Men of God, more than ever before, the time has come to stand #tapegate

Before I begin, I want to clearly establish something very important: This is not a political post. It is not an argument for Hillary Clinton, it’s not about the issues facing voters, and it’s not really even about the political positions of Donald Trump. I understand the delicate decision that hangs in the balance for the occupation of the Oval Office, the future of the Supreme Court, and the “lesser of two evils.” I understand all those things completely. And this post is about none of those things. This post is not about the Democratic Party, and it is not about the Republican Party. This post is about the Church. This post is about men of God, and how, right now, we are failing our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends. Responding to this post with any arguments of politics, or how “Hillary is worse” will entirely and completely miss the point. I am calling men to action, but I’m not really talking about political action. I’m talking about what the women in our lives are desperately waiting for.

 

 

Last night, I awoke at 4am to find my wife in tears. I quickly gathered that she had still not gone to sleep. I knew this wasn’t about a bad dream. Sadly (or maybe it was funny?), my first thought was “did I do something?” I reached over and asked her what was wrong. She looked at me and sobbed, “Where are the mighty men of God??”

 

Last week when the recording of Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” was released, pundits on both sides quickly went into spin mode. The Democrats and the “Never Trumpers” gleefully cried out “See?? We told you so!” Many Republicans responded with “Hillary is worse,” or “I’m less concerned with what Trump said than with what Hillary has actually done.” Donald Trump himself “apologized” in the same manner, adamantly asserting that it was “only words,” and that this was all a ploy to distract us from far worse scandals perpetrated by the other side.

 

This is truthfully nothing new. As far back as the Republican primaries, “evangelicals” had a number of candidates to choose from, none of whom, besides Trump, were making a habit of public vulgarity. It’s not like “Tapegate” revealed anything surprising about Trump; if anything, it confirmed what everyone ignored during the primaries. But evangelicals were so concerned with “rocking the establishment” that they sold out on principles, and said “we’re willing to overlook his flaws.” Even famous, influential Christian leaders turned a blind eye to glaring character deficiencies and hailed Trump as a “man of morals and Christian values.” Fast forward to October 2016, and many Christian leaders have been left with egg on their face. This is what the world sees from the church. Let’s be clear about that.

 

In the wake of “Tapegate,” Facebook blew up with opinions, responses and viewpoints. Voters on both sides defended their candidates, and threw the opponent under the bus. There was enough mudslinging for a person to walk away from the screen feeling covered. Alison has basically spent all day on Facebook for the last three days, and like many women, she heard something very loud and very clear:

 

Nothing.

 

She scoured her newsfeed, at first expectantly, and later with bewilderment, searching for responses from men of God standing up for their sisters. “Surely they must just be crafting thoughtful responses,” she thought. So she and many other women posted statuses, calling out the cultural acceptance of Trump’s words. “Surely,” she thought, “the trusted men in my life will respond to my status and agree wholeheartedly that Trump’s words were deplorable.” Instead, the responses she and others received were a mixture of “all sin is sin,” “who am I to judge,” and “it’s just words. Hillary is worse. She’s actually done bad things.” But what cut her heart deeply was not the responses she was receiving; it was the radio silence of so many men. Here was a man seeking to be the most powerful figure on earth making light of sexual assault, and our sisters thought to themselves “our loved ones will stand up for us.” Instead…

 

Crickets.

 

