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Ryan MacDiarmid

18 POSTS 10 COMMENTS
Ryan MacDiarmid is currently the Lead Pastor of a church in Sacramento, California. He has served vocational ministry for over 15 years, working at small churches, large churches, and everything in between. He is a husband, and father to five children. He loves Jesus, but like so many of us can be distracted and disillusioned by all the religious crap. And even on his best days, he can be a real jackass. This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. There are costs associated with running the blog. These links help to cover overhead.

Joshua Harris: An Opportunity for Empathy

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Author Joshua Harris influenced a whole generation of evangelical Christians with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Now he has a new documentary, called I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, about his new ideas on dating.

This last weekend, Joshua Harris posted this on Instagram:

“My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.

“I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now…

“To my Christian friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, ‘All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’”

Joshua isn’t the first or last person whose soul-searching journey led them out of the faith. Sometimes when someone leaves it is obvious that they are doing it in a willful desire to justify sin (think Prodigal Son). Other times it is about the wearisome nature of the church and its subculture, the dissonant value systems between Christians and their Christ, or the deafening silence of God. In these moments I empathize with Josh’s struggle.

Empathy is an important word. In Romans 12, Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” That means empathetic living. Opening yourself up to feel what others feel is a tremendous way to love people.

Sympathy can have a tinge of superiority. I feel sorry for you because you are experiencing pain. Sympathy is not the same as empathy. Empathy says, I feel pain as you feel pain.

The important thing about feeling what others feel is recognizing that you CAN ACTUALLY feel what others feel, and you CAN feel it without condoning ALL of their behaviors or beliefs.

My kids constantly celebrate things and cry about things that are objectively stupid. But I love my kids so I celebrate their stick figure drawings with them and I show empathy for their imaginary bruises (sometimes). The truth is that loving my kids doesn’t mean that I need to think that all the things they celebrate and cry about are wonderful and accurate. It’s enough to see someone I love sad, or someone I love happy. The question is: Can I join them in their pain and joy?

I want to be clear. I do not know Joshua Harris personally, but I am sure that the last several years of his personal life and faith life have been filled with both tears and joy. Tears over the emotional and spiritual turmoil of coming to grips with what you truly believe. His divorce may be amicable, but that doesn’t mean there were not hours upon hours of hurt and pain involved in coming to this decision. Have you ever felt these type of emotions? Have you ever struggled in your relationships? Have you ever changed your mind on something you believed? Have you ever been scrutinized and/or attacked by strangers who don’t know you?

Objectively, these things suck. You don’t have to assume a person is sinless to acknowledge that these things suck and to weep with the one who weeps.

Can you weep with Josh? I’m not asking if you can weep about the fact that he is stepping away from his beliefs. Nor am I asking how his situation makes you feel about Christian leaders. I’m asking if you can weep over his pain. Don’t make this about you. This is about him and his wife and his kids. Can you be sad for him about the things that are painful for him?

And now I’m going to ask for more than most of my readers would probably consider: Josh said he feels awake, alive, and hopeful. Given everything he’s been experiencing, this may be the first time in a while he’s felt these things. Can you rejoice with him?

“Joshua Harris made a heavy announcement. Will we weep with him as he weeps AND rejoice with him as he rejoices? Or will we make this about our opinions and expectations and lose sight of the person in process?”

This one is probably much more difficult to wrap you head around. You may feel that celebrating with Josh is celebrating sin or celebrating walking away from Jesus. (Many readers are doing exactly that, this one is easy for many of you.) I want to be clear, I do not believe the Bible calls us to celebrate sin. So without celebrating sin, is it possible to rejoice in the journey that Joshua is on? Is it okay to be hopeful for him? Is it okay to celebrate some of the freedom he now feels from the religious expectation that has likely oppressed him his entire life? The freedom of finally being honest about what he believes and the state of his marriage? It is truly a soul-crushing endeavor to be living a lie. He must feel free in this moment. He seems excited. I am happy for him. Not happy that he “fell away;” happy that the burdens and expectations saddled upon him have been lifted and that possibilities for the future are wide open. I pray blessings upon Joshua Harris. I want good things for him.

To be clear, in my paradigm, that means I also pray that he comes to see that Jesus was not the source of his frustration: religion was. I pray he comes to know the easy and light burden of Christ in new ways. I pray God works all these things for his good. But that’s what I want for him. Empathy doesn’t start there. Empathy begins by listening and understanding him.

Jesus Was Conservative (but not in the ways you’d think)

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This is part two to last week’s post: Jesus was a liberal.

This is a more difficult post to write because it’s so on the nose. Many people instantaneously associate Christianity with CONSERVATIVE values and traditional morals.

Conservative is rarely used as an insult in the church. Evangelicals and fundamentalists often wear it as a badge of honor. When liberals want to be demeaning, they tend to use more offensive words like fascist, implying that conservatives are imperialistic and controlling dictators. Heartless and archaic can be used as synonyms for conservative as well, implying that conservatives lack compassion for others and are stuck in the past.

So, was Jesus conservative? Let’s define terms and see exactly what fits and what doesn’t.

Did Jesus hold traditional values?

conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective 1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

As we established in the previous post, in terms of religious reform, Jesus was the opposite of conservative. He was literally “the progression” creation had been waiting for—for generations.

