Hang In There!

I keep seeing this article being shared on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a very sobering read. And the Thom Rainer article referenced in the piece is even more sobering. The past 6 months have been really difficult for everyone. As a pastor, these have been really hard times. Election years are already full of frustration, but throw COVID-19 in the mix and it all starts to feel like too much.

Jim Gaffigan has a bit about having 5 kids. The transition from 4 kids to 5 kids is like “you’re treading water and then someone says, ‘Here take this baby.'”

That’s kind of what 2020 feels like. And I know this isn’t just a pastor problem. Small business owners, teachers, studends, government leaders, parents, every body. We are all doing the best we can with what we can and it seems like more and more things just keep getting thrown to us.

But what keeps us going?

  1. Love.

I know it’s super sappy. But that’s all I have and all I have to offer

I know that Jesus loves me. And he loves people. Even the people who are rejecting him, the people who don’t believe in him. The people who are actively trying to destroy faith in others. Jesus loves all these people. And we don’t deserve it. But Jesus loves us anyway.

As a pastor I know that I’m not going to be able to fix everyone’s problems. I know that I am going to disappoint people, and other people are going to disappoint me. Church is a lot like a family that way. But one of the things that has been important for me to remember is that even when I disappoint Jesus, he still loves me. I want to be like Jesus in this regard. Can I love people even when I’m sad about their decisions? When I’m frustrated by a recent interaction? When I’m just tired of dealing with the same stuff?

Jesus said, “all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Even when people leave, move, are angry or antagonistic. I am praying that love will still be what I am known for.

2. Calling

When I was in Jr. High I felt the Holy Spirit drawing me to devote my life to ministry. I have been very blessed to be a full-time pastor. I love being able to open the Bible with people and help people see that it is a living and active book. It speaks to our world today. When I went to Bible college I knew that whatever I was going to do for a career I was going to spend the rest of my life reading the Bible. That’s why I got a degree in Biblical Literature. That was my motivation to get my MA in Theology in Culture, because I wanted to have a broader understanding of the Bible, the countours of Christian Theology, and how to speak to the cultural dynamics in our world. When I entered the Doctor of Ministry Program at George Fox, this was the same motivation. I wanted to be better informed on the signs of the times, and how to lead our church community into the future.

I have told our church on several occasions that I love the privilege of teaching the Bible. To paraphrase a sentiment that I have seen attributed to several different football players, “They pay me to go to meetings, work through financial struggles, walk with people through painful seasons, etc. But I preach for free.”

If leaders only look at their organization’s metrics as the indicator of whether to stay or leave, then that is too much heart break, over things that we often can’t control. Following the Call of God on our lives is what keeps us going. Everyone at every church is temporary. I know that, but until Jesus gives new marching orders, I’m going to do the best I can, where he has placed me.

And out of calling comes

3. Self-Awareness

Who are you? How are you wired? How do your actions/behaviors/attitudes affect those around you? I found tremendous clarity when someone encouraged me to do an Enneagram assessment. This is just one tool to help build self-awareness, and build better understanding of others. It has been encouraging to recognize my patterns when facing stress and conflict as well as when things are going well. I want to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The only way to start is by being honest about my reality. I know that I’m far from perfect. And I’ve also accepted that perfection is not the goal. My friend Anh posted this on Facebook recently: “God is not glorified in our perfection. God is glorified in our process.”

Right now, we are all in a new process. We are all figuring out how to move forward in this world. COVID is apocalyptic because it is revealing to us who we are and what really matters. Don’t waste this process of revelation that we are experiencing. Lay your own heart on the table and let the Lord Jesus show you what you may have been holding on to that you need to let go of. Let him build the things that truly matter. Surrender your heart and life to him.

and when you feel like you can’t do it, that’s when you need

4. Grace

Receive the gift of grace from Jesus. He died for you. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. So much of my prayer life over the past 6 months has been, “Jesus, I need you!” “Jesus, Help!” “Jesus, please heal these wounds in my heart.” “Jesus, please help _______ find peace in you.”

