Category Archives: Faith and Culture

Kingdom Manhood – Believing Women

But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

Luke 24:1-12


 

Strange how God used women to share the most significant news in the history of the world. You would think God would get a man to do that, maybe a well-educated and wealthy one at that. If God had gotten a high ranking Roman official or a Jewish religious leader, perhaps that would be a more credible witness. Because this is kind of a one-time thing, you’d think God would want to put this truth in the hands of someone believable, someone whose voice mattered.

Not only did God choose a group of women, God chose some really unreliable sources. One of the women, Mary Magdalene, is believed to have had 7 demons exorcized in her life. One would think that your credibility really takes a hit after the first demon, let alone the 7th. Then one of the other women mentioned is Mary, the mother of James. Many believe her to be related to Jesus, if not Jesus’ own mother, so she certainly wouldn’t be an unbiased, credible witness. My mom is definitely not an objective third party towards me. We don’t know much about Joanna, but she’s believed by many today to also have been cured of evil spirits. So to put it plainly, one could look at the witnesses to the empty tomb and find them to be completely unbelievable.

Based on our current cultural events, it should be a surprise to no one that the men didn’t believe her. Luke tells us that their story sounded like nonsense to the men. 10 out of the 11 men didn’t even think the women had enough credibility to investigate. 1 out of 11 was at least intrigued enough to go check out their claims.

All people who believe in a physical resurrection of the Christ, are staking their belief in the original testimony of a group of highly emotional, frantic women with some serious credibility issues. To claim to be a follower of the resurrected Jesus is to base your whole faith on a he-said-she-said from 2000 years ago. No evidence, just testimony.


 

OK, so by now you probably know where this is going. If any man could see the importance of believing a woman, how could a Christian man not?

To say that a woman’s voice is in any way less credible or significant than a that of a man is counter to the good news of Christ. I know a lot of people post things on social media (on my feeds at least) about how this or that is a threat to the gospel, and for that reason, I am hesitant to use that phrase, but the good news – gospel – of the Kingdom of God is that the old has gone and the new has come. Every voice that has been downgraded or marginalized is no longer to be cast aside in the new Kingdom brought on by Jesus’ defeat of sin and death.

In this new Kingdom that we are to be living out, people of every nation, gender, and socio-economic group have equal worth and value, not because of what they’ve accomplished, what family they were born into, or what school they attended, but because they are created in the Image of God. We all stand on equal footing as people who are 100% not worthy outside of Christ and 100% worthy because of Christ.

It’s utterly ridiculous that Believe Women has become a seemingly partisan rallying cry in our overly dichotomous world. Similar to Black Lives Matter, there are those who point to someone using this phrase as being divisive. There should be nothing less divisive in our churches than stating that a people group’s life or voice has worth. At some point, we have to ask ourselves where our loyalties lie. Do we want to be devoted followers of Jesus or do we want to be devoted members of a political party? In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches that a person cannot have two masters. Naturally, we will favor one over the other. Whether our master is money, a flag, the military, a political party, or a relationship, we have to choose between being beholden to that worldly thing or living into the Kingdom of God.

Men, we have to believe women. Not because they are somebody’s sister or mother or daughter, but because they are human beings. Women are not too emotional or the weaker partner designed for purely secondary roles, they are significant embodiments of the Image of God in our world and are telling the truth. To view women as more manipulative or less credible than men is to ascribe to the old way of thinking before Christ. We can choose to hold up the systems and powers of an unredeemed world, or we can be active workers in the new creation of God that has already begun.

Time and time again in the Bible, Jesus values the people with whom he interacts, not because of who they are or what they’ve accomplished; Jesus values people because they are simply that: people. 

How would our world look different if we woke up each day and chose to not write people off? If everyone had a chance to be heard by those in power, even when it slowed us down or forced us to change our agenda, our world would be better.

Christian men, brothers, we stake our faith in the resurrection of Jesus on a group of women’s unproven frantic testimony from 2000 years ago. To do anything less than believe the women in our lives and world today is beyond backwards, illogical, and misogynistic. Let’s always be the 1 out of the 11 who trusts the source and looks to find out more. We have the power to live into God’s Kingdom here and now, let’s do that.

 

 

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privilege of walking

I wrote the following essay a few months ago (June 5th, 2018). I don’t know why I didn’t share it then. I guess I was a little ashamed that I’m not further along with some issues than I am. I think I was also a little scared. Scared that my life may not live up to the ideas that I proclaim myself to seek out. I’m a person, and I don’t always walk the walk as well as I talk the talk. Maybe you can relate to that.

I think this afternoon, I needed to read this again. A couple weeks ago, a young black man, Botham Shem Jean, was killed in his apartment in Dallas by a police officer. For some reason, I felt this one more than a lot of other similar shootings. It could be that I know people who are close to the situation, and it could be that Botham was about my age, went to a school of the same faith tradition as me, and was heavily involved in his University’s community and his church family, much like I am. Maybe it was the Spirit of God giving me a feeling of conviction.

