Christianity as Both

I’ve been writing a lot about what Christian leadership might look like in our current context.  When I say current context I mean mainly within the American culture and Church.  Of course part of the problem is that in America there is no “the Church” per se, but that is something to be addressed at a later time.

We’ve been talking about leading with all of Jesus within the right narrative and aiming at Christ not lesser goods.  Today I want to tackle a really important idea that can help us actually do that.

One of the things that happens all the time in the current cultural conversation over Christianity is that we tend to set things that appear opposed against each other.  Or another approach is to take two Christian ideas and say that we need to balance them.

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You Can’t Earn or Buy You Way Into The Kingdom. (Bible Study – The Rich Young Ruler Part 1)

Today I want to begin to talk about one of the most used passages in scripture.  It tells of the encounter between a wealthy, moral young man and Jesus.

The story is told in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18.  They all tell the same story.  A man comes up to Jesus and says to Jesus, “Good teacher.  What things must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus responds by asking why he calls him good?  He says God is good, and if you want to be good, follow the commandments.

The man answers that he has kept all of the commandments since his youth.  He does not lie, murder, commit adultery etc.   It then says that Jesus looked at him and loved him.  He said this, “One thing you lack.  Go and sell all your possessions, give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me.”  The man then went away sad because he had great wealth.

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Christians Are The Ones Being Converted (Thoughts on Romans 12:2)

I’ve had Romans 12:2 on my mind and heart a lot the last few weeks.  In the first eleven chapters Paul is basically laying out theological truth after truth for the Roman Christians.  He begins chapter with a transition of sorts.  He is about to share how to live this out and what it might look like.  But he starts with this in  12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

It’s the second part that has had my attention lately.  The idea of not being conformed to this world.  Not being conformed to this age.  In other words not being transformed away from Jesus but towards him.  Not following the fads, directions, lifestyles, or flow of the culture.  Really, we shouldn’t be following anyone but Jesus.  And we should be leading.  We can test what is happening around us and lead with what is good. We should be leading others towards Jesus, at least whoever might follow.

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Who Can Be Jesus To You (Samaritan Study Pt 5)

This is the final of a five part study on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  We started out by looking at the context to the parable and noting that we are not the hero (Samaritan) of the story.  We then looked at why it is that we pass by those in need.  Next we looked at some of the early Church Father’s take on the parable.  Last time we looked at how this parable might impact how we are to “Be Jesus” to others and what it might look like to minister to people as if we are ministering To Jesus.

As if all of that wasn’t enough to face, today I want to talk about what we in the Western Church are probably the worst at.  That is letting others “Be Jesus” to us.

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Maybe The Church Should Man Up

My favorite TV show ever is Friday Night Lights.  Basically everything about it is good. Seriously.  I love the main character, Coach Taylor.

Taylor is the classic high school coach who wants to win and shape young men along the way.  What I love about it is that while he does give some nice pre-game speeches, he also personally invests into their lives.  Nowhere is this more true than in his relationship with a forced into action backup QB Matt Saracen.

Saracen’s father is mostly absent.  He is insecure.  He loves art more than football.  But Taylor is convinced that he can be QB1.  Taylor knows that isn’t going to “just happen” and so he invests in this kid.  Over the course of three seasons, Saracen grows into a grown up man.  He becomes a leader.  He doesn’t become a different guy, so much as he becomes the guy that he was meant to be.

What Taylor doesn’t do is say “man up” and then hope for the best.  He invests.  He takes Saracen to the field at night and works with him.  He has him over for dinner.  He goes to his house.  He speaks into his life in critical moments.  He fights with him and for him.  He shares his life not just his words.

As I mentioned last week one of the latest mantra’s being thrown at Christian guys is the idea that what we need to do is man up.  Now, full disclosure here, I’ve told people that they needed to man up.  I’ve said from up front that, “sometimes” you just need to man up. I’ve told people certain people that I’m invested in that it’s time for them to grow up.  What I’m saying here is that there are times where this is pretty good advice.  But what it isn’t is a good blanket answer for what is wrong in the world of marriage, dating/courting, and singleness.