It’s easy to lash out in anger. What I have found is that when I am lashing out in anger, it’s usually because I’m angry at myself first. Maybe I’m angry that I can’t control the situation. I’m angry that I wasn’t enough for someone else. This kind of anger is rarely constructive. When I’m recognizing this anger in my life. That’s when I need to receive the grace of Jesus.

Love, Calling, Self-Awareness, and Grace. These have been the things that have helped me to hang-in there. The challenges of the world don’t just disappear. But I can look at them through these filters. And I know that I can keep going.


P.S. If you read all the way through this thank you for taking the time. I have been listening to these songs a lot lately. They have been helpful. They are both from U2, and I know they are not for everyone. But I like them and I they fit with the vibe of this post.

What are you about?

Photo by Jakub Gorajek on Unsplash

This morning during my run I was listening to The Holy Post podcast. They had an interview with J.R. Briggs and they talked about his new book, The Sacred Overlap, which I have added to my, to read list.

It was a great interview. There were several things that got me thinking. Skye and J.R. were talking about how Jesus knew and taught truth, he lived in conviction, and he still was compassionate. Jesus was was criticized by people because his teachings were too hard, and because he was associated with known sinners. He was living in this overlap. And in the overlap there is tension to pulling from either side.

The point that J.R. was making was the Jesus was able to live in that tension because he knew what he was about. He was about doing the Father’s will. When Jesus was a boy and his family lost him in Jerusalem, Jesus was surprised that they didn’t first look in the temple. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”1 When Jesus was confronted about doing miracles on the Sabbath, he said this, “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.'”2

Jesus was about the Father’s will and he did the Father’s work.

Yesterday, I was reading in David Brubaker’s When the Center Does Not Hold that awarenesses of personal calling and purpose is one of the key qualities for leaders who are trying to lead through polarization. I want to share some quotes that I’m going to be wrestling with.

“What’s important is that we know ourselves. The most destructive leaders I have encountered are those who were utterly clueless about their behavior and it’s impact on others. . . . Clarity within transfers to clarity with others. When we know who we are and what we believe, we naturally commuicat that clarity to others.”3

Brubaker uses a college president’s experiences leading through significant change as a case study, Loren Swartzendruber knew that he needed to be a non anxious presence for his community, and in order to do that he had to have personal clarity on values and purpose. President Swartzendruber is quoted saying:

Leaders in any environment, certainly in one that is polarized, have to begin with their own integrity. Parker Palmer talks about leading from the inside. Knowing myself internally, knowing what my values are, knowing what my vision is, my goals. I have to keep coming back to that . . . what are my values?4

Over the past several years, we have all had to navigate change and polarization. Holding not to core values and knowing who I am called to be is what has helped me keep going. There are going to be people who attack from both sides. I’m too conservative for liberal friends, and too liberal for my conservative friends. But I am trying to hold in tension Conviction, Compassion, and Wisdom. And I am trying to be about the work that Jesus has called me to.

What am I about? I am called to help people see how the Word of God is alive and active, and how the word of God shapes and enriches our lives today. I believe Jesus is serious about his call to radical discipleship. I believe that my first allegiance is to his kingdom.

I don’t always get all this right, but this is who I am striving to be.

What are you about? What I have learned is it’s a lot easier to work through difficult and polarized situations, if you know who God is shaping you to be. If you wait until your are in a polarized season, to work this stuff out, you will create personal pain, relational pain, and organization pain.

Start asking know, What am I about?

Write out your core values, how is God shaping you? How do those values shape your organization? These questions can help bring clarity. And in personal clarity is a blessing during seasons of polarization.

—–

1 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Lk 2:49.

 2 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Jn 5:19.

3 David R. Brubaker, When The Center Does Not Hold: Leading in an Age of Polarization, (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2019), 35.

4. Brubaker, When the Center Does Not Hold, 34.

It comes in waves

Photo by Leo Roomets on Unsplash

There are moments of great joy. Things seem to be working. Progress is being made. It’s easy to laugh and smile.

