do that. The church exists to enrich, inspire, challenge, equip, and provide spiritual leadership. In other words, the church offers you opportunities for discipleship, but the church can’t make you become a disciple.

Yes, the church serves the family trying to raise a child. It seeks to provide healing for those who are broken. It provides community to establish authentic relationships. It offers the necessary resources for a vibrant relationship with Christ. However, the church cannot circumvent your choices and responsibilities.

Your job is to be a disciple: a follower of Jesus. So, stop looking in the mirror then walking away and forgetting what you look like. Listen to the Word, examine yourself, and do what it says. Remember, the church cannot live your life for you. You’re the only one who can live your life for you. So do it.

(Sources: Rick Warren, James Emery White, NIV Application Commentary)

Failure Success

There was a time in my life when I was terrified of failure. I was afraid of failing at things that really mattered to me, but not anymore. Now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter. I’ve learned that being a disciple isn’t about doing everything right. Discipleship is as much about failure as it is success. It’s actually about being willing to do whatever God calls us to do with courage and enthusiasm. Failure is success if we learn to be better in the process.

The world wants you to think that ‘success’ is the hallmark of life. They tell us we need to make a lot of money, buy a lot of things, live in a big house, drive a nice car, etc. When you do these things, then you are successful. That’s the world’s message and it’s never-ending. However, the kind of life God calls us to is one of sacrifice. In the world’s eyes that looks more like failure than success.

It’s important to remember that God cannot fill you up until he empties you out. With God down is up. Failure is the path to victory. Defeat is the road to triumph. Death is the way to life. The last will be first. This is the essence of the gospel. It’s the message of the cross. Coming to the end of self is the only way to truly discover oneself.

The world’s motto is “Get.” Get, get, get, and get some more. It reminds me of the old expression, “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can.” In other words, accumulate everything you can. Preserve everything you amass. Finally, guard your assets so no one else can get them from you. The kingdom’s motto is the opposite: “Give.” Give, give, give, and give some more. Give until it hurts and keep on giving, trusting God as the source.

God allows seasons of failure to help us grow. He wants us to learn to give more than we get because he knows if we get more than we give that we’ll become consumed by what we get and not focus on what we need to give. That’s a tongue-twitter, but it’s true. It’s also difficult to swallow, especially for Americans. We are winners; we don’t fail, ever. At least that’s what we’re told.

Remember, the kingdom doesn’t play by the world’s rules. God knows what we’re holding on to. He knows the areas of our lives that need to be purged. Failure is simply part of the process. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of deal. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so that we can swing for the fences again.

A life motto for me has been… “If you don’t quit, you can’t lose.” Say that out loud, “If you don’t quit, you can’t lose.” With God, this is spot-on. You may feel like a failure sometimes, but as long as you keep the faith, you’re still in the game. No matter how many times you swing and miss, you’re never out with God.

You don’t get to shape all the circumstances of your life. But have you ever thought that maybe Jesus is using the circumstances to shape you? The master sculptor is constantly chiseling away the rough spots. Like any great artist, he never stops working until the sculpture becomes a masterpiece. It’s a painstaking process, but the end result is out of this world, literally.

Satan will never stop calling you out. It is like a baseball game and the Devil’s the umpire. Life decides to throw you a curveball. Ever had that happen? When you swing and miss the Devil says, “Strike one.” Life throws you a fastball. You swing and miss and Satan says, “Strike two.” Then life throws you a changeup. You swing and miss the Devil says, “Strike three, you’re out!”

Now if you believe that you will drop your bat, hang your head, slump your shoulders, go to the dugout, and sit on the bench for the rest of your life. You will spend a lot of time thinking about what might’ve been, what could’ve been, and what should’ve been. You’ll spend the rest of your life living with a sense of failure if you buy into the rules of the world.

However, you’d be forgetting that the kingdom plays by a different set of rules. So, when the Devil yells, “Strike three, you’re out!” Turn around, with your bat in hand, and say, “Satan, it’s my bat, my ball, my Dad owns the field, and I’m not out, not now, and not ever.” Step back up to the plate and keep swinging and believing, and believing and swinging, until you get a hit and get on base.

“Success is going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm” ~Winston Churchill. So, never let success get to your head and never let failure infect your heart. Stay focused on Jesus and never, never, never give up. Reach for the sky every single day. If you don’t quit you can’t lose.

(Sources: Bob Goff, Brian Zahnd, Winston Churchill)

Black Lives Matter

No life is worth more than another. God sent Jesus to die for all because all lives matter to God. If all lives matter to God then all lives should matter to us. However, we also know that some lives are more broken than others. Brokenness is the root of racial tension wherever it may be found. Some people are afraid to admit that because when they admit it they become accountable to respond, especially if they consider themselves a ‘Christian.’

Racism is a real issue. It has been for a long time, particularly in the United States.

All lives indeed matter. However, saying ‘all lives matter’ in an attempt to divert attention away from the brokenness brought on by bigotry is a cheap move. Imagine going to the doctor with a broken bone and the doctor saying, “all bones matter.” You say, “Yea Doc, I know, but this bone is broken and I need you to fix it.” He says, “You’re overreacting, all bones matter.”

