The Beautiful Death of American Gospels

I remember Juan.

He was a retired Puerto Rican doctor in his seventies who spent his retirement pouring out his life for the people in the slums of Caguas. His mission house fed the poor a warm lunch everyday and provided free healthcare to the community. He worked like a young man in his prime when he wielded a machete to clear the land for a new mission down the road. He greeted virtual strangers with a smile, a hug, and maybe even a kiss on the cheek.

When asked how much money he needed for repairs on the mission house, Juan beseeched our group,

“You Americans always send money and think that is the cure. We don’t need money, we need missionaries!”

I remember Peter.

He was a middle aged Romanian man who served the youth in one of the few Protestant churches in Timişoara. We stood on a Romanian hillside overlooking the retreat building our group was staying at for the week. Peter beamed with pride as he testified about the building: twenty years ago this was a Communist schoolhouse built to indoctrinate children in name of Marxism. Now it is a Christian camp center dedicated to love children in the name of Jesus Christ.

At the end of our last service at the camp, our American group decided to wash the feet of the Romanian children and adult workers (John 13). One woman, a kitchen helper and parent of a youth, wept uncontrollably as she had her feet washed. When asked what she was so moved by, she said:

“You being Americans, wash our feet!”

I was touched.

And part of me grieved.

Why would Americans be on an undeserving pedestal in this woman’s mind?imagesCAXMI4QO

I wondered what influence the “American” gospel had on her. Even third world countries are reached by the satellite tentacles of TBN, Daystar, 700 Club, etc. How is a malnourished Indian kid who eats dirt brownies supposed to process a purple haired lady sitting on a golden throne asking for money?

How is a poor Haitian boy who witnessed his parents die after a sudden earthquake supposed to process a rich old white man who says God judged his nation because of its religious history?

Was it even the prosperity gospel the Romanian lady heard?

Or was it the gospel of American pride/nationalism even some of my Baptist brethren preached?

Our American heritage said we were a city set on hill, their heritage said they were a Slumdog languishing in the valley.

What she needed to hear was this: She was a precious child of God, a beloved bride, a chosen saint in a Kingdom without end. Everyone in that room was on equal footing; we were all crippled by our sin until God stooped down to us in Christ and lifted us up.

We weren’t Romanian brethren and American brethren. We were brothers and sisters, period. Blood bought adopted kids with the same Father. We were joined with an unbreakable bond that transcended culture or language.

Though our pasts are diversified, our future will be unified in one glorious end. This will be the utter death of all our pet gospels:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)

Amen.

Bryan Daniels

Stepford Pastors And The Messy Real Thang

Maybe it is our natural-born propensity for idol worship. Or the cult of personality that our American society succumbs to on a daily basis.

In modern Christianity, we love to love our rock star/Podcast pastors. Not that any would accept that moniker outright. But they are on a stage. In front of adulating thousands. With a semi truck of best-selling merch and CDs. In some cases they are even asked to autograph Bibles….and babies…..Ok not really.

But I am guilty of this.

I have a few sermon jam faithfuls I’ll crank up as I lull off to Sleepytown. If I see a Piper or a Chandler headlining a respective event my interest gets piqued by 63%. Even though it is a gospel message I want to hear from them, sometimes I wonder if I’m treating the Holy Spirit like a little fairy that sprinkles its pastoranointing dust a little more liberally on men who are in my ITunes queue.

So we’ll spend hundreds of bucks, travel hundreds of miles, and devote an extended weekend of our time to go hear these super apostles of our modern faith wax to thousands. But we (ME!) can hardly rub out the eye boogers and roll out of bed before 9AM to hop down the road to hear a local ordinary shepherd minister to us weekly in the flesh.

The Podcast pastor has commentaries, conferences, and well, podcasts. That local stiff has awkward jokes, a dead blog, and bad breath when he tries to pray over your family at the altar.

Slick marketing and our own fallen flesh have made a Podcast Pastor who is not real. Shepherds don’t exist from afar, in comfortable digital seclusion, safe from the sheep they are shepherding. First and foremost, the only way to truly Shepherd is to be. with. the. sheep. Carrying the sheep with broken legs, wrestling out the one’s stuck in mud, warding off wolves with ulterior motives. Try doing this from the sanitary confines of a conference stage…the professional lighting is so blinding you can’t even see the sheep from there…

Don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble here: But Platt/Piper/Giglio/Stanley/MacArthur/Driscoll/Chandler/etc. don’t know you, and they’re not the ones that have been entrusted to personally feed you and care for your spiritual well being. I bet their poop stinks too, just like yours.

