Culture

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?

22Apr

I Was Raped: Sarah’s Unbreakable Courage

Guest Post: This is the powerful story of my childhood friend, Sarah. Sarah is a social worker in Washington D.C. and a graduate of Baylor University in my hometown of Waco, TX. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring this week the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. I don’t normally ask you to do this but would you please share this story? Email it, Facebook it, Tweet it, print it out and mail it, etc. Sarah has displayed an immense amount of courage in sharing her story with my readers. Please honor that courage by passing it along to the millions of other victims of sexual abuse.


 

Several months ago I joined many sexual violence survivors and took part in a project called “Project Unbreakable.” Project Unbreakable invites survivors of sexual violence to put quotes from their attacker on posters and take a picture holding the quotes. This allows survivors to reclaim the abusive words once used against them.

sarahunbreakable1

 

sarahunbreakable2

Like most survivors of sexual violence, rebuilding my life has been wrought with periods of highs and lows. Months pass that seem despairingly difficult and others come that bring joy and triumph.

I have found that my greatest joy and healing has come when I share my story with others and examine my desire for more meaningful, genuine relationships.

I first identified as a survivor of sexual violence in February 2013. I was sexually assaulted after a date in late January 2013. At the time of the attack I had been living in DC for just 2 weeks. It was my first time to ever move outside of my hometown and I had little social support in the DC area. I sought counseling a month after the attack because I realized the experience wasn’t something I could wish away or forget.

The greatest thing that sticks out in my mind from that time was the urgent need to speak about my attack. Everyone responds differently to trauma and at this time I desperately needed people to process my feelings with out loud. I remember two poignant experiences in the months after the attack. The first took place when a coworker sent out an email about his son having tests done for cancer and asking people to pray for the outcome. I was struck by his request and how it related to my own present grief. Here was a colleague going through uncertain and challenging days and he was able to seek the support of those he worked with. I thought to myself, “I’ve been assaulted; I need support, why can’t I send out an email in the same fashion explaining my circumstance and asking for prayer?”

At that moment I recognized the choking silence bestowed upon survivors of sexual violence.

Another experience came weeks later when I was in my online virtual classroom with other students who were interning at field placements outside of Waco, Texas. Everyone was briefly sharing about their week. One classmate shared that she had just been in a minor car accident. Another classmate exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, you are so brave!” The words stung my heart. “So brave.” I immediately turned off the camera and began crying. I had never felt so alone in my life. I thought to myself, “I’M brave! Why can’t I openly share about my experience with my classmates?”

I was filled with anger and resentment for the unspoken norms about disclosure and the silence surrounding sexual violence.

I began to look more into sexual violence statistics and was horrified by what I found. According to RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, only 2 out of every 100 rapists will every spend even a day in prison. Only 3 out of 100 rapes are referred to prosecutors, 7 lead to an arrest and only 32 out of 100 are ever reported. An average of 68% of assaults in the last 5 years are never reported-this according to the Justice Department’s “National Crime and Victimization Survey” from 2008-2012. These numbers are staggering but as I considered my own experience it was not completely surprised.

When I moved back to Waco in April 2013 I continued counseling at The Advocacy Center. I worked with an amazing counselor there and began to heal my mind and heart. I realized a lot of things about my personal relationships that were damaging my sense of self-worth and dominating my identity. It was during this process that I recognized I had been raped and assaulted by 2 men 5 years earlier. I had never acknowledged the attack because I felt I played a large role in what happened since I left a bar with 2 men I met that night.

As I began to recognize my rights as a person I realized I had done nothing to influence my attack that night.

Since that time I have slowly processed the event and brought myself into awareness with the emotions tied to that attack. It has not been an easy process. Last fall I joined a group for sexual assault adult survivors and it has been very helpful for my healing. I realized there are other women with almost identical experiences and emotions. It reinforced the fact that sexual violence is a horribly stigmatizing event that our culture doesn’t understand. It makes us uncomfortable to talk about or hear someone describe therefore we are unable to create a healthy and safe place for survivors to heal.

If a victim does not feel comfortable speaking out, they are not only unable to begin the healing process, but they are also inadvertently protecting their attacker.

If our social norms prohibit speaking about sexual violence we are hurting survivors and helping abusers.

When and why did we begin to blame victims for their trauma rather than punishing and preventing violence? I soon realized that speaking about my experience would be one of the greatest ways for me to heal and triumph over my attackers.

