Don’t Take This Personally

No one’s life has ever been made better by taking more things personally. 

With each gesture, each word or tone of voice that I choose to take as an affront to my worth or goodness I make myself a little more miserable and a little more insufferable.  That child who just rolled his eyes at me?  That behavior must be assaulted!  Because, after all, I don’t deserve such attitude (my thought is not that the child must be disciplined because his soul is in danger; I don’t care so much about that right now).  My spouse didn’t respond the way I’d hoped?  I can’t just overlook that!  Are you kidding me?  That’s an attack on my value and seriousness and weight as a person.  

Each and every little slight or difficulty that I opt to take personally is another handful of seeds that I’m sowing that yield awful, deadly weeds as time goes on.  Weeds that choke out contentment and gladness and good humor.  The more I take personally, the more I can expect to see personal bitterness and strained relationships in my life.  

Word to the unwise:  Take yourself a little less seriously.  Choose to overlook even real and intended insults.  And remember that according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you don’t deserve anyone’s respect.  Remember these things.  You’ll be happier and more pleasant to be around.  

Trust me.  I’m writing from less than 24 hours’ distance from doing this in the wrong direction.  Pride and self-importance made me a mean and hardened man for a few hours last night.  It was unpleasant.  

Take yourself less seriously.  Have less grievances.  Your blood pressure and your closest relationships will reflect the change sooner than you might think.  

A humble heart is more than ready to bear good fruit in place of bad weeds.  


How to Kill a Church

I love the church. Christ’s bride.  The ekklesia, God’s called out people.  He died to save her and I want to live to serve her.  And in my couple of trips around the block as a church member, church planter, church elder, there are a few poisons I’d love to see get big, skull-and-crossbones warning labels so local churches don’t accidentally ingest them.  The most beautiful, God-honoring of churches can be disintegrated if you introduce the right toxin (see Revelation 2-3).*

*Note:  Some churches also just die a natural death, by God’s good will, having done nothing obviously, overtly sinful or wrong.  No single local church lasts forever.   Churches have God-ordained lifespans.  What I’m warning against is “churchicide,” or, if you prefer, church suicide.  

Some ways to kill a church:

  • Get each person in the church to have his main concern be his role or reputation.  The church will either disband within 6 months or stay together out of spite and be insufferable for 20 years.  Each of the people who leave this church or who stays in her just to grumble will be perpetually disgruntled that they didn’t get to do or be what they wanted to do or be.  And whatever you do, don’t let any of the people’s attitude be like this:  

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Philippians 2:3-7

  • Get them away from the question “Is this true?”  Make them instead always, always, always ask “Will this work?”  And then get them to think it “worked” if their unbelieving friends and neighbors liked it.  Before you know it, they’ll go from trying to bless people because they want them to know their Maker (Christlike) to trying to get people to like them because that means whatever the church did must have “worked” (retail-like).  If you can get the church to make her decisions based solely on the world’s reactions to those decisions, you’re one or two steps away from turning the church’s leaders into a roomful of TV executives trying to figure out which type of new fall show will draw in their key demographic.  
  • Get the church to look in all the time.  Make them thoroughly and completely overwhelmed with the church structure and the internal systems and programs.  Get them to think only about the people already in the body.  No church can outlive its current members if no new members are made.  It’s simple math.  So you can kill a church by attrition if you get it to stop obeying Jesus’ commands to preach to the unbelieving and make disciples.  This method takes a little patience of course, unlike introducing outright heresy or getting a leader to fall into a massive scandal, but it’ll get you to the same end.  A church who doesn’t care about making new Christians won’t outlive her current Christians.  

Let me pull my tongue back out of my cheek, now:  Don’t let any of these things begin in your church.  And if they’ve already begun, pray and work like crazy for their removal.  

The church is a blessed thing.  And the cities and countries of our world desperately need local churches to minister to Gospel-believers and send them back out into the darkness, as well as to preach Christ’s Good News from the pulpit and the pew loud enough for all to hear.    

I’m short, love and protect the church.  

Jesus died to do the same. 

Let Us Go First

It’s a Christian thing to listen.  It’s a Christian thing to allow someone to give his perspective, finish his sentence, share his experience while not judging him or getting overly defensive.  It’s the flesh that belittles and dismisses and refuses to ever give the person on the other side the benefit of the doubt.  It’s carnality that imputes the worst possible motives to a person you disagree with.  Where Christianity would have us speak the truth in love, pride wants a quick one-liner to shut the other guy up. 

There’s a church here in Cincinnati who is holding a prayer service in response to what happened Thursday night in Dallas.  I can’t go because I’m preaching for another pastor here locally, but if you’re in the Cincinnati area, please consider going.  It’s an ethnically diverse church devoted to the Good News of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, and that’s about as beautiful a thing as you can find under this temporary sun in my book.  

I want to be humble about these racial matters, because I know that’s what my Savior would have me be.  We are called to have a posture of humility.  And I believe a part of humility is to allow the other person to have his say, whether you end up agreeing with all or part of what he says or not.  And so we should be the kings and queens of dialogue, us Jesus-lovers, because we of all folks have been shown that loving people and loving truth are branches on the same tree.  So let us be the first to listen, the most gracious in speech, and the least afraid of honesty and truth.  

If America is looking for a way to have a true and honest dialogue about something hard to talk about, let’s show her a way.

After all, God left us in a dark world for a reason.   


Just Be It

There is nothing ignoble in simply being what God has called you to be, however small or large, plain or beautiful it may seem to human sight.  “Use me as an instrument for Your salvation, Lord, however you will” is a good prayer.  It’s a freeing prayer, too. 

