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reflecting in the new year

A new year is upon us. I feel fairly indifferent about it all. I think this is the first time in my life where I’m not excited to jump into another stage. 2018 was exactly what it was: a year. There were good days, bad days, and a lot of eh days. I learned a lot, and I grew a lot in 2018. Don’t get me wrong, I made some mistakes along the way, but that’s how we learn. I made some beautiful friends in the last year. Some days I was so content that I just wished those days would stretch on forever. Some days I was so discontent that I almost dropped everything and wanted start over in something else. Throughout all the wins and losses, the year was made special by those with whom I spent it. And I’m thankful for that.

Thinking about this blog and especially it’s contents in 2018, I am fairly happy with what I wrote and how I wrote it. Oftentimes, I’m writing as much to encourage myself to use my voice as I am to share my voice with others. Many people, maybe even most, find it more difficult to speak openly to flaws of the existing social systems than they do to affect change in their own hearts. I have the opposite problem. For me, to call on churches, governments, and others to do the right thing is much easier than acknowledging, even privately, the corners of my personhood that are not seeking justice and loving mercy.

I struggle with introspection. Strangely enough, I’m more self-reflective when I’m in the presence of others than when I’m by myself. Being self-reflective in public moments at least gives me something to talk about. I’m largely afraid of being found out to be who I most fear that I am: a fraud.

My family and close friends would be able to identify me as an often fairly disagreeable person. I remember growing up my mom would say things to me like, “If I said the sky was blue, you would say it’s not.” And she was right. My parents often referred to me affectionately as a Smart Alec, which turns out to just be the church appropriate way of calling somebody a smartass. I don’t really know at what age I became someone looking to poke holes in the rulings of authority figures, but by high school, I was in full bloom. I was never in trouble, ever, but that doesn’t mean that I was always easy to get along with. Youth pastors would be able to identify my high school self as that student who could be a great leader, but could also be a pain when they wanted to be. I quickly learned that there was always a way to pretty blatantly disobey while making it look like I had good motives. One time in high school a few of my friends and I walked out of the planned youth group events to have our own unsanctioned small group. As I made sure to tell my mom later, “We had our Bibles with us and everything,”

Of course I didn’t then have the self-awareness to understand that my desire to undermine authority figures was born out of my own insecurities. I know that now, so I have less of an excuse. I was insecure that I wouldn’t be known as smart, funny, or cool, but instead I was insecure that I would be simply known. Known to be only me, and I didn’t think that would be enough. On my worst days now, that scared teen still comes through.

What I didn’t know then was that who I am, behind the bluster and pseudo confidence, is enough. I still forget that sometimes. I often have to remind myself that I don’t have to earn my worth or have my worth voted on and judged by a panel of my peers. Any affirmation that I receive when I’m overcompensating doesn’t last in my heart because it’s not really affirmation of me, it’s affirmation of the character that I play. I need to remember that it’s ok to not know what to do and ask for help. I don’t have to have all the answers, and I don’t have to give all the answers to people who didn’t ask me what the answers were in the first place.

In the Bible in the book of Genesis, God comes to this guy Jacob in the night and God wrestles with him for hours. Eventually God knocks Jacob’s hip out of place, but Jacob doesn’t disengage, saying, “I won’t let go until you bless me!” So God blesses Jacob and changes his name to Israel, which means One who wrestles with God. Author Annie F. Downs takes this away from the story: God gives us a limp and a blessing. Our limps and our blessings are tied together, and we can’t have one without the other. For me this looks like being willing to address the brokenness and injustice of our systems (blessing) but at the same time struggling to address the brokenness and injustice inside of myself (limp). Or as Jesus might say, I am quick to attend to the speck in the eyes of others, but slow to attend to the log in my own.

The more conscious we are of our limps, the more we’re able to live into our blessings. I am enough, not because of what I’ve done but because of who I am: a person. And so are you. We don’t have to keep measuring ourselves against each other because God knows us and welcomes us without a pecking order.


So it’s a new year. And with this blog and my different platforms in 2019, I hope to put forth more introspective and vulnerable content like this. As I wrap this up, I’m aware that this isn’t the most eloquent thing I’ve ever written, but it is honest, and that’s where I need to be.

