Saturday, December 31, 2016

An Awful Year and an Awesome God

2016 was genuinely the worst year I've been through. I don't say this in the half-joking way in which many speak of this year. I lost my dog. I lost a close friendship. And most devastatingly, I started the year by losing a child.

At the end of 2015, I was taking great strides in my walk with God. My understanding of what it meant to live in the Kingdom of God was deepening and having a profound effect on every aspect of my life. I was praying for wisdom and God, true to his promise, was giving it. I was happier and more content than I had been in a long time.

One year ago today, I sat in the ultrasound room grinning, excited to see my second child for the first time. That excitement died when the nurse said, "I'm sorry. I have to get the doctor. I'm having trouble finding the baby."

"Having trouble finding the baby?" I thought. "What does that even mean? It can't really be anywhere but where it should be." Of course, I knew exactly what it meant. But I didn't want it to be true, so I clung to the silly hope that there was something going wrong with the ultrasound equipment or that the woman was new to her job. My eyes got a little misty, but I held my wife as we made our way to the waiting room and avoided acknowledging what we already knew, what she had suspected for days while I told her there was no way that's what was going on.

After an eternity in the waiting room and several awkward minutes of the doctor telling me what was happening while I struggled to grasp it because he refused to refer to our child as a baby, he put it in cold, blunt words that finally made their way into my brain. "A pregnancy started and a pregnancy has ended." I felt cold. My wife and I helped each other into the car and then fell apart. In between bouts of sobs, I called all of the family we had announced our good news to the week prior to let them know it had become terrible news.

The rest of the day is a blur of numbness and tears and the loving care of family and friends. The next morning I began a recently acquired ritual of prayerfully reviewing the previous day's events and looking for where God was present. He and I had a good conversation that morning and the peace which surpasses all understanding engulfed me while Romans 8 took on a whole new meaning.

This set the stage for the year. Although the first blow was the hardest, 2016 had plenty of hits to deliver. We faced several difficult family situations. My loving dog, Layla, suddenly became aggressive. She bit a friend hard enough to draw blood, began attacking neighborhood animals, and nearly pulled Remi from Jessica's hands. We finally ran out of options and I held her, weeping, as she fell asleep for the last time in my arms. I lost a close friend and a few other friends. Some drifted away and some were lost through conflicts, some of which felt very silly to me. In ministry, I tried my best to guide some kids through situations they should never have had to deal with. I saw evil, unmasked, and its devastating effects.

Through all of this and more, though, God was there. There were mornings when I couldn't force myself out of bed, but I learned to rest in him and to rely on his strength. I found myself afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, struck down again and again but not destroyed, because of his power, not mine. When one chaotic situation after another sprung up this year, I felt no anxiety, just peace because I know what Kingdom I'm really a party of and I've read the end of the story and I know this darkness will eventually give way to dawn. I watched God weave all things together toward that ultimate good, and even in the situations where it's not obvious how that will happen yet, I trust that he is doing so.

I know firsthand the truth that suffering is a refining fire. When you find yourself in its heat you impurities consistently rise to the surface. I have stared at my own pride, anger, bitterness, and a whole host of other sin and brokenness. When you walk with God through suffering, though, he takes that opportunity to begin to skim away those impurities. I have found myself transformed through the fire of suffering. He still has plenty of transforming work to do, but I'm grateful for what he has done this year.

As you seek God in every moment, even in suffering, you become aware of just how many gifts we are given. For a year so filled with bad, there was also a lot of good. As God strengthens us in weakness and soothes us in pain, he also brings even more intensity to the beautiful, joyous moments of life. I see more clearly the little gifts I am given constantly. I have seen with fresh eyes the splendor of creation in sunsets and starry skies. I have thanked God for the pleasure of tasting cream soda and good coffee. I have cherished many nights laughing, surrounded by friends. Every morning I wake up to see the most beautiful woman in the world. I have watched my daughter bring new adventures and smiles every day.

And there have been big gifts, too. Several people I love have taken their first steps into the Kingdom of God this year. I've watched several teens I played a part in discipling grow in maturity as they become adults. I have another child on the way in a few months. My list of sufferings is long, but my gifts are innumerable. Realizing this brings a lot of joy.

