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?

15Feb

Don’t Should on Me

I thought my pastor friend cussed at me.

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

What?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t should on me.

8Feb

Giver > gifts

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

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

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

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

6 people clapped.

Watch Lecrae’s brief acceptance speech below:

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

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

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

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Question: How has God gifted you?

6Feb

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. Unless we’re hitting up early garage sales, we have a little more time to wake up.

In those moments 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.

 

NYC Dumps Old Subway Cars into Atlantic Ocean…and it’s good for the environment?

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The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been dumping retired subway cars into the Atlantic for years now. Thousands of old subway cars have been shoved off a barge to rust away on the ocean floor. The program actually creates habitats for marine life from Georgia to New Jersey.

New York photographer Stephan Mallon captured this creative reef program in stunning photographs.

 

Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History

 

The BBC Flew a Drone over Auschwitz – and the Result is Haunting

The 70th anniversary of its liberation was last Tuesday. If you haven’t read Night by Elie Wiesel yet, get it NOW. You can read it in one sitting. My friend, Pastor Jeff Gravens, read it last week for the first time. Read his short reflection, “God in the Gallows.”

 

 Saved By the Bell Reunion – Jimmy Fallon

Pure 90’s gold.

Yes, Lisa’s missing, but she never goes outside anymore and everyone hates Screech in real life.

 

The Freedom Project

This is incredible, a program that helps convicts redesign their crude prison tattoos into beautiful works of art. This gives them better chances to heal, obtain and secure a job, and transition back into society upon their release. Beautiful.

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:

1Feb

God Doesn’t Care If Your Team Wins

The big game just ended.

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

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

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

I’m just so blessed.

God is so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on the rec field with friends

on the court of a pick-up basketball game

on the college intramural field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing does not negate God’s goodness.

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

29Jan

Every Christian Needs a Budget

15 months ago we owed a mountain of it. Now we owe half a mountain of it.

It used to be the only thing we ever fought about.

Now it’s possibly what we’re in the most agreement about.

Money

 

The turning point for us was not adding up the total carnage our student loans (a necessary evil) had caused. It was also not the months and months of not really knowing where our money was going because we always seemed to have what we needed.

The turning point for us came when we realized that managing our money was not primarily a financial issue but a discipleship issue.

In our journey through Dave Ramsey‘s Financial Peace University (which my wife now teaches at our church, like a boss) we realize that we were doing an okay job of honoring God in every part of our lives…except our finances. (Click here to find out where FPU is offered in your area).

We were being selfish, ungrateful, poor stewards of what God has entrusted to us.

The Bible has a lot to say about money, but this one passage has been burned in my memory since the day God started convicting us about the way we were failing in this area. We were sitting at our kitchen table and it hit me like a ton of bricks:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? – Proverbs 27:23-24

My mom has sheep in her backyard. Like…actual sheep. Every couple of months she has some new lambs born and she bottle feeds them until they can take milk from their mom.

I, unlike my mother, am not a shepherd. I do not have flocks and herds but I do have debt and income that at times feels like it’s burning a hole in my pocket.

As we looked at the numbers that were looking rather menacingly back at us, I realized I did not “know well the condition of our flocks.”

We didn’t have a budget. I wasn’t “giving attention to our herds.” When we wanted something, we just bought it. We didn’t have extravagant tastes and we didn’t shop a ton, but a bit too much is still…too much.

So we got on a budget. A strict one.

But we didn’t get on a budget because it was the wise thing to do. We didn’t get on a budget because we needed structure. We didn’t even get on a budget because Dave Ramsey told us too.

We got on a budget because we are Christians.

We got a budget because we started living what we said we believed, and what the Bible says is true:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” – Psalm 24:1

We both make more money now than we did the day we first discovered we needed a budget. We both plan to continue to make more money as we gain more experience and skill in our respective careers.

However, we will never make enough money to not need a budget because we will never stop being borrowers of that which God is eternal owner.

Even if you make truckloads of money, you will one day be held accountable for how you managed it. You and I don’t really own anything as long as God owns everything. We’re managers at best.

It’s been said before, but can you imagine what the world would be like if the Church was debt-free and lived on a budget?

Think of the problems that could be eliminated as a direct result of the way Christians lived in the world, refusing to stockpile treasures in this world.

Nobody in the world would be hungry. No orphan would go neglected and unloved. Churches would not need to have capital campaigns to pay off buildings they can’t afford because they would be filled with people who were more concerned with loving people and furthering the kingdom of God than building bigger barns and fancier buildings.

We all (especially me!) need budgets so we can best manage that which God has entrusted to us.

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You can click here for the zero-based monthly cash flow budget template we use every month.

Question: Do you use a budget? If so, how has your experience been? If not, are you pleased with the current state of your finances?

27Jan

Even GQ Knows Porn is Bad

Pornography Usage Statistics – Updated February 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A survey of 73,00 Reddit users did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more, click on the pictures below:

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25Jan

4 Things Single People Need from Married People

When my wife and I were dating in college I had some good married friends who were a little further along down the road of life. They were there for me when I was single, dating, engaged, and then married.

Now, almost five years into marriage, a lot of how we try to love our single friends is a direct result of how they loved me, and then us.

I have written about this before but our home group is fairly diverse. We are far from the level of racial diversity I desire but we are also not a cookie cutter “married 40’s who have dogs and like football, etc.” We have single people, divorced people, married people, adoptive parents, single parents, doctors, carpenters, etc.

One of my favorite things about our group is seeing single people and married people foster genuine friendships with one another. They are not just interacting for a few hours but are connecting in a way that constantly spills over our normal weekly gathering.

I remember what it was like to be single and some of my closest friends are single. I asked several of them from a wide age range what they felt they needed from married people and the following were the 4 most common answers. I have included direct quotes from the single people polled.

