Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sometimes I Just Need to Shut Up - Psalm 73


If there is one lesson that God has continually been trying (emphasis on TRYING) to teach me, it's that sometimes I just need to shut up. The truth (or my version of the truth, if I'm honest), doesn't always need to be said, and even when it does it's not necessarily my responsibility to be the messenger. And when I do feel compelled to speak, there is a HUGE difference between "speaking the truth in love", and loving to speak the truth. However, even more importantly, sometimes I just need to keep silent. Especially if my words are an emotional reaction to something that pushed a button. I came across this great blog by Mike Leake today and was reminded once again that I can often serve God best by keeping my mouth shut.
In Psalm 73, Asaph is about to burst. 
He’s overwhelmed with confusion, anger and bitterness. Some of it is directed at people—but more than anything else, it is directed at the Lord. 
I’m glad he didn’t have a Facebook account. If he did, he might have put up some vague status that let out a little bit of that anger. Or he might have just let it all rip behind the safety of his computer.
Or maybe he wouldn’t have … 
“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” 
That is Asaph’s way of saying, “I told myself to shut up. I didn’t express my feelings. Because my battle with bitterness and doubt would have caused harm to the faith of others. I love your kids, so I shut my mouth.” 
Have you ever considered that your little Facebook rants might be harming the faith of others? 
Is it possible that they see all the bitterness seeping through your post and wonder how in the world this matches all those “likes” on those Jesus photos?
Or forget Facebook for a moment. Giving full vent and expression to your bitterness harms the faith of others no matter the context. 
(Read the rest of his blog here) 
"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." James 1:19-20

A very wise man once told me,"The truth is not always the word of the Lord, but the word of the Lord is always the truth." Translation: Just because it is truth does not mean that it is what God wants expressed at this moment, but what God wants to say in this moment is always truth. The next time you are tempted to react to something emotionally and "speak the truth", stop and ask the Lord, "Is this what You want said by someone who is Your ambassador? Is this Your word for this moment, and for these people?" I think we would all be blessed if we did, and I'm pretty certain that everyone else would be too.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Would You Rather Be Right, or Happy?

I recently wrote this blog post for my church and thought I'd share it here too.
"I have a major problem: I really like to be right.
And most of the time I’m pretty sure that I am. If there is a disagreement or a difference of opinion, I want to be sure that everyone else knows that I’m right too. But as the old saying about relationships goes, “You can be right, or you can be happy. Take your pick.” 
Why is it so important for me to be right? Because if I’m honest, I usually base my fleeting happiness and worth on what others think about me. I am desperate to be accepted and valued by people. The sad thing is, when I do this I am rejecting the only One who has already unconditionally accepted and ultimately valued me. I have traded the love of God in exchange for the approval of insecure, imperfect, broken, selfish people, much like myself."

Click here to read the entire post.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Detroit Bus Company - "Frustration can power so much!"

When life gives you lemons... buy a bus.

What do you think of when you hear, "Detroit"?  These day, unless you're a native Detroiter with a nostalgic heart, I'd imagine that the Motor City doesn't conjure up many desirable ideas. Below is an incredible story of how one twenty-something has taken the "glass half full" approach to his hometown's demise, and surprisingly he's making a significant impact.
Young entrepreneur Andy Didorosi believes that the way to Detroit’s new era depends on better leadership and a solid connection between the city and the suburbs. So when the city in 2012 axed its plans to build the M-1 light rail, the transit solution that would’ve bridged that vital connection, Didorosi was mad as hell. So what’s an angry young man in this situation supposed to do? Well, Didorosi bought a bus, had a local artist trick it out with a wicked mural, and he started the Detroit Bus Company. Dedicated to a more connected city, Andy Didorosi is bringing Detroit home one ride at a time.
Click below to watch the 5 minute video. 

Don't you just love how this kid sees amazing potential in a place that others just see failure?
"Here in Detroit you have a chance to make a REAL difference!"
"It's unlike anywhere else in the world. Nowhere else do we have buildings and resources and people this smart and stuff this big, that's just waiting to be activated."
"Frustration can power so much."
Talk about a serious lemonade maker!

I know you've probably heard this passage many times, but I encourage you to take a moment and meditate on it once again.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." James 1:2-5
What are the lemons in my your life right now? Ask yourself, "What does my attitude say about my faith? How could I better apply this truth in those areas? How might my life look different if I took an attitude of potential rather than defeat?"

It kind of sounds like this is what Andy Didorosi did, for the sake of a city. What would the world look like if every believer approached their trials in such a way, for the sake of the Kingdom? What about your world?


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Generosity Redefined - Part 3 "What's wrong with TOMS?"

I've dreaded writing this post. I confess, I own a pair of TOMS. Most people I know own a pair of TOMS. Because of this, your response to this article might be defensive, or annoyed or to just write it off as hype. I beg you not to. If the church is going to actually make a significant impact on the lives of the poor, in a way that brings God glory and proclaims the gospel, we have to start taking things like this seriously. Good intentions are not enough, and they can actually do damage to a community. If you really want to educate yourself on how to do serve the poor well, check out whenhelpinghurts.org. I would also really encourage you to watch the Restore videos. In the mean time, consider this...

