Redneck Christmas

Redneck Christmas

“Basstrackers, bayliners and a party barge, strung together like a floatin’ trailer park, anchored out and gettin’ loud all summer long. Side by side there’s five houseboat front porches, astroturf, lawn chairs and tiki torches. Regular joes, rockin’ the boat that’s us, the Redneck Yacht Club!” Craig Morgan
When someone uses the term “redneck” they may be referring to the rural blue collar working class, or those who work an hourly, manual labor job. This song represents one of my favorite summer pastimes. While many people like to go to fine resorts on vacation, I prefer solitude on a pontoon boat. While some prefer a crystal clear concrete bottom chlorinated pool, I prefer the natural beauty of the cloudy algae and mucky bottom of Lake Koshkonong. While at the Kosh I often think about the story of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5 when he was angry he couldn’t go wash in the “clean waters” of Abana or Pharpar, but instead had to go wash in the “turbid” (thick with suspended matter) and “discoloured” waters of the Jordan (Ellicott’s Commentary).
And then Jesus comes at Christmas. Wouldn’t you think the Creator (John 1:3,10) would arrive in the finest and most beautiful accommodations the earth could offer? I’m thinking the Omnipresent One should be oceanside! The Prince of Peace is by the palm trees! Or the Messiah’s on the mountain! Yet we read in Luke 2:8-12, “there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” The manger is a cattle crib, a feeding box, an animal stall. It’s referred to earlier in the Bible as the place the oxen live (Job 39:9, Pr 14:4). And later Jesus refers to the manger as the place your donkey lives (Luke 13:15). Our friends the dairy farmers scrape the manure out of the “manger” three times a day! As Mike Rowe would say, it’s a “dirty job.”
Shepherds were held in low opinion among the people in those days. Commentaries tell us the shepherds were not even allowed in the courts or marketplaces. Commentaries also suggest that the sheep intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple were fed in the Bethlehem pastures. Some commentators suggest the angel came to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks because they cherished the traditions of David’s shepherd life, and were expecting Christ to someday come to Bethlehem. This “exaltation of the humble and meek” reminds me of Samuel coming to David in the field in 1 Samuel 16. God told Samuel regarding David’s brother Eliab, “Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature… For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then they send for David, who was “keeping the sheep.” The Bible says he was the youngest, or the least, the weakest, the most insignificant, and the Lord told Samuel to anoint him as king.
Philippians 2 says we should have the same attitude as Jesus, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Hebrews 12:2 says we should watch Jesus, who “endured the cross, despising the shame.” If you’re with me so far… washing in the Jordan might have been disgusting. Being born in a manger could be considered embarrassing. And there’s shame in dying on a cross.
Jesus says in Luke 20:46, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” So far I’m liking the teachers’ way of life a lot better than Jesus’! The marketplace Jesus refers to is where assemblies are held, the place the shepherds weren’t allowed. Today’s marketplace may be a courtroom, business convention, mall, or church. This past summer a journalist was barred from the Speaker’s lobby outside the House Chamber because of what some said was “selective enforcement of the dress code, which only calls for professional attire” ( Americans love to be respected and are quick to point out when we think someone isn’t dressed respectfully for the marketplace!
Christmas Eve services are one of the most highly attended church events of the year. Many get dressed up in their nicest clothes to go to their beautifully decorated concrete sanctuaries to hear a white collar religious leader encourage us not to miss finding Jesus this Christmas.
The Bible askes me tough questions this Christmas. Do I prefer to find Jesus at a clear pool or turbid river? Do I think I’ll find Him at a clean conference room or a smelly barnyard? Do I think I’ll find Him as a white collar religious leader, or a blue collar “redneck” shepherd? I hope everyone participates in corporate worship this Christmas. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if I miss finding Jesus at Christmas Eve services I’m a part of leading?


