It’s Not About (fill in the blank)

I was in the office this morning reading through Genesis 1-3. I don’t know how many times I have read that section but it’s probably in the triple digits by now. In fact, I have read it so much that I often breeze through it because it seems so familiar. But this morning I deliberately paused and let the words sink in and something happened…I realized that whole section really isn’t about the earth or the animals or even man. It’s all about God.

When you look at the six days mentioned in chapter 1 you see two things repeating. The first is the phrase: “Then God said…” The second is the phrase: “And God saw that it was good.” I think it is important that we don’t lose sight of that. God is the subject. He is the one doing something (in this case…speaking the world into existence) and He is the one who determines the worth of what has been created.

Even when describing the creation of man you cannot help but recognize that God is still the subject. We aren’t the focus of the story…God is. We’re made “in the image” of God. We are a mere reflection (or representation) of the one who is at the center of it all. It has never been about us.

I think that sets the tone for everything else that follows. The Bible is ultimately about God. Sure there are humans scattered throughout…but it is in the context of God’s will and His desire to commune with us. My goal is to remember that when I’m reading. So much of the story has seemed commonplace but I think that is because I have made us the subject. I want to put God back in His rightful place. The truth is that HE has always been there…I’m the one who keeps changing the subject.

Never Gonna Be….

I have a confession to make. I am wishy-washy when it comes to music. I take pride in the fact that I typically don’t like pop music. Somehow I have developed an elitist (or semi-elitist) attitude when it comes to most music. I am especially snobby when it comes to the overwhelming majority of Christian pop music. I am often negative and harshly critical of the groups/artists I hear on modern Christian radio. It drives my wife crazy (and rightfully so) because I am painfully inconsistent. This is one of those moments when I am going to be a hypocrite and actually speak good things about a band that I have spent a lot of time criticizing.

Audio Adrenaline have been around (in various) incarnations since 1992. They formed when they were all students at Kentucky Christian College (now University). I know people who went to school with them and as far as I know, they were/are sincere about what they do. In the beginning I actually cheered them on because KCC is a school supported by the same group of churches that I am a life-long member (and now a minister) of. They were kindred spirits.

I do admit that their first album leaves a lot to be desired. If asked, they may even admit that. I don’t even know how to describe it. It was nothing like their demos (which were an odd blend of low-fi punk and rap) so it was somewhat disappointing. Their second album was a little bit better and was a little more rock. It even had the incredibly catchy tune Big House, which was a favorite among the kids at church.

By the time their third album was released in 1996, the music scene had changed radically. Nirvana and grunge happened and the Christian scene was trying to play catch up. That was always one of my criticisms against CCM; it was typically two years too late. Interestingly enough, it was during that era that Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, and DC Talk put out their best albums. I want to talk about one song from that AA album. It was a good song then (although I may have denied liking it at the time) and it is a good song now.

It’s a simple, no frills pop-rock song. It’s called Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus and I can listen to it every day without getting sick of it. The music is catchy and the lyrics aren’t very complicated…but that doesn’t take anything away from the song. It speaks a deep truth that I need to constantly remind myself. No matter what I do, I pale in comparison to Jesus. The Apostle Paul went so far as to say that all of our good deeds (when compared to what Christ did) are like dirty rags. It is easy to let pride step in and start patting ourselves on the back. That’s why I like this song so much. My favorite lyric goes like this:

I could build a tower to heaven, get on top and touch the sky.
I could write a million songs, all designed to glorify.
I could be about as good, good as any human could,
But that won’t get me by.
I could do anything I wanted to.
I could do anything but one thing’s true.

I’m never gonna be as big as Jesus.

I should probably pray that every day. It is so tempting to tell myself that I am doing a great job and that I don’t need any help. It is so tempting to make things about ME. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if I preach the most interesting sermons ever or write the most popular song in the history of recorded music. Nothing I do even comes close to what Jesus did for me.

Peer Pressure

For some reason I have always been susceptible to peer pressure. I don’t know exactly when it began but I would guess it was early on. In spite of what I often say, I have always wanted to fit in. I have always wanted to belong. What is it that makes us crave acceptance? I have to assume that it is a common human experience. Why are willing to compromise what we claim to believe in order for people to like us? Perhaps we aren’t as firm in our beliefs as we claim to be. It may seem like a bad teenage cliché but that is the reason I started drinking.

A lot of people aren’t aware of this, and I may be shocking some of them with this post, but I struggled with drinking for years and it all began with my desire to be part of a group. I think I may have first tasted beer from my grandfather’s can but I don’t recall any specific instances. The very first time I intentionally tried alcohol was on a school trip when I was in 9th grade. Our entire class (well…the majority of us) went to Washington D.C. during Easter break. It was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel room without my parents and that little bit of freedom was exciting.

