How Far is Too Far?

The news headlines are littered with stories of celebrities of all stripes falling into moral failure. It’s not a new occurrence by any means, but the reaction to the news seems to be changing.

Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and raping a woman. As a result, he has been expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, been removed from the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, and all references to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The Cosby Show” have been removed from the Television Academy’s web site.

Tanya Harding pled guilty to a felony charge of hindering the prosecution in the attack against Nancy Kerrigan. The US Figure Skating Association stripped her of her 1994 National Championship and banned her for life from being an athlete or coach. However, they did NOT strip her of her 1991 national title.

Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle-area, was removed from his position after it was found he had been, among other things, abusing his power. As a result, his books were removed from Christian book stores and he lost his position in other ministries.

Pastor Bill Hybels was forced to retire early due to alleged misconduct that spans over 40 years. It is yet to be seen what the fall out will be.

Theological differences cause people to react as well.

Rob Bell wrote a book that argues for universal salvation. His books were removed from Lifeway Bookstores, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptists.

When Eugene Peterson made a statement that seemingly supported gay marriage. Lifeway threatened to remove his work, including his The Message paraphrase translation of the Bible. Peterson clarified his stance supporting traditional marriage, and all was forgiven.

My question, and I don’t know that I have a great answer for it, is where is the line?

If we look back at our national history, many of our Presidents have had some serious moral failures. FDR incarcerated Japanese-Americans and he refused to accept more Jewish refugees. Jefferson and Jackson defended slavery and were responsible for executions of Native American peoples. JFK was unfaithful to his wife. Yet all of these men did good for our nation. We celebrate them, we honor them.

So my question is simply, “How far is too far?”

Obviously, we hold those who claim to be moral leaders, such as clergy, to higher standards. If a person preaches about the sinfulness of adultery and then is found to be having affairs, his credibility is shattered. It’s hypocritical we say and we ban his books from our bookstores.

In theological differences we do the same thing – if someone becomes heretical in their teaching (by our standards), we tend to believe that all their previous teaching, not matter how on point or beneficial to us in the past, must be bad as well.

Where do we draw the line? When do we say that someone has gone too far or done too much to be remembered for anything other than their sins?

When Jesus was confronted with the woman who was found committing adultery in John 8, he told the crowd that whoever had never sinned could throw the first stone. Then the accusers slinked away, one by one.

The fact of the matter is that we are all sinful people, and if our whole life’s story was bared out before the world – our inner most thoughts scrawled across the pages of a magazine – we may not look so good either.

I am not saying that there should not be consequences for these men and women – there should be – no one should be given a free pass just because they can make us laugh, make a good product, or pass good legislation. There is no legitimate excuse for sinful behavior.

But before we join in on the stoning, we need to make sure that we remember that we, too, are sinners in need of a Savior. None of us is perfect, and we are all deserving of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.

Guardians of Fatherhood

Fatherhood. It’s an issue that touches us all. No matter who we are, or how we were raised, we all have a father. Some fathers are absent; some are unknown; some are present; some are loving.

This past weekend my son and I saw “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two,” and I was surprised to the find the theme of fatherhood featured so prominently in a major superhero movie.

The main character, Star-Lord, was taken from Earth after his mother passed away from brain cancer. He was raised by a thief, Yondu. Yondu took Star-Lord in and raised him. Yet Star-Lord (real name Peter Quill) always wondered who his father was. He wondered how his father could have deserted his mother and him, and why he never came to find him after his mother passed away.

In the film, Peter does find out who his father is. They meet and, at least initially, have the reunion that Peter always wanted. Without giving too much away, the dream is almost always better than the reality.

Peter realizes that though he now knows his biological father, his true father was the man who raised him. It takes a tragedy for Yondu and Peter to admit their bond of love, but Peter soon realizes that he has had a father all along in Yondu.

What we see depicted in this movie reminds me of something that I saw hanging on the wall of my own dad’s office: “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.”

Our father is dictated by biology – our daddy is the man who loves us and shows care and compassion for us. Our daddy is the one who stands by us when things get tough. Our daddy is the one who will lay down his life for us.