I have put off saying much publicly about my feelings regarding the painful situation in Dallas. I didn’t want anyone to feel as though I was trying to jump in on something that wasn’t mine to jump in on, and I hope that this isn’t perceived that way.

I hope that I am not the only one that this injustice has awakened.




 

 

Tonight I went for a walk through my neighborhood.

I started going on walks through my neighborhood last summer due to some stress and a consistent need to clear my head.  I have found that these walks have given me space to talk to God, or to be more clear, talk to myself about myself in front of God.  Yeah, I talk to myself often.  Those who have ever lived with me or walked in front of me can probably attest to that.  I don’t think I have a clinical disorder, maybe it’s just more that I really like to hear myself speak.  Either way as I walk the neighborhood, a lot of my thoughts just come out.  They come out free and unedited.  Sometimes as I walk, I learn that I think and feel things that I didn’t previously know that I thought and felt.

It’s a beautiful evening out in Nashville tonight.  The weather is perfect, and a lot of people have chosen to spend it on their front porch, playing with their dog, or going for a walk themselves.  As I passed other people, we exchanged a smile and a wave, sometimes a hello.  People have always seemed to be pretty receptive to me right off the bat.  Maybe it’s my face or my approachable, non-threatening body shape, who knows.  As my thoughts wandered out of my head tonight, I kept coming back to one thing in particular:  how might this walk be different if I weren’t white?

I remember a time before I was white.  In elementary school, most of my friends at school weren’t white, and they never told me that I was.  We ate lunch together, played together at recess, and participated in a school percussion group together.  On Valentine’s Day I gave everyone a Spiderman valentine.  I got a bunch of different valentines too.  I was good at a lot of things, mostly school stuff.  I won a bunch of awards for the school’s core virtues: responsibility, respect, trustworthiness, citizenship.  I was really good at math and spelling.  I don’t know that my self esteem has ever been higher than it was in elementary school.

I’m not really sure at what age or point in my life it clicked that I was white and some people weren’t.  Somewhere in middle school probably.  I think I’ve subconsciously blocked out most of middle school.  I had to go to a new school in 5th grade.  A private, Christian one at that.  People at my new school had more money than people at my old school.  I guess no one ever really feels like they fit in when they’re in middle school, but I definitely felt like a fish out of water.  The idea of race started to creep in.  As I got older, I noticed that the few black kids at school were all friends with each other.  I heard a joke here, told it there.  It doesn’t take long before that becomes the new normal.

In high school, I still didn’t realize that I was white.  Intellectually I did, but I didn’t have any grasp whatsoever on the weight of what it means to be white.  Being white was normal.  If I was telling a story about one of my white friends, they were never “my white friend,” they were just my friend.  If I was telling a story about one of my few non-white friends, they were “my black friend” or “my hispanic friend.”  I spent hours upon hours in parking lots in high school just talking with my other white friends.  I don’t remember ever getting a sideways glance.  One time in particular, after church, my white youth group friends and I went to Wendy’s.  I maybe ordered a frosty, if that.  We stayed at a table at Wendy’s until they closed for the night.  Then we went out in the parking lot and talked for another couple hours.  Those times are some of my fondest memories from high school, just sitting in public places until late at night, talking and joking with my youth group friends.  Never one time did I even have a thought of “could we do this if we weren’t white?”

I think the Trayvon Martin tragedy was the first time I ever thought that perhaps someone might be viewed differently than me because they aren’t white.  I remember seeing LeBron and the rest of the Miami Heat wearing hoodies.  I knew it was related to the Trayvon Martin story, but I didn’t really feel it.  I remember being a 20-year-old Junior in college at my predominantly white, private Christian university here in Nashville and seeing the events in Ferguson on the news after the Michael Brown shooting.  I remember being in my dorm room with my friend Cedric as we watched on CNN.  In that moment, I knew deep down in my gut that something wasn’t right.  I remember within a week or two of that memory, I went with a group of friends to Nashville’s Live On The Green when, during the show, protesters made their way to the front with signs chanting “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.”  At that time I thought, “Why are they protesting here and now and in this way?  Couldn’t more be accomplished by sitting down and having a civilized conversation?

Over the next couple years, the back end of college, I grew a lot.  As more of these cases of policing came to light, I learned about implicit racial bias.  In short, implicit bias is you feeling different about seeing someone that looks like me (white, 24-year-old man) walking through your neighborhood wearing a hoodie at night than you would feel about seeing a black 24-year-old man wearing a hoodie walking through your neighborhood at night.  Or to give another example: someone might feel different about 5 black young men hanging out in a parking lot than they would 5 white young men.  I learned that everyone in the world, based on their life experience, has some sort of implicit bias.  Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I have implicit bias.  I don’t say that everyone has implicit bias to communicate that there’s nothing that we can do about it, I communicate that as a way of saying that I believe coming to grips with our implicit biases is a key beginning step in our growth.