I don’t really remember who brought the offending beverage (actually…I think I do but I’ll refrain from naming names because I’m not100% sure) but somehow there ended up being six or seven guys in the room that I was assigned to. We had heard rumors of rumors of someone with alcohol. It was all rather scandalous to me but I did NOT want to be the guy who was too scared to be there.

I can remember us gathering around the dresser in the hotel room. The door was locked and chairs were propped up against it…just in case. A gym bag was opened and a bottle was taken out and passed around. It had the feel of a scene from one of those John Hughes’ movies. I will admit that I was terrified. I knew that we were doing something wrong and that if we got caught…well…I didn’t even want to think about it.

It was champagne or a champagne-like liquid. I think it was called “Tinkled Pink” but the years have dulled portions of the story. That sounds right but my mind could be fabricating that part. I do remember that we took the little plastic cups from the bathroom and poured some into each one. I stood and watched as a couple of guys chugged it down. I clenched my own cup in a death grip, doing my best to keep my hands from trembling. I wasn’t the last one to take a drink but it was close. I think two or three of us waited until the others began staring at us, silently questioning our manhood.

I grimaced as I chugged my own cup and prayed that I wouldn’t throw up. It was one of the nastiest things I had ever tasted. There was nothing about the experience that I enjoyed. However, as I stood there with those guys I felt like I was part of something. I even joined in and taunted the guys who did not join us. My own fear of being rejected was forgotten as I verbally mocked those guys who (quite honestly) were smarter than we were at that moment. It’s easy to forget that kind of thing when you suddenly find yourself part of the “in” crowd. I typically didn’t enjoy that privilege so I cherished that moment. It was as if I believed my entire social status would magically change with that one tiny drink.

I would like to sit here and say that one brief event was my only foray into peer-induced social drinking…but I have already confessed that I once struggled with alcohol. As I reached my late teens I had a job that gave me easy access to alcohol. I worked with a bunch of folks who were legal and they had no qualms about buying alcohol for minors. My boss would actually go to the liquor store for us. By the time my grandfather died during my senior year of high school, I was drinking regularly.

For me, it wasn’t a chemical thing in my brain that made me want to drink. I didn’t feel some unquenchable desire to imbibe (that came later) and drown all my problems. I just wanted to be cool. The guys (and gals) that I hung around with after work drank and I didn’t want to be left out. Quite honestly, I didn’t enjoy the taste of beer at all (not at first) and I had to dilute the heavy stuff with soda just to choke it down. As I look back on it now, I really thought I was having fun.

In the beginning I didn’t drink enough to get drunk. I was terrified of going home and getting caught so I always sipped at whatever I was drinking…just enough to fit in but not enough to get hammered. However, in time my consumption of alcohol escalated to the point that I was getting VERY drunk. The very first time I got drunk was the night my grandfather died. That was also the first time I drank for reasons other than fitting in. By the time I turned 21 and got married I was drinking heavily. I am not proud of the fact but I lost at least one job because I would drink so much at night that I couldn’t get up in the morning and go in.

I want to reiterate one very important thing…the majority of my drinking took place while I was around others who were doing the same thing. It wasn’t their fault and I am not shifting blame. I drank because I wanted to. But the truth is…I wanted to because I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be part of the crowd. I didn’t start off drinking alone, in the middle of the night, trying to make myself forget how much life sucked. That came later.

I am 43 years old now. That first drink took place in 1985…nearly thirty years ago. I am happy to say that I don’t struggle with alcohol anymore but I would be lying if I said that I have conquered that inner desire to fit in. I still fight the urge to do or say things out of character for me…in an attempt to belong. I don’t know why. I don’t understand why that feeling of acceptance seems so important. I tell myself (boldly) that I don’t care what people think of me and that I will be myself no matter what. But deep inside…the fear is still there; the fear that I will be rejected.

It’s not as bad as it used to be though. I think we grow out of some of it. I do believe there is something in our nature that causes it. In Genesis we see God proclaiming that it was not good for man to be alone. We were made for human companionship. We were also made to commune with God. I think that’s why so many of us struggle. We don’t have right relationships with others and we don’t have a right relationship with our Creator.

I try to give in to the Spirit. I believe that is the only way I can conquer this stuff. I have to let Him transform my thoughts and my actions. I have to understand that He loves me and that I don’t have to do anything to earn it. The truth is that I can’t. He loves me in spite of what I do. No amount of peer pressure should make me forget that.