When it starts getting put out as a generic answer it leads to all sorts of problems.  Here are a few, in no particular order.

1. We are terrible at linking it to singleness.  Do you have to get married to man up?  What if you’re called to celibacy?  Should you man up and be celibate?  Did Paul not man up? What does man up mean for my sexual desires?

2. When it comes to dating we are completely confusing to men.  Does man up mean ask everyone out?  Or do I man up and “wait for God” to bring me “the one“?  Do I man up and pursue the girl that said no or do I man up and walk away?  Do I man up and marry someone I don’t want to?

3. The man up people almost always assume its the guy that is the problem.  Women in the Church aren’t typically told to woman up so to speak.  What if the guy is doing everything right – or at least really trying to?  This is huge for both singles and marrieds.

4. Man up is kind of a charge into battle type of saying.  That can be good. But what if you are really broken?  Do you need to just man up?  Can you “heal up“?  Am I supposed to just try harder to get healing from my wounds caused by my sin and the sin of others?

5. It seems to me that if you’re not careful you could man up without actually walking with Jesus.  Just make it happen. Do, do, do.  What about grace?  Here’s the best part, most of the people using this line tell us all the time how sinful and bad we are and we can’t do anything good without Jesus.  Hmmm.  So I’m bad, can’t do anything good, but I should man up.  Gotcha.

Now hear me clearly.  I’m all for challenging guys to grow.  I’m all for having hard conversations.  I’m not saying we don’t have guys that need to basically man up.  But what I am saying is that as a talking point or slogan, without relationship, it gets into platitude territory in a hurry.  Or at the least, ineffective territory.

And this is the ironic part.  You know who needs to man up?  All the men who should be helping the guys in trouble by investing in their lives.  All the men who sit in the pews and applaud because they know that young single guy or the guy who is struggling in their marriage and think, “I sure hope that guy is hearing this – hope he mans up”.  All the seminarians and hipster Jesus dudes who sit around sipping premium brews of coffee or beer while sharing about how most men need to man up – and then not actually investing in any of those men.  How’s that for some tough man up talk?

When it comes to the single guys between the ages of 22-29 (soon to be 30 . . 31. . .) the main group that needs to man up is the Church.  You know why? Because those guys aren’t there to hear the speech.  And if they do come and hear it, and we don’t invest in them (read pour out our lives, spend time getting to know them) then they won’t keep coming.

If man up isn’t followed by, “and here’s how we want to help you do it” then we’ve failed. In other words, don’t tell someone to man up, unless you are willing to man up for them.

When The Man Up Speech Isn’t Enough

There’s a great scene in the movie Any Given Sunday in which Al Pacino (who plays an on the hot seat head coach) gives a pre-game speech to his team before the last and most important game of the year.  All season he has been trying to bring the team together and help a young QB forced into action become a leader.  It’s gone poorly.  But now the veteran QB has returned from injury and Pacino knows this game and season is all on the line.

The speech actually has a lot of deep stuff in it (and a bad word or two) and there is something about it that makes you want to go to battle.  But what I love the most about the scene comes at the very end.  As Pacino closes he challenges the the team.  He says we can win or lose, live or die.  Then he says, “Now what are you going to do?!”  The locker room goes crazy.  Men are going nuts they are so fired up. They’re ready to rush into battle. Except for the two most veteran players.  You know why?  Because they’d been there before.  And they knew the cost.  I realized watching that scene that they were the real men.

I once got to spend 4 days at a John Eldredge Wild at Heart “boot camp.”  It was in Colorado at a Young Life Property in the mountains.  In the instructions to get there it said, “Rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle from the airport.  You will probably need it”.  What could be more “man” than that.

It was an incredible weekend.  Eldredge and his friends that led the retreat did not disappoint.  We looked at our wounds and talked about how we were created as men.

Now you would think that the message the last day would have been something like, “Now go out and change the world” or, “Take action now!  Change everything!”  But you know what they said about 10 different ways? “Do NOT rush the field.”  In other words move cautiously.  Dig deep.  Go slow and steady.  God has shown you some stuff.  Take it back and chew on it.

