Straight from the Cowboy’s Mouth.

Hundreds of people knelt in the audience.  The leader said “On the count of three, I want everyone to jump, raise their hands, and shout!”  Then, with hands raised high in obedience the ones who knew the songs sang the loudest, and others clapped along.  It definitely had too much of a mega-church, over-produced worship sort of feel for my tastes.  But then again, worship isn’t supposed to be about me, either.  But I had a strange feeling it wasn’t supposed to be about a sweaty, overweight man screaming “I’m gonna beat these drums like I am in bed with my girlfriend:” as the smell of cigarrettes and bodyodor wafted through the humid night air.

See, I wasn’t at a church.

I saw Cowboy Mouth perform on Saturday night, and as I told my brother and cousin when we drove away, I have only seen someone have that kind of control over an audience a few times in my life.  Make no mistake, Fred LeBlanc was a worship leader on Saturday night.  Kind of a worship leader who is a strange mix of Jack Black, Chris Farley, Space Ghost,(seriously he sounds just like SG when he talks:) and cocaine (as I twittered live from the show).

What I saw on Biltmore Avenue Saturday night was worship.  Worship of several little gods who can’t satisfy.  Gods like happiness, freedom from rules (which is in reality a new type of bondage), alcohol, and self.  At one point, Fred told us to just celebrate that “we can do whatever the hell we want to.”—the great American god of autonomy.

The Bible doesn’t discuss atheism.  It discusses idolatry.  Others have written far more eloquently on the subject, but I was struck by how true this is.  It’s not that we don’t believe in something (or someone) that is able to save us from our sin: it’s that we think that some created thing can save us from our sin (alcohol, music, cigarettes, money) or that we can ignore our sin (eastern philosophy) or that we can do enough to pay for our own sin (religion).  All three of those things are idolatry.  The last two are self-idolatry.

Fred is a very gifted drummer and vocalist, Cowboy Mouth is a very talented band, and I mean them absolutely no disrespect in this post.  I enjoyed the show, even.  But what caused me to enjoy the show was outright rejecting some of the things that he said.  I can’t do whatever the hell I want to do.  Praise the Lord I am not left to that wonderful “freedom,” since at times the things I want to do are self-destructive and wrong. Me left to my own devices is certainly not a blessing for me or anybody who comes in contact with me.

I can enjoy his talent as a drummer and singer without imagining that he will ever have the ability to save me.  I can celebrate the beautiful sounds of his music only because I am a slave to a much more beautiful God.  I can experience happiness and a taste of freedom from enjoying a cold beer on a humid July evening only because I know and love the Source of true delight who created those things for me to enjoy.

Don’t fall for the lie that says getting drunk and bucking the system while listening to New Orleans rock is the path to freedom.  It’s the path deeper into despair.  Jesus is far more satisfying, in the long run.

An addendum I wish were added to every support letter I send out.

A couple of days ago I posted a link to a letter we are sending out asking people for money for our upcoming trip across the country to minister in Santa Cruz, California.  One of my fears is that the process of raising support will be misunderstood to be solely a plea for money, or that we will be seen as insensitive.

I’m an American.  By virtue of that, I have deeply ingrained thought processes and assumptions about the nature of reality and humanity that, frankly, aren’t true.  One of the biggest of these assumptions is that independence is a virtue.  Of all of the movements in American pop culture over the past century, name one that has been a movement toward interdependence or selflessness.  Having trouble?  Perhaps only the civil rights movement and some of the hippie communes of the late 60s and early 70s were movements toward interdependence.  And even that dependence was self-serving.  Like Frank Sinatra famously sang, the key to being American is saying “I did it my way.”

So, take that assumption, and add it to the equation of raising financial support for a living.  I am, for all intents and purposes, a professional depender.  I depend on regular financial giving from people who share my passion for seeing the Christ-ian message of grace and forgiveness spread to the corners of the globe from the college campus.  Let me restate that.  I am the hands, feet, and tongue of Christ on the campus.  People that give the money are the heartbeat and life-blood of Christ on campus.  Without the heartbeat, I am shipwrecked, and without the hands and feet, my supporters are impotent.  We need each other.