Spurgeon said that at the Last Supper there was a chalice for drinking wine and a basin for washing feet, and maybe you’re the chalice and he’s the basin.  But, he said, let the basin be the basin, and let the chalice be the chalice.  

You and I don’t have to sweat it out trying to earn our identity.  The blood will rinse off our pride if you and I will let it; we are free to humble ourselves and just enjoy Jesus, His church, and serving His people.  Whatever service for the Kingdom you’ve been truly called to, find a way to do it and do it.  

The Kingdom of God is an ego graveyard. 

There are no alpha males here.  After all, it’s wolves that have alphas and betas, and we’re all sheep in this economy; different heights and colors, maybe, but sheep all.  Or, to paint with a different metaphoric brush, none of us have to be the head of this body; she already has One.  

This ain’t Hollywood, brother.  Nobody has personal assistants and nobody’ll be comparing accolades.  Here, we’re all slaves and all sons, and we work from acceptance, not for it.   

You and I have been adopted to be things, all for love and for the glory of Another.  

So let’s be them. 


On Boasting


A simple contrast with no commentary, in the hopes of edifying the reader:

“I’m the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far… Nobody’s ever been more successful than me. I’m the most successful person ever to run. Ross Perot isn’t successful like me. Romney – I have a Gucci store that’s worth more than Romney.”

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”


This Thing On My Back


The beauty of the Good News of the crucified and risen Messiah is that it’s for bad people. People like the sexually immoral Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. People like the thief and traitor that Jesus called into the Kingdom and into ministry in Matthew 9 (Levi/Matthew). People like the man being fairly executed for his real crimes right next to Jesus’ cross who repented and believed just before dying.

This thing on my back is my imagined righteousness. Or in different light under a different moon it might look like excessive shame.

I alternate between periods of trying to furiously earn the respect and admiration of a God I wrongly believe is cold and distant and an intense loathing of myself for past sins (or even imagined sins).

Instead of following a Jesus who has freed me, I’m tripping over my own feet trying to impress a Jesus I think wants me to free myself before He’ll have anything to do with me.

You can be a minister of the Gospel and forget it. It works like this: 9:30 in the morning rolls around, and as you’re doing your normal workday tasks the ways that you’ve failed and the sins that you’ve committed leak into the back of your mind. And instead of proclaiming the Gospel of God’s grace to yourself, you try to prove that you can be better. You try to balance the scales. Today, you think, I’ll be better… That is the answer to my guilt and shame and failures. And so instead of putting your hope in the finished work of the Lion of Judah, you put your hope in your own abilities and good works. Instead of seeking peace in the unsearchable, unfathomable love of God in His wrath-absorbing Son, you look for peace in your own newly-charged resolve to be a better person.

It is a never-ending cycle of exhaustion and despair or of spiritual blindness and arrogance. If you and I think we can impress God or that ultimate hope or peace can come from our good works, we will not walk in the humility, love, joy, and worship of the healthy Christian. We’ll be self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-righteous, or self-loathing. And most of all self-deluded.

The beauty of the Gospel is that it’s good and that it’s true. It’s far more good than any righteousness we can eke out on our own, and it’s far more true than any transitory illusion we might have of our own ability to impress God and man.

This thing on my back? It’s of my own making. And it crumbles and falls to the ground when exposed to the Gospel. Like sin, it’s power is less than the Messiah’s.

Look over your shoulders and see if you have one like mine. If so, join me in turning from sin and trusting in the Son. Our shoulders are weak and burdened with depravity; His are holy and strong as steel.

We can’t carry the weight of our own sins; He can carry the world’s.


Freedom in Beating Your Chest


If you are wrapped up in a sin, feeling hanged by its guilt, lost in the sense of unworthiness that it casts like an impossibly long shadow before your feet, a plea:

Repent and believe in the saving, justifying Jesus of Nazareth.

He does not cast aside penitent sinners.

He does not disown grieving tax collectors who beat their breasts over their greeds.

He does not shame the mourners in this funeral procession over here, the one marked “not many who were wise.”

If you are devastated or depressed due to your recent sins, like I was this past Friday night, take some hope from a brother in the only Christ: turn from those filthy things and receive the free gift of Jesus’ pure covering of righteousness. Receive it. Trust in the cross-killed, Father-raised Jesus and and be cleansed from all unrighteousness. Confess and be clean. He is giving away hope and peace, here, and it can’t be bought, so put away your wallet.

I was downcast on Friday night after I surrendered to anger and self-pity. And that was right. After all, He disciplines those He loves. But oh, what comes after the discipline is marvelous.

The Jesus who saves sinners will comfort those who mourn. He will justify those who cry out, from the heart, that they are terrible men and women who need mercy. He will rescue those who call upon His Name. He will give away the earth and the Kingdom like they are an inheritance He has an unchallengeable, glorious right to. Because they are. And He does.

If you’re drowning in anger, lust, bitterness, the boredom of materialism, or the churning of jealousy, turn from that sin and believe the Gospel. Come in faith to the Savior. His forgiveness is sweet, and it’ll make you sing, if you hear it right.

It’s an impossibly beautiful thing to leave the temple knowing you’re justified. Your feet step out the door and into the sunlight and you feel alive to God and holiness. You were crying from grief, but now a very different breed of tear is streaking your face. You start to walk home and you realize you’re smiling. You know there will be a grand party someday for former sinners, thrown by the very King whom they had sinned against. And you are quite confident, by the King’s unfathomable, unsearchable grace, that you are very much invited.

My encouragement for the sin-trodden and despair-worn like me: Repent and believe.

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.'”
Luke 18:9-14

*Note: This post was adapted from an e-mail I sent to our church.