Us or Them

Us or Them

Too often in our lives we let our differences define us.  Race, gender, sexuality, political ideology, religious affiliation, and our theological views are more often than not things that separate and divide us.  We do not often look for the things we have in common among our differences, but we divide ourselves further by focusing on what we don’t agree with.  It makes sense that we would be drawn to those who are like us, it’s in our nature.  It’s much easier to build relationships with those who agree with us than those we may struggle to see eye to eye with.

But what if God was actually calling us to lean into the tension that our differences create?  What if it was in the middle of us loving people who didn’t look or think like us that Jesus shows up?

I really like it when things are cut and dry.  When one option is right and the other is wrong.  But the more and more I live life there fewer instances when things are that simple.  There’s so much more gray than black and white.

Maybe the biggest challenge the modern church faces isn’t how to get Millennials into church or what worship style will lead us into the future, maybe its simply learning how to love each other even though we disagree.

On my run the other day I heard these lyrics:

We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them – Gungor “Us Or Them”

More and more our society tells us to dig our feet in and draw even more lines to separate us.  We’ve all heard politicians and TV personalities telling us to be afraid of entire groups of people and to not extend help to those who desperately need it.  Maybe that’s the way some want our country to be run, but as Christians we are called to be different.

Jesus says in Luke 6:27-36, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Jesus hung out with the marginalized and the outcast and we are called to do the same.  Not to be afraid of those who are different but to love them.  To put others before ourselves, no matter what they look like or believe.

“If it’s us or them, it’s us for them.”

God’s love is not segregated to a certain denomination, race, sexuality, or ideology.  God loves us and our biggest enemies just the same.

 

 

 

5 Things Christians Should Say Everyday

There’s a lot we can say about Jesus and what it means to be a Christian, but if we are making the attempt to be the church, to be Jesus to the world, then we as Christians need to make sure these phrases are popular ones in our everyday conversations.  Here are five things to say everyday… 

 1. I love you.

We just can’t say I love you enough.  Say it to your family, your friends, and to strangers.  God is most exemplified in our love for each other.  Life is short, don’t miss an opportunity to let someone know how much they matter to you.  Love, love, love. 

 2. I’m sorry/I forgive you.

Let’s be honest here, we mess up a lot.  We are human and failure comes with the territory.  We say the wrong things at the wrong time, we let our emotions get the best of us, and we are jerks when we don’t mean to be.  Apologize.  When you’ve screwed up and you know it, tell the person you’ve wronged, hurt, or been a jerk to.  Don’t let pride stand between you and another person.  No matter how hard it may be.

Likewise, forgive others when they make a mistake or hurt you. Don’t shy away from trying to make things right with people if you can. It’s hard to get around the emphasis Jesus puts on forgiving others: 

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Matthew 6:14-15 

 Forgiveness may not come naturally, but the quicker we can get in the habit the more often others will see Jesus in us. 

 3. How can I help?

Put others first.  Help carry groceries, hold the door open, listen when someone needs to share something, buy someone a meal, etc… It’s often in these opportunities to serve that the door is opened to talk about what God has done in your life.  Serve, but don’t make a big deal about it in front of other people.  Make sure everything you do is done without any strings attached. 

 4. There is hope.

There are so many people out there who are overwhelmed with life. We will all feel the weight of struggle, pain, and loss at some point or another.  Let someone know that they are not alone. Tell them there is hope in Jesus. That there is more to life than pain and suffering. 

 5. I am not perfect.

All too often people who don’t follow Jesus expect Christians to have it all together.  We all know that is not the case, not by a long shot.  If we were perfect then we wouldn’t need Jesus. We all fail. We all screw up. We all are selfish.  We are not perfect, but we are following Jesus – who is. It’s crazy God chooses to love even the worst of us, but God is in the business of redemption.  Don’t pretend to have it all together. Share your failures and your successes so that people can see what this perfect Jesus can do in their life too.

Be real. Be honest. Be love. 

 I realize this list isn’t comprehensive and that there are a ton of other things we can say to others to help us exemplify Jesus.  What would you add to this list? Would you make something more of a priority than another?

How Not To Pay It Forward

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you before, but it’s pretty cool when the person ahead of you in a drive through line pays for your meal.  I have done it for others but never have had someone do it for me, that is until today.

