Remedial Christianity

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This is Lego City.  No, not the one from the Lego movie, but the one in the Shah house.  So, it is probably no surprise that we watched the Lego movie the moment it was released in theaters….and re-watched it recently when it came out on video.  But I better stop here & throw in a disclaimer before I continue.   I was once rebuked for ‘revealing’ the ending of the Lord of the Rings.  It was 9 years after the movie was released, and 63 years after the book was published….but somehow the statute of limitations had still not expired.  I share this to let you know that I’m now going to talk about the LEGO Movie, so….***SPOILER ALERT****….. feel free to skip this is if you haven’t watched it yet.

Anyway, my kids are sort of Lego junkies.  We have an eclectic city that includes (among other things), a pirate ship, the tower bridge, a couple castles, various vehicles, Star Wars ships, Lord of the Rings landscapes, Lego friends buildings, approximately 400,000 Minifigs & this incredibly large R2-D2 overlooking the entire town.

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The city even has “laws” and elects a “mayor”.  [I was recently defeated in the latest election, but that’s a story for a different time.]  It has even been used as the set of a major motion picture.

Anyway, we had waited for the movie to come out and we loved it.  But strangely, I have to admit, I connected pretty deeply with Lord Business.  This was somewhat troubling as he is the villain of the story, but I came out of the theater thinking, “that guy was just misunderstood.”  I pondered it for about 5 minutes, and then proceeded to go on with my life.

Well, last week we watched the movie again, and I had a chance to analyze my deep sympathy for the movie’s antagonist.   As I watched I realized that Lord Business is living out some of my biggest leadership temptations as a PARENT and as a PASTOR….

Like this….

I secretly want my kids (and congregation) to blindly believe that “everything is awesome”.

I am not sure if you have had the joy of hearing that song in it’s entirety, but since we downloaded the soundtrack, I have had the privilege of hearing it sung in our home at least 4000 times.  In the movie it was cute.  Maybe even catchy.

Now I can’t stand it.  The lyrics are absolutely inane.

Seriously, it is the worst.

But in my heart, parts of me are strangely attracted to it.  Sometimes I wish my kids and my church would just blindly sing it and merrily go through life.  Grief, and sorrow, and pain, and doubt….those seem so out of control.  I’m not sure how to help.  I’m not sure how to “fix” those things.  So they scare me.  They make me feel inadequate and weak.

Better that we all put our heads in the sand and just keep singing.  We all might be living in denial about the brokenness of the world, but at least I will perpetuate the illusion that I am doing a good job.

Or how about this one….

I secretly love the idea of a manual that they would follow for life.

In the movie, President Business has provided a step-by-step manual for life for all the citizens.  Oh to be the leader that has ALL the ANSWERS!  Wouldn’t that be fabulous?  Just read this book, and this blog, and listen to these 4 podcasts and you’ll be all set.

Learning how to follow this mysterious God…on the mountaintop highs, and in the valley lows.  Learning to hear HIS voice, and follow our unique path.  Discovering the good works that God prepared for US, that we were created in Christ Jesus to walk in.   Learning how to be sensitive and responsive to His Spirit.  Learning the depths of His Word, and the growing in the wisdom to apply it.  Then teaching someone ELSE how to do that?

That all sounds way too scary.  And dangerous.

Let’s just write a manual.  Or build a program instead.  Or create a one-hour “worship experience”.   Way easier.  And it’ll keep my schedule relatively free.


Whenever something is the way I like it, I secretly have an intense desire to spray ‘the Kragle’ on it.

I speak the words of faith and creativity and freedom…..but deep down I like things neat and orderly.  I like to know exactly what is going on.  I like it being manageable.  

I’m the guy who will use the same post move on you in basketball over and over again until you do something to stop it.   Boring, but effective.

I’ll the guy who will validate using the same strategy forever , with cliches like, “you gotta dance with who brung ya”

I’m the guy who couldn’t handle taking my kids to water parks….because of the noise and chaos and the constant fear that one of my kids was drowning somewhere.