Governing Guardians

Who Are You

I remember when a dear friend pulled me aside after church. He was very uncomfortable and as he began to speak he became more and more upset. He was very angry about something happening in our church and I felt he was attacking me! Have you ever experienced surprising interpersonal conflict? Have you ever experienced conflict with church people? “In a survey asking how exited pastors experienced stress in their ministry, role conflict was a top ranked producer of stress second only to conflict over how ministry was to be done in the church.”1
I’m learning that many of the conflicts we experience may be better understood if we learn about one another’s personality types and spiritual gifts. I will share one often misunderstood personality type and one often misunderstood spiritual gift as examples of how we can learn to understand one another better.
One sometimes misunderstood personality type as classified by the Myers-Briggs personality inventory is the “guardian.” The Myers-Briggs has four measures of personality: Extrovert/Introvert, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving. David Keirsey in his books exploring personality types based on these measures, calls a person with the “SJ -Sensing and Judging” combination to be a “guardian.” Keirsey suggests the personality type “guardians make up as much as 40 -45% of the population.”2 “Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, hardworking,”2 and “loyal.”2 They are “dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials, customs, and traditions.”2 They “sometimes worry that respect… even a fundamental sense of right and wrong is being lost.”2 They “have a sharp eye for procedures”2 and are “cautious about change.”2
Beyond this, Keirsey classifies people with the ISFJ personality combinations (Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, Judging) as “guardian protectors.” He says, “we are lucky that guardian protectors make up as much as ten percent of the population, because their primary interest is in the safety and security of those they care about.”3 “Protectors have an extraordinary sense of loyalty and responstibility,”3 and “prefer to make due with time honored and time-tested procedures rather than change to new.”3 “Protectors value tradition,”3 and “are seldom happy in situations where long established ways of doing things are not respected.”3 “They are frequently misunderstood and undervalued… as their shyness is often misjudged as stiffness, even coldness, when in truth they are warm hearted and sympathetic, giving happily of themselves to those in need.”3 Those is church leadership should be intentional about seeking to understand and appreciate the “guardians” God has placed among us. This is just one example, as there are at least 15 other personality types we need to learn to understand and communicate with.
When we look at spiritual gifts, one sometimes misunderstood gift is the gift of administration. I Corinthians 12: 1 says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts I do not want you to be unaware…there are a varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Down in verse 28, God tells us he has “appointed in the church… gifts of… administrations” or governments (Kubernesis 2941). This gift enables a person to “organize”4 and see things that need to be made right in the church. They have a strong sense of the best way to do something. They have the ability to “steer, or govern”4 areas of the church. This is a very important gifting and one that the church needs to flourish.
However, most pastors do not have this administrative gift. “Barna reminded us that preaching and teaching are the primary giftings in nearly 70% of all pastors, while leading and administrating are found in 15% at best.”5 Most pastors have teaching gifts or shepherding gifts, and this is where it gets interesting: teachers and shepherds often have conflict with administrators. Pastors and leaders without this gift need to learn to appreciate and understand those with the gift of administration. I would suggest that pastors and leaders without this gift need to find someone with this gift and empower them to help the church be as fruitful as it can be. Likewise, I would suggest to administrators: “Sometimes (those with the gift of administration) have to watch that they do not overstep their authority and expect the pastor or others in leadership to follow them.”6 They should also be aware “they often do not admit to mistakes.”6 The best use of the administration gift is to “harmonize the whole program,”6 and keep everyone on the boat until it makes it to a safe harbor. We all need to appreciate the gifts in others, and learn to communicate with and empower leaders with different gifts. This is just one example, as there are at least 18 other spiritual gifts we need to grow in understanding.
As an extroverted idealist teacher, I am blessed to have introverted guardian protectors in my family. We don’t communicate the same, but we love each other! And as a church leader, I have been blessed to have been helped by those with gifts of administration. Often the voice of concern, I find there’s often a great deal of wisdom in that voice.
Looking back at the conflict with my friend, now I would guess he has the personality type of guardian and maybe the spiritual gift of administration. His anger was created out of his fear for the wellbeing of our church, and his concern that things were not being done in the right way. Arguing with him, or meeting his anger with my own upsetness was not going to help. He needed to know I had heard the concern he felt for our church. It’s only when someone feels heard that they can be willing to hear a differing opinion. He also needed to hear that I cared about him and his opinion. 1 Corinthians 12:25, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
I care about people. And when we disagree I’m learning to “hear” through each one’s personality type and “hear” through their spiritual gift. I can care for people I am different from, even if we disagree. I hope they can care for me too.