All of this has better equipped me to love others. I find myself growing in patience, kindness, and a whole host of other traits I felt I would never develop. As I become less focused on me and what I can gain in various situations, I can see more clearly how God is working among all of the people I come across. There's a lot of joy in this, too.

In short, yes, the year was rough. But, it was a significant year, because much of what I simply believed on the basis of the words of others has now been lived. I was familiar with the map, but now I've walked some of the paths. And my prayer for whoever takes the time to read this is that this would point you in the direction of the Kingdom. we enter into it through Jesus. Then, he begins to transform us. We find joy, peace, and love in ways we never knew we could. It transforms us, changes how we approach life, and it impacts the world around us.

Happy New Year. May you seek and find him in the midst of whatever it holds for you.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Refugees, Fear, and Love



I don't like what I'm about to write. There exists within me a significant part of myself that vehemently rails against these thoughts. I know many of you will not like what I'm about to write. So, I included this paragraph to tell you that I totally get it and I don't blame you at all. However, I have come to believe this is right, regardless of how I feel about it.

Like most of you, I have wrestled with how we should respond to the Syrian refugee crisis for a while now. I see the atrocities this huge group of people suffers and I want to help them. But, I also see the ease with which their ranks could be infiltrated by Islamic extremists seeking to gain entrance into other countries, into my country, and I want to keep them out. My heart has been grappling with love and fear. I have prayed about it and thought about it and worried over it.

Today, God clarified things for me. I should have been consulting the Word of God alone for my answer to how we should handle this, but I was allowing myself to be blinded with fear. In the midst of a great conversation with several ministers I respect, I realized that the answer is overwhelmingly and unmistakably to love.

We should not even have to look past Jesus' assertion that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31) That wasn't enough to convince me, though. Because I want to be safe. I want to be safe, and I want my family to be safe. But, this command is written all over Scripture.

We see again and again that we are to love the foreigner. (Deut. 10:18, Lev. 19:33-34, Ex. 22:21, and this is NOT a comprehensive list.) Showing hospitality to strangers is commanded of us time after time. Hebrews 13:2 tells us not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers, because we may even be entertaining angles when we do. In 1 Timothy 5:9, Paul tells Timothy that his congregation is not to help a widow who doesn't take care of strangers. As Job lists his good works in Job 31:32, he includes providing lodging for the stranger.

When I look at the things that make Jesus angry in the Gospels, I frequently see him chewing the Pharisees out for setting up boundaries that keep people (often foreigners!) away from God.

I read the explanation of how Jesus will divide people who claimed to follow him on judgment day. He was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Oh yeah, and he was a STRANGER. Those who fed, clothed, cared for, visited him, and invited him (the stranger) in get to join him in Heaven. Those who did not go to eternal punishment. When each respective group asks when they had a chance to provide for these needs, he tells them that it was when they cared for (or didn't care for) the "least of these brothers and sisters" of his.

I can't find any Scriptural argument for turning the stranger in need away.

With such an overwhelming Scriptural case for loving these people in need, why do some Christians refuse to? Why do I want to refuse to? The main reason, if we're honest with ourselves, is fear. I am afraid of losing innocent people, loved ones, or even my own life if I reach out to help these people. I don't want to argue over the likelihood of this danger, because it doesn't matter. Christians are to be known for their love. We are to love our neighbors. We are to love everyone. We are to even love our enemies. When we refuse to do this, regardless of the reasoning, we oppose Jesus.

I've heard many times, "Yeah, we need to love the stranger, but we also need to be wise!" Really? When Jesus came to love people who were going to kill him in one of the most brutal ways possible, I would argue that love trumped wisdom. When Paul was planning to visit Jerusalem and found out that his enemies were planning to arrest him, I'm sure some people who loved Paul warned him to be wise and change his travel plans. He went anyway, continuing to spread the love of God until the government severed his head from his body. When Peter was beaten and warned not to preach, the warning never really sank in. In an unwise course of action, Peter preached until they crucified him upside down for it. When Christianity was outlawed, it would have been wise to shut up, pack up, and move out. Instead, Christians shared their faith until they died in many horrific ways, some of them even utilized as torches to light Emperor Nero's garden parties. When Bartholomew was warned to stop preaching, he unwisely continued until they crucified him. His lack of wisdom knew no bounds as he continued to preach until they skinned him alive. He continued preaching until they beheaded him.

