Author: Steven Hill

15Jan

Katy Perry Needs Help

October 25, 1984

Katheryn Hudson was born in Santa Barbara, California, the proud daughter of two pastors, Maurice and Mary.

She grew up in the church and was very active in the children’s ministry and youth group, frequently using her musical talents to praise God and bless others.

She grew up listening to gospel music because her parents were concerned about the lifestyle being advocated by secular music.

When she was 15, Katheryn was singing in church when she was discovered by some Nashville people with record company ties. They brought her back to Nashville to hone her vocal skills in hopes of signing her to a record deal.

15 Years Later

Flash forward 15 years and humble gospel singer Katheryn Hudson is worldwide pop sensation Katy Perry. She is the first woman and only the second artist ever (next to Michael Jackson), to have five #1 singles from the same album.

Katy Perry has fans from every pocket of the world, including me…whew, that feels good to get off my chest! Now I don’t have to make my Spotify profile private every time I want to jam out to Roar.

But seriously, Katy Perry’s no Jon Foreman. She’s not a brilliant lyricist or musical visionary. She’s a very talented pop musician that sings repetitive pop songs with little to no real musical depth.

I enjoy listening to Katy Perry because she reminds me why I enjoy being a pastor…

You see, Katy Perry is a representation of sorts for lots of people. She grew up in the Church, yet grew apart from it as she matured into adolescence and early adulthood. Now, an almost 30-year old, like seemingly every almost 30-year old I know, is still affected by her faith background but is interested in exploring what she feels is a more significant spiritual journey than the one she was given as a child. Essentially, she’s on a journey to make her faith her own.

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Perry has recently described her current state of faith as “a connection with a power bigger than me. It’s important…My God has changed over the years. I believe there’s this ‘bigger than me’ thing that’s looking after me. The terms of what I believe are still up for debate because I’m still on a journey and I don’t even know if I’m going to get to my destination.”

On top of all her spiritual ambiguity, Katy Perry is a worldwide sex symbol. She is like virtually all celebrities in this regard. Hollywood knows what sells and it’s not vocal talent.

So why should a Christian pay attention to Katy Perry at all? For the same reason we should pay attention to all people, but especially those who are currently living life outside the abundant life Jesus came, lived, and died to offer all who follow him. You probably know people like Katy Perry. You might be like Katy Perry: spiritually confused and willing to change your life based on the current level of acceptance and attention you receive from those around you.

But you know what the Katy Perrys of the world DON’T need? They don’t need another pastor condemning their behavior of lifestyle. Jesus doesn’t even do that. For Katy Perry, that’s what parents are for!

Instead, what the Katy Perrys of the world need is for Christians to genuinely love and care for them, and to continue to invite them on the never-ending adventure that is following Jesus. They need us to praise the good we see in them. They need us to point out the times we see Jesus working in their lives, even if they can’t see it yet themselves.

For as many times as Katy Perry has worn too little dress and shown to much skin, she’s also written songs like “Wide Awake” which at times sound almost identical to my favorite passage of Scripture, Ephesians 2:1-10. For as many times as Katy Perry has found herself in the company of a man she has no business being with, she sings a beautiful live performance of “Firework” with an autistic 11-year old girl who idolizes Perry(watch below)

VIDEO: (8-minutes, but start at 2:55 if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing).

We have two choices when we encounter the Katy Perrys of the world.

 – We can condemn their failures.

 – We can clarify the call of Jesus and extend them the grace we have so freely been given.

Which do you choose?

 

13Jan

The Gospel According to Febreze

I’m not much of a New Year resolution-maker but this year I took the plunge and made 7 resolutions. One of my resolutions, easily the most ambitious and arguably the most absurd, is to read 100 books in 2014. This one goal of mine actually spurred me to make the others. Remember how I want to become a better writer? Better readers turn into better writers. So I bought books on leadership, decision-making, economics, war, and sports among my usual choices of biblical studies, theology, and church leadership.

One of the more interesting books I’ve read so far this year (of the 3 I’ve read…) is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It’s witty, interesting and will thoroughly creep you out when you discover how much Target knows about your life. (They knew a teenage girl was pregnant before her own father knew.)