But that doesn’t mean that Jesus started a NEW religion. He was actually quite ancient in his teachings. He was very clear to say that he didn’t come to abandon the law, but to fulfill it.

When asked what the greatest commandments are, he didn’t throw everyone for a loop by inventing some new fangled phrasing. He quoted the shema, the traditional Hebrew phrase:

Love God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength.

There was almost nothing traditional about the methods Jesus used for ministry or his support for the existing religious institution, but there was something incredibly traditional, time-tested, and foundational about his purpose. He wasn’t around to teach something new, he was around to remind his followers of something very very old, to fulfill promises that were very very old. He fought for something that had gotten lost along the way. In this way, I’m proud to be conservative like Jesus.

For heaven’s sake, let us “love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and let’s “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Was Jesus Conventional in his Dress?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: (of dress or taste) 2. sober and conventional: a conservative suit.

Was Jesus conservative in dress? Who knows. This one is stupid. John the Baptist certainly wasn’t, he was just a few locusts away from homeless.

Was Jesus Financially Conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv |adjective: (of an estimate) 3. purposely low for the sake of caution: “the film was not cheap—$30,000 is a conservative estimate.

No. He wasn’t.

Remember the parable of the talents? Jesus strongly cautions against burying our money for fear of loosing it. He wants a healthy return. Now to be fair, Jesus is using a fiscal parable to illustrate a spiritual reality, but the concept is the same. Jesus doesn’t tend to be cautious when it comes to the use of our material resources, our talents, or our time. He’s looking for investments that multiply, which inherently requires risk.

When specifically talking about money, he challenges his followers not to build bigger and bigger barns to store up wealth on earth. By contrast, storing up wealth is sort of the mantra of a conservative.

On top of this, he has the “sell all” and “leave behind” clauses in the gospels. Those are not cautious approaches. So my take here: Jesus was not fiscally conservative. He would be an FPU drop out.

Was Jesus politically conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: 4. (Conservative) relating to the Conservative Party of Great Britain or a similar party in another country.

No. In the last post we discussed that Jesus did not seem interested in political debate. If Jesus was going to engage in politics in our time, I’m nearly certain he wouldn’t just choose to be a republican or democrat. His citizenship is in heaven. His kingship is over all.

Remember, Jesus isn’t a US citizen, he couldn’t vote. When he does return, he’s coming illegally anyway, ain’t no immigration lines guarding the heavenlies.

Words Don’t Mean, People Do

Look, the reality is that nobody is going to the dictionary before they use these terms. When somebody is accusing someone of being too liberal or too conservative, they have something specific in their mind they are addressing. But in our fight for dignity, understanding, and unity, wherever it can be preserved, it might be good to be a little more nuanced in our speech.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative? The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?”

Maybe it could be healthy for us to realize that, like Jesus, we are all a little liberal and all a little conservative. It simply depends what is being discussed and who we are comparing ourselves to.

Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative?

The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?

Jesus was a Liberal! (written by a Conservative)

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In conservative Christians circles, a clear shot across the bow is calling someone LIBERAL. It’s a warning, like a mother giving her rambunctious child the stink eye. Watch out, or real consequences will follow!

We hear it all the time in Facebook comments on our Jackass Theology posts; as a preacher I sense it bubbling behind peoples’ questions to sermon content. It seems that to the Evangelical, the greatest fear is fear of being duped by, slipping into, or having compassion for THE LIBERAL AGENDA.

Liberals just make crap up

When someone is deemed liberal, their opinion no longer matters to conservatives, because in the mind of Evangelicals, liberals have abandoned the Bible, tradition, and orthodoxy, and now just make new crap up. So instead of patiently dialoguing, we put you in your place like a good ole’ fashioned Amish shunning, trading in scarlet “A’s” for its 21st century Conservative Evangelical equivalent, BLUE “L’s”.

When someone is deemed liberal, their opinion no longer matters to conservatives, because in the mind of Evangelicals, liberals have abandoned the Bible, tradition, and orthodoxy, and now just make new crap up.

In our experience with Jackass Theology, you are most likely to encounter this type of branding on social issues, where politics and faith collide. These hotbed topics center around class tensions, racial tensions, illegal immigration, the role of women in ministry, faith and sexuality, and the tell-tale sign that you have a serious case of the liberals: adding highfalutin words like “PRIVILEGE” to your vocab.

So I ask the question: Was Jesus a Liberal?

Was Jesus Liberal?

Of course, it depends on how you define it.

So, let’s do that. In the dictionary, liberal has a variety of meanings. So let’s walk through each of them and test if Jesus was a LIBERAL.

In his methods of Education?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 1. Concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.

Most people hip slinging liberal jabs aren’t referring to Jesus’ pedagogy. But if they were, would he fit the bill?

Jesus was all about broadening experience for his disciples. As he journeyed with them through the countryside, he demonstrated compassion to outsiders. Under Jesus’ tutelage, his disciples were forced to engage the world differently, people differently, and God differently. He didn’t train them technically. He exposed them to a whole way of being and living. He asked them rhetorical questions, demonstrated love, miracles, service, compassion, he challenged their fears, and let them try a few things for themselves.

Jesus embodied a liberal arts approach to education.

In His interpretation of scripture?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 2. (esp. of an interpretation of a law) Broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal or exact

This one is tricky territory, but it is important. Conservatives link themselves arm in arm to a literal “plain-sense” interpretation of Scripture. Did Jesus use the same interpretive lens (hermeneutic)?

