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are you buying or telling

Christmas: Are You Buying Or Telling?

are you buying or telling

Recently, I read that the US uses 70% of the world’s resources (actually, I think that it’s more accurate to say that richest 20%, but anyway). The period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas produces 40% of retail revenue for the entire year. 

Truth telling. 
Are you kidding me?

Forty percent of business has to have Christmas or there won’t be an economy. 
Sounds absolutely crazy. 
If the thing is about Jesus, it does anyway. 

History Lesson Time

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.” [Lk 2:1-3]

When Luke tells the story about Jesus, it starts with an insane amount of money; kind of like 40% of the economy. A census was not about a Caesar who cared about each and every person in his empire. It was about a Caesar who cared about how much each and every person in the empire owed him. 

BIG Difference!

It took a huge military for Rome to maintain its “Peace, Love and Understanding” foreign policy. What’s so funny???

Augustus, conquerer of the whole dang world, needed some cash, so a census was the answer. Each person was taxed on everything coming and going and the only way to make sure the Romans got dey deep rolls of fat Benjamins was to register all of the people that were under Roman rule. 

Caesar was concerned with bringing people together to find out how much tax people owed him. Jesus brought people together and paid their debts himself. 

Caesar tied people down to an economy they couldn’t bear.
Jesus freed people into a new economy of God’s love and grace. 

Visa, Caesar. 
Caesar, Visa.

The story of Christmas isn’t that we have to buy gifts, it’s that we were given one. It’s not that we go into debt. The story of Christmas is that God created a way for us to get out of it. That’s an absolutely amazing story. It’s the most profound story that exists. Everybody wants to sell you something. Only Jesus wants to buy you back (as funky as you may be).

So are you buying or telling?

There’s this song, “Go tell it on the mountain,” the lyrics make you stop and re:think the whole deal. “Go tell it on the mountian, over the hills and everywhere, Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

If that song were written today, perhaps the lyrics would be:

Go tell it to your neighbor, 
cook up a meal and tak it over there, 
Go tell it to your network, 
that Jesus Christ has freed you from the debt 
that weighed down your soul like a credit card bill.”
(you have to sing that last line really fast)

This #ChaoticChristmas, can you do more telling than buying?

james brown turning funky into fine

Christmas: Turning Funky Into Fine

james brown turning funky into fine

🎶 It’s Christmas time, It’s no time to be afraid 🎶

Unless you haven’t done your Christmas shopping. You’ve got three weeks. Are you done yet? Shopping for Christmas presents really brings out the crazy, right? All these funky people trying to find a way to be…to feel fine. 

Check out this clip from “Jingle All The Way”

When my siblings were little, I had to do this every year (That’s right, Jamie, Santa didn’t beat a man with his own arm to give you that Nintendo Power Glove. I did!). It kind of…scared the Christmas out of me. Where did all this gift giving come from? If Christmas is about the birth of God on earth, do we have to run up such a high Visa bill???

Turns out, the problem started with the Bible.

In the Scriptures, these Magi bring Jesus some presents. Of course they didn’t fall off of Santa’s sleigh and they weren’t fought over on Christmas eve. They were baby shower gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gifts have always been a part of Christmas, but you didn’t always have to ‘Jingle All The Way’ to get them. 

Gold was a gift for a king. It is priceless, representing economic wealth and spiritual purity. Throughout the Scriptures, God uses gold to talk about the process of becoming more and more holy, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the priests and refine them like gold and silver. [Mal 3:3]”

Frankincense was a spice used in worship. It was an everyday offering. When you added it to hot coals, it made the funky smell fine. This gift foreshadowed Christ’s life on earth: he made the funky…smell fine.

Myrrh had many uses. As a resin it was a beauty treatment. As a liquid it was a pain reliever. As a solid, it was a perfume, as in a burial spice. 

The King of Heaven began his life with Gold, and ended it by turning you into it. He began his life in the funk and made the funk fine before God. At his birth, they brought myrrh. At his death, they brought the same. 

The birth of Jesus means that you are important to God.

It’s gold when you think about it. 
His life means that God is with us. 
With you. 
With you however you come to him, 
wrapped in whatever funk you got yourself into. 

The myrrh of his death is the thing that reminds us we are forgiven, you are forgiven;

You are more loved and accepted than you can handle.

You are fine. 
More than fine. 
You are his. 

You may have the perfect gift for your BFF, but what are you bringing to Jesus? What gift are you laying before the manger?

Bring whatever you have. 
Whoever you are.
All that you have to give. 