I forget that fact far too often in my ministry on campus.  I try to disconnect the ministry going on from the people who are really making it happen.  What that looks like is sending out letters asking for support and then forgetting to let people in on what God is doing through them on campus.  Sometimes when I do personally engage supporters it is self-serving.  I often don’t have a mindset of service and worship as I raise support, but instead I frequently have one eye fixed on what’s in it for me.  I start to feel entitled to other people’s money.  That’s embarrassing to put into words, but it’s true.

So as I send out the letters sitting on the other side of laptop waiting to be stuffed into envelopes, I send them out with the recognition that God is doing something in me just as much as he is doing something through me.  Your financial gifts are precious to me, especally during these times of economic uncertainty.  Your giving reassures me that you place more trust in the God of the universe than the future of the American economy.  What a testimony and encouragement.  It is truly an honor to be Christ’s ambassador on campus.  God is using your gift not only to reach lost college students, but to reach me.  He is changing my mindset toward the whole process of raising support, and helping me to really begin to believe that it is developing partners far more than it is raising dollars.  My prayer is that God would use your giving to reach YOU as well.

An Open Letter to the Halloween Protest Organizer Yesterday.

I am having a hard time figuring out your target audience.  Jesus providentially didn’t have me stop at that intersection, as I’d have probably gotten out and never made it where I was going, but the signs I got a glimpse of at 40 MPH were:

Christmas = Jesus, Easter = Jesus, Halloween = ???


Avoid any appearance of evil: (didn’t catch the rest of it)

It looks to me like you are trying to convince Christians to not celebrate Halloween.  Thus making the busy intersection on Patton Avenue a less than stellar place to have the conversation.

I’d love to defend why my son is going to be dressing up (like a overly-cute giraffe) and asking the neighbors for candy this weekend, but your condescending signs that have about a 5th grade level understanding of Scripture make it difficult for me to get into the conversation.  Honestly, I have to continually check myself not to just totally blast you in this conversation.  I’m trying to love you.

Because, after all, we’re family.

I’m not mad at the participants in your little protest.  This letter is not to them.  I’m talking to the guy who organized it.  The guy who came up with (or gave the thumbs-up to) the smug, arrogant slogans on the signs, and arranged the carpool.

What is your motive, brother?  Do you want people to meet Jesus, or just become irritating religious punks?  What would be “success” for your little rally yesterday?  If people closed their doors, turned out the lights, and went to church on the only night this year that dozens of their neighbors are going to willingly ring their doorbell?  Or would success be folks pulling over to join you in your crusade against candy?

Here’s the thing.  I know that Halloween has some dubious underpinnings, and there’s a lot of occult things associated with it.  I got that.  But, to my knowledge, none of the 6-year-olds that are going to come to my house are going to head back home to sacrifice a kitten on their front lawn, or participate in a seance.  And even if they did, I could never point to my own actions as anything better.  There are two teams in this contest: (1) Bad, twisted sinners and (2) Jesus.  I’ll let you guess which team you and I are on.  For me to pretend that my not participating in the occult ritual makes me any better of a person is to totally miss the gospel.

I should further clarify.  I am OK if you feel called not to celebrate Halloween (I too was that guy once.)  What I object to is your trying to enforce what is clearly a personal conviction on others as though it were a biblical mandate, and printing signs and yelling on a street corner.  If we’d put the same amount of time, energy, and money into really engaging the non-Christians in our neighborhoods with the gospel (that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell on our behalf), imagine the outcome!

As for us this weekend, as long as we’ve got neighbors coming to our house, we’re going to give them candy.  And we aren’t going to skimp on it either.  We’ve got Snickers.  I’d love it if some of my non-believing neighbors’ kids were to head back home and say “That house over there gives out the best candy!”  As Christians, we ought to have the reputation of being the sweetest.  After all, our sins have been paid for by the most loving act in the history of the world.

Using Online Buzz in Ministry.

Last night I read/watched a great bit about how Doritos missed a real opportunity with their superbowl ad. It reminded me of how I once utilized the window of closing opportunity to reach thousands of college students in less than a weekend with a message of hope. 