From The Harvard Crimson
Although TOMS likely has good intentions, its donation strategy may negatively impact the communities it seeks to support. Like the litany of organizations that donate shoes, clothes, and other items to developing countries, TOMS may be undermining the development of local businesses. And while making in-kind donations benefits consumers in the short run, stifling local industry and increasing unemployment in this way will intensify poverty in the long-term.

Another issue with organizations like TOMS is that donating shoes can be financially inefficient. Shoes are typically inexpensive in developing nations—in Mumbai, as in Port-au-Prince, one pair is sold for as little as $2. Shipping a used pair of shoes often costs more; for instance, Soles4Soles solicits donations of $3-$5 to ship a pair of shoes to Haiti. In addition to hurting local business, in-kind donations sometimes simply waste money. We could actually save money and simultaneously help stimulate local economies by just keeping our old shoes and instead buying new ones from community-based vendors.

It is critical that we consider these types of unintended consequences of charitable giving. By pinpointing these problems, we can determine more effective ways of helping communities in need. For instance, TOMS might do better to alter its business model. As one blogger suggests, “Instead of donating a pair of shoes for each pair purchased, take the cash equivalent of that donation (the production cost of the shoe plus the shipping/handling/storage/distribution costs) and instead sink that into local shoe manufacture.” Rather than providing imported handouts, TOMS could partner with local shoe producers to provide low-cost or free shoes to children in need. In doing so, it could support local entrepreneurship and still fulfill its mission of helping children who would otherwise go barefoot.

As consumers of “socially conscious” products, we need to be aware of the impact of our purchases. In a culture where giving back through consumption is increasingly popular, and where myriad companies market items that purportedly help those in need, we should be cautious and deliberate about how we choose to support international development. In some cases, what at first seems like a good business idea could turn out to be detrimental to the communities we hope to help. Even as something as innocuous as buying a pair of shoes could do more harm than good. In the long term, if we want to alleviate poverty and its associated problems—like the lack of shoes for children—individual consumers as well as organizations like TOMS would do better to support directly local businesses for economic growth. It is up to us to invest responsibly in social change.
Read the entire article at The Harvard Crimson.

In case you're wondering if this is just one person's perspective, check out these articles on TOMS from Forbes, Fast Company, Time, GoodIntents.org, aidwatch.com, Made in USA Blog and WhyDev.org.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Generosity Redefined - Part 2 "Charitable Consumerism"


Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than receive", but why not do both at the same time?

I was attending a fundraising dinner for a wonderful orphanage, when the director unexpectedly asked me if I would close the evening in prayer. I immediately felt prompted by the Lord to give a challenge before I gave the benediction. Prior to the meal, the attendees took part in a "silent auction". If you're not familiar with these, it's a room full of donated items and services that the attendees have an opportunity to bid on. Generally, you walk around looking for something you might want, writing down a bid slightly higher than the last one on a piece of paper. Some of the most popular items are gift certificates to restaurants and rounds of golf. Listed with each item is the retail value, but of course you're hoping to get it for less than that. I mean, what's wrong with getting a good deal and helping orphans at the same time, right? As I walked up to the podium, David's words from 1 Chronicles 21:24 came to mind. "But King David replied, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice an offering that costs me nothing.” David insisted that his sacrifice to the Lord be exactly that, a sacrifice. He refused to even allow someone to give it to him at a discount. Before I prayed, I challenged everyone to pay AT LEAST full price for their auction items, regardless of what they won them for. "I think we can all agree that this night is about helping orphans the most we can, not about getting a good deal on dinner or golf." After the event was over I was disheartened to hear that many of the people paying for their auction items seemed annoyed as they wrote out their checks for the full amount. The response I saw that evening provides a good picture of what the idea of charity has become in our country. 

The Jewish Talmud recognizes 8 levels of charity or Tzedakah
  1. Giving begrudgingly 
  2. Giving less than you should, but giving it cheerfully.
  3. Giving after being asked
  4. Giving before being asked
  5. Giving when you do not know the recipient's identity, but the recipient knows your identity
  6. Giving when you know the recipient's identity, but the recipient doesn't know your identity
  7. Giving when neither party knows the other's identity
  8. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant
If this list were written today, I'm pretty sure that somewhere near the first level would be, "Giving to get something in return."

