Faith

17Nov

5 Reasons Your 20’s Matter

It can’t go on like this.

Adolescence cannot last from 11 years old to 29 years old.

The headlines are everywhere:

Most sociologists view adolescence as beginning at puberty (for some at 11-12 years old) but that’s not the problem. The problem is there is no longer any conceivable end to the age of adolescence.

Adulthood used to be measured by 5 major milestones (completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child). Yet these depict a cookie cutter path to adulthood that not everyone takes. (See: You May Never Get Married)

And that’s okay. Some of the most mature people I know have never had children or been married and some of the most irresponsible crazies I know have the most children. But I would argue the first three of those traditional milestones are still really important.

So are 20-somethings just up the creek without a paddle? It’s getting harder and harder to obtain financial freedom. Student loans are a necessary evil for many and that debt can shackle you for decades. Not to mention the degrees you took the loans out to obtain mean less and less all the while more and more education and experience is being required for entry level jobs. Where do you go to work to get the 3-5 years experience that everyone seems to want for you to get a job?

I know the deck can seem stacked against 20-somethings in many ways. But that’s not my concern. I see it almost everyday. Some of my friends have looked at the landscape of their 20’s and simply concluded, “This period of my life doesn’t matter.” And that’s a narrative they have bought into: hook line and sinker.

All this talk about millennials yet so few conversations with them. With that in mind…

5 Reasons Your 20’s Matter

1.) You’re not a teenager anymore. You’re not an “emerging” adult. You’re an adult.

While there is no denying adolescence, it needs to have a definitive ending point. Your 20’s are not simply a continuation of your teenage years. They are not a time to grow up; they are a time to be grown up. I know it can feel like you’re stuck sometimes but real life is happening all around you today. (See: The In-Between Places)

The apostle Paul wrote the following about maturing into adulthood:

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

2.) The relationships you make and cultivate in this defining decade will shape the rest of your life..

Many people meet their spouse in their 20’s. Who you date matters because who you marry matters.Your 20’s are not a time to waste time dating losers you know you could never marry. Keep the bar high because if you lower it a whole bunch of jokers will start jumping over and then you’ll have deal with the fall out.

The friends you have in your 20’s are also different than any friends you’ve had before, even if they’re the same people. In high school and college it can be hard to tell who your real friends are because they’re picked largely based on proximity. You go to class together. You live near each other, etc. But once you graduate college and/or start working, you really start to learn who your real friends are. Friendships can be harder to maintain but ultimately more worthwhile.

3.) You’ll gain financial freedom or financial captivity.

Student loans stink. Learn to HATE your debt. Think about all you could do without that amount weighing you down every month. Work hard. Get promotions. Move up the ladder as you’re able and feel comfortable in doing so. Learn how to manage a budget. (See: Chop Wood, Carry Water)

It’s not just a financial issue; it’s a discipleship issue. Everything is God’s. We’re managers at best. Manage well. Your success or failure in this area during this decade will largely determine your financial health for the next three decades. (See: The 1 Thing We Fight About)

4.) You’ll find your sweet spot at work, eventually.

A lot of your 20’s is spent discovering what it is you’re truly passionate about. You’re young enough to switch careers and depending on your personal life situation (married/unmarried, with/without kids, etc.) you can really pursue a wide path. But don’t be afraid to settle in when you find something you love. No situation/job/boss is perfect. (See: Why I Love and Hate Kids Ministry)

In the immortal words of Monica to Rachel, “Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You’re gonna love it.”

5.) Your 20’s are not your own.

You don’t own any part of your life. It’s all a gift of grace. Life with Christ isn’t just for your 30’s and beyond. You’re not even guaranteed to make it to 30.

Your 20’s are a wonderful gift, given to you and me from God. Honor him with these years. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I have had more to be truly grateful for in my 20’s than ever before.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (and your 20’s). – 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20  (italicized mine)

Question: What would you add to the list? Why else do the 20’s matter?

16Nov

My Favorite Word in the Old Testament

The last 2 weeks or so have easily been some of the most stressful and uncertain in my life.

I don’t intend to stack it against your most stressful or uncertain week, though. Many of you have suffered and endured more than I could ever imagine.

