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.

 

 

 

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?

7 Things Worship Leaders Can Learn From The Grammy’s 

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A few truths that every worship leader can take away from the 2015 Grammy’s…

1. What you wear matters – If your hair stands a foot above your head not only will you have to watch for low clearances, but no one will be paying any attention to the words coming out of your mouth. Don’t be a distraction for people while leading them.  Keep it modest, keep it simple, but still be you.

2. Enunciate – When it’s tough to make out what your singing or saying your congregation will be quick to check out.  Our worship tunes have so much truth and depth to them don’t let sloppy musicianship be what causes people to stop singing.

3. Engage the audience – It’s easy to hide behind music and mic stands.  You are a leader, not just a musician.  Invite the congregation to sing a long with you.  The more inviting you are the more engaged people will be.

4. Excellence Matters – Whatever you do, do it well.  Whether or not you like the music preformed during the Grammy’s it was all done with excellence.  If your band sounds like they have no clue what’s going on you can pretty much guarantee that folks won’t be singing along.

5. Be genuine – No matter how hard you try to fake it people will see right through you. Good music has heart and soul behind it.  During the Grammy performance you can tell who’s got heart and who doesn’t Whether you want it to or not what’s happening in your heart and in your head will show through.  Root yourself in Jesus and don’t sing or say anything you don’t believe.

6. Stay away from Lucky Charms – I love Lucky Charms cereal.  They taste awesome, but I’m going to be hungry again shortly after eating them.  Pick music that’s rooted in scripture not just a sweet guitar riff or cool melody.  Songs that are filled with truth last.

7. Keep it simple – Some of the best performances were just guitar and voices.   Don’t feel like you have to have a ten piece band to lead well.  If all you have is a guitar and your voice just do that well.  Simple generally equals less distracting and easier to engage with.  While worship teams like Hillsong and Elevation are moving towards more of an electronic sound with layers and layers of synths and electric guitars, a four and five piece band still resonates with people. (PS. I love Elevation and Hillsong, we just don’t all have to sound like them.)

Have any other thoughts or comments? Use the box below!

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.

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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.

How To Change The World In 2015

In some form or fashion we’d all like to see the world changed, and I’d bet most of us think we lack the ability to do anything about it.  Yes I may be doing a bit of “trolling” with the title of this post, but I do think that changing the world starts with us and it’s simpler than we all think…

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When it comes to influencing change there are no truer words than Gandhi’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  

We do a lot of finger pointing and name calling when it comes to change.  We are often more concerned with what others are doing that what we are doing ourselves, but here’s the truth…

The only way to affect real change in this world is to be that change on a day to day basis.  We can’t control what others do, but we can control how we respond and what we lead people to.  We can be advocates for hate and violence or we be the radical love that inspires others to imitate that love as well.

For me, that’s how I came to know and follow Jesus.   His selflessness had me asking questions about who he was.  How could I not be attracted to someone who has so much love for me?

For us as Christians that’s where changing the world starts.  Selflessly loving others with so much passion that people can’t help ask why we love so much.  The ripple effect starts with us.  We love others, which inspires others to love others, which starts an unstoppable movement with love at it’s core.  It starts with us.

So in 2015 don’t get caught up with what other people are doing or saying.  Love like Jesus everywhere YOU are.

27 Things I’m Thankful for, on my 27th birthday, on Thanksgiving…

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1. My beautiful wife

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2. My family

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3. Pumpkin pie

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4. So Many Great Friends! (Too many to picture! Thankful for all of you!)

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5. The People I Get To Worship With (So many more wonderful people not pictured in this photo)

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6. Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshakes from Chickfila

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7. Chickfila in general

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8. Football

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9. The New York Mets… (Even though they always break my heart.)

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10. My dog

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11. Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout (Best beer ever)

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12. The Office(My wife and I are currently watching all the episodes again. I miss that show.)

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13. Music

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14. Technology (Most of it)

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15. Snow

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16. Mountains

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17. Christmas Movies

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18. Christmas Music

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19. Christmas Lights

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20. Running

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21. Cycling

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22. Naps

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23. Taylor Swift

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24. John Mayer

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25. Life (Thankful for the opportunity to have a full life in Jesus. It may be crazy and difficult at times, but I am thankful nonetheless.)

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26. My Mom’s Christmas Cookies… (One last sweet thing to add to the list.)

27. “The King is among us” (One of my favorite worship songs right now is “The King Is Among Us” by Elevation worship. I am so thankful that God is always with me. The good news of the gospel is that we can have a relationship with Jesus right here and right now. There is nothing better.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What are you thankful for?

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?