A Better Hope

This past Sunday, sitting in a Chili's Bar and Grill, I was forcing myself to eat a salad because #NewYearNewMe, right? I had just left a Sunday worship service and decided to have lunch with some family. As soon as we sat down, my cousin who is 10  years old and a die-hard Seattle Seahawks fan, started asking for the time. He knew kickoff for the Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers game was fast approaching and didn't want to miss it. I told him I didn’t think he could miss it because of the 15 60” TV screens surrounding us. 

Soon, the game started and within two minutes my cousin’s demeanor completely changed. He went from expectant and confident to disappointed and pessimistic. The Hawks quickly gave up two touchdowns putting the game at 0-14. Seattle fans everywhere began to get very nervous. This is an important game! It’s supposed to be very evenly matched but we were watching a blowout. In the first half, Carolina scored 31 points and Seattle scored 0. Adrian was crushed. I think Seahawks fans everywhere were. Most of them lost all hope in winning this game, and definitely in making it to the Superbowl. 

How often does this happen to us? Maybe you’re not a sports person so you don’t hope for your team to make the championship game, but we all place our hope somewhere. Some place hope in relationships or getting that job that they've always wanted. Hope is a beautiful thing- it drives us, it sustains us. It is wonderful to have hope, but what happens when what you hoped for doesn’t happen? Proverbs 13:12 tells us that when hope fails us or when we lack hope it makes our hearts sick. We all know what it means to be heartsick. It’s miserable. It’s something that no one enjoys or longs for. 

Placing our hope in people or things will fail us and leave us with a sick heart. I can’t imagine how some of the Seattle players felt after this game. They have been in the Superbowl the last two years in a row and now they didn’t even win their division. Some probably felt disappointed, more likely devastated, but there were some that didn’t have that same reaction. After the game, a group of players from both teams joined each other on the field for a moment of prayer. When most people would be ready to get violent with each other after such a passion-filled competition, these knew that their hope was not in this game. A reporter who took a photo of the group that went viral said this when recounting the experience: "It reminds you that there’s more to life than what’s on the scoreboard.” 

Take a moment and apply that to your life! There’s really more to your life than what’s on your scoreboard. It could be that you see your life as an 0-31 game where you will never win. I know I have been in that place. We look back at our actions and mistakes thinking that we deserve where we are and that this is just how it’s going to be. This is the definition of hopelessness. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if we had hope in this life only, we would be miserable. Luckily, we can hope for more than this life only. We can have a better hope. 

We can put our hope in a lot of things, but ultimately they will fail us. Putting hope in Jesus will never fail you. This hope is better than anything in this world, because he does away with the scoreboard. Your life becomes no longer about catching up or getting more but resting- knowing you already have the greatest thing in the world. A hope that will never let you down or leave you disappointed. This hope is the basis of a Christian worldview. Knowing that no matter what happens to me, Jesus is still with me. Hope in Christ takes away the scoreboard of life, and frees us to live the life we were meant to live. 

Stay on Course

stayoncourse.jpg

My entire life I have struggled with a debilitating illness known as OTM. Now before you call the prayer team or text me, I have to tell you that it was my mom that diagnosed me. She has treated her fair share of bumps and bruises in my lifetime, like that time I rode my dirt bike wearing only my shorts and wrecked, but I somewhat doubt her ability to diagnose an illnesses. 

What is OTM? One Track Mind. I can be quite obsessive, not the I-keep-everything-clean-ALL-the-time obsess, but still I can stay pretty locked on to something. I obsess over Netflix shows, what I’m getting for Christmas, coffee, getting to events on time-when I get something in my head, I keep going at it. 

I’m not saying this is always a bad thing. Sometimes being obsessive is good. It helps me stay focused and complete a task, but if I can’t complete the task I can get very frustrated. It’s not just tasks that I can obsess over, but like any other human I am constantly thinking about my future. For Millennials the future is uncertain, there no longer exists one set path that will lead you to success. People must now “forge their own path.” They have to create a job or compete with countless other qualified people for a job. I had a plan for my future, but just like 99% of everyone else, those plans changed. 