There are moments of frustration. Everything stalls. I can see all the problems. It’s hard to focus and concentrate.

I can’t be the only one who has felt this way over the past several months. Up and down, back and forth. The waves of good and bad news keep coming and going. This has been very frustrating and leading a church during this time has not been easy.

What I have been learning is that the world will always have waves. COVID-19 has been a major disruption. 2020 seems to have had several major tidal events. This has been rough. I have been trying to not get swept up in the waves, because that’s when you panic. When you don’t know which way is up and you feel the water pulling you in different direction. That is the last place you want to be.

Daily Bible reading has been part of my life for years. This year, I have been particularly refreshed as I read scripture, and I have been sharing daily devotions through a podcast. These disciplines have refocused my heart on Jesus in such a way that he really has become an anchor for my soul (Hebrews 6:19). The anchoring hope of Jesus is knowing that he has completed all that is necessary to save us from sin, and his death and resurrection are the path into the family of God.

As the Family of God, we are growing in maturity and unity in Christ. As we grow in Christ we learn how to swim safely, and we are no longer tossed by the waves (Ephesians 4:13-14). And our faith will help us to not be tossed by the wind (James 1:6).

The waves are part of this world, but our lives don’t need to be dictated by the waves. I pray that the Spirit of God will help us in the moments of crisis and uncertainty. We have security in Jesus, and when the waves come and go, that may change the shape of the shoreline, it may reveal some treasures, it may reveal some dangers. But the waves of this world don’t change who we are in Christ Jesus. He is our security, he is our hope.

– –

on a side note:

As I was writing this I was reminded of this song from U2, “Every Breaking Wave.”

Fear not the Extreme Among You

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Jesus invited a tax collector (someone who worked for the Roman Empire) and a zealot (someone who wanted to overthrow the Romans Government) to join his small group of disciples. Matthew and Simon were extremes, and they both found community in Jesus.

This past week I listened to the audiobook for People to Be Loved by Preston Sprinkle, and I began reading When the Center Does Not Hold by David Brubaker. I’m about 30% through Brubaker’s book so I’m not writing a reveiw of any kind in this post. These books are not talking about the same topic, but something that I found consist in their messaging. Jesus is not afraid of extremes. He calls people into relationship with him and he has the power to transform the extreme labels that we wear, so that those labels don’t define us.

Jesus doesn’t call us to water down our passions. But he can redirect our passions for his purposes. The Apostle Paul was an extreme person. He was breathing out murderous threats on his way to arrest followers of Jesus. Jesus halted Paul’s trip to Damascus, and radically transformed this Christian-hater into a church planting disciple maker. Paul who was one of the most passionate followers of the law, a Pharisee of Pharisees, became the voice that carried the gospel to the gentile nations. All the zeal that Paul had towards matters of the law, Jesus transformed and directed to be zealous for the message of God’s grace.

I pray that our churches, in-person an online, would be filled with extreme people. We need Matthews and Simons, and Pauls, who recognize that they are desperately in need of Jesus. We need not fear the extremes, if we keep directing people to Jesus as our shared center.

Yesterday Kathy and I were going to Costco, and we were talking about relationships with people and church leadership. Sometimes people leave for a bit, and come back because they know you are still there. It reminded me of an illustration I read years ago from Exiles by Michael Frost. Frost was comparing ranching techniques between different cultures. Some cultures build miles of fences to keep their herds and flocks in place. In other cultures, the rancher digs wells so the herds and flocks know where to come back for fresh, live sustaining water.

Jesus said that he is the living water. As a pastor, I am not afraid of extreme people, because they still need water. Jesus was not afraid of the extreme people, because he knew that they still needed water that he alone could offer.

I pray that we set aside our extremes and our labels for ourselves and others, and drink deeply that living water that Jesus gives us.

I pray that our passions for causes will be motivated not by our “right-ness” but by Christ’s righteousness.

Lord Jesus help us find our center in you alone.

Work in Progress

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I have been enjoying What if Jesus was Serious by Skye Jethani. This book is a devotional level reading of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jethani has a great ability to communicate profound truths through his doodles and brief reflections. I have had several experiences of being challenged in my own thinking and actions while reading this book.