If you are afraid what you bring to Christ is too funky, don’t worry. Jesus will turn your funky into fine!

🎶 It’s Christmas time, It’s no time to be afraid 🎶

In the comments, share a present you had to fight to get.

What's The Point Christmas

What’s The Point Of Christmas?

[This is the beginning of an #Advent series (a fancy Christmas season word which means, “Look out G, Jesus is coming!”) of indeterminable length. I have a count of 16 titles up to this point, so check back for inspiration during December or join the mailing list to receive the latest post in your inbox fresh like chestnuts roasted on an open fire.]

What's The Point Christmas

What’s the point of Christmas? To find out, last night, my family watched the Peanuts Christmas Special. If it’s been a while, go ahead watch it. It’s still as good as it used to be back in the day. That Charles Schultz was a prophet, man, using Charlie Brown like God used Jeremiah.

Full of existential angst, Chuck cycles through his group of friends, picking apart their approach to Christmas. One’s too philosophical. One’s too anemic. One’s too materialistic. And this was 1965. They had philosophy back then?

What lies at the chewy center of “Brown’s Dilemma” (can I ™ that?), is that no one can tell him what the point of Christmas is. There’s the postmodern: what is it to you? The post-decorative doghouse: it’s whatever you can hang on the dog house. The post-consumer: whatever you can desire, buy, wrap and figure out a way not to have to give it to someone else. 

As I watch the blood thirsty hoards wrestle their way into America’s retail coliseums, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.

So, what is the point of Christmas? 

Is it:

A time for family to get together?
A time for roast beast?
A time to watch our favorite Christmas movies?
Listen to our favorite Christmas stations on Spotify?
A time for good people to give other good people good things?
A time to direct Christmas dramas?
A time to preach through Christmas sermons?

If you lick the Tootsie Pop (a metaphor for the meaning of Christmas) three times and get down to it’s chewy core, we find that there’s one right answer to Charlie Brown’s question and young Linus nails it. 

That’s it. 

That’s Christmas. 

It makes materialism the most widely accepted addiction on the planet.

Christmas begins with ‘Christ’ and ends with ‘s’.

It’s when we remember to remember that God collided with the world so that we could be free; free from darkness, free from pointlessness, free from our ism du jour.

Everything else is Christmas wrapping (BTW, my favorite non-Christmas Christmas song)

Have you ever felt “Brown’s Dilemma” like good Charlie Brown? Let us know in the comments. 

Is The Fault In Our Stars The Future Of Literature?

wallace Claire Wallace is a senior in High School in the fast paced culture center of Glendale, CA. When she isn’t devouring books, she’s hawking them, talking them up and organizing book discussion groups.

In school I have read many famous classic books, which most people define as literature. In their own time, these books were well known and usually popular. I got thinking, “What about today’s popular books?” Will they stand the test of time?

The Fault In Our Stars Banner

Will a supernatural romance or a dystopian future become our next Moby Dick?

Personally I don’t think so. I believe the book that will be considered literature, read in schools and studied, is The Fault in Out Stars. It has beautiful writing, rich literary devices, and most of all, it will continue to resonate beyond its time.

The writing in the book is majestic. It has what I like to call these “profound moments,” – basically when author, John Green, writes a passage prominently presenting a theme and usually it’s beautifully written. An example of this is when the character Augustus confesses to the main character of Hazel (no I am not giving anything away, it reveals it in the movie trailer):

“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you” (153).

One of the main themes is expressed in this declaration, the idea of fate versus the idea of choosing. Not only does John Greene just write it, he puts it in a love confession, between two teenagers, setting the stage for another theme, one about love.

This is the kind of passage where, as soon as I read it, I just want to read it over and over again. It captures my attention.

Literary devices, yeah, they can be associated with school, but they bring so much to a story. One of my personal favorites is the constant symbolism of names.

First is Hazel, a girl with terminal cancer and the narrator of the story. Her name, Hazel, is an in-between color neither totally brown nor totally green. This represents Hazel’s state of being. She is in-between life and death but also as a regular teenage girl; she is in-between childhood and womanhood.

Then there is Augustus Waters. Due to the cancer, Hazel is drowning in water but in comes A. Waters. He shows her how her life is not just a side effect of dying but so much more. And just like every human needs water to live so does Hazel. Augustus Waters helps her truly live.

The Fault In Our Stars, at first, seems utterly unrelatable; a girl with cancer, having to live in this state of in-between. Yeah, I am not sick. I have no foretold death.

So why is it so relatable?