Last summer while attending my church in Waco, I worked with a friend to establish a women’s group for persons who have experienced abuse. I announced the group one morning at church and invited women to join. I also said that as a survivor of sexual violence I knew how important it was to connect with others about our experiences. Handfuls of people thanked me after the service for my transparency and genuineness. Sharing my life with others, in all of its joys and heartaches gave me the greatest sense of purpose I have ever experienced.

Since last summer, I moved to DC and have been adjusting to a life in a relatively new environment. I am still yearning for those “real” connections that brought me overwhelming peace. I strive to remind myself that I am on a journey and some legs may be easy and others perhaps treacherous.

I think the greatest thing we can do to support survivors is to create a society that is mobilized to support and love persons who have experienced sexual violence. If a survivor is brave enough to share their experience or story with you, show them with your words and body language that you accept them and support them. Also remember that you aren’t expected to have the “right” words to say.

Sexual trauma is a senseless and devastating event that cannot be rationalized.

Researcher Brene Brown reminds us that there is rarely a response that can make a situation better. Supporting survivors doesn’t mean you’re expected to say something to make things better or to rationalize their experience. Tell them with your words and body language that you are so glad they felt they could speak to you about it and offer to support them in any way they need.

Sharing and talking about my experiences with others has been the greatest catalyst for healing. I know many other survivors who have also benefited from sharing and breaking their silence. Let’s work together to create a society that supports survivors and exposes perpetrators.

2Mar

Where Did Black History Month Go?

I have a small cache of articles like this, articles I’ve had finished for months but haven’t worked up the courage to hit “publish.”

Sometimes it’s a timing issue.

For example, a well-written, gracious article on the damaging effects of divorce seems hurtful if it’s published right after I spend a day speaking with multiple people right in the middle of that pain. I know that I wrote an article like that a few weeks ago but they don’t know that. So it remains in the “draft” section of posts instead of “published.” At least for a time.

This article falls under the former category, not the latter.

February has officially been Black History Month in America since 1976. It started in 1926 by historian Carter Wooden as Negro History Week but took fifty years for the federal government to make it an official, national observance.

I have always enjoyed Black History Month. Every year on MLK weekend I re-read many of Dr. King’s writings, especially the full transcript of his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.” I can never get through it without weeping.

But this year seemed different.

I didn’t hear much about Black History Month and that scared me.

As I was trying to wrap my  head around possible reasons BHM seemed to disappear from my radar, I did not receive much comfort. The first nasty finger I pointed ended up being pointed right back at me. The majority of my friends, co-workers, and social circle generally look, think, and talk like I do.

Maybe Black History Month didn’t go anywhere. Maybe I did.

You know the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Could that really be what happened? I was trying to figure it out last week as Black History Month came to an end so I texted a few of my African American friends. I told them my hunch, that it seemed like BHM had disappeared and I was beginning to think maybe it didn’t go anywhere and that I just simply wasn’t listening with my white ears/life well enough. I asked them if interest in BHM was waning in the African American community.

Most of the responses I received were heart-breaking.

“That’s a great question. The community at large seems too afraid to make much of BHM because of recent national race issues. Some seem too afraid to associate with BHM because they are afraid they will make a mistake that will become the next national race issue.”

Within the African American community a few events have taken place that have been meaningful for those who care…but those are reported like puff pieces in the news, tacked on after weather and sports and everything else that matters more.”

“There’s a general fear and darkness that seems to have set over our community. We’re probably paralyzed into inaction but I think we’re afraid that if we celebrate too much we’ll be associated with Ferguson looters or Al Sharpton or something. It’s just really hard for reasonable people to be really proud we’re black, you know?”

Reading those responses from people I care about, friends from all over the country, felt like I just had the wind knocked out of me.

Do you ever look back at a certain situation and think, “Man I really messed that up.” That’s how I feel about my non-response to much of the race relations conversation happening in our country today. I don’t think the world needs more commentary on specific events (Ferguson, Eric Holder in N.Y., etc.) but there does seem to be an over-arching narrative of broken race relations that points out a failure of people like me, middle class white people to speak up and for our African American friends.

In my fear of making a mistake, I have been silent. Too silent. For that I am very sorry.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority. None. See: What a White Man Knows About Racism.

There is no such thing as White History because every month is White History Month. We need change.

Our actions and inaction have led to an effective silencing of the African American community. Some from within the African American community have argued that it’s time to get rid of Black History Month. They argue, wisely, that as long as the AA community is treated as a sidebar, they will never be seen as fully American when in reality, black men and women have served in the armed forces for America in every single war we’ve ever fought.