What will happen if things get out of control?

I don’t know for sure, but the last line of the movie sums up my fears pretty well….

“we are from the planet Duplo, and we’ve come to destroy you!”

Let’s not find out what that looks like.

I’m sure I could go on and on.  Granted, over the years  I have grown in many of these areas, but when life gets messy and chaotic I still feel the urge to minimize brokenness, hand out manuals and grab that kragle.  

I am fascinated by a walk of faith.  

I know it is the only way to truly live.  

But part of me still secretly loves control…

Control makes my world seem safer.  More manageable.  It helps me continue the illusion that I know all the answers and what the future holds.  It helps me manage fear.

But then I read scripture.

I read chapters like Hebrews 11…. story after story of faith.  And I can tell you, that none of them are stories about control & safety.  But they are stories of creativity, and adventure, and redemption….all powered by the creator of the universe.

And I realize that although I sympathize with Lord Business….

I don’t want to be him.


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This is one of my favorite pictures ever.  It was from last summer at Leadership Training in Colorado.  I was helping Meghan up a hill, and then turned around to see this….Isaac & Savita sharing a moment.   This sums up my DREAM for my children.  Each different.  Personalities.  Gifts.  Relationships.  Each going to follow a different path and mission laid out by God.   But along the way they will be tight.  There will be a bond between them that will bend but never break.  It will be strained but never snap.  They will look out to the future together.

And when I read the NT…I see that same vision for the the church.  Passages such as Romans 12:3-8 & I Corinthians 12 speak of this reality.  Everyone who is “in Christ”.  Whoever believes in Christ & finds their righteousness in Him alone.  They are One body. One family. One household.  All together we are the children of God….(John 1:12, Ephesians 1:5)

But is this what we experience?  Is this what the world sees in us?

I talked to a student awhile ago about spiritual questions he had,  and shared a bit about Christ.  He stopped me at one point and said…”I don’t know man, I appreciate that you are talking to me about this stuff, but it seems like all you Christians do is fight and argue with one another.  Maybe you should get your house in order


I wanted to argue with him, but his comment hit home.  Sometimes it is so sad to see the casual way Christians will dishonor other Christians…

  • We will openly criticize, slander & gossip about our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • We will let conflict be unresolved.
  • We will let our speech dishonor & air our dirty laundry in public.  (the internet = in public by the way)
  • We will see other churches or ministries as the “competition”

Now there is nothing wrong with disagreement in a family. Nothing at all.  It HAS to happen.  And sometimes it is serious.  But so often it turns to dishonor and disrespect…

Even worse, sometimes we will sell one another out TO TRY AND IMPRESS OUR CULTURE.  We hear subtle (and not so subtle) messages like this in Christendom all the time.

“We’re not like them.  We…..(are more relevant)….(are more traditional)….(are smarter)….(love the city more)….(love the campus more)…..(love justice more)….etc…”

“You’ve been waiting for a church like us!”

Yes, I confess, I have been guilty of at least 3 of those statements at different times.  So sad.

I don’t know how God “feels” about all of that.  But I do know that few things cause me more sorrow than seeing my kids disrespect or dishonor one another.  When they sell each other out, or point the finger, or try to impress their friends at the expense of their siblings….my heart breaks because I know that this is not the way it should be.

We are family.  And that is important.  Just like Gene Hackman reminds us in  Wyatt Earp.   (Ok, he goes too far in that one, but if you replace “blood” with “Jesus” you get closer to the right idea)

The same is true with the Church.  There is something SO MUCH BETTER FOR US.

So as I wrap up this little series, here’s a few thoughts on how we get our “house in order”…


It’s not just your biological family, or your small group, or your local church, or your “tribe” of churches….this call to honor is for ALL your brothers and sisters in Christ.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

– I Corinthians 12:12-13

There will be men and women from every NATION and TRIBE and PEOPLE and LANGUAGE worshipping Him for eternity! (Rev 7:9)  We have to stop honoring a handful of our family members and decide to (as best we can) honor and respect them all.


