Crave - Jesus' Temptation 2

The other day I posted some thoughts on the 2nd temptation of Jesus which takes place in Matthew 4. I thought I'd talk about another one today. Here is the passage:

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.' Jesus answered, 'It is written, 'People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:1-3)

As I wrote the other day, I believe Satan's 2nd temptation of Christ was all about identity, and challenging him to prove his worth through his actions instead of his being as the Son of God. This first temptation is somewhat similar, but instead draws out issues of what I would call our cravings.

Again, I'm not sure this passage is very comforting to me. First of all, I'm not a fan of the Holy Spirit leading the Messiah into the desert for the sole purpose of being tempted. At first glance it kind of sounds like taking someone snipe hunting. Second, the obvious nature of Jesus' hunger after his forty days of fasting leaves him in a vulnerable position. It is at this point that Satan comes and unleashes his desire for the Messiah's destruction with the most basic nature of sin--temptation laid out as a platter of our own cravings.

Our cravings are the darker parts of our lives. They are the things we are in love with taken too far. The things God has designed for goodness and the glorifications of himself (such as our sexuality, achievements, identity, etc.) become the twisted thorns of sin if the craving takes over our appetites. Sexuality becomes lust. Achievement becomes pride. Identity becomes an obsession.

In this temptation though, Jesus ceases Satan's activities by moving past the temporary fulfillment of his own cravings. Bread alone, although it would be satisfying for a moment, will not fill Jesus' forty day old hunger. It is only the word of God--the logos and life-giving action of God in the world--that can truly satisfy.

May we be a people who crave more than temporary things. May we be filled with the goodness, kindness, gentleness, and all the other fruits of the Spirit himself as we move through this world.

Operational Vs. Aspirational - Where is Your Vision?

This week I've started researching the process for "creating" a ministry officially. I mean doing things like making donations able to be tax-deductible, gaining status as a 501(c)3 organization, incorporation, etc. Most of these things I have no understanding about. Most of them are way outside of the way I usually get passionate about spending my time. But I think they are going to be absolutely critical to this journey.

As I've worked on this stuff this week I was reminded of a quick news story I heard on NPR. The clip was about two men arrested for trying to travel from America to Afghanistan to join Al-Qaeda. In the commentator's words, the "terrorists" were 'aspirational' but not 'operational'.

This terminology sits in my head as I think about where our vision for ministry lies. Is the vision of a leader aspirational or operational? If it is aspirational we will be left with a multitude of ideas, passions, and dreams--and these are all necessary. But if our vision becomes operational we find the courage to execute the ideas, passions, and dreams. For some, the operations come more easily; for me, the the aspirational is more natural. But great leadership demands both.

I'm praying for the God-given aspirations and the courage to execute operationally. What about you?

Stepping off the Ledge - Jesus' Temptation 1

I've always been a little troubled reading Matthew 4. I never liked the subtitle in my Bible--"The Temptation of Jesus". Mainly because I don't like the idea of Jesus being tempted. I know he resisted, but I've always kind of thought, what if he didn't? So much of what I think and believe becomes irrelevant if he was not perfect.

But there is also a great comfort in these temptations. Scripture offers an embrace to those of us facing struggles by suggesting that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and thus understands what it means to be fully human. We have to imagine that he not only faced Satan in the three areas mentioned in Matthew 4, but time and again through his life.

So what makes Matthew 4 different? Why does the writer capture these temptations, along with the obvious statement that after Jesus fasted forty days and nights, "he was hungry"?

I believe the temptations of Christ Matthew covers are full of meaning for all of us--and perhaps cover every area of human struggles we could imagine. I want to explore each of them here, but we will start with the second temptation.

Jesus is tempted three times from Satan. The second time the devil takes him to the "highest point of the temple" and says, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down..." and then quotes Scripture about God's provision and rescue.

This temptation is about identity. "If you are the Son of God..." Satan wants Christ to defend his identity. Prove it. Prove that you are what you say you are.

This resonates so strongly in my soul because it is often the heart of the human struggle.

As I've been working at Chick-Fil-A, after 8 years of full-time vocational ministry, I have day in and day out wrestled against the struggle of identity. I have a friend who recently left his job at a church and became a salesman. He warned me that I would feel "out of the ministry club" and he was right. In the back of my heads are thoughts and questions of who I am and what this all means. Not because it's meaningless work, but because it's not who I have been for eight years.