I was blessed to have a daddy like that; a man full of faith who would sacrifice for me, love me, and mold me into a man of God.

Some people, unfortunately, never find a daddy. There are no men in their lives who will stand up for them, love them, or sacrifice for them. For those individuals, the only daddy they may ever know is the Abba Father, God himself.

When Jesus taught us to pray, he tells us to pray, “Abba.” Abba is an affectionate word, sometimes translated “daddy.” Jesus teaches us that while our situation on earth may not be ideal, our Daddy in heaven is always with us, loving us, and ultimately willing to sacrifice for us.

Our Heavenly Daddy sent his own Son to die in our place, so that we can be with our Daddy for all eternity. It was the ultimate sacrifice made for us, regardless of who we are or what we have done. His sacrifice, and the obedience of Jesus on the cross, is what opens the door for us to experience true love and acceptance.

No matter what your life experience, know that there is a Daddy who knows you by name, who loves you, and who wants to connect with you on a personal level. Call out to him and experience the true love that only a Daddy can bring.

Be in the Moment

A couple weekends ago I got to take my son to his first home Seattle Seahawks game. (Go Hawks!) It was a playoff game against the Detroit Lions, which we won handily. It was a great birthday present for me! He had never been to a home game, and it was always something I looked forward to sharing with him.

We got to the stadium hours early to participate in the early events provided for fans, and it was a great time together.

The joy we shared together that day is something that I’ll always treasure. I felt like it was sort of a rite of passage for him, being a Seahawks fan living in Kansas, getting to go on this incredible trip. And it got me thinking about other rites of passage that will come down the line.

Logan is 10 years old now, and sooner than I’m ready for he will be going to middle school, learning how to drive, graduating high school, going to college, and starting his life outside our home. As I think about those things, I’m flooded with emotion. I’m excited for him to be able to do all these things that have the potential for such joy, though I’m not looking forward to losing what we have now. But for anything to grow, there has to be change, and part of that change is loss. That’s the part of change we don’t like, but it is inevitable.

I will always cherish the time we have now, even in those moments that are not so picturesque. I’m committed to living in the moment, not looking too far ahead or behind, but really being there with him, my daughter, my wife, my friends, and my family. Learning to just “be” has not been easy for me. My mind often wants to race on ahead, but I’m reminded to enjoy the present and not be so easily distracted by what could have been or what could be.

I’m only going to have one chance to be there for my kids. I’m only going to have one short season of life to play hide-and-seek, Barbies, Madden, and catch. I will only get to coach my kids’ soccer teams for so long. It will be only a matter of time until I won’t be asked to brush my daughter’s hair, tuck them in at night, or tell them bedtime stories. But I can’t think too much about those future losses, because if I do, I’ll miss today. And today is something I cannot get back tomorrow.

Grief is a Strange Thing

Grief is a strange thing.

For those of you who don’t know, we have begun the process of adoption. We decided to foster to adopt, so we went through the process of becoming a licensed foster home. During this journey, at two different points we were told that a child was going to be placed in our home. And at two different points, we were told that that was not going to happen.

With the first child, it was a situation where the kids and I never had visits with him, and so it never felt real to me. I purposely didn’t want to know much about him and I never wanted to meet him until I knew that we were moving further in the process. I guess I was trying to protect myself from getting attached.

With the second child, we had already had family visits with the child, and were, as a family, actively talking about the possibility of adopting him. Due to some things outside of our control, we now know that that boy will be placed with another family as well.

Though the circumstances were different, it still makes me wonder what God has planned for us.

When I shared our situation on Facebook, many of my friends committed to praying for us, and I am grateful for their prayers. I truly do feel a peace that I didn’t have when I initially posted. But now I’m faced with the grieving process. I know that I didn’t know the boy for very long, but there’s something different about meeting someone who you are told could be added to your forever family. You think differently. You feel differently.