  • My wife and I do not have any children yet so we do not know what the loss of a child is like.
  • We have consistently had provision for our basic needs so we know nothing of what it is like to wonder where our next meal would come from or how we would keep the lights on in our house or the heater on in winter.
  • Both of us have been consistently employed in jobs we enjoy so we have never felt like we were giving ourselves to something pointless not do we know the sinking feeling of unemployment and all that often comes with it (depression, identity crisis, self-esteem issues, etc.)

With that said, though…here’s what went down in a matter of days.

  • We discovered a hole in our roof…when it rained. When the roof fella came over to work on it, he put his boot through the ceiling of our dining room. When it rains, it pours. Literally. In our dining room. Upside? We had a skylight for a few weeks!
  • Our oldest dog, Cooper, almost died. We’re kinda dog people so this was maybe a bigger deal for us than it would have been for you, and that’s okay. We discovered he had a huge tumor blocking his digestive tract, and stealing all kinds of nutrients from his body. He stopped being himself and lost tons of weight, rapidly. We took him to the vet and they scheduled surgery the next morning. Sometime the night before the surgery his tumor ruptured, filling his stomach up with blood. Surgery went great! He’s back to his old self and will be great but he was 10 hours away from dying.
  • The engine in my car fried. The ENGINE. You know, the part that makes a car…a car. The engine cost more than my car is worth.
  • My wife’s teeth have apparently been in an open revolt against her for some time now. She went for a check-up and came out with more bling in her mouth than 50 Cent. Then part of that bling didn’t do its job so she had to get a full-on root canal. Lovely.
  • Somewhere in the middle of all of this I attended an out-of-state conference for 3 days.

I’m sure you know what this season is like. Everything seems like it’s about one second from spinning out of control. The other shoe has dropped about 10 times and you’re wondering how many other things could go wrong. You don’t know who Murphy is but his law sucks and if you ever find him you’re gonna punch him right in the jaw.

It’s in moments and seasons like these that I return again and again to my favorite word in all of the Old Testament. I highlight/circle/box/underline it every single time I come across it.

STEADFAST

It can actually be a catch-all word in English because 6 or 7 words in Hebrew are translated as “steadfast” in the Old Testament but we understand the meaning. Steadfast means stable, enduring, patient, constant, never-wavering, long-suffering, etc.

It’s probably the quality I most admire in others.

In the Old Testament, it’s almost always referring to the character and nature of God, his steadfast love. It’s the Hebrew equivalent of “grace” albeit rather roughly translated.

Think about it. God’s grace, his loving kindness, is most often expressed to us in his stability, in his enduring, never-wavering love for people who constantly waver from him.

Even though we far too often “swerve to the right or to the left” (Proverbs 4:27) God never does.

This should give us great encouragement when life kind of hits the fan. If I were to go back through the list I cited earlier of all the things that converged upon us in a stressful time, I could show you all of these situations sort of worked out. Some were more expensive than expected but some weren’t. Our dog could have just as easily died but he didn’t. My wife could have lost her entire tooth but she didn’t.

But none of that has anything to do with God’s steadfastness, not really. To say it does is to promote some type of prosperity gospel which would be a desertion of grace and a “turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one.” (Galatians 1:6-7)

Our circumstances could have gone worse but they also could have gone better. Either way, God is steadfast in his love toward us and that was, is, and always will be our greatest hope.

“20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.” – Psalm 33:20-22

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

26Oct

It Takes Time to Take Heed

Our church is currently preaching through 1 Corinthians. It’s been fascinating seeing how many of our present-day issues and situations are the same things Christians have been wrestling through since the very beginning.

Sometimes when I read the Bible, certain verses just rattle in my head for days, sometimes weeks, after I read them. The following verse has been on my mine since we unpacked it over a week ago now:

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12

Don’t rush past that. Read it again. Slowly.

Paul is writing to a pretty new group of Christians who had a lot to be proud about in their city. They had unparalleled access to other cultures, knowledge, art, etc. The city of Corinth laid across a pretty major trade route so their world was growing smaller and smaller as they gained more access to the influence of other countries, people groups, and cultures. Sound familiar?

They had a lot of reasons to stand up and be proud. Or so they thought.

Paul’s encouragement to the church at Corinth echoes the encouragement God gives us in the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10.

Paul’s plead with them to take heed can seem hard to understand at first. We defined taking heed as “paying special attention to the condition of your heart before God.”

One of my favorite thing about our church is our home groups. For those who attend, they are rich blessings, a tangible exercise in the often-intangible pursuit of true community. For those who do not belong to a home group, they are missing out on a big part of what it means to belong to a local church.