This is the GREAT MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL!  That God has taken Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free and made them all ONE IN CHRIST.  What sort of power could do that?  What sort of power could tear down all the divisions, and the hatred and animosity and bring unity?   Where diversity is real & celebrated and revolves around Christ.

And no one can get an attitude or arrogant, because WE WERE ALL ADOPTED!  No one “belongs” in this family more than any other.  We are like this crew…..(ok, only one of them was adopted into our family, but you have to love this picture)

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That is our God.  This is our Family.

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13:34-35

Every time we stop to honor a brother or sister, it turns the ways of the world on their head.  It is subversive.  It is a tangible manifestation of the Gospel.  God is honored and the world takes notice.

(a great example of that in a recent blog post by Tullian Tchividjian on his public recent ‘break-up’ with the gospel coalition.  i don’t know too much about the conflict, but the apology captured the beauty of honor/respect in the midst of disagreement)


I visited Lifepoint Church in Lewis Center OH this summer.  No one knew I was coming…but I know and respect the leaders there and thought it would be fun to worship with their community.  As the service started we had a wonderful time praising and honoring the Lord,  then pastor Dean came up to preach. Before he began, to my surprise he said, “we have a special guest here….Jon Shah from h2o church is visiting…and then blah blah blah (insert really nice stuff here)” He then cracked a joke about me being from Michigan and moved on.

But right afterwards, a lady in front of me turned around and shook my hand and said, “it is a real honor to meet you.”

Huh?  I had no idea who she was.  Or why she would consider it an honor to meet me.   But it didn’t seem like the typical Christian pleasantry, she seemed very sincere.

And it nourished my soul in a way that took me by surprise.


Because serving Christ can be hard.  For people in some cultures it can bring mockery and even persecution.  Sacrifice and pain.  I haven’t experienced much pain, but it can be lonely and sad.  It can be heart-breaking and hard work.  There is suffering.  Jesus guarantees it. (Jn 16:33).  The NT writers speak of it often.

And the honor and kindness of our family can help us stay encouraged and filled with faith.

A kind word.  An unexpected compliment.  A surprise gift.

They are reminders from our brothers and sisters.  A message from your Father.  KEEP GOING.  IT IS WORTH IT.  YOUR FATHER IS PLEASED.  YOUR FAMILY IS WITH YOU. WE RECOGNIZE AND HONOR GOD’S GIFTS AND WORK IN YOU.

And WE ALL NEED THIS.  Even the coolest, more secure leader you know.

Even the smallest messages of love and honor give LIFE.  And God’s Kingdom moves forward.


In my mind, every time we honor our brothers and sisters we subvert our “me-first” culture.  We challenge our pride and remind ourselves what is REALLY true.  We protect ourselves from thinking too highly of ourselves.

Showing honor to your brothers and sisters is literally practicing humility.  It is acting in line with the Gospel and letting it take deeper root in your life.  “To honor the other person is one way of holding in check the innate human tendency to honor oneself unduly.” (I read this somewhere)

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   – Romans 12:10 ESV

A simple verse.  An incredibly high call.  But one worth fighting for.  Let’s get our house in order.

PS If you made it through all 6 posts…thanks for reading…I hope it was encouraging in some way.

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My youngest daughter Meghan finished up her soccer season this week, and like most years, we had the obligatory team celebration. Usually every kid gets a trophy and a few words about how great they played, followed by a round of applause.  Its cute, a nice photo op, and the kids seem to appreciate it.

This year coach Scott led through the ceremony.  And although the activities were similar to most years, the spirit of it was different.   He had taken the time to actually write 4 or 5 sentences for each kid on an index card with kind words that uniquely applied to them.  And he shared them with emotion and heart….as if he actually believed all of it.