Thanks for reading!



An excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address at the Fourth Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change at Bethel Baptist Church.

December 3rd, 1959

There is great need for positive leadership from the moderates of the white South in this tense period of transition. Unfortunately today, the leadership of the white South is by and large in the hands of close-minded extremists. These persons gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas, and by appealing to the deepest fears and hates within the human mind. But they do not speak for the South; of that I am convinced.

There are in the white South millions of people of goodwill whose voices are yet unheard, whose course is yet unclear, and whose courageous acts are yet unseen. Such persons are in Montgomery today. These persons are often silent today because of fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. In the name of God, in the interest of human dignity, and for the cause of democracy, I appeal to these white brothers to gird their courage, to speak out, to offer the leadership that is needed. Here in Montgomery we are seeking to improve the whole community, and we call upon the whites to help us. Our little message to the white community is simply this: We who call upon you are not so-called outside agitators. We are your Negro brothers whose sweat and blood has {have} also built Dixie. We yearn for brotherhood and respect and want to join hands with you to build a freer, happier land for all. If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

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.



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.

Kingdom Manhood – Image

So last week, I did some writing on a view of what it means to be a man, and I called it Kingdom Manhood. The more that I think about this masculinity conversation, the more I am convinced that what we–men especially–believe manhood to be, deeply informs the way that we perceive our worth, relationships, and life’s direction.

Thinking back on my upbringing, I keep coming back to this idea that being a man was about being put-together. I guess what I mean by put-together is not having need. Being a man was about having a job that could not only support myself, but could also support a family. I think I overheard a lot growing up from church and media that being the man of the house was about meeting the financial needs of others in order to meet the physical needs of others. There was a notion that a man works, and a man who doesn’t work doesn’t eat. Men should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, by their own merit.

Manhood was also about not having to ask questions. Whether it was knowing how to literally get from point A to point B or knowing how to have an important conversation with a coworker, I thought men shouldn’t have to ask questions because being a man is about being the person who has the answers, not asks the questions.

And being a man also seemed to be about not having emotional need. Man up was a phrase that I commonly used in response (in my head or with my words) to others’ tears. I thought men didn’t cry because men were supposed to be the strong emotional rock of their family. Men were supposed to keep their emotions under control, and tears are a sign of losing that control. We had what I believed to be an overly emotional preacher at our church for a few years when I was in the youth group. My friends and I would text each other about the odds of tears from the pulpit during church.

Believing that manhood was about not having needs, I got really good at pretending to not have needs. My sophomore year in high school, my grades were in free fall in my chemistry class. I had never had to ask for help in school. To add some inner conflict, my dad is a college chemistry professor. I really didn’t want to ask for his help, but man, did I need it. I had some really awkward and intense moments with my dad that year while refusing to accept and apply his help. I was embarrassed and really didn’t like the extra attention. Eventually, out of desperation, I accepted his help, and I actually got good at it.

I remember many times in my life I cried and really, really, really didn’t want to. It’s one thing to be 13 and cry at my grandfather’s memorial service, but it’s another to be 14 and have multiple tears run down my cheeks at football practice because someone hurt my feelings. My Freshman year at college, I ended up crying for 30 minutes in the dorm bathroom because one of my best friends called me out on something (he was right), and I showed up 20 minutes late for my next class.

During my senior seminar class in college was one of my more healing and vulnerable moments of public tears. We had been talking about something, and I got on one of my hobbyhorses (which it turns out I have several). As I was talking, I got going about this idea of manhood and how it shapes the men in our churches. I felt my voice begin to shake and crack (a scary feeling). As I finished speaking, my face felt full of warmth as I could no longer hold back a tear. I was really embarrassed that I had lost control. For one, I had just cried in front of 20 of my peers. Secondly, I also used the word asshole at one point. Whoops! that’s not for Bible class. It’s funny because no one really knows how to react when a normally uneventful and borderline sleepy class turns into a teary diatribe. After class, a close and trusted friend told me that maybe there was a reason that I felt so passionately… could be a calling thing. I’m thankful for that moment.

Growing up, what I knew of being a man and what I know of being vulnerable were at odds. If people ever found out that I am afraid, worried, or ignorant, what would they think? I need people to be convinced that I am strong, independent, and intelligent. That’s the image I want on display, and that’s the image that I put on display.

