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first post on NEW BLOG, last post on this blog

first post on NEW BLOG, last post on this blog

First blog post on my NEW BLOG is up: What is Religious Cheese?  http://www.cutthereligiouscheese.com/what-is-religious-cheese/ 

Please head over there and check it out.  If you subscribe to the Road Blog, please sign up to subscribe for my new blog, Cut The Religious Cheese as this will be my last time ever posting at the Road Blog.  While you’re at, will you consider joining my Publish Team?  I wrote a book entitled “Embracing Reality: Finding Freedom from Relational and Sexual Fantasy” and I need your help in getting published.  You’ll receive a free copy of the intro and first chapter of the book in exchange for subscribing to my new blog and following me on Twitter.  100% of eventual book proceeds will go to World Relief.  Thank you in advance for your help!

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Noah’s blog is moving!

Noah’s blog is moving!

My new blog is www.CutTheReligiousCheese.com and I will be posting content in another day or two.  Please head over there and subscribe to the blog.  All “Lansing Road Blog” posts have been transferred over to the new site.

The focus of Cut The Religious Cheese is to tackle difficult and sometimes controversial spiritual and biblical topics that keep people away from Jesus.  I hope you’ll follow along!

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Racial Diversity = Church Unity

Racial Diversity = Church Unity

One thing I noticed about visiting different churches over the summer is how racially segregated the American Church is.  Most of us say, “So what?  Blacks and whites like different styles of church, and that’s about all there is to it.”  I used to think this way too as I grew up in my all-white church, in my mostly white town, while I attended my mostly white high school.  Actually, I didn’t think this way about race in the Church because I can’t say I ever thought about it at all.

I remember in Crossroads‘ first year as a church (6 years ago), my friend’s wife brought up the value of multiracial churches and how we should pursue being one.  I dismissed her idea.  If people are coming to know Jesus, who cares what race they are?  Why waste time that could be spent directly on the Gospel itself?  Blacks like black churches and whites like white churches, let’s leave it at that.

But is it really this simple?  It certainly was to me until I read the book Divided By Faith in seminary and attended the “Face the Race” conference that GRTS held, featuring authors George Yancey, David Livermore, and Michael Emerson (co-author of Divided by Faith).  It was like an Old Testament prophet knocked at my door and revealed the greater truths of God to me that I had been missing my entire life.

Divided by Faith is a book that chronicles the white Evangelical church’s response to blacks, starting with the era of slavery and moving through each successive racially significant time period in American history, ending with how things are today.  It is a fascinating account, as well as sobering and convicting, realizing that the racial segregation found in the church today has direct roots to how white Evangelicals did not allow blacks into their churches (or their lives) throughout the century that followed slavery.  The authors also do lots of research on how white Evangelicals’ view race.  As I read the accounts given by white Evangelicals, I realized they were saying the exact things I would have said to the survey questions.  I’m not racist.  I have black friends.  I didn’t have anything to do with slavery.  We should focus on other things in the Church, like on Jesus and evangelism, not race relations.  etc etc etc

I don’t have the time and space in a blog post to give Divided by Faith the detailed justice it deserves and all the profound truths it illuminated to me.

If you are white and have never felt what it feels like to be a minority, I encourage you to visit an all-black church.  The people will likely be very friendly, but you will also feel uncomfortable and very aware of your skin color, even though no one will say anything about it to make you feel this way.  This is the experience black people have when they come to all-white churches, and it’s why they don’t come back, no matter how friendly we are.  It’s something you’ve never thought about before, and likely never will, unless you go and experience it for yourself.  And it’s why things in the Church need to change.