Where did we get it in our heads that this faith was about trying to stay safe? Jesus didn't promise us safety. He didn't promise us comfort. He promised that we would be hated and that we would suffer. Walking with him and the promise of being with him eternally is far more than worth it, but we aren't safe here and now. Remember, when Mr. Beaver was asked whether Aslan is safe, he responded, "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

I am astonished at how many Christians I see oozing with bravado as they face down the culture and show their courage in the face of "persecution" when people say mean things about them, or the government passes laws they disagree with, but when the rubber meets the road and it looks like loving people the way Jesus loves might actually cost us something, our courage fades to cowardice.

Take heart, brothers and sisters! Jesus has overcome the world! So what if some of them seek our demise? The worst they can do is give us a little temporary pain that will fade in the overwhelming peace of eternity. Don't fear those who destroy our bodies, but fear the One who can destroy both body and soul! Don't be controlled by fear. God didn't give you a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self control! There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

Here is the big reason you should let go of your fear and choose to love: Our struggle isn't against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Our struggle is against the spiritual darkness which blinds and manipulates these people. Many of us never make it to a foreign mission field. Here is a plethora of people whose needs we can fill. This is a foreign mission field begging to come to us. This is an unprecedented opportunity to preach the Gospel and to show the love of Christ to the Muslim world. We can't refuse to engage with people and expect them to stumble across the Gospel. We have to take it to them. Will we stand by and ignore this because we are fearful? Will we choose to be Pharisees, erecting a boundary between people and God?

May it never be! Let's embrace the adventure that God has laid out before us! Sop worrying about physical war and embrace the spiritual battle! Lay down your lives for the sake of the Gospel! We Americans want to talk a big game on this all the time. Back it up! Love people with the same reckless abandon as the God who pursues us no matter how far he has to go! The only thing that can change these people is the love of God. (Awesome story about that here!) Some of our Syrian brothers and sisters have chosen to stay in that absolutely dangerous land desperately seeking to lead their countrymen to the love of Jesus. Let us not shrink from the potential threat of loving those who have fled.

I have seen another protest: "How can we help these people when we have plenty of homeless here already?!" To that, I say, "What are you doing about it?" If you are opening your home up to a homeless person, your complaint has merit. If you are regularly engaged in directly (not just donating to someone) helping these people, your complaint has merit. If you are unwilling to actually do anything to help, I think you should probably stop pretending you care. I'm not doing nearly enough in that area. But, I don't think my failure to live Jesus' teachings in this one area is a justification to give up in all areas.

God has been berating me nonstop this year about my need to start living the hospitality he requires of us. I've been yanked out of my comfort zone as he tears down the walls in my life between myself and the people around me. He is teaching me to love with his sacrificial love. I have often hoped that if it came down to giving my life for my belief, I would be willing to do it. So, I refuse to cower from this opportunity to live the Gospel.

I know many of you will disagree with this. I understand and I don't look down on you. I'm afraid, too. Fortunately, we are blessed to live in a place where our voices can be heard and we have some control over when our nation does. This is the way I choose to use my voice.

I encourage us to love until the fear is gone and until those who cause the fear are changed. Our faith has conquered empires with nothing but love. I'm not about to act like the Kingdom of God can fall under the minuscule weight of bombs and bullets. The gates of Hell won't stand against the Kingdom of God. So, storm the gates.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cornerstone Newsletter: Teens Need Connection

I'm going to start adding articles I write for my church's newsletter and blog to my personal blog so I can keep track of them.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Internet Might Go Into Slow Motion



You know how mad you get when a YouTube video takes FOREVER to get through buffering so you can watch it? Have you ever been upset when Netflix freezes in the middle of playing a movie and you have to watch the spinning wheel while it loads back up?

