In all fairness I don’t know the man, and I don’t know much about the church he pastors except that it has the name Lakewood Church, and it’s located in Houston, Texas. So all I can observe are my perceptions from a distance based on what I see through a television set. Let me back up a bit. My son and I were on a college road trip this past weekend. We had a great time taking a flight to the beautiful city of Seattle, then renting a car and driving around the city to see the sights, smell the coffee (Starbucks truly is everywhere) and check out some colleges. In between our travels we were hanging out in our hotel room, and while I channel surfed to check out some scores on ESPN I stumbled upon 4 different Christian broadcasting network channels right in a row on the hotel’s available TV channels. I didn’t even know there were that many Christian TV networks, let alone know the kind of stuff that was being broadcast on these networks. I was just like a rubber-necker on a freeway who just has to slow down and take a good look at the scene of an accident. What I was seeing and hearing was odd, and I should have changed the channel to ESPN but I couldn’t help but watch the spectacle.
As I sat there watching this, I noticed my son also watching out the corner of my eye. His gaze had actually turned away from his video game, and now he too couldn’t look away. His reaction is what really struck me. He paused. Looked at what he was seeing on TV for a good two minutes, and then said, “What is that!?” Then he kept watching the TV and listening, and then he added, “This is just weird! What is happening? That’s nothing like what I know my faith is all about.” We then had a little conversation about what his experience of church and faith has been. For him it’s been smaller, people are real, and his dad doesn’t put on theatrical make-up before he preaches. We clicked through all four channels together. Joel Osteen was smiling and closing his eyes through every point he made. On another channel a couple with big, colored hair asked for donations and promised to mail us an Eagle statue with a bible verse on it. Still another channel showed a man shouting at people in the audience and the audience seemed to enjoy it. My son simply said, “Weird!”
Again, in all fairness, I don’t know these people or the ways that I’m sure God has used them for His glory and His kingdom. I’m just wondering. There now is a majority of Americans who are very over the whole Judeo-Christian worldview, and I do wonder if they think the exact same thing my son (who loves Jesus) thought. I wonder of the depiction of Christianity portrayed on 4 Christian TV networks is what they picture in their mind when they hear the word “christian” and then quickly conclude, “Yeah, no thanks.”
A good friend of mine is doing great work to a very harassed people group who have been oppressed in their mother country and now face oppression in foreign countries. He works with refugees in central Europe, and yet he admitted in a recent prayer letter that he finds himself wondering “What difference are we really making?” I’ll admit it, I wake up on a day like today and find it easy to wonder if this day, and the work that I do in it, will really matter in the end when you truly consider all the needs in this world. But my friend shared this beautiful insight from the ever thoughtful Henri Nouwen which provides some helpful insight into the question “will today matter?” Allow me to share it with you today.
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.
My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.
But I wonder more and more if the first thing should be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
This is a real picture of what I walked out to yesterday morning before I went to church. I was completely fenced in by one of the 25 grad students (not really 25 but if feels that way) living across the street from our house. If you look closely at the photo, you will notice that there was a ton of room behind this car – but No! they had to park right behind my truck. Hilarious. I have had to knock on their door, and knock on their door, well over 15 minutes of knocking and doorbell ringing each time, and I’ve probably done this about 10 times now just to ask them to move cars so that I can back out my truck. Didn’t this surfer-dude grad student know that I had important church matters to attend to and that I had this personal tradition of driving my truck to worship each Sunday morning!? It was funny to observe my insides getting all spun out over something as silly as this Lexus fencing me in. Did I want to spend the next 15 minutes knocking on their door, and ringing the bell, waiting for someone to come to the door? What did I really want to convey to my neighbors on this Sunday morning? In the end I just took another car, and laughed at myself. It is truly amazing how easily I can be thrown off, and angered by the silliest things. So I kinda wonder if yesterday morning might have been God’s little way of reminding me that no matter how much I think I’ve grown (and thank God for helping me grow as much as I have) I still have a long way to go before I really resemble Jesus.
One of the people in my church has been really captivated by God’s heart for the oppressed. Krista has shared with our church leaders this video of a talk given by Betty Ann Hagenau. Betty Ann is a former college athlete, who has labored against international human trafficking through the International Justice Mission, and has now established the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition to work on the local tragedy of trafficking. I encourage you to be just a little more aware of the things happening in our Bay Area region. Click here and take the next 30 minutes to give it a listen.
In our North American culture it’s way too easy to rush our way through life, trying to get ahead, build a life, and work for a better tomorrow for our family. But a pastor friend of mine recently shared some really insightful quotes that both challenge and encourage me. I thought I’d share them with you today.
“The one who hurries delays the things of God.” – Vincent de Paul
“Shortcuts make long delays.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
As a pastor, I find myself sitting with people at very dark moments in their lives asking very hard questions about God and feeling very strong emotions about God. Sometimes I watch people who dearly love God, wrestle with admitting that they are in fact ticked at God even though they have no plan of abandoning their faith in Him. Is it possible to be mad at God and still trust Him? You sit with a family who has lost a loved one, or you sit with a family who has sought to honor God and trust Him and are still getting hammered by life, and you can feel deeply disappointed in God’s silence and God’s lack of rescue for people who really, really need His rescue. So I have to look in the bible, and in the pages of scripture I actually see the same struggle. I take heart in the fact that David expressed these same kinds of feelings about God in the Psalms, and so many of the prophets walked through this exact same emotional terrain. So even though I still trust God, I do admit that I get irritated when He doesn’t come to the rescue the moment I think I have had enough, or when He doesn’t help the people I serve in my church who are beaten down and have had enough. Is it possible to be mad at God and still trust Him? I think the answer is – yeah.
I wince every time I read a new report revealing the fact that followers of Jesus, in America, don’t really live all that differently than unbelievers and agnostics. In a report written over a decade ago, Ronald Sider summed up the issue in his Christianity Today article; “By their daily activity, most ‘Christians’ regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment.” It always bums me out when I see people, who have said “yes” to Jesus offer of salvation and have some kind of a desire to follow Him, practically living no differently than unbelievers in their home-life, jobs, and life-purpose.
I get even more confused by this phenomena when I run into an agnostic who is practically acting like a believer. Yesterday afternoon, I was walking home from shooting some hoops with my son Josh. On the way, we ran into my neighbor who was walking his dog. I checked in, as I always do, and discovered he’d just gotten back from Las Vegas. He choked up as he re-told the story of seeing the reports on TV, sobbing over the evil, and just deciding to load up his Registered ER Nurse credentials, bottles of water, and snacks and just show up to one of the hospitals in Las Vegas to help. He could barely hold back the tears as he told me the story of helping families who lost loved ones just one week ago. My neighbor has been very clear that he’s no fan of evangelical Christians, but he talks to me even though he knows I’m a pastor. He shared with me that he worked alongside of Christians from many faith-based medical agencies, and all kinds of people to serve the broken hearted by just listening, handing out water, listening some more and just helping in any way he could. My neighbor was living like a practical follower of Jesus and I told him so. I said to him, “Friend I know you don’t ‘buy’ – or what’s the right word – ‘agree’ with what I believe about the person of Jesus Christ, but I want you to know that you were working for His kingdom and I want to thank you for it.” He just smiled and said, “Oh I’m not against Jesus. I know He’s real and I’m happy to be a part of what He teaches – I’m just not ready to convert.” Man, how I wish a larger majority of Jesus’ followers who genuinely love Jesus would be as moved by compassion to use their skills to make a difference in this world like my agnostic neighbor.