Faith

5Jul

Spiritual Check-Up

July did it again. We underestimated its sneakiness and then out of nowhere BAM! out of nowhere we’re suddenly closer to 2016 than 2014.

 

 

July’s kind of a punk.

Remember January? You know…that month that felt like it was about 2 weeks ago?

I love January because everything feels so new. Resolutions, reflections, ways to improve, new dreams to begin, etc.

If January feels new, July feels like when you clean out the fridge but forget to take out the trash for a few days.

According to Forbes, only 8% of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions.

While it’s great for us to want to lose weight and eat healthier every year, at some point we need to ask better questions, “Is this the best way to improve?”

As our preaching team was discussing this last year we decided to take a Sunday and try and ask better questions. While some of us made similar resolutions as many of you, we realized that the spiritual version of resolutions was not effective.

So we brain-stormed questions. We started with 50 different questions that were whittled down to 10. 10 questions to help you know where you are in your journey as a Christ-follower.

So if you made some spiritual resolutions back in January, it’s mid-year check-up time! If you didn’t make any, these questions can help you simply reflect on your faith, as Scripture commands us to…

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” – 2 Corinthians 13:5

 

10 Spiritual Check-Up Questions

  1. Do you have a growing awareness of God’s presence in your life?
  2. Are you increasingly aware of your own sin?
  3. Is there something in God’s Word you are struggling to understand?
  4. Are you pursuing God’s plan for your life and how you fit into God’s global purpose?
  5. Are you growing in love for those who have been difficult for you to love?
  6. Is there a discipline to your spiritual growth?
  7. Are you actively involved in a local church?
  8. Is your lifestyle noticeably different than your peers who do not know Jesus?
  9. Is your relationship with God a source of great delight?
  10. Do you live in an increasing gratitude because of what God has done for you?

If you’re looking to grow in your walk with Christ, but aren’t sure where to start, don’t hesitate to e-mail me. I’d love to help in any way I can or connect you with someone else who can.

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.”

25Jun

5 Marks of Godly Men

“Just be a man.”  //  “Man up.”  //  “Grow a pair.”

Our culture has lots of messages about what it means to be a man, both inside and outside the Church.

Marlboro Man

marlboromanFor forty years the Marlboro Man made men of all backgrounds want to take up farming and convinced them emphysema wasn’t nearly as important as being manly. (This man pictured, Eric Lawson, was the 5th Marlboro Man to die of smoking-related illness).

 

The Metrosexual Man

metrosexualMore recently advertising companies hammered home the message of the “metrosexual” man. This man was not too insecure to wax his eyebrows, dye his hair, and get a spray tan. He might not be able to bench 250 lbs. but he can discuss fashion and shopping with the best of them.

 

The Lumbersexual Man

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Daniel Norris is shown in a handout photo.The 21-year-old left-hander, who rose through three minor-league levels last year before making his major league debut in September, spends most of the off-season driving on the open road, camping in the mountains, and surfing on the ocean waves ??? all while living out of a 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia microbus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Katherine Williams

Photo Credit:  THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Katherine Williams

Lately the message has swung to the other end of the spectrum. The “lumbersexual” man is much different than his metrosexual predecessor. He has bigger muscles and a full beard. He wears flannel but it’s never wrinkled. His beard might look ragged but his hair never does. He’s the guy who cuts a steak not with the knife provided by the restaurant but with his own he whips out of his pocket like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

 

And that’s just the message(s) to men outside the church. Inside it can get just as muddled.

Just on my shelf alone are books like:

  • Manhood Restored
  • The Dude’s Guide to Manhood
  • Act Like Men
  • The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart
  • Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul
  • Recovering Biblical Manhood

All of these books are written by godly men and most are pastors. Some of the books are better than others but just judging from these books (and there are many more), manhood is something that needs to be restored, searched for, discovered and recovered. Clear as mud?

5 Marks of a Godly Man, John 3:22-30

To discover/recover/restore what it means to be a godly man, we can look to a very peculiar man from the Scriptures, John the Baptist.