I strongly encourage you to read Divided by Faith if you welcome your eyes being opened.  If you prefer the head-in-the-sand approach I lived by for most of my life, or the defensive approach many choose, you are free to do so.  I would ask you consider one more point though…

As I prayed about what to preach on for my first Sunday back at Crossroads (following my summer sabbatical), the Holy Spirit made it very clear to me and opened my eyes to some profound truths found in John 17.  Jesus is praying that future believers (the Church) will be unified, the way He and the Father are unified, and by this the world will know who Jesus is and that He loves them!  It’s a pretty amazing thing, and it’s also amazing that this is pretty much the only thing He prays for in John 17, just before he is arrested.  Of all the things he could pray for us, he prays for this.  And we typically skip over it, not knowing how to apply being more unified as the Church.  But if you look at the early Church, the number one conflict they had to resolve was the Jew-Gentile conflict.  Most of the New Testament letters (our books of the Bible) were written to these early churches, teaching them how to be unified as Jews and Gentiles.  Jews and Gentiles were two different races who had an ugly past together (sound familiar?), but the unique thing about their relationship was they did not have the “convenience” of having Jew churches and Gentile churches.  Each town only had one church and in it, Jews and Gentiles had to learn to overcome their differences, and their hostile history, to become brothers and sisters in Christ under one roof, united in the love and grace of Jesus that they all shared.  If an outsider walked in, they would be astounded at the unity of two groups of people who had been against each other for so long, and had so little in common, yet were loving each other and praising God together.  This is how the world will know who Jesus is, and that He loves them!

This is what I preached on this past Sunday, and it’s the vision and calling the Holy Spirit has placed on Crossroads Church.  I encourage to join in this vision and be a part of the answer to Jesus’ heartfelt prayer for us in John 17:

(Sorry about the low volume level, had some technical difficulties which hopefully we’ll get edited but for now, it’s a good thing I have a loud voice!  You should manage, but will need to crank your volume a little)


You can listen to (and/or download to your computer or iPod) a high-quality audio copy of the sermon here, then click on Sept. 9th, 2012.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Theology

 

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Why Every Pastor Needs a Sabbatical

Why Every Pastor Needs a Sabbatical

Today is my first day of work back from my summer sabbatical.  First off, I want to thank my great church for providing me with this much needed opportunity.  It has been refreshing and I feel energy for ministry in a way I have not felt for quite some time.

Pastors need sabbaticals.  I know of some pastors who have approached their church board to ask for one and they have been turned down, or they are afraid to even ask because they know what the response will be.  These boards and church memberships need to wake up and smell the coffee of what it’s like to be a pastor; which often is a cheap, burnt, stale coffee that’s been on the burner for waaay too long.  Being a pastor is one of the most difficult jobs that exists.  It is not the hours spent in the office or the research or the strategizing, it is the constant emotional and spiritual outpouring, a faucet that rarely shuts off.  It is the relational weight you carry around, knowing you have befriended an entire flock and you desire to be there for them, but you can only go so far for so long.  These things take a toll on a person.  Pastors are not superhuman or superheros.  If you think yours is, or treat him as such, I promise you he will be resigning within the next 3 years.

I firmly believe when you deprive a pastor of a sabbatical you are telling him or her, “We want you to burn out.  We want your marriage to fail.  We want you to have a severe disconnect in your relationship with God.  We want frustration to drive you off the cliff of ministry and of life.”

What else can be interpreted when a pastor is crying out for help and the replies are: “Well I don’t get a break in my job, so you don’t either…” or “We already give you 4 weeks of vacation, what more do you need?” or “How will the church survive the summer without you?”

We already give you 4 weeks of vacation, so go ahead and cheat on your spouse as you feel like God has abandoned you, we certainly aren’t giving you more time off you lazy bum.  Working in the business world is just like having the spiritual, emotional, and relational weight of an entire congregation on your shoulders, you didn’t realize that?  (Yeah right.  This is why every single pastor has a “fantasy dream job” in the business world where they don’t face the pressures of ministry.  They think about it on the days they want to quit the ministry.  Every  pastor has this.  And if they don’t, they will within a couple of years!)

Oh yeah, and sabbatical time is not vacation time.  It’s very intentional with specific goals.  And if you give your pastor a sabbatical, don’t make them do a million things they have to report back to you on.  Trust them that they have an honest heart for God, otherwise you shouldn’t have hired them, and let the Holy Spirit lead them to what is best for them.  This may be going to conferences, job shadowing at prominent churches around the USA, living in a cabin in the woods for a couple months, or even playing semi-pro football!  Let your pastor make these decisions, not you.  Children need babysitters, not pastors on sabbatical.  Let the man rest with the Lord and get way from the expectations and pressures of church life for a few months.