So where did Black History month go?

The answer is complex, yet simple. On some level, white people simply aren’t paying attention, at least in my corner of the world.

My state is one of ONLY THREE IN THE COUNTRY that actually celebrates Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. on the same damn day. Only six states in the country celebrate Lee at all and we do it on MLK Day. Nice.

The racism is masked as “southern pride” or “heritage appreciation.” Even ifIF…that “heritage” is really significant to someone (and I’m calling BS on the whole thing) seeing it hurt our African American friends is enough reason to stop…like the rest of the country has figured out.

If Black History Month is disappearing because it’s giving way to a more full scale integration into American history, I’m all for that. But that’s not what’s happening.

On a more practical level, does your social circle look as vanilla as mine?

How can we hear the groans and fears of the African American community if we’re not with them? 

Did you notice a change in Black History Month this year?

17Feb

What Christians Can Learn from Cross-Fitters

It swept through like a plague, infecting so many.

When our group of friends first started hanging out together, it had claimed no victims from among us.

But slowly and surely it lured them in, one by one. Some of them used to make fun of it. They laughed at the culture, the cost, and the attire. But then something happened…

CrossFit happened!

 

I’m not pro or anti CrossFit. I can’t really be anti-CrossFit because yesterday I woke up early to do some core workout exercises and I’m pretty sure I pulled my core. I think that’s a thing. I guess I can be pro-CrossFit since I have a couple of Physical Therapist friends who stay busy at work seeing CrossFit athletes patients.

On a more serious note, CrossFit has been really interesting to watch as it swept across the country. It has clearly helped lots of people get in shape and achieve fitness goals they failed to attain otherwise.

As I stated in my very first article, I firmly believe that Jesus sought to learn, understand, and redeem culture. Practically, this means Christians can sometimes learn from culture how to grow in our faith instead of constantly seeking to change the culture to become more like us. As Christians, we can learn a few things from CrossFitters.

4 Things Christians Can Learn from Cross-Fitters

1. Dedication

You know what I’m doing at 5 A.M. every morning? Sleeping! I don’t skip any mornings, either. 5 A.M. every morning, fast asleep. I’m dedicated to my craft.

CrossFitters take dedication to a completely different level, though.

After they experience CrossFit, they completely change their routine so they can go to an intense, long workout class at 5 AM. They change their diet. They go to bed earlier the night before so they don’t miss out.

So why aren’t we as Christians as dedicated?

How many times do well-meaning Christians miss church on a Sunday simply because they overslept? We make it to work every morning by 8 A.M., 9 at the latest five days a week. Why do we struggle to make a 10:45/11:00ish service one day a week when CrossFitters can make a 5 A.M. class every day of the week.

Maybe we should be willing to change our routine. Maybe we should go to bed earlier on a Saturday night so we don’t miss Sunday morning worship. I’m guilty of this even as a pastor. When I stay up too late on a Saturday night, I know I’m not giving God my best on Sunday morning. Even though I’m there I might be more inclined to go through the motions during music or not be as attentive during the sermon.

How would the Church be different if everyone on our team was as dedicated as CrossFitters?

2.) They talk about it…a lot.

I have only met one person in my life who was doing CrossFit that I did not know did CrossFit. It is much more common that I discover people in my life who I am surprised to find out are Christians.

CrossFitters love talking about CrossFit! I’m so glad they do, because if they didn’t, Internet gems like these would not exist.

CF4CF5CF3

The apostle Paul talked about Jesus a lot. Maybe he would be annoying to be around today, too. But I think that has a lot more to say about us than him.

What would the Church be like if Christians talked about Jesus like CrossFitters talked about CrossFit? See: Stop Evangelizing in Starbucks

3.) Progression

There’s a progression into the CrossFit world, a path to move from outsider to insider.

  • You go to the elements class to try it out.
  • You buy a month.
  • Start making friends.
  • Buy a tank-top that scoops down just north of the belly button.
  • You start thinking Reebok is a relevant brand again so you go ahead and buy the CF Reebok shoes.
  • Before you know it, you’re hooked.

One might argue that a CF’er is only really a CF’er based on their progression. There is no rush and the path is not exactly the same for each CrossFitter but the goal is always progression.

There is a progression for Christians as well. This progression is not as natural or clear cut. Not everyone goes through the same process. The goal is always to simply become more like Christ.