Great Expectations?

Yesterday I was reading one of the many blog posts shared on Facebook by some one of my former classmates. The post was specifically addressed to pastors and it challenged those reading to seriously ask what it is they expect from their church. After reading (and re-reading) it I decided to do exactly that. I stopped and asked myself if I had any unreal or unbiblical expectations for the ministry that God has placed me in. The answer surprised me.

First of all, I don’t know that I have any “unreal” expectations for this congregation. I understand that we are a small church located in a rural area. I understand that we have a pretty good cross-section of members within such a small group. I also understand that we don’t necessarily have the resources that larger churches have. I knew all of these things before accepting the call to come up here. I didn’t have any lofty aspirations of growing this little group of believers into a huge church that would explode outside of its current boundaries.

I want to take this moment to confess my unbelief. I want to repent of my unbelief. My sin was not having unreachable (or self-glorifying) expectations. My sin was not having BIG enough expectations. I moved up here truly believing that we could be a healthy and relevant congregation. I knew that I was joining myself with a wonderful group of people who will do anything they can to share the love of Jesus. I knew all of that, but in my mind I had already placed limitations on what we could accomplish.

Since moving up here and actually getting involved with the ministry I have had a change of heart. I have seen people giving it everything that they have in order to share Jesus with those who need him. I have seen an outpouring of love that I cannot even begin to describe without being overwhelmed. I have realized that I was trying to put limits on what God can do if we just trust Him and obey.

Some people reach for unattainable goals in an effort to bring glory to themselves. I have been guilty of that many times. There have been times when I wanted to pull off the impossible so that I could take the credit. That is selfish and sinful and I do my very best to avoid that type of thinking. However, it is just as selfish and sinful to set the bar too low so that I don’t fail and embarrass myself. Both attitudes focus inwardly and are self-serving. Neither gives God the glory or the credit.

As I begin my first full year as the minister of Granville Center Church of Christ I want to remove myself from the equation as much as possible. It is easy to see what former classmates are doing and be envious of their ministries. The idea that I am not successful because I can’t “keep up” with larger churches is poison. My goal should not be to make GCCoC the next big thing. My expectations should be inspired (and tempered) by the Holy Spirit. I want my one expectation for this church to be this: We need to love God and love others.

I know that isn’t an original idea. I know that there are MANY churches that already use that concept as their mission/vision. But it is so much more than a clever catch-phrase or slogan. It is the very thing that Jesus commanded us to do. I truly believe that if we all live our lives using this simple premise, then we will be amazed by what God will do through us.

Gonna’ Get This Party Started….

Well…no…I’m not. I am enjoying the first week of 2014 so far. The kids are out of school until Monday so they have been chilling around the house. They went sledding with the Carle family while I drove over to Towanda to pick up Robin.

We have more snow. I discovered that the Weather Channel names winter storms. Hercules is making its way through the area today and tomorrow. We may get up to twelve inches of snow by tomorrow morning and the high temp is supposed to be 9 degrees. I guess we’re getting a crash course in living in the North. Don’t get me wrong…I am not complaining. In fact…I love it. No one likes to be freezing but if you dress right and stay inside when it is really bitter…it’s not that band. The snow is absolutely beautiful. It’s not always fun driving in it…but I give the Pennsylvania DOT major props. They do a good job of keeping the main roads drivable.

I am excited about writing this year. I have some ideas that I’m working on and I hope folks enjoy them. I’m still figuring out the best way to do this so if you are reading…be patient and show me a little grace.

I hope and pray you all had a good Thanksgiving, a wonderful Christmas, and very happy New Year.

Lee’s Top 25 U2 Songs

I used to make lots of lists. I think I will start this year off with one.

1. Yahweh (alternate version)
2. Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own (alternate version)
3. Wake Up Dead Man
4. Sunday Bloody Sunday (live version from Rattle And Hum)
5. All I Want Is You
6. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Rattle And Hum version)
7. 40 (live version from Under A Blood Red Sky)
8. With Or Without You
9. Bad
10. Another Time, Another Place
11. Stranger In A Strange Land
12. Two Hearts Beat As One
13. Acrobat
14. Mysterious Ways (Massive Attack remix)
15. Vertigo (Trent Reznor remix)
16. When Love Comes To Town
17. Walk On
18. If God Will Send His Angels (Grand Jury remix)
19. One
20. Crumbs From Your Table
21. I Will Follow
22. New Years Day
23. A Sort Of Homecoming
24. Where The Streets Have No Name
25. Grace