This verse is rattling around in my heart because of something someone else said in my home group. These two comments from two different people answered two questions I had about this processing of taking heed of our hearts before God.

1.) Why should we take heed?

My wife is brilliant. When we were focusing on the words “take heed” she called us back to the beginning of the verse. She said something incredibly profound like, “Maybe our problem with the whole taking heed thing is we think we’re standing when we should be bowing.” *drops mic*

It’s in these moments that I am a proud husband and a humiliated pastor. I’m incredibly grateful for my wife and am just counting down the days until she “wakes up” and realized she really got the raw end of this whole marriage deal. But she also just saw something in the text I never saw and I preached the dad gum sermon.

But she’s absolutely right: Maybe we refuse to consider the position of our heart toward God simply because we refuse to acknowledge our great need to do so.

2.) How do we practically take heed?

I was proud of our group this last week. When this question came up, they refused to offer the typical “pray, read your Bible, etc. etc.” Those things are fantastic and a huge part of our lives but I’ve learned you’re either doing them or you’re not. Still, taking heed is something different, anyway.

While we were fumbling a bit trying to wrap our heads and hearts around how we actually go about taking heed, one of my friends launched into a really compelling time when he shared his frustration with how busy our culture has become. He had grown weary of the imposed expectation that his kids constantly be involved in 6 different activities at the same time. (His only do one at a time. These people exist, parents. I promise). He talked about how selling some of their extra stuff had recently enhanced their spiritual life and how they were really fighting to be open to God calling them to do anything or go anywhere at any time.

Then he simply said, “You know Steven, it takes time to take heed.” *drops mic*

He’s right. And God has seared that sentence on my heart the last week or so. It takes time to take heed.

Whether through Scripture reading or prayer, quiet contemplation on a run or a trip to the grocery store, it takes time to truly consider the position of our heart toward the One who made it. To place ourselves in a position of bowing instead of a position of standing because I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to try and stand on my own.

Today, take time to take heed of your heart. After all, it is what God is after above all else.

13Oct

Co-Habitation, Dating, & Marriage

Are two people who decide to live together outside of marriage headed for divorce?

That’s the question I set out to answer, or at least learn more about, a few weeks ago. I stumbled across The Downside of Cohabitating Before Marriage, a 2012 New York Times article written by a clinical psychologist who works primarily with 20-somethings and has made a healthy living counseling couples and individuals with issues specifically related to cohabitation.

Jay tells the story of one of her clients, a woman named “Jennifer.” Jennifer lived with her husband for four years before they married yet started receiving counseling from Jay when she was considering divorce just one year into marriage.

“What happened?”

Jennifer eventually confessed that when she was living with her husband before they got married, before she knew his commitment to her, it felt like she was constantly trying out to be his wife, wondering if this was the month, or even the year, where she would be seen as worthy enough to be a wife.  “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” she said. “We had all this furniture. We had our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up. Then it was like we got married because we were living together once we got into our 30s.”

Jennifer’s story is heartbreaking, and if we’re not careful we can miss the real issue with co-habitation.

I could see how it’s easy to start living together with someone, especially someone you’re already having sex with.

You’re already staying over at each other’s houses. When you’re both at his place, you use his Internet while your paid-for Internet goes to waste with all your other lonely, underutilized utilities. When you’re both at her place and she wants to invest in some new furniture it’s not the craziest thing for her to ask you what you think. She doesn’t really care but she’s really asking, “Is this furniture eventually going to be our furniture?”

The whole 30-is-the-new-20 culture communicates that your 20’s just don’t really matter that much. And study after study shows that 20-somethings are the most likely to live together outside of marriage. It does matter what you do, all the time, especially in your 20’s. They might be the most formative years of your life because you’re making decisions then that you’ll deal with the rest of your life.

But cohabitation can wreck your 20’s, (or your 30’s, 40’s etc.) because you end up compromising in ways you never intended:

Step 1: You start dating someone.

Step 2: The exciting newness of your new relationship has worn off. Things are honestly going well but you’re not super sure about where the relationship is going long-term so you decide to fast track things, stop the house-hopping and live together. More sex. Less rent. Win-win.