To make matters worse, it’s 2018, and we can make anyone in the world think anything about us that we want them to think. Personally, I am very conscious of the image of myself that I am curating on social media. If I want people to think I’m about social justice, I can make them think that. If I want people to think I read my Bible, I can make them think that. If I want people to think that I do fun things, I can make them think that. 90% of people who know me are familiar with the image that I want them to know. Do you have any idea how many things I think or say that don’t make it to Facebook? 99.9%. People love the .1% that we show, and the thing is, we love the .1% that we show too. The problem is, we don’t always love the 99.9% of ourselves that we don’t post, and we’re afraid that others might not love us either.

Since we’re talking about social media, this is relevant. Today, one of my favorite podcasters, Science Mike (Mike McHargue) from The Liturgists and Ask Science Mike tweeted this thread out:

Yesterday, I got so overwhelmed trying to meet up with @WilliamMatt22 in San Francisco that I had a meltdown. I looked distressed enough that a homeless woman stopped screaming at people walking by and asked me if I was ok. Here’s why I want you to know about this:

Society puts a lot of pressure on us to look successful, and to look like we have it together. And many of us pull off that image, even if reality isn’t quite so clean. That expectation means I felt a lot of shame yesterday–I really didn’t like myself at all.

So, the next time you feel like you can’t take it anymore, or you feel like a fraud, or you feel like a failure, I want you to think of me, sobbing on a sidewalk in San Francisco, being comforted by a woman who is absolutely rejected by our society.

It’s not just you.


We all want to be viewed as successful, competent, and strong. We feel awkward and ashamed when we aren’t living up to that. In curating our image to perfection, we have added pressure that we were never meant to bear. We have become so concerned with our own image, that we forget that we are created in God’s image.

I’ve always wanted to be viewed as a man of God, but I think a better way to identify myself is as a child of God. To me (because of cultural baggage), being a man of God implies that I am a provider or that I am measured by what I do. Identifying myself as a child of God is a flip in perspective. As a child of God I am fully dependent on God. What I will eat, what I will wear, and where I will go is dependent on my Father who knows my deep ineptitude and cares for me. To be a child of God is to understand that I am valuable not because of the image I have created for myself, but because of the image that my Father created in me.

As a child of God, it is acceptable to ask all the questions, even the ones that seem insignificant. It’s acceptable to fail, and it’s acceptable to cry. Life is too difficult to go about it pretending to be okay. Men, we are going to have questions, we’re going to fail, and we will lose control of our emotions. Do we want to curate an image of ourselves that has space for vulnerability, or do we want to fall off the wagon when we inevitably don’t live up to the expectations that we have placed on ourselves?

I’m a child of God, and you’re a child of God. Not because we’re competent or successful, but because we are created in the image of God.

Kingdom Manhood

A couple weeks ago, I had a friend ask me for some help. Honestly, I thought I would get these kinds of inquiries more often than I do as someone who is a full-time minister/pastor/professional Christian. She had a friend at work who knew a man who was in jail, and her friend was trying to find a good Bible study book written specifically for men that she could recommend. I should have been able to be more helpful, but literally the only two books I could think of were Wild at Heart and Every Man’s Battle. I mentioned those to her, but I also told her that I couldn’t highly recommend them. I’m sure there are people out there who have found those books immensely helpful, but I really struggle with that type of literature. Saying that men are a certain way, or that God created men to be like this or that, seems very limited to me.

At my small private Christian high school, we took Bible classes everyday all the way through. Juniors and Seniors got to choose what class they took. One of the football coaches taught a boys-only class called “Christian Men.” This class was going through 1 & 2 Samuel talking about the life of King David with some Psalms sprinkled in. And I thought that David perfectly exemplified what “manhood” was. David was this physically strong, courageous warrior on the battlefield who protected and led a nation. Here is the story that I remember best (for obvious reasons): David wanted to marry the daughter of King Saul, Michal, but King Saul wanted David out of the picture. So King Saul tells David that if he wants to marry Michal, he has to go to battle with a nation of people known as the Philistines, and not only win the battle, but then he has to bring back 100 Philistine’s penis foreskins. Yeah, this is in the Bible. King Saul thinks this will be the end of David. This is a suicide mission (later King David also sends a man to his death to get him out of the picture, but more on that later). David not only brings back the required amount of foreskins, but he doubles it and brings back 200. My football coach Bible teacher told us that they probably weren’t taking their time and making sure they were just getting the foreskin. They were probably just chopping away at the penises. Likely David dropped a sack of 200 partial penises onto King Saul’s floor… I’d hate to be the guy who had to count all of those.

