Note: The video below includes profanity. If you’re in a public place, heads up.
For the last several weeks we’ve been journeying through Jesus’ beatitudes with our church. This morning I’ve been reflecting on the last couple months and as I do I find myself once again captivated by Jesus and overwhelmed by the depth and richness of his words.
In the beatitudes Jesus puts flesh and color on the resounding theme of his life: the presence and availability of the kingdom of God. Those present to hear his words no doubt found them every bit as shocking as we do.
In a culture marked by religious oppression and exclusivity, one in which things like power and financial blessing were assumed to be evidence of God’s favor, Jesus makes a shocking announcement: The kingdom of God is available to those religion has failed and the world has forgotten.
You can feel it in the air. Many of us can sense it in ourselves. Something has shifted and it’s not for the better.
Never before has a generation existed that is more connected and isolated at the same time. We have hundreds of Facebook friends yet we do not know our neighbors. We have scores of LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followers but very few people we can call in the middle of the night when we need a friend.
One of my heroes, Brennan Manning, used to tell a story about a friend of his named Mary. Mary worked out of her home in New Orleans and in her living room hung a large banner that read, “Today I will not should on myself.” Whenever one of Mary’s friends said something to her like “Mary, you should get back into teaching” or “You should go on vacation,” Mary would respond “Don’t you should on me. Don’t you dare should on me.”
Should is a powerful word.
At any moment on any given day there is an endless list of things I should be doing. I should eat right. I should exercise. I should spend time in prayer. I should read my bible. I should be more productive. I should be more generous. I should be more disciplined. I should read that book. I should pursue that thing I’ve always talked about. I should get together with so and so. I should be a better husband, dad, friend, neighbor, employee, _______.
Yesterday the Nebraska state legislature passed a landmark bill (LB268) to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. It’s been a long time coming in our conservative state and its passing didn’t come without fire from both sides.
It’s a hot issue and, as one might expect, there are strong convictions on both sides. That said, as a pastor and someone with a small platform, I feel the need to at least share why I can’t get on board with the death penalty as a Christian.
There is a special place in my heart for skeptics. You know who they are, right? Skeptics are the ones who are always questioning things. They are always asking questions like, Is this really true? Is that really what happened? Can that leader or organization really be trusted? Are their motives really what they say? Where is the fine print? When is the bait and switch coming, really?
While there may have been a time when skepticism was largely pushed to the cultural margins, that time has long passed. Churches and their leaders no longer get the benefit of the doubt. Instead, doubt is alive and well. Skepticism has become a staple in the increasingly post-Christian West. Sadly, however, many churches continue to go on with business as usual. And many of them continue to shrink and die as a result.
I have the privilege of leading a church that has consistently reached skeptics in the four short years of our existence. What we’ve done is not innovative, but it has been intentional. Here are five things you can do to more effectively reach skeptics:
Yesterday I received a text message from a good friend that caused me to slam my phone down in disgust.
My friend had just delivered a large order of sandwiches to a church here in town to the tune of $1,500. He shared with me that it took he and another employee the majority of the morning to prepare the nearly two hundred box lunches. Although this church has a reputation for never tipping the delivery drivers from the business where my friend works, he thought surely they would tip this time. The order was enormous and the church had requested a discount. Perhaps, if nothing else, the church would tip the 10 percent discount to those who served them.
Let’s be honest, while there are some good reasons for leaving a church, there are a lot more bad ones. As a pastor, I hear some of them every now and then as people walk out the door. As a church planter, I hear them constantly as people walk in the door. If you’re thinking about looking for a new church home, please don’t use one of these five reasons to make the jump:
I’m not talking about a critical thinker or a skeptic. Those are different. I’m talking about a cynic: someone who typically assumes the worst of people and their intentions for doing what they do; a person who sees the flaws in just about everything and goes out of his or her way to point them out. You know the kind I’m talking about? Have you ever had a cynic focus his negativity your way?
If so, I am going to guess you probably just had an emotional response to that question. Chances are that emotional response wasn’t a positive one. Perhaps it brings to memory a time when you felt your family, your work, or your character were unfairly criticized. Perhaps it brings back feelings of hurt, betrayal, or insecurity. Those can stick around for a long time, can’t they?
I have a confession to make: I am a pastor and until now I have largely avoided the topic of homosexuality. I have avoided writing about it. I have largely avoided talking about it. And until a couple weeks ago, I have avoided preaching about it.
If I am really honest, I suppose a lot of it has had to do with fear. Homosexuality is a “lightening rod” issue. For many, it is a deeply personal issue. As a pastor, it can often feel like a lose-lose scenario. No matter where you land, what you say, or how you say it, someone is going to be hurt or angry. Personally, I don’t want to hurt people. Most of the time I don’t want to make people angry. And honestly, I don’t want people leaving the community I pastor. Like I said, mostly fear.
But can I tell you something? I have reached a point where I am more afraid of what might happen if we don’t speak up. I am afraid of what might happen if the only discernable “Christian” voices on the issue continue to be those that make for the best television: the loudest, the angriest and the most polarizing.