If the internet service providers have their way, you should get used to watching that wheel spin. The FCC is considering taking steps to eliminate net neutrality. Right now, all data on the internet is treated equally. Everything moves at the same speed. The FCC may make it possible for ISP's to essentially divide the internet into fast lanes and slow lanes. If a company or site pays extra, their site will load quickly for visitors. If not, their page will load slowly. 

So, if YouTube doesn't pay up? Be prepared to spend a few minutes buffering every video. Doing a research project? Better block off some extra homework time, 'cause this is going to take a while.

Help put a stop to it. Visit Battle for the Net to learn ways you can help prevent this. And don't just share the information. Actually put it into action.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

About All the Leaked Photos

If you have spent any time at all on the internet for the last couple of days, you're probably aware that many celebrity women just had nude photos leaked. The photos had been stored on iCloud, but someone managed to obtain the photos and released them online. If you have somehow managed to make it this far without realizing how wide spread taking and sending naked pictures of yourself has become, the fact that there were so many well known women affected by this should wake you up to the reality of things.

This was a very public instance of something that has been an issue for a while now. I don't think the Church always does a good job of addressing these sorts of things, so I wanted to put my thoughts out there.

Our attitude matters.
Before we even discuss the event itself, I think it's interesting to look at how people reacted to the event. As a Christian, I saw one attitude in particular that was really troubling. A lot of people took the moral high ground and used it as an opportunity to blast the immorality and/or ignorance of the women, sometimes taking it to the point of "She was asking for it," or "She got what she deserved."

That's a terrible attitude.

Yeah, we're called to live lives that honor God and we're called to do what is right.  More importantly, we're called to love. In Scripture, when I see an attitude of "they got what they deserved," it comes from the Pharisees, not from Jesus. In John 9, I see the Pharisees, not Jesus, wondering whether the blind man's ailment resulted from his sin or his parents' sin. In John 8, when the religious leaders drag the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask whether they should kill her, Jesus doesn't say, "Whoa...that [sexually immoral woman] was sleeping around? She totally deserves it. Go ahead!" He puts their eyes back on their own sin, saves the woman's life, and gently restores her.

The Gospel was never intended to be a club with which to bludgeon the nonbelievers. The Gospel should be a first aid kit with which to bring healing. We are called to love. We seek restoration, not condemnation.

So, sure, model what is right. Teach your kids what is right. But do so with an attitude of love, seeking to restore fallen people, not kicking sand at them because they fell down.

A lot of women were hurt this weekend. Yeah, they could have taken steps to avoid it. But, they don't need a bunch of people telling them how badly they messed up. They need love.

This is about more than taking pictures.
Let's look beyond the initial acts of the women taking pictures. We can talk about that in a minute, but let's discuss the rest of it first. First, some creeper(s) sifted through dozens of women's personal information looking for their naked bodies. And when they found what they were looking for, there were tens of thousands of creepers eager to have a look as well.

I'm not sure how we gloss over that latter part and instead focus on the girl taking the picture. Because the latter part is so disturbing. If some dude breaks into a person's house to catch a glimpse of them naked, we all find that disturbing. When someone breaks into a person's digital property to catch a glimpse of them naked, we should all find that disturbing. Yet, many people are not simply neutral about what this guy did, but they eagerly joined him in it. Dozens of women woke up the other day to the equivalent of thousands of people staring through the windows at them naked. That should disgust us. That should make us angry.

I've seen people arguing that this should be a crime on par with sexual assault. I agree. Those people need jailed and added to a list. That may happen to the hackers (although it probably won't), but the thousands who sought out the photos will face no consequences. If you were one of the ones who went looking, understand the gravity of what you did. Understand the embarrassment and shame you helped to heap on those girls.

Jesus said that if you look at a woman with lust, you're an adulterer. If you force your way into seeing an unwilling woman naked, what does that make you?

We have a double standard in regards to privacy.
I saw some redditors pointing out that the internet went ballistic when we found out the NSA was watching everything we do online. We were united in our rage over the violation of our privacy. When these photos leaked, half of the internet went ballistic in the other direction. They were united with guys who were sexually harassing a group of women. To see such solidarity in such an evil act was so disheartening. We need to oppose ALL violations of privacy or stop whining when our privacy is violated.