I was drawn to this book because I really do believe that if Christians tried to live out the principles in the Sermon on the Mount, we would radically change the world. Jesus’ teachings in this passage are so counter-cultural and so seemingly impossible that it’s just easier to say, “Well, clearly Jesus is being hyperbolic!”

Every time I find myself reading these passages of Matthew, I have begun by confessing that I am far from perfect. I am a work in progress. I know that my natural desires run contrary to Jesus’ teaching and I need the Spirit of God to change my heart. If I can admit that I am a work in progress, then I need to also be willing to extend this kind of grace to others. I also ask the Lord to help me see where I have been transformed by his grace in my life.

Lately, the areas I need to submit to the Lord revolve around worry (Matt 6:25-34) and judging others (7:1-5). In regard to worry, I don’t find myself crippled with dread about the world, but I do tend to stress about things that I can’t control. I can’t control who wins elections. I can’t control the economy and how that effects our region. I can’t control other people’s opinions about me. But that doesn’t keep me from worrying about it. But I’m a work in progress.

Christians have a reputation in this world of being judgmental towards people who are not following Jesus. This is not good, but that’s not my particular struggle. I want people to follow Jesus and I desire that people would be set free from life controlling habits, addictions, and sinful behavior. I really do want that for people. When I’m really honest with myself though, my judgmental heart is not focused on non-Christians, my judgmentalism is towards people who claim the name of Jesus. And that is gross. I am asking the Lord Jesus to help me get the plank out of my eye. I am a work in progress.

I ask for grace from Jesus and grace from you. The Sermon on the Mount is the goal that I’m trying to live out. I want to build my life on these words from Jesus, because his teachings are the solid foundation that I need (Matt 7:24-27).

I’m Tired.

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I know I’m not the first to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway.

I’m tired of all of the division and anger in our country.

I’m tired of people who are happy to fight with strangers on the internet, and forget that there are human beings on the other side.

I’m tired of people saying, if you don’t agree with me on this politician, or this issue, we can’t be friends.

I’m tired of people announcing on Facebook that they are pruning their friends list.

I’m tired of people sharing things that are not true because it lines up with their prior assumptions.

I wish I could say that these exhausting things would be alleviated after the election. But they won’t. Because the problems are not ultimately about our politicians. I have been asking the Lord for clarity on the root of our current tensions. It’s not politicians. Politicians are temporary.

What I am coming to terms with is that we have forgotten how to love people. We have forgotten how to serve without demanding anything in return. We have forgotten, that even people we disagree with are made in God’s image. We have forgotten that we might be wrong sometimes and the other person could be right.

I think that is part of why I’m tired. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not my job to fix people. It’s not my job to win every argument. Sometimes we just need to walk away from the debate.

This is what I am committing to:

  • I will love you even if we disagree
  • I will assume the best about you even if we disagree
  • I will continue to pray for you to experience blessing and joy
  • I will continue to read Scripture and let the Word of God shape my life
  • I will lift up Jesus
  • I will teach the Bible to the best of my ability
  • I will not let your opinion of me outweigh what God says about me, and I will not let my opinion about you shape what God says about you

If you’re tired, I invite you to join me on this journey. I’m tired of being tired.

Dissecting the Frog – Anjelah Johnson: Not Fancy

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Anjelah Johnson is funny. If you were friends with her in real life, you would probably love listening to her share her stories. Before watching Not Fancy I had never seen or heard her stand-up. I chose this special for two reasons. 1) I didn’t want to only watch white men tell jokes. It’s good to branch out. 2. Netflix recommended it. That’s it.

I did not know that she blew up on the internet because of a video she produced where she talked about what it’s like to go to a nail salon. I did not know that video exists largely because it is not #relevanttomyinterests.

