Driscoll and Ditches and Dirt and Us

As an old-young man: There’s some things I don’t wrestle with anymore.

Yet there’s other things that have my psyche crippled like a Rhonda Rousey armbar.

Ten, OK maybe two, years ago I would gladly jump into a variety of online political or apologetic debates. Acting like my two cents was a million bucks I’d weld philosophic catchphrases like a Thor Hammer:

“Out of context!”

“Straw Man!”

“Ad Hominem, sir!”

Driscoll is wrong and so is everyone

I don’t inject myself into those blog comments and Facebook threads anymore. Maybe it’s life taking me by the shoulders and shaking some sense into my big ornery head. Maybe I’m blinded by the apparent planks protruding from my own eyes. Maybe that sounds humble-bragish, it probably is.

But my mission has become more simple lately. To love my beautiful pregnant wife as the Bridegroom has loved the church. To rear my sons and model manhood to them in a way that makes them see their daily need for Jesus. To put to death the nasty flesh that still lurks around the corners of my own heart. To sow into fellow strugglers and friends the gospel seeds of grace. To teach and coach in such a way that my students and athletes will see that life is bigger than school and sports.

If I strive to do these well: How will I have time to be the interweb keeper of theological/political/philosophical/ecclesiastical/whatever fidelity?

I’ve admittedly spent too much time on Twitter and Facebook (just reactivated) this last week of my summer. One common article theme was regurgitated within my social media circle: The scandal(s) of Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church outing of Act 29 Network.

Five years ago I would have cared a lot more about this cultural Christian news. That’s not to say I don’t care, because there’s still a latent scandal-seeking rubber necker inside me scratching to get out. But there’s too many battled and bruised souls (including mine) in the world to give two rips about the latest fabricated scandal. You could replace “Driscoll” with “Gungor” here and nothing would change about my sentiments.

This isn’t a just Christian problem. It’s a human problem. If it wasn’t Mark Driscoll or Gungor for us it’d be the Kardashians or Jay Z or insert some other political or celebriscandal.

What we humans end up having is a strange echo chamber of faux outrage towards fresh juicy news about public figures. And we almost never really know the people we rage against. Their public persona is largely made by the marketing whims of others. So we breathe our own fiery rhetoric into the heated reactions to reactions all clamoring for anonymous interactions with people we don’t care to meet or know.

If I may corner my own “tribe”: The online Christian community spends so much time and energy being angry at people they don’t know or never will meet I wonder how they have any time and energy to love the people they do know and meet everyday.

I believe the scandals we long to gaze into say more about us than the people involved. Maybe we want to see a chink in the armor of the best among us. Maybe if we peer close enough we’ll see through the shiny marketing and find a soul that’s hemorrhaging a bit like ours. A fellow sinner stumbling in the dark yet desperately reaching for the light.

We need to know the imperfections of our perfect. That we’re not alone in frequently falling into the ditches our own shovels have dug.

I’m with you.

And I believe grace lifts us out of those ditches again and again.

And it enables us to help lift others. The nearest ditch faller is the one we run towards. The souls closest to us need the hand of grace we’ve found in Christ. Not our self-righteous posturing, just our honest forgiven self.

I may pull you out today. Tomorrow I’ll need you to pull me out. It can’t be from afar or from the safe confines of a raging online persona. Let’s make this commitment to one another:

We’re gonna have to get dirty at some point.

Bryan Daniels

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Idol Factories and The Beautiful Calling of Lay Ministry

 “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”-John Calvin

My propensity to prop men up on unwarranted pedestals knows no bounds. You could call this personal bent “idolatory” if you aren’t in to word mincing. So far from being shiny portable statues, my golden calves look more like the mega conference pastor/speaker with book deals and podcast fame. I functionally bow down to them with my time with every perused blog and heard sermon. At conferences, sometimes these anointed men sign bibles and babies on their way to a five figure honorarium (do I sound jealous yet?).

I’m thankful for these men of the Word who throw down the gospel hammer like Thor on their speaking circuits. I aspire to be as bold and clear with my gospel presentation as they are.

There’s nothing wrong with being a keynote public speaker, and there’s nothing wrong with making some green for your services. We should feed the oxen well for its gospel labor (1 Timothy 5:18). What is awry is our cultural inclination to ascribe the cult of celebrity to a normal dude who burps after meals and puts his britches on like the rest of us. Like Jesus sprinkles a little more Holy Ghost dust on his words than anyone else’s.