*this is by far the most I’ve ever typed the word “penis” on the internet. maybe there’s still more to come. keep reading to find out.*

From what I understood, King David was like this William Wallace, Braveheart character. He kicked butt and took names. To take things further, he straight up killed thousands of people. I thought this is the kind of character that men are supposed to like. He was like a B.C. action hero. Before Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis’ characters, there was King David. King David did other stuff too.

When most people think of the dark side of David they think about the story commonly called David and Bathsheba. To call it the story of David and Bathsheba however, seems to imply that Bathsheba had any sort of say in how it played out, which is unlikely at best.

All over the place, Bathsheba is portrayed as this seductive temptress. In art and in a lot of books written by men, Bathsheba is portrayed as a woman who was seeking to manipulate King David with her looks, but that’s very doubtful. Why was she bathing on her roof? That’s probably where she always bathed. Why was she bathing when she was? It was time for her post-period ritual washing. Since when is having good hygiene seductive!?

Let’s keep in mind, at this point, King David is not a young man seeking a wife. David has more wives than he can handle already! Here’s what we know about Bathsheba: she was married to Uriah (one of King David’s warriors) but had no children. Being married but having no children points to her being around 16 or 17. Knowing all of this changes the story.

Here’s what happened: King David sees a girl (the wife of one of his men) cleaning herself. King David sends the palace guard to go get her. The palace guard shows up at the house of a 17-year-old and brings her to the King. The King has sex with her and sends her home. There are serious power dynamics at play here. Do we really believe that this young woman had much of a choice in the matter? The King gets whatever he wants, all the time. And women were treated as mere property. You do the math, this is not a consensual sexual encounter. This is a bad look for our warrior king, our masculine role model. But wait! It gets worse…

Bathsheba is now pregnant as a result of rape. This should not come as a shock to King David because he saw her ritually purifying herself on the roof, which meant she would have been ovulating. So King David now has to cover his tracks. This is like watching Netflix’s Bloodline or House of Cards, the cover-up always escalates way past the original crime. King David again chooses to use his position of authority for personal gain. He arranges for Uriah to return from battle so that he can lay with his wife in hopes that Uriah will be fooled into believing he is the biological father. King David has a problem though, Uriah is way too loyal to his friends and to King David. How could Uriah possibly make love to his wife while his friends and God’s Ark of the Covenant are out on the battlefield? Uriah sleeps in front of the palace with the servants, but doesn’t go home. So the next night, King David gets Uriah drunk and sends him home to Bathsheba, but once again Uriah refuses to go home and be with his wife resting comfortably. Now King David is forced to try his backup plan. He sends Uriah back to the battlefield and instructs the head officer of his forces to send Uriah to the front and abandon him out there to die. This plan works. Uriah is killed in battle. King David took an already terrible situation and made it much worse.

When Bathsheba, a scared and shamed 17-year-old young woman, heard of her husband’s death, she mourned. King David had her brought to his house and made her his wife. She gave birth to a son.

A prophet named Nathan came to King David and showed him that he was at fault. King David was distraught and worshipped the Lord. It’s here that King David wrote this in Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, oh God. And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit away from me.

In this moment, King David does set an example of right living: true conviction and a desire to change. Confession and reorienting his heart toward the heart of God.

But once again, I feel like we, in our hunt for Biblical manhood and Christian masculinity, miss what’s going on here. We have turned this into a story about lust and the desire to not lust. We use this in all of our attempts to keep men from cheating on their wives, and to keep teenage boys from looking at pornography. When we do this, we are narrowing the scope of how the Bible can affect and change our hearts. This story speaks as much to greed and power as it does lust. We hold King David up as a man who in his imperfection and struggle with lust, still was a “man after God’s own heart.” Lust seems to be the socially acceptable struggle for men, almost an accepted masculine sin. Every man’s battle. I bet there’s men out there that have other issues besides lust. And they’re men too.