Virtually everywhere you go, whether it's TOMS shoes, the (Red) campaign, or Starbucks, "charitable consumerism" has permeated the marketplace. Hipster philosopher Slavoj Žižek was one of the first to write about this movement, which he defines as, "the deliberate ‘charitable’ decision made when buying a certain product, label or service due to the ethical implication made during such purchase." Perhaps Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, makes the sales pitch best when he says, "It's not just what you're buying, but what you're buying into." This added incentive seems to bring a certain sense of redemption to our consumeristic desires. Not only do we get to purchase something trendy, we're also helping people at the same time, and if that's not enough, when others see us wearing/using the product they are immediately aware of our benevolence and social consciousness. WIN! WIN! WIN! But is it really? At best, the per dollar impact is minimal. When you pay $2 for a bottle of Starbucks "socially responsible" Ethos Water, what you're "buying into" is a whopping .05 cent contribution toward humanitarian programs. As is most often the case, the emotional benefit to the consumer far exceeds the assistance given to the needy. At worst, as with TOMS shoes, there can actually be a negative impact. "What? Giving can have a negative impact?" Absolutely, and I'll be addressing that in Part 3. But most importantly, for followers of Jesus Christ, what I want to point out is that "charitable consumerism" is not at all the kind of sacrifice that the gospel compels us to.

Romans 12:1 tells us that the only reasonable response to Christ's ultimate sacrifice on the cross is to wholly offer ourselves for His purposes, with nothing held back or expected in return. Shouldn't our charitable giving reflect this as well? You see, as believers, our giving is not just meant to help people, it's meant to bring God glory and be a tangible picture of the gospel we proclaim.
"This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"  2 Corinthians 9:12-15
If salvation by grace through faith in Christ is God's free gift to us, the ultimate charity, how then should we give?
Now I'm not saying to never buy products that have a charitable connection. There are some products that actually provide work, finances and dignity for people who directly benefit from your purchase. What I am saying is twofold: 1) Don't ever assume that your purchase is making a significant impact. Do your research. If you really believe in the cause, give and give generously. and 2) Check your heart in these matters. Is giving a sacrificial, strategic discipline for you, or do you just do it whenever something catches your eye and is trendy or mutually beneficial? The next time you want to contribute toward cause offering you a shirt, or coffee or anything in return, why not consider politely telling them to keep the product? In doing so, you'll multiply the value of your donation while providing a picture of the free gift of the gospel. After all, isn't that what it's all about?


Read more from Slavoj Žižek here:
Buying Charity

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Generosity Redefined - Part 1 "The Mermaid Mentality"


One of the most clever ways to keep people from doing something important is to convince them that they've already done it. An easy  way to do this is to simply and subtly change the meaning of a word. One of the most obvious to me is "Christian", but that discussion will have to wait for another blog post.

I believe that we are in desperate need of redefining generosity. We live in a culture so dominated by consumerism, comfort and personal happiness that almost ANY act of giving is considered generous. With the help of social media, there is no shame in marketing this "generous" act for public recognition. What really gives this movement legs is a prevalent desire in today's culture to be a part of something meaningful. The emerging generation has a great attraction towards charity, social justice issues and generally anything that appears to help others. This has created a seemingly contradictory value system, where in spite of their self centered consumerism, they also want to be a part of things that matter. The marketplace has not missed out on this unusual opportunity. "Consumer Charity" is a prevailing trend in marketing: "buying this product will not only make you happy, but it will help someone else". Sounds like a great deal on the surface, right? A real "win/win" situation! I want to dig deeper into Consumer Charity but I'm going to save that for part 2 of this post. Suffice it to say that both inside and outside the church, giving towards social action has never been more in vogue and I believe the prevailing brand has little to do with what Jesus described as generosity. 

Remember this story from Luke 21:1-4?
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said,“this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
I was recently watching a benefit concert for the tornado victims in Oklahoma. Benefit concerts always amuse me, as the amount of money raised (if any after expenses) is usually a fraction of what the corporate sponsors and those performing could afford to give themselves if they just wrote a check and didn't show up. At this particular event it was announced that Starbucks is giving $250,000 toward the efforts in Moore. This good news was shared several times during the broadcast, highlighted by a video featuring Starbucks employees working in Oklahoma all wearing very prominent matching green Starbucks t-shirts.  "Did they really just say 250k?" I was shocked by the number. Recently I read of one NBA player, Kevin Durant, giving $1,000,000. What was not well publicized is that Durant's donation was later matched by the Oklahoma Thunder Organization, then also by the NBA players union for a total $3,000,000. Although I knew Starbucks' donation was comparatively smaller, I just had to run the numbers to see exactly what 250k means to the green mermaid. In 2012 the company's gross profits were over 13 billion dollars. Yes, that's billion. If, like me, you're not used to working in those numbers, a billion is a thousand million. Their daily profits surpassed 30 million. In the one hour program that promoted their 250k donation, the company generated at least 1.5 million dollars. In contrast, Durant makes a measly 17 million a year. His donation was over 5% of his gross salary. Another interesting fact is that in 2006 Starbucks gave 5 million dollars towards education in... wait for it... CHINA. This also happens to be their #1 growth market. Interesting... (read more here).

