the ground is level

2014 April 2
by j a n

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks in the Kingdom. Many of us watched silently with shock and awe as social media exploded in a firestorm of outrage, condemnation, and judgement by all kinds of believers over decision(s) made by World Vision.

Let’s be real: Casualties are high on all sides (and yes, there are more sides than right/wrong, black/white). The bruised and wounded include Evangelicals who are tired of feeling like their most deeply held beliefs are being trampled, progressive believers now considering leaving evangelicalism, GLBT believers who again feel condemned and rejected by the Christian faith, and – as collateral damage – children in poverty around the world who may or may not have been cut off from life saving financial support.

I hardly know what to say. But I’m reminded of a talk I heard many years ago at the National Media Prayer Breakfast in Los Angeles by Dr. Larry Poland, founder and CEO of Mastermedia International. Here’s the key excerpt from his remarks:

“The time has come… to affirm intolerance… Is it not time to end our tolerance for that which demeans, pollutes, perverts, and twists all that is good and pure and right and honest and honorable? …”Today, we must start… to repent and reconcile. If God is a forgiving God, we all need to buy into that forgiveness through repentance. I ask forgiveness of any non-Christian in this room who has been demeaned or shunned or assaulted by one of us. To any Jewish person–I say on behalf of all of us–forgive us for not giving you the love and respect our very Jewish Savior would ask us to show you. To every gay or lesbian person in this room who has been pummeled by one of us in the illusion that our sins are on a lesser order of magnitude than your sins, please forgive us. The ground is level here at the foot of the cross, and we all need His redemption.”

So maybe… instead of focusing on where we differ, it might be helpful to go back and remember what every conservative, progressive, fundamental, gay, Evangelical, backslidden Christian has in common. It’s all the same dirt at the foot of the cross.

making resolutions

2013 December 31
by j a n

Everyone’s talking about making new year’s resolutions. Time Magazine has 5 resolutions that might work. I like some of Fast Company’s 11 suggestions. I’ll definitely try embracing procrastination.

Here is a list of the most common resolutions. In case you were having trouble thinking of any. (If that’s the case, perhaps you should consider #8.)

And these are the statistics about how many people make resolutions and how long they actually keep them. In case you just want to skip resolving and crack open the Ben & Jerry’s right now.

Everyone has suggestions on making resolutions. I’m going to tell you how to keep them. And honestly, this is not that difficult. First, keep your list short. Three at the max. This way, even if you only keep one resolution your percentage is 30%. Keeping one resolution from a list of 10 – 15 is almost meaningless. I call this “doing the math.”

Second, (and this is contrary to what others will tell you) don’t be too specific. For example, don’t resolve to “go to the gym three times a week.” Say that you will “exercise more.” This way, you can count walking from the couch to the kitchen for a diet coke, or rolling the shopping cart over to its little stall as exercise. (Note: if you keep two of your three resolutions, you have bragging rights to a 60% fulfillment rate. Which is really high.)

Third, …oh what the heck. If you kept all of your resolutions no one would speak to you anymore.

And of course, there’s still my very best resolution. And it’s only one life-changing word.

the quiet and spectacle of Christmas

2013 December 23
by j a n

I am so ready for Christmas Eve. I spent most of my weekend volunteering in the audio/lighting booth at my church, where we’ll continue the last 3 of 8 services through Christmas Eve. This year it’s a very art-oriented program with a variety of beautiful music, and I realized it is just not possible to listen to “Joy to the World” and not feel the excitement of Christ’s coming start to seep into your soul. Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

Now Eastside is technically a megachurch, so we do have the advantage of amazing lighting, and special video, and incredible stage design. And this year – are you ready? – there was ice skating on stage. Right there in the auditorium. And it is simply lovely. Now I know that everyone east of the Rockies is rolling their eyes right now…ice skating? In church? All l I can tell you is that in California, these images just capture the feeling of how magical we all want Christmas to be.

And what’s wrong with a little spectacle anyway? After all, we’re celebrating the birth of Immanuel – “God with us.” Turns out it’s based on a true story. A baby born in a stable? There’s a bloody spectacle. A choir of angels lighting up the night sky singing the “Hosanna Chorus”? Spectacular.

