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Thicken Your Skin

“The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive that anything of ours is not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretence, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries.” – Martin Luther, “Concerning Christian Liberty”

The church world is ripe with people who have very thin skin.  Ironically most of these people tend to be what I’d call “Bullies in Sheep’s Clothing”.

You know the type.  They play games with others in an attempt to manipulate a situation.  They want to keep everything secretive in order to avoid having to defend their actions publicly.  Logic and reason are abandoned in favor of emotional ploys. Playing one person against another or relying on a system’s rules in order to achieve their ends.  With bullies in sheep’s clothing the problem is that if you ever confront them in a public venue they cry foul.  They accuse you of being impolite or even worse in Christian circles “angry”.

The quote above written by Martin Luther was not written in 2010 but rather 1520.  Nearly 500 years ago Luther saw the problem of thin skin among those within a religious power structure.  In order to isolate a person in a controlled religous environment the goal is to avoid the merit of the argument by highlighting things like tone, word choice and facial expression.  While certainly none of us should spend a lot of our time upset (especially those of us who are blessed to have received the grace of God in Christ) but there are times when anger is more of a righteous indignation.

Getting upset isn’t a sin.  There are always motives behind the emotion.

When a reasonable person gets upset, direct, and yes angry it may not be a sign that that person is somehow off the deep end as much as that person has now been pushed to the point where passive observance is no longer an option.  This is most true in a case when a person is angry in protection of those who have less of a voice, less of an understand and less of a way to directly affect change.

If you come across a bully in sheep’s clothing you are going to have two options:  stand up to the bully and affect change to protect those who are being damaged by the bullies arrogance or 2. Ignore the bully and consider yourself an accomplice to the damage he/she inflicts on the lives of others.  I’ve decided in life that bullies in sheep’s clothing will be confronted as often as I see them and feel convicted to protect the innocent.

Finding Humility

There is no true humility before one is presented with the Gospel. Prior to that our best humility is still based in our own opinion or effort. So even the best humility apart from a full acknowledgement of sin and impending death (separation from God), there is nothing but pride.

I’m quite certain that Saul -like you and I- was not truly humble until he realized the magnitude of his sin and that the only remedy to be found was in Jesus and not himself. Remember, Paul would later recollect much of this in Philippians 3. He compares and contrasts how before Christ all of his confidence was in the flesh. After meeting Christ he considers all previous things ‘loss’ and ‘garbage’.

True humility can only be found in the Gospel, the acknowledgement that we -on our best day in the flesh- are at best pious and at worst ignorant and damned.

Humility tosses out all of that strenuous and meaningless work in favor of relaxation in the truth that the cross doesn’t demand our labor; but rather our faith, trust and dependance on Jesus to be sufficient.

He is enough, He is everything and when we can put down our religious resume and acknowledge that we find humility, we find freedom and we find Christ.

Crossover Hit?

“You work so hard for a crossover hit but a song without the cross is all that you get.”  – Curtis Zackery

I’ve noticed a trend recently with Christian artists who downplay their faith in order to try to appeal to a broader audience.  Actually, it’s not much of a ‘trend’ anymore as much as it has become a standard operating procedure.  In an effort to get their product sold they tend to minimize the faith elements while at the same time having enough secondary or tertiary elements of faith to appeal to the Christian market as simply that; a market.

I’m wrestling with the ethical elements of this.  On one hand it is not bad at all for someone to make a living for their effort.  On the other hand I’m not sure how much I’m a fan of believers in Christ being seen as merely a market for a product.  I’m doubly concerned if the church market is a springboard upon which a greater sum of money will be made from the product spreading beyond that ‘market’.  That has the fingerprints of faith being used as a means to an end.

One of my friends from college is a hip-hop artist.  His quote at the top of this post is from one of the songs on his album.  The point he’s making here is the point I’d love for Christian artists to consider.  If you’re going to crossover, no problem… you don’t have to do “Christian” music.  I get it.  But why flirt with the Christian market by using some elements of faith in your song just to tease a cert

The Sermon Begins…

The sermon begins before the sermon begins.

This past week I noticed something about

The Christian Lie

Over the course of the last few months I’ve been thinking about a Christian myth that most of us don’t really ‘say’ out loud but we share by our silence.  To me it has become the greatest Christian lie.

In the last 24 hours I’ve talked with 7 different people about their life and nearly all of them are battling this Christian lie.  It’s unhealthy and I pray our generation repents and works hard to avoid passing it down to the generation behind us.

The Christian Lie:  “My brokenness is worse than their brokenness.”

I have a stack of papers on my desk.  Some of them are good things that need to be filed away, some of the pages are junk that need to be tossed out.  The reality is that I’ve seen this pile every day for a week.  I have a good idea of what is in it and I know that “later” I will deal with this pile and get it cleaned up.

That’s essentially how we all treat our own brokenness.  We get very familiar with all of the areas of sin, pride, anger, bitterness

Holidays Matter

I’ve been fortunate enough to serve as a pastor in Texas, Virginia and now Maryland.  There is something vastly different about being here in Maryland the last few years with regard to the Christian faith and the culture in which we live.

In Texas and Virginia there was a noticeable respect for the Christian faith.  Among those who did not go to church there was still a sense that Christianity was likely true but most people just had a hard time at letting God be God in their lives.  There is no doubt a type of difficulty that comes with sharing the gospel in this environment.  In many cases you’re re-educating or reminding people of the truths of the gospel.

Then you come north.

In my experience there is something that happens in the water when you’re driving on the I-95 corridor and you’re approaching Washington D.C..  In that area it seems a gigantic cultural divide takes place.  In my denomination, the SBC, we have come to see everything north of this area as the “North East” region.  Yes we know where the Mason Dixon line is but for the record most people around here have moved on from the Civil War and live in modern day America.  Classifying Maryland as North East seems appropriate.

Baltimore is a salad bowl of diversity.  Our city has over 225 distinct neighborhoods.  Outside the city our diversity doesn’t stop.  We live a few miles north of the city line and my son is in a public school with people from all over the world.  Kristy and I love it!  We love the fact that Caleb is being exposed to so much diversity simply by going to school.  We enjoy the fact that our neighborhood often feels like the break room at the United Nations.  Our street alone is represented by African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Indian, Asian and Russian families.  Again, we love it.

When we were looking to place our son in a preschool a few years ago we looked into about 20 different schools.  We settled on a school nearby that was not religious by nature.  To be honest after we looked at most of the Christian preschools we just felt like the quality was not adequate.  It’s a sad statement but for us it was worth paying more money to get a quality, clean place where the teachers are better paid and they seem to enjoy their jobs.  Our daughter Ainsley is now at this school and we’ve been pleased with the care and education she has received.

This week I had an experience that placed a burden on my heart that I often had ignored.  Over time