But my favorite part of the book was the story of Febreze. Proctor and Gamble created Febreze accidentally then hired a whiz-kid from Stanford to head up their team to test the market for an odor-eliminating spray instead of other sprays that merely masked odors for a temporary respite from the smells of life.

After many dead-ends they finally had a break-through when they followed up on some samples sent to a park ranger. This woman worked in the woods and frequently encountered skunks. Everything in her life smelled like skunk. She was single and seriously looking for a husband but every time she would have a guy over to her apartment, the embers of her newly smoldering relationship were snuffed out as if they never began as soon as the man smelled her skunk-saturated residence.

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I would have ditched the skunk lady, too.

She used Febreze on her curtains, rugs, carpets, clothes, couches, etc. and it worked wonderfully! She sobbed tears of joy when she recounted her new-found love for this life-changing product. The dollar signs loomed large in the eyes of the marketing team.

Except there was a massive problem with Febreze…nobody else in the country seemed to use it except this park ranger. The marketing team went months without answers and were on the brink of getting fired and having their product scrapped when they stumbled upon something surprising.

They discovered that women frequently used Febreze after they had finished cleaning. A final touch of sorts, to top off a job well done. For freshness. The marketing team discovered that most people didn’t care about eliminating odors in their houses because, believe it or not, they had gotten used to them. And who likes admitting their house stinks? Their stink didn’t stink to them. The lady they interviewed whose house reeked from her 9 cats didn’t mind because she loved all 9 cats. She was single, too. Pay attention, ladies. However, people did use Febreze every day to spray the carpet they just vacuumed or the bed they just made and to keep the coat closet from smelling dingy. (Ironically, now Febreze’s entire marketing strategy is built around odor elimination. It just couldn’t start with that).

This totally changed P&G’s Febreze marketing approach. They threw everything out and started over from scratch. No longer would they pitch Febreze as an odor eliminating spray for homeowners with pets and/or teenage boys who had become too liberal with their use of Axe and too conservative with their use of showers.

Febreze’s massive reboot came in 1998 and sales doubled in less than 2 months. Febreze is now a multi-million dollar product and a staple in the P&G line…all because they were willing to change their old practices and thought processes for the hope of a better way.

What About You?

Maybe your life needs a Febreze reboot. 

The best change you’ll ever make in your life is finding and following Jesus. All it takes is realizing that He’s already found you through no work of your own and trusting through faith that grace is as good as Jesus says it is. Spolier: it is!

Our church is going through a sermon series called, “About Time” that’s all about changing habits now since we’re not promised tomorrow, but we have today. Check it out.

Do you have the courage to reboot your life? What changes do you need to make TODAY?

9Jan

Bobby Petrino & Annoying Grace

After a day full of rumors, it was announced last night that former Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach, Bobby Petrino, was returning to Louisville. Petrino was Louisville’s head coach from 2003-2006 and compiled a 41-9 record in that time before bolting unexpectedly for a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons.

Petrino has made a habit of leaving jobs poorly but nothing compares to the way his post at Arkansas came to a close. Petrino was fired after a secret affair with a former Arkansas volleyball player turned “Student-Athlete Development Coordinator” (whatever that means). While the affair was humiliating, especially with the circumstances surrounding its unveiling (google “football coach motorcycle accident” if you haven’t heard the story), Petrino was ultimately fired for the questionable circumstances surrounding his mistress’ hiring, especially once it was discovered there was a $20,000 cash gift given to her that left the university potentially liable to a sexual harassment lawsuit.

petrinoBut there’s more! Petrino was given four…FOUR chances to come clean with Athletic Director Jeff Long. Instead, Petrino lied each and every time. Long had no choice but to fire Petrino for a “pattern of misleading behavior” and the Arkansas football program fell out of national prominence faster than Baptists flying down back roads trying to beat Methodists to lunch after church on Sunday.

Here’s the hard part: Arkansas has been nothing short of awful without Petrino. There’s a reason current New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin once called Petrino “the best play-caller I’ve ever been around.” After a throw-away 2012 season, the Razorbacks hired former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to lead the Hogs into the future. While things are indeed looking up, Arkansas was 3-9 this year and didn’t win a single SEC conference game.