1 Wickman, Dr. Charles A. Pastors at Risk, 2014.

What To Wear

What To Wear

Recently one of our family members came out of their room frustrated saying, “I don’t have anything to wear!” For many of us we have pretty strong opinions about what we wear. We have our favorite outfits. We feel frustrated if the clothes we want to wear aren’t available And worse yet, we get upset if someone like our spouse tells us we can’t wear that!
I’m part of a very diverse church that includes men who wear suits, women who wear hats, men who wear shorts and crocs, and women who wear jeans. Occasionally I will hear conversations and opinions about “What is appropriate for church?”
Recently I was reading about a missionary to China named Hudson Taylor. He struggled in obscurity and isolation for many years. “One day a man asked Taylor to explain why he had buttons on the back of his coat? Taylor realized then that his western-style dress was distracting his listeners from his message. He then decided to dress like a Mandarin, a Chinese teacher. He was amazed at how dressing Chinese allowed him to travel more freely and be accepted more readily by the people. Taylor’s goal was not to have the Chinese become like English Christians, but to have them become Chinese Christians.”1
This presents many questions for me as an American pastor. The first set of questions may include…Do I expect people who come to our church to dress like me? Do I show respect for God when I dress up for Him, or do I show respect for the gospel when I dress down for someone who doesn’t know Christ? Do I show respect for God when I judge what someone else is wearing as legalistic or disrespectful? And are dressed up Christians more reverent than casually dressed Christians? Or are casually dressed Christians more relevant than dressed up Christians? And should we come to a conclusion on those questions and pick one or the other and expect everyone at church to dress that way? Or are we all missing the point?
In reflecting on Hudson Taylor’s ministry I think the second set of questions may be, “Am I willing to change the way I dress so someone could come to Christ? “Who are the lost people God is calling me to bring to church and how do they dress?” And what do they hear by the way I dress?
I confess for me honestly, I get so distracted debating the first set of questions, I don’t think I know the answers to the second set of questions. And maybe that is what is really disrespectful to God and His Gospel?
In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel saw who he thought he was supposed to anoint as the next leader, God intervened and said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7
This is what I know, I hear a lot more about what man looks at than I do about what God looks at…

For other articles by this author see


What is Love?

“What is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.:” –Haddaway
I’ve heart a lot of opinions about love in my lifetime and I would sum up our world’s definition of love as relationships void of pain. But is a relationship void of pain really full of love?
After a difficult ministry season my wife and I went on a quiet retreat. I had experienced great conflicts, unfair accusations, and was held in resentment by people close to me. While normally pretty resilient, I was beginning to crumble inside. I spent time in prayer asking God to immerse me in His love and give me the courage to continue in these difficulties. It was then I found myself singing an old hymn.

The Love of God is greater far than any pen or tongue can tell.
It goes beyond the highest height and reaches to the lowest hell…
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky…
The love of God so rich and pure, so measureless and strong,
it shall forever more endure, the saints and angel’s song.

He reminded me that responding to the love of God would guarantee that people would hate us (1 Jn 3:13), and that to continue in this loving relationships with Him by faith I might feel abandoned by Him from time to time (Job 13:15). His loving plan for my life might even involve painful experiences (2 Co 12:8). Dr. Henry Cloud points out in Boundaries in Marriage that “ just because someone is in pain doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad is happening…. (Is it) pain that leads to injury? (Or is it) pain leads to growth?” I realized the pain I was experiencing was not leading to permanent injury, even the fact that it led me to cry out to God was indicating it was pain that was leading to my spiritual and relational growth!
I prayed that He would cast me so far into the oceans of His love that I couldn’t swim back to my flesh even if I tried. I prayed that He would plunge me into the depths of His love so far I couldn’t swim back up to the surface of earthly resentments even if I was tempted to.
In “The Lego Batman Movie” the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is the villain Batman hates the most. Batman says to Joker: “I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to entrap me into a relationship.” Joker says to Batman, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” And Batman replies, “Me too.” To which Joker replied, “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer!” I sat there considering whether you can hate without acknowledging love? Can you be an atheist without acknowledging there is something not to believe in?
The Bible doesn’t define love as the absence of pain. Infact, Jesus willingness to experience a painful crucifixion is His demonstration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life.”  Sounds painful to me!  The Bible defines love as the absence of fear (1 John 4:18).  So while love may involves pain, we don’t have to be afraid of the pain.  Love covers a multitude of pains!