Magic moments happen at all sizes and denominations of churches around the world. Kids bringing gifts to the manger. Children’s pageants that go seriously awry. Reading Luke 2. Or Isaiah 9. And all the beautiful music: strings, choirs, and rock bands. Whether it’s a Christmas spectacular, or an intimate candlelight service, we all come together, putting aside the busyness, the tasks, the frustrations, the expectations, to simply rest. And adore. Big or small, here is nothing like being with the body of Christ to experience the most comfort and joy we can expect this side of Heaven.

I say all this, because Christmas can also be a time of loneliness and disappointment. And so I want to tell you, as kindly as possible, “Get thee to church for Christmas!” Go alone if you have to. But take your eyes off whatever situation you’re in for just one hour, and abandon yourself to the experience of Christ’s coming. Grab onto it and don’t let go. Breathe it in and wrap yourself up in it like a warm blanket. Because the best part is…it’s for you. And this is just the beginning of a really spectacular story.

growing gratitude

2013 November 19
by j a n

For the entire month of November Eastside Christian Church is practicing gratitude. We just celebrated our 1-year anniversary in our new campus, and tried to specifically identify many of the ways God has worked in just one year: around 6,000 people came to our neighborhood open house “Party on the Plaza,” 230 new connection groups, 350 people went on global serve trips, we launched a 4th service in Spanish to reach our Latino neighbors, and 600 people were baptized. That’s a lot to celebrate – and so we also pay attention to Deuteronomy 8:10-11, “Praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God.”

We have a lot of new people at Eastside, and a lot of new Christians. To them we’re the church on the corner they decided to come check out. They have no idea how long we’ve been there, or how we got there. So we tell them. Our senior pastor, Gene, has been telling the story at every opportunity this month, and whether you’ve been there six days or six years – you’re captivated. Hearing the details of how God worked upstream to modify codes on the building before Gene had even come to California. Shadowy owners in Abu Dhabi. Getting an enormous property for almost half price in a sluggish market. A legacy of sacrificing for others. And you know what? People love it. They love knowing they are now part of this greater story, that they’re here for a reason, that what they do here will have an impact on the future. And they are grateful. And they can’t wait to invite others into the experience.

In telling our stories, we practice gratitude by remembering. Gratitude is attractive because it’s different – it’s the cure for self-centeredness so prevalent in our culture. And it’s contagious.

Your church has a story. When is the last time you told it? Maybe it was during your last capital campaign, and that’s actually a good example of its power to engage. In this season of thankfulness, maybe it’s time to tell your church’s story again – to remind people of how you got here, and why they’re here, and all the ways God has been faithful and blessed you and worked through you. It will definitely grow their gratitude, and it just might help grow your church.

halloween options for christians

2013 October 30
by j a n

My annual list updated for 2013. Oooh, October 31, 2013 seems especially spooky.

1. Treat it like the unrecognized, under-appreciated “pre-holiday” holiday that it is, and decorate your entire house and yard with orange lights, pumpkins, spiders, coffins, cobwebs, ghosts, and scary music.

2. Turn off the porch light and go out for a nice, uninterrupted dinner.

3. Find a church with a “harvest” celebration. There’s peace of mind knowing your kids are having fun without worshiping Satan.

4. Trick AND treat: put a tract or church invitation that clearly explains the plan of salvation in with your candy gifts.

5. Trick AND treat part 2: devise some marvelously unexpected way to scare your trick-or-treaters. A life-sized scarecrow propped on a bench, who actually turns out to be a real person works nicely.

6. Forget the kids: don your sexy yet biblical Sampson or Delilah costume, and party with the adults.

7. Invite your small group over to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” then list all the spiritual metaphors. Discuss.

8. Pray a hedge of protection around your driveway, porch, front door and doorbell – and against these potentially becoming demonic strongholds.

9. Offer trick-or-treaters a nutritious tray full of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. Have a camera ready to capture their reactions. I have friends who do this every year – it’s absolutely hilarious. (And yes, also provide candy.)