When I decided I would follow God instead of trying to forge my own path, things got difficult. We talk about it, but I don’t think we fully realize that following God’s plans can be hard, confusing, and dare-I-say frustrating. Yes I will say it, it is at times extremely frustrating. Especially for one who struggles with a severe case of OTM. I constantly stressed over my future. I knew God called me, but after that I had no idea. 

Having no idea about the future is hard for me, and I know it’s probably hard for you too. In fact, my top two strengths on my Gallup Strength finder test are Futuristic and Strategic. I always want to have an idea of what’s going to happen in the future so I can plan for it. In churches, at least the ones I know, this can sometimes be looked down on. We say think like “just trust God’s plan” or “It’s all in God’s timing.” These can be true but they’re still hard to swallow. We like to cover things up with church-y talk but if we’re being honest, we would all love to know what the future holds. Here’s the thing though, it’s not going to happen. You will probably never know exactly what your life will hold. Would that be any fun? Here’s what I’ve learned though: Trust God step by step instead of trying to figure it all out ahead of time. Tweet This

Psalms 119:1-2 
You’re blessed when you stay on course,
walking steadily on the road revealed by God.
You’re blessed when you follow his directions,
doing your best to find him.

You don’t have to know the destination, you just have to stay on the path. Tweet This If you’re like me, God has probably given you a direction to go or a something to do. We need to start walking down that path or do the small things that he has called us to do. We want to know the end before we even start, but that’s not what God’s word tells us to do. It says that God knows the end from the beginning, not us. No matter how frustrating it is or how many times we pray God will “reveal” it, sometimes he just isn't going to.     

The only thing that we can do is stay on the course. Each time he gives you a direction-follow it. Don’t hesitate! When we follow God’s directions it doesn’t say that we’ll make it through or that we’ll be ok, the Bible says that we will be blessed! Find peace in knowing that you will be blessed, even in the times of the frustrating unknown. God is still guiding you and will be with you when you do your best to find him.

Easter

There's no rewind just redeem -Propaganda 

Have you ever done something in life that you wish you could take back? It may not be something that is all that bad, maybe it's just embarrassing or subpar to what could have been. We all have things in our lives that we wish we could go back and change. Maybe it's that time you said something to someone you shouldn't have or put yourself in a situation that you shouldn't have been in. I know for me, I often say things I wish I could take back. Often without even realizing that they may be offensive or detrimental to a relationship. 

My family has a name for when I say these types of things- Frank. As in "let me be Frank." Being "Frank" is a part of my personality. This isn't to say that it is excusable but it is to say that it's a part of who I am. I'm very black and white. The facts are the facts. So if I'm asked I'll let you know if I think that's a bad idea or if you're wrong about something. You can probably already tell where this is going, there are a lot of words that I wish I could take back. Sure they may have seemed right in the moment but they probably didn't actually help in the long run. But here's the thing, you can't take back words. You can’t take back any kind of mistake. There are no redos in life.

Often times we get stuck on these mistakes whether it's words we said, mistakes in a relationship, or an addiction. We wish that we could go back and fix these things. Rewind things right then so that maybe we will be at peace now. There are two huge problems with this thinking. The first and most obvious, there's no going back in life. You can ask for forgiveness, seek counseling or rehabilitate yourself but you can't change the past. There are no time machines. The other, one that is maybe not so obvious, is that we couldn't fix things if we tried. As humans we are flawed. This is why no matter how hard we try, we will always mess something up. This is also why we are always trying to fix things. 

I’m one of those people who always wants to fix things. Not in the "I used to take my toys apart and put them back together" sense but rather I like to find solutions. All people are problem solvers. Even if it's on a most basic level of finding food and shelter. We all try to fix things to make our lives better. Sometimes we even try to "fix" other people, but has that ever actually worked for you? It hasn’t for me! I mean as much as we would all love Chris Martin to fix us, it's just not going to happen. 