Meanwhile, Bobby Petrino did win an SEC game in his very first game as the (brief) head coach of Western Kentucky. He went a surprising 8-4 even though WKU was not invited to a bowl game. It’s okay, though. Neither was Arkansas.

1236981_10151848378451001_1155060342_n(See how Brandon Allen’s right shoulder is kinda just dangling? An accurate snapshot of Arkansas’ season)

After very little lost time, Petrino is back in the spotlight as the head coach of a major football program (Louisville) that has experienced enormous success of late.

Although I’m a lifelong Baylor fan, I’ve grown quite fond of rootin’ for the Hogs over the last year. As the news broke, I found myself getting angry that Petrino was back after such a short time away from the spotlight. His time at Western Kentucky was supposed to be lackluster at best, not surprisingly successful. He was supposed to pay for his transgressions in Coaching Purgatory (see: Florida Atlantic, Kent State, Louisiana-Monroe, Baylor circa Creation-2009, etc).

Because if anyone is single-handedly responsible for the downward spiral of Arkansas football, it’s Bobby Petrino. He’s one of the most polarizing figures in college sports. He has a reputation for not caring much about his players as student-athletes and consistently mistreats his coaches. It’s not hard to doubt that Petrino’s personality has changed all that much and it just seems unfair that he landed on his feet so quickly. As I listened to sports radio on the way home from work yesterday, I heard many disgruntled Razorback fans expressing similar sentiments.

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If I were Louisville, I wouldn’t have hired Petrino, but I don’t get to hate him. For more on what true forgiveness means and doesn’t mean, check out my pastor’s thoughts on the Petrino situation.

I asked some friends what they thought about it and one of them told me, “Doesn’t speak too highly of Louisville’s integrity. They’re only in it to win it.” I think my friend’s right but it still doesn’t change the temptation in my heart to believe that it doesn’t seem fair. He hasn’t paid enough. He hasn’t righted his wrongs before getting his life back together. It reminded me of grace.

Grace is annoying because it’s not fair. We think that people we deem as worse than us somehow need more grace than us.

It seems right to think that Hitler needs more grace than me and I need more grace than Mother Theresa. But that’s not how grace works and that’s not how true redemption happens. True redemption happens when we believe that we are ALL nothing apart from Christ and we ALL need grace as much as the next person.

But to fully believe this…we have to believe that Jesus loves Bobby Petrino as much as Art Briles. Whoa…

Grace is extended equally to all of us, even D-1 college football coaches. And child molesters. And rapists. And liars. And adulterers. And gossips. And thieves. And wife-beaters. And you. And me.

We are all in desperate need of grace. So let grace be amazing today by realizing just how deep & wide it truly is.

8Jan

Why I Love & Hate Kids Ministry

Kids ministry has been a strange and surprising world for me.

I’m not a parent yet and most of my ministry experience prior to moving to Arkansas only dips down in age as far as a junior high student and they’re a whooooole different blog post.

So when I arrived at Kids Camp last year with 75 kids and 8 of them forgot toothbrushes, I was shocked. When those same 8 kids needed a nightlight to sleep, I laughed because I thought they were joking. They weren’t. 4 of them cried. I’m awesome.

Those same 8 kids never brushed their teeth with the toothbrushes I bought for them from Wal-Mart at 1 AM and instead gorged themselves on hidden bags of Sour Skittles all night. When I found these Skittles hidden in bunk beds that smelled suspiciously like pee I began to wonder if God got my ministry coordinates mixed up.

However, with all the headaches that come with kids ministry, nothing replaces the joy that comes from when the gospel *CLICKS* in a kid’s heart for the very first time. Nothing beats seeing them worship with all their hearts because they’re too young to care too much about who might be watching like adults foolishly do. Seeing kids serve others with radical compassion and hearing them sing praises to God gives me chills. I can’t believe I get paid to do this stuff. Incredible.

I had to learn to love kids ministry at first. But every time I was tempted to shy away from it or question God’s calling on my life for this season, I remembered these words from Jesus,

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Mark 10:15, ESV

Jesus says that child-like faith is a MUST for all Christians. We can LEARN a lot about what it means to follow Jesus by watching kids worship uninhibited by a fear of rejection or by seeing them serve others without the desire for recognition or advanced status.