Step 3: The exciting newness of living together has worn off. You look around one day, still unsure about the future of your relationship long-term, but now it’s messy. You think about what it would take to end the relationship. You’d have to find a new place, get new cable/Internet/utilities, etc. You’d have to decide who keeps the dog you adopted together. You’d have to find some, if not all, new friends. If you’re church goers you have to find a new church, small group, etc. If you’re honest with yourself, all that just doesn’t seem worth it.

Step 4: Something gives. Marriage, all of a sudden, doesn’t seem so terrible. Maybe you’re pregnant. Maybe you’re just exhausted at the idea of starting all over with someone new. The thought of doing the whole first date, awkward get to know you, meet the parents routine sounds dreadful. So you get married.

Step 5: Divorce? Maybe. Happy marriage built on a fierce sense of loyalty and covenant commitment to one another? Probably not. You think to yourself, “How did I get here? I would never date my spouse if I was just meeting them now.”

What happened?  Cohabitation happened.

If you’ve made it this far in this post you might be familiar with a cohabitation, dating, and marriage survey I created over the weekend. It was taken by hundreds of people and brought about some interesting results. You can see the most recent version of those results here. (The survey is still open and the results are constantly being updated).

Survey Background Facts:

  • 75% of the survey responders are female.
  • 50% are under the age of 30.
  • 34% have lived or are living with someone outside of marriage.
  • I intentionally left out comment boxes or religious preferences.

5 Thoughts on Cohabitation

1.) Cohabitation is more simple than some people realize.

Cohabitation is most dangerous for people living with who the studies referred to as a “serial cohabitater.” This person, male or female, has no real desire to get married. They are operating out of a misguided, more sex/less rent attitude and/or they desire some companionship without a deep commitment. Ironically, cohabitation requires a commitment that cohabitation cannot actually provide. This group is full of the people trying to rationalize their decisions when really their situation is simple: get your own place.

2.) Cohabitation is more complex than some people realize.

For some, cohabitation is much more common and increasingly more complex. This group is made up primarily of lower-income populations, particularly uneducated, single mothers. Maybe they made some mistakes in their past, giving up on a dream or college to be with the man they loved. Maybe a teenage pregnancy altered their life forever. No matter how they got there, they have now arrived at a place of need it seems impossible to break out of. They might have multiple kids with multiple partners but for them, cohabitation has become a financial necessity.

My hope for them would be to move in with parents, friends, other family members…basically anyone but a potential sexual partner. It’s this group of people that gets overlooked by these studies and articles. Remember “Jennifer”? She was paying to see a very expensive and highly sought-after therapist to unpack her cohabitation-based problems. No one from this group is able to acquire such help yet their life’s problems can be largely chalked up to cohabitation as well.

3.) There is a very real correlation between couples living together outside of marriage and the success of their future marriages.

An absolutely conclusive study does not exist. Cohabitation does work sometimes, as long as “work” is defined by a lack of divorce instead of faithfulness to the God-ordained covenant of marriage. When cohabitation does “work” it is almost always the same situation: Two people who genuinely care for one another in a particularly selfless way date and eventually move in together. They later get married after living outside of marriage but it turns out that both of them only ever lived with each other before they got married.

My encouragement to them is simple: If you’re ready to move in together, you’re ready for marriage. If you’re not, then you’re not. That’s even more selfless. Cohabitation relationships are harder to dissolve than just dating but much easier to dissolve than marriage. Marriage communicates the ultimate “I love you and I actually mean it.”

Yet the facts are hard to dispute. Cohabitation does make breaking up harder and eventually makes marriage easier…all to someone you may not actually have ever decided to marry if you had never started living together.

4.) Cohabitation requires absolutely zero commitment.

This might be the hardest reality to grasp because perceived commitment is all around you!

  • You picked out the furniture TOGETHER.
  • You made new friends TOGETHER.
  • You got a pet TOGETHER.
  • You have a bed TOGETHER.
  • Yet there is nothing, no level of mutual trust or lasting commitment keeping one person from waking up one day, deciding to quit, and walk out. People definitely walk out of marriages in similar fashion, but they break real commitments to do so, not perceived ones, not counting the financial and social consequences divorce has.

Men often perceive cohabitation as precious time bought to avoid marriage while women simultaneously think they’ve got their man moving toward marriage.

5.) Co-habitation is incredibly uncomfortable for kids.