1. Godly men are leaders who serve. (v.22-23)

John is at a crossroads. He has a group of followers because people tend to follow godly men. His crew sees Jesus and his crew baptizing people just like John. John is not sure of much but he knows who Jesus is. Yet none of that leads to him deciding to stop being a leader who serves. John keeps leading, keep baptizing, because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

Sometimes men think they have to choose between leading and serving. The Bible shows us that the only way to actually lead is by serving. The two are inseparable.

2. Godly men know all they have comes from God. (v. 27)

John was not caught up in the illusion of ownership. He knows what godly men know, that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. We might feel like we earn what we have because we worked hard for it and to some extent that’s true but at the end of the day, God holds your life and mine like a blank check. Whatever God asks of us is simply asking for what is already his.

Time, money, emotions – they all belong to God.

3. Godly men know what they’re not. (v.28)

John reminds his followers quite simply, “I am not the Christ.”

Godly men follow suit. They do not take credit for what’s not theirs. They do not pretend to be someone they’re not. Instead, they consistently seek to encourage and recognize others when they succeed instead of squash their success or take credit for it themselves.

4. Godly men have real joy. (v.29)

This might be the hardest one for most men I know. Many of us, myself included, had great men in our life who worked incredibly hard. The definition of manhood many of us received growing up was, “Work hard. Provide. Be faithful. Don’t show emotion.”

A lot of good will come from living a life like that. Yet John says his JOY has been made COMPLETE from pointing out Jesus to his friends. Joy leaves no room for eternal stoicism. Godly men aren’t afraid to be joyful because they cannot think of anything greater than pointing their wives, kids, friends, enemies, co-workers, etc. to Jesus.

5. Godly men decrease so Jesus will increase. (v. 30)

You ever heard a fisherman elaborate a story? All kinds of men are tempted in similar ways all day long. Godly men have no interest in puffing themselves up not only because they are keenly aware of their own flaws but because they are also keenly aware how Jesus has zero flaws.

Godly men don’t know everything, but they know they want to spend their lives making much of Jesus because they would make poor Saviors themselves.

What would you add to the list?

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?

1Jun

Reading Proverbs

“The one that speaks much, is much mistaken.”
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
“Do not ask. Do not say. Everything lies in silence.”

All three of these sayings speak to the same virtue: knowing when to speak and when to be silent. All three are proverbial statements yet only one actually comes from the book of Proverbs. Can you tell which one?

The first saying was penned by Benjamin Franklin.
The second saying is Proverbs 10:19.
The third saying is from a fortune cookie.

What is a Proverb?

So what is a proverb? What makes the second saying all that different from the first and third, which say essentially the same thing?

Proverbs are wisdom statements that teach us about life and the way in which we should live it. Proverbs are not universally true like other types of Biblical genres. For example, when God makes a promise, it is universally true. When God said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5) there are no exceptions.

Yet we can all think of exceptions to some Proverbs. Take Proverbs 15:22 for example, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” I know of a few people who have built businesses from the ground up, with little to no help. They make decisions alone, and always seem to make the right one. I also know of a few times when someone got too many opinions and it led them to make the wrong decision.

Even though there are some exceptions, the proverb is generally true. People generally make much better plans when they seek and heed wise advice than when they attempt to make those same decisions alone.

The question remains, what makes the proverb different from the Benjamin Franklin quote or a fortune cookie saying expressing the same sentiment?

Proverbs >

Proverbs are greater than Benjamin Franklin quotes and fortune cookies because they teach us more than simply what life is like. They teach us who God is, the source of all wisdom.

Every proverb should be interpreted through the lens of Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The same sentiment is expressed in 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

While they definitely speak to practical areas of life like appropriate expression of emotions, business ethics, family relationships, guidance/planning, openness to advice and even physical discipline, the reader should not miss the fact that all that practical advice is rooted in the main idea of Proverbs: true wisdom begins with knowing God. Proverbs scholar Tremper Longman III points out the deeply theological nature of the book, “Proverbs is not rightly understood if it is taken as a book of practical advice with an occasional nod of the head to Yahweh. The book is thoroughly and pervasively theological.”