I also learned towards the end of school that once the person or people in power are dictating how someone else chooses to express themselves in protest, it is no longer a protest.  Protests are designed to disrupt in order to get someone’s attention.  The reason people feel the need to protest is not to ruin my concert or an NFL game, often a reason that people protest is because they were not invited to the conversation and feel unheard.  So when we are upset by someone’s protest, perhaps we should invite them to the table, not write them off.

By the end of college, I felt much more of the weight of what it means to be white.  So much so that I had begun to dissociate with my whiteness.  I began to feel a sense of shame about what it means to be white in America.  I felt overwhelmed with the history of how white people in our country have oppressed black and brown bodies.  First with colonization and slavery, then with Jim Crow, and now with mass incarceration.  When confronted with the dark realities of U.S. history, it’s hard to not want to run and hide.  Being naïve is one thing, but once we have faced the reality of systemic oppression throughout our history, what we absolutely cannot do is shrug it off.

Only in the last year have I begun to realize that being ashamed of being white is not a helpful posture either.  To be white and socially conscious, I believe we have to understand our privilege.  The more I think about my life, my history, and my current day-to-day dealings, the more I see myself benefitting from white privilege.  To my white friends, me claiming that white privilege exists in our culture today is not me saying that white people do not work for what they have.  I would go more in depth on the realities of implicit bias, systemic oppression, and white privilege, but that would take many more words.  Furthermore, many more learned men and women writers, authors, and speakers have tackled these issues in great depth, and I would much rather leave you to read their work.

So now I find myself in a position where I ask myself the question: As a white man, how do I use the platforms that I’m given?

The conclusion that I am coming to is this: When possible, use my seat at the table to bring diversity to the table, even if this means giving up my seat.

Granted, I’m 24.  I’m young, and I have a lot of growing up to do still.  Perhaps in a few years I’ll look back at this time and think, “Wow I was young and dumb.”  The great thing about writing for me is that later I get to look back and see where I’ve come from.  I don’t know if anyone will ever read this, but I hope that if you do, you will grant me some grace because I know I probably said some things wrong.  More than that, I hope reading this may propel you to growth.  We all have room to grow, a next step to take, a new conversation to start.  Me included. Scratch that, especially me.

A Push and a Promise – A Message for Graduates

This past Sunday at New Garden Church in Nashville, we had our Graduation Sunday where we affirmed and honored the achievements of our high school grads.  As the Student Minister, I got to share a message with our awesome graduates and our church.  Here’s a manuscript of the message:

 

Let me just say that this is one of my favorite Sundays every year.  I’m so glad to be part of a church that says we want to affirm our high school grads in front of everyone.  So grads, let me start by saying, these are your people.  And church, let me start by saying, that we have a lot to be proud of with this group.

This week, in preparation for this morning, I spent some time wondering about the question:

“What does a student graduating from high school need?”

I asked my Facebook friends, and I got some good and weird answers (as Facebook does), things like:

A Cell Phone Charger, Access to transportation, A book, and A tool box. You need to know your SSN, you need someone you can talk to, A mentor. You need money management skills, Bandaids, and Laundry detergent

When I graduated high school, I thought I needed a lot of things.  I thought I needed to go to college, I thought I needed some graduation gifts, I thought I needed a new pair of shoes, and maybe most of all, I thought I needed to get a girlfriend.  Like me when I graduated, you probably don’t have all those things.

You all have been raised in a new era.  More and more you are able to see what the world has to offer.  You’ve grown up in a world where at just the tap of a screen, you can find anything that you want, good, bad, or ugly.  You’ve grown up in a world where at just the tap of the screen, you can make someone feel good, bad, or ugly.  Some would say that the world that you’ve grown up in is a better world than some past generations, and some would say that the world you’ve grown up in is a world that is farther gone than it was before.

I think either way, you’re not ready for the world.

I don’t think you’re ready for the heartache and the conflict.  I don’t think you’re ready for the inevitable failure coming your way, and I don’t think you’re ready for those things that you can’t control.  You’re going to make mistakes, and it’s going to hurt.  And I know that on some level, you’ve already been through some stuff that you weren’t ready for.

But here’s the thing, it’s not just you that’s not ready.  Look around at all these adults, none of us were ready when we were in your position, and we’re still not ready.

And 2,000 years ago, Jesus gave his disciples a task that they weren’t ready for.

After hanging out with this group of people for three years, they surely ate over a thousand meals together, they traveled together, and they had seen many miracles done in the name of Jesus.  The sick were healed, the blind received sight, and the dead were raised back to life.  But they still weren’t ready.