Taking the pictures does matter, though.
This is the part that a lot of people don't like to hear, but it is important. This is also the part that needs to be said with grace, though. You really shouldn't be taking naked pictures of yourself for any reason. Yeah, I think it's immoral to show your naked body to someone you're not married to. But, regardless of the circumstances, whether you're married, or whether you think it's immoral, it's definitely unwise to take and store nude photos on anything that connects to the internet.

I've seen a lot of people argue that we should have the right to enough privacy to store whatever pictures we want on our devices or in the cloud. I agree that we should have a right to complete privacy, but I know that realistically, we don't actually have complete privacy. I should be able to put my bank information in a digital lock box somewhere without fear of someone taking it, because taking it is wrong. Realistically, I have to always be on guard with what I put in a place that is accessible by the internet. There are always going to be people who do what is wrong. We can all agree that they are wrong. Sometimes, though, we have to be wise enough not to give them an opportunity to do the wrong thing.

I am by no means excusing the people who stole the photos by saying this. I'm not trying to blame the people who took the photos. I am saying that it would be wise to prevent this situation altogether if it's possible.

We should all learn from this that we need to be careful what we put online. Don't put more online than you have to. (I'm not speaking about selfies anymore, but about security in general.) Use passwords that are actually difficult to guess. Don't use the same password for everything. Write them in a notebook that you keep near your computer if you need help remembering. Use two factor authentication when it's available. And understand that it doesn't matter how good your passwords are, it doesn't matter how secure the cloud is, there is always that chance that someone can break through. Be careful what you're putting out there.

It needs to be discussed.
Plenty of discussion needs to happen. This has been an issue for a while. It's a shame it took a bunch of high profile women being affected for this problem to become a high profile problem. I hate that so many women were affected by this. But, now that it's such a public thing, I hope some good discussion can happen. It would be a shame if we allowed such a bad event to occur without taking the opportunity to pull something good out of it.

The vast majority of us should be opposed to this sort of behavior. It should be universally unacceptable. If we're going to heap shame on someone, it shouldn't be the victims of this crime, it should be the perpetrators. We certainly should not participate in this violation of privacy, but more than that, we should be vocally opposing it.

Our culture needs to be discussed as well. There's pretty strong evidence that the sexualization of young girls is damaging. Yet, our culture continues to teach girls to find their worth in being sexy. They continue to push an "everything is okay" attitude in regards to sex. With so many lyrics and so much media dedicated to telling our kids to make everything sexual and telling them to find as many partners as they want, do we still have a leg to stand on when it comes time to tell them not to view women as sexual objects?


More importantly, though, we need to be discussing these things with our kids.
As a youth minister, I'm astonished at how many parents don't think this will be an issue for their kids. If your child is in a public middle school or higher, they're hearing about this. Their friends are finding the pictures. They might be finding the pictures. And believe it or not, they're likely having their own struggle with sexting.

I've found mixed opinions on how many kids engage in sexting, so I'm not going to throw a solid number out there. But sending sexually explicit messages is an issue that teens are dealing with once they hit middle school. If your child has a smartphone, this is a very real issue and temptation for them.  If you choose not to discuss it, their information will come from their peers. That's not good.  Their peers are often as ignorant as they are. We need to discuss these things with our kids.

Parents need to keep an open line of communication with their kids about sex. You need to have "The Talk" often. It's not a one time thing. And when things like this happen, you have an opportunity to discuss sex. Teens are going to learn about sex from someone. Do you really want it to be someone besides you? And by the way, you had definitely better not be sending the message that sex is bad. That's not Scriptural and that's not going to make a difference.

We also need to discuss the dangers of putting such photos out there. There's a great episode of Phineas and Ferb that reminds us that "Fame is fleeting, but the internet is forever." Teens need to understand that anything they put out there is never really gone. Even apps like Snapchat that claim to delete a photo, don't really make the photos vanish forever. Taking and sending those photos may seem fun and flirty at the time, but it can come back to haunt you. There are many stories of teen girls' nude photos going viral. Sadly, several of those cases have ended in bullying and shame that resulted in the girls taking their own lives.