The church is scared when it comes to the marriage.  The reality is all around them. The writing is on the wall and the season is coming to the end.  Masculinity as we were created to have it is in real trouble.  I mean 4th and goal trouble.  Men are failing to lead. They are not getting married.  Some are marrying other men.  There are more and more unmarried people that probably shouldn’t be.  Men are either weak, ruled by women, or living in extended adolescence. And it seems no matter what we do the trend continues.

Lots of things have contributed to it.  The feminist movement, lives that are too comfortable and at our fingertips – including sexual immorality, and a huge amount of fatherlessness that just continues to speed up the cycle.

We’ve tried to answer it with books and rallies. We got together to make promises.  We asked young men (and women) to wait for true love.  We kissed dating goodbye. The result?  It’s worse now than ever.  Did we actually think that we could slogan ourselves to victory?

The latest attempt to fix all of this are the “Man Up” pastors.  These guys are fired up.  A lot of them are angry. They know all the problems and causes inside and out and they rail against them.  All the problems are apparently men’s fault. They know that men need to step up and they are ready to challenge us to do it.  But here’s the problem.  If you rush the field, if you get fired up and head out, if you spend all of your energy in the first three minutes of the game, you’re going to get your tail kicked when you get out there.

What does this have to do with singleness?  Everything!

It’s a mess out there as a single guy.  But if you don’t know who you are as a man it’s complete disaster.  Most of us have never been taught what to do with women and most of what we have been taught is wrong.  And being told to man up is not going to cut it. The pre-game speech (read sermon) is not enough.  We need the right practice, the right in game coaching and the some of us need a whole new playbook.  We need veteran leadership.

This is all prologue really.  I’m going to write more on this asap.  I promise it’s going somewhere.  But for today, let me ask you a couple of questions.  What does man up mean to you? Do you want to be fired up or are you willing to be built up?

The Christian And The Pickup Artist

In 2007 there was a TV show on VH1 called The Pickup Artist.  In it a guy named Mystery along with his “wingmen” took 8 guys who were not good with women and taught them the “art of pickup”.  Ah reality TV.

What’s funny about the show is that the first thought that my roommate and I had about it was that there were a whole lot of Christian guys who could use his help.  Many of them were no better off than the contestants.  In fact all of these guys got better at approaching and talking to women.  The “Mystery” method worked – at least at some level.

My roommate, along with another single friend had also been going through a program called Double Your Dating put together by a guy named David DeAngelo.  He took the whole concept to a different level.  It went well beyond pickup.

As we talked through all of this a couple of things became very clear.  First, while we certainly couldn’t condone all that these guys did, we had a lot to learn.  Secondly, we realized that there was absolutely zero, and I mean zero, Christian version of this for guys.

I was 34 at the time and trying to piece together how I was still single.  I had met a couple of really quality people but not been able to seal the deal so to speak.  I began to realize that a lot of what I had thought about my whole “singleness” story was wrong.  A lot of what I’d been taught and/or assumed about dating, attraction and theology was not actually true.  And it came crashing down around me.  It was awesome and painful all at the same time.

Now God was moving and looking to restore me.  I also had a great community of people – both brothers like those mentioned above and mentors that walk with me.  I sought some counseling.  But it would be false to say that the secular dating gurus didn’t help me out.  I would have turned to the Christian dating gurus but their weren’t any.

One of our problems in Christianity when it comes to this whole subject is that we over spiritualize it.  We also tend to skip about 100 steps ahead. We teach people who they should marry but not how to meet them. We tell people what not to with their date, but not how to get a date.  We tell men to man up and women to dress up without explaining why that matters.  We can help you break up with the wrong person, but we can’t seem to help you learn how to approach the right one.  We tell men to guard girls’s without telling them how to win them to begin with.

By doing this we essentially emasculate our men and leave our women with a choice between acting on attraction to the secular man or ruling over the Christian man.

It shouldn’t be this way.  Not only should we be helping Christian men and women connect, and as a bonus we’d actually end up reaching out to others.  Men would want to be like us and women would wonder what is different about our guys and want that too. This is a fairly obviously Christian blog.  I mean it’s in the dang title.  Do you know what the number one viewed post is?  It’s “Women Can Smell Desperate“.  And it’s not close. Someone views that post almost every day.