After Jesus was raised back to life, he was around and appeared to different people until it was time for him to go away.  And so Jesus has these people, his friends and followers meet him on a mountain for his final words to them on earth.

We’re going to pick up there in Matthew chapter 28:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

Even after everything they had seen, three years of hearing Jesus teach and watching Him interact with the world, three years of miracles, and then being witnesses to the ultimate miracle, Jesus rising out of the tomb he was barricaded in, these people still doubt!  We find it easy to blame them, but I think this shows that doubting is part of the journey.  Along the way, we all doubt our faith.  It’s hard and confusing, but it’s part of following Jesus.  Having doubt is not wrong, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.  In those times of doubt, what’s important is that we don’t isolate ourselves.  Keep the conversation going. Find people who are willing to be in that with you.  If you need someone, I would suggest taking a look around this room.

Now we get to Jesus’ final words to his followers, A pep talk of sorts.:

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. 

He starts off letting them know He is in charge.  Jesus has authority.  What Jesus has said will come to pass.  We can trust that when Jesus says something, God’s going to back it up.  

Then Jesus gives them some parting instructions: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  Now sometimes we see this and we think it means we need to move to away to find people and turn them into church people, but this is better translated “As you go” instead of simply “go.”  So as you are doing whatever comes next, make disciples, baptize, and teach.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Wrong!  These followers of Jesus were not ready!  And when we read these instructions, neither are we!  I know that you’ve grown up in church or youth group, but this is scary and confusing.  Where do we start?  What do we say?  How do we get from here to there?

Jesus doesn’t wait till we’re ready to give us a push.

But Jesus doesn’t just give his followers a command, He gives them a promise.  And that’s what I want us to be focused on today.  Jesus goes on to say:

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

When Jesus tells us to go out into the unknown, He doesn’t leave us.  When Jesus tells us to make disciples, baptize, and teach the world, He knows we’re not ready!  When Jesus tells us to seek justice in an unjust world, He doesn’t expect or desire that we do it alone.

When Jesus gives us a push, He also gives a promise.

There used to be a kids swimming instructor in the area who had an interesting strategy for teaching kids to swim.  If you went to her lessons and didn’t know how to swim, and refused to get in the pool, she would literally push you in.  But guess what?  To my knowledge, they didn’t let anyone drown.  The instructors were there, in the pool, for when the kid needed a hand.  There was a push, but there was also a promise, “You aren’t going to drown.”

Now I know that this season of life has a lot of potential stress involved in it.  People asking you “what’s next?” “where to?” and all those other question that you don’t have a great answer to, and even if you do have solid plans, those will likely change.  You’re not ready, but you’re not going to drown.

So today, I want to give you, and all of us, a push.  But I also want to give you a promise.

Your life is here now, and it has been here. A story has already begun to be written with your life.  As you go about what’s next, fill those pages with a life following Jesus, you won’t regret it.  And that doesn’t mean your life will be boring!  Dream big, try new things, don’t be afraid to fail!  As you transition from this stage into what’s next, keep in mind what we are called to do, share our faith with the people we encounter along the way.  There will be plenty of opportunities to fiercely love your friends and your enemies.  There will be plenty of opportunities to seek justice for those who are not treated the right way.  There will be plenty of opportunities to show humility and place the needs of others above your own.  In all of these things, I am pushing you to follow Jesus, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

With that push comes a promise.  God will be with you always.  And that will look different at different times.  Sometimes God will give you the words to say to a friend in need.  Sometimes God will give you a friend’s warmth when you feel alone.  Sometimes God will show up right when you’re ready to give up.  God will be there.

Furthermore, I want to promise that the people of God in this room today will be there for you.  I don’t know how you feel about church or church people, and I don’t know how you’ll feel about church or church people in 5 years, 20 years, or 50 years, but I can tell you that no matter where we meet, what songs we sing, or what we call ourselves, the people of God care deeply for you.  We cannot follow Jesus on our own.  And guess what, you don’t have to be perfect or even pretty good to be with us.

I always say, that there’s nothing you can ever do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing you can ever do to make God love you less.  And we want to have that same mindset.  You are never too far gone to find a home here with us.  Never.  Our door will always be open to you.

The Pledge and Playing it Safe

Before I start, I just want to say that writing this is not easy. I’m well aware that many friends, family, or fellow Christians may disagree with me, but I also know that I am not always called to be agreeable. And I write this because I believe it to be truthful in my life. If I do end up posting what I write, I pray that God will do what He wills with it. God always seems to do that.