So we know we are messed up. Is there any hope at all? Well yes, but not in us fixing ourselves. Humanity is flawed, whether we like it or not. We see it everywhere we look- death, disease, poverty, hunger. In the same way that you can choose where you're from, you can not escape this flawed version of life- at least not on your own. To escape this cycle of hopelessness and depravity, we must seek out a power beyond ourselves. Something to redeem us, to reconcile us. The things that we have done, have caused us to have a debt- one that we'll never be able to pay off by ourselves. 

There is a hope for redemption! It is not something that we can do to save ourselves, but a savior who gave himself. Through the sacrifice of Christ, we can now be reconciled to God. No longer having to live in a world where all we do is wish we could change our past, now we can focus on living a life of redemption. The message of the Cross is not just tradition but rather a celebration. A celebration of what God has done for us despite what we have done. And like many other celebrations(births, marriages, graduations) it is something that profoundly impacts our lives. 

It is something that we must respond to, and our responses changes everything. This Easter reflect on what God has already done for you. Forget about mistakes and things that you can't change, and think about the things that have already been done for you. Here are some scriptures to get you started. 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11 ESV)

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV)

[Insert Catchy Title About Millennials and the Church]

I've seen so many blog posts lately about why people-especially Millennials-leave the Church. It seems as if every time I get on the Internet, there's some “trying-to-be-catchy” title like "5 Reasons People think Church Sucks“ followed by "7 Ways You can make Millennials think Your Church Doesn't Suck.”

If you are a pastor or leader and have read one of these, I apologize. I’m sorry for shock bloggers that use pseudo-advice to draw you in. I apologize, because I know that there are many pastors desperate for advice on how to present the gospel in a context that the people they are trying to reach will understand. Yet, I believe many of these blogs and articles can actually hurt more than they can help.

Don't get me wrong! There are some great research groups out there that I admire, such as The Barna Group. They do factual work and help many people understand the cultures they are having a hard time grasping. And there are some wonderful writers out there who really are trying to help. They are not the problem. The problem is that much “advice” that gets circulated so widely has little foundation in truth. I see several problems with many of these lists of advice. 

1. They are BROAD brush strokes. 

 We've all seen/read it before- "Millennials do/don't ______ because of ______." Honestly, how can you make such a general statement? How could all Millennials possibly agree on anything? People have never been able to agree no matter what age! You certainly can’t expect those who have grown up in one of the most progressive and turbulent times in generations to. We can’t all be grouped and we have varying opinions. And that's ok, because we're not all the same. Sure, just like any other stereotype, there are some that fit the mold but there are often more that don't. They lump together a wide range of people, diverse in age and culture. The blog may be written about Millennials who are suburban couples in their late 20’s with two kids while the pastor reading it may be trying to reach Millennials who are high schoolers in the inner-city. Broad brush strokes never work. Whether it is in the church or not. You simply can't have a one-size-fits-all method. Jesus Himself didn't have one method for every situation because it just doesn't work that way. 

2. They treat symptoms and not causes. 

This season there may be an uber-specific reason people say they have for not coming to church. Like I don’t know, it's right after the holidays or something. People are trying to get back on schedule and need to catch up on all of their school work/working out/social life/trivia crack. But none of these are real reasons. I think the real reason that people aren't going to church is because they don't feel a connection with God when they do. We all know the "light show effect" has long ago lost its impact. People will not come "for a show" anymore. Netflix has way better shows and you don't even have to leave the comfort of your house. What I believe people are looking is a real connection with God! That "looks" differently everywhere, but how it "looks" isn't the main thing. The main thing is that the connection is happening.

I will liken it to waiting in line for a roller coaster. You're with your friends talking about how amazing it's going to be. They may tell you how it gives an adrenaline rush and you see other people who have ridden it and hear them excitedly talking about it. You wait and wait and finally you make it to the front of the line. The moment is here! This is what you took time out of your day to do! But then the attendant tells you "That's it. Make sure you come back next week when we'll be doing it all over again. You won’t want to miss it!"

But the problem is you wanted the ride, not the line. Many churches are advertising the roller coaster but only providing the line. When you look at it from this simple point of view, you can see why many people never return to church. If they never get to experience the thing they came for, why would they ever return? Just to experience the disappointment again?