It’s not the podcast pastors who are the problem (of course I’m a hypocrite and would love to be one). It’s the fanboys like me who construct a false idol out of them that never errors, always loves, and has an inerrant grasp of the hypostatic union. These aren’t real men with real ministries we’ve made, they are nice clean Stepford Pastors.

Shepherding, and the local church for that matter, is messy business.

And Jesus, the ultimate Shepherd, revealed God’s unwavering personal love for the messiest souls. The blood and dirt at the foot of the cross is a good place to get clean.

I’m almost positive God has entrusted a local pastor over your care somewhere in your neck of the woods. The dude’s not perfect. Neither are you.

This Sunday, how about giving him a mint and thanking him for choosing to get down and dirty with you? I bet that’s what your PodCast Pastor (and better yet, Heavenly Shepherd) would want also.

Bryan Daniels

Pretty Much My Exhaustive View On The End Times….

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Bryan Daniels

A Pre-Emptive Strike Against Thanksgiving Gluttony (and Dairy Queen)

I wrote something like this last year after the Thanksgiving festivities…I thought I’d share it this year before we gorge our bellies ; )

Buzzin’ on Grape Juice

Church culture intrigues me.

I am always curious as to how inconsistencies or contradictions are birthed in church traditions and cultural Christianity. Alcohol consumption is just one example. Especially in my own tradition (Baptist), abstinence from any alcoholic beverage, no matter the temperance exercised, is a prerequisite for any church leadership position. It is written with permanent ink in the church bylaws. And though this would be another post topic, I can never reconcile how drunk people in John 5 thought Jesus saved the best wine for last if He was only serving up watered down grape juice.

While we strain a gnat out of our wine glasses, one “camel” that is commonly overlooked in cultural churchianity (especially the Southern flavor) is gluttony (Leviticus 19:18). Yes, Thanksgiving is a celebration of faith, family and provisions (as it should be), but it has also become centered around ginormous meals that include ungodly amounts of red meat, lardy gravy, casseroles, sugary pies, and sweet tea. It is a time to brag about caloric intake and the intestinal fortitude it took to force down that last bite of pumpkin crunch.

I consume enough each Thanksgiving to get sick to my stomach for the rest of the evening and well into the night, the ache only subsiding after a couple BC powders and Sprites.

It’s not just during Thanksgiving.

Follow my example…to the buffett…

Look at church leadership. When was the last sermon you heard from the pulpit condemning the sin of gluttony? Even worse, when is the last time you saw a pastor who was clinically obese preaching from the pulpit, a likely persistent indulger in the sin of gluttony?

I’m always reminded of the story about the interaction between CS Lewis and a well-meaning pastor. The Pastor beseeched CS Lewis to quit his unseemly habit of cigar smoking, being it was such a nasty inelegant act for a Christian leader. Lewis quipped back to the portly pastor, in effect, “When you lose the fifty pounds you need to lose then you can come talk to me about bad habits.”

Many rotund pastors will rail against drugs, sex, and rock & roll without a batting of the eye, all while carrying their idol before the congregation within their size 44 waistband. Since when does treating our body as a temple only have to do with premarital sex and masturbation (1 Cor 6:19-20)? Of course it is wrong to murder, but why is it OK to slowly kill ourselves with our poor lifestyle habits?

It’s not just my Baptist brethren.

Supernatural Jenny Craig

No lie: I heard a personal account of one pastor in the apostolic/prophetic movement who was counseling a young single lady who should be considered medically obese. She suggested to the pastor that she felt she needed to lose weight and find a man. The pastor told her, “Don’t worry about that. God is going to grant you supernatural weight loss very soon, and you will find a man soon after that.” (!?!?!)

Do huh?

I don’t have time to address all the glaring problems with this miracle “cure” and the irreparable damage it may do to this girl emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Not only is that pastor making an irresponsible and whimsical false promise with no biblical truth in it, he is putting that woman’s very life in danger. Instead of speaking into her life a healthy lifestyle change (and the pitfalls of gluttony), the misguided pastor gave her a quick lightning bolt fix she would rather hear (tickling ears); Supernatural weight loss sounds better to me too than eating broccoli, tuna-fish, and sweating my butt off….