A teacher in school once told our class, “Never begin a speech or a paper with a definition.” BUT these teachers always said, there’s exceptions to every rule, and when we were a big-time author we could break the rules. I’m not a big-time author, but I do have my own, free-to-use blog that my mom may read, so I’m just going to break the rules anyways…

Merriam Webster defines allegiance as “devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause.” Now growing up in the U.S., the first thing I think of relating to allegiance is the “Pledge of Allegiance.” We all know it by heart. We grew up reciting it every morning in our schools. In elementary school, does anyone actually know what they’re saying? I remember thinking there was a word in the pledge that was “witchit.” I did not know what it meant, but we said it every day, so it had to mean something. As it turns out, that is actually two words “which it.” The whole thing goes like this:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I don’t know why it seemed so long in school. Maybe because it was the morning? I am not much of a morning person. Or maybe it was because time seems to pass faster now? Who knows. Anyway, that’s what we said, every single day. Then when I was old enough to go to Church Camp, we said it there every morning as we raised the flag. This just seemed to me like part of life in this country, and I didn’t think another thing about it.

Well at least I didn’t think about it for a while. I graduated a year and a half ago from a school named after a preacher of the American Restoration movement, David Lipscomb. In learning about his life and his work, it struck me how he was unwavering in his stance that his citizenship was in the Kingdom of God, not in this country. Lipscomb did not take part in elections, and he also was a strong voice for nonviolence. Growing up in Christian circles, I had never heard this idea. Perhaps I thought that a good American was a Christian, and a good Christian was a “patriotic” person. For many older people with more life experience than my generation, some may view this country as a shining light of freedom in a world of darkness.

I have a hard time rectifying this vision of the U.S. as a beacon of hope with God’s vision of the Church. In Matthew 5, Jesus is preaching to the people.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  -Matthew 5:14-16

This tells me that God’s light of the world is His people: the Church. God is calling His people to do good deeds to bring glory to the Father. We are God’s people. Many of us know of other Christians in other countries, and they are no less part of the Kingdom of God than anyone who lives in this country. So we, God’s people, are to be a light, I get that. What else is required of us? Jesus goes on his sermon, and he teaches on taking care of the poor, prayer, fasting, and finding our treasures in heaven. Then he says this:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  -Matthew 6:24

This is a painful teaching. Of course Jesus is talking about money here, but He is also talking about many other things that may become a master of our life. This teaching refers to power, sex, relationships, sports, and yes, the powers and authorities of the world. Occasionally, our country and God may have similar interests, but that is certainly not something that is consistent. God wants all of us, 100%, to be devoted to Him. Jesus’ message does not really attract those who only want a hobby.

This complete devotion that Jesus is requiring brings me back to the idea of allegiance. If we are completely devoted to following Christ, then our allegiance belongs to the Kingdom of God. I don’t believe myself capable of having multiple allegiances. At some point, we will make decisions that show where our devotion is, and I do not feel called to pledge my allegiance to a flag or a country. Believe me, this is not something that I really want to share on the internet. This idea has been banging around in my head for a few years now. I can no longer pledge allegiance to the flag and our country with a clean conscience.

This is not something I have decided based on the current political landscape or the many athletes who have taken a knee during the national anthem.  Throughout Scripture, God is calling upon His people to serve Him only.  All kids raised in church have to memorize the 10 Commandments.  Commandment #1: “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Commandment #2: “You shall not make for yourself and image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God.”  So maybe you don’t see standing, placing your hand over your heart, and pledging your devotion to a man-made object and human construct as idol worship?  OK, but its at least similar, right?

Then I look at a story from the book of Daniel about these three guys Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago.  Here these guys are living in a foreign empire and the king has a giant golden statue of himself made (a sign of empirical supremacy).  He decrees that everyone must bow down to this statue or be thrown into a furnace and burned alive.  So the time comes and everyone is gathered together in one place.  The instruments are played and everyone starts to bow, everyone except these three guys.  Can you imagine the looks even from other God-fearing people?  Can you imagine the whispering from their friends?  “Just bow and get it over with! It doesn’t mean anything! Just play it safe and do what you’ve gotta do!

Maybe you’ve heard, “Just play it safe and do what you’ve gotta do” before.  Maybe it was something at work that you just had to do to keep your job.  Maybe it was going along with the racist joking of a group of people because you were in the minority and didn’t want to be “that guy.”  There’s many times in our lives where we feel this pressure to play it safe and conform, and we are even advised by our friends and family to do so!  But I have been trying to think of a time where Jesus advised playing it safe, and I’m struggling to think of a time.

So anyways, the King has these three guys brought in and, to paraphrase, says, “I’m dead serious, I will throw you into the furnace if you don’t start playing along.”  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago, go on and tell this King that they believe God can deliver them from any harm, OH AND ALSO, and here’s the kicker for me, they say “But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” *mic drop*

So now they’ve really done it!  The King is ticked!  He has the furnace made 7 times hotter than normal, ties them up and tosses them in there.  Then he looks in and sees 4 people in there, even though he only put 3 in… and the new one “looks like a son of the gods.”  They aren’t getting burnt up and their bindings are gone.  So the King has them brought out, and then goes on to praise God and decrees that “the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

Not only did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago stand up for their convictions, but God used that to change the heart of the most powerful person in the world.  When we give a little, God multiplies it!