Give people the solution (God). Don't just treat their symptoms. (Excuses we make up to cover the fact that we don't have a connection with God.)

3. They make pastors feel bad about their own churches. 

The majority of churches in America have a membership of around 70-80 people. These aren't the churches you see on T.V. or read about on the cover of the newspaper. Yet, these churches still make up the majority. So when some blogger writes a piece about how your church is wrong for not doing ____, it really hurts. The pastor knows he doesn't have the cool hair, the coffee bar or the latest stage design. So if they already know, why do we have to keep reminding them? We keep telling these lies that if they don't have these certain things, then their churches aren’t ever going to reach people. Then you see passionate people, who will do whatever it takes to reach a dying generation, change how they do things even when they are uncomfortable with it. The scary part is when they read a blog the next week and then see a book come out the next and try to replicate the author's experiences, soon they have lost all sense of authenticity and identity. Which, by the way, if you haven't figured out are the two biggest things people are looking for! 

 Why should someone change their identity and become a sell-out to reach people who can't stand sell-outs?

Look at how drastically the music industry has changed in the last 15 years. Now, people can make it by being independent. Because it’s more important to this generation that people be themselves rather than fitting into someone else's box.

If you are a leader or pastor who has read these type blogs and is feeling discouraged, I want to encourage you. Sure, there may be things you could tweak to help better contextualize yourself, but don't change who you are! If you feel most comfortable in a suit-please wear a suit! Make it an on trend suit but you can still wear a suit. Whatever you do, DO NOT sell out. In other words, don't change who you are in hopes that you will fit a trend. I know this goes against what seems to be true, but everyone is looking for authenticity. And they can tell if you're not authentic as soon as-or even before from website and social media-they meet you. 

My "1 Thing You should do to Make Your Church Awesome/Contextual/Relevant/Cool/Hip/Trendy" list: Love people. It doesn't change from week to week and every church can do it. 

Have true authentic love for people and have real relationships with them. This doesn't mean you have to agree with everything they do or say but it does means you have to care. Don’t just talk about it, or make it a slogan and plaster it on your website. Make it a value in your life. We live in a world where most relationships are about ankle deep. People are craving to be known, especially Millennials. And I know this is hard. It's a paradox in my own life, because I feel the need to have that connection, but then also I am quick to not engage people. It is hard really loving people. Its hard when you don't understand them or don't have common interest, but its something we all have to do! I have to intentionally put down my phone when I'm with people, and realize that this is what matters- not Instagram. 

So be you and care for people. Know their names. Drop them a text every once in a while. Dare I say take them to dinner? You make be thinking "They won't want to hang out with me. My head isn't half shaved and I don't own anything leather." That's great! Because we see enough people trying to be cool already. It’s a terrible cliche but God never called us to be “cool.” The principles that Jesus taught can in some instances be on-trend and “cool” and in other instances not be. For some reason in the western Church we have come up with the notion that an experience with God is not enough, that we need to provide more than that to help people. We’ve gone so far in that direction that now people are sick of the add-ons. But that's for another blog. It’s simple! Just remember one thing:

   Millennials don't need cool. We need real. 

 

 

The Scandal of Christmas

I’m not talking about the embarrassing arguments people have about Christmas trees or whether it is heretical to say “Happy Holidays.” No, there is a much bigger reason that Christmas is a scandal- Jesus. The birth of Jesus was a history-altering, religion-creating event that we celebrate as Christmas. In our modern world, it has become very much a cultural holiday, with little significance put on the reason that we celebrate it, but if we knew the full story I believe we would be much more intrigued. The birth of the Christ Jesus was not an insignificant, quaint event. It was scandalous. 

In our Western, post-modern culture Christmas has become an honored tradition, but many no longer celebrate it as the birth of Christ. It is a time when families come together, we laugh, we have fun. It’s also a time when we over-spend and drive up our blood pressure trying to navigate holiday traffic. Even those in the church debate how we should celebrate it. I had someone a couple days ago tell me that having a Christmas tree was idolatry. In churches, we have Christmas plays and Candlelight services. We argue over saying “merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays,” but to me it all just feels too common. It seems that we have forgotten the meaning of the holiday, and many may have never known the true reason in the first place. 