This is what I love about kids ministry. It draws me back to WONDER and AWE before God. It calls me to simply ABIDE and DELIGHT in God for who He is and what He has done in my life.

Confession time: When I’m not head over heels in love with all of the kids God has entrusted to me, it’s because I forget that children are children who at times can act…childish. Imagine that.

When a 4th grade boy picks his nose and wipes his booger on his neighbor’s sleeping face…all in the middle of my kids sermon I was thoroughly convinced would forever change their lives…I find myself remembering something else the Bible says about children…

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV

You see, what I hate about kids ministry really has nothing at all to do with kids. It’s all about me.

Because when they act childish, I’m reminded of the ways I still do as well. And I hear God using these awesome boys and girls to call me to a deeper life of faith, one that sets aside the childish things that are completely appropriate for them to be enamored with….because they’re kids. Like Skittles. And boogers.

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(Lazarus made a guest appearance at MidWeek)

You see, what I love about kids ministry ultimately doesn’t have much to do with kids either. It’s all about Jesus.

Because when they worship and laugh and serve and play, I’m reminded of the joy that always comes with following Jesus that I don’t always cultivate in my own faith life. And I hear God using these awesome boys and girls to call me to a simpler life of faith, one that sets aside all the aspects of adulthood that at some point I set directly in the path of me and the Jesus who calls you and me to receive the kingdom of God as a little one.

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There’s a difference between childish faith and child-like faith. Some of us need to grow out of the former. It’s time to put childish things away. But some of us need to fully embrace the latter. Some of us need to drop our baggage and fall into the welcoming arms of Jesus.

How does your walk with Jesus need to change today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

3Jan

The Underground Church in…Texas?

About 2 months ago I got a text message from my Dad saying his mom (my grandma) had been rushed to a hospital in Fort Worth, TX. Grandma had quadruple bypass surgery a few years ago after suffering multiple heart attacks in a relatively small span of time. She was also receiving oxygen treatment several times a day. Long story short, Dad calls me the next day saying she’s been put on life support and it doesn’t look good. I quickly leave work and pack my bags to be with my family as they make the incredibly hard decision of if/when to remove Grandma from life support.

I don’t know if you’ve been in a similar situation, but it’s incredibly humbling. It’s so alarming that the world doesn’t absolutely stop as we feel it should. “How dare things go on like normal,” I found myself thinking…”don’t they know what’s going on?!?”

As my Dad and uncle are in the process of making this difficult decision I hear this incredible conversation from outside my Grandma’s hospital room…

A nurse is whispering with a janitor in the corner of our hospital wing just loud enough where I can hear. The nurse is a white male and the janitor is a Middle Eastern woman. I overhear the nurse telling the janitor all about this secret underground Bible study for people from different faith backgrounds (Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.) to create a safe space for them to encounter the truths of Scripture separate from their own often oppressive families and to create a support system of Christian friends as they begin to go public with their faith in Jesus.

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I was blown away. This is TEXAS! I could throw a rock out the window and it would hit 6 churches before it hit the ground.

The exact same thing could have just as easily happened here in Arkansas.

THE BUCKLE OF THE BIBLE BELT!

 

 

This nurse was keenly aware of something we too often forget:

For far too long, Christians have been separating out sacred from secular. Faith from culture.

  • The pastor’s job is sacred while the insurance salesman’s job is secular
  • Singing worship songs is sacred while getting lost in a John Mayer guitar solo or U2 anthem is secular.
  • Praying and reading Scripture is sacred while doing laundry and shuttling around kids is secular.

The truth is…

  • While the pastor’s job is definitely worthwhile, the insurance salesman is called to live out 1 Corinthians 10:31 at his job too, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
  • While singing worship songs is commanded by God, it’s also good to recognize the creative beauty of the image of God that lies in other people’s talent, regardless of if they themselves are aware of such beauty.
  • While praying and reading Scripture are obviously beneficial for our faith, Jesus got his hands dirty serving others too. Jesus wasn’t praying all the time. He served his friends and enemies in seemingly menial ways. Remember how He washed Judas’ feet right before Judas betrayed Jesus? I don’t know how many times my Mom shuttled me to baseball practice and back but somewhere along the way it became clear how much she loved me.