So all that to say, we are not called to play it safe or be agreeable.  We are not called to give our devotion to any earthly government or symbol of that government.  We are called to give 100% of our allegiance to the Almighty God, the only God who can save.

And I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for 8 months, playing it safe, but today God gave me courage.  And let’s be honest here, I don’t have a wide readership.  And I stand at no risk to face imprisonment or any formal punishment because our country doesn’t do that, so how big of a risk am I really taking here?  But we can only be faithful with the platforms that we have been given.  We aren’t given the luxury of choosing what to care about. God tends to put stuff on our heart that won’t go away until we do something about it.

Also, I do not tell you this to start a movement. I simply tell you this because I had to. Maybe what I have written will make you think, and maybe you’ll read this and disregard it completely, that’s fine. I appreciate you hanging with me till the end.

Image of God or Demogorgon?

We all carry around some sort of Identification.  If you want to drive legally on the road, you need a driver’s license.  Many places of work require you to carry some sort of ID.  And these days, if you’re a student, you have to have an ID card made and carry it around.  These pieces of identification almost always have a picture of our face on them. Our face is how people identify us.  We put our face in our profile pictures for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so that people will recognize us.  Our face is in many ways synonymous with our identity.

But when we meet someone and we’re telling them about ourselves, we don’t show them a picture of our face.  We try and explain to them who we are.  For instance, if I meet someone, and I ask them to tell me about themselves they might say something like this:

“My name is Steve, I’m an accountant.  I grew up in Atlanta but now I’m living here in Nashville.  I went to Vanderbilt and that’s where I met my girlfriend Natalie.  I love backpacking and going to sporting events.”

And this is a perfectly fine way to describe oneself to someone they’re just meeting!  But lately I’ve been thinking about how we identify ourselves to ourselves.  

Throughout my life, I have done this in many different ways.  In elementary school I told myself that I was wicked smart.  I was a wiz at multiplication tables.  I had some showdowns with fellow classmates, but I was quite confident in my abilities.  However, when I failed to win a spelling bee for two straight years, I decided that maybe that was not my identity.  And then I thought I could be good at sports.  If you’ve met my parents, you know that I have been blessed with tall-person genes.  For whatever reason, I missed out on that biological pot of gold and wasn’t much of an athlete.  To give you a tweet-length scouting report on my football playing career it would be “Has a good low center of gravity, it just doesn’t move with much speed.”  So as many kids like me do, I developed humor as a way to fit in with the cool kids.  And throughout high school this was my go-to identity.  Since then, I’ve found my identity in many other things along the way.

I re-watched Stranger Things this week in anticipation of season 2 coming out soon.  (For those of you who don’t know, Stranger Things is a sci-fi thriller show on Netflix.  If you really wanted, you could watch the whole thing in one sitting.  8 episodes, 6 and a half hours of pure unadulterated distraction from the things in life that really matter)  VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD…

In the show, people are disappearing, and a few of the townspeople spot a monster.  They describe this monster as a creature, kind of shaped like a man, without a face.  The “Dungeons and Dragons” loving characters in the show refer to the monster as the Demogorgon.  This faceless monster, the Demogorgon, is led by its impulses, consuming whatever grabs its attention.

And today, I just got to thinking, “Aren’t we like that sometimes?”  For the record, it’s never a good sign when the character that you identify with in the show is a bloodthirsty monster.  But there are times when I’ve felt this way.

See, when we are placing our identity in something, whether it be a job, a skill, a relationship, or a life goal, that in a way becomes how we identify ourselves.  It becomes our face that we can see and picture.  And most of the time, those things are not permanent.  We deal with loss, failure, and change, and all of a sudden, that thing by which we used to identify ourselves has been stripped from us.  We are left without a face.  In these seasons (days, weeks, months, years) we feel unrooted and unhinged, and we immediately want to jump and latch onto something else that we can identify ourselves by.  We want to find another job, skill, relationship, or goal we can merge ourselves with.  We scramble around seeking to find something to fill that leak in our hearts that had been filled with only a temporary plug.  And if you’ve been there, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Instead of scrambling, we have to sit.  We have to sit in the quiet and the darkness and wait for the Lord to remind us who we are.  And then, once we have slowed down and leaned in closer to the Lord, we may feel the presence of God reminding us that we bet on the wrong horse or horses.  We have spent way too much time clinging to the identity that we found in the things of creation, instead of the identity that we have been given in the Creator. In the beginning, we were created in the Image of God.  And we are loved deeply and fully by the Almighty God who sees our flaws and insecurities.  God’s love for us is perfect.  In Him, we are both fully known and fully loved, yet we spend our time seeking after imperfect affections from the people and systems who don’t and can’t fully love us.