Before I go any further, something else needs to be established. What Trump said in that bus was not an example of “locker room talk.” I hear locker room talk every day. I go to work in a secular environment where nearly all my coworkers are men. (In addition to being a pastor, I also work a “normal” blue collar job). I hear every day the comments they make about a girl who walks by, or a girl they’re looking at on their phones. They talk about her figure, her attributes, and the sexual acts they would perform if she gave them the chance. And let me be perfectly forthright: in years past, I engaged in the same type of conversation. I’m ashamed to admit that I, too, was guilty of conduct and speech unbecoming of a Christian man. As I matured, I came to a place of repentance of that sin. But in the many times I have been privy to or engaged in “locker room talk,” do you know what I have never, ever heard? Bragging about sexual assault. I’ve heard crude speech men engage in about their wives and girlfriends. I’ve heard about the one-night stands and hookups. And I’ve heard many times what they wish they could do to a particular woman. But I’ve never once heard “when I see a hot girl, I just take what I want without consent. I’m so big and bad that I can just walk up and grab it without asking.” Listen up. I want you to hear something loud and clear: That’s not locker room talk; that’s assault. Look, as Christian men who believe that women are equal image-bearers of the Father, we should be convicted by any kind of locker room talk. There is no excuse for it. It is not and never has been OK. Our Christ would never view women in that way, and neither should we, even in jest. So any Christian who shrugs at any type of “locker room talk” has some serious things to deal with before the Lord. Has our standard of what is acceptable stooped so low? I was under the impression that our standard was “Be holy, for I am holy, and I have separated you from the peoples that you should be mine.” (Leviticus 20:26). Have we reached a point in the church where now our standard has become “everyone does it?” Let’s be clear: our moral barometer shouldn’t ever be what adolescent boys are saying to one-up each other. When we reach a point where a man can brag about assaulting women and we don’t even bat an eye, we need to take a long hard look in the mirror.

 

I want you to imagine that you are out in public with your wife, girlfriend, mother or daughter. You see two men checking her out, giving her the up and down. Then you happen to overhear one of them say, “I’m going to walk up to her and grab her by the p**** without asking. I bet she’ll let me.” What would you do? If you’re anything like me, you would prevent him from assaulting her with some assault of your own. You would stand up and defend her. You would scream at him that no one, and I mean no one, talks about my loved one in that way. Listen, my wife is a strong, independent woman, and she might not “need” my protection. Knowing her, she would make that man regret his actions without any help from me, and if anything, I’d probably have to hold her back. My money would be on her in most fights. She may be little, but she’s full of fire. My beautiful bride is Italian, and the tomato sauce can boil, if you know what I mean. But even if she didn’t “need” me in that situation, can you imagine what her response would be if I just stood there silently? She would be appalled. She would look at me and scream, “really?? Nothing?? You’re just going to stand there and let him talk about me like that??” (And then she would proceed to kick the guy in the face.)

 

Listen up men: that is exactly what is happening right now. It’s not that our sisters, wives, girlfriends, daughters and friends are helpless damsels and they need knights to rescue them. As Alison has seen for the last three days on Facebook, there are plenty of strong women who are standing up for themselves. But I can assure you of one thing: they are looking at us and asking, “really? You’re not going to say anything?”

 

I want to remind you of what I said at the beginning. This is not a political post. This post is directed at the men of the church. If we just sit here in silence, the clear message we are sending our sisters in Christ is this: “we don’t care.” Or worse, “the image of God in you is not worth defending.”

 

Please understand something: this is not merely an issue of words. No, this is an issue of safety. This is an issue of incredible risk. According to statistics, someone in America is sexually assaulted every two minutes. 1 out of every 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Sexual assaults happen all around us every day. But did you know that only 26% of those assaults are ever reported? For various reasons, 74% of the women who are victimized never come forward. And one of the chief reasons is because they do not feel safe doing so. We need to be incredibly aware of the risk we are creating when we do not stand up to fight against rape culture. If we’re going to allow the hopeful President of the United States to trivialize assault, how many more assaults are going to happen, and how many more will go unreported? If girls grow up believing that men can just take what they want without asking, and if boys grow up in a culture where that’s no big deal, are we foolish enough to believe that our daughters, sisters and wives are not being put at greater risk?

 

And that’s just culture. Remember that I’m talking about the Church. Out of anywhere, church should the the one place a woman can enter and feel safe. It should be the one place that a woman feels valued as an image bearer of God, not the sexual object that culture tells her she is. It should be the one place where she can look around and see men who value family and equality, and that there isn’t any “locker room talk” among men when she walks by them in the sanctuary. But what are women hearing right now from the men of God who surround them?

