Living Life with Blinders On

Living Life with Blinders On

A few weeks ago as I was enjoying a walk around my neighborhood, I heard intense screaming and yelling coming from one of the homes. The screaming was so loud that I clearly heard it from the street. My family and I routinely take evening walks and I had never heard yelling and screaming anything like this in our neighborhood. Something was happening inside of that house.

My first thought was to just keep staring straight forward, up the street. I did not even look towards the house. – I didn’t want to be a nosy neighbor. I then thought to myself that I needed to tell my children to stay away from that part of the neighborhood for the evening, -just to be safe. BUT, the yelling and screaming troubled me. It continued and was really loud. I also thought that I had heard some “thumps” coming from the home as well; I wondered what the thumps were. As I attempted to continue my stroll, I wrestled with rather or not to do something. Many questions ran through my mind: Was there some type of violence happening in that house? Was someone being hurt? Was an innocent person being taken advantage of? Or, was I just overreacting and needed to just “mind my own business?”

There are times in our lives where we are faced with dilemmas like this one. And it seems that, in the moment, there is no clear answer. No one wants to be the nosey neighbor, busy-body or the tattle tale. I sure don’t want to be. So, most of the time we look straight ahead, with our blinders on, and move forward. We just say, “It is none of my business.” After all, that is the easiest, simplest, safest and least painful path to take –well, at least for us.

The problem with looking the other way is that, by our own lack of action, we potentially allow others to get hurt. You and I can facilitate the “hurt” and “victimization” of “others,” when we refuse to take action. Our lack of action might be the easiest thing to do at the time, but it is only the easiest thing for us. It is only safe for us. It is only less painful for us. Our choice to take the path of least resistance could potentially permit the construction of mountains of pain and grief for others.

I have never been a huge follower of Penn State or Joe Paterno. Of course, I knew of the school and the coach -and I thought that Joe Paterno’s career was remarkable. But, I never had a reason to follow either one closely. When the Sandusky story broke, I was drawn to read about it because my heart went out to the victims AND because I wondered, “How could something like this happen on such a large stage?” I couldn’t help but wonder, “If the allegations are true, how could Sandusky have gotten away with this for so long?” As we see the true story unfold, we are beginning to be able to answer those questions. And one of the key answers is: there are bad people in this world and horrible things can happen when “good” people like you and me live life with blinders on and just look the other way.

I do not want to be a nosey neighbor, a busy-body or a tattle tale. But, I have made a decision to do my best to protect the weak and to speak out when I see wrong being done to others around me. In short, I have taken my blinders off. Some might think that the blog posts that I have written in the past are too critical of the Church or of events from my past. I am not bitter; I am not seeking revenge. I really do not have an agenda –other than to share my experiences with the hopes that others can learn from them, protect themselves from unsafe situations and grow closer to God in the process.

There is a lot that I could say about the Sandusky, Joe Peterno and the Penn State situation. There are a lot of parallels that I could point out in regards to spiritual abuse: thoughts about how we protect “a man” because we think he is someone who is exceptional, thoughts about how we protect “an institution” because we want to be a part of something bigger than us, thoughts about how we protect “a legacy” and thoughts about how “we” allow people to be victimized as “we” protect these things. I could remark about how an oblong piece of leather became more important than young boys. I could expound on how the roar of the crowd on Saturday afternoons drowned out the cries of various young men. I could attempt to rationalize how all the “good” people who knew wrong things were happening could possibly just keep their mouths shut. And yes, I could point out other things but wisdom dictates that I refrain from that line of thought. –Well, at least in this post.

That evening I decided to NOT keep my mouth shut. I decided to take the risk of being called a tattle tale or a nosey neighbor. I called 911 and explained to the dispatcher what I heard. They sent a patrol car out to check on everyone in the home. I never found out what was actually happening in the house that day. All we know is that the yelling, screaming and thumping stopped. –That outcome was enough to satisfy me –and my conscience.

I pray that the next time we are confronted with similar situations; we will all be brave enough –and wise enough, to take the proper actions.

NSF Checks! A few thoughts on “reconciling” our spiritual checkbooks

NSF Checks! A few thoughts on “reconciling” our spiritual checkbooks

-For those of you who may have been wondering, “What in the world has happened to Eric in the past few years?” This blog post is your answer.

In the past, I would beat myself up because I had not read the latest books on the hottest topics relating to the church scene. I felt inadequate and insecure because I was “out the loop” and unable to drop the name of the newest author and discuss the “fresh” ideas from his or her book.

