29Nov

5 Reasons You Need to Read Fiction

I read nine novels this month. 3,565 pages.

Until this month fiction has always seemed like such a waste of time. When I’ve tried to read novels before I can’t stop thinking about the 1,638 other things I could be doing that are more important. Most of the books that fill my shelves are about following Jesus, church ministry, marriage, and leadership. See: Reading Proverbs

Even though I’m new to the fiction fan club, I’ve always loved reading. When I was a kid I was the reason nobody else brought home reading point prizes. That’s right, I used to brag about how good I was at reading. No wonder junior high was rough.

I wanted to force myself to read five novels in November. Reading fiction makes you more creative, a better story-teller, etc. Well, five novels turned into nine novels because I got hooked.

After nine novels (3,565 pages) here’s what I learned.

1. TV is overrated.

We haven’t had cable in years but you can watch a lot of TV with Netflix and Hulu, which we do have…along with MLB.tv…which thrills my wife to no end. We don’t really binge watch stuff – I can’t sit still for that long doing nothing. But somehow the TV just always seemed to be on in the background as we were working on other things or eating dinner, etc.

I have a few shows that I enjoy watching every week on Hulu (Blacklist and Scandal are my current favorites) but outside of catching up on those on my day off, I read all month. My wife and I ate dinner at the table – sometimes with our books! I didn’t miss a thing, especially not the constant barrage of commercials. (If at this point you want to be a snob and brag about your DVR fast forwarding skills, allow me to compare my TV bill to yours).

2. Trying new stuff is good for you, especially if that’s not your thing (me!).

I love routine. I dislike change.

If I find something I like to eat at a restaurant, I’ll hardly ever order anything else.

For me it was fiction. What is it for you? What new thing(s) do you need to try this month?

3. Women are awesome.

My full reading list is at the bottom of this article but I especially enjoyed the newer novels I read written by women where the protagonist or main character was a woman. I was telling a friend about such a novel when I caught myself using the phrase “strong female character” which is like white people describing an African American woman as a “nice black lady.” Why shouldn’t black women be nice and why shouldn’t female characters be strong? If it were a white woman would she be a nice white lady? If it were a strong male character would I have said that?

From my place of privilege (I’m a middle class white American man – Donald Trump‘s dream citizen) I don’t often thing about the obstacles others have had to overcome. Minorities, women, the poor, etc. Two of my top three novels were written by women and the best character development I read this month came was penned by females.

I’m grateful for the women in my life and want to spend the rest of my life fighting for them to have every chance and opportunity that a man has to succeed.

4. Reading every day is easy.

I spent $0 to read nine novels in 30 days. The public library system in my city is tremendous. They have four library locations and offer e-book borrowing options as well as tons of audio books on CD (every car ride adds up).

All it cost me was time. I rarely sat down and read for much more than an hour at a time. Most sessions were 15-20 minutes at a time. I carried a book with me everywhere I went and anytime I had to wait on anyone or anything I read. Instead of watching TV at the end of the day, I read for 20 minutes. It all adds up. You and I make time for what we care about most. Anytime you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time” just replace it with “I’m just choosing to do other stuff.” See: I’m So Glad I’m Failing

5. You can spend a LOT less time on social media and still not miss stuff.

I basically eliminated the scrolling aimlessly through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. over the last month.

I still checked everything everyday and I found that I didn’t miss anything significant. I saw all the babies, engagements, weddings, football games (shut-up about Baylor), basically all the stuff that makes social media awesome.

I love social media. I love the influence it can have for good and I love how it connects and shrinks the world. I also loved having something much more exciting to look forward to every day.

Last Month’s Fiction Reading List

  1. The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper (my #2 Tropper next to This is Where I Leave You)
  2. The Martian by Andy Weir (if you’re remotely interested in science this book is incredible. If you’re not, go see the movie. It’s actually almost as good as the book).
  3. How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper (love, lust, the suburbs, and manhood)
  4. Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein (I got on a space kick after Martian – this was about 150 pages too long but an excellent story).
  5. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (the “naked” refers to an acoustic album…just throwing that out there)
  6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (probably my favorite of the month) – audiobook was great
  7. Sick Puppy by Carl Hiassan (I love Hiassan – dark humor, satire, poetic justice, all things Florida)
  8. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (The plot twists in this book are unreal but there’s some sexual sadism I could have done without).
  9. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Amazon’s best book of 2015 – excellent novel exploring themes of race, gender, family, and identity).