 

NOTHING.

 

Or they’re hearing that the state of the church was so much worse than they feared. They’re hearing that they aren’t valued. They’re hearing that Christian men are ok with locker room talk. They’re hearing that all sin is sin, and we just all need to calm down. It’s only words, after all! They are hearing deplorable trivialization of assault, and being told that it’s normal. They are standing there, staring at us with their mouths agape asking “really?? Nothing?? You’re just going to stand there and let him talk about us like that??”

 

NOT IN MY CHURCH. I refuse to just stand by and let that happen under my watch. I refuse to send women that message. I know that the Church belongs to God, and isn’t mine. But he has called me to be a steward over the congregation he has given me to lead, and I’ll be damned if the women in my church don’t feel safe. I’ll be damned if families don’t feel safe and secure leaving their children in our care. My church will not be a place where women feel anything less than what they are: equal image-bearers of the Father, worthy of respect, worthy of honor and worthy of defense. I know that as a pastor, as a trusted spiritual leader, the women of my church are going to be looking at me wondering, “is he going to say something?”

 

Ladies, I hear you. And I promise you that I will do everything in my power to honor you, and stand up when you are wronged. I promise that I will do everything in my power to create a culture in our congregation where you can feel safe getting help. If you are the 1 in 6 women who has been victimized, I will do everything in my power to ensure that you are not shamed when you walk through our doors. And if anyone dares to fight against a culture where women are valued, they will be shown the exit.

 

Christian brothers, I implore you: let us be the mighty men that the church needs. Let us not bow down to culture, and trivialize sin. Let us take back the reins from “evangelicals” who have traded holiness for political position. Let us look squarely in the eyes of the women around us and tell them that they don’t have to fight this battle alone.

 

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. It’s not my job to tell you what political decisions to make. But what I am going to tell you is this:

 

Be “mighty men.” Your sisters are desperately waiting.  

Am I Beautiful, Daddy?

     Yesterday I was sitting at the dining room table, hard at work. I was preparing my lesson for one of the campus ministries I lead, and my children were in the living room a few feet away. On the television, one of the many inane kids shows was blaring just loud enough for the neighbors to hear. But I was in my own little world, consumed with my work. Just on the outer corners of my consciousness I registered that a silly song was playing, and in my peripheral vision I could see that my two-year-old daughter was dancing. This sort of thing happens all the time; she loves music.

It’s very common to see her waddle like a baby penguin or clumsily spin whenever a song starts playing. In the moment I was not sure what it was that caused me to look up from my computer. Looking back, I know it had to have been the Holy Spirit, tapping me on the shoulder and telling me that there was something far more important for me to see than the apologetics website I was reading. I glanced up over my screen, grinning as I watched Marisol twirling and bobbing happily to the music. I wasn’t sure if she realized that I was watching her, because she seemed to be just as lost in her world as I was in mine. But then it happened: the song on TV ended with a squeak and she spun to face me, smiling ear to ear and with eyes sparkling like starlight. All at the same time, she was bashful yet expectant. Her waiting gaze revealed that she knew I was watching, and though no words were spoken I could hear loud and clear the question that her little heart was asking: 

 

“Am I beautiful, Daddy?”

 

     Tears welled up in my eyes. I rushed over to her, swept her up in my arms and covered her with kisses. She’s still learning how to talk, and can’t yet put together full sentences, much less verbally express the yearnings of her soul. But I knew exactly what she was waiting to hear. She’s at an age where she doesn’t yet have words, but she also doesn’t have pretense. She hasn’t yet experienced the pain of the world. She hasn’t yet had to face the intense, daily pressure of being a woman, and living up to impossible and ever-changing cultural expectations of beauty. She hasn’t yet born the pain of rejection, or cried the tears of heartbreak. She hasn’t learned yet how to be cynical, knowing that the world is filled with disappointment. She’s never stared at herself in the mirror through tear-filled eyes, checking off a mental checklist of perceived flaws. She’s never had a boy play with her emotions, only to continue on past her. 