If you’re a single and/or divorced parent, you should never have a boyfriend or girlfriend sleepover and you should never live with a partner and force your kids to live in that same environment. It is confusing, unfair, emotional, and incredibly selfish. You put your kids in a very difficult situation to like, trust, and/or ever love your significant other if they do indeed become your spouse one day. Just don’t. If your partner is not willing to marry you, they don’t get that level of access to you. Even if you don’t value yourself enough to deny them that access, value your kids enough to make the right decision.

What are your thoughts on cohabitation? I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a comment below.

5Oct

God Doesn’t Need America

God doesn’t need America.

Disclaimer: I’m very grateful to be an American. I’m exponentially more grateful to be a Christian.

No version of America (1776 or 2014) should be equated with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. We are not God’s chosen people.

We are not set apart from other nations in the heart of God. God doesn’t love Americans more than Syrians. or Russians. Or Canadians (yes, even Canadians).

Yet this myth persists, and it baffles me. Because we can agree to disagree about the purpose of the founding of our country all day long. (If you ask me, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the connection between “religious freedom” and mass genocide of…the people who already lived here).

What truly troubles me about the syncretism swirling around the intersections of faith and patriotism is this belief that somehow God needs America. I haven’t found someone who would explicitly say that, but it is seems to be a valid, logical conclusions made from a foolish thought process.

In our country, we have created a God in our own image. He loves the same people we love and hates the same people we hate.

We have forgotten that we serve “the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25)

God doesn’t need America. God doesn’t have a special relationship with America. Nations have come and gone, and will continue to do so, yet our God remains the same.

I remember reading a Puritan sermon in college, “A Model of Christian Charity” by John Winthrop. As early as 163o, Winthrop and others were calling for a new nation that could be a “city on a hill” as if the ancient text they barely referenced (Matthew 5:14-16) was just waiting to be fulfilled by the yet to be formed starts and stripes.

The idea that God would bless America in a unique way as compared to other nations shows, among other things, a complete disregard for the global nature of God’s love and sole focus on our worldview as the center of a very small universe.

Some churches are hosting God and Country services, “dedicated to calling America back to the God of Abraham and Isaac, and of Washington and Lincoln.” Instead of a Sunday morning worship service. Can’t make this stuff up.

godandcountry

 

 

 

 

I’ve seen church members leave a church for good when the American flag was removed from the stage in an effort to give singular focus and devotion to Jesus.

I think these folks are well-intentioned; I really do. But I also think heaven will be a shock for them (if they make it!) because they’ll see such a rich, diverse gathering of people, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10

America is a fantastic country. If I could pick any country in which to live it would undoubtedly be this one. I don’t share many of my generation’s disdain for our country, and especially not the men and women who protect her. However, I am beyond convinced that God does not need America.

America is not the hope of the nations. America is not the light of the world.

Jesus is.

2Oct

Two Types of Church People

It’s an old church saying. I remember hearing it several times in my childhood,

There are two types of people in church: pillars and caterpillars.

The pillars uphold the church. They’re the every Sunday attenders, the dedicated tithers, and the people who actually pray for you when they say they’ll be praying for you. They embody the fruit of the Spirit and are actively seeking out ways to serve others, especially the least of these.

Then there’s the caterpillars. They “crawl” in late on Sunday morning, drink some coffee, sing a few songs, and then crawl back out before the service is actually over.

I remember hearing this as a kid in church and looking around to see very few caterpillars.That was kind of the point, I guess. God loved pillars more and if you happened to be one of the unlucky caterpillars who crawled in that week you had better figure out how to be a pillar in a hurry so you could fit in with the rest of us pillars.

Now, honestly, I’m not so sure I’m a pillar and I’m a pastor. I try my best to be and I know in many ways I am. For example, giving/tithing has never been a problem for me. There have been months and years where it’s been harder to give than others but consistent obedience in that area of life has been extremely rewarding. Some of my friends really struggle with the idea of giving, though, for a myriad of different reasons. Many of these friends do a much better job than me of consistently cultivating a gentle spirit.

Maybe there should be a third type of church person, some sort of caterpillar/pillar hybrid. Maybe most of us belong in this third category, or at least at different points along a spectrum between the two.

The pillars are undoubtedly integral to the church. Without them, the church simply cannot exist. Dating back to the time of Jesus, the church has always had members who go above and beyond. They give more of their money, time and resources than the average church attender. There’s a statistic that’s generally true in many churches: 80% of the church’s ministry is accomplished by 20% of the church. This same 20% usually funds 80% of the ministry.