The idea of oblivion is hard to understand, and we choose to ignore it but that does not change the fact that it is there. How do we deal with it when we are forced to acknowledge it? That is what this book shows: a girl dealing with oblivion but also within that, love.

As humans we can all relate to love.

This is the briefest of examples of why I believe this book will continue. I truly believe that will become one of the great classics. In future generations, someone will look back, and look forward and wonder what book in their time will become like The Fault in Our Stars.

What do you think? Is The Fault In Our Stars the next Melville?

Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Where Do We Begin? The Rubble? Or Our Sin?

I love it when Popstars are the Prophets. I love it when a song, a lyric, a melody moves into you, through your ears and straight to the heart, making us change the way we think about the world around us and our role in it. Bastille has a song like that for church leaders. Turn it up!

Bastille: Pompeii

The Important Question

Did you hear the question that singer Dan Smith asks over and over and over in the song? “Where do we begin? The Rubble? Or our Sin?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? The song, “Pompeii,” juxtaposes a city being overtaken by, well, the very historic volcanic pyroclasm (you can never say that word enough), and a life taken over by sin (“my own devices”).

It’s a portrait of sin collapsing upon a life, the way that the volcanic cloud crashed over the rooftops of Pompeii.

“We were caught up and lost in all of our vices //
In your pose as the dust settled around us.”

Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Cosmetic Theology

The question, “Where do we begin? The rubble? or our sin?” is the right one.

The Church is in the sin/forgiveness business. The Gospel is about a God who steps into the aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius in our lives and begins to sweep away the ash, revealing a life that will now be overcome by his, and only his, love.

As a church leader, I’m often tempted to ignore the painful distraction of walking with others through the rebuilding of their exploded lives. It’s even more tempting to get cosmetic, to fix something that needs fixing, paint something that needs painting.

Where do we begin? Addressing the pain and destruction of sin in the lives of those we are called to love and lead? Or to remodel the sanctuary and let people work it out on their own?

When we look at Pompeii, we see a city in need of new walls, fresh paint and manicured lawns. If we were able to get a contractor and a capitol campaign, people could move back into Pompeii. But so what? Who needs another retail condominium?

There were real people in Pompeii. People like you and me, who had experienced personal cataclysm long before an environmental one:


People sin. We do. It’s the way things are. It’s not popular to talk about. At all. Sconces and pew cushions…now that is more like it, right? It might be easier, but it’s not the Church.

The question is: Do we have the courage to get down into the messy, complicated, uncomfortable reality that all people wrestle with daily?

Bastille ask a question that we need to answer: Where do we begin? Since the Gospel proclaims freedom to those who are covered in sin, would we rather proclaim that freedom? Confront sin and point to the God who forgives it? Or redecorate the Welcome Room and perfect the practice of something closer to a theology of cosmetics.

“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day is out. [Gal 6:1;MSG]”

God in the Ruins

When Jesus answers the question, it’s always going to be about beginning with sin. Rest assured that as Christ would walk through the uncovered ruins, the rubble wouldn’t be on his mind.

The people would.

Forgiveness is measured in lives, not walls, souls, not paint. A cosmetic makeover is nice, but soul-change is necessary. While a new color scheme is great, a new life is greater.

The truth is, living like Jesus never feels nice. We tend to want to point out the cosmetic changes that will one day make “all the difference,” but Jesus looks beyond the gloss and bokeh – pries deep into the places and spaces we believe are too dark to be seen and plants a light there, makes a home there, speaks to us from there. Where does he begin? In the places we most wish he wouldn’t.

And that’s where we belong.

Why John Green Should Have Planted A Church

There this little literary avalanche called The Fault In Our Stars. If you haven’t ever heard of it, you will, but chances are if you read blogs you have read the book. You have also probably seen the movie. 

why john green should have planted a church

The fine folks at Fast Company recently published an article on author John Green’s personal approach to becoming huge. While this will be good for all hard at work writers, I wonder if it doesn’t have wider implications that could benefit the church

These are the six ways that Green described as building his audience (which is large, loyal and growing). If writing best sellers weren’t his gig, I bet that if he had planted a church…it would’ve been huge as well.

Start Small

Commit to what you are doing, not the outcome. When John and his brother started, they were using Youtube to build a following. For the first 120 videos, they had 200 viewers. When it came to growth, it was all about timing. They weren’t trying to be huge. They actually valued their 200 viewers. They took that number seriously. Their more than 1.5 billion views began with their approach to those early numbers. Start small and take small seriously, ‘to whom much is given, much is required.”

It needs to matter to you as well. 

