Have you been to the “self help” section of the bookstore lately?

Of all the kinds of things that people can publish, self help is booming. There is a dizzying array of books, DVDs and other resources to help people with every conceivable problem.

If you go to the self help section of the store, I think one thing becomes clear:

People are not happy.

Take any random person, and there is probably some aspect of themselves that they are not happy with. They don’t like the way they look, or they don’t know how to manage money or they aren’t good at relationships. Something in their life bugs them. So virtually every person is the market for self help gurus.

This is another place where our Christian culture is behind instead of ahead of the curve.

I can get basically the same self help advice from a lot of pastors that I can from anyone else, just with a shiny coat of Jesus polish on it. A lot of churches are interested in how to help people live better, look better, relate better, believe better. That’s all well and good.

But faith doesn’t start with self help. Faith begins where self help ends, where all of our self-helping stops being effective.

This is one of my favorite little sayings, attributed to N.T. Wright. It pretty well sums up what we are supposed to start with.



If we are starting with advice and not news, then we are not being churches.

If we start with advice rather than news, we aren’t really Christians.

If we start with advice rather than news, then no one needs to listen to us because they can get all the advice they need without the guilt.

I’m going to do something I never thought I would do.

Her life is pretty awesome, but she thinks you and I are going to hell.

Her life is pretty awesome, but she thinks you and I are going to hell.

Last Saturday morning, as I sipped my coffee and scanned my news feed, wiling away the couple of hours before the baby awoke, I was accosted by a story just a couple of days old.

Jessa Seewald, one of the children of the super-fundie reality TV Duggar family, thinks I am going to hell.

I didn’t even know I missed the hubbub over her pink wedding dress, and yet here she is, with the audacity that I am going to hell.

To be more specific, Jessa recently said that “liberal” Christians, i.e. those who don’t believe in hell, are in fact, going to hell just the same as all the other sinners out there. Her remarks were met with prompt cries of “intolerance” and “wouldn’t it be nice if she used her platform to proclaim a message of ‘acceptance.’”

She thinks I am going to hell…

And probably you, and you, and you too. We are all probably too liberal for a Duggar.

But I am going to do something I never thought I would do.

I’m going to come to the defense of Jessa and the rest of the Duggar family.

Continue Reading…

What does it mean to be “relevant?”

That is the eternal question, isn’t it? At least, it’s the question of our age. We live in a time when more voices are clamoring than ever for our attention. We live in a time when our churches have to compete for the hearts and minds of a generation, rather than enjoying the role of de facto cultural leader.

Late last year, I wrapped up a ministry that I had been leading for seven years. I’m enjoying a time of sabbatical as Cheri and I nurture our new son. And it’s giving me a chance to do something I haven’t done in many years: visit other churches.

It is an amazing experience to go from a leader to a visitor. I feel like I’m in disguise or something! But more importantly, I get to see what churches are trying to do. At their core, most of them are trying to do much of the same things.

They are trying to be relevant.

Some of them are really trying. Some of them, I cannot believe the resources they are obviously pouring into the “experience.” Sometimes, it all looks forced, unnatural, even desperate. I don’t say that to be mean. That’s just what it looks like from the outside.

But you know what?

I don’t think “relevance” is where we are supposed to start, regardless of what we are trying to do. Because “relevance,” like influence, like money, is all relative.

Your church can do everything right. It can have the right message, the right music, the right facility, the right coffee. But your relevance is not in your control…

It’s in my control.

decide if you are relevant to me.

And you do too.

You and I decide if famous people are important. You and I decide if viral videos are actually “viral.” You and I have much more control over the outcomes of everything than the people most intimately involved.

That’s a heavy burden. It’s up to us to decide what to watch and listen to. It’s up to us what advice to act upon or to share with others. There is a lot of clutter in this world. The clutter is hugely influential, but that doesn’t mean it’s relevant to any of our lives. The clutter steals our time and attention and robs more worthy voices.


Today, let’s remember that we can’t live our lives chasing relevance. We can only bestow it.

Yes, it’s the end of the week. And that means its time for me to share the best things that came across my radar, the things that made me laugh, cry or cringe. Let’s get started.

In My Movie Queue

Yes Birdman won Best Picture, but we both know that most of you are not going to see it. It looks like some kind of artsy-fartsy movie. No giant robots in sight.