People want to know about attraction.  More than that they want to know how to be attractive.  No one is more attractive than Jesus.  Hello Church.

In the over spiritualized world you wait around and God brings you someone.  In the real world you go out and learn, while walking with God.  In the over spiritualized world you stay as you are and God magically changes your circumstances.  In the real world you engage God and grow in areas where you continually fail.

Am I suggesting that we should we should become Christian Pickup Artists?  No I’m not because as a Christian the “pickup” is not the goal.  But becoming a “Get A Date Artist” might be a good idea.  If you want to get married – which is the goal.

I’m sure a lot of Christians watched the Pick Up Artist.  Some were outraged and disgusted.  Some were taking notes.  Most guys were probably doing both. But two things were undeniable as a Christian.  One, we have a lot of guys in our pews who would fit on that show and two, we aren’t doing anything about it.

Throughout history the Church wins when it leads, it loses when it reacts.  We are in the middle of a cultural shift when it comes to marriage, singleness, and sex.  We are losing. Maybe it’s time to switch strategies.

Why Church People Hate Singleness

I’ve determined that church people really hate singles issues.  Now they don’t hate singles (even though some singles might feel that way).  I think they for the most part really do care.  But I think they hate it and avoid dealing with it.

I’ve been thinking about why they feel that way, and I’ve come to some conclusions. This is not meant to be exhaustive, just my first thoughts.

First of all, people they care about are hurting.  There are people that church leaders care for that really want to get married.  They see the desire in their people’s hearts and it bothers them that they aren’t met.

Secondly they hate it because it leads to all sorts of messy problems within the church that they don’t have good answers for.  This guy won’t leave this girl alone.  These two went out three times and now the girl thinks because it didn’t work out that the guy is a player out to do harm.  A single man has the qualities to be an elder, but what if he dates someone in the church, what if it doesn’t work out?  What if he dates someone from a different church?  What if a woman from the church likes him and he isn’t interested? Is he more likely to fall into sexual sin than a married man?  What does that scripture about the husband of one wife mean? (For the record it means don’t have more than one wife).

It’s a mess.  It’s not supposed to work this way.  But our culture has changed.  Marriage is in the decline.  If we were to continue on the trend we are on right now, married people really will be in the minority in our country.  But the church isn’t set up for that.  It also isn’t set up to help us navigate our way out of it.  And that is freaking frustrating.

Thirdly, church people hate singleness because there is no easy biblical answer to the problem.  There are some biblical answers, but we don’t like most of them.  So what mostly happens instead is that we end up trying to make them up.  We like nice little bible answers.  We like when we can say to a married man, “Love your wife in this way or that, because a verse in the bible says it that way.” Or to a married woman, “respect your husband this or that way because there is a verse or two in the bible that says it that way.”

One of the reasons the Church likes to talk about marriage and family (not the only reason) is that it makes a really good sermon.  Singleness. . . . not so much.  Not only that but you can toss a word or two into a marriage sermon about singleness because most single people in the church want to get married.  Married people aren’t interested in the single sermon.  They should be, but they’re not.

The word singleness isn’t even in the bible.  Actually I guess the word is in 2nd Chronicles but not the way we mean it.  Dating is not in the bible.  Neither is courting in case you thought it was.  Taking a wife in the bible often meant literally taking one – and that probably won’t preach.

You see the problem with dealing with singleness is that you actually have to get dirty to do it.  To give any sort of answer that matters you have to jump in with the single person.  You can’t quote a verse, do a study and walk away feeling good about yourself because it won’t do the trick.

To deal with singleness we’d have to deal with things like the call to celibacy.  That actually is in the bible, but in 20 years in church I’ve never once heard a pastor do it justice.  I for sure have never seen a small group set up to determine if you might be called to it.

To deal with singleness we have to get in with the single person and help them navigate why they (that one person) is single?  It requires actually walking through things like, fear of commitment, awkwardness with the opposite sex, communication with the opposite sex, confidence around the opposite sex, insecurities and sin, not to mention the sins of consumerism, sexual immorality, and laziness.  It means dealing directly with people’s wounds over an extended period of time. It means dealing with fear – not creating it. 