To understand why the birth Jesus was so important, you have to know the gospel. Now you may be thinking, “I know that one! Jesus came to die for me...all that stuff.” Well you’d be right, but this isn't actually what the word Gospel originally meant. In fact, the word Gospel pre-dates the birth of Jesus and it had nothing to do with church or a specific music genre. Originally it was more of a political term than anything else. In the original Greek "gospel" is eingelion, it means the "good news" or "good tidings" and its where we get our english word evangelism. But it was not the good news of a church or a christian figure, but the good news of Caesar. Caesar Augustus is who started spreading his gospel. Whenever he would have a great victory or something he wanted every one to know, it would become "the gospel." He would have gospelers or evangelist go all throughout the empire and spread his "good news." One of the most famous uses of eingelion or gospel is The Priene Inscription. It reads as follows:

"Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior [σωτήρ], both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance…. surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god [τοῦ θεοῦ] Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings(gospel) [εὐαγγέλιον] for the world that came by reason of him…"

So you see the Gospel didn't start out about Jesus, it started out as the good news about another savior- Caesar Augustus. The one whom, according to this inscription, there was never anyone as great nor would there ever be. This is where we get back to the scandal. 

The scandal of Christmas starts because there was someone who came after Caesar Augustus, and he proclaimed that he was the true savior of the world. His name was Jesus of Nazareth. When the governor of the region in which he lived, Herod, heard of Jesus’ birth, he became very worried that there was a new king being born among the Jews. Herod was put into power by the Roman government, but had no birthright to the throne. Eventually, he even had all the males in that area under two-years old killed because he was scared of this coming King. 

So, the first Christmas wasn't something that was a quaint little gathering of some shepherds and star-gazers, it was the introduction of a new king. That new king- Jesus, would be a polarizing figure all of his life. On one side, he would be hated by the Roman government because of the prophesies that he was the true king. And on the other side by his own people, because he didn't come in and take over in the way they wanted. He was eventually killed because he came to introduce a new kind of kingdom, The Kingdom of Heaven, not because he was trying to take the Roman throne.

Years after his death, one of his disciples who was enabled by the Holy Spirit sat down to write the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Mark. Mark doesn't write everything about Jesus’ life, and this has been very scrutinized. Why don't we know more about his early life? Or his family? This has a very simple explanation. In Mark’s day, paper was very scarce and extremely expensive. He wasn't writing on a Macbook at Starbucks so he had to be extremely specific with his words. In his opening remarks, known as the incipit, he brings up again what the Romans thought they had destroyed- the good news of Jesus Christ. Mark 1:1 reads “The beginning of the gospel(eingelion) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This sounds very similar to the inscription written about Caesar. When reading our English Bible we don't often understand this subversive text. But when those in the first century heard this statement, they would have immediately thought about Caesar. They would've been thinking “Is this Jesus truly greater than Caesar?”

If you can imagine, Mark is essential signing his death warrant as he writes these words. He is proclaiming that Caesar is not God. Caesar is not the Savior for the world. Caesar may have "good news" but Jesus’ news is better. The news that you don't have to bow down to a man and call him God but you can look up to the true God and have a personal relationship with him. 

This is the scandal of Christmas. This is why when I think of Christmas, I don't think about reindeer or elves. I think about the cost, what it meant to the people in the first century to worship this God who went against everything they were being told to do. He told us to love our neighbors and pray for those who persecute us. He touched the untouchables, and cared for those that no one else did. Most of all, he rescued us from the dead-end lives we were living and brought us into a new life.

This is the Scandal of Christmas. 

The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

They say there’s no rest for the weary, and I’m finding out how true that is. We live in a world where if you are not constantly working and striving to do more, then something is wrong with you. If you are not always producing or creating then you are lazy. If you are not always connected and interacting on social media then you are anti-social. We’re not resting like we should. We are out of balance. This is a problem, and something I struggle with immensely. In fact, I think a lot more people struggle with it that they would like to admit. I find it amusing and almost comical that so many others are beginning to speak about it. As if it is a common thing that the Spirit is speaking to the Church. Pastor Judah Smith of The City Church recently preached a sermon on resting and finding balance in life, title “Rhythms of Grace.” (I totally stole his title, but he got it from the Bible so that’s legal. Right?)