Jesus certainly affirms the Old Testament and its teachings. Jesus had a high view of Scripture, and he didn’t twist it to mean anything that suited his purpose, but he didn’t always stick to a literal interpretation either.

Many passages in the Sermon on the Mount are good examples. For example, “you have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say to you…turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:38-42). The Old Testament doesn’t say that, but Jesus does. Jesus is implying that turning the other cheek was always the heart of God, even if the law permitted otherwise. That’s a generous understanding of a fairly clear Old Testament passage. But that is what Jesus did, that is why people recognized his teaching as having authority.

Before you freak out and maliciously infect our website with a fatal virus, please understand that I’m not suggesting that we humans should take a free and liberal interpretive approach to all of scripture. There is a difference between some dude on the street, and the Son of God. For our purposes here. I’m simply saying, Jesus does not always hold to a purely literal understanding of Scripture.

But Jesus’ liberal interpretations didn’t ever loosen our moral responsibility to love one another or him. His liberal interpretation often led to an even more stringent view of sin (more on this in the next post) and a much higher demand of love.

In his values?

Lib•er•al | adj. | 3. Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

So was Jesus willing to discard traditional values?

Regarding religious structures, Jesus was incredibly liberal. Jesus actively threatened and dismantled the existing religious structure and hierarchy. He talked about the destruction of the temple. Upon his death, the curtain within the Holy of Holies was torn in two. His harshest critiques were at the religiously minded; his life and ministry turned the Jewish religious landscape upside down. In this way, he was the most progressive of progressives regarding religion and its structures.

Regarding social norms, Jesus ate with sinners. He touched lepers. He sat with promiscuous women. He had a reputation as a drunkard because of who he hung around. In the way that Jesus engaged humans he was incredibly liberal, edgy, progressive, and revolutionary.

Regarding moral behavior, Jesus in some senses heightened and in some senses lowered expectations. Jesus said his yoke is not like the yoke of the Pharisees, his yoke is easy and his burden light. But at the same time, he heightened the expectation of commitment. He didn’t expect people to live some exteriorly perfect life, but simultaneously he did not allow anyone to follow him who wasn’t fully committed. Without parsing all this out, let’s just agree that even in morality Jesus did not hold traditional views. He challenged EVERYTHING. In that way I’ve got to say he fits the liberal bill again.

In His Politics?

Lib•er•al | noun | 4. A supporter or member of a liberal party.

Jesus famously called his followers to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It’s basically a big shrug regarding political movements. Ruling authorities exist, but they are not the important thing in Jesus’ mind.

So is Jesus politically liberal? In the sense of joining a political party, nah. I don’t think so. Mostly because I just don’t see him putting much emphasis on the kingdoms of this world.

In His giving?

Lib•er•al | noun | 5. giving generously, (as in liberal amounts of wine being consumed)

Since liberal can be synonymous with generous, this fits Jesus perfectly. When it comes to giving, nobody out gives Jesus. He was liberal in his love. He was liberal with his life. He called his disciples to live outrageously liberal lives. He challenged a rich young ruler to sell all and give it to the poor. Jesus is generosity. 100%.

Since liberal can be synonymous with generous, this fits Jesus perfectly. When it comes to giving, nobody out gives Jesus. He was liberal in his love. He was liberal with his life. He called his disciples to live outrageously liberal lives.

What Should I Do About this?

For starters, the next time someone accuses me of being liberal, I will take it as a compliment and know my many hours at the feet of Jesus are paying off, because I’m becoming more and more like him.

If you are highly offended at this statement or this post, just wait till next week when I’ll post: “Was Jesus a Conservative?” You just might find that Jesus had the capacity for a little of BOTH.

Resources:
If you want to watch a hilarious video. Watch “GOP JESUS.” If you are a Republican you need to have a sense of humor, or you will miss the point.

Dan White Jr. has a great book, called LOVE OVER FEAR, in which he gives a great break down of the polarizations we experienced in our world and in the church. It gives some hope that Liberals and Conservatives can coexist.

Inglorious Pastors

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The Hebrew word for GLORY (kabod) means HEAVINESS, WEIGHT, IMPORTANCE.

This week I got another glimpse into why our current culture increasingly feels as though pastors and Christian leaders are UNIMPORTANT and culturally IRRELEVANT.

Hang with me for a second while I explain:

I am a pastor in a denomination called the EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America). I am proud to be a part of this particular denomination for a number of reasons, but one key theological reason can be summed up by this simple phrase:

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ.”

I love that phrase. I deeply desire to live and lead by it. It really is what Jackass theology is all about!

This week I am in Chicago for EFCA ONE, our national conference/business meeting. This year’s conference has the highest attendance in years. Can you guess why? It’s not because there is explosive numerical growth in our denomination. It’s because there is a controversial matter being voted on. Controversy always brings people out of the woodwork.

Do you know what the controversial matter is? No, it doesn’t have to do with racial tensions, roles of women, sexual identity, or any of the other relevant or controversial topics flooding social media today. The vote is over ONE SINGLE WORD in the doctrinal statement regarding ESCHATOLOGY (end times theology).

The proposed change reads:

“We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial glorious return of our Lord Jesus.”