And how our national Campus Crusade media team couldn’t share my story.

It was 2006, and facebook had just implemented a new feature called the “News Feed,” which showed in near-real-time what your friends were doing. I was browsing late one afternoon, and saw that three of my “friends” (a loose term for facebook acquaintances) had joined a group called “If 100,000 people join this group my girlfriend will let me have a threesome.”

I checked out the group, read the brief description of it, and noted that there were 26,000 members. Then, out of curiosity, I refreshed the page. The number of members jumped by 4,000 in just a few minutes.  I clicked refresh again.  The number jumped by 35 in less than 10 seconds. People were joining this sexualized group at an unbelievable rate.

That’s when I had an idea. We had a website designed for students looking for a safe place to investigate Christianity of which I was an administrator locally. One article on the site was entitled “Sex and the Search for Intimacy.” It was a well written piece about how sex is primarily not about pleasure or thrill-seeking, it’s about a search for intimacy that can ultimately be found in a relationship with Christ.

I decided that I would join the group and post a few links to the article on the “wall” for the group. Over the next couple of days, more than 5,000 people clicked on a link to that article, and 13 people indicated a decision for Christ after reading the article. Now, I’m not so naive as to think that a click on a link is the same thing as a commitment to Christ.  But let’s say that one or two people who came to that site left and reevaluated their priorities in light of eternity. I’d call that a victory.

A month later I got a call from our ministry’s corporate headquarters wanting to know how we had gotten so many hits. 

The next most visited site on the network had something like 1,000 hits in a month.   We had double that many hits in one day, thanks to my use of links.  When I told them, though, they were understandably hesitant to run the story.

The interesting part about the other site is that they spent hundreds of dollars on promotional pieces and online ads to generate those 1,000 hits.  I used a couple hours of time and $0 to generate more than 5,000 hits.  The power of social media (that Doritos should have harnessed last night) is that, when used correctly, you can reach a very targeted audience with your message, and not spend a dime.

Is Your View of Money Satanic?

Being the one to challenge prevailing worldviews is not easy.

In raising support, that’s precisely what we sometimes do.  When I go on an appointment and challenge somebody to join my team at $100 per month, I am challenging their worldview.  God is using me (in some cases) to rub them the wrong way, because there is nothing more fundamentally American than the dollar.  I don’t make it my goal to offend, but I do make it my goal to challenge people to something bigger than the certainly-not-almighty green paper.

Like the video I shared yesterday points out, so many Americans are treasuring the wrong things.  Goals like bigger houses, more cars, and fatter 401(k)s are choking the spiritual life out of us.  Do I think those things are bad?  Not necessarily.  But if you got defensive at their passing mention, it might be a sign you are inordinately treasuring them.

Saving for the future is biblical.  Investing is thoroughly biblical.  Hoarding and investing so that you can find your security, happiness, and purpose in a fat bank account is satanic.

I’ve even said this myself, (using the excuse that we don’t have a huge income) but I am tired of the line “I don’t give much now, but I want to invest so that when I retire I can support X number of missionaries.”  Here’s a reality check: if we aren’t giving sacrificially now, adding some zeros to our paycheck won’t make us give sacrificially then.  The giving habits we form now will be the giving habits we have when we retire.  Jacqueline and I have had to wrestle with that, given our financial position now.  We’ve got money, but we have not always been the best about giving.  We’ve rationalized it, and had spurts where we gave sacrificially, but on the whole we have not been as generous as God calls us to be.

This is not a ploy for you to give to us.  Give to Jesus.  Do you believe the gospel?  Give like it.  Here’s some places I feel confident your money would go toward the furthering of the gospel:

As always, I’ll start.  We’re going to be giving to one of the above ministries (over and above what we already have), once Jacqueline and I pray about it.

After all, there’s no better way to spit in the face of a satanic worldview than to put God’s money where His heart is.

** Update** I added the clarification “sometimes” to the first sentence of the second paragraph and the parenthetical “in some cases” later in the same paragraph, because my wife said it might otherwise come off like we think everyone we meet has a poor worldview. And she’s right. I don’t want it to seem like I am looking down on anyone. My apologies for having misspoken.