for more articles by this author see

Are We Too Sympathetic?

balance is the key

Have you ever felt exhausted caring for others?  Ed Stetzer reports that “90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.”  Many would say they feel called to carry out the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The word agapao (love) focuses on preference, “choosing God’s choices and obeying them through His power, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection.”  We can choose to love ourselves the way the Lord prefers and love others in the same way!

All too often, being sympathetic to others involves feeling stressed, stimulating the “sympathetic” half of our nervous system.  Our sympathetic involvement in the frustrations, conflicts, griefs, and difficulties of our neighbors, often causes our sympathetic nervous system to be in fight or flight, standing at attention, awaiting the next phone call to action.  During seasons of “sympathetic” dominance, we may experience increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased blood clotting (which causes strokes), increased blood sugar (prediabetes), increased muscle tightness, high adrenaline (which can be addicting), decreased digestion, decreased saliva production, dilated pupils (light sensitivities), decreased lacrimation (dry eyes), and cold hands.

The autonomic (automatic) nervous system, which consists of both the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) controls most of the body’s internal organs.  When the system is out of balance, in “fight or flight” too often, it causes a multitude of stress-related illnesses.  Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992).

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love.” The word fear is phobos, meaning the alarm of dread, or the need to flee or withdraw (flight), feeling inadequate without sufficient resources for the situation.  “But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
This is a good reminder and litmus test for each of us.  Love drives out fear, anxiety, and the fight or flight stress response.  Love can help us drive out sympathetic dominance, and stimulate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, or help us to “rest and digest.”  Here we experience increased saliva, increased lacrimation (tears), digestive enzymes are released, heart rate drops, muscles relax, pupils constrict.  When I am in the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, I feel at rest, able to love everyone.  When I am in sympathetic dominance, I am over-concerned about situations, and feel the need to fix things.   I am more confrontational and controlling because I usually feel “right.”  I’m afraid if I don’t fix this, we will be in danger.

I’m learning that when I find my hormonal system in sympathetic dominance, I’m not loving myself well, which means I can’t love others very well either.  All too often, however, I can’t get my nervous system back into balance.  The following strategies help to stimulate your parasympathetic “rest and digest” system: sleep or rest, exercise, solitude, massage, and hobbies or things you enjoy.  Specifically, I’ve been reading that Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic response, so you may want to take a choline supplement.

If most of your time serving the Lord is spent in fight or flight, it’s time to find the love.  Don’t be TOO sympathetic!

for more articles from this author see

Does Your Anger Show What You Value?

Wont start.jpg

I think these past two weekends we have received more snow than all last winter.  Unfortunately I’m also responsible for two driveways as we’re in between houses.  I have a snow blower at one and was shoveling the other when a dear friend offered me a second snowblower.  When the high was -2 degrees I had trouble starting both.  I pulled and pulled on the start cord until a bad word formed in the back of my head.  You know you’re having a hard time when you break a sweat trying to start in -15 wind chill.  I was tempted to take a few swings with a shovel to the snowblower but used better judgement.  Why?  Because that snowblower is worth alot to me so I don’t have to shovel! The showblower’s value to me determined how I would treat it.

When I get together with an accountability friend we both agree we get angry with closest to us the most.  It would be easy for us to blame and think it’s just because they’re annoying, but is that really what’s going on?  But why are the people we’re closest too that ones that make us the most angry?

One explanation may be because they are so close to us they hurt us the most.  Another may be because they know us so well we can’t hide how we really feel from them.  Another may be because we have so much history we get irritated quicker.  I have thought all these.  But then the snowblower pushed me too far and I was aware of how much I value it.

