End the Veneer

Jason Locy and Tim Willard Challenge Us to Live Authentically as We Engage Culture

In their plenary talk and breakout session at this year’s Jubilee Conference, Jason Locy and Tim Willard spoke about a small lumber mill at which the owners take
hundred-year-old barn timber and restore it, revealing beautiful pieces of wood for use in new construction as flooring. The motto of the business is, “We don’t offer perfection but, rather, the beauty of imperfection.” The dings and bruises, when restored, provide character that beautifies the rooms in which they are laid.

This antique wood is different from the stuff you’ll find in the laminate flooring section of Home Depot. That wood is fake - it has a veneer. As Locy explained, “Veneer is a thin coating applied over a surface in order to hide an inferior material; it gives the finished good the appearance of something it is not. When applied to a less-expensive piece of wood (or composite), veneer tricks the eye into thinking the piece is of higher quality.”
A sad result of the Fall is that we all live under a veneer.  Instead of living fully as who we are made to be, we coat ourselves and hide behind this veneer, making it difficult to live as we should.

We are trained to live in a veneer through what Locy and Willard called the “Three Languages of Culture.” Celebrity teaches us to live vicariously through others’ more glamorous lives. Consumption teaches us to buy stuff in order to create a fake image of who we want other people to see us as. Technology (progress) continually creates new options to place space between our real selves and the people around us. A downside to Facebook, Twitter, and blogging is that quantity often wins over quality and our identities are too-often relegated to a screen of perceptions. A Facebook status can often be a simple and not-too-deep statement of who we are and what we want out of life, or a marketing veneer to boost our image in the eyes of others. Because of technology, consumerism, and celebrity, “we can be anybody and nobody at the same time.”

We must strip away the veneer to reveal something of true and lasting beauty.

The reason we put on a veneer is because there is something relational that is missing in our lives. The antidote of veneer, therefore, is love, relationships, and abiding in Christ.

We need to be with people, not hiding behind veneers of living vicariously through celebrity, of the faux images of ourselves that are accessed by what we consume, and of hiding behind technological facades.

Would we rather live under a veneer (a faked perfection, hiding the inferior product that lies underneath), or as real wood, with all its dings (all the hardships and failings and frustrations and scars of life) that make each of us unique?

“Our un-veneered lives should speak triumphantly, testifying that there is no need to hide true selves in order to gain acceptance.”

Jason Locy and Tim Willard’s book, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society is due out in April. Check out their website and blog at endveneer.com.


The newest NIV – Overcoming a Sad and Shameful Chapter in Evangelical Harshness

The newest version of the NIV is coming out. Here is a brief sketch of the NIV’s history, courtesy of Scot McKnight:
The NIV came out in the 70s, it continually was revised, the TNIV came out in 2002, it was blasted uncharitably and became a translation whose reputation had been maligned and had a hard time making a go of it. It’s sad and it’s a shame what its critics said. For me it’s nothing more than a bitter chapter among evangelicals who had more fear than intellect at work. But that’s behind us. Zondervan and the Committee on Bible Translation have worked together to “update” the NIV into the NIV 2011.
Let’s hope the a more charitable (that is, a more grace-filled) response comes from the likes of James Dobson and his crowd of evangelical bullies!


Gabe Lyons and the Needed Change in Our Church Structures

The Next Christians at amazon.comRJS, over at Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight’s website), asks some VERY important questions in light of what Gabe Lyons has written in his new book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith.
Lyons writes,
“We educate, train, and hire “professional ministers,” placing a higher spiritual value on certain jobs and professions (like direct evangelism and service) and marking others (such as entertainment, academia, and science) as off-limits to orthodox Christians.
There are many practical benefits to this approach, but their are complications as well. For example, everyday Christians can develop and overdependence on formal ministry organizations. What’s more they are conditioned to view their own job as separate from ‘real ministry.’” (p. 109)
Reflecting on these words, RJS muses,
The church needs to empower and prepare Christians to go out into the world. The job of the pastor is not to lead in mission doing the “real work” of the church, but to nurture, disciple, and prepare Christians to go out into the world to do the real work of the church… The real work of the church is done not by the leadership vision attracting large numbers into the church, but by the people of the church sent out into every sphere of society.  Back to the questions above… assuming that Lyons is right and there is a shift and transformation taking place within the body of Christ …
How does it reshape the concept of church? How does it reshape the view of the success?
How does it impact the role of the pastor?
Go over to Jesus Creed and weigh in.