So maybe David isn’t a great role model for men. I hope men can do better than that. If only we had someone in our Bible who interacted appropriately and lovingly with men and women alike. If only we had someone who we could look to as an example of how men can live.

There’s this guy named Jesus.

Jesus is underrepresented in our “Biblical Manhood” conversations. Sometimes I think we view Jesus as this genderless being who doesn’t have much to say towards specifically men or specifically women. But maybe Jesus does have something to say there. We emphasize Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives, but what about the way that Jesus interacts with people?

Jesus came talking about something new: a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that was different than the kingdom of David. This Kingdom was not a kingdom brought on by a great war or conquering king. This Kingdom was a place where those who were in first place would actually be in last place. This Kingdom was a place where those who were viewed as strong were actually weak, and those who were viewed as weak would actually be put in a place of strength. There would be no warrior king who would force submission to a flag or a throne, but in the Kingdom that Jesus spoke of, there would be a King who submitted himself to death at the hands of the world power in order to give power to the weak and overlooked. Jesus was a different kind of king than ever before, and Jesus was a different kind of man than ever before.

Jesus was normal looking, but the way he acted looked different. Jesus paid special attention, not to the authorities, but instead to the children. Jesus elevated women to a place among his disciples and followers. Jesus flipped the cultural script of how to interact with those on the outside. He wasn’t above extending a healing hand to the sick. Jesus pulled those on the margins into the middle, and many that were in the middle found themselves on the margins.

Jesus brought about a new Kingdom. One that was about love, justice, and peace. Jesus was the first of a new kind of man in this Kingdom. Jesus was a man that was about love, justice, and peace.

If we want to know what it looks like to be a man in the Kingdom of God, why do we start anywhere else besides Jesus? Jesus is the beginning and the end of the conversation.

Can we please stop blending present-day cultural scripts with Bible stories? Culturally boys are being taught from an early age that they have to “be a man,” or “man up.” Using context clues, they understand that this means, “stop crying,” and “suck it up.” I struggle with this because I understand that there are times when sitting ourselves out and crying are not helpful, but can we say it differently than equating masculinity with not being emotionally available? Upon seeing the sadness of Mary and Martha over the loss of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. Jesus was emotionally available to the point of tears. From personal experience, I know the social shame of crying in front of other people growing up, especially other boys. Can we do better for the next generation? Can we set a better example for our children? I think we can.

Furthermore, when we break our youth groups up between boys and girls, what do we talk about? Often boys talk about porn and lust, girls talk about body image and virginity.  But wait, there’s girls who are dealing with pornography and boys who have a negative body image! When we split up boys and girls to talk about different things, sometimes we are double shaming. Not only does a boy struggling with having a positive body image already deal with shame, now he is dealing with the shame of struggling with something that only girls are supposed to struggle with. He might wonder, “Am I not as masculine as I should be?” Or a girl who finds herself unable to avoid pornography. Not only is that immensely shame inducing already, but now she wonders “Am I less feminine and more masculine because I have this problem?” Sin and the shame it causes does not discriminate based on gender.

To see true, unadulterated Kingdom Manhood, we have to look to Jesus. We can’t apply our modern day masculinity values to it. Men in the Kingdom of God don’t have to be physically strong, emotionally distant, sports-loving, women-objectifying tough guys.

Jesus flips the script on masculinity. 

So let’s seek out this Kingdom Manhood. Let’s be men that love other men in a way that is open and accepting. Men that elevate the position of marginalized people groups. And men that are looking to Jesus as a guide.

Why Community

Message from New Garden Church. September 2nd, 2018.

According to an article published by Harvard in January 2017, there is something that is eating at our lifespans at the same rate as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  This thing that affects so many people is nearly as prevalent as obesity in the United States.  This factor alone, shortens the average person’s lifespan by 8 years…

This ailment is not violent video games, it’s not a regular diet of McDonalds french fries, and its not drinking too much coke…

What I’m talking about is loneliness. Loneliness affects an absurdly high amount of people in our country, in our city, and I’m sure people that are right here in this room. And no, this isn’t a message about taking care of lonely single people. We have turned marriage into this Christian cure for loneliness, but I’m not naïve enough to think that there aren’t married people in here who are lonely. Loneliness does not discriminate between single and married, old and young, educated and uneducated.