I ordered food, got to the window to pay and the nice lady said, “Hey the person in front of you paid for your meal.”  How awesome I thought, but then she followed with this, “The person also said that you should pay for the person behind you.”

I only had seven bucks on me at the time so I had already been carefully about what I ordered at this particular, kind of pricey, fast food restaurant.  The woman at the window informed me that the persons meal behind me was close to what I was going to pay, so I paid for their meal as to not look like a jerk.

That’s not paying it forward.  Paying it forward involves doing something nice for someone expecting nothing in return so that your act may inspire the person to do something likewise.  The person in front of me, while their intentions may have been good, wasn’t being a blessing they were just starting a weird game of everyone else pay for someone else’s meal.  Where’s the blessing in that?

When we give and serve others we are called to be selfless.   To give of our time, money, and stuff without expecting something in return.  That’s the greatest and most inspiring way to “pay it forward.” In the below passage from Luke 6 Jesus talks about serving even our enemies without expecting anything in return.

“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. -Luke‬ ‭6‬:‭35-36

The person who paid for my meal “paid it forward” expecting me to do something for someone else.  This is quite the opposite of paying it forward. There is no blessing in expecting something in return.

When we do something for others we should expect nothing in return.  We give because what we have is first and foremost a gift from God.  We are giving back and sharing what God has given us.

So be a blessing to someone today, just do it without the expectation of anything in return.  That’s when your gift will inspire others to do likewise.

Do you have some good examples of how to “pay it forward” and bless other people selflessly?

Fighting In The Wilderness: My Battle With Anxiety And Depression

IMG_0493Back during my sophomore year in college I began to struggle with anxiety for the first time in my life.  I remember the day that things began to change. I began to focus obsessively on anything and everything, but I didn’t know how allowing my mind to do that would snowball over the next several months.  Over those months I would for the first time feel the weight of depression, social anxiety, and panic attacks.

There were days that I thought I was really alone though I had friends and family surrounding me.  I was so stressed that my face and hands would tingle as the stress of the day would pile up.   I didn’t want to go hang out with friends or even leave my dorm room at all.  Everything in life had lost its taste.  Every evening I’d lay my head on my pillow and wonder if it was my last.   Life had spiraled out of control very quickly.

During Christmas break I went to the doctor because of a cold.  Little did I know I’d end up in the emergency room shortly after entering the doctor’s office.   My heart rate that morning just sitting in the doctor’s office was something like 170 beats per minute. That number would be higher after arriving at the ER.  My limbs were tingling as my body went into protective mode.

I would describe the next three and a half to four years as time spent in the wilderness.   It was still a struggle to go hang out with friends, to eat at restaurants, and to get up in front of a church and lead worship. I asked why a whole lot. I didn’t want to believe that the doctor’s diagnosis was correct.   I was an easy-going guy who didn’t let much bother him who had turned into someone who freaked out at the drop of a hat.

Where was God?  Why had he left me here?  Why wouldn’t he take this away from me? Why God, why?

For the past couple weeks I have been listening to Elevation Worship’s newest album Wake Up The Wonder. One particular song has been on repeat…

“Thank You for the wilderness
Where I learned to thirst for Your presence
If I’d never known that place
How could I have known You are better?

Thank You for the lonely times
When I learned to live in the silence
As the other voices fade
I can hear You calling me, Jesus

Thank You for the scars I bear
They declare that You are my healer
How could I have seen your strength
If You never showed me my weakness?

And it’s worth it all, just to know You more” – Elevation Worship – Great Things (Worth It All) 

I really wish that at any point of my battle with depression and anxiety through those years that I had stopped and just trusted God.  That I been able to say, “God I don’t know why I’m here, But I trust You.”  I fought, pleaded, and complained to Him without once just stopping to realize that even though it was painful that maybe God had me right where he wanted me.

Through out Paul’s time in ministry you get the sense that he did not question whether or not God had him where He wanted him.  Whether in jail or being tortured he trusted that God was with him.  Paul writes in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Being in the wilderness sucks, it’s lonely, and it hurts.  But “if we’d never been in that place how could we have known Him better?”

It’s been years now since I’ve been in that wilderness place and still don’t think my heart truly reflects the words of that song, but I can see how God has used it for the good of others in my life.   