Do you read fiction? What’s the last great novel you read?

 

 

 

 

22Oct

Love Your Enemies

The barbershop was like every other barbershop.

The war had gotten bloody, confusing, and anger toward the enemy had been growing steadily for years.

As the barbers cut and shaved and talked, one man getting his hair cut proposed a simple solution to the war protesters who had come to town, “They ought to round up every one of them sons of b*%ches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good.”

This story, as told by Wendell Berry in his novel Jayber Crow took place during the Vietnam War. As the men in the barbershop echoed their passionate agreements, Jayber, the barber, spoke up and said,

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”

The first man, Troy, jerked his head up and widened his eyes, “Where did you get that crap?”

Jayber responded, “Jesus Christ.” (Matthew 5:44)

Troy said, “Oh.”

Then Wendell Berry penned a cutting indictment on the entire conversation that I, unfortunately, have been a part of far too often,

“It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.”

You see, the verse Jayber quotes might be one of the most difficult Jesus ever uttered, and possibly the most misunderstood and I’m in no way claiming to have it understood.

When Jesus says, “love your enemies” you know what he means? LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. It sure seems like we’ve tried all the hermeneutical gymnastics we can muster to make Jesus say anything except what he actually said.

When Jesus says love I wish he said teach or correct. That’s how Jayber operates and I know the feeling all too well. It’s hypocrisy in its purest form, when a Christian criticizes someone else who doesn’t love their enemies and in the process the criticizing Christian fails in the exact same way.

Love your enemy doesn’t mean teach, correct, convert, change, or hate your enemy. When Jesus spoke those words, he was very aware that those of us alive today would be living in a “drop-the-mic” culture that overvalues one’s abilities to shut down anyone who might disagree with us but it’s time for a change.

It’s time to start taking Jesus seriously.

Love means love, in every language.

19Oct

41 Questions/Doubts Teenagers Have about God & Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which questions surprised you?

What questions would you add to the list?

12Aug

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

Who wouldn’t want $1,000?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

1. Create a budget…and stick to it!

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

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

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

2. Sell Your Stuff

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

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

3. Work an Extra Job

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

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

9Aug

I’m Praying I Get Fired for This

Nobody wants to get fired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Competency – Can you actually do the job?

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

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

belegit

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mostimportant

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

30Jul

Is Church Your Higher Power?

“A support group is my higher power.”

So claimed Julie Schumacher in her 2008 New York Times article.

Schumacher found herself rather accidentally actively involved in a Jewish women’s support group. Being the only non-Jewish woman herself she felt very out of place at first until she got to know the other women and heard the story that unified them all; all of them had “a teenager who has fallen apart.” See: 5 Reasons The Church Needs Youth Ministry

Alcoholism, drug-abuse, self-starvation, depression, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, etc. You name it, these women have been through it. All but one of the teenagers represented were away from home in long-term treatment.

Faith was the glue that held the group together, except in Julie’s case. She raised her kids as “compassionate disbelievers” and she self-identifies to this day as an agnostic. Her daughter is what initially brought her to this group of women. Julie’s daughter, before her bouts with depression and suicide attempts, was in the process of converting to Judaism. She was in Hebrew classes, learning all she could about the faith.

Julie marveled as the group progressed through some of the darkest experiences imaginable, all with a firm trust in God to be with them through it all. She formed incredibly close bonds with these women over the years and still counts them among her dearest friends.

But she still doesn’t believe.

Julie concludes her article, “Although I still don’t believe in God, I have come to believe in support groups…Fortunately our meetings aren’t only about commiseration. They are also – Christian metaphor here – about rebirth.”

For Julie, support groups are her higher power, her God, her salvation. She’s tragically mistaken. Julie, for all of her pain endured and burdens carried, has placed her hope where it does not belong. See: How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

 

For many Christians who fill the seats on Sunday, I fear it’s not much different.