Ok pause. This research is just now catching up to something that we Christians have believed about life for a long time. One of the most central points of our scripture is community.  So lets hold this in our mind and zoom way out 90,000 ft.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  God was hovering over this blank slate. In Genesis, the author tells us that God created the universe.  God creates all of these things, and they are good: light, land, the sun and the moon, the fish and the birds, the animals, and finally, God says this:

“Let us make mankind (people) in our image, to be like us…

So God created human beings in his own image.

In the image of God, he created them.

Male and female he created them.”

and on the seventh day God rested.

And sometimes I think we know what’s in the Bible too well. We know this story by heart, some of you have probably grown up in church, you know the story, you were in the skit during Vacation Bible School, and you have the certificate to show it. We read it, but it no longer provokes the wonder that it could because we think we understand.

Trying to have the perspective of a first time reader, I have some questions!  We won’t get into all of them, but here’s a big one: I thought you guys believed in ONE God!  But this seems pretty clear that there’s more than just one God there!

See, we believe that not only does God want community for us and with us, but we also believe that God is community.  We believe that God the Father, the Son of God (Jesus!), and the Holy Spirit are one together.  And this is really important, please don’t miss this: God is the very nature of community.

And we have been created from the community of God to reflect the image of the community of God. So that’s chapter 1 of Genesis. So let’s look at chapter 2.

So in chapter 2, weirdly enough, we have another creation story. So what’s the deal? Did God create the world twice? I’m not here to debate anyone about the literal or non-literal nature of the Genesis creation stories.  I’m also not here to debate the how’s and when’s of everything.  There are dedicated followers of Jesus who believe God created the universe in literally 6 24-hour periods, and there are dedicated followers of Jesus who believe that God created the world using a big-bang and evolution. There’s probably people on both ends of that spectrum in this room, but guess what? That is small potatoes. I bring this all up to say this: no matter what you believe about our world’s beginnings, there is room in your views to gain insight into the beautiful nature of God, right here in the first few pages of the Bible.

So in chapter 2 this is the story we have: picking up in verse 7.

“7 Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

This is the dream right? God and a man, together in the Garden. No sin has come into the world yet, no brokenness, no sickness, no death. Just God and a man. This is the perfect set-up, right? Now hold up, because I might make some people uncomfortable with this: I believe the full communion between God and one man was not enough, it was incomplete. It was not perfect.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”

***Real quick side note: so many people abuse the second part of this verse.  This word “helper” here does not mean “assistant,” or “aid,” or “person who does what men don’t have time for.”  This is the Hebrew word “ezer” and it is the same word that is used in the Psalms when it talks about God being our help. The word ezer comes from two roots meaning “power” and “strength.” So sisters, you are powerful, strong, and competent. You are not an afterthought. Creation was incomplete with out you. Humanity is weak without your voice.

Back to what I’m trying to get at: In the creation story in Genesis chapter 2, God sees this: one human by him or herself, even a human living a sinless life with God, is not getting the full experience of life. One man or woman, in full connection with God – no sin separating – is not living the full and complete life that God has for us. The pendulum swings and we often find ourselves on one end or the other of a spectrum.  Either we are so concerned with a vertical connection between ourselves and God, that we miss out on godly connections with others, or we become so focused on pouring into others that we forget to be filled through a connection with God.

So the one side is this, “I go to church once a week, I pray, I even listen to the Christian radio station in the car. I have checked all of the boxes, I’m good.”  And I think that’s where a lot of us may fall. We have turned what was supposed to be a relationship between 3 parties into a relationship for 2. We have falsely assumed that we will be happier and more joyful because we talk to God.  We are really good at nailing the “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” but we forget the second greatest command that is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have a friend or neighbor that needs help, but we think “I’ve had a long week. I just need some me time,” all as we turn Reckless Love up to 11 in the car. We remember God’s pursuit of us into all of our mess of greed and lust, but we can’t remember to pursue a friend who has begun to fade away from our view. And then we feel lonely, but we don’t know why because we go to church every Sunday.

