Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Recently I came out in support of Kanye West’s conversion to faith in Christ. Read that again. Slowly. I support his conversion, his profession, his faith in Christ…

Not any of his past. Not any of his present antics. Not his political choices. Not even every spiritual sounding thing he says. I support his very vocal, very well-articulated, very public salvation experience through his acknowledgement of his need for Christ, and faith in His work.

Am I skeptical of Kanye? Sure. I’m skeptical of anyone who wants something from me – whether that’s my purchase of their album (which I did), or persuade me to give them my vote (which I never do).

Here are some observations I make about people who sincerely receive Christ into their lives:

  • They can’t shut up about Him! Whether we’re talking about Biblical characters like Zacchaeus (Luke 19), or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) – people who get saved by Jesus, are consistently compelled to share Jesus. Kanye – in true Kanye fashion – has not stopped talking about what Jesus did for him. That rings true to me.
  • They are reckless in their abandonment of their old life. Peter got called by Jesus to follow Him (Matthew 4), and Peter literally quit his job on the spot! Walked out on his fishing business with his dad to follow Jesus. Kanye is an artist, but he’s an artist who made millions promoting godless, moral-less anthems. Since his faith experience, he’s put all of that reputation in jeopardy. Maybe more accurately, you could say he’s crucified that life with this new faith.
  • They have to do something! I mentioned Zacchaeus earlier. Zacchaeus was a legal thief, a.k.a. tax collector for the Roman government. When he encountered the love of Christ, he made a decision to pay back what he took unjustly from others, with heavy interest. Kanye writes music. He’s using what he has. In his words, from God Is, “I can’t sit here and be still, everybody I will tell, ’til the whole world is healed!”
  • They are messy. Almost every new Christian is messy. Some more “mature” Christians are messy! Basically we’re all a just a forgiven mess. But my point is, that new believers are still figuring everything out, and how to die to themselves everyday. And that’s not easy! Kanye, and those who celebrated his faith, came under fire when a quote he made about himself being the “greatest artist God ever created” came out. Yeah, that’s arrogant! But I also know that with all the publicity he’s gotten lately he was bound to say something stupid eventually. Wasn’t that everyone’s point? Isn’t that why he keeps getting attention, because people are more interested in seeing him fall, rather than succeed in his faith profession? Shame on us.

I would never feel any compulsion to support everything someone does or says – a celebrity whom I’ve never met, least of all. And Kanye is no different. But what I will defend – literally to my last breath – is that Jesus died for everyone. And absolutely anyone who turns from themselves to Christ’ work on the cross, His death and resurrection, is fully and utterly redeemed by God. Whether that person is a politician, rapper, college student, “cradle Christian”, or LGBT+. That is what I’m supporting. That is where I’m coming from.

What Kanye needs right now is grace and discipleship, which I hear he is receiving. I hope that’s true. What we need, fellow Christians, is to actually stand on the gospel – and it’s power to save absolutely anyone. Heaven will be filled with people with sketchy pasts. You and I included. We just might not have to figure our new faith out on a worldwide stage.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Let’s talk about depression: part 1

Let’s talk about depression: part 1

What Depression is NOT

After attempting to commit some necessary thoughts to writing, I realized this was way bigger than a post – it needed to be more of an on-going conversation.

Recently, I confessed to my staff, church family, and those who follow me on social media that I have been actively struggling with depression and that it has been particularly difficult this past year. 

I’m still not ready to get into most of the details of my battle, but I will share a few things about my story: 
   1.  It’s been a lifelong battle.
   2. I’ve been to the brink of suicide. More than once.
   3. Talking about it has helped. Like, a lot.
   4. Jesus is stronger than my struggle.

“Jesus is stronger than my struggle.”

Let me begin this conversation with a couple of thoughts on what, I’m convinced depression is not…