The nurse at my Grandma’s hospital was used by God in an incredible way because he knew God doesn’t always divide life up into black-and-white categories of “sacred” and “secular.” He knew he didn’t have to wait to go on a mission trip or serve with his Home Group to be used by God.

Maybe God’s been waiting for you to realize He can use you to make an incredible impact in this world right where you are and right as you are.

May you find and experience the sacred in some surprising places today.

1Jan

Bibles and Newspapers

When I was in college, I once heard a guest lecturer share the following quote he attributed to Karl Barth:

“The Christian should pray with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

My main goal with this blog is to provide a Biblical lens of faith through which we can interpret the culture around us. I grew up in a church tradition where looking at the culture around us too much was really frowned upon. This always confused me because Jesus always seemed to really care about learning and understanding what life was like for everybody around him.

Instead,

When I first heard that “quote,” it initially made a lot of sense to me. The faithful Christian should obviously be reading Scripture on a regular basis. However, the faithful Christian should ALSO be well aware of what is happening in the culture into which God has sovereignly placed him/her in order to be able to be used by God to redeem it. 

I quickly learned that 3 main problems arose from this quote.

1.) Who reads a newspaper, anymore? News breaks on Twitter now.

2.) Karl Barth never said it. At least not anywhere in print that’s been cited correctly. Over the years, this quote has been attributed to D.L. Moody, Billy Graham, Reinhold Niebuhr, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon.

3.) We can easily forget that Scripture and the newspaper/Twitter don’t have the same weight of influence over our lives. News is news. However, Scripture is our supreme authority for life. Far too often, Christians waste time and emotion wanting to hear a word from the Lord when they don’t read all that God has already shared and said in Scripture.

What now? How should the faithful Christian go about learning, understanding, and redeeming our culture?

Some Suggestions:

  • Start the New Year in Scripture. – If you’re confused about where and how to start, check out You Version plans to pick out a reading plan that you can get excited about. The New Year is as great a time to start as any.
  • Don’t hate the culture in which God has placed you. – Don’t waste your life by simply waiting to escape it. How can we expect to live a life that truly matters if we’re unwilling to connect with people about what’s going on all around us. I moved from Texas to Arkansas almost a year ago and quickly learned that things were waaaaay different than back home. However, I knew Arkansas was my new home and I quickly set out to learn it, understand it, and love it because I want God to use me to redeem it.
  • Realize what the real problem is. Culture is not synonymous with sin. When Miley Cyrus chooses to twerk on Robin Thicke to a national TV audience in clothes smaller than a post-it note, culture isn’t the problem, sin is. When a Duck-Man’s comments break social media servers worldwide the same night that 27 million forgotten people went to bed as human slaves, culture isn’t the problem, sin is. When a husband chooses the mystery and newness of another sexual partner over their God-given covenant wife in marriage, culture isn’t the problem, sin is. When a gunman busts into an elementary school and shoots kids for no reason, culture isn’t the problem, sin is.

I don’t know how you view the culture around you. Maybe you hate it and withdraw. Maybe you love it and participate too much in it. Maybe you don’t care.

If any of the above apply to you, I pray you would be open to a new way of viewing the relationship between faith and culture.

Faith is colliding with culture all around us. Let’s examine those intersections together and use them to grow the kingdom of God like Paul did in Athens in Acts 17:22-34.

I’d love to hear from YOU! How do you see the relationship between faith and culture?

31Dec

Blog Launches TOMORROW! (click “Subscribe on the left)

Thanks in advance for checking out my blog. While the official launch isn’t until tomorrow, I wanted to share a few things in advance:

  • I want to become a better writer this year. That’s my main motivation for this blog. It’s unashamedly for me. If it is worthwhile outside of advancing my skills as a writer, that’s wonderful. However, if it accomplishes that initial goal it will be a success in my eyes.
  • I’ve committed to posting 3 times per week. These will usually come on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Some weeks might have additional posts but I’m not committing to more than 3 blogs per week until further notice.
  • I would love to hear from you. Feedback will help fuel the blog in the future. I’d love to know what connections you see between faith and culture. Leave a comment on the blog or Facebook. Tweet me. Positive. Negative, Whatever. Let’s learn together!

 

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