And make it at least 3 months, none of this 4-6 week business.  That’s about how long it will take for him to realize he doesn’t want to quit his job!  Make sure you give him 3+ months so he can not only decompress, but also recharge and come back at full speed.  Trust me, 3 months is an easy investment when the return is a fully charged pastor ready to minister in high spirits for the next 5-7 years, something you will not get without the sabbatical.

I’m not saying it’s always as dire as a marital affair and total collapse, but there are certainly some dramatic rumblings beneath the surface of many pastors that they are never able to be honest about because they will be judged or fired if they express them.

Some of you have pastors who never even use up the vacation days you do give them.  This should not be applauded.  No, these are the men and women you need to grab by the horns, wrestle them to the ground, and say “You will rest in the sustaining power of the Lord!  You will stop working and will trust that God will continue working without you!”  Whether they realize it or not, these men and women have just as many needs for sabbatical refresh as the person openly confessing they are running on fumes.

Your church will not fold if your pastor goes on sabbatical.  If you think that it will, either 1.) You are serving a VERY small God who can’t go 3 months without your pastor saving the day for Him or 2.) Your church is extremely immature in its heart for ministry that you wouldn’t have enough people to step up to take care of the basic needs of ministry for 3 months.  And if #1 is true of you, #2 will naturally be true as well, and vice versa.  We serve a HUGE God, he can handle your church if your pastor goes off the radar for a few months.  Be obedient to God as leaders in your church and allow your pastor to be renewed in a way only an extended sabbatical time can.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Observations from Visiting Different Churches this Summer

Observations from Visiting Different Churches this Summer

I’ve been on a full sabbatical this summer.  It has been an enriching, rejuvenating, and much needed time.  One aspect of my sabbatical was that I visited different churches each Sunday.  This has been a great eye-opening experience for me.

I don’t have all the answers, but it certainly raised some good questions.  Namely, if we sat down at a table with Jesus and came up with a blueprint for what church should look like, would our contemporary model be what we come up with?  Obviously not.  And that’s not to throw stones at any of the churches I visited, or to say that mine would be the answer, because it certainly isn’t either.  But it’s a question that we need to ask and keep asking and keep rethinking as we strategize and plan our ministries.  Here is a list of what I learned and observed this summer from my church visiting, some of these are more deeper than others.  Disclaimer:  I am wired to see what we can improve on rather than what we are doing well.  I find it to be more productive for producing effective change.  I’m not trying to be overly critical here.  There were good things I saw too, but that’s not really the purpose of this list:

  • Being new to a church is an uncomfortable feeling, and I’m a pastor who has spent his whole life in church.  I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it is for someone who has never been to church before in their life.
  • New people like to sit in the back, on the ends of rows.  It is makes it difficult when these seats are unavailable to them.
  • Most people in churches do not sing, or they sing very quietly.
  • With a small number of exceptions, sermons aren’t super interesting or memorable.
  • For the most part, the strategy for a new person to connect into the community of a church is this:  1. Go to a service, 2. Enjoy it / Learn from it, 3. come back, 4. join a small group, event, or service group which is where you’ll A. build friendships, B. grow deeper, and/or C. impact the community.  I look at this progression and wonder if this is the best way?  It seems like a lot of steps to take to get to the “end goal”, and that first step is really impersonal.  That’s the thing I noticed over and over, with a small number of exceptions.
  • Churches are very segregated racially.  The vast number of churches are either 99.9% white or 99.9% black.  This is a subject that I will likely post a separate, longer blog on in order to do it justice.  I’m still wrestling with the best way to articulate this as it’s something God has been weighing heavier and heavier on my heart over the years (and is at it’s heaviest point right now!) and is something I want to communicate in a way that is effective and helpful, not condemning or judgmental.  The book Divided By Faith ruined me on this issue a few years ago and God has only intensified this conviction in me as years have progressed.  I strongly recommend that you read this book if you want to get understanding and grow in this area.  Props to Kingdom Life Church for being a good mix of blacks and whites.
  • I found this randomly funny:  White churches all serve coffee and snacks.  Black churches don’t.
  • I was excited about the idea of video venues.  After visiting a couple, my excitement has lessened.  The jury is still out for me on them.