My point is not to simply bash Starbucks. They are a secular company and can do whatever they wish with their money, and to be fair they're more giving than most. My greater desire is for us to be aware of the ideas we're being sold and to consider how you and I might have embraced this false generosity ourselves. According to Jesus, for something to be a truly generous act it must be sacrificial. Biblical generosity has to cost us something in a way that we can feel. I don't know that anyone has summed up what this means in our modern culture better than C.S. Lewis:
"I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say that they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them."
Isn't that a crazy idea? Our giving might actually limit our luxuries! What can't you afford to do because you want to be more generous? At an average of $4 a latte, Starbucks might be a good place to start. What's interesting is that when we live in such a way, it doesn't just change the lives of others, it also changes us. False generosity doesn't just deprive the needy, it also deprives the giver. When we don't give sacrificially we miss out on a greater measure of heart change and personal transformation, some of which will only come through the path of generosity. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." He also said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." I want to encourage you today to consider how you might embrace giving in a way that is truly generous and truly transformational. The kind of generosity Jesus talked about. The kind you can feel. Don't be afraid to dream big about your giving. Have some faith! However He guides you to give, He will provide for all your needs. Pray about how you might invest more of your treasure in the things that matter to Jesus, that your heart might be found delighting in Him. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Start with Why

In my last post, I talked about the power of asking someone else, "Why?" You might want to read that one first. But what about the power of asking yourself this question? How often do we believe things or do things without understanding why?

When I was a child, like most, I asked lots of questions. It wasn't enough for me to know WHAT or HOW I should do something, I had to know "WHY?". Although I've become a little less demanding, that question still drives me today. In his presentation at TEDx-Puget Sound, Simon Sinek talks about how the power of WHY is a complete game changer.
"How do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?" - Simon Sinek
Although he is talking about innovation and commerce, as I watched this video I immediately thought about the Church and how we communicates God's truth. Most often, Christians go straight to the WHAT & HOW, rather than humbly and patiently helping people wrestle with the WHY. I've recently been challenged to better understand and communicate the WHY in every aspect of the my faith. Whether it be a simple presentation of the Gospel, an admonition to love your neighbor, or a rebuke against grumbling and complaining, someone understanding the WHY can make all the difference in the world. In the very first chapter of Isaiah, we see God having this conversation with the rebellious nation of Israel. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."(Isaiah 1:18) "Come now, let us reason together..." The fact that Almighty God would want to "reason" with us (in order to save our souls!) is an idea that I find hard to comprehend. Perhaps this is why I do such a poor job of having that same patience and humility with those who question what I believe. I'd encourage you to do yourself a massive favor and take 18 minutes to watch this video, then take a little more time to ask yourself "why?". 

"Why do I do what I do?"
"Why do I believe what I believe?"
"How can I better communicate that with others?"



Friday, April 19, 2013

The Transformational Power of Questions

I was recently in a men's small group setting when the leader asked, "Does anyone have any thoughts or questions?" After an extended awkward silence, one of the the guys we'll call "Joe" spoke up: "I'm afraid", he said. "I'm engaged and I'm afraid of getting married." As Joe took a breath before continuing, the leader jumped in and began what seemed like a five minute rambling monologue on how fear of marriage is normal and reasonable, every guy has it, he had it, don't be surprised by it, and you just have to seek God for strength to push past it. My immediate thought was, "STOP TALKING! Why don't you ask him what he's afraid of ?!" I was frustrated, annoyed and convicted. I'm sure I've done the same thing to many innocent victims. I'm often much more concerned about blessing people with my "wisdom" than I am about patiently taking a journey into the depths of their heart to discover their real need. 

I emailed Joe the next day and invited him to get together some time. He gladly accepted and we met for lunch later that week. After a few minutes of small talk, I gently steered the conversation toward our last meeting. "You shared that you were afraid of getting married. Do you mind me asking what your specific fears are?" As Joe eagerly opened up and began to share his story I was taken back. Although he grew up around church and "prayed the prayer" as a child, Joe truly put his faith in Christ when he hit rock bottom just a few years ago. After a drug and alcohol fueled binge that left him unconscious and unemployed, Joe reached out to his brother for help. Not long after they talked, he surrendered his life to Jesus and was baptized. He went to a Christian rehab, joined a Christian recovery group and things seemed to be going great. Then there was the relapse. In the midst of the chaos, his now fiancé became pregnant with their daughter. In response to my original question, Joe  said that he is afraid he wouldn't be marrying her if they didn't have a child together. He also fears what might  happen if he relapses again. On top of all of this, his brother, who led him to Christ and taught in the marriage ministry at his church, is now separated from his wife. Initially, all I could say was, "Wow. Thanks for sharing." I was so glad I asked "Why?"

Does Joe have anything to be afraid of? Absolutely. Does he just need to push past his fear and pray for strength? Absolutely not! 

Humbled, I eventually responded with a few ideas about his current situation, but mostly thanked him for his honesty and asked if we could get together again soon. "Definitely", he replied.  I hope to share some suggestions with Joe about how to successfully pursue a Christ-centered sobriety and to help him wrestle with his questions about his engagement. But most of all I hope to continue to be his brother; his asking and listening brother.

When we don't ask "why" we are like a doctor who doesn't interview the patient or listen to their symptoms. People's issues are generally far more complex than we realize. Our diagnosis of their problem will most likely be as accurate as the amount of our research. How many times have I been guilty of quickly responding with a Christian cliché or slapping a Bible verse on someone's situation without knowing the full story?

