My Message to the Church: Let People Suffer

Image from radiolive.co.nz

Once upon a time…for a long time…I hated the Psalms. Their only purpose seemed to reinforce the idea that suffering was quick and trivial; with a little effort, one could scrounge up some joy by simply believing that God would eventually sweep in and solve all your problems. For someone who, at the time, was considering suicide, the Psalms only served to worsen my guilt over my inability to “get over” my pain.

And then I realized I was reading them the wrong way. Continue reading

1 Cor. 14:34–Either Paul was Schizophrenic, or He Meant Something Else

Really?

“I can’t believe they hired a woman to preach there. What a shame.”

My family and I were driving past the church that my dad had previously pastored. I was nine years old at the time, a firm believer in Christ, and the statement struck me as odd.

“What’s wrong with a woman preaching?” I asked.

“The Bible says women aren’t allowed to preach or pastor churches. That’s only for men.”

A terrible grief pierced my heart. Really, God? I wondered. You would save me from my sins, teach me your Word, fill me with your Spirit, cause me to love you with my whole heart, then say I can’t minister in your church because…I have a vagina?? I just couldn’t believe it. Continue reading

Feed My Sheep: Thoughts on Communion

As you may recall from my last post, I mentioned the verse in Malachi that talks about God’s desire for food in His house. In modern times, many pastors have portrayed “food” in a figurative sense, meaning spiritual sustenance on the level of a sermon or discipleship. When we take a closer look at the scriptures, however, a more literal application comes to light:

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the…foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied…(Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

We also see Jesus himself feeding people. In Matthew 14, he feeds a crowd of over 5,000 men (not counting their wives and children) with only five loaves of bread and two fish. In Matthew 15, he feeds 4,000 with seven loaves and a few other fish. Jesus obviously cared about people’s physical nourishment. Still does.

Then we read in John 21 about his command to Simon Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Again, this verse has been interpreted to mean that Jesus was calling Peter to preach the gospel. To be clear, I think this is a reasonable interpretation. After all, Jesus called himself the “bread of life,” and said that whoever “eats this bread” will live eternally. But I think ministers have unfortunately been too quick to separate the physical aspect from this spiritual command. Continue reading

The Best “Youth Pastor” I Ever Had

pastor-micah-marshall-THE-REFUGE

He was the complete opposite of this guy.

You might be surprised to learn that the best youth pastor I ever had was not a youth pastor at all. At least, not in the official sense. He was simply a church deacon who taught the teen Sunday school class.

Don would have never been hired to lead a high-profile youth ministry. He was not what today’s church administrators would call hip, cool or “relevant.” He didn’t wear skinny jeans. He didn’t play guitar or have a tattoo. He probably couldn’t pronounce the words ‘latte’ or ‘espresso,’ let alone tell you what they mean. He couldn’t name a single contemporary Christian band. He had never set foot on a college campus, Christian or otherwise. His wife wasn’t a former cheerleader with a perky personality or a Cover Girl smile. In fact, the man himself was in his early 40s, rotund, with a slow Southern drawl and neatly trimmed beard. He wore the same clothes every Sunday: a white dress shirt, black or brown pants and plain black shoes. He didn’t own a cell phone, an iPad, or even an email address.

Yet this extremely reserved, humble, down-to-earth deacon of a backwater Southern church uttered seven words that likely saved me from a lifetime of pain and poor decisions: Continue reading

How Not to Do Youth Ministry

It all started with these words: “God has given me a vision.”

It was a grand vision, too–a vision of a youth group with 250 attendees: one teen for every adult member of the church. At the time, my youth group had around 40 teens, meeting in a room where 120 was a tight crowd. If we were going to welcome 200 new teens into our youth group, we had work to do. So, we got busy. Continue reading