The denominational leadership is proposing this change for the purpose of charity in non-essentials. They want to be more inclusive of differing views. I am 100% supportive of this change. There are things in the Bible that are clear and straight forward. End times theology is not one of them. Remember, in non-essentials…CHARITY.

The disheartening part of this whole experience was all the passion and debate that led to this point. I will spare you the details, but this has been a 10 year journey. For the last 3-4 years the leaders of the EFCA have been flying around the country, asking regional denominational leaders if they support the change. In 2017, it officially became a motion, to be voted on in June of 2019. Countless hours have gone into this discussion.

Just before the vote, I sat in a 3 hour session where people passionately debated against this matter. There were threats of churches and entire districts leaving the denomination if this change was accepted. The opposition spoke about leftist thinking, the abandonment of biblical authority, and the deep fear of the dreaded amillennialism destroying the EFCA ethos.

It was sad to watch. Sad because all this energy and effort, all this time and conversation, has been spent on something so radically unimportant.

Look, I’m not saying understanding the Bible is unimportant, I’m saying this kind of debate has zero importance to the lives of everyday human beings. Feel free to develop a stance on eschatology, but when you see your opinion as an ESSENTIAL, as a hill to die on, you’ve got some re-prioritizing to do.

Remember, glory means WEIGHT. IMPORTANCE.

God is GLORIOUS. He matters. He is important. One day he will be seen and worshipped as the one who spoke creation into existence.

Jesus was GLORIOUS in the real world lives that he touched. He mattered to the prostitutes, the poor, the widows, the outcasts. He gave new purpose to everyday fisherman. He lived a life-alteringly relevant life.

As pastors, unfortunately, we can settle for an INGLORIOUS ministry of GLORIOUS God. We argue over the parsing of Greek words, theological nuance, eschatology, ecclesiology. We expend enormous amounts of energy on things that only matter to other highly schooled church people.

Meanwhile, there is real pain in the real everyday lives of humans we are called to love.

Aside from our love for God himself, PEOPLE MATTER MOST. Not ideas, not theoretical interpretations. People and their pain, and their struggle to know God in hostile world.

During an open mic session, a military chaplain said it best (my paraphrase):

“While ministering to young men and women in the military, I am constantly counseling them through matters of sexual identity, depression, addiction, and finding meaning in a hostile violent world. Never once in all my years, have I ever had someone ask me about eschatology.”

“The inglorious pastor (or layperson) snubs the woman at the well, rushes past the beaten man on the side of the road, because he’s rushing to tend to religious matters.”

This is it. Nobody in the real world cares a rip about the details of eschatology. Our hope is set on the promised return of Jesus. The only people who care about this level of granularity are pastors like me locked in ivory towers living in a bizarro subculture.

You see, it’s the inglorious pastor who snubs the woman at the well, who rushes past the man beaten up on the side of the road, because he’s rushing to tend to religious matters. It’s the inglorious pastor who writes off the 1 and tends only to the theology of the 99.

I applaud the EFCA for broadening their doctrinal statement. I do believe it was worth the effort. I’m grateful that after years of work and hours upon hours of debate, we took a vote, and it passed. 79% in favor. 21% opposed.

But the whole exercise was a warning to me. A shot across the bow. There is a tendency for me as a pastor to lose touch with real pain, real need, and settle for theory and theological debate. While all of this has its place, if it isn’t producing real love for real people, then I’m just another inglorious pastor!

3 Justifications for Hate

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A couple weeks ago, a Gary Oldman (actor) meme hit reddit.

What was interesting was how quickly it moved up reddit, and how many people felt the need to make exceptions for their right to hate certain types of people.

Below are three of the common reasons people gave as justification to hate others and a few “Jesusy” things to consider.

1) I can hate you because you harm others

I hate murders. I hate child molestors. I hate biggots. I hate racists. I hate Nazis. These were common sentiments across the thousands of reddit comments.

Does God hate morally evil people? Take a look at Proverbs 6:16-19.

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers

“Just because I disagree with you, that does not mean I hate you.” – Gary Oldman

Notice in this proverb that there are seven things that the Lord hates. Pride, lying, innocent bloodshed, wicked hearts, pursing evil, false witness, sowing discord among brothers.

When people express their right to hate, usually they are pointing to things on this list, or a list that is rooted in similar ideas. I hate murderers (innocent bloodshed). I hate sexual abuse (wicked heart and plans). I hate racists (discord among brothers). The interesting thing is that God HATES these THINGS too!

So we might do well to have a little more hatred of these THINGS in our lives. But notice the emphasis. God hates these THINGS! Hating these THINGS is radically different than despising the humans that do them. In our culture, we are horrible at separating the person from their actions, except of course, when we are looking at our own failures.

Sure, let’s hate the hate. Hate the murder. Hate the sexual abuse. Hate the misogyny. You need not be mild mannered about these despicable acts. Jesus was righteously indignant a few times. Flipping over temple tables comes to mind.

But I’m not sure that hating HUMAN BEINGS for any reason is profitable, healthy, or necessary. Especially not if you have a sober view or yourself and a God-sized view of love.

2) I hate you because you hated me first

One “closeted gay man” wrote:

“I can’t peacefully coexist with people that don’t agree with my existence. I am a closeted gay person. People have made homophobic jokes, complained about the gay agenda, to my face. People have advocated for eugenics to me.”

Another man wrote, “I hate racists, when they target my family and say that my children should die in a gas chamber.”

These are painful to read. Never would I ever want anyone to be the recipients of such hate. I empathize. People are awful, and when their words cut to the core of a person’s value and identity it feels like the only appropriate response is to hate those who have hated you.

Yet, The “I hate you because you hated me first” argument isn’t going to bring change. It will never bring healing to the crazy cycles we get stuck in. 99% of my kids’ disputes begin with, “I hit him because he hit me first.” While all this behavior is normal and understandable, Jesus had another way.

“99% of my kids’ disputes begin with, ‘I hit him because he hit me first.’ While all this behavior is normal and understandable, Jesus had another way.”

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” – John 15:18-19

Jesus warned his followers of the hatred that was coming their way. But if Jesus proved anything it was that God’s love is vast enough to absorb the hatred thrown his way. And if the cross doesn’t do it for you, remember Jesus also famously counseled his followers to “turn the other cheek.”

In the book The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas unpacks the many layers of hatred that provoke violence and racism in America. Whether you love the book or hate it (ironic), the book is a thesis on hatred. The hate given to the black community, the hate directed at law enforcement, the hate involved in black on black crime—all of it simply produces ripples of chaos and violence. The only way to stop the ripples is to cease the ripples of hate. If that is going to happen, someone must be first. Someone must—in the name of love—absorb it rather than retaliating.

Are you willing to do that?

“Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that” – MLK

3) I hate you because I hate everyone (and I also happen to disagree)

One reddit reader wrote,
“I don’t hate people because I disagree with them, I hate everyone and just happen to disagree with some of them…”

While this comment was meant to be funny. I think it might be the most honest of the bunch. Not because I think most people hate everyone, but because in most cases hate actually precedes disagreement.

First we feel hatred, then we justify its existence.

Our hatred often has more to do with our own emotional and spiritual garbage than it does with the person that we actually hate. People make us feel insecure. Having villains makes us feel superior. So we come up with reasons why others are beneath us.

A secure person has plenty of grace to give, plenty of room to admit their own faults, and plenty of compassion to extend for the mistakes of others.

“A secure person has plenty of grace to give, plenty of room to admit their own faults, and plenty of compassion to extend for the mistakes of others.”

Jesus looked at humans with compassion

All this hate talk brings to mind a single verse Matt 9:36.

When he [JESUS] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

When Jesus looks over the crowds he doesn’t see what we see.

When we stand before crowds, we make it about us. Are people with me? Are they against me? We are easily insecure and nervous under the scrutiny of others. When Jesus looked at the crowds it was about them. He could see into their souls. He looked at prostitutes, religious zealots, carpenters, priests, diseased, afflicted, rich, and impoverished and it MOVED HIM to be compassionate.

“I talk big about love and ‘agreeing to disagree’ but there are certain types of people that I LOVE to HATE. And as Angie Thomas reminds me, The Hate I Give &*$#@ Everybody!”

Jesus sees people differently than I do. He is empathetic. He knows what his harassed and helpless sheep need.

I’m not so different than all the Reddit commentators. I talk big about love and “agreeing to disagree” but there are certain types of people that I LOVE to HATE. And as Angie Thomas reminds me, The Hate I Give &*$#@ Everybody!

The Missional Jackass

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The Missional Church: I love you and I hate you! Ever since I read Darrell L. Guder’s book in 2004, I’ve been undone. It ruined me forever. It’s nearly on par with the night I read the story of the rich young ruler in my college dorm room and knew I had to leave behind my visions of worldly riches and esteem to follow Jesus into the unknown venture of vocational ministry.

In college, God radically flipped my paradigms. I went from attending church to being trained up to lead, teach, and share my faith with others. I went from consuming church offerings to being the church. It was thrilling, scary, invigorating—the Holy Spirit was palpable. Leaving college I knew that was the dynamic movement I was called to bring to the church. Every believer a priest. Every saint sent to bring Jesus to the world around them.

I left my time in college on fire to train others to do what I did. Then I worked for an institutional church in Southern California. Church wasn’t a movement designed to equip people to be the church where they lived, worked, and played. Sometimes it felt like the overall goal was simply to exist, or to be better than last year.

I was on staff at seven churches between between age 20 and 30. Each church was different; the people were beautiful. God used each environment to grow and challenge me, but I was always frustrated by the overall goal of the church. It was like nobody believed the average person could make disciples or even tell their neighbors about Jesus. It seemed like the church was only interested in providing religious services. And the people were only interested in attending them.

Eventually I landed where I am now: a small-to-mid-sized church in the suburbs. This time I was the Lead Pastor, so I could make the changes I longed to see. We eliminated programs and redeveloped systems. We called people to higher expectations of disciplemaking and missional living. We changed a lot. We are still changing a lot.

In all the change, through all the prayers, we saw a lot of fruit. Leadership stepping into their call as disciplemakers, people hosting parties and dinners in their homes for the community, the gospel being shared by “average” church people. There have been many highlights over the last decade.

There are many who caught the vision, but there are many more who didn’t. Those who didn’t ended up leaving and going to other churches because the preaching was better, the children’s ministry more dynamic, the youth group larger, the expectation less, the worship more powerful, etc. Many people drifted to the mega churches and the institutional churches: the thing I was fighting so hard to be distinct from.

Here comes the jackassery. When people reject your leadership, when they don’t want to go where you are going, and you need to continue to lead, it is tremendously difficult not to vilify everyone else.

When people reject your leadership, when they don’t want to go where you are going, and you need to continue to lead, it is tremendously difficult not to vilify everyone else.

In order to lead, you have to fight for something. Leadership requires the sacrifice of untold hours, heartache, tears, and prayers. You absolutely need to believe that the sacrifice is worth it. So you create the enemy, you create in your mind who the problem people are. My enemies became mega churches and everyone willing to settle for church as usual. I thought—and often still think—very jackassy things about them. It’s not right.

The bad guys were everyone who was satisfied with sermons and youth programs and rock n roll over disciple-making. The enemy was all the churches and the places that provided these consumer services. They produced programs I didn’t care about, with resources I could never ever imagine having. But the people I ministered to cared about these things. Often, they chose them over me.

For some, you are fighting for doctrinal integrity, Reformed Theology, reaching lost people, or miraculous signs. Anyone who is not fighting with you is settling for something lesser.

Honestly, it’s hard to fight for something that matters without becoming a jackass.

I’ve dedicated 15 years of blood, sweat and tears to developing a missional ministry, and I feel only mildly successful at it. I still believe in it with the same tenacity I felt the first day I read Guder’s book. But I’m more jaded now. I used to believe that the idea itself was so compelling that if we only tried it, the masses would flock to join. Not the case.

Much as I believe in missional church, I’m tired of vilifying and scoffing and rolling my eyes at people who don’t.

If I can’t be missional without being an ass, then something is seriously wrong. I’m not better because I’m convicted to do church a certain way. I’m just a guy serving Jesus in a mission field packed with a radically diverse methods. Honestly, I throw up a little bit in my mouth every time I see a mega church raffle off a car at Easter. But it doesn’t mean they are bad or that they are not key players in God’s plan and kingdom.

God has spoken through asses, he has used prophets and burning bushes. He has used house churches, institutional churches, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Luther King Jr., Whitfield, Evans, and Bell. He has drawn thousands to himself through tent revivals and crusades, miraculous healings, and intellectual ivory towers. He has used simple preachers like Billy Graham and philosophical scholars like Soren Kierkegaard. He uses all of these people. Their methods are so different. Their ways all unique, but something tells me their methods where never the point.

In Hebrews 11, so many different people are highlighted, and in every case what mattered was simply their faith to hear and respond. What mattered was their courage to act on the Holy Spirit’s conviction for them in that place and at that time.

Can you say this with me: I’m not the only one doing ministry the right way. If I have even a modicum of success it isn’t because I figured out the perfect formula, it is because the Holy Spirit decided this time to do something special.

The method is never the answer. God is.

Being missional is my method. Often I’m a missional jackass. What’s yours?

Narrowly Human

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The New Testament scholar Douglas Moo talks about how notoriously difficult it is to define the Greek word sarx. (Stay with me! This post is going to be way cooler than that first sentence indicates…) The problem is that its most literal translation, flesh, is either too physical in connotation (like the literal flesh on a body) or too negative in connotation (like sensuality, fornication, etc.).

Here’s the cool thing about the Bible’s perspective on flesh: Flesh isn’t the bad part of us, it is simply the physical part of us.

When God created the flesh of Adam and Eve, he said it was good. Jesus himself was the Word made flesh. So flesh clearly isn’t always negative. Someday, we will live in a new heavens and earth, with new bodies—new flesh. All will be as it should. Flesh isn’t inherently bad, but the flesh alone is never sufficient. Flesh alone is always lacking Spirit, like the desert lacks water. Flesh and Spirit were intended to live in harmony, not opposition. As it is now, they are—like most things in this life—at war.

Back to Moo. He likes to define living in the flesh as living “narrowly human.” I dig that. That makes so much sense to me.

To live in the flesh is to live your life consumed by worries, concerns, and longing for the more physical and base things of life. Don’t worry, fellow heresy nerds, I’m miles away from Gnosticism here. Gnosticism says the flesh is evil and the Spirit is good. I’m saying the flesh is good AND the Spirit is good, but to live by the flesh primarily is to fixate, idolize, and disproportionately desire something harmful.

We have a desire and need for sex. The narrowly human life (in the “flesh”) over-fixates on our need for sex to the extent that it becomes harmful and consuming and inappropriate.

We have a natural desire for justice, but the narrowly human approach (living in the flesh) is an over-fixation on the behavior of others, so much so that we become contentious and divisive and unduly opinionated and critical.

We have a desire for physical blessings like money, shelter, and life-giving relationship, but to live in the narrowly human sense (in the flesh) is to be unsatisfied with God’s blessing for us, and to become jealous of someone else’s physical life, popularity, holdings, or appearance.

To live in the flesh, whatever way it makes itself evident in our lives, is to live narrowly human. It’s not inherently evil, but it is inherently dying.

It’s amazing to me how much of my time and energy is spent worrying about, thinking about, and concerned with matters of my narrow humanity.

I see it constantly in my children too. They fight over their favorite snacks. They spend so much time concerned with how much of their favorite foods their siblings get. They fixate on their taste buds, then they get angry because those taste buds aren’t getting satisfied. Anger will turn to violence, secret stashes, and manipulation because they are so focused on this one commodity. This one physical sensation of eating their favorite snack.