Full-Time Vocational Ministry is Not The Pinnacle of Faithfulness

I remember attending Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit as a seminary student. As a young man excited about a future career as a pastor, I was deeply moved when Bill Hybels presented Matthew 16:18, when after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord proclaimed, “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” Over the huge projection screens, Hybels beamed as he looked out at the crowd gathered that day in South Barrington and confidently stated, “I believe that the center of God’s purpose is the Church.”

Oh, how I was inspired! I chose the right vocation, that of full-time pastoral ministry, because God’s Church is what it’s all about. As I sat in that massive auditorium (the epitome of successful church ministry), I thought about how important the institutional church is with our attractive worship services, classroom Bible studies, and varying programs to meet the needs of many different people.  I was grateful to be able to be someone who will be able to lead such an endeavor.

Obviously, the highest calling for someone, so I thought, was full-time vocational ministry (either as a pastor or as a missionary). Why? Because our churches and our ministries are the main things!

But as I’ve discovered over the years, the institutional church is not the main thing. The main thing is the Kingdom of God (see my previous post, where I state that the Church functions for the sake of the Kingdom of God, not the other way around).

What if we really believed that the main thing was something else besides the institutional church? What if it’s not about me (as the pastoral leader) or about our church (our building, our worship service, our programs), or about recruiting people to the high call of overseas missions (since this is seen as the pinnacle of “God’s work”). What if all these things are good things, but are meant to serve a greater thing, that is, the Kingdom of God?

What if God wants to rise up men and women who will yield their entire lives to the Lordship of Jesus and the purposes of His Kingdom? What if these men and women were to see all aspects of their lives as ways to contribute to bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven? What if the pinnacle of doing Kingdom work is being faithful in the callings that ordinary humans are meant to have: Artists, engineers, nurses, educators, designers, homemakers, dads, moms, politicians, lawyers, carpenters, machinists, musicians, software writers, etc.?

I meet a lot of young people who want to be youth pastors or college campus ministers. Why? Because the people that have had the greatest impact on them were youth pastors and campus ministers, and they feel that they want to follow in these people’s footsteps. They have been taught (perhaps overtly but more likely covertly just by being in the presence of someone with these presumptions about ministry) that full-time vocational ministry is the most important, most God-honoring course to take in life.

Here’s a telling barometer for how we’re doing on this (that is, those of us in full-time vocational ministry): What if instead of finding the most satisfaction and joy when someone we have been mentoring and/or discipling says they want to become a missionary or go to seminary, we would find even more satisfaction and joy when we see them fully engaged in following Christ in the life they are called to live?



Favorite Super Bowl Ad?

I give a tie to Volkswagen and Best Buy.

This reminds me so much of my two boys running around pretending to be able to manipulate things around them with the Force. A great ad for a dad like me.

Ozzy Osbourne is replaced by Justin Bieber because technology moves so quickly. Well done. And Justin Bieber in a disguise saying “Kinda looks like a girl;” gotta love it.

Which ones did you like?

Dishonorable mention: Teleflora’s totally inappropriate commercial for a family event like the Super Bowl. What was Faith Hill thinking?


Two Dualistic Extremes–From Our Culture and Our Churches

Searching for Happiness but our Dualism Gets in the Way

naugle-reorderedDavid Naugle, in his book Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness, writes,
“The genius of the Christian faith…is that it does not call upon us to eliminate our love for things on earth out of our love for God in Heaven. (p.21)
The happy life…consists of learning how to love both God supremely and the world in the right way at the very same time. In fact, the world and its resources exist to point us to God and his glory, that we might recognize God in, and love him for, his gifts.” (p. 22)
But this is contrary to what we are taught, both in our culture and in our churches.

In today’s culture, we are taught to love that which gives us pleasure – that happiness is in the party, the relationship, the things we can buy and consume, the entertainment we watch, and the hobbies we spend our spare time doing. As Indie Rock band Hard Fi sing,
Working all the time
Work is such a bind
Got some money to spend
Living for the weekend
When it gets too much
I live for the rush
Got some money to spend
Living for the weekend

The only thing that matters is what we do in the body. There is no spiritual dimension to life, so let’s make money and live for the weekend.

