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Can I be vulnerably honest with you (since most days I’m apparently lying like a panicked politician)?

If I had lived in Jesus day.  Heard His teachings in real time.  Watched him heal the sick.  Feed the hungry.  Devour the religious elite like leftover barley loaves and Galilean lake-perch.  I’m still not sure I would’ve believed.



I wonder.

It’s so easy to read Scripture with all I know, with all I’ve learned and ingested, with the energy of my Christian culture cheering me on like a breakaway NFL running back, and feel sorry (actually more judgmental) for those that doubted.  Those that questioned.  Those that struggled to really believe this ordinary carpenter they’d known since birth was actually the Savior of the world.

Even his own biological brothers mocked Him in disbelief. (John 7:5)

Those poor ignorant people.  There there.  How could you possibly be so blind?  Wake up! They’re gonna be writing songs about this guy for millennia. Erecting Gothic cathedrals in His honor.  Seeing His face in burnt toast.

(photo from the Make Blog)

Until I stop to ponder one thing: believing in Jesus could not have been more counter-culture in His day. It would have battled every assumption, every expectation, and every ingrained impulse in their being.  Following Jesus was swimming against the current.  Like a Hollywood actor admitting he voted for George Bush kinda crazy.

For me, it’s always been 100% downstream.  I would be breaking my cultural norms not to believe. Which leads me to ask this difficult question:

Is a rubber-stamp, unchallenged, culture-pleasing faith really faith at all?

Isn’t wrestling with what it really means to be a follower of Jesus an imperative part of the journey?  Isn’t facing doubt head on a requirement for developing an authentic faith? Of having an actual encounter with Jesus?

I can attest, it certainly has been for me.

Jesus isn’t afraid of my doubts.  I’ve actually found Him quite comfortable there. Ready to show me who He really is, not just the (toast crumbed?) picture my culture Has handed me.

Do you ever feel guilty for wrestling with doubt?

Going Commando

Erik Cooper —  November 3, 2010 — 1 Comment

As you may know, I’m a churchie. I grew up in church.  Built my social networks around church.  Developed my gifts in church.  Now I co-pastor a church. (And for the record, I absolutely love God’s Church).

But even though I’ve heard more sermons than Peyton Manning has passing yards, there are still some things I’ve absorbed into my understanding of God that just aren’t true.

The biggest gaffe most churchies face is allowing Jesus to just become a culture (no offense to Kim Walker).  A philosophy to ascribe to.  An unwritten list of behaviors and thought processes that protect us from a sinful world. Like a supernatural Batman suit repelling evil as I, the dark knight, make my way through the sludge of this disgusting world into the glory of eternity.

Visually, it may look something like this:

But keeping up this facade is futile, frustrating, and exhausting (and not as appealing to non-churchies as the Batman analogy might make it seem).

So I see many of my churchie friends rejecting this “Jesus as just a culture” way of life.  Throwing off many of the ridiculous, behavior-based expectations they often grew up with.  Breaking free.  Going commando (be careful Googling that if you don’t know what it means).

And in so many ways, I love it. I’m right there with you.  Except for one concern.

At the center of this lie many of us grew up believing about God was…me. Cultural protection. Self protection. Self righteousness. MeAnd simply removing the outer layer still leaves the exact same person at the center.

Shedding lies without embracing the truth just leaves you naked.

The truth of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ comes to live inside of me. That me dies.  That Christ becomes the new center.  And out of His life flows my life.  True life.  True freedom.

“Christ lives in me.  The life you see me living is not “mine.” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I am not going to go back on that.” (Gal. 2:21 MSG)

So lose the lies.  Shed the baggage.  Go commando. Christ came so that you could be free.

Free to put Him at the center.

Cheap Faith

Erik Cooper —  June 9, 2010 — Leave a comment

If we really had the guts, some of us would have to admit our faith is cheap.

Never tested.

Rarely wrestled with.

Never sacrificed for.

Just handed to us. By our family.  Our surroundings.  Our culture.

Not an encounter with God. Just something we do.  Our lens for thinking about and understanding the world.

And like a leaf being swept down the white-capped rapids of a raging river, our faith is just going where the motion naturally takes us (or sometimes leaves us drowning against a protruding rock).

Cheap faith.

In that context, the question “why?” is an assumption-bucking question.  It’s paddling upstream.  Swimming against the flow.

“Why?” is powerful.  It can also be incredibly dangerous.

In the hands of a cynic it can breed a sense of meaninglessness, contempt, and even less trust (if that’s possible for a cynic).  But asked with the right motive, “why?” can bring strength, deep conviction, and even greater freedom.

This week at CityCom, we launched a brand new series aimed at asking “why?”  (Or in our case, “Y.” You know we just can’t be normal).  Click here to hear the audio of the opening message called “Y Ask Why?

Jesus loved to ask “why?”  But unlike the religious leaders of His day, His “whys?” weren’t aimed at protecting cultural assumptions.  Jesus’ questions cut His listeners to the core and exposed their motivesWith Jesus, it’s not just the action but the driving force that really matters.

