Conflict

19Oct

41 Questions/Doubts Teenagers Have about God & Faith

Research indicates that about 5 out of every 10 high schoolers will walk away from the church and their faith after graduation. There are a variety of reasons a student might leave their faith behind:

  • Other things simply become more important (driver’s license, dating relationship, etc.)
  • Acquire a new group of friends that don’t desire to be a part of the church.
  • Some simply experiment with straying from every opinion their parents hold in the quest for their own independence.
  • Some never felt like they belonged to the church to begin with.

The Fuller Youth Institute, in their exhaustive, nationwide studies discovered the number one reason young people leave church and faith behind: the Church’s failure to engage difficult questions.

From the research, “Specifically, these young people cited the church’s failure to wrestle with issues like the reliability of the biblical text, sexuality, evolution versus creation, and the exclusivity of Jesus. But notice these students did not say they left the faith because of the stance of their church took on the issues above. They left because the church failed to address them at all. When tough questions were addressed, the answers were found to be vague and superficial.

Last week I gave 41 students a pen and a blank note card. I told them that as a church and as caring Christian adults we wanted to listen, validate, and attempt to answer any and all questions they had about faith, God, etc.

Our group comes from pretty diverse church backgrounds (wide-ranging denominational upbringings). We have a few students who are the only Christians in their family. We also have several atheists in our group as well as some who aren’t sure what they believe or why what one believes even matters.

These are their questions: (the last two were especially tough to read)

  1. Why are there poor, hungry, and thirsty people if God is real?
  2. Why do we not get what we need when we need it?
  3. Why do we have to struggle with things over and over again? Sometimes it feels like we have no help from God.
  4. How do we know someone didn’t just write down whatever they felt like in the Bible?
  5. Why does God let such bad things happen to good people?
  6. How can God be good if people who follow him get so down that they commit suicide?
  7. If God really wants us to follow him, why doesn’t he just make us? Why do we want other things more than him and why do some people never want to follow God?
  8. Why isn’t there more proof? It would be so much easier to believe if we had physical proof like the people in the Bible did.
  9. What do I have to do to go to heaven?
  10. How do I love people who are bad influences for me? I love my friends but I don’t love what they do and I worry about how that affects me.
  11. Why does God seem to punish people who don’t deserve it?
  12. I feel like I only believe in God because I’m scared of hell. Is that wrong?
  13. When you get saved, is there a chance you can still go to hell? P.S. I don’t want to go to hell.
  14. Can I be a Christian and believe in evolution?
  15. Why doesn’t God help when you’re going through a rough patch and you pray and pray and nothing happens, nothing gets easier?
  16. Can you have faith in more than one thing, more than one god?
  17. How come Christians are able to forgive so easily?
  18. How do I know my faith is true and real? How can someone restore their faith?
  19. I have heard that God is with me but why does it sometimes feel like I’m all alone?
  20. Does God stay in your life even if you do a really bad sin?
  21. How do I get away from pornography?
  22. Why can’t God simply speak when we need him the most? How are we supposed to know what we wants us to do?
  23. Is sex outside marriage really wrong? If so, why?
  24. Can you go to heaven if you are not baptized?
  25. What happens when you die? Like right after you die, when your brain stops, what do you see or think or remember?
  26. Is it possible to grow your faith, to get stronger in your relationship with God?
  27. How can I get better at spreading the word in my school?
  28. Do people always have doubts about God? I believe in him but I sometimes feel guilty about doubting.
  29. Why did God not just make everything perfect?
  30. How did different races exist if everyone came from God?
  31. Can people believe in God and be gay at the same time?
  32. Why do some people who claim to believe in God not ever go to church?
  33. Does faith in God require me to be a good person?
  34. Why is lust bad?
  35. Why don’t we ever have to be physically punished for our sin? The pain Jesus went through on the cross seems so unfair.
  36. What do I do when it feels like Jesus shouldn’t forgive me? I know he does but it sometimes feels like I don’t deserve it.
  37. Why did God make us?
  38. Do you need to ask Jesus for forgiveness more than once?
  39. If God wanted us to choose his way, why did he make it so difficult?
  40. Why would someone pay attention to the Christians when there’s so many different groups of them and they hardly seem to agree on anything?
  41. Why do some people hide behind religious cliches instead of trying to wrestle with real questions?