I’m not saying we should elevate gluttony and food excesses above any other vice, just a call to make an honest evaluation as to why we overlook some sins and not others. As with everything, it is not a physical issue but a spiritual issue. Addictions come in all forms, the most subversive types are usually the culturally accepted ones.

Thankfully, the gospel of Jesus Christ heals all addictions; and always gives grace towards our daily indulgences.

But as new creatures, if we are called to crucify the flesh (Galatians 2:20), that would seem to include the syrupy sweets and fried fatties we take with gleeful gratitude into our flesh. How would a dead man (or lady) react to the temptation to “super size” or “have it your way” when the opportunity daily presented itself?

To be crucified with Christ in part means the dynamic sway of Dairy Queen has died to us.

To be honest, I don’t like that. Because, after all, Dairy Queen has some really tasty fried onion rings.

Bryan Daniels

Happy Fourth Birthday My Josiah and Practical Mother’s Day Gifts

My oldest, Josiah, is four years old today. We’ll celebrate at his Papa and Mickey’s house with some of his closest church school friends with tractor rides, slip n slides, jumpy jumps and lots of cake.

Josiah is one of my only earthly joys. When our eyes met for the first time in the delivery room four years ago it was love at first sight for me. I met a tender bundle of helplessness and I knew instantly I would die and kill for him.

Now he’s into big trucks, big tractors, football, Power Rangers and Transformers. In fact, I have him convinced that the lead Transformer character is named after his dad: Optimus “Bryan”.  Children truly are a blessing from God, and I start every night’s bedtime prayer with him so as not to forget, “Thank you Jesus for this boy, he’s our precious lover joy….”

As tomorrow coincides with Mother’s Day I asked Jessica what she wanted from the boys. She has worked tirelessly the past week organizing the birthday party, building her own cosmetic business, and keeping the household afloat. She said with little hesitation: “Not flowers or candy. Do the dishes and laundry for me.”

Well, I’m about half-finished with that gift as of writing this, so I better get back to work.

Peace and grace peeps and remember to be in the Lord’s house this Lord’s Day.

Bryan Daniels

One Year Ago Today….Happy Birthday, Gideon

One year ago today

A mighty warrior born

With eyes wide open

And flame on his head

the hope of enemies torn

One year ago today

the fruit of covenant born

A king at his side

A gavel in hand

Old wisdom battled and worn

One year ago today

A blessed baby born

I beamed all the day

She laughed til she cried

Deep blue stones calm as the morn

One year ago today my second son, Gideon Bryce Daniels, was born. My wife and I are so blessed to have two healthy beautiful boys and a wealth of extended family around us. When I say “wealth” I mean it in the better sense: We are very “wealthy” people. And trust me, it has nothing to do with my teacher pay (Rick Scott will make certain of that). It has everything to do with the abundance of God’s gracious blessings to our family.

If some of the imagery in the little poem above is not registering for you, this article may help. It’s a post I wrote about “Naming A Child” that explains the reasons we chose “Josiah” and “Gideon” as our sons’ names.

God bless you and keep you this Lord’s Day,

Bryan Daniels

Levity For The Weekend: Official Worship Signals

I’ve seen this snazzy little hilarious diagram floatin’ around the internetz this past week. For context: I grew up in a traditional Baptist church, currently attend a charismatic Methodist church body, and I follow the ministries of many Reformed Presbyterian guys. For reasons I may explain in another post, I loosely consider myself a “charismatic with a seat-belt.” I have seen, or can empathize with, all the “worship signals” in this model. I got a chuckle out of the Baptist warning at the bottom.

These signals are all courtesy of the brilliant comedic mind of Tim Hawkins. Here is my favorite skit of his. It’s a classic in my book:

Other body signals I have witnessed in my respective worship experiences: The Gaither family toe tap (has been known to cause turf toe in Southern Baptists). The reverse Running Man Pentecostal jig (has been known to be 2 Legit 2 Quit). The psych ward charismatic body rock (has been known to get you admitted to Shutter Island). One of my personal favorites is the massive youth conference Simon-Says-Standup game that happens after the first person leaves their seat during the beginning of a worship song.

Am I missing any pertinent motions you’d like to share?

I won’t be posting the next couple of days. With out-of-town friends visiting for the weekend, an all day away high school track meet Saturday, and Sunday worship and family time, I’ll see you peeps sometime next week!

God bless you and keep you til then…and don’t forget Sunday morning to:

Lift your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. (Psalm 134:2)

Bryan Daniels