Let us spend time diving deeper into the depths of God’s perfect love for us.  God has given us a unique face and identity.  We are each created in God’s Image, and together we are a masterpiece and small glimpse of the glory of God.  Let’s pray that everything that we do flows out of that foundational identity.

We are loved beyond measure by a God who knows everything about us.

Leading with Love

So maybe you have heard over the past few days about the Nashville Statement.  I honestly don’t know how widespread it has become, but as someone who works in a local church, I guess I might be more likely to have heard about it or read it than some others may be.  If you haven’t heard, a group of evangelical faith leaders met in Nashville in order to come to some sort of consensus on a doctrine regarding sexual stewardship.  They released this 3-page document this week in the midst of nationwide concern for Houston.  Besides Houston, there has been many other tragedies in the U.S. recently, for example, the show of hatred and evil in Charlottesville 3 weeks ago. Much of the Nashville Statement is directly in relation to the LGBTQ+ community.  If you’d like to read the document, you can find it here.

I know, you are all still reading this to find out all about my beliefs regarding marriage and God-honoring sexuality, but that’s not why I am writing today.  I will say that wherever you come down on these issues, I would try my best to understand your beliefs and how they have formed or changed throughout your life.  I write this today because I think many are missing the point as I did when I read the document the first time.

I can honestly say that I know some wonderful, absolutely good-hearted people who fall on either side of the debate regarding the Church’s affirmation of those who have accepted non-traditional sexual lifestyles.  And I do not write this to offend or send anyone into shock.  I write this because I believe that the overwhelming majority of the current dialogue regarding the Nashville Statement has not been fruitful.  There have been a lot of voices falling on deaf ears.

Before I go any further, let me clarify: I 100% believe that members of the Body of Christ have a responsibility to other members of the Body to hold each other accountable to live lives according to the calling that we have received as followers of Jesus Christ.

And now let me say: the only way in which we can or should hold each other accountable is within the context of a faith community in loving relationship with each other.

Think about it this way, has anyone that you did not have a relationship with ever scolded or chastised you?  I would assume that was not an enjoyable experience.  Has anyone that you don’t know ever said to you, “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but…” That probably did not make you feel good.  Throughout my life, I have often resented being told what to do.  I’m working on maturing and growing, but man, that’s the worst!  Now certainly, there are times in my life where I need guidance, and I’m even learning how to ask someone else for their input (what a novel concept), but I will only receive correction well from someone that I know loves me.  Maybe this is just me, but I would bet you have felt similarly.

As followers of Christ, we are trying to be like Christ, right?  If that’s the case, we need to look at the way that Jesus lived to inform every aspect of our lives.  In Luke 19, there’s a story that I think really applies to this topic:

Jesus is traveling with his disciples through Jericho, and there’s a ton of people trying to see him.  There’s this short tax collector (social stigma implied) in town named Zaccheus, and he really wants to see Jesus, but he can’t see over the crowds, so he climbs up in a tree just to catch a glimpse.  Jesus sees Zaccheus up in the tree, and calls out to him, “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today!”  Ecstatic, Zaccheus takes Jesus to his home.  But the people were not happy with this.  They grumbled to each other, “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner.”  That day, Zaccheus’s heart was transformed.  Because of his interaction with Jesus, who just went over to his house, he vows to give half of his money to the poor and to repay anyone he has cheated four times over!

So let’s think about this story.  I would bet that Zaccheus knew that the religious folks disagreed with his lifestyle choices.  But guess what, knowing that a bunch of religious people didn’t like him really didn’t make him want to change.  All Zaccheus needed for radical life change was to interact with the transformative love of Jesus.  People in our world could use a little more of that.

When dealing with people, Jesus always lead with love.  He befriended many other “notorious sinners.”  Jesus offered the Samaritan woman caught in adultery living water!  Jesus had a quality about him that not only tolerated those who had been outcast by the religious establishment, but he attracted them!  You know what’s not attractive?  Someone that you don’t know telling you that you’re a sinner.

So let me bring this back to the Nashville Statement.  Whatever side you find yourself on, there are real people, living breathing people, on the other side who legitimately believe that what they are standing for is right.  People on every side of this issue are created in the image of God, and there are devoted followers of Christ who are still developing thoughts and views on these matters.  We cannot let this be divisive in our faith communities.

Too many times, we, Christians, divide ourselves into different camps.  We split ourselves by how we like to worship, our views on the Eucharist, our traditions, etc.  And in the midst of a world that has an immediate need for the love of Jesus, we have found yet another thing that divides us instead of unifies us.