Which questions surprised you?

What questions would you add to the list?

12Aug

3 Steps to Make $1,000 Before Your Next Paycheck

Who wouldn’t want $1,000?

Isn’t it funny how often unexpected expenses pop up that could be taken care of if you had $1,000 lying around? Funny’s the wrong word for that feeling but you get the point.

  • Plumbing issues
  • Plumbing issues caused by you trying to fix the previous plumbing issues
  • New brakes and tires for your car
  • A minor medical procedure
  • A dog runs through your bedroom window…twice.
  • The A/C unit needs repair

Every single unexpected event listed above happened to us within the last year.

Every time something happened we had a starter emergency fund of $1,000 set aside from our normal checking account so we never had to put it on a credit card. We dipped into the emergency fund, paid to fix the problem, and replenished it with our next paycheck.

In Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, Baby Step #1 is to save $1,000, a starter emergency fund.

You’re encouraged to do this as quickly as possible, even before your next paycheck. Dave says, “sell so much stuff the kids think they might be next.” His point was well taken in our lives…what’s the point of owning stuff if it actually owns you? Having debt meant we didn’t actually own this stuff anyway. We just OWED a lot of money to other folks. Plus, we can always just buy it again later in cash once we’re debt free.

But if you’re like 76% of Americans currently living paycheck-to-paycheck with little to no emergency savings you don’t even have that extra $1,000 laying around. So how do you get it?

 

3 Ways to Make $1,000 Before Your Next Paycheck

 

1. Create a budget…and stick to it!

This might seem ineffective but it’s exactly the opposite. Your first reaction when trying to save $1,000 as quickly as possible shouldn’t be to donate plasma or sell your neighbor’s TV when they’re at the grocery store.

If you’ll create a budget that cuts back on excessive spending and simply stick to it, you’ll be so surprised with the money you have left over. Additional side effects may include fits of white hot rage as you add up how much money you could have if you had started living on a budget a year ago.

  • Stop eating out (psst…that’s where all your money’s going! Think of how many PB & J’s you can make for the $12 you spent on fast food last night!)
  • Use cash – you’ll feel the pain of spending it more than the magical fake money of debit-credit cards.

2. Sell Your Stuff

This is where people have the most trouble, for a lot of reasons. There’s a reason your stuff is your stuff. You obviously like it! And maybe somebody else isn’t as attached to it as you are and won’t be willing to pay what you feel it’s worth. Who cares?!? You stopped being able to have that opinion when you had to put a $300 car repair bill on a credit card because you don’t have a starter emergency fund. Sell it! Remember, you can always just buy it again (the right way, with cash) once you’re out of debt.

  • Have a garage sale. Hundreds of $1 transactions means hundreds of DOLLARS.
  • Sell your clothes at a thrift shop or consignment store.
  • Sell DVDs (a personal favorite). There’s plenty of options on Netflix.
  • Cancel cable. Waste of time and money.
  • Sell equipment (bikes, kayaks, exercise machines, etc). You can always rent as you want to use them afterward.
  • Sell any kitchen appliances/glassware you haven’t used in the last year.

3. Work an Extra Job

  • If your job allows it, work as much overtime as possible. Remember this is all about making $1000 ASAP.
  • Clean someone’s house.
  • Mow yards (personal favorite).
  • If you work during the day, wait tables at night.
  • If you work at night, unload trucks or deliver the paper in the morning.
  • Walk someone’s dogs, preferably with their permission.
  • Find something you like doing already anyway. If you’re always hanging out in coffee shops, why not hang out on the other side of the counter as an employee?

What other ways could you make $1,000 FAST?

9Aug

I’m Praying I Get Fired for This

Nobody wants to get fired.

I’ve never had the experience and most of me hopes I never have to know what it’s like.

But there’s another part of me that earnestly prays to be fired one day over one word: capacity.