We can tell men to man up and women to dress up until we are blue in the face but at some point we have to actually know the man or the woman and find out what’s up.  We can talk all day about God’s timing and waiting on the one He has for you, but at some point we have to move beyond sounding deep and go deep with people.

It means not pretending that there is biblical answers where there aren’t.  And church people hate that because they want there to be a biblical answer even where there isn’t one.  By the way this includes single church people too.

If the Church is interested in changing the trend and reaching out to the unmarried (50% of America is unmarried. 80% of those between 18-29 are) then maybe it’s time the Church “Man’s Up” itself and rethinks how it goes at this deal.





The Meek Will Not Inherit A Wife

A few years ago I was talking with this woman I liked, when she said, “You know what, I’m so tired of Christian guys.”  I laughed, cringed, and completely understood what she meant.

She didn’t mean that she wanted to date/marry an unbeliever or that she didn’t love Jesus. She meant that she was tired of the over thinking, over spiritualizing, over nice acting “Christian” guys, of which at the time I was one.

Now, to be sure, this girl had her own issues.  But the fact remains, we have a real problem within the Christian community when it comes to dating.  It’s everybody’s fault.

We (meaning the Church big picture) have this extremely weird double standard going on where we tell guys to be basically be nice and get in line, while following all the guys who don’t.  We say don’t date around, don’t ask anyone out if you don’t know you can marry them, guard the girl’s heart, but oh by the way – lead.  What the heck?!

What we’ve created is a whole lot of nice guys that don’t act.  And when they do act they end up doing so in a weak way.

I used to be completely frustrated at the fact that the “bad guy” would always somehow have the girl, and I, who was of course the “good guy” didn’t.  But while it’s true that some of these guys were bad, what most of them were was confident, regardless of their goodness or badness.  I on the other hand, when I really liked someone, was not.

When it comes to being attractive to females, confidence is perhaps the single most important factor.  Not even a lot of females can name this, but it’s a fact.  It’s more important in terms of initial attraction than just about anything including but not limited to: looks, money, spirituality, brains, ambition, drive or sexual prowess.  Although all those things both affect and are affected by confidence.

Women describe this different ways but it is core to what they are looking for.  They want, “someone who knows who they are”, “who knows what they want”, or “who is comfortable in their own skin”.  However they describe it they are attracted to it – they respect it.  And respect is the key.

We as men, have to get a handle on this, and most of us don’t.  We think we do, but we really don’t.  It takes some real courage to confront our lack of confidence.

I’m not talking about arrogance.  Although, arrogance is more attractive than boring or weak.  It is more attractive than fearful (although most arrogant people are masking fear). And this is important: Passivity is not the opposite of Arrogance.  Humility is. And humility is not about being weak.  

It’s more than semantics.  Humility is not interchangeable with weakness, meekness, or passiveness.  You cannot be insecure and humble at the same time.

Yes Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth.  But meek as we mean it in our culture (tame, mild, bland, unambitious are given as synonyms) is not what Jesus meant.  He was none of those things.  That verse does not mean the scared and passive will inherit the kingdom.  And they for sure will not inherit a wife.

It’s a double whammy.  Confident guys get dates because they are attractive to women, and because they are confident enough to ask.  They act because they are less afraid.

But here’s the best part, a lot of Christian spokesmen seem to think the answer is telling the non-cofident guy to man up.  That is completely ridiculous.  What we need to do is two things.

First we need to help guys dig deeper into why they are insecure and passive to begin with.  The spokespeople don’t like this because it requires actual work instead of just sounding cool in a sermon or book.  But it’s essential.  We have to figure out why we are scared.  What is it that makes us insecure around the women we want to pursue.  Actually at a broader view – what makes us insecure anywhere.  Where is that coming from?

Jesus was not insecure and if we are going to follow Him then that means facing our insecurities and growing out of them.  As a side benefit, as we do, we become more attractive.  Growth is hard work, but I promise you this – Growth is Hot.  Dead serious.