For now, I just want to leave my observations as observations.  I hope they cause you to ask good questions when it comes to the effectiveness of the local church to reach people who don’t know Jesus and to take Christians deeper in their walks with him.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Theology

 

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Embrace Your Insignificance

Embrace Your Insignificance

I think the majority of our (my) vices, sins, and depths of depression come from the search for significance.  We are continually looking for things that will make us feel important and valuable.  My wife and I went to see a musical on Sunday at the Wharton Center and even though I don’t have a shred of musical ability in me, as I applauded the performers, a sense of jealousy came over me.  Why am I in the crowd clapping, rather than being on stage, being applauded?  I think the same types of thoughts when I watch baseball games.  Here I am sitting with tens of thousands of people in the stands, cheering like a child for players who are mostly younger than me now.  Wouldn’t it be something to be on the field, having all of those people cheer for me?  To have people approach me for my autograph and a photo?  I walk out of the Wharton Center with thousands of other people, jostling for position in the crowd as we head toward our cars, feeling a bit like a lemming…another insignificant person in the crowd…a stat…a consumer…no one seeking my autograph or excited to see me.

I think most of us want to be famous to some degree.  Want people to see us as something special.  I think that’s why Facebook appeals to us.  We can write things and immediately have other people “like” us and “like” the things we say.  We long to be liked and we seek it out, often in unhealthy ways.

We fear insignificance, so we seek to fill this void.  Usually it’s in relationships…if I can get this girl to like me, it’ll prove that I’m not insignificant.  It phases from here to significance financially and in our careers…if I have a certain financial status, or status in my company, it will prove that I’m not insignificant.  Or we appeal to whatever subculture we are in.  I see this in the teens in my inner-city neighborhood…if they are seen as cool by their peers in their 4-block radius, they are secure.  I see this in the semi-pro football league I play in with some of the guys.  The guys who weren’t able to secure their superior status from high school or college football, so now seek it in semi-pro, seeking proof of their superiority.  And if that superiority is challenged, they will downright fight you to prove to everyone that they are valuable.  And as pastors, we have our own subculture we use to prove our value, typically wrapped up in our Sunday morning statistics (or how many people read our blog).

As a Christian, I try to remind myself “I am valuable in Jesus, I don’t need these other things to make me valuable.”  While the substance of this thought is on the mark, I’m just now realizing I’ve missed a crucial step.  My value in Jesus always has to compete with the potential value I think I can get out of whatever is in front of me.

The step that I’ve been missing is to simply embrace my insignificance.  Rather than stand up and say to insignificance, “You are wrong!  I am significant!  Look how I can prove it to you…”  I’m learning to say, “You are right… I am insignificant.  No matter how much money I make, how many girls I’d get, how high up in football or baseball I could go, how many movies I could star in, how much political power I could have, ALL of these things are insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things.  In comparison to how BIG God is and how LONG eternity is, all of these things are insignificant.  James 4:14 hits it on the head, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  The fact is, my insignificance draws me to God.  As long as I’m thinking that I make a pretty good god, the less I am in need of one.

I am insignificant.  God is significant.  On top of this, I am a sinner, separated from God.  And nothing I can do can make this right.  But God made it right.

I can embrace my insignificance as a broken sinner, one of many of billions and billions of broken sinners who have come before me and will come after me.  That nothing the world offers actually amounts to true significance in the long run.  I can embrace this, and once I have fully realized the depth and truth of this, that NOTHING I do can make this any different, I am free to stop trying.  To stop trying to fill up a cup that is cracked beyond repair.  Once I let go of this cup, I can trade it in for the cup that Jesus offers.  Jesus thought I was significant enough for him to die on the cross for.  And he offers me significance of his love and of being adopted into God’s family as his son!  If I continually fear being insignificant (and seeking to remedy this), I will never be free to fully receive the gift of true significance found in being loved by Jesus.