     It breaks my heart so much as I realize that someday she will face these things. There will come a day when the innocence of youth is replaced by the learned patterns of self-preservation. I wish that I could protect her. I wish that I could snuggle her to sleep on my chest for the rest of her life, keeping her safe in my arms from all the world’s ills. I wish that she could stay my baby girl forever, naïve to the pain, dancing in her pretend castle to all the silly songs. But I know that that’s not how it works. I know that she’s going to grow up, and experience all the things I can’t protect her from. She will grow up in a fallen world, she will have her heart broken, and she will have to wrestle with questions of self-doubt, self-image, and self-worth. I can’t keep her from feeling pain, as much as I desperately wish that I could. 

     But I also know that that’s not really what she needs from me. She doesn’t need me to be the one to satisfy her soul’s deepest questions, because only Jesus can do that. Only he can be her true knight in shining armor, saving her from sin and death, assuring her that she is worthy of love, that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, and that she is made in the image of her Creator. She also doesn’t need me to try to keep her sheltered from the world forever (though for a few years I will). Like it or not, she’s going to grow up and be an independent woman. She’s going to face all that the world is going to throw at her, and sequestering her away from that is not only impossible, it is also counter-productive, and not at all what is best for her. 

     But I do have a role to play. I do have a wonderful, painful, joyful, tears-and-laughter-filled job. I get to be the one who shows her how the Heavenly Father delights in her, so unspeakably proud of who she is. I get to be the one who shows her how a woman should be treated, letting her watch as I love her mother as Christ loves the church. I get to show her that girls are strong too, and that she doesn’t need a boy to make her complete. For now, I get to snuggle her to sleep, dress her up like a “Pincess” and help her find her favorite shows on YouTube until she learns how to spell them herself. I get to be the one who prepares her and equips her to face the world, and to be the steadfast voice of love and validation in her life when everything else is uncertain. I get to be her father and her friend, teaching her, guiding her and loving her unconditionally. 

      And in those moments when she dances to a silly song for the hundredth time and asks me with her eyes, “Am I beautiful, daddy,” I get to be the one who runs to her, squeezes her, covers her with kisses and tells her over and over and over…

 

Yes, my sweet little Marisol. You are so so beautiful. Daddy loves you so much. 

Doggone it, "Oceans..."

In 2013, Hillsong United released the song "Oceans" as a single on their "Zion" album. Before long, it became one of the most popular worship songs in the world. For 50 consecutive weeks, Oceans was the number one song on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs list (which is a record) and has remained in the top three ever since. The song ranked as high as 3rd on the CCLI church licensing list, and as of August 2016 is 14th on that list. The song has been performed on The Voice, and even Selena Gomez has said that she listens to it in her dressing room. 

So... basically everyone has been singing this song. If you've been in church in the last three years, you've probably sung it too. But here's what a lot of people don't understand when they sing songs like "Oceans:" God can hear you singing it, and he's keenly interested in whether you actually mean what you're singing. 

We live in an entertainment saturated culture. And we're flooded every day (see what I did there?) with catchy songs that have a great beat and memorable lyrics. "Oceans" is one of them. But the truth is that we often sing those catchy songs while giving little thought to the meaning of those memorable lyrics. (as a fun activity someday, take the Billboard top 10 and just read the lyrics in a monotone, with no music or melody. You'll be like "how is this popular??"). If you were to stop and examine the lyrics of "Oceans," you'd realize that this is not a song that you should sing simply because it's catchy; it's a song of prayer, asking God to stretch your faith by taking you into very difficult situations. Seriously. Take a look at these lyrics:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior... 

I mean, honestly. Read those words. Do you not see that this is a prayer for God to take you way out of your comfort zone? These words are literally asking God to take us to our breaking point, further into difficulty than we thought we could bear. This is no happy-go-lucky ballad asking for sunshine and rainbows. It's a prayer for God to test you and stretch you. Then there's the chorus, which is no better: 

 "I will call upon your name, and keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise..."