Phoniness is Deadly

rob bell poppins Wisely, Green says, “All you can be is you.” It’s not about dressing correctly, or growing a soul patch. You don’t have to have church in a bar or a strip club to be hip. You have to be you. If you are truly being you, then people will understand what they don’t like. At the same time, they will love what they love about you. You won’t ever have to wear plaid just because that’s what the hipsters are wearing. 

I’m bald. That’s all I can be. I have three kids and a tired disposition. I can’t start preaching like Mary Poppins or Rob Bell. You shouldn’t either. 

Unless you happen to be Mary Poppins or Rob Bell.

Be An Open Book

“Sharing your life–adversity and all–makes an audience genuinely care”
Church Leaders need to step out from behind the veil and lead openly. People are drawn in because their leaders struggle, too. Here’s the thing: if no one has to be OZ, then anyone can learn to lead. 

We like to believe that other people are just like us, even if they happen to be further down the road. The further down the road, the more I believe they can lead me…especially if they experienced the same kind of struggles and issues that I am going through. 

Don’t Settle For Ordinary

Seriously, look around your church for things that are done just because they’ve always been done that way and stop doing them. You will grow immediately. More people are inspired by surprise than you think. Change is art form, but you only learn art by creating it. 

Most church leaders I talk to are frustrated beyond belief because their are too many holy heifers and not enough alters. Ordinary will kill you. I suggest you kill it first. 

Use Your Audience For Good

Mission is more than check writing, it’s the reason you exist. In a few short weeks, my church will be ready to roll out a bold mission statement that I am already waking up early in the morning to be a part of. 

People want to be attached to something that adds value. something that inspires their soul. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but regular life empties our buckets. You have an opportunity to connect people to the greatest bucket filler that exists in the cosmos. 

As a result, We have committed to run marathons for clean water in Africa with Team World Vision. Over 40 runners have raised tens of thousands of dollars, over funded water projects and have managed to lose a few pounds. 

Why do you exist? Is it about miles on the road? Or butts in the pews?

Keep Creating

To quote my favorite church leader/blogging pastor, Carey Nieuwhof, be committed to change in a rapidly changing world. How can the tidal movement of culture inform who you are reaching and how you are reaching them? How does radio effect your worship? Film your environment? TV your approach to communication? 

Did you know that people love to listen to sermons? They do…they’re just called TED talks. Have you considered creating 18 minute stand alone blow your mind homilies? Soon I will publish a post on Bastille’s Pompeii. Did you know that pop music is asking questions that the church won’t? 

Who are you learning from? Who is encouraging you to change your approach? What is your next book? Your next post? Do you draw? If not, why aren’t you painting? Ever hear of Jackson Pollack? Jimmy Buffett used to surf all day before recording his records. What do you do before you write a sermon? 

tattoo you In the words of the erstwhile theologian Mick Jaggar, “Start me up.” Get going. Create. Your people, your staff, your family, your soul will thank you.


How can any one of these six Faults In Our Stars change the way you approach your ministry world today?

PS: I wasn’t just being ironic with the title, it could’ve gone either way. 

orange conference

Orange Conference Leadership Quotes for the Changing Church

Last week, a team from my church, Glendale Presbyterian Church, traveled to the ATL to attend the Orange Conference. Orange Leaders created an absolutely astounding experience all around. This was easily the most impactful, influencing conferences I have ever attended.

orange conference

Below are some important and incredible accessible link to related resources. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but these recap some of the content part of the conference.

If you are looking for ways to connect to the conference, or connect to a conference you weren’t able to attend, then this is a great places to start.

Before I arrived I read these three post (including session notes) by Carey Nieuwhof who, in my opinion, is the blogging platinum standard for church leaders that are influencers and change agents.

Starting A Church For Unchurched Families
5 Traits Of Future Churches
Launching A Church With A Strategy To Reach Unchurched People

More from Nieuwhof:

5 Surprising Lessons Church Leaders Can Learn From Business Leaders

How To Keep Your Church From Growing Old

Creating A Lead Small Culture

Again, Nieuwhof is a fantastic resource for churches who want to change and need some help connecting the what to the why to the how.

I met Brian Dodd in the Sessions. I’ve followed his blog for years, Brian Dodd On Leadership, and it was finally great to say “Hello” in person. He was attending to create session digests which you can scan here. Brian listens for great leadership quotes and then posts those gems on pages like these. I’m linking several that I thought were quick, informative and should give you something to think on.