It’s easy for us to see all the barriers to community with others, but when we are focused on the barriers to community, we miss out on the benefits of community.

So, just for a second, let’s be honest about the barriers to community.

Some of us are afraid of seeking it out because we know ourselves too well. We know how we get, we know who we don’t like, we know what we did last night, we know where we went last week, and we know what we go looking for on the internet.

If we actually tried to be vulnerable and open up to somebody else about what we’re dealing with, they might be visibly uncomfortable and cringe. They might tell somebody else, or perhaps worst of all, they may not. Maybe, worst of all, they might – out of love – want to help, and we’re not ready for that because underneath it all, we actually can’t fathom the idea of facing our demons.

Some of us don’t want to seek out community because it requires commitment. Community takes time and energy that we just aren’t ready to spend. We’re too busy, too tired, too worn out. We’ve got too much going on between our job, and our kids, and our family members who are struggling with their health.

One meeting every two weeks could turn into once a week, then special occasions too, then people will call us for help when they are moving, when they’re sick, and when they get in over their head.  We just don’t have the time, our kids comes first. That strategy works until our kids are gone, and we’re just stuck with our spouse, or worse they’re gone too..

Of the lonely people in the Harvard study, the data from the older demographic showed that 35% missed having someone to share a meal with. 30% missed holding someone’s hand. 44% missed having someone to go on vacation with.

So when we are too consumed with our current time in life and “don’t have time” for community, it turns out that there will likely come a time when we have more time on our hands than we would like.

Community with others is more than a time commitment, it’s also a commitment to someone else’s mess. We all love when someone accepts us in all of our brokenness, but when it’s time for us to accept others, it can get messy. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I get in over my head? And messy situations take time.

I’m reminded of the well-known African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It’s 2018 in the U.S.. Everything is fast now. Our cars can get us places fast, our phones can quickly connect to the internet, Amazon can literally get us something the day we order it if we want it bad enough.

The Kingdom of God is not a drive-thru, and when we turn our following Jesus into a 3-hour a week pick-me-up, we are cheapening the sacrifice and gift of the Church God has for us. The community that God has intended for us is not fast, it is slow and time-consuming and messy.  We want everything to be efficient and expedient, but efficiency and expediency are not traits of a life lived by God’s design.

So those are some of the barriers that we see to this community stuff. Let’s just say that we can get past those, why do we need it?

One thing that community fosters is growth. Proverbs 27:17 says this, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” or “as iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend.”  One of the great things about a church community is this: the sharpening is the point!  We’ve all got friends that aren’t sharpening us, and probably friends that we aren’t sharpening.  We can read our Bible’s all we want and listen to worship songs, but do we ever really know who we are or where we stand until we voice that to someone else? A huge temptation in Christian culture is to not talk about hard things. There are some vital, important ideas we think are impolite to discuss because we say it is too “divisive,” or “might upset someone.” We are cheating ourselves when we do this. We are cheating others by silencing our voice, and we are cheating ourselves by silencing others’ voices. How can we possibly hold to something as truth if we are not courageous enough to voice that to others? We say that our church is a family, but here’s my question: if you can’t talk about hard stuff with your family, who can you talk about it with? To be able to not talk about your views and live comfortably is a privileged position that a lot of people out there don’t have.

Probably six months ago now, I kicked our midweek student gathering off with this question: Are there things that we can’t talk about at church?  Almost all of them, said yes, and the ones who didn’t acknowledged that there are things that we don’t talk about.  In a perfect world, we would, but we don’t because we’re scared. Scared of rejection, scared of losing a loved one. How can this be? Sometimes I wonder “Have I made church a safe space for people who look like me, think like me, and talk like me, but a dangerous place for everyone else?” We all need to ask ourselves that.

We will not and do not grow inside of our comfort zones. You know where my comfort zone is?  On the couch watching football every Saturday. Honestly, I am so excited that it’s football season again. There’s no days in the year that I love more than Saturdays in the fall when I walk out of my room and turn the TV on and there’s my four best friends, Desmond Howard, Reese Davis, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit breaking down all the days action. That’s my comfort zone: watch football, eat pizza, repeat.  Do you see how I’m not growing when I do that (except in my pants size)?