They’re often the…

  • thankless volunteers
  • consistent attenders
  • ones laboring in prayer for their church and community.
  • ones who listen attentively to sermons, not because it’s polite, but because they come expecting to hear the gospel heralded from stage every week, because they are keenly aware of their constant need for it.

One of my favorite moments in ministry came when I was meeting with a group of pillars. They told me, “Steven, we’re going to be here whether you are or not. We’re stable. We love Jesus, our church, and our community. We can serve you as a steady core of people that can provide you with a safety net of sorts to fall back on. So let’s be risky. Let’s do new things to reach new people with the Gospel.”

As a pastor, pillars really encourage me.

But I LOVE caterpillars. I think I love caterpillars so much because I don’t really know what it’s like to be one. I’ve been in church my whole life so I have never felt the anxiety many caterpillars have to overcome when stepping foot in church, or back in church, which can be even harder.

Caterpillars are often the…

  • ones with a past other Christians couldn’t look past
  • ones who are frequently and unfairly judged
  • ones terrified to walk into church
  • ones who are new or skeptic towards faith, unsure of the next step but they’re trying
  • ones with the most to lose if they were to make their faith with Jesus public

I love caterpillars because I know there are much more of them in our world and in our churches, than pillars.

Jesus loves caterpillars and pillars. He loves when caterpillars grow into pillars to reach more caterpillars.

I love Jesus because he never gets stuck hanging out with the pillars too much. That can be a common temptation for Christians, to only surround ourselves with people that think, act, and believe just like us.

I love Jesus because he spends much more time with the caterpillars. The skeptics. The non-believers. The disenfranchised. The disillusioned. The rebellious. When Jesus was in deepest need of encouragement, he retreated with some pillars, for a brief time. But he always found the bulk of his mission among the caterpillars.

So…what type of church person are you? A pillar or a caterpillar? (See: 6 Questions Every Christian Needs to Answer)

If you’re a pillar, stay the course! Don’t forget to look to the caterpillars around you, to call them into a deeper walk with Jesus. Your tireless efforts truly count in the kingdom of God and nothing you do, no matter how small, goes unnoticed.

If you’re a caterpillar, be encouraged! Some of us have no clue what it’s like to overcome some of the obstacles you have in between you and faith. But thankfully Jesus has overcome all those for you and so much more. So, take your time exploring Jesus. Seek out truth and your identity within a community. See: Can You Love Jesus and Not the Church?

You’ll see in time that he’s faithful. But don’t take too long. We need you to grow into a pillar so we can keep advancing the kingdom in our world. God is excited to know you and use you right where you are. See: The Underground Church in…Texas?

Are you a pillar, a caterpillar, or somewhere in between?

16Sep

Can You Love Jesus but Not the Church?

Spoiler alert: No, you can’t love Jesus and not the Church.

It’s a popular pursuit, though, and I can understand it, to an extent.

Jesus is radically inclusive and some churches are radically exclusive, painting stark, impossibly narrow lines of faith that are only big enough to include their particular tribe. According to them, to truly belong to Jesus you must look, think, and act just like them.

Jesus is the complete embodiment of truth but some churches are incredibly misleading. Whether by false teaching or false living, the Church is not perfect. But Jesus is. And that’s the issue. You make a mistake if you expect the Church to be something (perfect) that Jesus (who’s actually perfect) never expected it to be.

 

 

Saying you love Jesus but not the church is like saying you love one person of a married couple but don’t really care for their spouse. You might even say you hate their spouse.

Maybe their spouse did something hurtful to you at one point. Maybe you didn’t have the most welcoming experience with their spouse.

No matter the reason, you’re only getting so far in a friendship if you don’t like the person your “friend” is married to…BECAUSE they are crazy about their spouse.

Likewise, you can’t say you truly love Jesus without loving the Church because Jesus is crazy about the church. So crazy about it that he died for it, loving it all the way the grave and back.

The Church will never be perfect. But it will always be something Jesus saw worthy enough to die for, right in the middle of all her brokenness and imperfection.

Ironically, this desire to love Jesus but not the Church actually exposes hypocrisy instead of being sourced by it…

Why do some expect the Church to be perfect, to be void of sin and brokenness when their own lives are like the rest of us, often far from being void of sin and brokenness?

 

 

Maybe it’s because if you can step back from community and keep the messy, broken body of Christ at arm’s length then you can put off truly dealing with your own messy brokenness.