What’s your why?

Why do you believe what you believe?

Why don’t you believe what you don’t believe?

Asked with the right motivation and within the scope of true community (like drinking alone, asking why alone may be a sign of trouble ahead), the question “why” will destroy cheap faith. Because Jesus Christ is not a philosophy to be embraced, He’s a “Person” to be encountered.

And He’s not afraid of your “why?”  In fact, He just might meet you there.


Erik Cooper —  May 26, 2010 — 3 Comments

Shame comes in all shapes and sizes:

A big zit on your nose.

A past full of brokenness and abuse.

A rip in the seam of your pants.

A failed marriage.

Silly or serious, we’ve all felt it. The exposure of a vulnerability or apparent shortcoming that drives us to run away. To cover up. To hide. And unfortunately, The Church (my church, even me personally) can foster environments of shame, even when we’re not intentionally trying to.

It makes sense. The Church, a place of grace, hope, and unconditional love, is also an environment full of expectations. Standards of behavior naturally emerge in any culture, but engaging in Church culture comes with a built-in assumption of moral superiority. We profess faith in God and innately feel our lives should reflect that (even if we don’t).

And while some shame is understandably innate, some is undeniably overt. We’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit there are many in the Church who willingly use shame as a means to control. To maintain power over people. To protect their personal preferences. To manipulate others towards their desired outcomes.

Innate or overt, when we fall short (which we always do), shame moves in. Becomes a constant companion. And shame is a horrific house guest.

God deals in conviction, not shame. Shame is based in condemnation, in pointing out deficiencies with the intent of rejecting, judging, or looking down on another. And Jesus didn’t come into the word to do that:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NLT)

Yet in so many church environments shame is still a primary motivator, filling our sanctuaries with guilty people. Hiding people. Manipulated people. Self-righteous people. Frightened people. Fake people. Or in more and more cases, empty seats.

So how do we know when God is convicting or when shame is condemning? Here’s some thoughts:

Shame is an ego-protection mechanism that focuses on how we appear to others.
Conviction is an inward re-alignment with who God is and has called us to be.

Shame conforms us to man-made expectations.
Conviction leads us to repentance.

Shame causes us to create false perceptions of reality.
Conviction leads us to openly face who we really are.

Shame manipulates and imprisons.
Conviction heals and frees.

Shame misuses aspects of truth to manage and control.
Conviction reconnects us to absolute truth.

Shame formulates outward behavioral modification.
Conviction births true inward transformation.

Shame pushes us towards self-protection.
Conviction pushes us towards Christ.

Shame asks us to do the work.
Conviction drives us towards the One who already did it all.

Which one is driving you? What is being fostered in your environments? What do you think?

As a parent, I long for my children to embrace Biblical values.  My values.  I even pray they’ll become inseparably grafted into their DNA.  Good things. God-things.

That they’ll be drawn to the right kind of friends.

That they’ll do well in school.

That they’ll have wisdom to make good decisions.

That they’ll connect to the local church.

That they’ll be smart with their money.

That they’ll discover their God-given gifts and an expression for them.

That they’ll find a God-fearing spouse.

That they’ll save sex for marriage.

That they’ll stay away from drugs and never abuse alcohol.

That they’ll learn to talk to God and gain regular insight from the Bible.

That they’ll love Jesus.

As strange as this may sound, I think it’s possible to become everything on the list above and completely miss becoming true followers of Jesus Christ. Yep.  Really.

I even believe it’s possible to “love Jesus” without truly following Him. We see it throughout Scripture.  Crowds surrounding Him.  Pressing in on all sides in ways that would make the Jonas Brothers jealous.

For inspiration.  For healing.  For food.  With needs (and some very legitimate).  With hopes that Jesus would come alongside the picture they had painted for their lives and give it a boost, fill in the gaps, create some magic.  They loved Him (at least in their understanding of what it meant to love).

But few followed.  Really followed.  It just cost too much.

So if I really want what’s best for my kids, I think I it might be time to change my prayers to different things. More difficult things.

That God would crush them.

That pain would refine them.

That they would dream God’s dreams and not just an American one.

That they would be willing to give up everything to follow Jesus.

That they would completely die to themselves in order to find true life in Christ.

That they will be alive and not just “good.”

Scary stuff.  Radical.  Dangerous.  A loss of control.  Counter-culture, even within the church (maybe especially within the church).

But longings I need to pursue, and not just for my children, but for myself as well.  Maybe you do, too?

Because it’s all too possible to embrace Biblical values from the outside-in, without ever truly becoming a follower of Jesus Christ from the inside-out. To embody, or retrain behavior, without ever truly submitting the will. To be “good,” without ever truly being alive.

For the record, I still long for that first list.  I just want it to grow through the soil of the second. Never at the expense of it.

So what do you think?  Is it possible to embrace the values of the Bible and completely miss Jesus in the process?