I’m feeling stuck now between feelings of peace and sadness and anger. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be feeling. There are times when I feel OK, and there are times, like when I took Kamryn on a daddy-daughter date yesterday, that I feel happy. Yet in that happiness, I felt a tinge of guilt. Can I truly feel happy when this has happened? I asked my friends and family to pray, and I genuinely feel saddened by the situation – I feel the loss – yet now I find myself feeling joy with my daughter. Is that OK?

I’m going this weekend with Logan to Seattle for a guys’ weekend for the Seahawks playoff game. Am I allowed to feel happy and excited to take my son to his first home Seahawks game? If people see me being happy, posting pictures of our fun, will they feel like maybe I wasn’t so heartbroken after all? Should that matter? I don’t know.

All I know is that my emotions are wide-ranging right now and all I can do is be honest about them. I can’t control what people think about me, and I’m going to try not to worry about that and just live in the moments that I have with Logan this weekend.

God sees the whole picture and has a plan. I choose to trust in that and trust that God will never leave me, and that God loves me no matter how I might be feeling at any given moment. Thank you, friends, for your continued love and support! It means the world to me.

Am I a Hypocrite? The More Important Laws

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” – Jesus, Matthew 23:23-24 (NLT)

I was reading a book tonight and it led me to a chapter in Matthew that I thought would hold deep significance to me. I thought that chapter was 23. I don’t know what chapter I was looking for, but chapter 23 definitely hit me like a ton of bricks tonight.

There have been many discussions regarding The Law as of late, and I’m struck particularly by the words of Jesus above, indicating that the Law is not all equal. There are parts that are more important than others. He clarifies by stating that it doesn’t mean that you can pick and choose, or ignore the less important parts, but there are definitely more important parts.

It seems to me that we often make too much out of the less important parts. Jesus’ example here is about tithing. I think every pastor I know would think that teaching people to give (whether we agree on the tithe or not) is essential. But what about “justice, mercy, and faith”?

When was the last time I preached a sermon about justice or mercy? I have preached many sermons about faith, but the last one I preached (just this last week) was about faith requiring action. Faith is not just what I believe, it’s also what I do. James says that “faith without good works is dead.” Jesus in this chapter says basically the same thing.

The Pharisees and religious teachers are not living the way that they are supposed to be living. They are legalistically requiring people to obey the law that is easy to monitor and enforce, but they themselves are not being obedient to what really matters.

Listen further to what Jesus says:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Jesus, Matthew 23:27-28

What is my heart filled with? I don’t believe I am a hypocrite – but neither did the Pharisees. I tithe on my income, yes, but what am I doing about justice and mercy? Am I obeying the little parts of the law and feeling good about myself without focusing on the bigger, more important parts?

I can think of answers to these questions, but for now, I think I’m going to let them marinate. I believe that I opened my Bible to the “wrong” place for a reason tonight, and I need to allow the Spirit to speak to me.

What words is God speaking to you when you read Matthew 23? Don’t allow yourself to quickly dismiss the idea that you simply can’t be a hypocrite or Pharisee because you do x, y, and z. What are you doing with the parts of the Law that matter more?

From Seattle to Soldier, My Calling Continues

After my summer serving in Bryce Canyon National Park, as a student minister with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, I returned to start my second semester at Manhattan Christian College. Things were going alright, but I sensed that I needed to do more than just attend school.

A job posting for a part time youth minister was put up on the bulletin board for a church in Soldier, Kansas. I was excited for the possibility of working in a church, working with youth, and putting into practice that which I was learning. I interviewed for the position and eventually was offered my first church job.

For those of you who don’t know where Soldier is, you’re not alone. The population of Soldier is 140. Just for reference, the population of the Seattle-area is 3.7 million. The church and parsonage were located on the only paved road in town, and all the town had was a post office, a community building, and a bar. The congregation was made up of mostly farmers, and it was quite a culture shock. I am a city boy through-and-through, so learning about harvest, driving on dirt roads, and country music was all new to me.

But the people. The people in that church were amazing. They welcomed me into their church as one of their own. They loved me and cared for me in ways I can I never repay. They were also very forgiving of a young minister still in Bible college!