Of the few movies Cheri and I saw in the theater last year, I cannot believe we picked the Best Picture. And we loved it. But we haven’t been too vocal about that because we know that not everyone will. Yes, it’s not a typical movie, but please refrain from leaving the theater saying, “Well…it was interesting.” That’s a lame way to say, “I’m too dumb for this movie.” You aren’t too dumb. Just go see it. It’s being re-released this weekend to theaters. Bonus points for reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver before you go. Bonus bonus points if the title reminds you of the time Bill Hader was on Portlandia.

In My Blog Reader

Fifty Shades of Grey continues to be a topic of ongoing discussion, but I believe Jamie the Very Worst Missionary had the best commentary, and lo and behold she actually read the book and watched the movie. Her best analysis: there is abuse in Fifty Shades, but it doesn’t happen in the bedroom.

Kathy Escobar addresses what I can only imagine is a rampant problem in the church, narcissismIt’s not a pretty picture. Why do the guys at the front of our churches end up there? It may not always be a calling, but a personality.

Lore Ferguson writes beautifully about the difference between making a “mini-me” verses making a disciple.

Lindsey Nobles surrounds herself with “accomplished” women, but says what the rest of us are thinking. We are torn between being inspired by such people, and feeling like we do not measure up. We all have voices. We all have gifts. We just have to own what those are.

Finally, Kristen from We Are That Family talks about body image and daughters and Cindy Crawford and even though I don’t have a daughter, it’s a profoundly important topic to understand as men and women because the body images that women are given also affect boys and men.

That’s it for me this week. See you next time!

What is your personal currency?

In the "influence economy" of the modern church, "1%" leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

In the “influence economy” of the modern church, “1%” leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

You know, the thing that you strive to collect, to store up, to hoard. That stuff that drives you to do one more thing before you go to bed. The thing that gets you up an hour earlier in the morning. The thing that keeps you up at night, worrying that you don’t have enough.

The American church has done a pretty good job of convincing us that money is not our personal currency. (I suppose it’s easy to tell ourselves that money is not that important to us when we have quite a lot of it, relatively speaking.)

No it’s not money that we are grasping for. Go to churches, go to conferences, go to seminars, read the books. What is the core of what church leaders are peddling?


The church has figured out how to make the pursuit of influence sound noble, righteous, even necessary. Now, all of the books are written and all of the conferences are led by guys who obviously have a lot of it. A lot of people listen to the guys at the top. And so they tell us how we too can have it all.

When we talk about our church’s “relevance,” try switching in the word “influence.” There will be almost no difference.

When a conference speaker is discussing “impact,” just sketch the word “influence” in your notes.

When a pastor is talking about “evangelism,” just imagine the word “influence.”

It is influence that, well, influences most of our pursuits. And I have to admit that for most of my adult life, I have been no different. I have hungered and thirsted after it. I have wanted people to give me attention, to do what I say, to respect my opinions.

What I’ve found is that there are a lot of problems with influence being our personal currency.

Continue Reading…

Last night, if you watched the Oscars, a ritual occurred. It’s a ritual that has been with humanity since our very beginning.

It was not about the little statues or the speeches.

What the Oscars are all about is people seeking after permanence.

People crave immortality. We want some piece of our lives to be permanent. Somehow, Birdman will always be on the Best Picture list, and I can’t believe, of the very few movies I saw in theaters last year, I picked the future best picture to see.

But how many people in fifty years are really going to know what Birdman is? Look back at the list of winners. There are a few memorable films, the films that are studied in classes. But there are some real goofs too. A lot of films have not stood the test of time. How many people in fifty years are going to know what Birdman is?

That’s not a knock on the film. That’s just the way things are. Because last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we had the opportunity to be reminded that we are dust. And all of our work will return to dust.

We have a real problem with creating an illusion of permanence. I tune out as soon as someone uses words like forever. We think that we build something or we put a plaque on something and it will “always” be there. But we tear down things that are just fifty years old to make space for our “permanent” things. We are too in love with “new” to be concerned with “permanent.”

Take the weather in the Northeast. They are saying Boston has had record-breaking snow, which is significant. “The most snow ever,” they say. Well what does that mean? It means they are getting the most snow recorded in the last century and a quarter, more or less. One-hundred and twenty-five years, out of six billion years.

Our reach into history just is not very long. And our reach into the future is not much better. Even the great people, the people who got into our history books, how much do we really know about them?


I have decided that striving for permanence is a losing proposition, one that destines me for frustration and anxiety in this life that I have. Just because we write books or paint pictures or build great things, let us not delude ourselves. All our work will return to dust. All we are called to do is help the people who exist here and now. 

And that is enough.