This is a significance that frees me from selfishness and allows me to pursue the things in life that really matter and that have eternal impact.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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How Christians Should Spend Their Money

How Christians Should Spend Their Money

Jesus says in Luke 12:29-34 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What on earth does he mean by this?  As a pastor, I’m expected by many to have ‘the answer’ when it comes to biblical and theological questions.  The question of money is one that has been keeping me up at night recently and here’s why…

When I read Jesus’ words here, and see the general way he lived his life, it makes me think we have missed the boat as American Christians on what Jesus wants us to do with our money.  I’ve taken two trips to Haiti, and keep up on what’s happening globally and honestly, it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would rather us purchase a new car, a bigger house, a new iPad, or a new flat screen TV over giving these large chunks of money to organizations sustainably alleviating extreme poverty from people around the world, and on top of this, doing all of their work through the existing local churches in these regions.  I’m talking about children who are born into situations where there is no food, shelter, clothing, or employment and their only chance at survival is to become sex slaves or sweat shop workers, if they are lucky.  I see this and it makes me want to sell everything I have, and give it to World Relief, to aid these victims of injustice.

I wonder when we get to heaven if money is one area that, when we can finally see things from an eternal perspective, we will realize that we totally missed the boat on.  We will see the children who died because we bought the newest gadget instead of giving.

I’ve never sold everything I have.  Honestly if I wasn’t married, I wonder if I would.  But life is typically much more complex than this.  And the Bible is as well.  While Jesus did tell one rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor (Mark 10:17-31), Jesus walked alongside many other rich people and he never gave this command.

The fact is, I feel guilty when I spend money on things for myself.  And I’m not sure what to do with these feelings.  And I enjoy life more (and feel less depressed about my guilt) when I free myself (and my wife) to spend some of the money we have earned on relaxing evenings and/or on things we enjoy.

The prevailing thought in America is that you’ve earned what you have, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you spend it on yourself.  You chose to work hard, to do your homework in school, and to study a certain field in college.  You made these sacrifices, with a certain lifestyle in mind, and there’s nothing to feel guilty about.  You made a choice and you’ve earned it.  You give a percentage of your income away to the church and to charities and you can enjoy the rest of what you’ve earned.  And there certainly is some truth in this.  The ability to experience God’s awesome presence in a sunset over the ocean, or from a breathtaking view in the Rockies, requires the money to pay for these types of vacations.  Money that you earned from choosing to study a certain thing in college and/or choosing to work hard in life.

Is it really a sin to have air conditioning?  Because you could give this money to those in extreme poverty.

Once you start going down this road, it is never ending and can quickly become the path of legalism and intense judgmentalism.  Yes I drive an old car, on purpose.  But I could drive an older one.  Or I could take the bus and get rid of my car and its insurance payments.  Yes I live in an smaller house, on purpose.  But I could live in a smaller (cheaper) one (and get rid of my window AC units, gasp!).  Yes I have old electronics, on purpose.  But I could get rid of them altogether.  And give this money to those in extreme poverty, or to missions (or both).

And then there is the wing of Christianity that sees personal financial inflow as the direct blessing of God (because why wouldn’t a loving Father want to bless his children?), and they structure entire church ministries around how God wants you to be rich.  Typically their pastors model this through mansions, private jets, and the top-of-the-line luxury cars that they own.

Is money a tool to bring life to others?  Or is it an avenue for us to enjoy life more?  Is it a sin to enjoy life more?

Can you see why this keeps me up at night?  It would be easier if Jesus just said, “It’s okay to buy these types of things, but don’t buy those types of things.”

But I wonder how many of us never even stop to consider this.  We just buy buy buy our pile of earthly treasures with no thought of the eternal implications our money could have.  Rather than using Luke 12 (or anything else in the Bible) as our guide, we simply go with the flow of the American idea of what money is for.

It’s confusing.

It’s complex.

I want to obey Scripture, and teach others to do the same, going against culture if needed.  But where do we draw the lines?

I don’t know.

Jesus tells me his grace is enough for me, and that it’s okay that I don’t know.

Please post your thoughts on this topic in the comments section, with the heart of giving instruction and help to me and other readers who are wrestling with the realities of the Bible’s teachings on money.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Theology

 

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