For some that might mean giving up some habits that have long held residence in their heart. For others it might be becoming more proactive in areas like generosity or encouragement.

If you’ve found a Christian who is no longer progressing, who has hit pause on the journey of becoming more like Christ, you have found something but it is probably not a Christian.

We never fully arrive yet we’re always progressing. Sometimes we move forward faster than other times but we’re always progressing. Sometimes we take a few steps back but then we reconnect with grace and keep progressing.

4.) Teamwork

I get why people love CrossFit. It’s the same reason I would love it if I ever tried it: teamwork. It’s a lot cheaper to work out on your own at home. Even a good gym membership in my city is half the cost of CrossFit.

But CF’ers know something Christian need to be reminded of at times: we’re better together.

The same thing that makes CrossFit great is what makes the Church great. Yet here the Church has the upper hand, even though it’s not a contest.

The Church’s unity is not just unity forged through pain and trial, although that is a powerful bond. No, the Church’s unity is founded by Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and forged through pain and trial.

The Church is not some random collection of people gathering in the same vicinity to worship once a week.

The Church is teamwork. The Church is knowing you’re not alone. The Church is knowing you have friends on the same journey you’re on: progressing to be more like Christ.

 

Question: What else can Christians learn from CrossFitters?

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?

1Feb

God Doesn’t Care If Your Team Wins

The big game just ended.

The losing team’s players are heartbroken. They poured everything they had into that game and walked away empty-handed.

The winning team is rejoicing. Confetti’s falling. Awards are being presented on the very field they just conquered.

As the post game interviews begin, a few common phrases are being rehashed from seemingly every post game interview on big stages like this.

I’m just so blessed.

God is so good.

I just wanna thank God because he was on our side tonight.

Many players think God has an active role in determining the outcome of the game.

According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Religion News Service, one in four American adults would agree.

Twenty-six percent of Americans and 27 percent of self-described sports fans believe God plays a role in determining which team will win a sporting event.

Some players are consistent. A small handful really do want to give credit to God for everything they do, in wins and losses. But these are the very few. Tim Tebow comes to mind.

However, the lion’s share of athletes who want to give credit to God for helping them win never give God credit for helping them lose.

I have little hope of athletes changing their ways, though. I am also not sure we should expect anything but ridiculous statements from them seconds after they finish a game. The adrenaline alone can explain away half of what they spew in the immediate aftermath.

I am much more concerned about the way Christians view God’s role in sports on a smaller level:

on the rec field with friends

on the court of a pick-up basketball game

on the college intramural field

at your kids’ game (No, for real…AT YOUR KIDS’ GAME) See: An Open Letter to Little League Umpires

There is nothing I can see in Scripture that points to a God who cares about the outcome of any sports game.

When it comes to sports, God cares about all people from both teams. God cares that both teams play to their best ability, showcasing all their hard work, practice, and preparation.

I had the wonderful blessing of playing four years of high school baseball for the same godly man. He was a tremendous influence in my life, a stable presence consistently pointing me to Christ in very unstable years.

It was obvious to all of us, Christians and non-Christians, that he cared a lot more about the type of men we were becoming than our skills as baseball players.

Before every game we played, we all prayed together. It was always simple, the Lord’s Prayer. Before and after every game. Win or lose.

He helped me realize that while God did not care if we won or lost that day, he cared deeply about the way we played. God cared, as our coach did, about the type of men we were becoming.

God does not care if your team wins or loses. But that does not mean he does not care about you.

Losing does not negate God’s goodness.

God really is good all the time, in wins and losses.

27Jan

Even GQ Knows Porn is Bad

Pornography Usage Statistics – Updated February 2014

  • Right now 30,000 people are watching porn.
  • More than 20% of all Internet searches are for porn.
  • Americans watch more porn than any other country in the world.
  • 70% of the spouses of porn addicts meet the criteria for a post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.
  • 83% of college males and 57% of college females have seen group sex online.
  • 32% of college males and 18% of college females have seen bestiality online.
  • 18% of college males and 10% of college females have seen rape or sexual violence online.
  • 71% of teens have done something to hide what they do online from their parents (this includes clearing browser history, minimizing a browser when in view, deleting inappropriate videos, lying about behavior, using a phone instead of a computer, blocking parents with social media privacy settings, using private browsing, disabling parental controls, or having e-mail or social media accounts unknown to parents).

I have written about porn several times before. There are links to those articles at the end of this one. I guess I’ll stop writing about it when I stop hearing about how Satan is using it to cripple the Church.