1.  Depression is not evidence of being far from God. I’ve heard it all. Someone actually said I needed to repent of my depression. Oh, trust me! I would love to if that made it go away! I’m a pastor, Christian counselor, and coach to other pastors planting churches. One of the greatest ironies of my journey through depression, has been these rare moments, often when the darkness feels the strongest, that I feel the presence of God in more clear, compelling ways than ever. In many ways, depression has drawn me closer to God. And if that’s the price of knowing Him more intimately, I don’t just accept my depression, I rejoice in it. His grace is sufficient, and I glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. You see – these verses are fun to quote until the “thorn in the flesh” is taboo – like a pastor admitting to depression.
2.  Depression is not an age issue.
Yes, I struggled with suicide and depression since my teen years – but I’m over twice the age I was when I nearly ended my own life. I’m not a millennial – in fact I’m closing in on 40. Since sharing my depression publicly, I’ve had literally dozens of people – mostly men, and many of them pastors – who have shared their struggle with depression. A huge percentile of these people were older than me, been in ministry longer than me, and some had confessed to suicidal thoughts also.
3.  Depression is not predictable.
I consider myself very self-aware. I’m as comfortable with questioning my instincts as I am trusting them. And there’s few things as frustrating for me as feeling “wrong” on the inside, but not understanding why. Depression isn’t just limited to bad days, bad news, or bad memories. Depression can wreck your first day off in weeks. Depression can put you in a funk right before a date night you’ve been looking forward to all day. 
4.  Depressed people are not always sad. How does someone so full of life like Robin Williams commit suicide? How can a young, charismatic preacher with a beautiful family and great life end it all? Because often, those with the capacity to express the greatest joy also possess the capacity to feel the deepest pain. I’ll commit more energy to this subject in a future post.
5.  Depression is not simple.
Pray more. Read your Bible more. Exercise more. Eat better. I’ve been told all of the above, and those who struggle with depression will tell you that these things individually and collectively have immense impact on their ability to cope with, and even overcome depression. But it is almost never as simple as “gut health” or spiritual discipline. If you treat the symptoms but never get true rest and healing at the source, you’ll spend your life tired from trying to fix yourself, and getting frustrated – and more depressed. Once you finally get quiet and still, you find that the shadows of your soul still lurk, waiting for you to become even more fatigued.
•  Depression is not unusual.
Every kind of person struggles with depression. Christians. Atheists. Soldiers. Millennials. Boomers. Caucasians, African-descent, Hispanics, Asians, wealthy, poor, educated, uneducated, and every other variety or amalgamation of the above. It hasn’t been talked about enough. There’s been too much shame associated with it, and as a result, many people who could have gotten help didn’t. This has created two effects that I see: 1) People with depression have felt isolated and more alone than we know to be true, and 2) because of this, few people know where to turn for help. 

It’s time we break the silence, and begin the conversation. It’s time to talk about depression. I still believe Jesus is the only Healer of our broken world and broken hearts, but we’ve got to be honest about the problems, if we’re ever going to accurately apply the solution. 

I’m John – a pastor, husband, and father with a great life. I struggle with depression. Let’s talk. 

People versus Projects

People versus Projects

People“When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion…” Matthew 9:36

While crossing the busy street to the shopping center across from my neighborhood I ran into two men holding signs misquoting Scripture of God’s wrath and literally yelling at people driving in traffic past them. That was bad enough. But on top of that, they were handing out very out-of-date “tracts” that were nothing more than goofy black-and-white comics depicting Satan tricking people into Hell. All in the name of “soul-winning”. I can’t make this stuff up.

In addition to their yelling and sign waving, and tract handing – I watched one of them, the younger of the two, approach a woman unsolicited and tell her that she was a sinner before God, and that if she didn’t repent of her sin and tell God she was sorry and believe in Jesus she would go to Hell. He then attempted to lay out three “simple” steps to salvation and get her to believe in Christ in less time than it took for the crosswalk lights to change. All without this woman wanting to participate.

As he continued his diatribe, the look in the woman’s eye compelled me to do something. So I leaned over, gently got the lady’s attention, and told her, “Ma’am, I just want you to know that I’m a pastor of a church nearby, and we’re not all like this guy. There’s at least one church here that cares about you. You matter to God and you matter to us.” In less than 1 minute of talking with her I learned her name (let’s call her “Sarah”)*, a piece of her story, and that she would love to connect with a sincere, caring church.

Before that minute was up she was asking me where my church met, what time, and could she come. I was happy to oblige her. I meant what I said about her mattering to us.

As the lights changed, she smiled and thanked me before crossing the street. Then the young man took an interest in me…

Long story short, he was rude, abrasive, and almost entirely uninterested in me as a person. He shared with me that “they” (his church) had led 710 people to believe in Jesus over the last three years doing what they were doing here on this busy street corner. Not one of which he could name, when asked, citing the fact that he talks to “so many people” that it was impossible for him to keep track of all their names. So I just asked him if he knew the name of the one woman he was just talking to… he didn’t know her name either. He didn’t know that she was hurting. Or that she actually grew up in church. Or that her name was Sarah*. Or that just caring a little bit about her might have given him the chance to speak life over her instead of condemnation.

He didn’t know because he didn’t care. She was just a project to him, not a person with a story, and a heart, and real needs.