Pastor Judah’s message really hit home with me. I think in our culture rest has become a dirty word. We are busier than ever before and in ways that are possibly more mentally straining that ever before. Back in the “good ‘ole days” you could work your job and then go home. You left your work at the office and would return to it later, times are totally different now. Now you are constantly connected, you have to always be on alert and always be on point or you will be ostracized. And on top of all that- you have social media. A recent study, says that we check our phones close to 150 times a day. This is exhausting

I honestly don’t think tired is a proper word for what many of us experience on a daily basis, I think mental fatigue is a much better description. We’re worn out, we’ve been stretched too far for too long, but often it’s our own faults. We have been so accustomed to striving to be better, faster, stronger that we lose sight of finding peace in the moment. Always living in the future and it wears you down. It’s what will cause you to be tired and worn out. So what do we do when we’re worn out? Coffee. 

We all have a coping mechanism, but it only last for so long. Then you fall right back into the routine of feeling like you are drowning in work, that you’ll never reach your dream because you’ve already wasted too much time, or you need to work harder so that you can be like “them.” After awhile you can become very cynical and wonder if there is really a point. “Why am I just running in circles?” you may ask. That is a dangerous place to be and unfortunately many of us can become this way not only with  our outlook on business and personal life, but also our outlook of God and His Church. You can get tired of doing the same old things and getting no-where.

Jesus knew this would happen. That is why He said this recored in Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.30 Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)

So you see Jesus has given us a way out of this worn-out, cynical worldview. It’s Him. You’ll get burnt out so quick if you don’t position yourself to be focused on God. We have to begin thinking in a way that all we do must be an offering to God. All that we do must be in alignment with His will. This is when we will begin to see satisfaction in the things we do. When we follow after God, he’ll make sure we get the rest we need to do the things He has called us to do. When we begin to walk in what God has called us to do, we will gain a supernatural rest. What should we do when we’re worn out? Run to Jesus.

Now a lot of you are probably thinking: “I’m in alignment, I pray, I go to church, what more can I do?”

You may need a sabbath. That’s a really church-y word for a time that you intentionally set aside for resting. We see this in Genesis when God rested after He created the world. He didn’t go straight in to the next project and he didn’t immediately start improving His work. He stopped and looked at all He had done and enjoyed it. If God who isn’t contained within the confines of time and doesn’t need to rest, rested; you probably should too. But what does it mean to really rest? Do we really have time for that? 

I recently started living on my own for the first time and I quickly realized that “off time” can actually be translated as “washing clothes” and “sweeping the flooring.” What once was a time of rest and tranquility is now filled with responsibility. So I have had to teach myself to actual rest. To rest doesn’t just mean not work. It actually means to recover your strength. Not spending all day watching TV but recovering strength. How you do that depends on your personality. I know some people who like to go on a long run, some like to read, I like to lay down and listen to music in a dark, cool room. 

I believe to find our real rest it can’t just be one or the other. Sleeping all weekend wont fulfill you spiritually and praying all day may not give you the physical strength. Begin to focus on the things that matter. If something is taking up a lot of your time and is not helping you, stop doing it. I’m preaching to myself here, but I know that so many have this struggle. So I hope you start to walk with God, learning how He does things. I hope you learn the unforced rhythms of grace. 

Tear Down This Wall

In 1989, after nearly 20 years of separation, the people of East Berlin and West Berlin were united as one, once again. The city had been separated for nearly two decades, the East being controlled by The Soviet Union and the West being aligned with NATO. Constant struggle and tension occurred over those years, with many escaping from East Germany and seeking asylum in the West. The United States was very vocal in their disapproval of the wall that separated a once united people. One of the most popular sound bytes ever is of President Ronald Reagan proclaim “Mr. Gorbachev - tear down this wall.” in support of the eradication of the wall. And after years of constant tensions and threats of war, East Germany finally allowed its citizens to travel freely across the border. This was an amazing event, not only for the people of Germany, but for people all over the world. It was an end of an era, sure there was still communism and the USSR did not disband for another two years, but people could see that there was unity on the horizon. 