 

As churches adapt and change, newness can be exciting. I currently serve at one of those new, exciting-type churches, at least when compared to most others in our area. Generally speaking, people love our church. We don’t have a lot of the typical church problems. We don’t suffer from much division. We don’t struggle to get buy-in. We don’t have a lot of red-tape to go through to lead the way we feel is best.

There’s one significant draw back to a church like ours, and in some way it’s present in every church: some people love our church more than they love Jesus.

We are proud of the things we do right. We are far from perfect as a church but I have a quiet confidence that in many ways we are headed in the right direction as we continue to submit to God’s rule and reign over not just our church, but our entire lives.

Yet there’s this fear that church can become a higher power.

Lately it seems like one of the cool things to do in Christian circles is to try and separate Jesus from Church. Jesus is greater than religion, right? Certainly. But Jesus calls the Church his BRIDE, and I don’t know about you, but I would gladly die for my bride today, without hesitation, and I’m incredibly sinful. See: Can You Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Imagine how highly a perfect, sinless Savior must think of the Church to call her his BRIDE. So church matters, a lot. When people miss, I don’t feel the need to contact them and beg them to come. I want to contact them and mourn with them because they missed out on being a part of the bride of Christ when it gathers. See: I Went to Church Anyway

This weekend, all over the world churches will gather in the name of Jesus. I sincerely hope you find one and worship with everything you’ve got.

Be careful, or else you’ll find yourself only appreciating the things at church that Julie appreciated in her small group: the warmth of the people, the faith of mature believers, the atmosphere and the authenticity.

We work hard at my church to try and create an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. We don’t really have any rules. You can bring a crying baby in the worship center and spill your coffee all over the place, no worries.

BUT, don’t make church your higher power this weekend. If you love your church, talk about it! But make sure you talk about Jesus more. Love Jesus more.

I love my church because I love Jesus.

I love my church but I love Jesus more.

I want to be with people at my church but I want to be with Jesus more.

I want the approval of people at my church but I want the approval of Jesus more.

Jesus > church.

18Jul

saturday morning coffee

Every Saturday morning I make a full pot of coffee, a little more than usual.

Most weekday mornings find me nursing my first cup as I get ready and then filling up a to-go mug on the way to work.

But Saturdays are different.

On Saturdays I find myself catching up on articles, videos, or other interesting Internet finds. I’ll share my best finds with you here.

Welcome to saturday morning coffee.

 

Auschwitz survivor shows death camp tattoo

auschwitz Auschwitz survivor Leon Schwarzbaum shows his tattooed number to the photographer as he waits to enter the court room for the judgment at the trial against former SS guard Oskar Groening in Lueneburg, Germany. Groening, 94, who served at the Auschwitz death camp was convicted on 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and given a 4-year sentence.

 

JJ Watt’s social media advice to high school athletes

watt

“Read each tweet about 95 times before sending it. Look at every Instagram post about 95 times before you send it. A reputation takes years and years and years to build, and it takes one press of a button to ruin. So don’t let that happen to you. Just be very smart about it.”

 

 

 

Pluto – a picture 9 years in the making

plutoPluto as seen from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015, when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles from the surface. More than nine years after its launch, the U.S. spacecraft sailed past Pluto on Tuesday, capping a 3 billion mile journey.

 

 

5 Ways to Get More out of Your Daily Devos by Chris Martin, ForTheChurch

  1. Journaling Scripture
  2. Hand-Copying Scripture
  3. Praying Scripture
  4. Memorizing Scripture
  5. Visualizing Scripture

Great article if you’re feeling stuck in your devo time. Chris does a good job explaining and giving examples of each suggestion in a way that’s easy to understand.

 

If you find something you think should make it on the next Saturday Morning Coffee you can always e-mail me: hillcsteven@gmail.com

Click here to check out past editions of saturday morning coffee.

14Jul

Being Honest in a Hypocritical World

In a recent article in the Atlantic, The Hypocrisy of Professional Ethicists, Emma Green compiled years of data mined from studies done on the ethical implications of various professions. She sought to discover if people who, at least in part, give advice for a living were practicing what they preached.

Some of the conclusions were what one might expect in a study like this.