When was the last time I valued my wife and kids?  How about my coworkers?  Those I serve with at church?  The Bible says we should, “Honor one another above ourselves.”  -Ro 12:10. I realize I treat people at restaurants well because I don’t want them to spit in my food!  How much more should I value my family, my coworkers, and those I worship with?  Jesus death and resurrection places great value on every person, whether a believer or not.  I guess the stuff I get mad about shows me I have my values a little mixed up from time to time.  Hopefully you’re not like me!



Cleave This Christmas


 “I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need.

I don’t care about the presents, underneath the Christmas Tree.

I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know,

make my wish come true, oh all I want for Christmas is you.” -Mariah Carey

In Ephesians 5 the Bible says the relationship between a husband and a wife is a direct representation of the gospel relationship between Jesus and His bride, the church.  Recently my wife and I have asked, “what does Jesus desire for our marriage?”

In Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31 the Bible uses the action word “cleave” as the verb for marriage.  What does it mean for couples to cleave?  The word cleave means to cling to, join closely or glue one thing to another, focusing on interfacing, reciprocal relations.  And how are they to cleave?  The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that we are made up of three parts, a spirit, a soul, and a body.  I believe in the marriage relationship we need to cleave spiritually (spirit), cleave relationally (soul), and cleave physically (body).

Cleaving to our spouse’s spirit may be the hardest hurdle.  We need to pray together daily and sit in church together regularly.  In a 1997 Gallup poll by the National Association of Marriage Enhancement, less than 1% of couples that pray together daily experience divorce.  Cleaving to your spouse may look like praying out loud together once a day. And if it is hard for you and your spouse, you’re not alone, I’ve read that 92% of couples that call themselves Christians don’t pray together (FamilyLife Survey, USA)! The old adage is true, a couple that prays together stays together.  Ed Stetzer suggests also that couples who attend church together only have a 10-15% divorce rate.  For those of us in church leadership positions, it’s especially important we’re praying together with our spouse at home and being intentional to sit together in church regularly.  How are we doing cleaving spiritually?

Cleaving to our spouse’s soul, their mind and emotions, may be the first one we notice needs attention.  Spending time enjoying one another is important, and we can alternate doing one another’s favorite things.  Healthy communication is essential.  Carve out time every day to connect together relationally.  This can be asking, “How are you doing today?  Schedule a date once a week to sit across a table from one another and reconnect.  One lost art of soul cleaving in Scripture is to “bless them” verbally, exhort, or give a benediction.  The Bible says to encourage one another daily.  If you would like ideas to encourage your spouse, see and search “Encourage Daily.”  Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Advocate, and Satan the accuser.  In order to cleave to one another’s soul’s our communication needs to include blessing, encouraging, and yielding.  We will have a hard time cleaving to accusing, resentment, and contention.  Finally if one of you always has to be right or in control, cleaving to one another relationally will be especially hard.  This is why the Bible asks all of us in Ephesians 5:12 to Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  How are we doing cleaving relationally?

Cleaving to our spouse’s body only protects our marriage from Satan’s attacks.  1 Corinthians 7:5, says to married couples, “Do not deprive one another (physically), except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  That begs the question how long is a limited time?  In Exodus 19:15 Moses asked the people to obey God and consecrate themselves for three days with no marital relations.  In 1 Samuel 21:4-5 David asks the priest for bread for his men to eat and the priest says they can have the consecrated bread if they have kept themselves from women.  And David replies, “Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy.”  While three days may be a biblical suggestion, whatever you and your spouse agree is a “limited time,” please be intentional about cleaving together physically, holding hands, hugging, kissing, and pursuing intimacy.  How are we doing cleaving physically?

Some years ago when my wife and I were in a difficult time of unemployment, a dear mentor couple gave us great advice.  They told us that in the dark seasons of life when you have no money and you don’t know what God’s plan is, you can still cleave to one another.  It’s free.  And it’s biblical.  May we be intentional about obeying God’s call for married couples to cleave together.  Let’s Cleave this Christmas!

for more articles from this author see