If you take the photos, there's not guarantee no one will ever access them. If you send them, it's even more likely that someone besides your intended recipient will receive them. Teens especially need to be reminded of this. They may be tempted to send those photos because they're "in love." But, most relationships at that age don't last. And if the relationship doesn't last, can you trust the teen boy to be mature enough to get rid of whatever photos he has? I doubt it, because sadly, there are clearly a lot of grown men who can't be trusted to do that.

In addition to teaching our girls to be modest in their relationships, it's even more important to teach our boys how to treat women. In a culture that tries to teach our boys and girls to reduce each other to sexual objects, our voices need to come through loud and clear to teach them to be better than that. If we let everyone else teach our boys about relationships and sex, we shouldn't be surprised when they're among the horde clamoring for naked pictures of celebrities. Boys need to understand that they're not entitled to anything sexual.  They don't have a right to see a girl naked, whether she took photos or not. We need to teach them to really look at people with love. They need to see so much more than sex when they look at a girl. And they need us to teach them that, because the rest of our culture isn't too concerned with those lessons.

In the midst of these discussions, your attitude really comes into play. Approach these issues with grace. Don't teach your kids to look down on people who do something wrong. And remember that if you do approach issues like this by bashing the girls, if your own kid messes up, she's received the message that you think less of her now and she may not trust you enough to come to you about the problem. And even if they don't fall to this themselves, they need to be taught to love people even when they make mistakes. The girls who have lost their lives to bullying after similar incidents might have gone a different route if someone had loved them enough to stand by them.

There's a lot that needs to be said. Hopefully, lots of important conversations are coming out of this. I worry that we'll just gloss over it as an unfortunate incident where a bunch of immoral girls did something stupid. But, parents, youth workers, anyone who works with kids, I ask you to do better. Please take the time to help kids navigate a culture that sends lots of loud, and often contradictory, messages. 

As in all things, let's seek to do what is right out of love. Don't ignore these things, but address them without joining the harassers or bashing the victims. When things need to improve, we should be pushing to help them improve. Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Parents and youth workers, check out thesource4ym.com and thesource4parents.com for lots of great resources, including many articles on topics relating to this one.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The New Doctor, Peter Capaldi

Mild Spoilers Follow

My wife and I finally got around to watching the first episode of Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I was unsure of what to expect, because I had seen so many complaints about him. After watching the episode, however, Capaldi is the first Doctor I've completely liked right off the bat.

I think most people are having a hard time getting past the Doctor being older. They worked to address this issue throughout the episode. Clara especially struggled with losing the younger doctor and meeting the old stranger. After some conversations with old friends and a phone call from the previous Doctor, she decides to stick with him. Hopefully, those who are apprehensive about Capaldi will feel the same as Clara by the end of the episode, even if their Doctor crushes cease to exist for a time.

The Doctor brings a little less energy than Matt Smith, but he makes up for it with a sort of quiet intensity. He retains much of the quirkiness of his predecessors and couples it with more ferocity when things get rough. I really enjoyed that.

This is the first time I've actually been happy with the Doctor right after the regeneration. If you haven't watched it yet, take the time to check it out.

I'll end this short post with my favorite quote from the episode, from a scene where the Doctor is expressing his dissatisfaction with his face.

"Look at these eyebrows! They're attack eyebrows. You could take bottle tops off with these. They’re cross. Crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross! They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Broken

Love is agony when the one you love suffers.

I've had an interesting morning.  God spent all morning breaking my heart.  Truthfully, my heart had become too cold and uncaring for its own good.  It was due a good breaking.

It all started when I was eating breakfast.  I was scrolling through G+ and came across Kina Grannis' cover of Ed Sheeran's The A Team.  I thought it was a beautiful song, so I gave it another listen and really started to listen to the lyrics.

That song is tragic.  The video tells the story as plainly as possible.  It's about a girl who is addicted to drugs and has lost everything.  In order to keep feeding her addiction, she turns to prostitution.  She's miserable, can't break free, and dies of an overdose.

Tragic.  It especially hit close to home, because there are so many people that I care about whose lives are being destroyed by addiction.  That should have been where the agony kicked in, but it wasn't.  As I said, my heart had become much too cold.  I thought it was very sad, but my heart wasn't broken yet.

