The Irony Of Christ-Likeness

One of the most oft-repeated phrases in evangelicalism is “Christ-likeness.”

As in, “the goal of discipleship is to grow us in Christ-likeness.”

Or: “we mature in faith as we become more Christ-like.”

Or even at a memorial service: “she (or he) was one of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever known.” read more

Exhort? Or Evoke?

Several years ago, I was speaking with a friend on the difference between exhortational preaching and evocative preaching.

Exhortational preaching challenges. Urges. Implores. It is filled with phrases like “you should” and “we ought” and “do this” and “consider that.” It implores people to change beliefs and behaviors based on the propositions included in the sermon. read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Things Heard And Overheard At The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s “Large Church” Pastors Gathering

I spent three days last week in rainy Orlando, Florida at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Large Church Pastor’s Gathering. It was three days of worship, education, information, and encouragement. On Day One of the gathering, I even got to present a slice of the forthcoming Simplify The Message; Multiply The Impact book as I spoke to a group of preachers on how to improve their … preaching. My talk ranged from Jason Isbell lyrics to syllable symmetry to the power & clarity of a one point sermon, all in an effort to encourage all us preachers to preach vividly instead of blandly. read more

Gods At War, Week 2 — The “Pleasure Center” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was one of those drawing from a number of places in Scripture rather than a concentrated focus on one section;
  • Was one with which I wrestled all week trying to get the internalizing and the timing down;
  • Was one of the rare ones that was OK at 8:30, good at 10, and then a train wreck at 11:30;
  • Landed at this bottom line: You will only remove the gods of pleasure when you replace them with the pleasure of God.

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This is your brain at rest (AV).
And this is your brain, not on drugs, but in the midst of pleasure. It LIGHTS UP. When something is enjoyable to you – something like laughter or chocolate or music (I think this is what my brain does literally every time I hear the opening of The Boys Of Summer) or when you’re first getting to know that special someone and your eyes dilate as a result (mind did), that’s what your brain does. It does the same with more intense and even dangerous pleasures involving sky diving and alcohol and drugs and sexuality. Talk about giving you a RUSH. That’s exactly what your brain does in those moments, shuts down those areas related to logic and thinking while drenching those related to emotion, sensation, and Dr. Feelgood. And it creates circuity in your brain that makes you crave a repeat of that pleasure. It’s why none of you can eat just one potato chip! I would LOVE to see a picture of your brain while … sermon listening at GS! Is it at rest or in pleasure or something else altogether?!
One other very interesting piece from all this lesson in brain chemistry and anatomy. The pleasure center, governing from the light to the heavy, the innocent to the dangerous – is adjacent to pain. It’s why some people have what to OTHERS is an inexplicable PLEASURE from painful things like cutting or bingeing & purging. So yeah, this is your brain on pleasure, in its Pleasure Center and it has this incredible ability to be tremendous or toxic in your life.
And so, since we are having a frank conversation about Gods At War, complete with the realization that there is plenty of IDOLATRY around even if very few of us have little idols in our home, do I even need to point out the obvious? Every one of these pleasures I’ve talked about – food, comfort, sex, approval, success – starts out as GOOD and each one has potential to become A GOD. Food? Good. Laughter? Good. Music? (Except: ) Good. Chill, peace? Good. Approval? Good. Sex? Good. You realize, don’t you that every one of us, no exception is here as the result of sex? God invented it so that it could create you. It’s good. And yet each one of those that LIGHT UP the Pleasure Center of the brain have the ability to turn from a good thing to the only thing; from a created blessing to a contending god. I guess you could summarize a lot of what I’m saying with this ad for chocolate (Good!): WORSHIP THE DEVIL’S FOOD. Gulp.
And when the good thing becomes a God thing, that which at first FEELS GOOD ends up FOULING UP. It ensnares. I enslaves. You know this. You live this. You live with someone who lives this. The gods of pleasure take their place on the mantle of your life, adjacent to and often victorious over the God & Father of our Lord Jesus, and once in place they are very difficult to remove. As you ponder if I’m talking about your, or someone you know, or both, ponder two questions: 1) WERE DO YOU GO TO CHILL? Oh! Food! Amazon … such sublime peace in pointing and clicking and it will be here tomorrow! Internet images. A drink just helps me … relax. And 2) WHERE DO YOU GO TO CELEBRATE? Oh, let’s eat! Let’s drink to that! Hey, I haven’t shopped online so I’ll reward myself with … click! Here tomorrow! Let me fish for this compliment cuz you can never have enough approval! Let me treat myself to some digital sexual intimacy, some that requires nothing of me in return. No messy relationship, just pleasure. Or even, that cocaine or opioid. It’s why no high is ever as intense as the first.
There’s pleasure and there’s pain and there’s isolation and financial problems and as the cycle grows the pain increases while the pleasure decreases and what used to feel good now feels awful and the gods of pleasure have you and refuse to let you go. From habit to sadness to outright addiction and it’s all around us. Ultimately, we have BIG DESIRES for small things and small desires for BIG THINGS. It’s our world and it starts here (point to brain).
At least we’ve got some company. Check Psalm 106:19-20: read more

Burying The Lede

Well, not really.

But keep reading long enough and you’ll find me.

Check it here.

John Wesley’s Epitaph

John Wesley started a religious movement in the 1700s that eventually became the United Methodist Church.

I heard this week about his epitaph. Here it is:

Revive, enforce, and defend the pure apostolic doctrines and practices of the primitive church.

Huh.

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Reasons Why ‘Charismatic’ And ‘Methodist’ Are NOT Oxymorons

Throughout most of the 20th Century and now into the 21st, charismatic and Methodist Christians have had very little to do with each other.

Charismatics, who trace their modern origins to the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, define themselves by expressive worship, congregational autonomy, and a steadfast belief in the most vivid and visible of Holy Spirit manifestations: praying in tongues, divine healing, and being slain in the Spirit. read more

Gods At War Launch — The “Godogamy” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Had a rare, late in the week edit in which the opening paragraph was gutted, replaced, and I think improved;
  • Had a title with a word I think I might have invented;
  • Recognized that the prelude to the Ten Commandments is as important as the commandments themselves;
  • Had a shift at the end to become about Jesus (thank you Timothy Keller!);
  • Landed at this bottom line: God loves you too much to share you.

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So I am now in my 30th year of pastoring and would you like to know something that has NEVER happened in all that time? Not once? This: no one has ever made an appointment with me, come to my office, and shared, “Pastor I need to work on becoming MORE jealous. Would you please hold me accountable so that I can increase my levels of jealousy in every area of my life?” Of course not. That’s absurd. It’s a vice, not a virtue. I’m sure that none of you have ever, on Dec. 31 of a year made this New Year’s Resolution: THIS WILL BE MY YEAR OF LIVING JEALOUSLY! Not once. Because it’s a vice, not a virtue. You know this. read more

“Gods At War” Series Begins With “Godogamy”

Most of the time, when most of us read biblical stories warning us against the dangers of idolatry, we breathe a sigh of relief: “Well, I don’t have any little tin gods around the house, so I’ve got nothing to worry about.”

And we couldn’t be more wrong.

Idolatry doesn’t require idols. It simply needs a willing and vulnerable human heart. read more

When A Friend Launches A New Venture

Claude Kayler is the founding pastor of Good Shepherd, having served it from its inception in 1991 to 1999. He is also one of my BFF Preacher Friends.

Because he built Good Shepherd on THE Good Shepherd rather than upon himself, he was a good act to follow. Many “second pastorates” are fraught with tension and failure, but because of our foundation, that was not the case way back then, when we partied (and transitioned pastoral leadership) like it was 1999. read more