The biggest thing I have taken away is my ability to empathize with those struggling with the same things.  Everybody is different.  There are no two cases of depression or anxiety that are alike, which is part of what makes treatment so tricky, but being able to say that I have had my own battle has allowed me the opportunity to encourage friends and family who have battled the same stuff.

I hope that next time it seems that I am in the wilderness that I will trust God in those moments.  However hard, however lonely, however terrifying, I know that God is working things for good and He is near.

How do you remind yourself to trust God in tough and lonely times?  What experiences have you had in the wilderness?  I know that there are a lot of folks who struggle with similar issues, how do you keep your faith in the middle of it?

The World Doesn’t Need Anymore Empty Promises.

IMG_0452Every day we are bombarded with empty promises.  For the most part they are for someone else’s gain veiled cleverly to look like we will be the ones who are better off after we buy their product.  Checking my email this morning I found emails promoting pills for weight loss to make me attractive, dating sites that promise happiness in other people, and clothes that will make me cool and help me fit in.  .

My wife and I were watching football over the Christmas season and during a commercial break one commercial caught my eye.  Everything in the commercial looked elegant and classy; champagne, expensive jewelry, beautiful people, extravagant house, and lots of other fine things.   The funny thing is that this commercial wasn’t for any of those things.  The last frame of the commercial flashed a car – so if we want to be associated with fancy things then we need own this car.

Most of us know by now there’s nothing wrong with trying to be healthy, wanting to look good, have nice things or date, but real happiness or self-worth can not be found in any of these things.

I think the church can get caught up in making empty promises as well.  We promise things and then we, who are supposed to His representatives to the rest the world, forget to be those promises.

We say that He is love, but act like jerks.  We say that He is forgiving, but we hold grudges.  We say that He is inclusive, and we turn churches into cliques where only people who look and act like us are invited into our “club.”  We say that real life is found in Him, but we put on fake smilies and act like everything is ok when it’s not. We say prayer is important, but only pray a couple of times a week when we are in need. I could go on for a while…

It’s not my intention to criticize the church, but to show that if we don’t get real with our faith we will never lead people to a real faith in Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that we have it all together, but that we fight to be selfless and to acknowledge Jesus in every aspect of our lives.  The more real we are the more people will want what we have in Jesus.

Always be real.  It’s ok if we don’t understand everything or to admit we don’t have all the answers.  That doesn’t mean that God is not real, because you don’t know everything about Him.  Show people what God is doing in your life and be honest about it.

God is alive and well in and around us today, and we are the example of that.

How do you keep from getting caught up in fake stuff?  How do you stay real in the day in and day out of following Jesus?

Is What I Give Good Enough?

I follow a lot of really creative people on Twitter.  Today a guy named Dan Stevers (@danstevers on Twitter) posted a video he created based around the story of Cain and Abel.  You can watch it here…

After thinking about the things that I offer God I have discovered that I often treat God like a waiter where I’m tipping Him for being good to me, and then leaving him at the curb until I need something again.   I have in no way positioned myself to be fully relying on Him.  I have not given my best.

This doesn’t just apply to money in our lives.  I have put things and people before God over and over. In part, because I’ve fallen victim to wanting life to be easy and safe.  It is much easier to trust something I can see than to trust someone I can’t always see.

Tweet: (Click to tweet)

God is powerful and untamable.  That means that in giving the best parts of my life over to Him I may not get what I want.  I may not be put in positions where I am comfortable or safe.  For me that’s a scary proposition.

I have to continue to remind myself that God is always good and that I’m always safe in His arms.  He has promised to look out for me.  That doesn’t mean I’ll have nice things, I think it may mean quite the opposite as it has meant that for many of the early Christians in the Bible. That in those moments of totally relying on Him that’s often where He shows up big in our lives.

Life isn’t about having things it’s having a relationship with the God who gave us this life, and a life lived like that is fully satisfying. I want to be better at living my life fully reliant on God.   I think it starts with one moment at a time, so that’s where I’ll start.  Right here and now, God you can have it all because I know where it came from and who it ultimately belongs to.

Easily Distracted.

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I am easily distracted.  I think that’s why my parents had me tested for an attention disorder more than once in elementary school.  I passed though, or failed, depending on which way you look at it.

