Big day yesterday

I had 147 unique visitors on my site yesterday. That’s just about half what I need every day in order to reach my goal of 10,000 unique visitors per month. But it’s not primarily about me, it’s about you, since you are the one who makes this work. So how can I serve you? What questions do you have? Drop me a note on my Contact form, or comment at the bottom of this post. I believe I have messages of hope and healing for people, along with questions that people really need to be asking, even — perhaps especially — when some questions are a little uncomfortable. I think that process is immensely valuable.

Clients pay me $60/session to talk to me about some of the things I deal with on this blog. While I love that work and it’s a good living, I’m doing all I can to give away as much of that information for free as I can on this site! What questions do you have about marriage? How can I help you or one of your friends who is suffering? What questions do you have about God or the church that I can tackle for you? Counseling students, what are you struggling with as you learn to do this work?

Introducing my new bookstore!

bookstore

Image courtesy of Shelby H, licensed under Creative Commons

I was thinking a while back, “If Amazon gave me a nickel every time someone bought a book from them after talking to me, I’d be a rich man.” Then I realized, “Hey, Amazon WILL give you money every time you refer someone to their website to buy a book!” That’s when I decided to join the Amazon Affiliate program and start my own bookstore. It is not primarily to make money (I’m guessing it won’t start making any real money until my daily blog readership has at least tripled, and at the rate things are going, that’ll be quite a while), but rather to have a place right here where people can look at and maybe buy some of the books I refer to frequently. Of course I must confess that as a book dork, it gives me little tingly feelings to have a bookstore on my website filled only with books that I have read and care about.

If you are a client, parishioner, counseling student, or fellow pastor (or former any of these), and you do not see a book in my store that I recommended to you, please let me know. I want my inventory to include all of the books I routinely recommend. You can access the Bookstore on the menu at the top right. Of course if you think there are highly influential books in my bookstore that are missing, let me know. I’ll put them on my list. If they make the “all time favorite” cut, I’ll get them into the store. In the meantime, nothing would make me happier than to imagine you sitting at home, perusing through my bookstore, and enjoying a nice cup of coffee.

Check out my new store!

Introducing Aaron Lee Clum

Aaron Lee Clum

Aaron Lee Clum

I am so excited to be able to announce this today on my website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and everywhere else I can find to announce it. Aaron Clum, worship leader at my church, is a fantastically talented singer/songwriter. And oh yeah, he just happens to be like a son to me. Aaron has recently recorded some of his music and is now making it available on his page at bandcamp.com. I can’t encourage you enough to run over and check it out. You won’t be sorry.

Seriously, aren’t you sick of living in a world where people like Snooki and Paris Hilton become famous, but people with something to say and real gifts to give to the world wallow in obscurity? I am, and I’m going to do everything I can to help not only Aaron but every person I know with a gift to give the world who could use what little voice I have here in my corner of the interwebs. That’s right. Check out Aaron’s music. Or the terrorists win.

In the coming weeks I will be posting interviews with Aaron so you can get to know him a little bit. In the meantime, I hope you’ll buzz over to his page at bandcamp.com

Anxiety RX

 

prescription pad rx

Image courtesy of vculibraries, licensed under Creative Commons

Below is a typical response I give to religious people who are struggling with anxiety and write asking for guidance. They tend to feel as if taking medication is a cop-out and that prayer should be able to completely alleviate the problem. The thing is, in a person without clinically significant anxiety, prayer and other spiritual exercises will probably go a long way toward resolving the problem. In people who have struggled for years and tried approaches of all kinds, spiritual approaches will probably not do the trick either, and this will often leave the person feeling guilty and as if his/her faith is questionable.