We need to be known more by what we are for than what we are against.  We need to be identified by our love for one another, our neighbors, and our enemies.  We need to be identified by our desire to lift the lowly, welcome the outcast, and break the chains of the oppressed.  

And yes, we need to be having these important discussions in our faith communities regarding our views on these topics.  But any view that does not begin with a love for God and for our neighbor is not a view that is from God.  These topics need to be wrestled with in our faith communities, but not on Facebook or Twitter.  These are not topics to make decrees about.  These are conversations to be had together in homes and at coffee shops, not on the internet for the whole world to see.  And when we do have these conversations, we must give each other permission to still be working it out in our hearts.

I must say that when it comes to withholding grace from those with whom I disagree, I am the chief of sinners, but I am encouraged because through the grace of God I know I can grow in that way.  I pray that I will be a person who leads with love, and I pray the same for all of us.

Only through the power of God’s grace can we truly become people who can speak truth in love.

I want to be someone who…

I remember the first week of my freshman year of high school, I was sitting in English class, and we were given a classic freshman assignment.  The assignment was to set 10 goals for ourselves for the next four years while we would be in high school. I’ve never been much of a goal-setter, but I knew what to put down on the paper.  So I wrote down what I viewed as the normal “successful” high school stuff.  I don’t remember all 10 goals, but I remember two of them: 1. Graduate in the top 10 percent of my class.  And 2. Become a starter on the football team.  I accomplished neither of these goals for myself.  For different reasons, of course.  There were factors in those that were out of my control like other people competing and natural ability limitations, but also, looking back, I am not sure those were really things that I cared much about, at least, I didn’t show it by my effort level.

When someone is growing up in school, the question adults often think to ask is “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  The answers that these awkward-feeling adults are expecting is a type of profession like doctor, firefighter, or teacher.  And so, depending on the kid, they either change their mind on this a few times, or some know from a very young age what it is that they want to do.  This changed a lot for me over the years.  Obviously I wanted to be a professional athlete for a while.  Get to play sports for a job? Make tons of money? Be famous? Sign me up!  I pretty quickly realized that perhaps for me, that wasn’t going to be a career option.  So I think then I said that I wanted to be a lawyer.  I did have quite the argumentative gift (My mom always says that if she said the sky is blue, I would say its not. That’s not too inaccurate… Sorry, Mom).  Then I realized that I thought talking to people was an ok thing that I could do, so when asked, I would always tell people I wanted to be a counselor.  Then very early on in college, I found that I wanted to do youth ministry.  And guess what!? That’s what I do.

When talking to a youth minister, some people may still ask the question, “So what do you want to do, really?”  At this point, I can honestly say youth ministry.

So I’m 23, and I think I have a ready answer for the “what do you want to do?” question.

But now, I, and I suppose every other person, have to ask the question: “What kind of person do I want to be?”  This seems to me to be a far more important question.  But this is a question that is much harder to break down into a list of goals, if you like making lists of that sort of thing.

See, we live in a world that is all about climbing up the next wrung of the ladder.  Our world cares about graduating at the top of your class from business school, our world cares about getting that next promotion, and our world cares about being able to afford living in the comfortable neighborhood with the comfortable car.  From a young age, we’re conditioned to want to associate with a certain crowd.  “Oh, you don’t want to send your child to that school.” We’re conditioned to not accept finishing in any place other than first.  I remember three times in elementary school that I was devastated because I didn’t win (2 spelling bees and a science fair).  We have accepted these expectations placed on us by voices other than the voice of God.  And some of these voices have even been backed up by scriptural references!  How many times have you heard Colossians 3:23 (context: Paul’s teaching for 1st century slaves) and thought that meant you need to work harder to achieve earthly success?

Woah!  Slow your role, Michael.  The Bible is God’s Word.  Are you saying that we shouldn’t try hard at things!?

No, that’s not what I’m saying.  What I am saying is that we should not pick and choose Scripture to enforce our desire to succeed in the eyes of other people.  Definitely work diligently in your jobs and in your relationships!

Ok, ok, so here’s my point: We spend way to much time trying to answer the question, “What do we want to do?” And we do not spend enough time trying to answer the question, “What kind of person do we want to be?”

I find myself in a season of life where that second question keeps coming up.  So I’m going to make a new list.  This time I’m going to pick 10 qualities that I want to aspire to be.  Maybe if you’re reading this, it will give you some ideas about the kind of person that you want to be.

*DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT ALREADY THESE THINGS ALL THE TIME BECAUSE IF I WAS, THIS WOULD BE A POINTLESS LIST.

I want to be someone who:

  1. always tells the truth.
  2. cares for the marginalized.
  3. is hospitable toward the outsider.
  4. seeks to gain understanding.
  5. is willing to be vulnerable.
  6. seeks wise counsel.
  7. responds kindly.
  8. leads by example.
  9. radiates patience.
  10. loves deeply.

 

-MC