10. Stay at home, hand out candy, have conversations with your neighbors.

11. Plan to stock up on half-price candy the next day.

12. Try to think of a dozen or so interesting things about it because you’re not really sure it’s such a big deal. Then have some chocolate and go to bed.

single vs married

2013 September 20
by j a n

So we’re wrapping up Unmarried and Single Americans week, and I’ve been writing about the perspective of singles, and thought maybe it seems like it’s just all about us singles. And I thought, you know a whole week is a long time to pay attention to singles, it’s asking quite a lot, and maybe I should talk about marrieds. Like…I wonder what they think about singles. (heh)

So let’s get it all on the table. Who has it easier: singles or marrieds? We realize that we feel like 5th wheels at parties with our married friends, but I’m pretty sure they often envy our ability to sleep late. Hmm…they may have a point there.

But some other gripes they have about singles may have some merit. They listen for hours about all our ups and downs and dates, and say we then don’t want to hear about their last romantic date with their spouse. They think we’re uncaring when they have to put a sick spouse first. They think we make insincere offers to babysit. (Actually I’m very sincere about wanting to. I just don’t mean I’ll ever plan to.) They think we pout when they have to decline activites with us on Saturday night, because that’s their scheduled date night with their spouse. One married says, “Hello, maybe we could make it brunch?”

And what I say to that is, “Hello, I’m sleeping late…”

what it means to be single in the church

2013 September 19
by j a n

So yesterday we celebrated Unmarried and Single Americans Week, with a post reviewing a cultural look at singles. Today, let’s look at what it means to be single in the Church. Almost half of the US population in 2012 was single, so pastors – here’s what you need to know about the other half of your congregation.

1. Singleness is a suffering. God said it was not good for man to be alone. So our bodies and souls are designed by God, and physiologically hard-wired for union with another. This design can never be completely satisfied by a close friendship. Singles in your church live every day with a physical awareness that they are outside the intended order. It’s like someone missing a leg: they still live a happy, productive life, but in a body that does not exemplify its original design.

2. Living outside the intended order means a man does not have a helper (the same word used for the Holy Spirit). That’s significant. (Imagine living life without the Holy Spirit!) And a woman does not have a champion, or protector. Think car repairs – where women are seen as easy targets. Friends can often help with this, but again, it’s not the same as the unique partnership of a spouse.

3. Stop comparing. Stop saying things like, “A bad marriage is infinitely worse than your worst day as a single person.” It’s just another way to dismiss our feelings and say that marriage is still more important. And really – who’s to say whether the pain is far worse never being able to experience either the joy or the pain of marriage? (Please review #1 – intended design.) And why do we need to compare anyway? What does that accomplish?

4. We don’t get to share the load. Roommates help, but that’s still different. We have to work to support ourselves. We also do all the shopping, cooking, meals, cleaning, laundry, home repairs, car repairs. (I’ve often wished I could have a wife.) As noted yesterday, more and more we take care of everyone else, too. We also tithe, serve at your church, lead small groups and take responsibility for our spiritual growth. And most importantly, we do it often without anyone ever knowing or acknowledging. Including you.

5. Singles cross all demographics: black, white, Asian, Latino. We would never intentionally exclude or diminish any of these groups. Except that we do… when they’re not married.

6. You’ve been giving us the same one message for 40 years: A. Don’t have sex unless you’re married, and B. Get married. It might be helpful to consider how our culture’s views of sex have changed in 40 years. I’m not saying change the value for sex within marriage, I’m saying change how you talk about it. For example, see #7.

7. Do the math. If you looked at the informative link above, you would see there were 87 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women in the United States in 2012. Getting married and living happily ever after isn’t even possible for everyone. So get real. What if I have to deal with being single for the rest of my life? The sexual purity issue, for example, takes on a whole new meaning. So does gay marriage. I’ll help with this one: Marriage isn’t the answer – the Cross is. Because we are all called to go to the cross and deny ourselves. Married people have to deny themselves wants and priorities and sex with other people. Promoting marriage as the solution to our needs has actually been a great disservice.

8. Based on the math, it’s easy to see why singles often give up and marry non-believers, live together, have affairs with married people. It’s possible that investing more attention and teaching towards singles would be a proactive way to improve marriage. Call me crazy.