  • One study of 500 doctors found 38% to be overweight. The national average is only 33%, although doctors rate of obesity is lower than the national average.
  • Nearly 4,000 police officers in Florida were surveyed and almost 800 of them had been found to be driving 90-130 mph on toll roads, many while off duty.
  • According to a security company’s study, most of the shoplifting that occurs in the retail stores is committed by employees, not shoppers.

Yet the main point of the article was fascinating. It discovered that ethicists, people who think, write, and teach what is right and wrong for a living are noticeably less ethical than both the general population as well as other non-ethics professors. Not only that, but on many occasions their behavior directly contradicted their stated beliefs. 

  • 60% of ethicists surveyed said they found eating red meat to be morally wrong, yet only 27% do not regularly eat it.
  • Ethicists are not more likely to vote donate blood, or register as organ donors.
  • Books on ethics checked out of the library are more than 50% likely to be permanently missing as compared to other books.

But if you’re reading this, you are most likely not an ethicist. Frankly, I do not know any that I like.

So what about the rest of us?

 

What if the way we live our lives and make our daily decisions was analyzed? Would we be hypocrites or legit?

 

As a Christ-follower, I have a firm commitment to be as honest and open as possible. We, more than anyone, have nothing to hide because our failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings only make the God we serve look that much more glorious for loving us. See: Fake or Real?

I wonder…what would the statistics look like if we compared the lives of Christians to the lives of non-Christians? Could you tell a difference? Would there be a difference in your life? In mine?

Two arenas jumped into my mind where Christians can be legit and really make a difference.

Christians need to be legit in our marriages. 

SplitShire-8645

Our church wrapped up a series on marriages a few months ago and in one of our home group sessions, one of my friends said, “I’m not sure there’s a more consistent testimony to the faithfulness of God than a committed, loving marriage.”

She is absolutely right. While you in no way need to be married to bear witness to God’s faithfulness, marriage is a nearly universal experience in our culture, regardless of your particular belief system.

But marriage can be tough, and I think sometimes Christians tragically forget that they married an imperfect person. Much more often, they forget that they themselves are imperfect.

When two selfish sinners (all of us) are able to selflessly give themselves to one another in the covenant (not contract) of marriage, and stick with it for six or seven decades, people will ask, “How do you do it? What’s the secret?” They can answer simply that they spent their lives giving one another the love that God so richly gave to them through Jesus.

Christians need to be legit in the workplace. 

hardwork

One of my favorite articles ever written is entitled, “Today’s Lazy Youth Pastor.” In it, Jonathan McKee laments the state of many youth workers he comes into contact with, thinking they’re overloaded with work, stretched too thin, or burned out. While that is definitely true for some, it happens much more in other staff positions.

I wonder if that article could be written about you at your job. Today’s Lazy ________.

Christians send a loud message of the faithfulness of God when they work harder than their co-workers. When asked what gives them such drive and ambition, they can respond simply with Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I love those verses because while they include pastors, that is not the primary audience…“WHATEVER you do.”

  • If you’re a school teacher, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a CEO, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a plumber, when you work hard you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a stay-at-home Mom, when you work hard, you’re serving the Lord.
  • If you’re a used-car salesman, or a lawyer, when you work hard you might be serving the Lord. 🙂

When Christians are lazy at work, we fail to be honest. We become hypocrites who make Jesus look like a fake if we are constantly give half-effort.

“If you show up on time, WORK while you are at WORK, and smile you will be noticed. Most people don’t even do that.” – Dave Ramsey

In what other areas do Christians need to be legit? 

8Jul

How to See God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

My favorite annual tradition might be my wife’s least favorite, probably because she does all the work.

Every year, she creates a coffee-table photo-book of all of our adventures from the last year. I don’t know about your life but ours at times is somewhat uninteresting. We love to travel but some years we don’t get to do that as much as we would like.

These photo books help us remember good days that would be easy to forget.

One book has a full page dedicated to a day spent in the park with our dogs. Nothing super eventful happened that day but it was a day we celebrated the simple things in life and I remember that day now even though it was rather uneventful and almost five years ago.