I also did not know that Anjelah is a Christian or that she is married to a Christian rapper. As a pastor who studies comedy, it would seem that I should know these things. But I’m going to tell you a little secret. A lot of Christian-Comedy just isn’t that funny. I don’t seek it out. Generally, when Christian-Comedy falls in my path, I can tell right away what’s going on. It was not until Anjelah said she’s a Christian that I even noticed that her material was missing swear words. I say all of this as a compliment. I appreciate that she is not afraid to say she is a Christian, and that she is not perfect.

Christians should be able to work in Comedy without having to only perform in churches. This show was in a fairly large theater in Southern California. Anjelah made note of this early on, and she also highlighted that she is Latina. There were several sections of material that highlighted the uniqueness of Latino culture, food, and family dynamics. One of my favorites is how she established the Latino hierarchy and placed Mexicans on top simply because their food has crossed over into normal food.

Anjelah also talked about going to Cholo Church. She set up a great contrast between the typical white church, and she had a great white-church-lady voice. So perfect. As a white person, I appreciated the accuracy. The way she talked about Cholo Church was funny and powerful. “These people, Jesus brought them through some stuff.” And “I could literally see Jesus on this man because he had a huge Jesus tattoo on his neck. That’s dedication.”

I don’t want to laugh at other people’s cultures. There is something that feels weird about that. But when someone of that culture is inviting us into their world by sharing their experience they are giving us permission. If we can’t laugh with each other then I really do believe we have completely lost our sense of humor.

I do feel strange when we laugh at other people’s cultures and they are not the ones inviting us to do that. As I said Anjelah blew up on the internet because of a nail salon video she released (I still haven’t watched it). This video may be very accurate. But Anjelah refers to this at the end of this special and part of her process is dropping into a very thick Vietnamese accent. She does a good job at the accent. But this bit is designed to bring laughter at the expense of “the other.” And maybe you might say I’m trying too hard to be “woke.” I really don’t care about wokeness. I just don’t think it’s funny. This section was a disappointment, it wasn’t the best material from the set, and it was what Anjelah chose to end on.

This is a strange thing that I have noticed in comedy in general. If people have a viral hit through youtube, in their next special they refer back to it. Nate Bargatze did this as well in The Tennessee Kid. I don’t know why they would want to do this in their comedy special. It assumes that everyone has been following the arc of their career. I know I was surprised by this at the end of Not Fancy. I had no idea what she was talking about. I don’t know if this trend is going to hold up well.

Overall, I would recommend this special. It is funny. You can watch it with your young teens and your grandma. Which is what everyone is going for right?

Dissecting a Frog – Jim Gaffigan: Quality Time

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Did Jim Gaffigan really release another special so soon? Yes. Is it good? Also yes.

I don’t know how Jim Gaffigan can create so many jokes so quickly. Working with his wife Jeannie, he definitely knows his voice and his point of view. With this hour and fifteen minutes of all-new comedy, Gaffigan doesn’t veer far from the formula that he knows works, but it still feels fresh.

What does Gaffigan talk about?

He starts by talking about how fat he’s getting. It seems like this is also how he opened his Mr. Universe special. That was mainly because his pants were too tight. This time, he approaches his weight from a different article of clothing, the untucked shirt. While talking about this, he also is able to make fun of the company, Untuckit, which claims to have invented a way for men to wear untucked shirts.

He talks about his kids, and how parents lie to their kids all the time. For example, “You wouldn’t like this ice cream. It’s too spicy.” I often told my kids that food I didn’t want to share tasted like medicine.

He also talks about traveling without his kids and how delightful it is.

He talks about Dateline, the news magazine TV show that went all-in on murder stories.

He talks about the weather – How hot it is in Las Vegas.

He talks about traveling and not wanting to do stuff.

I don’t want to list all of the major sections of Quality Time. Even though a lot of these topics may seem like they are cliche’ comedy jokes, Gaffigan is able to tell these jokes in a fresh and fun way. This special is very much worth it.

Personally, my favorite part of this special was seeing the evolution of Gaffigan’s storytelling. For so long so much of his bits were talking about a particular thing, Hot Pockets, Seafood, Hotel Pools, and then just making as many humorous observations and possible. In this special, Gaffigan had a great story about getting his appendix removed, followed by seeing a bear while the family was in Alaska. He gave joke after joke as he moved the story along. His jokes about how he got to the hospital, his post-surgery experience, the cost of it all.