I sincerely hope and pray that God allows me to be a part of a movement of his grace so powerful that it fills our church with so many people with so many different experiences, problems, and triumphs that I am simply incapable of effectively carrying the leadership load of such a movement and a change in that position is necessary.

In short, I’m praying to see someone else work me out of my job.

I love my church so much and want to see God do something mighty within her, something far more abundantly than I even know how to ask. I want something to happen there that exceeds my current ability so quickly that a change has to be made to keep the Gospel movement spreading at a rapid pace.

Everyone has their own leadership limits. Knowing those limits isn’t weakness; it’s wisdom.

Of course I am also praying to continue to grow in ability so that I can see that movement happen from my current position, but I’m convinced far too many churches, organizations, and companies become stagnant because they hit the leadership capacity ceiling of whoever is in charge and instead of making a change to help propel them to the next level they stay put and settle into complacency.

I care too much about my church to allow that to happen.

I first started thinking about this concept of capacity almost a year ago now. I got to spend a weekend at the Village Church in Dallas, TX and in one of the breakout sessions, one of their three Lead Pastors, Josh Patterson, spoke about their hiring process. He mentioned he looks at four C’s when interviewing new applicants:

 

1. Competency – Can you actually do the job?

2. Compatability – Will you be a good fit within the greater organization?

3. Core values – Are you trustworthy? Do you have good work ethic? Can I trust that you’ll do what you say you’ll do?

belegit

The first 3 C’s made a lot of sense to me and I had heard them before. The fourth one initially caught me off guard.

4. Capacity – Do you have the skill set to adapt and grow with the job as it gets more demanding?

 

Patterson said when they do annual staff evaluations, they can evaluate their staff’s performance very quickly with just a few questions, all centered around capacity.

  • Do you actually have the capacity for your job that you seemed to display when you were first hired?
  • Do you possess the capacity to continue in your current job as it has grown more demanding than when you first started?

Patterson later said that they have let people go almost every year of the church’s existence because of how they answered the latter question.

His reasoning is simple: Why let one person’ capacity, no matter how good or nice or beneficial that person is, limit the future of the organization as a whole? How much more true is this in a church where what’s at stake may not be numbers or member satisfaction but the very Gospel itself?

Although it would be hard to take, I sincerely hope to be fired one day because of capacity concerns. I will never stop learning or trying to lead to the best of my ability. However if that pink slip day comes, I can take great joy in knowing that God allowed me to be a part of something so much bigger than me, and by moving me aside it was able to continue advancing for the greater good.

I know my current leadership limits. While I am constantly working hard to expand my capacity, one person should never be a good enough reason to hold a good movement from continuing to advance further and further.

Whatever you’re most passionate about, it’s not all about you.

  • Some people are skilled enough to preach for 50 people but not 500. Some are skilled enough for 500 but not 5,000.
  • Some people are skilled enough to manage 10 clients, but not 100. Some are skilled enough for for 100, but not 1,000. You get my drift.

It doesn’t mean you’re less of a person, especially not in the eyes of the One who created you in His image. So rejoice in your weakness.

mostimportant

Seek to expand your capacity, but never try and be someone you’re not. God doesn’t need another version of someone else, which is why he made you YOU.

29Jun

I Went to Church Anyway

We live in a broken world groaning for redemption (Romans 8:22).

Even though this is always true, it is evident some weeks more than others.

Over the last week or so our country has been engaged in nationwide debate, from inside the walls of the Supreme Court to the virtual walls of Facebook users.

The two arenas of discussion, race and sexuality, are obvious tinder for a digital firestorm because of their universal nature. It makes sense that everyone has an opinion even if some of their opinions do not make much sense.

While I was more pleased with the conversations I had in person last week surrounding these issues, I firmly believe in the purpose and value of engaging in these topics on the mediums we have available. Those mediums have changed and will continue to do so over time but right now, the Internet in general and social media in particular have connected the world in unprecedented ways.

Christians who leverage that opportunity and those mediums to discuss current issues through the lens of a Christian worldview can be missionaries like the apostle Paul, who reasoned with people in the marketplace for days upon entrance into a new city.