When Jesus, encountered a blind beggar He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”(Mark 10:46-52) Jesus clearly knew this man's problems and needs, yet He still took time to ask and listen. There are many more examples where Jesus begins His ministry to people by asking questions. Can you think of a few? If the Son of God cares enough to ask and listen, shouldn't we?

I want to ask more questions. I want to listen without waiting for a chance to speak. I want to know people beyond the surface. I want to be better at helping them at their true point of need. I want to be more like Jesus, don't you?

To learn more about asking and listening, check out this recent post on my friend Zach Nielsen's blog: "The Evangelistic Power of Listening"

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Inescapable Network of Mutuality

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King penning his seminal civil rights plea, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Originally addressed to a group of white church leaders in the south who questioned his actions, King's words are every bit as relevant and convicting to us today. When those who claim that all people are created in the image of God can stand idly by as others are being oppressed, it is often the product of ignorance or lack of perspective. King understands this, and rather than angrily respond with righteous indignation(which he surely could have) he first invites us in to the pain of his personal plight, then guides us through scriptural examples and insight from early church fathers. In this letter we not only gain perspective on the reality of racism in our country, we see the heart of a man whose leadership was shaped by the founders of our faith. Dr. King writes with the wisdom of Solomon, the poetry of David and the prison pleas of Paul. The end result brings the reader to a place of conviction and personal decision. 
"I am in Birmingham because injustice is here... I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider..."
Perhaps most of all, I am shocked that this was written only a half century ago. I wonder what his thoughts would be on the current state of race relations in America.  I encourage you to take a moment and read it today. You'll be glad you did.

Read the letter in its entirety here: Letters from a Birmingham Jail 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

“No Struggle, No Progress” Frederick Douglass (1857)

Since this weekend marks the beginning of Black History Month, I thought it would be right and fitting to start with a an excerpt from a speech given by the incomparable Frederick Douglas. Though his philosophy was quite different than that of Martin Luther King(as you will read), he is still one of my all time favorite men in American History. His courage and boldness flow with such poetic grace it is astounding.

 August 3, 1857 - Canandaigua, New York
The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just. For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others. Such a man, the world says, may lie down until he has sense enough to stand up. It is useless and cruel to put a man on his legs, if the next moment his head is to be brought against a curbstone.

Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get.

Read the entire speech here: No Struggle, No Progress

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nearly 30% of 'mericans Believe God Rigs the Big Game


Just days before Super Bowl XLVII, a poll conducted by the  Public Religion Research Institute reports that 27% of all Americans believe that God plays a role in determining which team wins sporting events. A much greater number, over 50%, believe that God rewards athletes of faith with good health and success.  

The article goes on to give statistics based on race, religious affiliation, geographic locale and political party. One interesting contrast to note: More Democrats believe that God determines the outcome of a game, while more Republicans believe that God rewards an athlete's faith.

The report finally looks at how Americans feel about athletes who overtly share their faith. Here's an excerpt followed by a graphic of how the numbers break down.
“In an era where professional sports are driven by dollars and statistics, significant numbers of Americans see a divine hand at play,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Roughly 3-in-10 Americans believe that God plays a role in determining which team wins, and a majority believe that God rewards faithful athletes.”

Americans in the South are most likely to think God has a stake in the outcome of sports games. More than one-third (36 percent) of Southerners say that God plays a role in who wins, compared to nearly 3-in-10 (28 percent) Americans in the Midwest, 1-in-5 (20 percent) of Americans in the Northeast, and 15 percent of Westerners.

Religious groups also disagree on whether God has a stake in the outcome of sports games, the survey finds. Roughly 4-in-10 minority Christians (40 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (38 percent) say that God plays a role in who wins, compared to fewer than 3-in-10 Catholics (29 percent), fewer than 1-in-5 (19 percent) white mainline Protestants, and approximately 1-in-10 (12 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans."
What about you? Do you think God influences major sporting events? How would you have responded to these questions, and why?

Read the entire article here: God on the Field

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

Bronnie Ware, is a writer, songwriter and nurse in her homeland of Australia. In her years caring for dying patients she identified the five most common regrets they shared about their lives. These observations became an article, and later a book titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. 
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships. 
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win. 
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle. 
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.  It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
The truth is, we're all dying. In the words of the late Jim Morrison, "No one here gets out alive." It may be 50 years from now, it may be tomorrow. None of us know. 

For those who are in Christ, death is not something we should fear. We should actually look forward to it! As the apostle Paul said, "To live is Christ and to die is gain." If we live, we have the privilege of helping lead people to eternal life. There is no greater way to spend our days. When we die, we receive the reward of our faith, to live in glory with Christ forever. With that in mind, we can make the most of each day, each moment, each opportunity to share the eternal life giving message of Jesus.

Live today in light of eternity.