See the Berlin wall was a physical barrier that separated people, many of us have never experienced something like that, but every day we experience walls that we have built up around us. Walls of racism, walls of social status hierarchy, walls of hates, walls of denominations, and walls of education. See it doesn’t take a sociologist to understand that everyone does this. No matter how tolerant or open you think you are, I guarantee that there is something in your life that you have built a wall around. A certain people group, a certain neighborhood, or a certain church. But if we are to be followers of Christ we must tear down these walls. That’s what Jesus did when He was on Earth, He tore down walls of social status, of race, of gender discrimination. Jesus came in like a wrecking ball.

In Luke 10, Jesus eradicated almost every wall that people in His culture had set up.(If you haven’t read Luke 10, I highly recommend it at this point.) Starting in verse 25, Jesus basically ruins every excuse for people who built walls to separate themselves from others. This passage of scripture opens with a man who was an expert in religious law, imagine the ego he had, asking Jesus a trick question. He asked “Teacher, how do I inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers his question with another question “What does the law of Moses say?” The Law of Moses can basically be summer up into two statements: Love the Lord with everything you are, and love your neighbor has yourself. The expert already knew this, so he questioned Jesus further. He asked “So who is my neighbor?” The man was basically trying to get Jesus to say that a certain people group were his neighbors, so that he could ignore loving everyone else. Jesus is too smart for that, He tells a story that eludes to the fact that whoever is in need of our love is our neighbor. It is not a certain person, or group, or in a certain area, but everyone. 

This was mind blowing to the people of Jesus’ day. The fact that they had to help people of other races or religions was completely contradictory to what they had been doing their whole lives. And to take it a step further, Jesus went to a dinner party at two sisters’ house.This in and of its self does not seem that crazy or mind blowing. What is mind blowing is that He allows one of the sisters, Mary, to sit at His feet. To understand the significance you have to understand a little something about ancient Jewish culture. Jesus was considered to be a Rabbi, that is why the man earlier addressed him as “teacher,” and to “sit at someones feet” was an expression used to mean that you were learning from that person. But heres the problem, women weren’t allowed to learn the rabbinical teachings, it was reserved for men. 

Jesus on the other hand didn’t care about these barriers and restrictions that people had put into place. He came that all might be saved. He came to tear down the walls that we have built up! Walls that separate us from truly living the way that He intended. That stop us from loving those that He loved. He came to give life and life more abundantly not to just one people group or once economic group, but to all. So as you live your life, remember that Jesus came to tear down walls, not build them up. I know it is often hard to keep yourself from shutting others out, from closing the door on them but that is why we we need to be like Jesus. When we begin to fracture off and separate, less and less is accomplished. But when we come together and truly love like Jesus loved, that is when the world will see change.

Don’t turn God’s blessings into last year’s iPhone

I can remember it like it was yesterday: the day I was finally getting an iPhone. Up until that point in my life, I used handed down phones and the abomination known as “Android.” So there I was ordering my new, white iPhone 4. I could already see in my mind all the crisp photos I would take with the 5MP camera. I knew what apps I would download. And of course, I would finally be a part of Team Apple. It was a magical day. 

But the magical fairy dust, that covered my iPhone, didn’t last long. I can’t remember if it was when I got my first scratch on it, or when the 4s came out, or possibly when I  shattered the entire screen, but at some point that iPhone just wasn’t magical anymore. I wanted something new, and as you know Apple always has “new.” 

Apple is notorious for putting out faster, slimmer, and all around better products about two months after you finally save the money to buy the last thing they put out.  They are always leaving us wanting more. And you have to give it to their marketing team, even though we know we don’t need it, we still want it. 

See, I had what I needed but I no longer had what I wanted.