I know this will sound strange to hear from a pastor, but I recommend spiritual approaches in moderation. The reason is because so many of us today have been conditioned to use spiritual approaches as a kind of bludgeon, where we feel unspiritual and out of sorts if we can’t fix the problem through prayer, etc. When spiritual approaches help us find, face, and follow truth, and when they help us love and accept ourselves for who we are (just as God does), they are valuable. When they dictate to us lists of musts and shoulds and lay more burdens on us, they just become one more thing to worry about, and that’s the last thing you need. If the spiritual stuff is oppressing you and making you feel bad right now, drop it for the time being and pursue other approaches. Spirituality is a really powerful tool, but just like any tool, if we don’t know how to use it properly it can be very dangerous. In other words, if you notice that every time you swing a hammer you hit yourself on the head, I’d suggest leaving hammers alone for a while.

As far as how you should be relying on your faith, there are a lot of things you should be doing. You should avoid most red meat, not drink soda, work out 45 minutes a day, take a multivitamin every day, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, never waste time at work, etc. The fact is, almost nobody is capable of doing everything we are told we should be doing. We take that same inability with us into our spiritual lives. You simply cannot, right now, be a person who gives all this over to God. If you could, you’d have already done it. Start there, with the reality of your powerlessness. Having seen that, don’t jump right into “Yes, but by God’s power…” That’s simply not true for you right now. At some point, by the power of God, perhaps you’ll do a lot of things, but we tend to want to acknowledge our powerlessness only long enough to declare God’s power working in us so that we can effectively be powerful again.  

Continue Reading »

Christians who hate religion

This video has been extremely popular on the internet over the last several months.

It’s the kind of thing many people would probably expect me to agree with wholeheartedly. But I don’t. It’s simplistic (a pejorative term that means naive, or simple to a ridiculous extent). It makes some good points but throws a precious baby out with the bath water. It also demonstrates some poor thinking skills.

Religion is simply the form we give to our worship of God. There’s nothing wrong with religion itself. In fact, when religion is terrible and abusive, it comes from spirituality that is also horrific and malformed. Bad spirituality leads to bad religion. The best spirituality does not and cannot abandon religion but will instead lead to the best religion. It cannot work any other way.

A person can say all he wants, “forget religion, just give me Jesus.” This sounds good, and certainly plays on a sentiment that is becoming increasingly popular in our society. But once a person has Jesus, they must decide how to worship him. That is religion. By the way, because this is true, that is why another phrase Christians like to use is also false. “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.” This is absurd. Of course Christianity is a religion. Certainly Christianity promotes a relationship (with God), but the way a person chooses to act in relationship to a deity is called “religion.” I’m not splitting hairs here. Christians should not attempt to distinguish themselves by making claims that are false. It is unfortunate that I even have to mention this, but the response I frequently get is “well, it may not be true, but it’s not hurting anything.” I say anytime we knowingly say something false, we have hurt ourselves and those around us.

I realize some Christians are desperate to point out the uniqueness of Christianity among the world religions. I get it. There clearly are some ways in which Christianity is unique. But it is definitely not unique because it is not actually a religion at all! If you’ve read more than one or two of my blog posts, you know I’m a pretty fierce critic of the church. We have embraced an anti-intellectualism that is stunning in it’s breadth. We are growing increasingly content with sappy, feel-good-ism in in our faith, and simply do not require our teachers and leaders to be, above all, truthful. Most of us do not question videos like this, but respond emotionally to them and put them up on Facebook without ever really asking if they are truthful, that is, whether or not they correspond to reality. If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. If you openly disdain religion while being religious yourself, you are either a hypocrite or you don’t know what religion is. I am convinced that it’s overwhelmingly the latter. Rather than rejecting religion, we should be learning to think carefully so we can spot the kind of shallow stuff we see in this video.

If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. Denying that you are religious does not make you less religious, but it does make you a whole lot less credible when you open your mouth about religious matters in the future, and perhaps most other matters as well. After all, if a person cannot see the simple fact that he is religious, what other basic truths about himself or the world might he be unaware of?

Update: Micah Murray linked to his post on this topic in the comments below, and I hope you will zip over and read his as well.