We don’t have a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem but we’ll frequently follow the same conference headliners around like fundamentalist fan boys.

And this pernicious worldview has seeped into the church where the leading servant (pastor) has become the leading CEO, Educator, and “professional” minister.

The lay ministry hemorrhages when an assumption is made that real ministry is for the pros and not the Joes. This may not be an explicit message but it is implicit in the way any church handles the pulpit, worship, or prayer ministry. Who dominates these positions on Sun AM, Sun PM, and Wednesday nights (or whenever)?

Are the average saints being equipped to serve or are consumers being fed to fatten?

One unintended consequence hardly ever considered when vocational ministry becomes cultural Christianity’s main path to real ministry:

Young men quietly resolve they are either “called” to seminary/pastorate or they are left with a life less significant. A vocation less meaningful. A calling less radical.

As a result we’re left with fledgling pastors in the pulpit who could have been excellent businessmen, artists, public servants and teachers in the world. Because they’ve accepted the false dichotomy of ministers/members a lost world is a little less salty. Yet it doesn’t get more radical than shedding gospel light in offices, neighborhoods, stores, and the particular corner of community they’re in Mon-Sat.

At least in the Bible belt, we’re no longer just seeing a church on every corner, we’re seeing a church plant on every corner. The traditional First, Second or Third Baptist Church has given way to more catchy titles. Buildings bloom but the deficiency remains.

I’m only submitting this: Maybe we don’t need more men ordained into vocational ministry but more men enthralled by a vision of anointed lay ministry.

People need to hear and be empowered by the gospel of grace, and then live it towards everyone they meet. They need to know that this everyday ministry of grace is every bit as significant as the church elder’s ministry.

Beloved, your ordinary faithfulness to Christ is extraordinary. Your name may never be on a marquee but it will assuredly be written where it matters most (Luke 10:20)

So take heart my lay brethren and sistren.

Bryan Daniels

When Your Gold Glove Performance Begins To Rust

 

When I was eight years old I played machine pitch baseball for the Southern Electrical youth team. I was a chubby kid with a bowl cut and a penchant for daydreaming about the free post game Capri Sun while playing center field. Sometimes I was relegated to the dreaded right field where MLB aspirations and souls of children die.

But I found myself kicking dirt in the center field the night of “the catch.”

I heard a metal pop and my eyes focused on the white comet approaching my little atmosphere. I started running full tilt, the fastest my Pony’s have ever run, towards the descending ball. It was about to touch down in no man’s land, the dubious region between the left fielder and I. A sure double for the batter.

But not tonight.

With the ball feet away from the ground I dove head first, full extension, glove outstretched Ken Griffey Jr style. My eyes were tightly shut as I heard the smack of leather and felt the grass and dirt rub past my cheek. I was so shocked I caught the ball I almost forgot to hit my cut off man to hold the bases. Blind dumb luck of a catch.

It was early in the season and it was one of those catches that wedged in the memories of my coaches and teammates. Every line drive or flyball within a mile of me was expected to be hunted down effortlessly with the skill of a trained assassin. My coach even gave me a nickname after the game: Bryan “Sure Hand” Daniels.

The moniker didn’t stick for long though. I could never replicate my amazing anomaly of a shoestring catch. Routine fly balls were routinely fumbled and line drives were misjudged enough to turn singles into triples. “What happened?!” my outfield teammate would ask, perplexed at my sudden lack of basic hand eye coordination. I still get a sense of anxiety catching practice pop balls to this day.

My short-lived identity as a circus catch artist took the wind out of my sails. My waning passion for baseball flatlined as my sports value before my coaches and peers plummeted. My performance didn’t live up to their expectations. And deep down I knew their expectations were built on a fluke catch.

I still struggle with this performance mentality.

The fight of our Western age may be the fight against this performance mentality.

Not the fight against hard work mind you.

Performance.

We are hardwired to conflate what we do with who we are.

We earn “As” in school so we are bright. We earn a nice paycheck at work so we are succesful. We workout at the gym so we are fit. It doesn’t get much better than being the most athletic, rich, and smart person in the room.

What others have labeled us becomes our identity and soaks deep down into the soul level. And we’ve earned these labels. With sweat and ingenuity and talent. With our performance.

This ethos has seeped into the church under the pseudo name of “excellence.”

Nothing can be more lethal to our spiritual life than adopting this performance mentality into the gospel of grace. We’ve earned nothing and are given everything through Christ. We bring nothing to the table yet we are given a seat of honor at the Wedding Banquet table to eat of pleasures forever.