While there is definitely wisdom in knowing when to speak and when to be silent (See: Just Stop Talking), Christians should not fear engaging others with their various social media platforms as long as they are focused on getting it right more than being right. It’s true, Sometimes You Need a Facebook Timeout but sometimes you need to speak up.

“Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” – Proverbs 31:8

But what about when Christians cause problems by engaging others in conversations about current issues on social media?

The easy answer is something like, “The diversity of the Christians faith points to a diversity of opinions on various current issues.”

I guess…

But if we’re honest, doesn’t it feel more personal than that?

I wrote about my personal opinions regarding the Confederate Flag last week. The article took off, relatively speaking, as things that are written at the right time around hot button issues do.

I spent most of the next day responding to people’s questions and opinions (both supportive and critical). I didn’t necessarily care much what people felt about my opinions but I did care that people at least listen to the real opinions I gathered from black, Christian friends who are equally proud to be Southerners yet generally had very different experiences than the people I seemed to hear most loudly.

What was most frustrating was not people unwilling to listen to me but people unwilling to listen to them.

Some of these people were not just Christians but Christians in my city, and not just Christians in my city, but Christians at my church.

Most of the conversations went very well, and I was reminded how great the opportunity I have to pastor where I do really is. But some conversations did not go so well…my church might have shrunk last week, and I am okay with that because I honestly believe in what I wrote.

However, like it often does, Saturday night rolled around and my brain switched over to Sunday prep mode. I started running through the morning in my head. Logistics, set list, sermon, volunteers. etc.

One of my favorite parts of Sunday prep is praying for specific people to show up. It gives me chills to see people far from the Church and ever farther from God walk through the doors of our church on a regular basis.

Yet this last week I found myself struggling to want to pray, struggling to want to see some people I sincerely love but who also disagree(d) with me. Honestly, I think I’m right and I think they’re wrong but they feel the same way.

So Sunday morning comes, and I head to church. It would have been an easy weekend for me to miss. I was not scheduled to preach. I could have had a “stomach bug.”

But I went to church anyway. It had nothing to do with my job and everything to do with Jesus.

As I started to pray, even though I didn’t feel like it, a funny thing happened; I started to feel like it. I remembered that, for all the things that can divide us, Jesus is what unites us.

So I went to church. I shook hands and gave hugs and had a tremendous day. I was sincerely glad to see everyone, especially the people who disagreed with me most loudly because I know the list of essentials we must believe to be known and loved by the same God is small:

Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose again.

When I said those words from stage during our welcome time, I meant them with every fiber of my being. That’s what makes us sons and daughters of God. That’s what unites us.

We don’t need to agree on everything. As much as we all wish everyone thought just like us, we actually don’t need to agree on most things but we must agree on the Jesus things.

Everything else is secondary.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

24Jun

Which Flag Will You Fly?

An astonishing amount of ink has been spilled about the Confederate flag in the last several days, and rightfully so.

This is not meant to be just another addition to that noise.

I’d like to talk specifically to Christians, those who claim to have been set free from the bondage of sin by the undeserved grace of Jesus “who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14).

Before we get to how all this specifically affects Christians, I’d like to address a few lines of thought regarding the Confederate flag I have seen tossed around by Christians in conversations, text messages, and social media.

All of the following statements were said/typed by white people.

1.) “It’s not hate; it’s heritage.”

heritage

If you sincerely want to claim the Confederacy as your heritage, by all means do so. However, have the intellectual honesty to do so with full commitment. Your heritage died when the Confederacy did, at the conclusion of the Civil War, which the Confederacy lost. Everything after the Civil War is a different history, one in which you simply cannot share if you insist on claiming a dead heritage as your own. (See: What This Cruel War Was Over)

If this is sincerely your claim, feel free to abstain from celebrating the Fourth of July, an American (not Confederate) holiday.

See: What a White Man Knows about Racism

kkk

2.) The Confederate flag’s original intent was never meant to be racist.

We can argue about the original intent of this flag, but that’s not my interest. I am deeply concerned with the flawed logic in this statement.