I've seen my ugliness through this. I've seen that my identity, as a pastor, was wrapped up in my day to day functions. "If you are really a servant of God..." then prove it, is the echo in my head.

It is a great comfort to find myself being stripped of these things. To be torn down and find myself desperate for identity and running to God to find it is a blessing.

Jesus' response to Satan is simple: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

Jesus doesn't have to prove his identity. He is not about doing, but about being. He lives fully from his identity as God's son and doesn't seek to earn favor by his functions.

Last week I had a great conversation at camp with someone wrestling with God. She shared a bit of her struggles with Christian community and her deep desire to just "find people who will admit that they want to be loved." I've been thinking about this conversation all week and I think she's getting at the heart of our identity struggles. We are terrified to admit our longing to be loved just as we are. We are trying to impress those around us with our jobs, relationships, wealth, and so much more. And in the end, we are sewing our own fig leaves and hiding as well as we know how.

In Christ, we are set free. Disciples can rest. Leaders can lead from their being, and not from their success. It is an act of the kingdom to step off the ledge of our own temples and stop trying to prove our worth. We are the children of God--and that is enough.

Hospital Beds and Hippy Dancing

As I transitioned out of my time at the Bible Chapel, I received a note from someone. It was intended to be a message of encouragement. Here’s what it said:

“…Don’t forget that God is the great Physician—mankind is sick with sin. They don’t know they need a doctor because they don’t think they are sick. Teach and preach boldly that repentance is required to enter into the relationship with the Lord. Show people they are sinful and need a Savior. Boldly call them out—use the 10 commandments as a mirror to show them they are in need of the One who can wash them clean—and transform them into the likeness of Christ. May God bless you and keep you— Boldly preach repentance and faith.”

This past weekend before taking a group of college students to be counselors at a camp for a week we took some time to go to a place called the Purple Fiddle. The Fiddle is a very cool music venue in Davis, WV. It lies in the middle of nowhere and is a haven for mountain men, hippies, musicians and artists. They are known for good food, great music, and an amazing atmosphere.

As we were there last Friday night I watched a couple of 20-something girls dancing freely as the band played. They were bad dancers but had a great time together. They found a certain amount of freedom in the hospitality of the place they found themselves.

So which is more effective in inviting people to the transformation that Christ brings? Is it more helpful to tell them how "sick they are" or invite them to a dance? Is an understanding of sin about making us feel guilty or helping us know freedom?

I believe the community of Christ-followers should invite people to dance. I do not believe we shy away from the idea of sin, but rather broaden our understanding to see sin as more than just our individual shortcomings (lying, stealing, gossip, lust). Instead, we must grasp sin as the brokenness, shame, and hurt God never intended for the world. Sin is the guilt I carry of my own fallenness, but also the weight of others' sin against me. If I am abused I carry the weight of that sin. It is not my fault but it affects me nonetheless.

My point is simply this--

Freedom is more transforming than guilt.

When Christ speaks to the woman at the well he doesn't simply tell her how sick she is. He acknowledges her condition honestly, but then he says, "Let me give you water so you will never thirst." When the woman is caught in adultery and Jesus causes the accusers to drop their stones he doesn't then pick one up and tell the woman he could stone her. He says, "Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more."

Freedom is more transforming than guilt.

I pray that in the ministry we give birth to at Penn State people are invited to dance rather than lie in a hospital bed. Hopefully the freedom of grace will create a community of hospitality where courage is granted rather than guilt.


A quick flashback to my trip to Kenya with 9 college students and 6 adults: We spent a great amount of time in the Mathare slums within Nairobi. Less than 12 hours off the plane and we attended a 3 ½ hour church service in these slums. It was an experience of culture shock to say the least. But the hearts of our team quickly broke for this place and we fell in love with the people there. By the time our trip was wrapping up we shed tears as we said goodbye to the 260 children of the AIC Zion school. Many of the students on our team echoed the same sentiment—we have to come back… this is where God wants us.

About a month later Carrie and I found ourselves on a visit to Penn State University attempting to decide what the next step of our lives entailed. Should we uproot from the Pittsburgh area after 8 years of ministry between two churches? Should we attempt to sell a beautiful house we feel is a gift from God and move our three daughters halfway across the state? Should I leave the title of “pastor” behind, along with vocational ministry, and take a job as a manger at Chick-Fil-A—in a place where I have no experience? Should we even think about trying to do college ministry in a place where there are 42,000+ students, most of whom are not oriented toward faith?