Jesus in the Proverbs

You don’t have to be around our church for long to know that we’re all about Jesus. Everything we do, but especially how we read the Bible, is very Christo-centric. So how do the Proverbs point us to Jesus? Allow me to suggest two ways.

First, Proverbs is a book of sayings firmly in the Wisdom tradition of the Bible. (other books in the Wisdom tradition include Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and James). Since the linchpin to understanding the book of Proverbs lies in our understanding of the nature of God (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10) and our understanding of God hinges on our ability to know Jesus (John 5:23-24, John 17:3,22, Colossians 1:19, Hebrews 1:3) the Proverbs point us to Jesus because Jesus is the ultimate source of wisdom. He is wisdom.

The Proverbs also point us to Jesus because they actually fail in universally leading us to wisdom. Like we saw earlier, there are exceptions to the proverbs. They are not meant to be read as universally binding statements of wisdom. Jesus, however, is meant to be understood as the ultimate, universal, never-failing wisdom in a very futile, foolish world.

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.

22Mar

The Gospel According to March Madness

It’s arguably the most interesting event in sports. It draws the attention of the casual observer, the diehard fanatic, and that one person who fills out their bracket based on uniform color…and beats you every year.

March Madness.

The brackets. The upsets (Baylor…). The Cinderella stories. The heart-breaking losses (ahem, BAYLOR!)

Maybe it’s because I used to own too many Chicken Soup for the Soul books, or maybe it’s because I’m a preacher and I know the power of a good story, but I love the storylines that come out of March Madness, the ones that transcend basketball.

These powerful stories of comebacks, reunions, and destiny take more than X’s and O’s to tell but they might be my favorite part of the tournament.

The relationship between Georgia State (there’s a Georgia State?) head coach Ron Hunter and his son, R.J. was easily the most powerful of these type of stories, at least in the first few rounds of the tourney. R.J. is the star of the team and looks to have a bright future in the NBA.

Watching their relationship unfold was bittersweet, especially as R.J. hit the game winning 3-pointer from 1.3 miles out to upset my Baylor Bears.

rj

But hearing Coach Ron Hunter’s press conference after they lost in the following round will stop you in your tracks.

If you didn’t watch the video, stop reading and go watch it. Seriously.

Ron Hunter’s no slouch. He got a school most of the country didn’t know existed into the national spotlight. But when he’s given a chance to say whatever he wants as a coach, he chooses instead to talk about his kid.

“I just love this kid”

And then he weeps. Not tears of sadness, but JOY. They joy of a father rejoicing over his kid.

He doesn’t cry polite, quiet sobs. These are loud, heaving, into the microphone, humiliating-but-don’t-care-who’s-watching-because-I-LOVE-THIS-KID tears.

That’s the way God loves his people.

Far too often, at least if you’re like me, you want to leave church on Sunday with a list of stuff to do.

  • Be a better husband this week.
  • Be slower to become angry.
  • Listen more.
  • Talk less more smack to Baylor haters.
  • Be quicker to repent.
  • Spend less money on things that don’t matter so I can give to things that do.

Your list may be different from mine, but most of the Christians I know think we’re doing good if we leave church with a list.

Maybe instead of a list God wants to give us his love.

Coach Hunter was asked the usual questions in his press conference.

  • What does this team mean to you?
  • What can you do to improve for next year?
  • How will you replace your leaders?

Sometimes we ask God lots of questions like that, too.

  • Who should I date?
  • What college should I attend?
  • Should I move my family for this job opportunity?

More often than not, God seems to respond to my questions like Coach Hunter, “I just love this kid.”

He doesn’t always answer our questions like we want because he wants to give us something better: his love!

Lists and questions aren’t bad. They show that we really care about how faith intersects our daily life.

But in all our list-making and question-asking how dare we miss the simple but life-changing divine declaration over every Christian, “I JUST LOVE THIS KID.”

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

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?

© Copyright 2013, All Rights Reserved