Regardless of its original meaning, it’s current and functional meaning is hate.

Take the well-known “God Hates Fags” agenda of Westboro Baptist Church, for example.

fred

Using this same “original meaning” thought process allows you to only be upset at their misuse of the word “faggot” which originally meant a bundle of sticks.

definition

Regardless of original or intended meaning, a “faggot” is not recognized as a bundle of sticks and the Confederate flag is not recognized by many people as anything but a symbol of racism and hate. (See: Why We Can’t Say Racism is a Thing of the Past)

The functional meaning of these words, no matter how grossly inappropriate, takes precedent over their antiquated, original/intended meanings.

 

3.) It’s my right to free speech.

It’s my right! You’re correct. While I applaud states, organizations, and schools that have removed the flag from an organizational level, I would never applaud the dissolution of one’s personal right to free speech, regardless of how evil and hateful I feel the expression of that personal right may be.

However, the whole “free speech allows me to spew hate speech” line of thought sure sounds like an avoidance of the problem. Passing the buck.

When we (Christians) insist on our personal rights regardless of what that means for others, we become Cain killing our brother in the garden of Eden then asking God, “What?!? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is YES. We are our brother’s keeper.

Christians, we have a higher allegiance than to our country.

Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and we serve a King who reminds us that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) and we are to live as aliens and foreigners in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

I’m asking you to consider forsaking your America-given right to use this flag and embrace your higher, God-given responsibility to love and care for your neighbor.

Do you love your neighbor? Do you KNOW your neighbor?

Christians, I’m asking you to consider the possibility that you only really get to fly ONE flag with your life.

I’m asking you to consider the possibility that if you choose to fly this flag on your truck or shirt or Facebook profile, you might be simultaneously refusing to fly the flag of Jesus.

But don’t take it from me. Over the last few days I’ve had conversations with over 40 of my black friends. I asked them all the same question, “How does it feel to see the Confederate flag? What is that like for you?” All of them live, or have lived, in the South and most of them are Christians. While their answers were all extremely similar, the most heart-breaking answers are listed below:

How Black (Southern, Christian) People Feel When You Fly/Post/Wear the Confederate Flag

Seeing the confederate flag honestly stirs up fear in me, that wherever I am or whoever has the flag up is a threat, that I am unsafe there or with that person. I understand that people say it’s the flag of the south, etc, but I don’t think people take into account what the flag really means and represents. Like they don’t want to accept or acknowledge the FULL truth of honoring such a flag. At face value, I consider whoever waves that flag to believe the values of the confederate flag 100%.”

“When we think about southern heritage, we must remember that the Confederacy was fighting to preserve a way of life, which was their right to have black slaves for farmers which was the primary economic engine of the south. So if the Confederacy had won the civil war, where would black people be today? There is a high likelihood blacks would still be slaves, not considered human, still considered a commodity to be bought and sold, and we would most likely accept this as the norm of society.”

“Anyone who asks does the racial divide still exist in America, needs to only look at their local church. How many blacks are in the area versus who attend your church? Churches are some of the most segregated places in this country.”

“From a southerner perspective it represents arrogance, a refusal to allow anyone to tell us to do anything we don’t want to do. From a racial perspective it cares nothing about what me or my family thinks or how we feel. In certain environments it creates feelings of fear for the safety of my wife and kids.”

“Flying the Confederate flag, or posting it on Facebook, conveys an attitude of longing for a time to return again where black lives weren’t valued. That one flag reminds me of all the times racists raped black women, dehumanized black men (only calling them ‘boy’ or ‘N-word’) and treated black children like pests to be exterminated. It represents with pleasure every evil the South could create against any and all black people.”

“It forces me to pay more attention to my surroundings. I have to stay cautious even if it’s as simple as stopping by a store to fill up the car. The flag itself has history attached to it, that’s what people are most afraid of…you never can tell who is friend or foe.”

“When I see it flying in the back of a truck, I simply do not believe the driver when he says he’s just celebrating ‘heritage.’ He’s taunting me. He’s taunting us. He’s even taunting the police.”