I walked around the main campus of Penn State in State College, PA on a drizzly afternoon with one of the students who had gone on our Kenya trip. She told me about the campus. She told me of how she had grown closer to God through the ministry of Campus Crusade, and how she knew God had big plans for this campus. She introduced me to friends and that evening, Carrie and I worshiped with their Cru (the Campus Crusade program).

The next day we drove home. We had reached no decision, but I felt the same thing many of our Kenya team had felt—we have to come back… this is where God wants us.

Carrie and I have had a wild ride since I came back from Kenya. We have chosen to leave an amazing church community to follow God’s leading to Penn State University. I will be taking a job as a manager at a new Chick-Fil-A in the town with the dream of birthing a community of Christ-followers in order to impact the campus. It has been a difficult decision. I have fallen in love with my wife all over again as I’ve watched her come along side my dream and trust God’s leading in spite of what she and I both might prefer in terms of comfort.

Our house is on the market. We have owned the place for 10 months and truly love it. I am nervous about it not selling, afraid of what that could mean financially. I am fighting my own pride of no longer being a full-time vocational pastor. I have found more joy than I can describe in watching the comforts of my life be stripped away.

I started yesterday as a manager in training at Chick-Fil-A. Today I got a minor burn on my arm from the grease in the fryer. This isn't what I ever planned for my ministry career to be. But I think I smiled all day today.

For the first time since I graduated from high school I am standing with Carrie and our girls feeling like we must truly depend on God. It is the first time in a long time (if ever) I feel like I have truly been living by faith. And I would not have it any other way!

The next couple months are going to be critical. As we transition to State College we are in the process of praying through a vision for ministry there. A great team of people have already begun to surround us and we are encouraged by those of you who are praying for our journey!

As we returned from the beach a couple weeks ago, somewhat fearing the idea of coming back, saying goodbye, selling the house, and blah blah blah, we sorted through our mail. In the midst of the bills that are starting to look intimidating a good friend had sent me this postcard above with some encouraging words—along with a check for a thousand dollars. The basic message from him was, “God is behind this. Trust it. Use this for what you need and be encouraged.” Both Carrie and I shed tears as we held tangible encouragement God was using from the heart of a friend.

The journey has begun. I cannot wait to tell the stories. Stay tuned.


**This may be too honest. Just a warning up front.

Carrie pointed out tonight that I've been restless now going on 8 months. It started in July. I might even go back and say it started last July... a year and 8 months ago.

It's this magical little place called Selbyville that tends to screw with your head... and your heart. Last year I was there I was still full-time in youth ministry, working with Junior High students. I was on the porch of one of the rustic little cabins with a couple close friends, too late at night, talking about how burnt out I was. It was for real too. I was sick of the kids. I was sick of teaching and teaching and teaching and feeling like they never really got it. I wanted out of youth ministry, and I had never felt that way in my entire life. I had been involved in youth ministry from the time I was in high school... but last July I had no joy in it.

At the same time I was watching our worship pastor at the Chapel crumble. He fought clinical depression for a long time and he was falling apart on the job. His relationship with our pastor was splintering further and further apart--not because they disliked each other, but because, like a doomed marriage, they couldn't communicate anymore. It wasn't working.

I saw this, and I knew I was next in line. God, I'm prideful. But it was true. I knew I had what it took to step into the role and at least move the church forward in terms of their "modernization" of worship. That was what I felt God "calling me to". In February, our worship pastor left and I did step in. I was finally out of youth ministry and fully into the worship area.

I took on leadership of Sunday mornings and continued in the Saturday night role--playing the music I wanted on Saturdays and tailoring basically to what the church wanted on Sunday mornings... whatever that means, "what the church wanted." I think I nearly killed myself doing this. I didn't realize how unhealthy, physically and emotionally, this was for me until we hired our new worship pastor in August. I stepped back to only doing Saturday nights and found rest and some sense of balance again. But I also found a deep and ugly beast called pride that was jealous beyond all measure that I hadn't been consulted on who we would hire, and hadn't even been asked to step into the role myself. (It doesn't matter that I would have failed miserably in that role, my own pride wanted it.)

I wrote a song during that time that I thought was a breakup love song with some cool imagery about a magician:

The Magician
I’m not really here, it’s a vanishing act you see
And if I disappear, would you even miss me?