Everyone knows that ‘all lives matter.’ It goes without saying. And while we should value every single life, to ignore the brokenness that stems from decades of oppression that the black community has faced is like denying the fact that your leg is broken when the bone is showing through the skin and you can’t walk.

Before you read any further know that this blog post is not an official statement regarding the Black Lives Matter or the All Lives Matter movements. I really don’t know enough about those organizations to have an opinion. However, I do have many black friends and I’ve seen them suffer because of the color of their skin. Their lives matter to me.

I’d like to share a few stories of regret that I’ve lived with for a very long time.

Carlos was my friend in 5th grade. He was black. I’ll never forget how excited I was when his mom said he could come over for my birthday party. We attended a school in a city that had a large black enrollment. My cousins also came to the party. They attended a school in the county where very few, if any, black kids attended. Carlos came home with me from school that Friday. The plan was for everyone to sleep over and go home Saturday.

My cousins arrived within a few hours. They had never met Carlos. Within the first 15 minutes of their arrival they pulled me aside to ask me why I had invited that “N!@$#&” to the party. They were angry and told me that they were not going to spend the night if Carlos stayed. I told them I wasn’t going to ask him to leave. However, during the remainder of the evening they made him so uncomfortable that he called his mom to come and get him. I stood by silently as my cousins bullied my friend simply because of the color of his skin.

My first real job as a married adult I met Michael and Mitch. Even though he was 20 years my elder, Michael and I became good friends. I wanted to learn from him because he was the best salesperson in the company; he was often named salesman of the month. Mitch was a good salesperson too. He was arrogant and not as good as Michael, but good nonetheless. Michael was a true gentleman, gracious and considerate; he was also black. Mitch was a bit egotistical and aggressive; he was also white.

After a few years an upper management position came open. Whispers among employees began to circulate. Most believed Mitch would get the promotion even though Michael had been with the company longer and had an impeccable track record. It was no secret that the owner of the company had never promoted a black man to upper management. The time came, and sure enough, Mitch was promoted. We could all sense the disappointment with Michael. Within the next year, he left the company. My friend, who deserved a promotion, didn’t get it because of the color of his skin.

I could tell many stories of discrimination mixed with southern charm. It happened at school, church, and even in my own family. No one in the south is a stranger to people being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. It bothered me then and it bothers me now. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ I say unashamedly that I stand against racism in any form.

I’m a white, middle-aged, upper-middle class, southern, conservative, Christian suburbanite and I believe that the racial hostility toward black lives should matter to all of us. I believe the black community has had more than it’s share of brokenness. We cannot turn a blind eye to the systemic oppression that our African-American brothers and sisters face.

Whether or not you are bothered by racial injustice doesn’t change the truth that it’s an ugly reality in our country. We can choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. If you’re a Christian then you’re called to be part of the solution. If you remain silent you’re part of the problem. Turning a blind eye and keeping a sealed lip is not an option for committed followers of Jesus.

If you say things like, “I don’t owe ‘them’ anything” or “I’ve never wronged ‘those’ people.” Let me assure you that you’re more racist than you realize. Besides that, you’re missing the point. We are talking about fellow human beings: real people who, by and large, have been mistreated for a long time. Our ancestors owned their ancestors. Think about that. If you don’t believe that’s a psychological impairment on an entire race of people, then you need a psychologist yourself.

Have you ever really thought about what it’s like to walk in a black man’s shoes? As a white man, a security guard in a department store has never followed me because they assumed I was a shoplifter. As a white man, I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer for driving through a neighborhood where I didn’t live. As a white man, my grandparents didn’t have to use separate restrooms, go to different schools, drink from a different water fountain, or sit in the back of a public bus.

So, to my friend Carlos, if you ever read this, I’m deeply sorry that I didn’t stand up for you with my cousins. I wish I had sent them home that night instead if letting you leave. If I could go back I would change it. I want you to know I’m deeply sorry for the way you were treated.

To my friend, Michael, you should have got the promotion. You deserved it. You were by far the most qualified. The boss was wrong. If I could go back, I would have resigned with you. I think of you often and pray that your family is doing well.

To my black friends, I love you. And although I’ll never really know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, I stand with you.

Remember, all bones matter, but the one that’s broken get the most attention until it heals. Sometimes the healing takes longer than any of us would like. Nonetheless, we nurture the one that’s broken until it’s whole again. Broken lives matter, they matter to God and they should matter to us. It’s really that simple.

Big Tent

Comparing the church to a ‘big tent’ has become an interesting conversation piece. Big tent theology teaches that God is calling the church to open her arms wider than ever before. Expanding the tent calls for a diversity of thought, the inclusion of varying stances on nonessential issues, and erasing lines that could potentially divide. Jesus died for all and therefore all are welcome to have a seat at the table.

“Unity in essentials, diversity in non-essentials” would probably be a good way to frame the discussion. At face value, this is a virtuous notion. We all want to make room for more people at the table. Great leaders aspire to build bridges, not walls. However, the ‘big tent’ expression means different things to different people, which makes it worthy of further consideration.