I found out that this man was actually the pastor of the church he represented. A church that, according to him, consists of twenty people. Twenty. That have supposedly led 710 people to pray a prayer at a crosswalk. None of which he can name. Small churches are fine. A small church is one thing. Being rude, weird, and hostile to strangers is quite another.

The only people that Jesus got hostile toward, were the religious hypocrites of His day who were more concerned with advancing their agenda than loving people. I know these people mean well, but they’re missing the forest because of all the trees in their way. Or, as my post title suggests, they’re missing the people they could be ministering to because they’re too busy with their project.

Now, I’m not Jesus, and I’m not about to get on the hate-train against this man or his church. I’m not even going to name them. That’s not my style. But I want to be clear about this:

Jesus is not like that. His church is not suppose to be like that. And as best as we know how, LifeCity Church is never going to be like that. We choose to speak life – to let God’s Word and Spirit flow through our speech and actions in such a way that people get a glimpse of God’s heart because it’s beating inside of us.

Whoever you are, and whatever you’re going through we care about you and your story. We care about the pain you’ve experienced and dreams that you hold onto. We care about your family. We care about your struggles. We care about you. We want to learn your name and hear your story.

And if we get the chance and you realize that you can trust us, we hope to share why we care so much about you – because you matter to God and you matter to us.

We hope you’ll come see that for yourself. If someone has ever treated you like this man treated Sarah*, I’m so sorry. And no, not all churches are like that.

Yes, we believe you need Jesus – that we all need Jesus. But we would rather demonstrate that in person than yell it from a street corner.

 Blessings,
Pastor John

*To be clear, her name is not Sarah. But yes, I learned her name. 🙂

Looking Back – Moving Forward

Looking Back – Moving Forward

Forward

“This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls…” Jeremiah 6:16

Happy New Year! 2014 is officially upon us. I don’t know about you, but 2013 was one of the best years of my life.

– I said goodbye to the best sending church in the world.
– I made the biggest, most anticipated move in my life.
– My family was joined by 6 other friends and fellow ministry partners.
– We began the groundwork of launching a new church in the San Jose, CA area. (more…)

Before you know God’s will…

Before you know God’s will…

Gods willTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:1, 2

Without a doubt, the greatest thing I get asked about as a pastor is something along the lines of, “How do I know God’s will for my life?” It’s a fair question. And it’s one that I’ve wrestled with most of my life, also. People have often asked me stuff like the following:

  • How did you know which college to go to?
  • How did you know Tiffany was “the one”?
  • How did you know God was calling you into ministry?
  • How did you know God was leading you to start a church?
  • How did you know God was sending you to California?
  • How did you know you were suppose to wear that shirt? (ok, this one, less often.)

Well according to Heb. 11:1, “knowing” any of these things is a stretch at best. You cannot “know” for sure anything God calls you to accept on faith. But the bigger reality check is that, despite all of the mystery and wonder we put to knowing the specifics of God’s will, what God really wants for each of us, is very clearly spoken to us in His Word.

No, God didn’t answer any of the above questions for my life in the Bible. He gave me answers to more important issues than the details of His specific will for the “what” to do with my life. He gave me the divine ways for the “how” I should live my life.

In Romans 12, Paul tells us quite clearly -even begging us- to submit ourselves as a “living sacrifice” to God, and that doing so is both “holy” and “pleasing” to God. When we do this, we live in such complete submission to the ways of God, that we understand this is our “true and proper worship.”

He goes on to contrast this way of living a life of worship by telling us not to be conformed to the “pattern,” or ways, of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This “transforming” comes from our regular submission in our hearts to God’s ways.

But we want DETAILS! How do I find the answers to all these important life questions?!? Paul tells us that as we submit ourselves as living sacrifices to the ways of God, then He will lead us into the perfect will of God. In other words, as I obey God in what He has revealed, He will guide me in what He has concealed.

God’s will is a subject too broad for me to understand in my own life, let alone explain it in yours. But what I do know is this: As I walk in God’s ways, I will always be in His will. That’s why Paul can tell us later in 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you want something for reasons that give God glory, go for it!

It still might not work out the way you think it will. But Romans 8:28 reassures us that, “All things work together for good, to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.”

When we were first telling our kids that we were moving to San Jose to start a church, my little girl, Kali, asked, “I thought we were going to California?!” I had to explain to her, “When you’re in San Jose, you’re in California.” The same is true of God’s will – when you walk in God’s ways, you’ll always be in His will.

So what should you do with your life?! Whatever you want to,… as long as you are doing so out of a love for God and a desire to bring Him glory. He’s got the details of getting you to His will under control.

Blessings,
Pastor John