Did I see hope in your eyes, hope only that I’ll be gone?
Wonderment paint on the face, of the innocent young

So with a magic word, I’ll do this thing right
Just a flick of the wand I’ll be gone from your sight

And the world will be, full of mystery again
There’ll be no more you for me, and the show will end

The stage is empty now, it’s time to go
No more sleight of hand, and we’re all alone

There aren’t magic words, to fill up the gap
For you’re there in the crowd and you don’t know where I’m at
But if I reappear would we find our way
Somehow to pull back the veil, or just vanish away…

The more I sang it though, in my own basement, the more I realized it wasn't a breakup song. It was a song from the pit of my pride, trying to deal with not being "the guy on stage" anymore. I don't know that I've even now fully dealt with it.

Anyway, it was about this time that what I knew God had "called me to" (the worship thing) began to leave me empty. I started wondering why I couldn't do more. I miss teaching. I miss the relationships and hanging out with students. I feel like I sing every week and try to create a flow of songs that leaves people feeling like they've connected with God--whether I have or not.

Take this week for instance. I did these songs and felt like there was nothing there. In the middle of one of the songs I consciously thought that... "I'm faking this." At the end I was backstage (hiding) and putting my guitar away. A good friend that I love like crazy came and found me to say how great it had been and how God was so cool. He talked specifically about my prayer for the congregation and how it had touched him and someone he brought with him who didn't know Christ. I didn't have the guts to tell him I was a fraud.

Maybe this is too much of an emotional rant, but maybe it's also sort of therapy for me. The fact is, I'm worn out. I've been searching for the "right job". I look at ministry websites, check out churches, and try to find the perfect role for myself at my current church. And I think I cloak it with things like, "If God would just show me..." I feel utterly and completely restless. I feel like I work in a system with something that I don't necessarily, theologically believe in... a large, consumer-driven business that we sometimes call church. I know that's harsh and I know God loves passionately that place and is still using it, but it's just where I'm at.

I want to climb out of this, but I don't see a rope. I keep thinking about what it means to be "called" to something and I realize more and more that I have absolutely no idea what calling is. I don't know what I'm called to beyond the relationships with the people that I love like crazy. I have dreams but right now I feel stuck.

I must be driving Carrie crazy. She's a hero to me. She continues the light that I can't always see. Caedmon's Call has a great song about that, "Hold the Light."

I don't know... I really don't.

A Heap

I don't know if I've asked the question here or not, but what does it mean to be saved? I think it's almost meaningless in Christianity today. We say it, expect it as almost code for being in the "in club" and yet I think it's somewhat lost the power that being saved needs to have. When I hear it I think of the 70 year olds in my home church at the old Sunday night testimony and hymn sing we did sharing their testimonies. They would tear up and talk about being saved. I loved those night. But when I talk about it I don't have that same passion.

For the past few months, I feel like I keep trying to stand up and then I get my knees kicked out from under me. Usually by my own fault, sometimes from the criticisms of others, and sometimes I'll even blame it on God (He's not opposed to wrestling)--but I've felt like a big heap on the ground for quite a while.

I want to know what's next. I want to know what God has planned for Carrie and I. I want direction, leading, guidance and the next steps. I think God just wants me. Beyond that I think he wants to keep saving me. I think he wants to save me from myself. I think as I look for direction he just wants me to realize I'm directionless... and will be until I fall completely on him.

I'm tired--emotionally. I think I've been sitting in shame and self-doubt, craving the worth that "the right job" or the "right ministry opportunity" might offer. I need saved from this. I truly and desperately need saved.

Been thinking about this song...

BLOOM AGAIN - Charlie Hall
Crying seems to hurt me, but it's alright to cry
You have been so strong now, your tears will turn to wine
Life seems so brittle, landing upside down
It seems to make us fragile, and bares upon us now

Oh the leaves are falling
Winter is now here
The spring is coming
And you can bloom again

The beauty of,
The ash of love,
When you emerge,
You are more beautiful... bloom again

Some storms leave the beauty,
Some storms leave the thorns
Compassion pours from heaven
Mercy ever dawn

Somewhere in this whirlwind
Somewhere in this crowd
Hold up to his heartbeat
Push away the sounds

Oh the leaves are falling
Winter is now here
The spring is coming
And you can bloom again

The beauty of,
The ash of love,
When you emerge,
You are more beautiful... bloom again

Maybe I should say your Name,
Maybe I should say your Name out loud

The beauty of,
The ash of love,
When you emerge,
You are more beautiful... bloom again