Performance is damned before the Son who perfectly performs our salvation for us.

Yet we try to impress people with our performance in religious matters. With our knowledge of Scriptures, church attendance, giving, serving, or even our children’s obedience. Or the fact that our family looks like a Stepford model of the American Dream. At least on Sunday mornings and important social functions we can pull off this tenous facade.

We’re not fooling anyone. Especially not the One that matters.

So my fellow right fielders can take heart:

We don’t have to keep despairing on the stage of human approval. We can quit acting out an identity we never truly believed. We’re broken, insecure, dense, weak, flat-out failures sometimes.

We may even be notorious for watching ground balls dribble between our legs.

But we’re loved no matter what. And we’re forever beneficiaries of the performance another. So sit back and drink that in. The Capri Sun will be worth it at the end of this treacherous game.

Bryan Daniels

After The Resurrection: He Cooks Breakfast For You

 

The days between the Resurrection and Ascension are a peculiar narrative to me.

Jesus drop kicked death and beat the hell out of hell for us with His atoning death and resurrection. With the empty tomb, this God Man performs the greatest comeback in human and divine history yet he doesn’t shout it from the templetops or wag his finger before his political adversaries. The Risen King takes an unasumming posture among regular folk.

He didn’t waltz into the temple to gloat in front of the chief priests. He didn’t appear at Pilate’s palace to preach a living gospel message to the disturbed Roman governor. He didn’t invite gawking droves to the Palestinian hillside so they could marvel at his newly restored body. He doesn’t seek a megaphone or a platform.

In short, he didn’t do anything I would have done.

His time is limited to a few more days on earth, yet curiously, he’s in no hurry.

He first appears near his gravesite to comfort a lowly lonely woman.

He appears on a roadside to educate two perplexed pilgrims on the way to Emmaus.

He appears in a private meeting room to encourage a handful of his distressed disciples.

He stops by for breakfast. He eats fish and chips and and drinks coffee with his boys. He chills next to a campfire on a beachhead. He holds conversations, he meets face to face, he tarries with friends. For 40 days he carries on this way.

I’m encouraged: Jesus didn’t reveal himself to royals but to regulars. And in the gospel he crowns the broken regulars with eternal royalty. (1 Peter 2:9)

And in that 40 days of seemingly random encounters: I wonder if Jesus is giving us a hint at what resurrected power looks like in a normal human life. We assume the power given us should be Avenger-esque. Supernatural gifts with a special capacity for healing, demon slaying, water walking, and maybe even laser beams. We’ve put the Holy Spirit’s resurrection power on a mythical unreachable pedestal when it’s reduced to rare manifestations.

But the greatest, most anointed, Superhero who ever died and lived again shows up to restore broken relationships (John 21:15-17), disciple the hopelessly ignorant (Luke 24:13-35), give hope to the deeply grieved (John 20:11-18).

Real resurrected power pours itself into broken vessels with acts of self sacrificial service. It’s not in a hurry. It’s not clamoring for greater numbers or a bigger platform. Resurrection power looks like a normal human being loving on, living with, and being present with other normal human beings.

And so,

I’m glad He still comes to and raises up normal folks in Resurrection power.

I’m glad Resurrected normal folks can still share His power with supernatural simplicity.

Bryan Daniels

Skinny Jeans, Roaring Lambs, and Prophetic Names

The interwebs are a strange unpredictable beast. You may cut your blogging heart open and bleed it all over the keyboard and get a drizzle of a hits. Or you may submit a silly tongue and cheek cultural meandering about the unfortunate prevalence of men in skinny jeans that causes an SEO stirring.

In blogging, you just never know.

I have taken an extended hiatus from consistent blogging since the beginning of the summer. Other than a post per month or so, I’ve been too busy or too bleh to sit down and organize coherent thoughts. But a blog a few years old with a decent amount of content brings anonymous search engine perusers to my neck o’ the woods on a daily basis.

So here’s, by and far, what people have searched for and found on “Chief of the Least” during my summer (and now fall) Sabbatical. In order:

Why I am Thankful for Men Who Wear Skinny Jeans

“When I saw the disgusting fad grip the nether regions of young men 4-5 years ago I assumed it would fizzle away like Val Kilmer’s career (I guess you could never top Doc Holiday anyways). But it hasn’t gone away.

The grip is just as tight today…..”