“I would never do anything to harm the American flag. I don’t understand anyone of any race that would do such a thing. But there is nothing good about that Confederate flag. How would white people feel if I drove around with a Black Panther flag in my truck? I would never do that because it is so ignorant. How can people not see the same ignorance in the Confederate flag?”

 

You are your brother’s keeper, and your brother has spoken. Will you listen?

 

Which flag will you fly?

22Jun

Fake or Real?

“We’ll just rip out the old carpet,” she said.

“We’ll just throw down new flooring,” she said.

“We might as well do the whole house. 2000 square feet will go fast,” she said.

Famous last words…possibly of my marriage.

Over the last few months we have slowly but surely been installing new floors in every room of our house. My wife has chronicled our flooring adventures over on her website here.

Frustration hit an all time high when I had to demolish some really old tile which was glued to the concrete with all the adhesive ever manufactured in 1976.

I needed to buy an angle grinder, a tool I fully planned on never using again so instead of spending $100 at Lowe’s I spent $15 at Harbor Freight. What could possibly go wrong?!?

I’ll tell you…everything.

7 minutes in and the Harbor Freight $15 angle grinder starts spewing smoke…blue smoke and then shuts down. Fried.

I furiously drove to Lowe’s and bought the $100 angle grinder minutes before they closed and returned home to finish the job.

It took forever but it’s done. I still get a little frustrated when I look at that area, not because it took so much longer expected but because I pursued a counterfeit instead of the real deal.

I find myself doing this with more than angle grinders.

I used to chase a lot of fake, surface level friendships instead of putting in the work and time to foster meaningful friendships. I thought being known by a lot of people meant being really known. That’s counterfeit friendship.

When I first started preaching I would listen to tons of other preachers, trying to find my own voice while emulating what was effective in others. I would try and be more serious than I really was or more funny that I really was. It took me several years to find my personal voice in preaching because I was chasing something fake instead of the real.

I used to pursue fake relationships because they were easier than putting in the hard work of finding someone who was actually worth finding. Even worse, I wasn’t always sure I wanted to put in the hard work to BE someone worth finding.

Just because fake is easier than real doesn’t mean it’s what’s best.

In the work place it can be a lot easier to complain about a co-worker instead of doing the hard work of reconciliation and pursuing real partnerships.

Following Jesus can be difficult because honestly, denying myself sure feels fake in a culture that defines “real” as do whatever feels good to you.

In Psalm 51, David is getting real with God. He’s just had his fakeness called out in a huge, life-changing way and he comes to this beautiful realization…God loves the REAL us and wants us to be real with him, not fake.

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17

Do you ever struggle with pursuing something fake instead of something real?

19Feb

On Prayer: Pews and Plastic Tables

Do you remember where you were September 11, 2001?

I remember everything about that morning. I remember one of my best friends making a joke about planes and buildings that almost made me throw up in the hallway. He didn’t fully understand what was going on until that evening.

I remember feeling fear for the first real time in my life. Uncertainty. Hopelessness. Confusion.

Over the next few days, as some level of clarity arose, those emotions of uncertainty and fear gave way to anger and honestly, hatred. The current ISIS situation feels somewhat similar. Our enemy is not necessarily a country, but an organized group which collectively knows no country or flag.

My most formative memories of the immediate aftermath of 9/11 were not images of brave men and women running into a building as everyone else ran out or of the wreckage of a plane crash in a Pennsylvania field. Those images are vital for us to remember but they were not the most formative for me.

The most formative memory for me took place in a wooden pew.

Our church gathered for prayer the next night. We were in anguish. The pain in the room was thick.I grew up in a church of mostly senior adults, many of whom served in World War II.

The same hands that helped stamp out Hitler’s evil now held mine as we prayed together.

Over 13 years later, I had a similar experience. Yesterday our church gathered together to pray.

Our hearts were wrung out with sorrow after spending the week wrestling through not just another ISIS video, but one depicting the simultaneous beheading of 21 brave Christian men, “people of the cross” as they are referred to in the video.

Just like we did over a decade ago, the people of God gathered to pray. To plead. To groan. To mourn.

Some things have changed.