Leadership Quotes from Carey Nieuwhof

Leadership Quotes from Geoff Surratt

Leadership Quotes from Leadership Forum

Leadership Quotes from Mark Batterson

Leadership Quotes from Jeff Henderson

Leadership Quotes from Derwin Gray

Leadership Quotes from Andy Stanley

Leadership Quotes from Perry Noble (& Sr Pastor’s Lunch)

BONUS: 20 Leadership Quotes and Leadership Lessons from The Amazing Spiderman 2

Rob Cizek, who I just discovered via twitter, blogged the conference. Here is his post, Top Ten Leadership Quotes from Orange Conference 2014.

road to orange

mad world drama

Mad World//Hosanna Palm Sunday Mash-up

This is a drama we did at Glendale Presbyterian Church on Palm Sunday. One of our members, had the inspiration to mash up Mad World by Tears for Fears with Hosanna, the Hillsong anthem. I thought the result was chilling, sobering and opened a window to Palm Sunday, that hadn’t been opened to me before.

The beginning part is mostly me singing, but the drama awesomeness gets going soon enough.

How do you use drama in your worship gatherings?

Jesus Wife Fragment

Jesus’ Wife: What Does It Mean?

So here’s what happened: Two years ago, a fragment was found with the words, “and Jesus said to his wife.” Ahhhhhh, what does it all mean? Now after two years, the report is in that the parchment is not a fake. Ahhhhhh, what does it all mean?

Jesus Wife Fragment

With the word in on the ‘Jesus’ Wife’ fragment, I can imagine that their are a lot of folks saying, “I actually think it makes sense. It means Jesus was more like me. That makes me feel better.” 

So, since the fragment has been judged as ‘not a fake,’ what does it mean for Jesus’ marital status? Was Jesus married? Or wasn’t he? Here is a post that I wrote when news of the fragment broke nearly two years ago. I think it’s all still valid.

Jesus: Single Jewish Messiah

As I noted in the post, a married Jesus (if he was God, which I believe he was) would be an incestuous God. The Father loves the children, but he doesn’t marry them. The Father creates children, but he doesn’t reproduce with them. 

Since marriage is not a bad thing, in fact just the opposite, if Jesus had gotten married, it would have added chapters to the Gospels. There would have been no need to move toward priestly asceticism. Like, none! And I believe that that would have been some pretty great news. 

These kinds of discoveries (like the Gospels of Thomas and Judas) tell us much more about the authors than the subject. Marriage was still being worked out in the early church movement, i.e. “Is it OK to be married and serve the Church?” It seems archaic to us, but it was very real to the 7th Century Christians.

Jesus: Pretty Much Whoever We Want Him To Be

minotaur I could write something about you. Anything I wanted, in fact. Imagine that I did and that in a thousand years, someone found it and subjected it to linguistic study. Would the thing be authentic? Yes. Would it be true? Not necessarily. I wasn’t even trying to communicate truth, I was trying to explain why you are so stubborn. That’s why I added the bit about you having the head of bull. Should people in the future believe, then, that you were part human, part bull? The ones who want to will. 

The point is, historically, anything can be said about Jesus. We can call him Willy Wonka, but that doesn’t make him a chocolate magnate in search of an heir. Nor would it mean that Oompa Loompas are real. Sorry.

We will continue to ‘find’ manuscripts that say amazing things about Jesus, but that doesn’t make them true. It makes them real, but at some point Christians have to trust the authenticity and authority of the Scriptures that we already have. Otherwise, as we find **new** material, the patchwork Jesus that will emerge will pretty much be whoever we want him to be. And we actually don’t need anything **new** for that to happen. 

Jesus: Just The Facts

I believe that we have to be careful where we piece together our image of Jesus. The facts are what we have in the Bible. There’s absolutely no reason to hide things about Jesus, the man or the God. If he wandered the Indian countryside for 18 years, as some believe, then not only would that be in the Gospels, but India would be dead center in the Christian map. The Bible conspiracies are too conspiratorial for me.  

  • If he were married, then we would have been told. There was no upside to hiding a wedding simply to inspire generations of celibacy (that didn’t even work). 
  • And we don’t need a **new, improved** fragment to prove that women can be disciples. It’s all already there.
  • The desire for there to be secret, supressed information is fun and all of that, but honestly, we have more information already than we know what to do with. 

    The End

    The problem with my opening statement and with those who cling to to the hope that Jesus was ‘just like me,’ is that that is not the point of faith in Him. We are not the center of the Universe. While it’s true that Jesus understands every bit of what it is to be me, he was never just like me. God’s job is not to become more like us. Our job is to become more like Him: the holy, merciful and fully incarnate God that we see an unmarried Jesus.

    How are you responding to the nuptial news?