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?

The Grand Canyon, A Snowplow, and Prayer.

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My wife and I made the crazy but awesome decision to adventure to the Grand Canyon a couple weeks ago. We traveled by car from our home city of Richmond, VA, which we knew might be tough, but we thought it was doable. What made this trip even more difficult was our time frame. We had 4 days to hit 14 states and drive 5,000+ miles.

Our trip was fantastic. The toughest part of the trip was when on our return we ran into a snow storm and had to travel in the falling snow from Kansas City, Missouri all the way home. That was a long way in the snow.

I’ll save the entirety of the awesomeness of our adventure for another post, but for now I want to focus on what happened when we hit the Appalachian mountains.

We ventured off the interstate thinking that we could maybe beat the storm north as it seemed as far we could tell to be building in from the south. This – we found out – was not a great choice.

The storm had in fact made it into the mountains we were trying to sneak through. There was already about 8+ inches of snow on the grassy surfaces and a few compacted inches of snow on the narrow, two-lane, no shoulder, curvy, and slippery roadway. It was beautiful but treacherous.

We had been in the gorgeous mountain scenery for about 2 hours or so driving at most 25mph. We were still hours from home and moving agonizing slow. White knuckles on the steering wheel and running on 45mins of sleep in the last 24+ hours.

We were climbing one of the many mountains the road wound its way through when we found ourselves in some serious trouble. We had made it to a point no snowplow had attempted to clear and few if any cars had passed. We came around a corner where there was a steep ledge to our left with no guard rail and the mountain to our right. The road was tilted to the mountain side so that in clear weather you can take the turn at the advertised speed limit. In the icy and snowy conditions this slant caused our car to slide sideways into the mountain and next thing we knew we were stuck. With no cell service, nothing substantial to help us dig out or gain any traction, and no clue where we were.

I tried reverse, still stuck. Put the car back in drive, not going anywhere. Kristina can’t get out of car on her side because the car was resting on the side of the mountain. I got out, no one around for miles, and surveyed the situation.

Now I was sure that someone would eventually come by. Whether they were prepared to help us dig or pull us out was another story. We prayed a lot and I searched the side of this mounting for any sticks or rocks I could find to help us gain some traction. No luck.

Finally, after a little more panic and prayer, we heard something coming around the corner. Thankfully it was a snow plow with fresh gravel in tow. The driver told us that “He’d get us out or call someone who could.”

We eventually made it out after another half hour of throwing gravel in front of the car and going from drive to reverse all the while rubbing the passenger side of the car along this snow covered mountain side.

We were fine. The car was fine. God answered our prayer.

I could see how one could argue either the snowplow or someone else was going to eventually come get us, that it was just a matter of time, but for me and my life every time things get rough God has shown up. In the little things, in the big things, he’s been there to dig me out of my own mistakes with the right people or the right opportunities at the right times.

When a coincidence occurs over and over again its hard to believe it’s a coincidence any longer. The response is hardly ever the same, but the end result always is- God has me and I should’ve never been worried in the first place.

Life’s situations may be painful, tough, and scary, but God is there. You’re safe with him.

He will dig you out. Just keep your eyes open.

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.

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!