I traded a pew for a white plastic table. I understand more about the world now but much of that understanding actually stems from realizing I don’t understand all that much, especially evil like this.

Yet many things have not changed.

God’s ear is still inclined toward his people in the place of prayer. I love that image. Much like a little kid filled with anticipation, on the edge of his seat, God is actively peering over the guardrails of heaven waiting and longing to hear from us, his people, especially in the times when we don’t quite know what to say.

 Eventually the impossibility of prayer becomes possible as you sit with the community of faith. We read over the 21 names together.

21 Read over the names a few times.

Maybe you’re like me and many of them are difficult to pronounce. That   does not make them less significant.

Think of the families of each martyr. Wives who are now widows. How many children were orphaned in a matter of seconds? 65? 80? 100?

#15 is who breaks my heart the most. “Worker from Awr village.”

Worker, we may not know your name, but the Lord does. Your Creator, who you now see face to face, KNOWS you.

Pray God would be made known loud and clear to the brokenhearted families of these 21 brave, godly men.

 

Question: What prayers have you been praying this last week?

 

Recommended Resources:

What ISIS Really Wants – If you’re unfamiliar with ISIS, this is an incredibly detailed article from the Atlantic. I would encourage you to block out the 20 minutes or so it takes to read it. Maybe take a few sittings to get through it all.

A Call to Pray for the Persecuted Church – Sarah Bessey

A Biblical Meditation on the ISIS Execution of 21 Christians – The Gospel Coalition

15Feb

Don’t Should on Me

I thought my pastor friend cussed at me.

We were having a perfectly pleasant conversation, at least so I thought, when all of a sudden she calmly said, “Don’t should on me.”

What?!?

Imagine if you heard that sentence instead of saw it written out.

My friend was halfway kidding but the truth she was conveying was powerful.

Thankfully, she was patient enough with me to explain this punchy little truism.

The conversation we had happened like most do when someone “should’s” on someone.

Person A: _______ that you did was really great. I really liked how you _______ and did ___________.

Person B: Thanks! It was a lot of hard work but I’m glad you thought it went well.

Person A: Yeah! It was good but you really should have __________________.

Person B punches Person A in the face and goes to jail. Friendship over.

“Should” falls well short of constructive criticism. It does not motivate someone to change or help someone see the good done in the midst of falling short.

Especially when used in past tense, should leaves no room to improve. In the scenario above, Person A is helpless to improve the situation Person B described (“you should have___”). Person A does not own a time machine!

“Should” is useless, paralyzing criticism that is most often given by those who eagerly point out problems yet just as eagerly refuse to be a part of creating solutions.

But what about when “should” comes from within? This might be the most harmful form.

Self-inflicted “shoulds” are just as unhelpful as when they come from others.

Whenever you feel a case of the “shoulds” coming on, ask yourself two questions to determine if the feeling really is something that you need to act on or if it’s just guilt you need to kick out of your life.

Guilt and Should are like ugly twins trying to keep you stuck in the past. See: Are You Living in the Past?

1. Is this something I really want to do? (Or am I just trying to please someone else?) 

2. Is it worth it? (You can have the desire to do many things, but what is most important? What one thing is necessary? [Luke 10:42])

Sometimes we do simply need to be told to pick it up a bit. Maybe laziness has set in. Maybe unhelpful patterns in decision-making have set in. See: Chop Wood & Carry Water

Whatever the reason, change for the better is always a good thing. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to create that change.  “Should” is not the right way.

Next time you hear “should” from someone else or from within, simply say,

Don’t should on me.

8Feb

Giver > gifts

It may have been the most awkward moment of the night.

Lecrae won Best Contemporary Christian Song/Performance for his track “Messengers.” He should have won best rap album, too!

As he walked up to accept his speech, he pointed the entire room of songwriters, artists, musicians, producers, etc. (the majority of which I can safely assume are not Christians) to Jesus while at the same time celebrating their own artistic accomplishments (many of which are not passable examples of actual music).

Lecrae celebrated the giftedness of the entire room but then pushed past that, claiming that it is essential to celebrate the Giver above the gifts.