About that time, though, I was nearing the end of the lyrics I was reading.  I decided to read the first few comments on the lyrics site to see how people had responded to the song.  That's when I read this:

"Drugs lead to prostitution, prostitution to drugs. Prostitutes and drug addicts are the same, not worth a penny!"

That's it.  That is the moment when my heart broke.  Here we have this tragic story of a girl who made some bad choices and got stuck in a loop that ultimately killed her.  This is a story that plays itself out EVERY SINGLE DAY.  And this person just shrugs it off and says that the people stuck living that life are worthless!  This person is not phased by drug addicts and prostitutes dying, because they aren't worth a penny!

Then, the break in my heart started to spread exponentially until I sat there with my heart shattered.  Yeah, this person said out loud that they didn't care about these people.  But, my actions didn't say anything different about me.  It's been a couple of years since I did anything directly to help the homeless or less fortunate.  What about the drug addicted?  The prostitutes?  The sinners?  I have made no effort to have any sort of interaction with non-Christians in years.  I'm still have unbelieving friends that I met years ago...but they've sort of faded into distant acquaintances.

It's not that I tried to avoid these people.  I just followed the route that so many Christians accidentally follow.  Our number of non-Christian relationships just tends to dwindle.  We don't (all) purposefully avoid them.  We just don't go out of the way to interact with them.

That's not okay.  Simply not caring may be even worse than despising.

I claim to serve a God who loves people fervently!  I claim to serve a God who passionately pursues every human being!  He wants to give them hope!  To give them life!  To give them freedom!  I claim to want to be a part of bringing that hope to people.

My actions, though...

My actions say those people are worthless.  My actions say that my time is too valuable to go out of my way for someone like that.

How wicked!  Christ commanded me to love as he loved.  I've been commanded to care for the widow and the orphan.  I've been commanded to tell others about the hope I have in Him.

And I don't.  And 1 John tells me that if I claim to know God, but don't keep his commandments, the truth is not in me.  Furthermore, I know that God is more concerned with my heart than my outward actions.  It's not going to be enough to begrudgingly offer help to a homeless person.  It's not going to be enough if I care for every orphan in the state of Virginia, if I do it out of responsibility.

Everything should be rooted in love.  I serve the God of love.  His love was not pouring out of my heart and into the world.  That's a problem.  My heart was not broken by those who are being destroyed by sin.  That's a problem.  And this morning, God fixed my problem.  He broke my heart of stone.

I know I'm not the only one with a heart that needs broken.  I've grown up in church, and too often it's about us instead of about God and about love.  Too often, we are more concerned with getting together and having a good time, and not concerned enough with reaching the lost.  We love to celebrate.  We cringe at reaching out.  We complain if the service doesn't meet our standards of "good church," but never go out of our way to reach people who don't know Christ.  We invite people to our programs (often with the underlying expectation that they need to clean themselves up a bit if they're going to show), but we don't meet them where they're at and show them love.  We don't interact with them, because they might damage our precious reputations, completely ignoring the fact that misguided religious people were CONSTANTLY upset with Jesus for interacting with the people who weren't "good enough."

I firmly believe that the way you spend your time shows what you truly value.  And what I see when I look at how we spend our time is this: sinners aren't worth a penny.

That broke me.

For the first time in an embarrassingly long time, I spent my morning praying through tears for people who need the hope, freedom, and life that can only be found in Christ.  I agonized over those people the way you agonize when your loved ones are in pain.

And in the agony, I have joy.  I know what Christ has saved me from.  I know the power he has.  I know the love he has.  I WANT others to have that.  It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I want to lead the sick to the only one who can heal them.

And I'm going to.  My life is not going to send the message to anyone that they are worthless.  God does not want anyone to perish, and neither do I.  It's not okay for someone below a certain standard to die scared and alone.  It's not okay for us to set that standard.  It's not okay.

I pray this message breaks you.  I pray God breaks your heart like he broke mine this morning.  I pray that the Church will join me in repenting for our lack of love.  I pray that we will start truly sending the message of Christ's love to the world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Not a Fan

Last week, I read Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman in preparation for a study we are having at the church in the coming weeks.  I had heard great things about this book and I was not disappointed.