I Wish You Could Have Sat In That Room That Night

“In addition to being an educator at a public high school, I’m also an assistant football coach. Last weekend, we took 50 players to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes full contact football camp. The camp included spirited scrimmages, upbeat services, and plenty of team building time. On the last night the speaker gave a gospel invitation to come to Christ. Twenty four student athletes from our team alone stood up and came forward as they professed their need for Christ…..”

The Revelation of The Lion Lamb Man

We left the dejected apostle, stricken with grief, with no hope in our last blog post (Revelation 5:1-4).  But an angelic elder comes to comfort John in the very next verse.

The first figure John is introduced to is a Lion(verse 5). A lion is a beast of prey; the noble creatures are strong, majestic, and dangerous. You don’t fight with a lion, you submit to a lion. Lions aren’t hunted as prey, they are hunters.

Christ, like a lion, devours His enemies. The book of Revelation displays Christ as a sword wielding horse riding warrior with a tat on his thigh….”

Naming Your Child: Prophetic?

“Names were rich in meaning in the ancient days. You didn’t just name your children wily nily whatever-sounds-good-at-the time names.

A hodge podge assimilation of syllables or fleeting cultural icons would never do for a child’s name way back when (ie I’ve ran across more than one ”Nike” or ”Mercedes”). A regrettable upward trend in 2010 girl baby names shows that “Kendra” and “Kourtney” with a “K” are becoming more popular among young parents. Why? Because of the notorious reality shows of Kourtney Kardashian and Kendra Wilkinson (former playmate).

In the olden days of biblical history, a child’s name held a certain foreshadowing weight to it….”

So there are the top 4 search items of “Chief of The Least” as it has remained relatively passive in the last few months. I assure you, “Chief” Daniels is busy, with family and school and football and other important life items. I appreciate your continued interest and readership to this little blog project despite its dry seasons.

His peace and grace to you and yours,

Bryan Daniels

God Have Mercy on Pakistan…And Me

85 innocent lives were taken in a horrific calculated firestorm of broken stone and flesh. 130 year old white walls brought to rubble along with the lives of dozens of Christian Pakistani men, women and children. The words written above the sanctuary door where the smoke settles and the anguish now rises:

“I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.”

I pray He will soon for the sake of His maligned bride.

Certainly He will when the great white terror of terrorists rises like a polar bear to protect her cubs. He’ll establish a rule where Pakistani 5-year-olds don’t have to worry about being ripped apart by flaming shards of hardware while they sit in Sunday School and learn about Noah.

He will.

But now is not the time for fantasies that would pay back this incoherent tragedy with our own brand of incoherent fallen vengeance.

Broken compassion is the apt response. A deep spirit groaning cry that maybe can only utter a simple 3 word refrain between sobs: “God have mercy!”

and I can’t help but feel this too:

In the comfortable safety of Western church walls,

where I’m prone to complain about service length,

musical styles,

sermon substance,

uncomfortable seating,

a fledgling A/C unit,

a noisy child,

a grumpy old man,

and a general lament of the playing of house politics.

God have mercy. on. me.

I’ve taken for granted the freedom I have in getting to complain about such trite incidentals. There are parents in Pakistan who only have the burnt remains of tiny sandals to remember their children by.

God have mercy on me.

I’ve forgotten the genuine cost of a cross. And I’ve forgotten the joy of it. The other worldly joy that can still rise triumphant over a church brought to its bloody knees, yet clinging to the unvarnished promise:

“I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.”

And He will.

Bryan Daniels

 

 

 

Dirt Wars and The Bane In Us All

(I’m considering on devoting some of my summer time to completing a manuscript, with chapters and such, out of the theme of this post. This would be the incomplete rough draft of Chapter 1)

When I come home from work everyday, I’m ushered into an epic battle royale. Spiderman and his sidekick, the yellow power ranger, have put me in their sights. It may happen right when the door is opened, after dinner, or after bath time. But the beatdown is inevitably coming, like a Mark Wahlberg face off with the Mickey Mouse Club. Their barrage of face racks, shin kicks, chest hair grabs and ear piercing squeals cripple me on the ground.

Their request is unrelenting, “You be the bad guy, you be the bad guy!”

Once on the floor I’m open game. From my mock fetal position the two year old Ranger slaps the back of head, the four year old Spiderman canonballs from the couch into my side. We all collapse into a heap of justice and giggles.

Once upon a time it was Cowboys and Indians, now it’s Transformers and Decepticons. The principles are the same. Little boys are hardwired to admire heroes and abhor villains. They know inherently both are required in any storyline worth playing out. Both are a reality.