I’ll stop writing about it when I no longer see my own failure as a high school and college student in the faces of the men I get to walk through life with now as they share their struggles with me.

The direct connection between our porn consumption and the bolstering of the sex slave industry is now irrefutable, both inside the Church and outside of it. Praise God that it is now a well-known fact that every time someone clicks on a porn video the sex slave industry is strengthened.

That “18-year-old” you think you’re watching is likely 15, legally unable to consent in many countries, including our own, to what is happening to her.

“Fighting human trafficking and then watching porn is like protesting a corrupt politician but then donating to his campaign.” #refusetoclick

Everything written thus far is all 100% true, proven facts. But they’re facts published and promoted by Christians and Christian organizations, which makes perfect sense to those inside the Church.

But what about those outside the Church? What about those that would say Christians are being too oppressive, that by crying out against porn we are actually limiting the full expression of human sexuality?

Below I’ve posted some of the most overwhelming evidence of the destructive nature of any level of porn consumption, all from sources outside the fold of Christianity.

“Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” – U.S. Department of Justice

“I have also seen in my clinical experience that pornography damages the sexual performance of the viewers. Pornography viewers tend to have problems with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Having spent so much time in unnatural sexual experiences with paper, celluloid and cyberspace, they seem to find it difficult to have sex with a real human being. Pornography is raising their expectation and demand for types and amounts of sexual experiences; at the same time it is reducing their ability to experience sex. – Dr. Mary Anne Layden, PhD, Psychotherapist

“Research reveals many systemic effects of Internet pornography that are undermining an already vulnerable culture of marriage and family. Even more disturbing is the fact that the first Internet generations have not reached full-maturity, so the upper-limits of this impact have yet to be realized” – Dr. Jill Manning, Sociologist

As helpful and informative as this information is, it is not what caught my eye this week.

A survey of 73,00 Reddit users did.

Sam Deford and his team over at www.projectknow.com polled an internet community called “NoFap” a large online community of Reddit users committed to abstaining from porn and masturbation. There is no emphasis or leadership from any faith system in their group.

Deford analyzed the group’s answers to questions about their experience with porn and masturbation and the research is startling. I won’t recount it all here but the short story is this:

an online group of 73,000+ people are united by nothing else other than their shared experience that pornography and masturbation are woefully unsatisfying and have serious, damaging effects on them as human beings.

As of 1/27/15 the NoFap community has nearly doubled in size, currently boasting a membership of over 138,000 users.

The story caught the eye of GQ writer, Scott Christian. Christian has a great article based on Deford’s findings and lists in his article on GQ (!?!) 10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.

1. For those addicted to porn, arousal actually declined with the same mate, while those who regularly found different mates were able to continual their arousal. It’s known as the Coolidge Effect, or novelty-seeking behavior. Porn, after all, trains the viewer to expect constant newness.

2. One in five people who regularly watch porn admitted to feeling controlled by their own sexual desires.

3. 12 percent of NoFappers report watching 5 or more hours of Internet porn every week. 59 percent report watching between 4 and 15(!!) hours of porn every week.

4. Almost 50 percent of those on NoFap have never had sex in their lives, meaning their only experience with intimacy is purely digital.

5. 42 percent of male college students report visiting porn sites regularly.

6. 53 percent of the NoFappers developed a regular porn habit between the ages of 12 and 14. An alarming 16 percent said they started watching before they were 12.

7. 64 percent report that their tastes in porn have become more extreme or deviant.

8. Among 27-31 year olds on NoFap: 19 percent suffer from premature ejaculation, 25 percent are disinterested in sex with their partner, 31 percent have difficulty reaching orgasm, and 34 percent experience erectile dysfunction.

9. After committing to no masturbation/porn, 60 percent of those on NoFap felt that their sexual functions had improved.

10. And 67 percent had an increase in energy levels as well as productivity.

So there it is: The anti-porn movement is something Christians should absolutely whole-heartedly embrace. But it must start first in our own hearts.

But be encouraged, we are not alone in this pursuit. Others outside the faith are exposing the lie that porn peddles.

While many sources are pointing us away from porn and its destructive nature, only Christians can point toward the only real hope, Jesus.

For more, click on the pictures below:

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15Dec

Exodus: Gods and Kings – Movie Review

Personally, I am not a fan of movies like Facing the Giants, God’s Not Dead, etc. I am just not willing to waste money or time to see these low budget movies with sub-par acting simply because they are produced for/by Christians. I appreciate their intentions and many of my friends enjoy them. They’re just not my cup of tea.