Secondly, we need to give men tools in interacting with women.  Here’s why.  Men are afraid of what they don’t know how to do.  We loathe failure.  So if I’ve spent most of my life not knowing what to do with women, guess what – I’m going to be insecure in that area.

All men are confident in what they know how to do and unconfident in what they don’t know about.  Therefore if we want Christian guys to have confidence and “man up” as it were, then we need to give them the tools, not just a pep talk.

I’ll have more to say about his later this week, but for today let me leave you with a couple of questions.

When are you confident?  When are you not?  When is the first time you can remember being passive?  Do you have the tools to pursue and marry a woman?

Christians Should Have More Sex – And Talk About It

One of my pastor’s favorite lines is, “The problem with our church is that our singles are having too much sex, and our married people are not having enough.”

Every time he says it there is initial laughter at how funny that is, followed by a sort of uncomfortable chuckling at just how true it is.

It’s an interesting dynamic.  There is the idea in our culture about married sex vs. single sex.  As in, married sex is boring or non-existent and single sex is all about the hot passion. This is wrong both statistically and morally.

What’s interesting to me is that it seems married people are constantly willing to tell their single friends all about their lack of sex.  I can’t count the conversations I’ve had like this. It’s kind of mind boggling really.  Married people are constantly telling me about the sex they don’t have.  Very rarely are they telling me about the sex they do have.

Now I’m not talking about when a friend is sharing their life with me.  In other words there are men that I walk with and we all have struggles.  There are other men that I mentor and they are just letting me know what is going on so that I can walk with them.  That’s all good and honesty is vital in all of that.  We all go through different stages and issues.  Sexual struggle in a marriage can certainly be one of those.

What I’m talking about is this general idea out there that sex in marriage is not so great.  I feel like that is not really the best thing to tell single people.  What is the message exactly? Is the Christian community’s message, “Whatever you do, don’t have sex outside of marriage, wait for marriage.  And by the way, it’s not really that great then either.”  Really?!

I get that telling a wide eyed 20 year old that marriage is not a sex on demand scenario is probably pretty wise.  But constantly sending the message to the average Christian single that sex in marriage is always infrequent, hard work and often not good, seems kind of counter productive.

Let’s get real.  Even in the “evil and dangerous” secular world, the statistics don’t back this up.  In all the research I’ve seen married people have more and better sex than single people who are trying to have sex.  40% of married people have sex twice a week, compared to 20-25% of single and cohabitating couples.  Not only that but a significantly higher percentage of married men and women say sex is emotionally and physically satisfying than single people.  To top it off, married couples are more likely to hit orgasm – so that’s nice.

This isn’t to make light of the struggles that many married people have sexually.  I’ve walked with some people through tough stuff so I know it’s real.  But we need to do some things differently here if we are going to be honest and encourage single believers toward marriage.

To begin with, as my pastor says, married people need to have more sex.  Seriously.  For about a hundred reasons.  If you aren’t, then you HAVE TO get help and figure it out.

Next, married folks need to realize that what they say about sex has impact.  They also need to realize that the biggest problem out there right now isn’t single people rushing into marriage for sex, it’s that they are running away from marriage period.  The context has changed.  You are not doing the single person any favors by downplaying sex in marriage.

Finally, we need the married people who are having sex to be more real.  I remember one time talking with a friend after his ten year anniversary trip.  He said, “Bro, gotta tell ya. Great trip.  Stayed at the cabin.  Man, that cabin will never be the same.  I mean . . . wow. I don’t know if you’ve had premarital sex at all but I have.  And it is nothing compared to what happened this weekend.  I mean when there is trust, commitment and intimacy, all things are possible. . . just trust me on this. . . wow!”

Now that’s a ringing endorsement of marriage.  I’m in!

I think there is this tendency with married Christian couples to only talk about sex when it isn’t going well.  We need you to talk about it when it is.  We don’t need the details.  My friend didn’t say what positions they tried.  He didn’t video it and post it to facebook.  But he did share how he felt about it.

It’s true that we need realistic expectations.  What we don’t need is a message that says, “make sure you wait for it, but it’s not that great.”

What message have you received from married believers about sex?  Has it made you more or less excited about marriage?