Do you know where is not in my comfort zone?  The gym. Though no one who works there knows my name or my face, I am a member at Planet Fitness.  I haven’t been to the gym in at least 6 months, maybe close to a year. I don’t look forward to going to the gym, it’s weird. I’ll get sweaty, there will be athletic and fit looking people there, and I always feel out of place.  I always think people are looking at me, and I know what you’re thinking “NEWS FLASH: They’re not.” I know… The gym is not in my comfort zone, but if I spent more time there, I would be a healthier person.  We grow outside of our comfort zones, and for a lot of us, reaching out to someone else is outside of our comfort zone.

Another benefit of community is also something that it requires: that openness and honesty. I spent four years in college and a lot of stuff my professors said was in one ear and out the other. Probably most things, if I’m being honest. There are a few nuggets though that I walked out with. I remember one day I was in a class and my professor said this: “Is there anyone in your life to whom nothing is a secret?”  For many of us, the answer to that question is no. Being vulnerable is hard because we live in a culture that so values success and strength, that weakness and failure is covered up.

If your answer to that question: “is there anyone in your life to whom nothing is a secret?” is no, please please please, maybe today, try and find someone to have that relationship with. There is nothing more rewarding than the mutual accountability of knowing that someone knows you. Find someone or someones who you can tell anything, but also look in that person for someone who loves you too much to leave you where you are. Who do you go to when you need to say, “I keep doing what I know I shouldn’t and I need your help?” Every person in here is struggling deeply with something. Is there anyone that you can share that with?

Another part of openness and honesty is being able to ask questions. You are not weak, stupid, or faithless because you have questions. God can handle your questions, its God. Can you voice your questions to someone? Maybe you feel something like this: “I have grown up in church my whole life, I know all of the stories, and I’ve always believed that God has my best interests at heart. But now I’ve lost this job that I thought was for me, I’ve experienced loss, I’ve been divorced, I’ve been abused, I’m experiencing trauma. Where is God?” A couple things on this: do you have a friend you could express that question to? Are you the type of person that someone can share that with? Can we as a church be the type of people who can sit and not only listen to those questions, but also be the type of people that can respond in genuine empathy and honesty? Our church and the communities within it should be safe spaces for these kind of questions.

So with community, there are barriers, but there are also benefits. Close relationships in faith communities are an integral part of God’s design for humanity. And I know that there are lonely people in here. Let me make this very clear so nobody gets it twisted: if you are lonely, it is not because you are weak, it is not because you lack faith, and it is not because you are unloved. I do hope that something that has been said this morning got your brain turning a little bit. We want every person in here to be connected. If New Garden Church is about coming in on Sunday mornings and getting our boxes checked for the week, we’re wasting our time. If you like our church because you connect with the singing or the message, I’m so happy for you, but I’m also here to tell ya that there’s more than that. God has more goodness for you.

So everyone in here has a step to take this week. I’m not a mind-reader, but here’s some ideas of what those steps may look like. Maybe you are connected in community. Maybe you are locked into a life group, or have found those few people that you are really open with. The challenge for you this week is to think of someone who needs what you have. There’s tons of people out in the world, and likely some in this room, who need you to invite them into a space where they can connect. Maybe you want to be a leader in forming a community of openness in our church. I want to talk to you about that. Maybe you’re trying to find an inroads to connection. Our groups at New Garden are a great way to do that. In a couple weeks, we’ll have our group leaders and a few folks from each group out in the lobby, and they’ll be ready to talk with you about their group. The when’s, where’s, and how’s. I know what it’s like to be fringe-level at a church. The first step towards a community is a tough one, but let us meet you there. We’re all new here, and we want to connect with you. No need for a deep dive at first, just take a baby-step towards connection.

Maybe this morning, we need to confess some wrongs. Maybe we need to confess of being closed off or exclusive. Maybe we need to confess that for too long we’ve kept to ourselves instead of giving others the gift of connecting with us.

So there’s a chance it’s going to get messy, but what family isn’t messy? There’s a chance it will be hard, but what’s worth doing that isn’t hard?