Gaffigan’s pile on style joke (like hot pockets) for this special was about horses and gambling on horse races. He was able to stretch this section of jokes out, and do his patented cut-away to the audience-thoughts-voice. Gaffigan is so great at pointing to the things that we all thought were strange and making a ton of jokes about them.

Of course, Gaffigan is one of the least offensive comedians working today. I would definitely recommend this special. You could easily watch this with your teenagers. They would probably enjoy this. The other fun thing about comedians like Jim Gaffigan is that watching or listening to his comedy as a family can create a lot of shared laughs.

This is available on Amazon Prime Video, you can also find Noble Ape on Amazon Prime. If you don’t have prime, Gaffigan has several specials available on Netflix.

Todd Barry – Spicy Honey

The last two specials I watched had some weighty themes and emotional moments. This week I needed a little lighter fare. Scrolling through Netflix, I stumbled upon a Spicy Honey from 2017. Todd Barry is a joke machine. He doesn’t tell a lot of long stories. His jokes come from his everyday life and his unusual way of looking at the world.

The best comedians have two things, a unique worldview, and a unique voice. The voice does not mean they sound funny. The voice is about their ability to speak to something. Voice takes years to develop. Many great comedians work for years before they finally break through to superstar status. I believe that breakthrough happens when they hone their voice. For as long as I have been aware of Todd Barry, he has been a consistently funny and unique voice.

In this special, he talks about the absurdity of texting emergencies, the odd pressure of goal setting, paying someone to help organize your house. Barry is great at taking very mundane things and highlighting their absurdity.

Barry also does a great job of interacting with his audiences. He has done tours that showcased his crowd work. I this special, he has several moments where he stops telling his jokes and asks the audience members in the front row questions. These questions service the joke that he wants to tell in a moment, but it’s risky to stop your show and invite your audience to be a contributor to the program. But this is part of Barry’s brilliance. By interacting with the audience directly, he is bringing the room of strangers together. It creates an openness to his comedy, that welcomes people into a little community for the evening. He only interacted with a handful of people, but every time he stopped to talk to the audience, it re-engaged me differently.

Crowd work like this can be risky. But Barry never lost control. When crowd responses were strange, Barry would point that out. One of the audience members, when asked what he wanted to do for work, said he wanted to be a comedian. Barry took a moment to coach him and say, comedians never sit upfront. They always sit in the back. As a pastor, I love his interactions with the audience. I wish the church were a little more interactive. But I also strongly resonate with comedians sit in the back. Pastors at their churches always need to sit upfront. But when we go to pastor conferences, back rows fill up first.

Fans of Todd Barry would know that he does a fair amount of crowd work. I’m sure they came expecting to participate in the show in some way, but they could never know exactly what would happen. Crowd work like this makes comedy special. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. This combination of comic and audience members will never happen again. Every show can be radically different. Years ago, Pearl Jam released a bunch of bootleg audio recordings from their tours. They had unique evenings, and they wanted to share that with fans. I would love to have a series of bootlegs from Todd Barry’s tours. Yeah, a lot of the jokes would be the same, but a good joke, like a good song, can be played on repeat. But the crowd responses would keep the shows fresh.

My professor, Len Sweet, recommended a book during a lecture called Interactive Excellence by Edwin Schlossberg. It is a short book that addresses how art and performance that will resonate in the future will invite the audience to become co-creators with the artist. Stand-up comedy depends on the audience. If they don’t laugh, the show bombs. But crowd work, the way Barry does it, goes beyond generating laughter. Barry is inviting the audience to make the jokes with him. In doing so, he is turning fans into a family. These people will always remember this show, and they will rave about Todd Barry for the rest of their lives.

If you like a dry comic, Todd Barry is a great choice. He is a veteran of comedy; he’s done the work for years, and he keeps getting better. There is some swearing in this special, but there is nothing graphic.