I have great aspirations of starting my day in prayer or reading the bible, but for some reason I generally end up staring at my phone for 30mins until I have to get up and get ready for the day.    This is just a small example of distraction in my life.  I choose to spend time with something else other than Jesus far more than I’d like to admit.

Often times it seems that we consider a healthy relationship with Jesus to look like doing more good than bad, but I would argue that a healthy relationship is marked by the amount of time we spend with Him.   The amount of time we spend talking with Him,  listening to Him, and reading His heart (the bible) is a better barometer of our relationship with Jesus.

Since I am so easily distracted, and building relationships with anyone takes work, I tend to gravitate down the path of least resistance which usually involves a distraction of the electronic variety.

My TV, iPhone, iPad, and Laptop are not bad things, but they are when they stand between me and Jesus, which they often do.  I am so easily satisfied by a few minutes or hours with each of these things that I often forget how much better it is to be in the presence of the one who created me and knows me better than anyone else.  The one who authored true joy and satisfaction, which we can’t find apart from Him.

Here is Jesus talking about the things we distract ourselves with…

“19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. – Matthew 6:19-24”

When I choose to be distracted by something am I really hating God and loving that treasure that will only fade and break with time?  On the surface I don’ t think of it that way, but when I dig down deeper and look at the ratio of time spent with Jesus versus time spent with other things then maybe I am.

I often brush these moments of distraction off and say I’ll get it right next time, but next time isn’t coming.  My laziness has become a habit which is more serious than I treat it.  We either love Jesus or love the things of this world.  There’s no middle ground.

Jesus has drawn the line.  We can’t serve two masters.  It’s time to fight for our time with Him now and stop letting ourselves be distracted.

Are you easily distracted?  How to do you get back on track?

If you disagree with my thoughts or have some to add please leave them in the comment box below!

3 Negative Christian Stereotypes That Absolutely Need To Change

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One bad apple spoils the bunch?  Christianity at its core is all about loving and serving others.  But after years of imperfect people like you and me trying their best to follow Jesus, and others maybe not trying so hard, it’s easy to see the trail of mistakes left in our wake. The world has obviously made assumptions and built stereotypes after we continue to make the same mistakes over and over.

We do, however, represent Jesus as his followers.  We are his living ambassadors to the world.  So it is vitally important that we learn to represent him the best we can.  It’s been said that we as Christians could be the only glimpse of Jesus someone sees.

Here are a few negative stereotypes that we ourselves can begin to change for the sake of representing Jesus well in this life…

1. Treating people with anything less than love and respect.

There is no excuse for hate from those following Jesus.  Everything Jesus did and taught was in love.  He’s the perfect example of being unselfish.  There is never an excuse for hating anyone. Never. Ever. None. No exceptions.

“37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:37-38

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” -1 John 4:8

You have no excuse for hate when following Jesus, biblically at least.

2. Making excuses for hypocrisy.

The truth is we’re all hypocrites.  There isn’t anyone who is perfect anywhere.  Hypocrisy crops up when we start pointing people any direction but Jesus’.  He is the one who is perfect and the one we are trying to be like.  Christians should make no claim to being perfect, because the world can see that we are not.  The more we own our broken and mistake laden lives the more people will see that Jesus is for them too.  That he can do the same things in their lives that he’s done in ours.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5

So before you go jump on Facebook or Twitter and talk about how horrible someone or someone’s actions are, realize that you are yielding a 2×4 in your own eye and show some grace.   There is no difference between your sin and theirs.

We are not perfect so lets quit pretending to be…

3. Not being able to agree to disagree.

This stereotype is a struggle for our country as a whole, not just one for Christians.

More and more our country is becoming less and less tolerant with people who disagree with us.  We are so close to the things we believe that we can’t accept that anyone would have a different opinion than us.  Especially when it comes to the things that are really important to us personally.

We are allowed to have differing opinions. Seriously.

We are allowed to have differing opinions about politics, sports, how to raise our kids, theology, homosexuality, and even how best to follow Jesus.

But here’s the catch… you have to love and respect those who see things differently than you.  See point 1.

Who’s right and who’s wrong matters very little in this life,  how you treat people does.

The truth is that one bad apple really can spoil the bunch.  Specially to those who have never experienced Jesus before.  You can make a difference when it comes to what people think of Christians.  Go serve others and love like Jesus!