Monday, January 28, 2013

The Gospel According to Downton Abbey

The phenomenon that is Downton Abbey is a complete anomaly. The show, featured on PBS' long running Masterpiece Classic series, is the antithesis of the reality TV trend that has run the gamut from Paris Hilton's Simple Life to Snooki's Jersey Shore. Duck Dynasty not included.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, Downton Abbey is a British period drama depicting the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants as they go through life together at the family estate, Downton Abbey. The show begins with the family hearing the news of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and currently follows them through the early 1920's. 

Something interesting about this story is the parallel plot lines of the aristocrats and the servants, constantly crossing paths though worlds apart. The contrast of the two classes provides an intriguing dichotomy. The servants often face the painful truth that although their hard work is appreciated, and it might increase their position, they are not equal to the Crawleys and never will be. Try as they might, their best efforts could never be enough to change their place in life. (Save the chauffeur who married Sybil. Did you watch last night? How could they? I digress...)

Bottom line is, aristocracy is a dead end... unless you're a member of the chosen family.

One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is 1 John 3:1 "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" Similarly, Ephesians 1:5 explains that, "He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will" and Romans 8:17 goes on to say, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

When we put our faith in Christ we are not only saved but we are adopted, transferred from a lineage of slaves to Aristocrats. Our value is no longer found in our attempts to perform, it is found solely in our Father. Our identity is not determined by WHO we are, but WHOSE we are. We are children of the King! And while that might sound a bit cheesy to say out loud, it is incredibly important for us to understand and believe. You may have heard it before, but is it evident in your life? Is there a quiet confidence in your heart, a sense of total acceptance and security, that confirms your belief?

The Kingdom of God is a monarchy, not a democracy, and we are born again into the Royal Family. Because of this we can wake up in the morning and go to bed at night in peace knowing this: Our Father has chosen us, we are His children, holy and dearly loved. Our status is secure in Him. Our position is not based on our daily work but on His eternal adoption. Receive it, believe it, and stop living like you're on Survivor. This was His idea and He chose to do it, "in accordance with His good pleasure and will."


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Own Less:Live More - Any Ikea Fans Out There?

If you're like me, when you're walking through those tiny model apartments at Ikea you think, "I could actually DO this!"  Well, Graham Hill at Life Edited takes it to another level with this 420 square foot apartment in Soho. One fascinating thing about this place is that the design was "crowd sourced" through over 300 entries, a growing trend in the design world today.

Graham says, "I think that simplifying your life... might actually make you a little happier." I couldn't agree more. He expands on this idea at http://www.lifeedited.com
Since 1950, the average American consumes 6 times more energy and carries 24 times more personal debt. He uses 3 times more living space, but still doesn’t have enough room to store his stuff, a fact made clear by a $22B personal storage industry. Despite this excess (or perhaps because of it), we find ourselves no happier than we were 60 years ago. Most of us realize it’s relationships and experiences–not possessions–that make us happy. Why don’t we design our homes, products and lifestyles accordingly?
Ready for the amazing 420 square foot apartment?


This 20 minute video shows the entire building process from demo to completion, and a more in depth look at the space.


Life Edited's motto is "Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy".  I'm in, who's with me?




Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Fewer Christians is a Good Thing

In an article at ChurchLeaders.com, Pastor Larry Osborne comments on the recent trend of fewer people identifying themselves as Christians. 

Why the change, and how could this be good for the Gospel?

"In the absence of any particular cultural advantage to calling themselves “Christian,” lots of folks who were nominal (in name only) Christians now choose “None” as their preferred spiritual moniker. That’s not a bad thing.  
In fact, here are some reasons why I find the results of this recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life encouraging.  
Cultural Christianity has never done anything to advance the kingdom.It only inoculates against the real thing.  
When large numbers of nominal and cultural Christians wave the banner of Christ, it confuses the message of the Gospel."
Read the rest of the story here:

Monday, January 21, 2013

For the Rev ML King, SING!

If you've never seen a live performance of "Pride, In the Name of Love", U2's tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then congratulations, this is your lucky day. Below is their classic performance from the film Rattle and Hum, a documentary of the The Joshua Tree tour. #urwelcome




Cornel West: Obama & MLK's Bible

I've always been bothered by the way some people use and twist the legacy of MLK for their own gain. Rarely do they represent the same values he stood for. Reverend King fought for the dignity and freedom of ALL people. He spoke of unifying them rather than dividing them. He did not pit one race or class against another. He did not portray himself as a victim. He did not merely point fingers. He gave his life to be a part of the solution rather than exacerbate the problem. Reverend King had a dream, not an agenda. Cornel West get's pretty fired up here, and seems to shock everyone with his position. I love the expression of Tavis Smiley at the end. "You mentioned the children.. and that's a good segue..."  Yes, I bet it is. 

Why MLK Day Matters to Christians

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.
            Martin Luther King Jr.


When Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the equality of all people, he wasn't just working for the transformation of America, he was working for the transformation of the Church.

A dying man's last words are often his most important, and in the 17th chapter of the gospel of John we read the last recorded prayer of Jesus before going to the cross. Our Savior could have prayed for a lot of things here. He could have prayed for the overthrow of the Romans, or the spread of the gospel, or for... himself. But He didn't. In some of His final moments on this earth, Jesus prayed for us and for the unity of His Church. Not just a church, but the Church: all believers on the earth.