Yo, that chick is about to drown. If we replace those words with less poetic words that mean the same thing, that song would be sung like this: "I will scream 'jesus help me' and try to focus on you when I'm being sucked under water." Admittedly, that version isn't as catchy. It's got much more of a near-death-experience vibe. But here's the truth folks: that's exactly what the lyrics of Oceans is conveying. It's asking God to put you out in open water during a violent storm. It's asking God to put you on the boat in the Sea of Galilee, when the tempest is so bad that you've been rowing for hours but can't make progress because the wind is blowing so powerfully against you. And if you sing this song, and mean what you're singing, God will answer that prayer. 

There's a running joke between my wife and I about this song. Two years ago, Alison and I requested that "Oceans" be played during our last service at our previous church. We were about to embark upon our move to South Bend to plant The After Church, and leave behind everything and everyone we had ever known. So we sang that song, and, thinking we understood the risk, we meant what we sang. Boy. Did God ever answer our prayer. 

This church planting journey has been incredibly rewarding, but most of the time it has been so difficult. I work three jobs to make ends meet. There have been times when we weren't sure how we were going to pay the bills. Both of us have experienced a level of fatigue that feels like walls closing in to crush us. So often we have felt like we are completely alone in the dark, wondering why on earth God brought us here, and asking "Why aren't we seeing any return on our labor, Lord?" We'd expend all kinds of effort trying to raise funds, only to see nothing come to fruition. We'd train up leaders, only to see them move away. We've felt like we're constantly playing Hot Potato, with one deadline after another, one ticking time bomb after another, one catastrophe or unanswered prayer after another. And in each of those times, as Alie and I hold each other crying, one of us will chuckle through our tears and say "Doggone it, Oceans. This is our fault for singing that dumb song." 

But in the midst of all the wind and the waves, in the midst of the storm and the strain, there's a desperate beauty to all of this. We often give Peter a bad rap for losing faith, and many times we teach that passage of scripture from the perspective of "Don't be like Peter! Keep your eyes on Jesus!" But if we're not careful, we miss one of the most incredible parts of the story: Peter actually walked on water. Even if only for a few moments, he WALKED on WATER. Out of faith and divine lunacy, a completely normal man climbed out of a boat, threw all common sense and logic and reason to the wayside, and because of the power of Jesus walked on water.  That's insane. And incredible. And so beautiful. Even without the storm, it would have been an incredible story. But how much more beautiful it becomes when one considers that in the middle of the storm of the century a guy stepped off his boat and walked on water toward Jesus. 

And that's the other thing this song is about. It's about going "where feet may fail," but also how in "oceans deep my faith will stand."  Right now, The After Church is two weeks away from our official public launch on September 18th. We've felt the beating of so many waves, but as I sit here in Sufficient Grounds Coffee House, this is one of those beautiful moments where I feel like we're walking on water. God is performing miracle after miracle, putting all the pieces together, and building something glorious.

Have you ever experienced that side of "Oceans?" The rain is pouring, the thunder and lightning are deafening, and the darkness is overwhelming, but oh my God I'm walking on water. And I know that sometime soon, God will calm this storm. Sometime soon, the sea will be like a sheet of glass again, and the blustering wind will be replaced by a gentle breeze. But right now, he's showing how powerful he is compared to the storm, assuring me that no matter what comes my way he is bigger. Assuring me that he even holds hurricanes in his hand, so when a hurricane comes my way I have no need to fear. Assuring me that even when things are at their hardest, even then, if I keep my eyes on him, I can walk on water. 

The funny thing is, there have been and will continue to be people who sing "Oceans" on a Sunday morning, and then when the storm comes on Monday will look up at God and scream "What are you DOING??" I can almost picture God saying "Isn't this what you prayed for yesterday? I'm doing what you asked me to. This is what 'trust without borders' looks like." 