What are your thoughts?  Are there other stereotypes I have missed?  What suggestions do you have to help get rid of these stereotypes and trends?

 

Am I A Christian? (Part 2)

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Most things that are valuable and good in this life are difficult to define.  Defining what a makes a Christian a Christian is no different.  It is a tough venture not only to describe what makes us Christians, but also to live it.  Many smarter and better educated folks have written really good books on this subject.  I will attempt to quickly give a snapshot of how I would answer this question through this post.  But first a few thoughts from part 1, which if you haven’t already, please read before proceeding.

Confusing the fruit.

From the list of responses to the question of “What makes a Christian a Christian” there were some very good and Christ-like attributes mentioned. What’s important here to remember is that individually none of those things make you a Christian (with the exception one of them). They are only the possible fruits of being a Christian. When we confuse the fruit of following Jesus with what it means to actual following Jesus that’s where we begin to head into some really rough waters.

One of the scariest verses in the bible for me is Matthew 7:21-23… ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

What makes this verse so scary is that we can be doing the things God wants us to, and produce these fruits, and still miss the point.  If we are focused solely on the fruit of following Jesus it’s my fear that we will end up like the person described above.  Having done many great things in the name of Jesus we will miss out on Jesus himself.

If I am a Christian then I…

1. Believe in Jesus.

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10

It’s easy to read this verse and think of it as a one time thing.   Confess Jesus to be our Lord and believe it at one time or another and you’re good.  You’re now a Christian.   The level of belief that we are talking here is one that permeates every part of our lives.  Not just for a moment, but for the rest of our lives.  We begin to see life differently and therefore begin to live it through the lens of our belief in Jesus and our making him Lord of our lives.  We begin to trust our whole lives to Jesus and live in a way that He comes first.

Everything that follows after this belief is not what makes us a Christian, it is the fruit of being one.

2. Have a relationship with Jesus…

Jumping back to Matthew 7, the second half of verse 23 says, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”  The fact that the people Jesus is addressing in this verse don’t “know” him means that knowing Jesus is crucial to being a Christian.  Having a relationship with him means many different things for our lives and that relationship stems from our belief in him.  Jesus makes it pretty obvious that without a relationship with him we have absolutely nothing.

It’s important for us to remember that it’s not our deeds or what we do that makes us Christian, it’s our relationship with Jesus that defines us.   The fruit of this relationship, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, may help identify a life lived in Jesus, but they are not a list of things we have to be to be a Christian.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Tullian Tchividjian has a book entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything which dives much deeper into this topic than I can.  It’s a fantastic read that is very worth your time.

When we add things to what it means to follow Jesus we essentially are offering something that is no longer rooted in Jesus, a watered down and fake gospel.  Be careful to live a life rooted in the truth of Jesus that we can find in the bible, and not on someone’s opinion.    Don’t be confused by the fruit, but seek to live a fruitful life through your relationship with Jesus.

Are there places you’ve been confusing the fruit of a relationship with Jesus with the real thing in your life?  Comment below with your thoughts.

Am I A Christian? (Part 1)

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If you follow as many Christians and church leaders  as I do on Facebook or Twitter, its easy to see two things; We do not agree on everything, and we like to add stuff to what it means to be a Christian.

What makes a Christian a Christian?  There are a lot of good “Christian” folks who would answer that question very differently.  Here are some of the answers my wife and I have heard over the years for that question….

  • Being a good person
  • Loving everyone
  • Being unselfish
  • Believing in Jesus
  • Serving others
  • Reading the bible
  • Being nice
  • Not cussing
  • Praying a lot
  • Never sinning
  • Being a Republican
  • Going to church every Sunday
  • Listening Christian music
  • Selling everything you own
  • Tithing
  • Abstaining from Alcohol
  • Wearing a one piece bathing suit
  • Giving money to others
  • Not watching R rated movies
  • Posting bible verses via social media outlets

Some of those responses are pretty comical, but this is a question that needs some serious wrestling with.

Here’s where you come in – What answers have you heard given for this question?  How do you answer this question?  What really matters when it comes to being a Christian?   Please comment below with your answers!

I will write a follow up to this post later in the week.  Look forward to reading your responses!