“... I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:20-23

Did you notice the "if/then" statement that this passage clearly makes? The Church should be unified "so that the world may believe that you have sent me..."and "Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Jesus says the unity of the Church causes people to believe in Him. Unity is evangelistic! It is so evangelistic that Jesus made it His final prayer. I guess this means He actually did pray for the spread of the gospel. And, tragically, we must assume that disunity in the Church has the opposite effect.

Disunity in the Church causes the world to not believe in Jesus. 

Disunity is... anti-Christ? I'm afraid so, and you don't have to look far to confirm it. Because of this, I agree with author Philip Yancey that racism in the Church is one of the most vile sins of all.
"It took years for God to break the stranglehold of blatant racism in me - I wonder if any of us gets free of its more subtle forms - and I now see this sin as one of the most poisonous, with perhaps the greatest societal effects." Philip Yancey, Confessions of a Racist
Most of us think segregation ended long ago. But do you know which day is the most segregated day of the week? Sunday, of course. Obviously, segregation is no longer legislated; today it's voluntary. Even worse.
Now I'm not saying that this is just a white problem, or that we all need to go to the same church. Disunity occurs for many reasons. However, I do believe we all have the responsibility to somehow respond to the prayer of our Savior in John 17.

But how do you respond? What can one person do?  What can you and I do today? Pastor Beau Hughes address this in a recent blog post for The Village Church.
Of course, it’s too easy and ultimately unhelpful to merely point out the continued existence of racial discord in our midst, especially for Christians. As Pastor Frank Reid noted in an article for Christianity Today, “We’ve made a sport of pointing out racism, when what we should be doing is focusing our prayers and actions toward creating congregations that proclaim Christ’s lordship over his entire church.” We need to move past hopeless observations about racism and look to God for hope and direction.
You can begin the same way Jesus did, looking to the Father in prayer. Praying for other churches and pastors by name, praying for other ethnic groups, praying for racial unity in the churches of your city and most of all, for unity in your own heart. We never know what prayer will change around us, but we do know that it always changes us. Ask God to fill your heart with His unconditional love and compassion for all of His family, your brothers and sisters. Pray that you would be the Church Jesus prayed for, so that the world would believe in the Him.

Read the rest of Beau's article here: The Gospel and Racial Harmony

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why I Cried at The Miserables

I took my parents to see Les Miserables a couple of nights ago. Dad fell asleep twice, I did once, and Mom wasn't sure what to think. Needless to say, our ride home looked nothing like the video below, but if you haven't seen it yet, you must. This is AWESOMAZING!


There was crying in our theater, however, it came from me when I realized that they weren't going to talk between the songs. Isn't that what normally happens in musicals? They speak, then burst into a catchy song about their favorite things or sweeping chimneys or a really fast car, then they speak some more as if that is normal behavior. Look, I saw The Sound of MusicChitty Chitty Bang Bang AND Grease. I KNOW musicals! About two minutes into this movie I thought, "Seriously? They're going to sing this whole thing? For nearly three hours? REALLY?" When people sing for three hours straight, mostly lines that do not have a melody or rhyme, isn't that called an opera? I know that this isn't the popular opinion. Everyone is raving about the beauty and the grandeur and this timeless story. Based on what I've been seeing in the blogoshpere, I should be writing an article on how the message of redemption is magnificently displayed in this epic production, then tie the whole thing into the gospel. SPOILER ALERT: That's not gonna happen here.

Now before I get any hate mail, let me clarify that I'm not calling any of that into question. I can appreciate it all. However, personally, I was too distracted by the mode of presentation(or medium) for my heart to deeply be touched by the message. I freely confess that this is largely due to my failure to appreciate some of the finer of the fine arts. Ten minutes into my first ballet I asked, "Are they really just going to just dance the whole time?" Fortunately I'm not alone in my cultural depravity. Particularly here in East Texas. On a broader scale, I know that many people have a similar problem when watching foreign films with subtitles. For them, there is simply a disconnect in the method of communication that they cannot overcome. Which led me to this question: "How often do people fail to hear the gospel, the  greatest redemption story of all time, not because the story is lacking, but because the presentation doesn't connect? Maybe it's culturally irrelevant to them. Maybe it seems like they're hearing it in a foreign language. Maybe it's just bad storytelling?