Over time, what I began to observe was a lot people who were quoting the latest author or speaker, but not quoting Jesus much. I heard all the buzz phrases; city-wide transformation, missional church, reproducing churches, house of prayer movement, multisite campuses, etc. –Again, I was hearing a lot of talk about the latest voices and their ideas regarding how to “do church” and “what the church should look like,” but not much about Jesus and even less about His simple, but foundational teachings.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the American church is losing its voice AND its effectiveness in our culture. I am not the smartest guy on the planet, but I have managed to figure out that if I continue to do what everybody else is doing, I am going to get what they have. –And I do not want what the American church has; I say that respectfully, but very frankly.

So out of frustration AND desperation, I have thrown away the buzz words and allowed all the books on my night stand to collect dust. For the last few years I have fasted from most “Christian content” and read wrestled with the raw and unapologetic teachings of Christ found in the Gospels.

Jesus’ teachings were different. By studying His actions, we find that He was not concerned about getting invited to the next speaking engagement, and He was not trying to sell His new book. He was also not worried about what the offering would be after service, so if He offended someone with His teaching… so be it. It was not that He did not love or care about those that He spoke to, it was just that He loved them enough to tell them the Truth. If He were graded by today’s metrics, He would have been a terrible church planter; He could gather a crowd but could not keep them. -And when the crowds left, it never seemed to even bother Him anyway…

Still, His words cut to the core of my heart. They echo in my mind; I wrestle with them almost always. In a lot of ways, Jesus’ teachings have ruined me. The more I focus on the core teachings of the Gospels, the more I feel that I simply do not fit in, in today’s American church culture. Sometimes I feel like an alien.

One of my responsibilities at my job is that of the accounting manager. One of the key tasks that I perform every month is a “bank reconciliation” of our company’s accounting data to data provided by our bank. It is just like balancing your personal checking account, just on a larger scale. If our data does not match the banks data, I have to find out why. -And if an error was made, it was usually made by me or another employee and not the bank.

Therefore, when accounting errors are found we do not get mad at the bank. We do not attempt to manipulate one of bank tellers into trying to reconcile their “true” data to our “false” data. Nor do we twist the policies of the bank to match our errant accounting practices. No, we humble ourselves and make corrections to “reconcile” our account balance to that of the bank.

In the past few years I have been attempting to “reconcile” my life and ministry to the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. I had been “reconciled” to American church culture, but not directly to the teachings of Christ. I still have a long way to go but I am slowly wrestling through what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. It is more than just showing up for church. It is more than just learning to speak “Chrisitianese,” –the official language of the American church. It is more than saying a prayer or reciting a few “buzz phrases.” And for me as a minister, it is far more than just a good sermon with a few funny stories and pats on the back after a worship service.

I am learning that reconciling my life to the Gospels will change everything about me. My ambitions have been lost, my dreams have faded; honestly… I do not even know what to dream anymore. I have found that my dreams and ambitions from the past were empty and fruitless. Those dead dreams and ambitions have been superseded by a hunger for something authentic, real and genuine. I feel different; different from those who are merely religious and “churchy” and different from those whose minds are focused on the things of this world. I don’t care to discuss the latest church growth program and I am not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. I have discovered that neither will satisfy the hunger, -and the void, that is inside of me. Some would call me a hopeless idealist; I have just decided to stop playing “the game.”

I am sickened (almost daily) by the carnage that is left roadside by the actions of “the machine” we call the American Church. We preach “Jesus is the answer!” –Then when new Christians are introduced to our (sometimes) toxic churches we often chew them up and spit them out. We should all be haunted by these words spoken from the lips of Jesus, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” -I am sure that statement was “unthinkable” to the religious leaders of that time. -How arrogant are we to think that there is no possibility that portions of the American church have degraded to this state as well?

I know my voice is small. I know my influence is weak. But from the small weak voice that I have in the Kingdom, I beg you to read through the Gospels for yourself. And don’t just read through the parts you like. Read the Words of Jesus that put your stomach in knots. Read the teachings that if acted on would turn your world upside down. Read the stuff that fractures the foundations of “our” American dreams. If you call yourself a pastor, preacher, clergy or whatever, read chapters like Matthew 23 and wrestle with the Words of Christ. Be willing to ask yourself some very hard questions. Question everything that we call Christianity and reconcile it the Master.

Do not attempt to reconcile “your life” to “my life.” My data is corrupt. Do not attempt to reconcile “your church” to “the church down the road.” The data is corrupt. Do not attempt to reconcile “your ministry” to “my ministry.” The data is corrupt. Let us reconcile our lives, our churches, and our ministries to (the teachings of) Jesus. He is the only reliable Source of Truth and Life.

Inviting God into the Gray Areas

Inviting God into the Gray Areas

Psalm 131

Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;

Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.

I wish that all of the situations that we faced in life were either back or white issues. I wish right was clearly right and wrong was clearly wrong. As I have grown and matured as a Christian I have learned that there are many times when things are just not clearly black or white. There are times when the situations that we are faced with… are a shade of gray.