Many would say that the ancient creeds (e.g. Apostles, Nicene) offer a basis concerning the essentials of the Christian faith. I would agree that the creeds provide everything necessary to affirm faith in Jesus Christ. However, the creeds lack in areas of discipleship and orthopraxy. In other words, they tell us ‘what’ to believe, but don’t teach us ‘how’ to practice what we believe. Thus, a more robust understanding of timeless biblical principles must also be included in the big tent conversation.

Certainly, it’s a healthy move to navigate away from the legalism of years past. Distancing ourselves from fundamentalism is a shift in the right direction. It isn’t beneficial to associate holiness doctrine primarily with rule keeping. We don’t come to Jesus by following rules, nor do we grow in faith by adhering to specific codes of conduct. Legalism has wounded many people over the years and has proven to be obstructive to the process of making disciples.

We come to Christ by grace through faith (Eph. 2). He invites, we accept. Once we enter a relationship with Jesus we become a disciple. When we become a disciple our behavior begins to change. If someone comes to faith in Christ, but his or her behavior is never altered then something’s missing. God never leaves people as He finds them.

God not only saves and sanctifies, He also delivers. That’s not saying that Christians don’t make mistakes, but it does mean they don’t have to yield to ongoing habitual sin. Spiritual victory is available to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus. This is what it means to walk by faith. This is the essence of sanctification. It’s a life so turned toward God that one is constantly aware of their need for repentance.

Centered:Bounded Set

The big tent conversation often leads to distinguishing between a ‘centered set’ and a ‘bounded set.’ The bounded set is fixed and includes boundaries. The idea is that if one believes and behaves the right way then he or she is a Christian, and those who don’t aren’t. The centered set, on the other hand, is dynamic. It focuses on constantly moving toward Jesus with no boundaries. Although I think these illustrations reveal great insight, I don’t think either is suitable for fully understanding the mission, nature, and responsibility of the church.

In and of itself, the notion of a ‘centered set’ is lacking. To emphasize the goal as moving toward Jesus is meaningless without defining the purpose of the gospel. Once we start defining terms and ideas, by default, we construct boundaries. Thus, it becomes a catch twenty-two. The truth is that all centered sets have boundaries and all bounded sets have a center.

In a recent conversation with one of our General Superintendents, he indicated that he didn’t particularly like the ‘big tent’ imagery. Instead, he illustrated with the idea of a ‘tetherball.’ With a tetherball the rope is far-reaching, yet it’s always connected to the center. The tetherball stretches high and low and reaches far and wide, but it’s always anchored. It has boundaries, yet it’s always centered.

Personally, I like the idea of a ‘doorway.’ Faith is the hinge that opens the door. Disbelief causes the door to remain closed. The church never locks the door and never turns anyone away. However, we are charged with upholding the orthodox teachings that reveal Jesus as the only entrance. Everyone is welcome, but no one can tear the door off the hinges and force their way inside.

In the Church of the Nazarene, we have a family business meeting every four years. It’s called General Assembly. At this meeting, we celebrate what God is doing and make decisions about the most effective ways to move forward together, on mission. As the Holy Spirit leads we often amend our stances on social issues (i.e. dancing, swimming, movies, etc.). However, we never weaken our views as they pertain to foundational issues, such as biblical doctrine. Example: Article IV in our Articles of Faith states that we believe in the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. This position does not change.

I liken General Assembly to meetings within my own household. We’ve had family meetings in years past to discuss the dynamics of our relationships. As my son got older, he and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye; we would discuss our differences often. My wife and I realized that our relationships with our children had to change with time. The older they become the more decisions they got to help make. How we interacted with them as toddlers was not the same way we interacted with them as teenagers. The foundational values of our household never changed, but how we interacted relationally did. Relational shifts are needed for social structures to thrive.

Hypothetically, if after a family meeting my son decided to influence his sisters to defy his mother and me, we would have a serious problem. If he started tearing down the moral foundation of our home because he felt we were wrong on an issue, we would have to part ways. I would still love him, but I would move him out of the house. I would do my very best to help him land on his feet. He would always be welcome to return. However, he wouldn’t be able to stay unless he could agree to abide in harmony with the family.

So, we can illustrate with a big tent, a centered set, a tetherball, a doorway, and many other things. It doesn’t matter what description we use as long as we understand that all are free to come. Beyond that, when the family meets and makes decisions about the best way to move forward together, then each of us has a responsibility. We can abide in peace, nurture the family, and help advance the mission, or we can move out. What we cannot do is tear the house down.

Everyone is invited. Come one, come all. When someone decides to move in, let’s help him or her feel welcome. If they have a few bad days and decide to start ripping up the floor with a crowbar, let’s try to help them get back on track. However, if they are absolutely set on burning the house down, then we have no choice but to help them find somewhere else to live. There are too many lives at stake to allow anyone to hold people hostage, hijack the mission, or burn the place to the ground.

(Sources: Various conversations with General Church leadership, “Who’s In And Who’s Out? Christianity And Bounded Sets vs. Centered Sets” by Tim Harmon)