I've heard it said of gospel presentations, "The medium may change, but the message stays the same." I completely disagree. This notion flies directly in the face of what media genius Marshall McLuhan said nearly a decade ago when he coined the now-famous phrase, “The medium is the message.” Point being that how we communicate something plays as much a role in it's impact as what we are trying to communicate. If people don't "get it," our presentation may be more at fault than the state of their hearts. As believers, it is much easier to blame hard hearts or credit a sovereign God than to scrutinize our own efforts. I would go one step further and say that it takes much more creativity, investment, effort and research to present a message that connects well than one that does not. As a pastor who has prepared many sermons, I can certainly attest to this.  It is much more expedient to just rehash something you've done before, or another church did, or possibly worse,  recreate a low budget Christianized version of something the world did five years ago. And when I say research, I don't just mean of the scriptures, but also of the people we are trying to reach with them. In ministry we rarely, if ever, do any research or follow up with our target audience in order to discover how well they comprehended our intended message, why they did or didn't like it, or how they think we could present it better. I'm not talking about changing the message to appeal more, I'm talking about changing the presentation to communicate better. We could easily believe that something is amazing and heart touching because that's how WE perceive it, while all the while it has little to no impact on those who need to hear it most. In the commercial sector, Research & Development is often one of the largest budget items. Products are tested, revised and retested. Movies are screened multiple times, rewritten and reshot, often at a massive expense, based on audience interviews. Have you ever heard of a church with an R&D department? Have you ever heard of Community Research as a line item in a ministry budget? I can tell you this: if it's not in the budget, it's not important. Your budget says more about your values and mission statement than your website. Why is it that we, who believe that our "customers" have the most to lose, spend little to no time or money researching how well we're connecting with them? How can we do this better? I'll be digging in to that and more on Monday. Until then, enjoy your weekend, and maybe even go see Les Miserables if you haven't. But don't say I didn't warn you. They sing for the entire movie... almost THREE HOURS!



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Life Savers

The Golden Gate Bridge has always been famous. It was the world’s longest suspension bridge when it was completed in 1937. Since then, it has become an iconic landmark of San Francisco and, tragically, one of the most popular places in the world to commit suicide. Few know this better than Kevin Briggs, a sergeant with the California Highway Patrol who has talked hundreds of people out of jumping. 

 


I recently saw this video, Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge, and was profoundly impacted. Take five minutes and watch it now.

I couldn't help but think about what it means to be a "guardian" of the gospel. Seargent Briggs' focus, dedication and determination convicted and inspired me. "How often am I living completely focused on the mission, the Great Commission, that I have been given?" "Am I on the lookout for people around me who need to be rescued?" "Am I sacrificial, committed and patient with them, unwilling to just let them go?" 

"When I talk to someone, I try to dig into them and see whats going on."
"I try to get them to raise their head up."
"I actually went down on my knees and said, "Look, I got nothin'.""
"I tend to talk about my life, because I've been through a lot."
"Hey, I've been through some of this also."
"I like to lead them with dignity."
"That's what we do, that's why we're here."
"What was it, after all those hours, that you finally decided to come back?"
"Kevin wouldn't give up."


"To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." 1 Corinthians 9:22

"Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh." Jude 1:22-23

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." 1 John 3:16



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

So You Wanna Start a Riot?

In an election year as polarizing as this one was, starting a riot is not a difficult thing to do. Throw in last summer's Chick-Fil-A day followed by Louie Giglio bowing out of the inauguration and it becomes clear that a culture war is not something looming on the horizon, it is in our midst. 

This battle of values is something that many Christians are eager to sign up for. Recently, while surfing hundreds of channels and finding nothing to watch, I landed on the show of a well known TV preacher. I tuned in just as he was reaching the crescendo of his message, "We are soldiers in the army of the Lord! And we are fighting a culture war for the soul of a nation!" As he wiped the sweat from his brow, the congregation responded with resounding cheers and amens. Hands were raised in support throughout the room. I was perplexed. I could not argue with his first point, although childhood memories of singing, "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war..." still creep me out a little. However, the second half of his mission statement put me on edge. Are we really called by God to engage in a culture war? Is the mission of the church to fight for the soul of a nation? Could I please have some New Testament scriptures to support this? 

Ironically, a decade ago I would have joined in the cheers and high-fived the tv screen. I was an American and a Christian, therefore it was my God given duty to defend her honor and help get this country back on track. However, around the turn of the millennium, a conversation with a good Christian brother would leave me troubled and questioning my deeply held convictions. In short, he was a pacifist while I was a member of the NRA. He was from the northeast, I was from Texas. At first I thought it was just a geographical issue. However, what I really couldn't shake, what annoyed me the most, was that his convictions, though vastly different than mine, were based on scripture, not just culture, patriotism and "good ol' common sense". He also pointed out how these ideas could be seen exemplified by the early church. When he asked me for scripture to support my beliefs, I had none. Literally, nothing. After my initial defensive reaction (surmising that he was just another unpatriotic commie-pinko-liberal who had infiltrated the church), I began to realize that much of my world view had been shaped through the environment I grew up in: the Bible-belt south. Although he didn't completely convert me to pacifism, this conversation was the catalyst to a journey of seeking out what the Bible teaches about how a Christ follower relates to the world around them. I realized that I could no longer blindly embrace the views of my community, my parents, a political party, or even a church. I must seek to know God's truth myself and continually ask, "what does Jesus say about my mission on earth?", and "how do I see that lived out by His early followers?" While many of my perspectives were changed greatly through all of this, it only took one unexpected conflict to instantly reveal the "work in progress" my heart still is....Read the complete article here: