When Jesus Wrecks Your Life

interuptedWhat happens when God messes up your comfortable Christian life? Author Jen Hatmaker takes you on a personal journey of how God did just that for her and her family. She begins by recognizing the facts about poverty around the world in contrast to a comfortable Christianity that so many of us practice. Through the influences of Shane Claiborne writings, and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, Jen was challenged to step out of her comfort zone and let her faith get messy. She states that “I am still stunned by my capacity to spin Scripture, see what I wanted, ignore what I didn’t and use the Word to defend my life rather than define it.” (p. 5). The sad fact is that I believe that many American Christians do approach their faith like this. Jesus came to radically change our lives. Too often we want Jesus in our lives but on our terms, not His. We don’t want Him to ruin the life we have created for ourselves. Jen points out that “Americans living in excess beyond imagination while the world cries out for intervention is an unbearable tension and utterly misrepresents God’s Kingdom.” (p. 31). Jen balances this out though, not trying to lay a big guilt trip on her readers, but instead she is trying to wake us up to many of our realities. Jen comments “Please don’t hear me say that America stinks and all her citizens are narcissists. It’s just that most of us have no concept of our own prosperity. Nor do we have an accurate understanding of the plight of the rest of the world. Our perspective is limited, and our church culture is so consumer oriented that we’re blinded to our responsibility to see God’s kingdom come to ‘all nations’. . . . We stand at the intersection of extreme privilege and extreme poverty, and we have a question to answer: Do I care?” (p. 34-35).

Throughout the book Jen takes you on her family’s journey out of a comfortable faith and into a much more dependent faith on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jen and her husband Brandon went to go hear Shane Claiborne at a local event. Having never met him, they noticed a homeless looking guy when they entered the building not realizing that that was Shane! Shane challenged them at the end of his talk to give up the shoes on their feet for the poor in the community. It just so happened that Jen and Brandon had some quite expensive boots on but they felt convicted to give them up anyhow and go back to their car barefooted. This propelled them to open their eyes more to serving the poor. Jen says that “We don’t get to opt out of living on mission because we might not be appreciated. We’re not allowed to neglect the oppressed because we have reservations about their discernment. We cannot deny love because it might be despised of misunderstood. We can’t withhold social relief because we’re not convinced it will be perfectly managed. We can’t project our advantaged perspective onto struggling people and expect results available only to the privileged. Must we be wise? Absolutely. But doing nothing is a blatant sin of omission.” (p. 62). The church needs to be about reaching out and serving others in a profound way. We need to get back to getting our hands and feet dirty for the cause of Christ. Jen goes on to remind the reader that “We have the privilege of serving Jesus Himself every time we feed a hungry belly, each moment we give dignity to someone who has none left, when we acknowledge the value of a convict because he is a human being, when we share our extreme excess with those who have nothing, when we love the forsaken and remember the forgotten. Jesus is there.” (p. 109).

At this point of her story, Jen and her husband decide to leave their church and start a new one that is more focused on getting out and serving the poor. Jen stresses that “I worry the Christian community has accepted an insidious shift from laboring for others to prioritizing our own rights. We’ve perpetuated a group identity as misunderstood and persecuted, defending our positions and preferring to be right over being good news. . . If we were not too beneath Christ, who died for us while we were still sinners, then how dare we take a superior position over any other human being? How lovely is a faith community that goes forth as loving sisters and brothers rather than angry defenders and separatists.” (p. 202). This is such a profound statement in light of current state of politics and religion. So many of us in America are more concerned about my rights, my experience, and feign as if we are being persecuted. With this approach we are losing the next generation who aren’t interested in this type of American Christianity. Instead, we need to be on the forefront of social issues related to those who are in need and actually serve them as Jesus served others.

Jen concludes her book by emphasizing that “If an endless array of Bible studies, programs, church events, and sermons have left you dry, please hear this: living on mission where you’ve been sent will transform your faith journey. At the risk of oversimplifying it, I’ve seen missional living cure apathy better than any sermon, promote healing quicker than counseling, deepen discipleship more than Bible studies, and create converts more effectively than events.” (p. 233). I couldn’t agree more with this quote. We must get outside of our buildings and get busy applying our faith through serving and helping those in need. We need to stop with arrogant Christianity that is tied to politics and be about being Christ to others. If the church focused more on this then we would be attracting people to Christ instead of repelling people from our “unchristian” Christianity.

Yet, I see so many churches and youth ministries trying to help people KNOW Christianity without helping them to DO what Jesus did by example. I am afraid that if Jesus were to reappear in America right now, the American church wouldn’t even recognize Him and quite possibly crucify Him again. I see this right now in how some are reacting to the mass of humanity that is walking to the USA through Mexico. Jesus would be with these people. Jesus would expect the church to be leading the way in serving them. Yet I see well-meaning people on social media falling in line with our political leaders and demonizing these people without even considering their plight and how we can help them. I will say this though, I love being in a mainline denomination that can have the ability and resources from the support of thousands of churches to help with situations involving natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and poverty within our country and around the world. One church can only do so much, but collectively we can achieve a lot for the Kingdom of Christ. The danger though is that we in our individual churches can just write a check and feel that we are done with our contribution. My hope is that everyone would find opportunities to actually serve others face-to-face so that you have the opportunity to practice the ways of Christ up close and personal.

I highly recommend this book if you want God to mess with your faith. But keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to leave your church and start a new one to make change happen (but sometimes you do). Reform needs to happen within the churches that already exist too. Change happens within the individual through the power of the Holy Spirit. The question is are we trying to manage the Holy Spirit to conform to our way of life, or are we allowing to Holy Spirit to have his way with us completely and entirely. A church like this will do tremendous things for their community and will attract people to Christ. I want to be a part of that kind of church.

No Fear


While I will be the first to admit I kind of lost my mind during and after the 2016 election, I was genuinely upset by what was happening to the Republican party in it’s choice of Trump. You may really like him, or you may really hate him, but this is an important book that you should read. Bob Woodward is a highly respected journalist who became famous for breaking the Watergate story on President Nixon. Since then he has written many books about the presidents and the government. I’ve also read “Bush at War” when it came out.

While I believe that character matters, especially when it comes to our leaders, this book shows exactly the opposite with what is going on in the White House. Democrats dismissed President Bill Clinton’s moral indiscretions back in the ’90’s, while the Republicans seem to be doing the same with Trump.

I believe pretty strongly that we are living in a time where we have a lack of leadership in the government as well as the church. Morality and character seem to have been replaced by power and control by any means. I personally miss the days when the two parties, while having their differences, seemed to have enough respect for each other that they worked together for the common good of the country.  My belief in where we have failed was in the creation of the 24 hour news cycle. News transformed to be more commentary than factual reporting, thus creating news that tailors to your specific politics. If you are conservative, you have Fox News. If you are liberal, you have MSNBC. Truth has been hijacked to become truth AS I SEE IT. Facts don’t matter anymore. I just interpret things as I want them to be. We are truly living in post-modern times where truth is relative. Truth is what I make it to be, regardless of actual facts. And this is one aspect of Trump that deeply concerns me. He defines his own truth regardless of facts. And the scary thing is, his base (not saying all Republicans) eats it up. This concerns me. Again and again in the book, people in his own cabinet claim that Trump is incapable of the truth. Instead, he creates the narrative he wants.

The interesting thing here is that I grew up in the evangelical church that warned me about post-modernism and truth becoming relative. What is shocking to me is how 80% of the evangelicals embraced Trump. So what were Christians to do? Vote for Clinton? I don’t know what the answer was but I can say when it came to character, both parties picked candidates with glaring character flaws which made this election difficult for a lot of people. I have a relative that made the decision to not vote at all, and I have to say, now that time has passed, I have more respect for that decision. In every election I have been a part of, I always hear the phrase, “I am voting for the lesser of two evils.” Well, this election might have been the epitome of that more than any other election.

While there is a lack of character, integrity and truth from those in government, this presents an opportunity for the church to rise up and lead in these areas. Instead, you have a large percentage of evangelicals identifying themselves with Trump, and there are incredible moral failing playing out in the evangelical and Catholic churches, and many denominations are not leading in the way of Christ because they are too enamored by the “way of Caesar” with power and control.

My hope is that we as a church, the Bride of Christ, wake up to the history of when the church tried to identify itself with political power. Every time it failed. The church lost in a big way, again and again. It is time we find our main identity with Jesus and the kingdom of God more than any other system. It is that which should unify us above the mess that our country finds itself in.  Truth matters. Character matters. Jesus matters.

If we want to have any hope in reaching younger generations we need to show them the way of Christ lived out through the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Jesus. We need to be able to talk about what is true and false in both political parties allowing the Bible to be our standard. We need to model what it means to serve the least and the lost. We need to lead through servant leadership, empowering others to live lives of community, love and respect. The church needs to be counter-cultural in this respect. So my encouragement to you is to tread lightly when it comes to politics. It would be nice to have moral leaders who live out character that you would want your kids to look up to.  Unfortunately that is not the case. So instead of finding our main identity in political parties or leaders, let’s get serious about finding our main identity in Christ, and Christ alone. And let’s be honest, Jesus would not easily fit into either political party. My fear is that we would not recognize him if he were to appear and we would crucify him all over again.  Let’s get back to the business of the church being the bride of Christ and live such counter-cultural lives that actually ATTRACT people to Him instead of repelling people away from Him because of our political affiliations. We must rise above this.


Restaurant Work and the Church



When I think of visiting New York City I often think of Broadway productions I want to see. But after reading Danny Meyer’s “Setting the Table” I now want to visit NYC just to try out his restaurants. Unbeknownst to me, the last time I was there I did go to a Shake Shack not realizing the story behind the restaurant.

I first heard Danny Meyer at the Global Leadership Summit back in August of 2018. He struck me as a very dynamic and inspiring speaker which lead me to buy his book. This should be required reading for anyone in the hospitality business as well as churches. My grandmother used to have a cross-stitch frame that said “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This book hammers that point hard. Churches need to consider what a visitor’s first impressions might be upon visiting the church. If there is no initial hospitality, chances are that person may never return again.

There was so much in this book that I enjoyed, but I also felt that, although the church does not fall into the restaurant business, there is a lot to learn here about hospitality and leadership and how we can apply it to our context.

One thing that impacted me was Danny’s use of the 51% rule. What he meant by that is that he would hire people that were 49% skills and 51% character and people skills. Danny states that “far more important to me than a friend’s skills was always his of her goodness as a person. . . . I want the kind of people on my team who naturally radiate warmth, friendliness, happiness, and kindness. It feels genuinely good to be around them. There’s an upbeat feeling, a twinkle in the eye, a dazzling sparkle from within. I want to employ people I’d otherwise choose to spend time with outside of work. Many people spend a large percentage of their waking hours at work. From a selfish standpoint alone, if that’s your choice, it pays to surround yourself with compelling human beings from whom you can learn, and with whom you can be challenged to grow.” (pp.142-144). In the context of the church, I believe that this is true for those on staff and leadership. Skills can develop and be taught, while heart and people skills are at least 1% more important.

Danny believes in servant leadership as a bottom-up manager. He makes the point that “An organization puts itself in grave danger when it permits integrity to be compromised.” (p. 198). While this may apply to management, waiters and cook, I believe that this is essential for the church. It is imperative that a church staff and leadership have integrity and a servant-leadership model toward the rest of the congregation. In modeling this, we hope to empower the congregation toward love and good deeds!

Another great chapter in Danny’s book dealt with how you handle problems. Danny comments that “the secret of the game is anticipating mistakes, harnessing them, and addressing them in constructive ways so that we end up in a better spot than if we had never made them in the first place.”  (p. 221). He gave a lot of great illustrations in which costumers had a mistake occur, and then how the management of the restaurant didn’t allow the mistake to define their experience, but found a way to go over and above in creating a positive outcome that would overcome the mistake. This can be done in the context of the church with a simple phone call, visit, or letter.

In the context of church it is important that we are hospitable, that we empower people to live into being a child of God, and that we lead with integrity.  Granted, in a good church, this will not necessarily apply to the sermon because the job of the pastor is to teach the Bible within the context of our lives today and I know sometimes that can leave a person feeling really good, or convicted, or angry because they are not ready or willing to receive the message. But in the context of first impressions, we should absolutely have a hospitality team that helps people feel recognized and important. We should expect high moral integrity from our leaders which should inspire the rest to live better lives. And we should look to make difficult situations better with real conversation, warmth and kindness.