I'm not telling you to stop singing "Oceans." It's an incredibly beautiful and visceral song. But I am saying this: stop and think about what you're singing. Consider whether the beauty of walking on water is worth the pain of the storm. And think about the goodness of God, even in the worst of times, knowing that storms give us the unshakable confidence in how much more powerful he is than anything the world can throw our way. 

Take it from me, friend, as I stand with my feet firmly planted on the crest of the surf: the journey of faith is worth it. And I can also promise you this: one day you'll find yourself in the middle of a storm with tears rolling down your face, but then you'll start to chuckle and you'll say, "Doggone it, Oceans. I should have never sang that dumb song." 

Now you can listen to sermons and subscribe to our podcast!

Greetings and blessings! 

I'm pleased to announce that through the wizardry of technological advancement, you can now listen to listen to our weekly sermons and Bible Studies via this website or via our sparkly new iTunes Podcast. I know. It's like some kind of sorcery! Anyway, this post will be the first of many, so buckle up! Below you will find the first of a two-part series entitled "Vincenzo and the Sorcerer's Stone." Thanks for listening! 

Simple wisdom from my (almost) 4 year old

Sometimes the best advice and perspective come from places you'd never expect. Like a 3 year old. But God used my little Eli today to teach us a very valuable lesson. 

As I'm sure most of you can identify with, Alison and I have a monthly (sometimes weekly) ritual: look at the bills, look in our bank account, stress out hardcore. It's a dance we've perfected from practice, though we'd love nothing more than to get off the dance floor. Every time it seems like we're going to get ahead, something sets us back. This month, it happened to be the fact that I'm not getting enough hours at work, and we've got both kids' birthdays this week. We also have family coming in town, and for some reason our credit card bill is coming due early. So, like every paycheck-to-paycheck month, the dance began. Alison sat down in her chair and started to cry. She looked at me through her tears and pleaded, "do you have any advice to get us through this?" Much to my dismay, I was at a loss. 

But our three year old was not. 

He walked into the living room and saw Alie crying and said, "mommy, why do you feel crying?" When Alie didn't answer, Eli sweetly said, "don't worry mommy. I'll get you a tissue." Upon returning with the tissue, he said, "Mommy, I need to tell you something." We looked at him, expecting what would normally come out of his mouth (something about ninja turtles, dinosaurs or Sharknado), and said "what son?" 

"First of all," he said, "I love you. You're my favorite. Daddy is my favorite too. Second of all, Marisol is the sweetest girl for our family. And lastly, but not least, you answer my questions when I'm talking to you." 

While Alison and I struggled to keep a straight face at his usage of "lastly but not least," Eli continued: "Ok guys. I'm gonna pray now. I'm gonna pray for our family." 

He bowed his head, folded his hands, closed his eyes and prayed a simple, beautiful prayer. "Dear God, thank you for our family, so that we all love each other. In Jesus name, amen." 

He then gave us both big hugs and kisses, told us he loved us, then asked "can I have a snack and a drink?" 

Though he may not have articulated it the way that an adult would (although you have to admit, he's pretty articulate for a three year old), Eli reminded us of a powerful lesson: we have the Lord, and we have each other. That's all that matters. God has richly blessed us in so many ways that we take for granted in the hard times, and we need to remember to stop and be thankful. Eli doesn't have a worry in the world, because he has simple faith that his needs will be met. Today, he turned our eyes back to Jesus and reminded us to have that same faith. We are in the hands of a God who loves us richly, so we can rest easy, and have a snack and a drink. #perspective

In Matthew 6, Jesus said, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear... For the pagans run after these things, and your Heavenly Father knows you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." 

I don't know what you are dealing with today. Whether you are on top of the world, or worried about where your next meal will be coming from. But I do know this: we have a God who loves us with an indescribable love, and when we place our faith in him he will father us with his grace. Life won't always be easy, but God will always be good. 

I have been given the task of leading my family spiritually. But today, my three year old son did that for me. Matteo Elijah, I'm proud of you son.