This is no way to live. As a parent, it is miserable. They are, as C.S. Lewis put it, “far too easily pleased.” They are settling for a war over mud pies (their favorite treat), and missing the holiday being offered at sea (enjoyable peaceful relationships with each other and their Creator). Their bodies are important and their appetites are legitimate, but living amidst food wars is living a life that is narrowly human.

“We have Spirit-filled dreams, but many of us have settled for a ‘narrowly human’ reality.”

The Spirit wails for something greater. Humans dream of love, of marrying Mr. or Mrs. Right. We long to raise kids, and not just because we want to be saddled with the exorbitant costs incurred in modern child rearing (estimated at upwards of $250,000 per child over 18 years). We raise kids because we want the investment of love, we imagine peaceful family gatherings, we dream of years of laughter. We have Spirit-filled imaginations. But many of us have settled for the narrowly human reality. Sometimes it’s not even narrowly human. Sometimes it’s barely human. Living according to flesh, without the Spirit, promises a life of death. As the great Marcus Mumford said, “in these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love. You invest your life“ That is one thing that fleshly bodies share: they all die. As do the pursuits of the flesh.

So what, now?

Can we live in the Spirit? Can we fix our imaginations back on LOVE, PEACE, JOY, KINDNESS, etc.

Or are we destined to live narrowly human lives?

One more thing. The power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that lives in all who believe. So let’s do this. Let’s do it together. Let’s drop the insults. Let’s abandon the dissatisfaction. Let’s take the holiday at sea! Why not? Let’s be thankful right….NOW!

Beth Moore (A Limerick)

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This is “Beth Moore Week” at Jackass Theology. Mark posted earlier this week. Now it’s my turn. So here’s an uber-cheesy totally-genuine tribute, to a woman making waves in Evangelicalism:

Please forgive me Lord,
A leader in the church, 
who has leaned on 1 Timothy, 
but missed what LOVE asserts.

Please forgive me Lord,
I shamefully confide, 
when women spoke I often joked, 
and rolled my foolish eyes

So here’s to you Beth Moore,
Our bad ass Mockingjay, 
the curtain’s being lifted. 
Misogyny can’t stay.

Here’s to you Beth Moore,
Our tribute volunteer, 
you’ve entered the arena 
to fight for future years.

Here’s to you Beth Moore,
Our Katniss Everdeen, 
your tweets are sharp slung arrows, 
calling out hypocrisy.

Here’s to you Beth Moore,
Our blazing Girl on Fire,  
you’re turning heads, demanding mends, 
inspiring something higher

Please forgive me Lord,
For stones I’ve thrown along the way, 
I thought it best to get it “right,” 
but “right” seems wrong today.

If it wasn’t clear in our little limerick, Jackass Theology has a donkey sized crush on Beth Moore, in a completely platonic, non-objectifying, side-hug sort of way.

Tweet On, Mrs. Moore. Tweet on!

Read “Love Over Fear”!

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I was introduced to Dan White Jr. through one of his tweets:

“Reflecting on pastoring for 20 yrs:

With a therapist, I cataloged all the folks that have ghosted me (almost 100 over the years).

Spent time in their homes, baptized their kids, cried with them in pain, counseled them through crisis. Then vamoosh they’re gone. It’s a weird job.”

I read that and instantly knew that Dan White Jr. and I have a lot in common. I too have been in ministry nearly 20 years. I too have been ghosted by countless friends. I too need to talk to a therapist about it.

If you like Jackass Theology, you will devour Love Over Fear. Dan’s latest book, just released by Moody yesterday, confronts the epic problem of polarization in our culture.

I’ve noticed after doing ministry in the same place for many years that some people leave the church because it isn’t meeting their families needs. Many leave the church because they have not figured out how to be comfortable with people who are different than them. Conservatives can’t coexist with liberals. Young can’t coexist with old. MacArthurites can’t coexist with Rob Bellions. Rich can’t coexist with poor. It seems that everyone thinks the solution is to find a community of people that feels what they feel and practices exactly the way they do.

We live in a diverse world. A world with countless ethnicities and subcultures. Latino, black, white, gay, straight, suburban, urban, male, female, and questioning. The diversity is both an opportunity and threat. It is an opportunity to experience the elasticity of the Gospel, and see how the good news truly can be for everyone. The threat, as Dan puts it, is FEAR.

FEAR is powerful. Fear is at the root of nearly all sin. Adam and Eve feared missing out, so they ate of the tree. Cain murdered his brother because he feared the comparison Abel represented. The news and social media peddle fear like Crackerjack at a Giants game.

Fear demands an object. Do you fear snakes? Do you fear financial scarcity? Do you fear for your kids’ safety? Do you fear the impact of LGBTQ on politics? Do you fear a socialist agenda? Do you fear abuse of power? Do you fear having a bigot in the White House?

The only healthy source of fear, biblically speaking, is fear of God.

Fear can not simply linger as an abstract feeling for long. It must find a home in something tangible, someone or something or some event to blame. Fear is always searching for someone to blame. It’s this transfer, when human beings become the object of our fears, the reason for our concerns, that destroys our chances for peace, dignity, and love. Sadly, the person, people group, or villain we attach our fears to often carries far less responsibility than we imagine for our unsettled spirit, and their demise is absolutely impotent in resolving our inner anxiety. That’s the jackass part of it all. Blaming people for our fear.