I have been involved in some groups that attempt to make everything into a black or white issue. On the surface that sounds great, but what I have observed is that as soon as that mistake is made -legalism and religious pride begins. This mindset leaves little room for God’s grace and even less for different points of view.

I have also brushed up against other groups that would like to say there is never a clear black or white issue. Some in these groups say “there are no absolutes,” “anything goes.” All of us who believe the Bible to be the Word of God know that this group is believing a lie. Our God is a holy God and he has set boundaries for us. In addition, “the wages of sin is death.” Whether or not you recognize or respect the boundaries that God has set for our lives, there are penalties if you travel out of bounds.

So… we are left with the gray areas. While I know they do exists, I hate the gray areas. You see, sometimes “I” wish everything was either black or white. I wish I did not have to wrestle with moral decisions. I struggle when I have to set the markers for boundaries that are not clearly defined. I absolutely hate it when I am faced with an issue and I cannot pull out my Bible and turn to a verse that tells me exactly how to respond. What is the solution to the gray areas? Ha! Did you actually think I had a solution?

No magical solutions here, but I will share a bit of insight that I have gained over the past few years. I have learned to invite God into the gray areas with me. We have to live our lives. We have to go to work. We have to go to school. We have to face situations that happen within our families. And unless you live under a rock, you have to engage relationally with other people everyday. All of these activities present gray areas. When we venture into the gray areas without God, we will certainly find ourselves “out of bounds.” However I have found that when I face the gray areas and invite God’s Spirit to take the journey with me, things usually turn out okay. My success rate is not 100%, but I have found that I do much better in the gray areas with Him than without Him.

And when I find myself in the gray areas “with Him” and I still do not know what to do, I can at least lean on Psalm 131. I draw close to Him, remind myself that I do not need to understand everything, and trust Him to take me by the hand and lead me through no matter how “gray” the situation appears to be.

Born of God -my manifesto on being an authentic Christian

Born of God -my manifesto on being an authentic Christian

I have been a Christian for nearly eight-teen years and have been in the ministry for almost as long. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, but was frequently exposed to the Catholic Church as my mother’s entire family was Catholic. Three or four years after I became a Christian (for real) my wife and I left the Baptist Church to help plant a non-denominational church. During the first years of that church plant, we “explored” outside the boundaries of our former SBC doctrinal beliefs. We ventured into the areas of charismatic and pentecostal doctrines and experienced both the liberty and potholes in those often untamed theological frontiers. Some years later, we moved to another state and planted our own church. It was a Churches of God General Conference church and thus we were exposed to CGGC doctrine and culture. A few years after planting our new church I became involved in a few ecumenical organizations in our area and was even further exposed to other church traditions such as the Christian Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, etc. I am leaving out far more than one denomination from this story, but surely by now you get the picture. I have experienced many different “flavors” of Christianity and have gotten to know a lot of good people who love God AND participate in a different “flavor” of Christianity than me.

While there are many narrow minded groups out there who think that their “flavor” of Christianity is the only “correct” version, I would like to think that there are more than a few of us (hopefully, many, many more) who have realized that God works in many different Christian denominational contexts and cultures. Furthermore, I would also like to think that there are those of us who have realized that no Christian group has found perfection in regards to their theology and practiced values of authentic community. In short, I have discovered that there are many of us who dearly love God and have declared Jesus Christ Lord and Savior of our lives. We may call ourselves Baptists or Catholics, Pentecostals or Presbyterians, Methodist or Nazarene -but we really are all in the same boat. One day, we will all be in heaven and all those petty denominational titles will seem so childish and silly. Perhaps, in the manifest presence of God we will blush when we think of all of the trivial conversations -and arguments that we had during our earthly lifetimes… These thoughts are why I have adopted the following statement as my motto, “Some follow the Pope, some follow Luther, others follow Calvin, still others follow Wesley or Winebrenner; I follow Jesus with the understanding that God can use whomever He chooses to speak into my life.”I think the Apostle Paul made a statement similar to this in his first letter to the Corinthians…

It is my belief that we spend so much time thinking, debating, arguing and “silently positioning” over our differences that we often miss the most important and fundamental questions of the day, -fundamental questions that almost no one would argue over. These are probably the least controversial but most important questions that we should be asking: Are we in love with Jesus? Have we truly surrendered to God and His Word? Are we daily humbling ourselves and yielding our lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Do we have a practical daily relationship with God? -Not much controversy here; yet I think we have to admit that if we (all) could answer yes to these questions, the face of Christianity would look different than it does now.

I shared the message that is linked below a few weeks before Christmas. I never intended for it to be an “oral manifesto” for me or my ministry; but after sharing it and listening to it while editing it for my blog, I realized that it was just that, my manifesto on being an authentic Christian.

This sermon can be listened to or downloaded with the links below:

Born of God -to download .mp3 file