In response to this hedonistic attitude, church leaders have taught us that all that really matters is the soul, the mind, and being spiritual so that we can win the war against the body and this physical world. As the old church song goes,
This world is not my home, I'm just a passing thru,
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from Heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

But both views show a dualistic attitude that actually dilutes our ability to experience true happiness. I’ll let David Naugle explain:
“The worldly mistake is to focus on the physical creation, forfeiting the soul for the body, sacrificing the transcendent for the immanent, and eliminating the sacred from the secular. The mistake the church sometimes makes is to focus on the heavenly Creator forfeiting the body for the soul, sacrificing the immanent for the transcendent, and eliminating the secular from the sacred. At the root of both errors is a common but malicious dualism that separates or eliminates one indispensible realm of reality from the other. As a result of the split, the favored portion receives excessive, if not distorted, attention, and the unfavored portion suffers inappropriate, if not slanderous, neglect.” (p. 23)
What can we do to finally rid ourselves of the dualisms that defeat the purposes of God in our lives and our true happiness?


Five Year Anniversary of Almost Dying

Five years ago, I nearly died of a dissection of my ascending aorta. 2006 was a traumatic year for our family and friends. But I am grateful for all of them, and to my God who is good, all the time.

Read about what happened here.


What's one thing that you wish youth pastors knew/did/prepared their students for?

youthThat’s the question my good friend Joel Daniel Harris asked college ministers at a Youth Pastors gathering today. As a member of the panel he invited to answer that question, I had a lot to say about this subject.

Here’s what I see very often in students that come out of church youth group ministries:
(Thankfully, many youth groups in today’s local churches are increasingly breaking this perception, but more often than not, I still experience as a college pastor that I have to do a lot of deprogramming of students from this mindset.)

These young men and women grew up in the church and have been taught their entire lives that the center of Christian life is the local church. This is what they have been taught: God’s purpose for them as Christians is to be witnesses for Christ in the world, to share the love and grace of Jesus to those around them in order to create opportunities to those in the world to accept Jesus as their savior from the world, assuring them of their place in heaven one day. This world is evil, full of temptation and sinful behavior. This world is passing away; what is eternal is the great and wonderful promise of heaven in the future. In the meantime, God calls each person who receives salvation from this world into the local church, where they will hear the preaching of the Word of God and His message of salvation, where they will gather to worship God, and where they will serve the purposes of Christ’s church – to be the beacon of light in a dark and evil world.

Then there comes this rub: When someone hits 17 years of age, a Junior or Senior in High School, they start to get a competing message from their parents. It sounds like this: We must find a good college for you to attend. You must prepare for a career that will be both fulfilling and will provide a good income for you and your future family. If you want all that the American Dream offers, you must get into the right school and pursue the right career. And, oh, by the way: the more money you make the more you will be able to give to the church and to missionaries. That’s the good news of pursuing your degree! Don’t forget God in this!

But also, there is bad news: Those professors at college are out to steal your faith away. When you are away at college, you must protect yourself from the world – you must get involved in a campus ministry and/or a local church. Don’t let that nasty University teach you the ways of the world. Remember to have your quiet time each day. And ask for opportunities to witness to those on you dorm floor.  After you read your Bible in your dorm room, be sure to leave it open on your desk as a testimony for your roommates. Perhaps you will be able to invite some of them into your campus ministry or your church, and save them, as well, from the fallenness of the University.

So I meet students that see their Christian mission while at college to create a Youth-Group-type-of-ministry on campus, something cool that will provide opportunities for them to worship and learn the Bible. Something that will serve as both a shelter from the evil university in which they find themselves, and a place to invite those who are living in the evil world of the university so that they can be saved from this institution of the evil world.

And then I show up in their lives, and we start to talk. I ask them to contemplate a new paradigm. What if the goal of Christianity is not simply to escape the evil of this world (especially that which they teach us here at this university) and to get to heaven when we die? What if the purpose of the church and of Christian fellowship is more than just being a shelter from the evil world, or a place to worship and Bible study, or the mediating place where people can come and meet God so that they too can go to heaven one day?

What if we shake up this notion that the world is a dark and evil place and the church and heaven is the bright and glorious place? What if God loves his creation, so much so that he cares about all that we do, including our studies in college and our careers after we graduate? What if God is more interested in the redemption of all things on earth rather than our escape from all things on earth?

What if the purpose of Christian fellowship and church is to be the united body of Christ, doing what he has always been doing: making all things new? What if he wants us to love Him so much that we intentionally place all things under his Lordship, including our major at college? What if God wants us to glorify him in our career, to see our work as full-time Christian ministry? What if we rid ourselves of the notion that the only Christian ministry happens in the confines of what we have experienced as “church?”

What if God is calling us to see ourselves as participating with Him in bringing redemption to the very sphere of influence in our career that he will be placing us, bringing God’s Kingdom to bear on that?