9. In the Church, single parents are considered “heroic.” And here’s a different view on this. I know that good people get abandoned and dumped and cheated on, and end up with children and difficult financial situations. But I also know that frankly, a lot of people just made bad decisions: they got married too young, married the wrong person, rushed into it. They made a mistake. And now, to some degree, they are living with the consequences of that mistake. Yes, they deserve grace and support. But I’ll tell you what’s truly “heroic”: the single person who waited to make the right decision, and refused to make the wrong one. That’s heroic.

10. The truth is, we don’t actually need more attention on singles – we just need more sensitivity and consideration for them for the reasons given above, and as part of the body of Christ. What we really need is more focus on growing disciples, not marriages, or families, or parents, or abstinent singles. You will get healthy marriages, families, parents, and singles by growing committed disciples, married or not.

understanding what it means to be single

2013 September 18
by j a n

In case you missed it, we are right in the middle of Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Psych Central has an excellent post about changing our understanding of what it means to be single. While a national singles week may seem slightly silly, consider: 44.1 percent of all U.S. residents 18 and older in 2012 were unmarried. When a demographic representing half the population is generally marginalized or even ignored, a bit of consciousness-raising may be in order.

“We need it because we are shorted on the 1,136 federal benefits, protections, and privileges that are available only to people who are legally married. We need it because there is housing discrimination and there are tax penalties and pay disparities linked to marital status.

“We need it because our educational institutions – those colleges and universities that should be at the leading edge of scholarship and critical thinking – have been just as smitten by the marital mythology as the rest of society. Those bastions of higher learning are filled with courses, degree programs, textbooks, journals, endowed chairs, research funding and all the other components of the intellectual industry that is the study of marriage.”

This is equally misrepresented by The Church. Just yesterday I received an email claiming that healthy marriages lead to healthy churches. This is a pretty good example of unnecessarily prioritizing marriage by overlooking a simple spiritual truth: healthy disciples (single or married) lead to healthy churches – and as a bonus – to healthy marriages. Yes, healthy marriages are important in the life of a church. You get them by growing committed disciples, married or not.

“We need it not just for the privileges and protections but also for the opportunities to give and to care. Because I am single and don’t have any children, no one can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for me if I fall ill…I also can’t take time off under the same Act to care for a person who is important to me, such as a sibling, a nephew, or a close friend.

“We are doing more than our share. In some significant ways, more of the work of holding together our networks, families, and communities, sustaining intergenerational ties, and caring for people who cannot care for themselves is done by single people than by married people.

“Follow the finger of married people as they point to an important person in their life and you will end up staring at a spouse. Follow the finger of a single person and you may find yourself gazing at a close friend or a sibling or cousin or a mentor or a neighbor.”

Dr. DePaulo’s post provides an insightful look at being single in today’s culture. Tomorrow I’ll try to complement that with a look at what it means to be single and a follower of Jesus in today’s Church.

not yet a hallmark holiday

2013 September 16
by j a n

So break out the champagne – it’s Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Yes, according to a news release from the U.S. Census, Sept. 15-21 has been set aside “to celebrate single life and recognize singles and their contributions to society.” Can I get a big “Whroo-hoo!”?

It’s nice to be – um – singled out for making a contribution to society. (Look! You don’t have to be married and you can still be successful!) Lots of celebrities are single. All those 20-something movie stars who dated someone for 9 months and have been “single” for 2. And Oprah. Although to be honest I think dating someone for almost 30 years should probably disqualify you.

Or consider the contributions of famous historical figures who were single: Florence Nightingale, Thoreau, Beethoven, Emily Dickinson. I like to think of Mary, who was a single woman when she became pregnant with the Savior of the world. Um… Jesus… let’s get real: in a culture where teenagers married, he had to be the odd old bachelor in the family. The Apostle Paul – whose words “wives, submit” we hold much higher than, say… his words “it’s better to be single.” Not so many sermons on that.

I’ll be posting some other thoughts on this subject amongst the revelry this week.

getting started

2013 August 19
by j a n

Thanks again to Church Marketing Sucks for asking me to participate in their “Getting Started” series. Getting Started is a series of interviews with a wide variety of church communications staff who share their successes and failures, ideas and strategies, and a whole lot of wisdom.

My interview posted here.