As a father I was touched.  There is nothing like listening to someone genuinely show honor and love for your child.  I would imagine that I am like most parents on the planet.  If you want to win me over…if you want to immediately get on my good side….honor my kids.  Show them grace.  Love on them.  Be generous to them. Speak words of life to them.

(Likewise, if you REALLY want to fire me up then disrespect my kids. Criticize them & see what happens)

It made me think of my posts about honor.  Now obviously, the Lord is a better Father than us, and He certainly is not as petty as me.  But the fact of the matter is….loving His kids is a big deal to Him.

There are so many verses pertaining to this topic, but here’s one of the more convicting ones…

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

– I John 4:19-21


But it doesn’t happen by accident.  We have to SWIM AGAINST THE TIDE in order to live this out.

We live in SUCH a negative and critical culture. So many of us have been trained to see life as a giant competition and this seeps into every relationship we have.  The church is no different.  We visit churches, we talk to other Christians or other leaders, we read a book or blog and our gut reaction is to critique.

Why?  (we have a heart problem….see parts III & IV for more details)IMG_1434

Coach Scott certainly could have had a field day critiquing my daughter.  She scored exactly zero goals. She occasionally wandered off the field. She once ran onto the field to play…WHILE STILL CARRYING AN UMBRELLA. When Scott asked her what she was doing she said…”well, we’re not supposed to use our hands anyway!”

Coming up with an index card of praise for Meghan was a challenge.  But he did it.  He called her up front, placed a medal around her neck and shared words of life with her.  A bit about her effort, and her teamwork and then he finished by saying, “And Meghan, your smile brings me joy every time I see you at practice!”

Coach Scott didn’t just TOLERATE my daughter.  He FOUND great qualities & affirmed her in them.


In our world it seems that ‘TOLERANCE’ & ‘ACCEPTANCE’ have been elevated as the highest goal.

But that is not our call within the church.  It is not good enough.

Honor takes things to another level. We SHOW honor.  It isn’t passive, it is active.   It requires something of us.

Regarding Romans 12:10 ESV, one theologian describes the verse this way, “Being readier than the other to recognize and honor God’s gifts in a brother [or sister}”

Men & women who take this verse seriously make it their business to FIND and POINT OUT how their brothers and sisters are bringing honor to God.

Try something.  With that guy or gal in your church who annoys you, or that arrogant church leader, or that person with a different theological bent, or that church you just visited, or that “tribe” you don’t belong to………BEFORE you start to critique or judge.   Ask a different question first….

How can I RECOGNIZE and HONOR God’s work in this person?

Then SPEAK IT. To them.  To others.

Spread rumors about them….rumors that they are being used by God, and you think highly of certain things about them. Rumors that you appreciate them.


Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

– Ephesians 4:29

I know you have read that verse 41,000 times before.  But really think about what it is saying….

When you speak: make it good for building up… the occasion…and give grace to those who hear.

This is a high call.

Back to our story….the best part of what Coach Scott did was that he wasn’t lying to the kids.  In our world of “everybody’s a winner” youth sports, he didn’t just give them platitudes.  There was no false flattery. Dishonesty is not honor.  He didn’t repeat the same phrases to each kid.  He actually knew them, and thought about them individually.

The same is true in the church.  We’re not talking about trite meaningless phrases…or Christian pleasantries.  We are talking about prayerfully, humbly, recognizing God’s work in a brother’s or sister’s life AND THEN AFFIRMING IT TO THEM.

You may be thinking that this is no big deal.  This is normal stuff.  But it isn’t.

After the celebration, Meghan went on to play her last soccer game in the rain (no umbrella)…and later we rode home. She spent most of the ride deep in thought, but as we approached the house, she turned to me and said, “Did you hear what coach said to me today?”

“What was that?”

“He said that my smile brought him joy at every practice!”

Then she flashed me a huge smile and bounded into the house, energized and beaming.