A Way Forward:

  • To the churches: Be legit. Be authentic. Come to grips with your brokenness and imperfection, but then fight for holiness and purity. Strive to be a bride worthy of Christ all the while resting in the knowledge that you already are, but this is never because of your own goodness but because of the fierce love of God.
  • To the skeptics/spiritualists: If you feel you have created a way to love Jesus and not the Church you have created a false Jesus. Your indecisiveness or indifference about Jesus is in fact a decision about Jesus.
  • To the individualists: you cannot privatize your faith into solely an individual pursuit of God that doesn’t inform your public life. Especially in our current culture where  everything is being customized to meet your individual preference, real faith doesn’t work like that. It’s not all about you but it does include you.

Bottom line: If you truly love someone, you love the things they love most. You cherish the things they cherish.

You can’t truly love Jesus and not the Church.

It just gets awkward.

7Sep

What the Next Generation Needs from the Church

Last week our home was filled with people just like it is every Tuesday. The living room was full of laughter, genuine friendships, good food, and authentic prayer and discussion rooted in Scripture.

Our home group is comprised of a somewhat diverse group of people.

  • Expectant parents
  • Parents through adoption
  • Single parents
  • Married without kids (yes, we still exist!)
  • Single people
  • Doctors
  • Carpenters
  • 21ish-32ish year olds

Our living room is filled every week with a demographic largely missing from the evangelical (whatever that means now) church.

We have intentionally kept our group fairly simple, centered around just a few main goals/ideas. Yet our group continues to grow, both in number of attendees and in significance. I am not at all saying that we have figured out how to reach the highly coveted 18-32 demographic (when did the church turn into an advertising agency?) but I am saying that we have accidentally stumbled upon what seems to be working for the next generation.

With that in mind, I’d like to humbly suggest:

What the Next Generation Needs from the Church (3 Things)

 

1.) Encouragement to dream BIG.

  • For most 20-somethings, we’re at a time and place in life where it’s okay to take risks. It’s not too late to change careers or move cities. New skills can be learned dreams can be pursued much easier now than later in life. We need a church that will encourage us to fan those dreams into flame and call us to think deeply about how those dreams connect with the kingdom of God. We need a church that can celebrate with us in the process of figuring out what we want to do and why, not just on the other side when we have more stability and resources to contribute.

2.) Purpose

The extended adolescence of our time has no doubt become a very real issue. Teenagers are turning into futon-crashing 20-somethings that turn into 30-somethings that never quite leave the house. Part of me wonders if this prolonged emergence into adulthood could be shortened if more 20-somethings felt like their life had more purpose. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul writes,

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Now obviously Paul did not move immediately from childhood to adulthood but it does seem like there was a more dramatic transition than some 20-somethings are experiencing now. One of my biggest fears as a pastor is how the separation of kids from “big church” coupled with the separation of students into the “youth room/building/get the heck out of my sanctuary” affects college graduates who have always had their own space that’s all about them but then fail to adapt to the real world. 20-somethings need the Church to remind them that their lives have purpose NOW. And that they might be missing out on some of that God-given purpose by mooching off Mom and Dad instead of getting a job and starting their own life.

The most important thing the Church can do to give the next generation purpose is to give them a faith with substance.

When the fog machine smoke from youth group fades and the endless “community” of college ends, has the Church given the next generation a real Christianity? Have we (the Church, not just its leaders) passed on the radically generous, self-sacrificing, compassionate faith of Jesus or have we been peddling a counterfeit faith that screams, “It’s all about YOU!”

3.) Belonging

Your first year in college you’re told over and over again to join a club, get involved, meet new people. It’s solid advice. I’ve given it before. (See: 4 Ways to Start College Right). The goal of joining so many clubs and/or activities should be that eventually you’ll find some like-minded people united around a common goal/interest who genuinely care about you and others. Enter: the Church. The Church has the ultimate thing 20-somethings are seeking…belonging. A place to call home. I lost most of my sense of belonging/home when I was 14 and didn’t really gain it back until just now, at 25. This is due in no small part to my group of like minded-friends (who I met at church), united around a common goal/interest (JESUS) who genuinely care about me and others.

To my 20s-ish friends: What else can the Church do to equip you to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus?

To my older-than-20s-ish friends: What advice do you have for the next generation of Christians?

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