Idleman basically frames the book as a time to sit down and define the relationship between you and Christ.  The book forces you to think through the question, "Am I a fan or a follower?"  Do I really like Jesus and what he does from a distance?  Or is my entire life centered around him?  Is he my Lord or someone that I really look up to?

The questions in this book are challenging.  Honestly asking them of yourself can be difficult.  We need to ask these questions, though.  Whether or not we are committed followers of Christ is the most important thing we have to consider.


4/5

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Louie Giglio and the Inauguration

Louis Giglio, a man heavily involved in a movement to end slavery, was supposed to pray at the Presidential Inauguration.  It seems that an end to slavery was somewhat thematic of the inauguration, since President Obama will be swearing his oath on the Bibles of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.  Then, Giglio started to catch some heat from gay rights groups  who took offense with a sermon he preached in the 90's.  Instead of getting caught up in a controversy over homosexuality, which could detract from his anti-slavery campaign, Giglio withdrew from the Inauguration.

This is going to be a short post, and I'm going to bypass the entire "gay rights" argument altogether and instead focus on the selfishness of this.  First off, this was not a gay rights issue.  Giglio expressed his belief that homosexuality is wrong in his sermon, with no political agenda.  So, this is a "right not to be disagreed with" issue.  If I caused a fuss every time someone disagreed with my lifestyle choices, people would think I'm ridiculous.  I think this behavior was ridiculous.

Second, I want to point out how selfish this response was.  People dug up a 15 year old sermon just to cause a stink.  They couldn't set aside their disagreement on one issue to support the issue of ending slavery worldwide.  These people already have basic human rights, but their right to not be disagreed with is more important than 27 million people's rights to not be enslaved, forced to work 17 hours every day, not to be raped multiple times daily, or not to be sold to the highest bidder.

Nice move.  Really considerate.  Shame on everyone who played a part in this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Our Biggest Problem

A week and a half ago, I took some of my youth group to ConventionX in Richmond, VA.  The conference was good, there were great bands, and the kids had fun, but I really enjoyed the speaker, Jim Johnson.  That guy was all about telling the truth.  He wasn't concerned with just making everyone feel good.  He knew that the kids needed the truth, so that is what he gave them.

He spoke a few times, but the thing that really stood out to me was his discussion on our biggest problem.  He asked if our biggest problem was sin, and then told us that it wasn't.  If our biggest problem is sin, then we will spend out lives trying to be good.  Our faith turns into nothing more than striving to be better people. Too many of us think our redemption is, "I'm going to stop being a liar," or, "I'm going to stop being a thief," or, "I'm going to stop lusting," or, "I'm going to stop being bitter and hateful," or fill in blank.  It's this belief system that leaves people feeling like they need to clean themselves up before they can attend church or give their lives to Christ.  This isn't Christianity.  This is moralism.  This is legalism.  It is not freedom.  It is not salvation.

Our biggest problem, is that we cannot fix our problem.  We all have sin, and there's nothing we can do to fix that.  Our salvation is based entirely on what Christ has done for us.  His death and resurrection are the Gospel.  We don't earn that.  We can't earn that.  We can only receive it and thank God for his love and grace.  When we give our lives to God and submit to Him, the Holy Spirit takes residence inside of  us and God transforms us.  We don't transform us.  No amount of willpower will rid us of sin.  If it would, we wouldn't need rescued.

Isaiah 64:6 says that all of our righteousness is like filthy rags.  (Dive into that passage sometime.  Filthy rags...ew.)  Our best attempts at righteousness are still totally disgusting.  Only Christ makes us righteous.  Only God brings good out of us.

This is something I have to learn over and over again.  I'm always tempted to think I can make myself better for God, instead of submitting to Him and trusting in Christ's sacrifice.  I was glad to be reminded yet again (and glad for my kids to hear) that our salvation was entirely accomplished by Christ.  If we rely on ourselves to save us, we're out of luck.  Thank God, He didn't leave us alone in our sin.  Thank God for His Son.