Another book has several pages dedicated to a night at my first church where we took our entire youth group of 12 students over to an 80-year old woman’s house and played croquet and grilled hot dogs. A lot has happened ministry-wise in my life since that night but I remember it because it’s in the book. Dozens of other nights just like it happened but I can’t remember them, and they were not that long ago.

Life is busy! Things get hectic and while we remember big vacations and fun road trips, we can easily forget the simple days and good but uneventful nights.

The same is true with faith.

We can remember the big events.

  • A life-changing week at camp, free from normal distractions.
  • A mission trip spent serving someone else.
  • A baptism, a public declaration that we belong to Jesus.

But what about all the other good, but uneventful days?

  • When we needed a friend to reach out and they did.
  • When we didn’t feel like going to church but went anyway and had a real connection with a real, loving God?
  • When what we read from Scripture that day was somehow exactly what we needed to hear.

If we’re not careful, those good but uneventful days are easily forgotten like days in the park or nights playing croquet with a dozen teenagers and an 80 year-old woman.

So then what happens when the good but uneventful days are forgotten and bad days come?

Dark days move in, like a 35 year-old kid who won’t move out of Mom’s basement. They’re here to stay. In those days we find ourselves asking, “Where is God?”

The feeling of doubt must be universal.

If you’re a Christian, you know that God’s grace is present and active but sometimes it feels like it’s at best expired, if it even exists at all.

Like a questionable carton of milk sitting on the refrigerator shelf long past its “best if enjoyed by” date, in times of doubt God’s grace seems like an outdated form of comfort that seems good enough for some people but never quite sufficient enough for others, for those of us with questions.

Real questions. The kind of questions that keep you up at night, wrestling with God in deep thought.

  • Why did ____________ happen?
  • Why does the world have to be this way instead of that way?
  • Why is there so much suffering?

My generation has often been turned away from church and faith because they feel the faith of their childhood and the status of the Church today simply does not allow room for their doubts and questions. We have made an idol out of theological certainty which suffocates any attempts to wrestle with God.

But we do have to arrive at some level of certainty. How?

4 Ways to Remember God’s Grace When it Seems to Disappear

1. Timehop – an app that reminds you what you posted on various social media networks that same day 1, 2, 3, etc. years ago.

I love social media. Roughly 10% of my articles are focused directly on social media. I love how it makes the world small. I love how it connects me with people from church throughout the week. I love how it connects me and my wife to our families that both live out of state.

My favorite thing about social media is the platform it allows people to create to share a message, and I love when people genuinely talk about Jesus on that platform. A few days ago, my Timehop brought up dozens of tweets and Facebook posts from students that I had reposted on my various social media accounts. The posts they shared were from a mountaintop experience, literally, that is still one of the most powerful moments of my spiritual life. I woke up not thinking about that time, about God’s grace on display. Yet Timehop reminded me.

It doesn’t have to be a mountaintop experience. Maybe it’s a quote from a sermon or a verse that you read at just the right time. If you posted it, Timehop reminds you of it.

2. Journaling

I have never been much of a journaler. At times I felt like less of a Christian because of it but there have been seasons of my life where journaling has played a huge role in my walk with Christ. The great think about journaling, especially journaling when you may not feel like it, is that you slowly build this library of personal testimony to the faithfulness of God.

Whenever doubt creeps in, you get to kick it to the curb because you can go back and re-read some of your old journals. You’ll remember trials you had forgotten because God overcame them. You’ll remember triumphs you had forgotten because there’s too much goodness in God’s grace to record.

3. Get together with people.

Was there a time in your life where you know you were close to God? Who was with you then? Who shared those times and places with you? Find them. Call them. Eat with them. Remember with them.

4. Watch/listen.

Do you have some type of media that recorded a time you were close with God? Maybe it’s a baptism video. Watch it. For me, I can remember the cheesy, “contemporary” Christian song that was playing when I finally decided to obey God’s calling on my life to pursue ministry as my vocation.

While you are unable to recreate that experience or time, you can remember what it was like to be close to God. You can use those tools to remind yourself what is really true.

“And when the lies speak louder than the truth, remind me that I belong to you. And when I can’t see past the dark of night, remind me you’re always by my side.” – Bret Stanfill, “Sons and Daughters of God”

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.

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