I made a lot of mistakes while there – probably more mistakes than successes – yet I knew God’s hand was in it. The small group of youth I had were committed to God and it was a blessing to be with them. In fact, I am still in contact with many from that group today.

God taught me a lot about humility while I was there, and he showed me that it’s alright to not know it all. I wish that I would have learned that lesson completely while I was there, but I’m still learning to this day. Practically speaking, I learned a lot about farming, rode a horse for the first time, and learned that I’m allergic to ragweed. The senior minister at the time, Richard Schafer, also taught me a lot.

I was (am) a bit stubborn at times, but Richard stayed committed to me, even when I wasn’t. The greatest gift he gave me, however, was the gift of helping those in grief. He taught me more about the grieving process and providing meaningful funeral services than anyone else. To this day I am thankful for him when I am able to help people through those tough times.

There were many families that welcomed us into their homes and into their lives. I am forever grateful to people like the Marmetts, Hollidays, Rieschicks, Penrods, Dursts, Dennys, and Williams.

This time in my life was also important because it is when I met and married my bride, Lori. We met in Manhattan and fell in love. She had also felt a call to ministry, and God was leading us down complementary paths. I will never forget when the church hosted a couples wedding shower for us and my task was to change a diaper, something I had not done before. The women were aghast when I accidentally banged the baby doll’s head against the table as I changed it. (I have since improved!)

I was ordained to the ministry on September 10, 2000, at Soldier Christian Church. The elders there laid hands on me and sealed me for ministry, affirming publicly what God had affirmed to me years before.

I was in Soldier for 3 years, and it is a time I will never forget. I left Soldier to go back to the Seattle-area, to spend time with my grandmother who was dying from Alzheimer’s. I didn’t go right into ministry when I got back, but I was an active volunteer in my church. I ended up working and eventually being a manager of a 13 screen movie theatre, an adventure all its own. Through it all, I knew that God had a plan, and that I would eventually be in full time ministry again.

Just Do It. Faith Requires Action

When asked about my favorite Bible verses, many come to mind. For a long while my favorite passage was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

That passage sums up well how I have faced difficult decisions in my life. I have trusted that God will see me through the decisions and that He has a plan for me and my family. I look back and see myself trusting God, however imperfectly, through every turn.

Over the past several years, however, a new verse has caught my heart: James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Throughout my life I have studied the Bible. I have a bachelor’s degree in Bible. I have a 3-year Master of Divinity degree. The Bible was the main focus of all my higher education. Yet that knowledge is meaningless if I don’t do something with it.

You can have earned degree upon degree, done study after study, gained more Trivial Pursuit knowledge than a Biblical scholar, but James says that if you don’t actually do something with it, you’re deceiving yourself. Without putting your faith in action, without being obedient to Christ, you have tricked yourself into believing that because you have the right knowledge your relationship with God is good. In reality, however, that is not the case.

In chapter 2, James says: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

He doesn’t just say that faith without action is not so great – he actually says that it is “dead.” The Greek word translated dead comes from the word for corpse. There is no mistaking the meaning James has here. If you’re not putting your faith into action – being obedient to all God has called you to – then your faith is dead as a doornail. In other words, what good does a head full of knowledge do if you aren’t living differently because of it?

Do you want to know what God’s will for your life is? Then start doing what you know you’re supposed to be doing! Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs just wondering what his plan is – do something! God has called all of us to do certain things as followers of Christ. We are to love others, take care of the poor, worship, pray, study Scripture, etc. If you’re trying to determine next steps, then do what you already know you’re supposed to be doing, demonstrating your real, life-altering faith. That faith which is lived out, is the only true, saving faith there is. By being obedient to what we already know we are to do, we are proving ourselves to be good and faithful stewards of that which God has entrusted us.

If we truly believe that the two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor, then we can’t do that only in our heads. We have to put legs to the gospel. We have to live and act differently. We have to allow God’s Spirit to transform not only our mind, but also our actions and who we are as individuals.

Do not merely listen to the word, do what it says!