However, as a Christian, I can deeply enjoy recent blockbuster movies like Exodus and Noah that stray from the Biblical narratives in many ways because they are done with excellence, and it’s a movie. I expect to be entertained. I want to see what liberties and interpretations the director takes. If you want something that’s 100% accurate, you cannot even enjoy Charleston Heston as Moses in the wildly popular Ten Commandments (1956) which tells an exodus story that is almost 90% fabrication. (See: Noah: Movie Review)

The Good:

  • Christian Bale is an awesome Moses. Bale really tried to connect with what Moses would have felt and thought during all the crazy stuff that Moses did and experienced. The film is highly emotional and Bale portrays, in some ways, a very realistic Moses, one that has doubts and could have grown up as  a functional agnostic. Moses’ faith in God, as it develops, seems like it is hanging on by a string that almost snaps a few times.
  • The movie is much more Biblically accurate than Noah. While there are definitely some interesting deviations from the Biblical text, Ridley Scott seemed very focused on adhering to the text when he felt able. The overarching narrative is preserved: God enlists Moses to help free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and lead them on their journey toward the Promised Land.
  • Joel Edgerton, an Australian, plays a great Ramses. An interesting casting choice but it works. Ramses is portrayed as this evolving character who moves from a playful general who laughs off many of his father’s leadership decisions to a brutal, punishing dictator who embodies the mantra: absolute power corrupts absolutely. When Moses returns to the ancient capital of Egypt after years in the desert, the city looks like Tolkien’s Mordor, as the corpses of dead Hebrew slaves burning all day and night.

The Bad:

  •  Diversity? I am not the first one to point this out but there sure are a lot of white people playing Egyptians and Israelites. An Australiam Ramses? Sigourney Weaver laughably attempts to play an Egyptian queen. Ridley Scott’s only response when pressed about the incredibly lack of racial diversity, “get a life.”
  • The Plagues – The film’s representation of the plagues is fantastic, bone-chilling at times, which is probably what it was like to endure them. I appreciated how much time Scott spent on conveying just how inconvenient and eventually, lethal, that plagues were. However, they never find their firm source in God. They are all explainable and even presented for most of the film as related natural disasters/phenomenon.
  • The End – There’s no extra-Biblical plot twist at the end like in Noah. But the ending seems really rushed and tacked on. Moses escapes Pharoah, receives the 10 commandments and grows very old in about 3 minutes. But the film is plenty long enough as is so the rushed ending is not the end of the world. I personally just did not care for it.

The Interesting:

  • The 8-year old God. The movie portrays God as an 8-year old boy, the same age as Moses’s son at this point in his life. It is an interesting take but we obviously do not think of God in this way. But this raised some questions for me. Why am I more comfortable with an older, more James Earl Jones-esque personification of God than I am with an 8-year old British boy God. The theology of this 8-year old boy God is pretty consistent with the God of Scripture. He promises to be with Moses. He is clearly in control and he has fierce affections for the Israelites and desperately wants to free them from slavery.
  • The brotherhood of Moses and Ramses is the main story. Right after the movie finishes a tribute briefly pops up, “For my brother, Tony Scott.” Ridley Scott’s brother, Tony, was also a very successful Hollywood director (Top Gun) who committed suicide in 2012. This is a great reminder of how our theology is greatly impacted by our experience. Ridley Scott spends  aa great amount of time building a story not out of an overarching narrative of God rescuing his people but of Moses and Ramses in conflict. The main story and battle lies between them. One cannot help but see his personal connection to the personal connection Moses must have shared with Ramses.
  • Moses doesn’t seem to know he’s Hebrew. This was fascinating, and in my opinion, a fair and Biblical option. The Bible never fully reveals what Moses does and does not know about his childhood in his early years. Even when he kills the Egyptian slave master for hurting “one of his own people” (Exodus 2:11) the reader does not know if Moses is aware that the person being beat was his own people of if the narrator simply lets the reader know that which Moses does not yet know.

 

Conclusion:

This review is far from exhaustive and it is not intended to be. I appreciated the virtual absence of bad language and zero nudity. However, the violence is definitely there to make it earn it’s PG-13 rating, yet as my friend Frank Gil notes, it pales in comparison to the violence in today’s video games.

I hope you see this movie if this type of movie interests you. I think it can spark great conversation and cause more and more people to turn to examine the God of the Bible and hopefully decide to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

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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