White flight happened in neighborhoods when the simple presence of African Americans in the community enflamed fear of property devaluation. The “right” fears the agenda of the “left” and therefore they must find an embodiment for that fear: the stupid pundits of CNN, Obama, the LGBTQ agenda, or Colin Kaepernick. The “left” fears the agenda of the “right” and therefore they must find an embodiment of that fear: big business, Ann Coulter, abuse of power, the hatred of the religious right, or Trump’s 2020 campaign. The point is that fear has a difficult time remaining abstract. So our fear divides America, it divides families, and it divides churches.

The only healthy place for our fear is fear of God.

As Dan White Jr. brilliantly describes in his book, LOVE—which we all long for and all acknowledge is superior to fear—has the ability to overcome fear. But in order for fear to be overcome, it must be placed in the only appropriate object: God!

Dan’s book is desperately needed in our time. The entire second half of the book is devoted to practical ways we aid in love overcoming fear in our own lives. Read it! Check out his website. My prayer is that LOVE OVER FEAR becomes not just a book, but a movement.

Is Piper Wrong about Yoga?

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John Piper takes the “better safe than sorry approach” to yoga (my words not his, in his 2015 article on Desiring God). In short, because it is derived from Eastern Practices and because those practices are not rooted in the same things as the Gospel, he personally would devote his time to a different kind of exercise. For what it’s worth, I love John Piper to death. I deeply respect his opinion and I have no agenda to persuade him to take up yoga. But I also feel that the premise of his argument can lay the foundation for a lot of jackassery, so it’s worth talking about.

Full disclosure: I am a pastor. I love Jesus. And I practice yoga regularly. Not even just the Christian version with Toby Mac beats in the background. Some may be surprised to hear that I have yet to contract any evil spirits. At least, not to my knowledge.

FREEDOM seems to me a very KEY emphasis of the Gospel. The Gospel brings freedom from Law and demands dependency on the Spirit of God. Going back to Piper: he denounces what he calls the “maximalist approach to life,” which he defines as constantly trying to get away with as much as possible. I agree 1,000,000% when we’re talking about matters of objective sin (worshipping other gods, adultery, theft, dishonesty). In such cases, who are we kidding? A little bit is too much. And if yoga, or any other lifestyle choice, causes you to worship other deities, stay the HELL away from them!

But if we are afraid that a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus might accidentally slip into idol worship because their preferred exercise practice originated on a different continent, that is a different thing entirely.

“‘Better safe than sorry’ is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating.”

This “BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY” approach is not as wholesome—or as safe—as it initially appears. Better safe than sorry is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating. (Remember good ole’ Joshua Harris? Don’t worry, he recanted 20 years later, so dating is once again an “approved conservative Christian practice.” Sex before marriage is not.)

Behind its wholesome exterior is FEAR. Fear that sin will overtake us. Fear that the Holy Spirit is an insufficient source of discernment. Fear that it’s really not possible to live in the world without becoming part of the world. But Jesus prayed differently in John 17.

The Christian must fear God. The Christian needs a healthy respect for sin, but the Christian also must live a FREE life and a missional life. Those two things together allow for a lot of cultural adaptation (not gospel adaptation, but cultural adaptation).

If Paul was better safe than sorry, Gentiles would not have the gospel. He would have caved to Jewish cultural expectations and it would have remained a Jewish movement until someone was willing to follow the Spirit into the wild, crazy, pagan, Gentile world.

People got drunk at parties in Jesus’ day too, but he still made wine. He joined in the festivities without becoming like his peers. He didn’t stand outside, worried that he might get a contact high, or a bad rep. He went where the people were.

“Jesus didn’t stand outside of the parties of his day, worried that he might get a contact high or a bad rep. He went where the people were.”

You don’t need to stop eating Thai food because they have a Buddha statue on display. You don’t need to stop using the internet because porn exists on it. We don’t need to abandon all social media because it can get saturated with polemical vitriol. You don’t need to stop listening to secular music because the musicians are philosophically misguided.

Humans don’t contract sin by standing next to it. You will never have a mission field if you are always living the “better safe than sorry” life. Just because it can be dangerous, doesn’t mean we need to BAN it. Danger means we must be careful. We must rely on the Spirit of God. But all of life is dangerous, all things in life can steal our affections and heart. So as Jesus said, we must grow up into people who “live in the world, but not of it.”

Lots of people love yoga. So do I. It’s a perfect place to deal with my back issues. I don’t love it for its eastern spirituality. I love it for the people I meet, the relationships I build with my friends as we exercise together. When it’s quiet I pray. I do avoid chanting mantras in other languages when I don’t know what I’m saying, but that’s my choice in the matter.

Should you try yoga? It’s up to you. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s great. Just don’t hate on me and my Jesus yogis because you read a Piper article once or heard that people can catch yoga demons.

Can Yoga be sinful? Absolutely, if you are worshipping false gods, denying Jesus, or tempted to syncretize eastern philosophy with the Gospel. As with most sin, it is more a matter of the heart.

Romans 14 tells us, “whatever you do, do it will full conviction, to honor the Lord,”

Let’s be careful to not lazily employ the “better safe than sorry” technique, because we don’t understand it, have never tried it, or somehow chose that particular cultural practice to get self-righteous about. If it were up to me, I’d employ the “Better safe than sorry” to NASCAR. But that’s just my opinion.