4 Things Single People Need from Married People

1. If you’re married, stay married.

Disclaimer: This assumes you’re not in an abusive or adulterous relationship. Both are more than sufficient reasons to end a marriage.

Single people have no reason to desire marriage for themselves if their married friends are constantly getting divorced. Marriage is not a contract. It is a covenant. Honor your covenant.

Don’t get divorced. We need to see that marriage is a legit thing, something we could and should actually want.

See: 3 Reasons I Got Married

2. Remember what it was like to be single.

Marriage is a game changer and it should be. God designed it that way. It totally changes your life, viewpoints, motivations, etc. One of the unfortunate by-products of such a significant change is married people can simply forget what it was like to be single.

Single people need married people to remember what it was like to:

  • be unsure if someone you care for actually cares for you
  • have your heart broken
  • battle with the feeling like you’re not good enough because it seems like nobody wants you
  • wonder if you should buy a house or keep renting, buy a small car or an SUV, take a new job or stay put – all because you’re unsure of what those decisions mean for potential relationships.

My best married friends have simply forgotten what it’s like to be single. Half of my close friends are married and one of them invited me to dinner with some of our friends. It ended up being six married couples and me. My married friends just saw that as them hanging out with their friends while I felt like a 13th wheel all night long.

See: How to Date as a Christian

3.) Don’t stop being “you.”

While marriage does definitely change your life, it does not need to take it away. Your true identity is not found in being married. Friendships are often temporary but they don’t have to immediately eliminated when you get married. (See: Accept the Temporary Nature of Friendships)

We need to see that marriage does not mean you disappear. We know things will change, even change a lot. But we need to see that if we follow in your steps and get married that does not mean we have to stop camping, or cheering for our favorite sports team. We need to see that we can still cultivate our unique passions even if our potential spouses do not share them as long as they support them.”

 

4.) Friendship

Every single person I asked mentioned this, and several only gave one answer. Single people want to be friends with married people. It’s that simple. Real friendships.

We just want their presence in our lives, letting us into your circle of friends even though we aren’t married. Most of the time married people seem to only hang out with married people. When you let us in we can get a glimpse of what a good marriage [hopefully] looks like. We need married people to listen to us, to pray for us. Being alone can be tough when you see everyone else getting married and start having kids. We need prayer that in this moment we find fulfillment, contentment and a strength against the temptation that becomes easier to give into the older we get, when things don’t go as we had originally planned.

Single people don’t need married people to still live a single lifestyle. Quality conversations can happen in the morning or over coffee instead of late at night or over dinner. (See: The Single Struggle)

I don’t want to get rowdy or anything, but it just seems that a lot of good, fun guys get married and then quit hanging out with people. Every time a friend gets married, I lose a friend. We still see each other occasionally but they just aren’t interested in having serious discussions with non-married people anymore.

Questions: Single people, what else do you need from married people? Married people, can you remember what it was like to be single?

22Jan

Why It Matters How We Think about Heaven

Last week, 16-year old Alex Malarkey made headlines when he publicly retracted his story that he had been to heaven.

Malarkey’s book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story details the events of a car crash that left Alex paralyzed at just 6 years old. The book ic co-authored by has father, Kevin.

Last week, Alex released an open letter to Christian publishers and bookstores confessing that the entire account of his journey to heaven was fictional, and implored them to remove the book from their stores.

“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough. In Christ, Alex Malarkey.”

The “heaven tourism” genre has unfortunately taken off in force. Books like Alex’s are innumerable and seem to come from a new, but same, experience every month. And people cannot get enough.

Yet Christians have not been utterly silent. Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You Ministries, wrote a critique of the entire genre of heaven tourism books, including Malarkey’s book, over two years ago.

David Platt completely disarms the entire genre in this 4-minute video from a Secret Church simulcast in August 2013.

Yet while we could discuss our opinions on these books and the publishers that have so handsomely profited from their stories, I am not interested in such a discussion.

I am extremely interested in their effects on others, especially those outside of Christianity.

These books, coupled with Malarkey’s brave and honest confession that it was all a hoax, has fueled a barrage of “I told you so’s” from the atheist community.

Why it Matters

What’s even worse is the effect it has had on agnostics and skeptics alike, pushing those who at times are open to exploring faith in Jesus, further and further from the very faith they so desperately need. That is why it is so important how we think about heaven.

I would love for the Church to have a higher level of discernment when it comes to books and phenomenon such as this. In fact, I have committed my life to serving the Church so I am more than interested in seeing Christians get this right.

However, it is a far greater thing to see those far from God be brought near to God by the blood of the Lamb. And frankly, our team’s response to these books has not helped that in any way and we need to own that. We need to get heaven right because it is a glorious thing that is worth talking about.

I was glad to see Alex Malarkey’s retraction but I initially had no plan to write about it. I was glad to see it but I am not usually in the business of turning other Christian’s shortcomings into blog fodder. That changed yesterday.

Yesterday NPR ran an op-ed piece entitled, “What if Heaven is Not For Real?” It is a well written, and heart-breaking, article. Here’s the author’s conclusion,

I’m not concerned about the many years of my nonexistence before birth. Why then should I be concerned about the many years of my nonexistence that will follow death?

Granted, the author, Adam Frank, is a staunch agnostic (oxymoron?), especially about matters of the afterlife. He simply does not care. So a solid book on heaven would probably not change his mind regarding the afterlife anyway but the heaven tourism genre of books, movies, and merchandise simply gives people like Frank that much more of a reason not to believe.

Recommended Resources on Heaven:

Life After Death: A New Approach to the Last Things,  by Anthony C. Thiselton

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Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright

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The Glory of Heaven (2nd Edition): The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life, by John MacArthur

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