6 people clapped.

Watch Lecrae’s brief acceptance speech below:

Our church spent the month of January in a series called “Custom Made” as we unpacked Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.

We arrived at the same conclusion, Giver > gifts. Ultimately, gifts don’t really matter unless we can honestly say something like, “Lord, have your way in me.”

You can watch or listen to the “Custom Made” sermons here.

custommade

 

 

 

 

 

Question: How has God gifted you?

13Nov

Nothing is Anonymous

When I was in junior high, the girls in our grade created a slam book.

In case you haven’t seen Mean Girls (what are you doing with your life if you haven’t?), the slam book was a homemade scrapbook with a page for each student in our grade. As the book got passed around people took turns writing what they really thought of each other on their respective pages. The results were overwhelmingly hateful and almost always negative. That stupid book caused a lot of hurt in our little world because nobody ever completely figured out who wrote what comments.

It was anonymous. Anybody could write whatever they wanted.

What was hurtful in the slam book, circa-2000 is just as hurtful in the Yik Yak app, circa-2014.

Yik Yak is an app where users can “get a live feed of what everyone’s saying around you.” Yik Yak allows users to post and read other users’ comments based on their location…and it’s completely anonymous.

I was talking to some of my students a few days ago and they were all telling me the same story: Yik Yak is out of control in their school. They told me sobering stories of how students at their school, including some of them, were using it to say terrible things about not just students, but faculty and staff.

I was curious to know the depth of the hurt being caused through this app so I asked several of them, “What is the worst thing you’ve read?”

They took turns telling me stories of students writing and commenting on sexually explicit posts directed towards all ages of people, as high-ranking as members of school administration and as young as girls in 7th and 8th grade.

I understand how Yik Yak could be entertaining but it is hard for me to see much good in it.

Before we go any further, let me just caution you to not buy into the lie that this generation is any more sinful or fallen than your generation or mine. I firmly believe that it has never been more difficult to be a teenager than it is today.

To think that there is a golden age of morality to which we should return is to tragically misunderstand the depth and pervasiveness of sin on all people in all times.

What saddens me most about Yik Yak and Snapchat and other apps like them is simple: they operate under the cowardice of perceived anonymity.

Nothing about them is really anonymous, though.

School districts are cracking down on Yik Yak users all over the country. The authorities can track what is written to the corresponding IP address of your phone, tablet, or computer with ease. There is nothing anonymous about it!

The same is true with Snapchat. Just a few weeks ago, over 200,000 Snapchat accounts were hacked and leaked all over the Internet. Read that last sentence again. Not 200,000 pictures. 200,000 PEOPLE. The images of 200,000 Snapchat accounts were leaked, easily several million images. There are hundreds and thousands of websites and Instagram/Twitter accounts dedicated to hacking and leaking “anonymous” snaps.

Snapchat rather famously has an unofficial API, which basically means any 2nd grader with an iPhone can hack into it through a 3rd party app and Snapchat can claim that it’s the 3rd party app’s security problem, not their own.

I don’t care if you can’t spell Yik Yak or have never heard of Snapchat, it matters.  It matters because our teenagers have bought into a lie that we have modeled for them, that what they do in private doesn’t matter.

John Wooden once said that the true test of one’s character is what they do when no one is watching.

Maybe it’s not with Snapchat or Yik Yak, but you and I have been guilty of thinking we can speak and act in a certain way in private but then speak and act in a different way in public, or maybe you act differently around some friends than others.

Part of the reason our teenagers feel such great freedom to exploit apps like Snapchat and Yik Yak is they look around and see adults living double lives too.

But here’s the reason this stuff pains my heart so much.

Here’s the reason this applies to all of us, digital natives and digital foreigners alike: God sees everything. Seriously.

God sees everything. I don’t mean that in a “Santa Claus, you better watch out” type of way. But think about it. God, on his throne, reigning and ruling over the world and your heart, who LOVES you, sees everything.

Nothing is anonymous in a world created and sustained by God.

“And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” – Hebrews 4:13

“The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.” – Psalm 33:13-15

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths.” – Proverbs 5:21

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