Children see it clearly with every nursery rhyme, cartoon, bedtime story and newsreel their parents watch. For them, it’s painted in disarming black and white. It’s expressed in unpretentious terms.

We need a hero.

Because

We have a villain.

When I was a child it was the Allies v Nazis. As the Cold War came to a crumbling end in the walls of Berlin, our youthful ire would also at times be directed to the “Commies.” Either way, we’d find the closest empty dirt lot in the neighborhood and quarter off our teams on opposite dirt hills. Armed with foot long PVC pipes we’d strategize our attack on how we’d take each enemy hill.

If you’ve never fought a dirt war you’re missing out. Stick the PVC pipe three inches in fill dirt and fling it towards your target like you’re throwing a football. The dirt will spread like buckshot and can be accurate up to 35 feet. If you’re a decent shot you can temporarily cripple your opponent with an eye blast for a good thirty seconds. Once you’ve taken the final Nazi hill a Dresden like bombardment on the cornered enemy will surely lead to total surrender.

Of course, instead of conducting war tribunals we’d go back to our buddy’s house and drink Capri Sun while playing NBA Jam (no way John Stockton could jump that high).

The bad guys always intrigued me. Whether it was Shredder, Darth Vader, The Joker or Wile E Coyote. Their dark motives fascinated me as a child. Other than that gut level attraction I didn’t have anything else in common with them. I was a suburban kid from a good family whose greatest crime against humanity was hiding his mom’s Victoria Secret under his bed. A diabolical scheme to rule the world didn’t quite resonate with me, but yet their twisted masterminding did in a way captivate me. The bad guys had layers of complex psychotic struggle that was supplemented by a brilliant maniacal laugh. The good guys were usually monolithic do gooders with a boring personality and cheesy smile.

As much as I love Captain America’s patriotism, his vanilla projection looks more comfortable playing in a ‘50s sitcom than battling the Third Reich. His pure All American motives and neatly parted hair made him a dull boy to me. In American cultural conscience, this is probably why a tormented protagonist like Batman exceeds Mr. Red, White and Blue in phenomenon.

How we view bad guys on the silver screen is one thing.

How we view bad guys in actual life is another.

When we hear the names Adam Lanza, James Holmes, or Dylan Klebold a romantic understanding of the word “villain” quickly wanes. But our collective fascination remains. When a heart rending tragedy like Newtown, Connecticut happens, our whole nation becomes transfixed not on victim, but perpetrator. Psychoanalyzing abounds, political posturing picks up steam, and prophetic voices lament a culture of violence in video games. Bystanders blame media, media blames the NRA, and the NRA blames Call of Duty. And the cycle descends into an incomprehensible shout match on network news between talking heads on opposing teams.

Surely, it’s okay to debate the state of our mental illness industry or gun control policies. But these are symptoms of a much greater disease. A disease that spreads and permeates into the recesses of our hidden dreams and nightmares.

Another word becomes apparent in all the intricate philosophizing of the tragic account. A word so blatantly clear we only mutter under our breath for fear of sounding like an ignorant child gripping dark age fairy tales dismissed long ago:

“Evil”

On public airwaves, this word is on the no fly list.

Not just evil in an abstract sense, “out there.” But evil in a tangible personal sense, “in here.” Not evil in the actions of sociopathic men, but evil in the heart of socially conscious me. This childhood intuition that intimates there are real heros and real villains is closer to truth than the educated meanderings of PhDs and lawmakers

And it’s not just something to curse out there.

It’s in me.

It’s in you.

There’s a Bane in us all. It can’t be excised by a surgeon’s scalpel or exorcised by a psychologist. This is always the world’s way. Manipulate and rearrange the outside and you have fixed and healed the inside. Like a zombie with an extreme makeover. For a time, behavior modification may work.

But the way to reach and conquer evil in hearts of men like me is not outside in.

It’s a track altogether impossible.

It’s from inside out.

Thankfully, there is one who majors in the impossible realm. He flows (super)naturally and effortlessly through the hidden recesses of the dark heart.

Jesus is the only lasting answer for terrorism and terrorists, wars and rumors of wars, fanatics and bigots.

Jesus takes the impossibly hardened heart and melts it like wax with his blood covered grace.

It’s before him that all superheros and villains and everyone in between must bow in awe.

Where perfect justice and hope for a better world is not just a comic plotline, but eternal reality.

Bryan Daniels