It is the inherent nature of humans to always want more than we need. I don’t need a $175 shirt from a European specialty shop, but I want it. I don’t need a new car, but I wouldn’t mind a Range Rover. I’m fairly certain I’m not telling you anything new. You see this in your every day life. We see what we want and we take it. But after we finally get what we thought was so desperately needed, the desperation turns to boredom. It’s on to bigger and better things. 
 

How many times in our lives have we so desperately needed something from God-a miracle, an answered prayer, or help growing our church-but after He does it, we often celebrate but quickly start asking for new things?

I have recently realized in my life that I am always asking God for the next thing, and it’s not always selfish things. I often ask Him for healing in someone’s life, or for growth in a church, or for a better understanding of His Word. But I rarely go back and thank God specifically for the prayers that He has already answered. I continually thank Him for my salvation and for what He has done in my life, but rarely do I recall specific answered prayers. 

For example, when I was pretty young, about 6 or 7, I was almost completely deaf in my right ear. My parents thought that I was ignoring them when they would ask me something, but I simply couldn’t hear. Then one night I had a dream about my ear being healed. I woke up and my right ear was completely restored. Crazy I know, but it happened. 

I am ashamed to say but often I forget about this substantial answered prayer. How different would my life be today if I was completely deaf in one ear or possibly both? But we usually don’t think that way. We think “That’s great, now can you do this for me too?” We have to come to the realization that God is not some random guy, doing us a solid when He answers our prayers. He is continuing in the relationship He already has with us. That relationship is a two-way street. Cliché I know, but it’s still true. We have to remember all of the things that God has done for us, and continually thank Him for those things. Don’t let the amazingness that you once felt fade away. 

So let’s not make God’s blessings into last year’s iPhone. 

 

 

Putting the X back in Xmas

Ok. Ok. Before you burn me at the stake for taking “Christ out of Christmas,” give a minute to explain. If you know me, you would know that I am definitely all about The Christmas season. Spending time with family, exchanging gifts, shopping on Christmas Eve(this is a tradition my Poppy started) and of course who could forget watching National Lampoons’s Christmas Vacation. Like that song goes- these are just a few of my favorite things. But of course the reason we celebrate on December 25th in America is to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ. This is a Christian holiday but many have adopted simply as a time of family fun and memory making. 

If you know me, you would also know that one thing I cannot tolerate is ignorant rants on the internet. I have a personal rule not to get involved with correcting people because honestly it’s not really worth it. Correcting people on Facebook and Twitter could literally be a full time job. That being said, if you have been on any social media for any amount of time lately or even just driven around a city in the Bible Belt, you will see the campaign “Keep Christ in Christmas” or “It’s OK to say Merry Christmas” everywhere. I have seen many people on the internet and in real life who it seems like they will disown you, or at least unfollow you, if you even hint at saying Happy Xmas. Usually these are well meaning Christians who think that by saying Xmas you are saying that Christ should no longer be the reason for the season. This is honestly wrong. There is the other side who really don’t want Christ in Christmas and think that by saying Xmas, they are effectively taking Him out of it. This is also equally wrong. 

Xmas is a commonly used abbreviation for Christmas. Abbreviation, not a replacement. Xmas literally means Christmas. Don’t believe me? Ok. Just keep reading.

In English we say Christ, but as you probably already know the writers of the Bible did not speak English. They spoke and wrote in a form of Greek. So, the original way that “Christ” was written was Χριστος which in English is translated as Christos or Christ. A couple hundred years after the Bible was written, we find Constantine using the the greek letters Χρ with his armies’ standards that were carried into battle. He did this thinking it would give him special favor with God. This is the first time we see the X used for abbreviations. Skip forward to around 1100 A.D. when an Anglo-Saxon writer used the words Xp̄es mæsse, meaning Christ Mass. Yes, as in a Catholic mass. He didn’t quite say Xmas but you can start to see where this is going.

From the mid 1500s to now, the use of Xp̄es mæsse has changed to Xmas. This is simply because people knew that the X was short hand for Xp̄es meaning Christ. Calling Christians “Xtians” was also common. This type of short hand has been very popular for the last several hundred years. Mainly because of well educated Englishmen who knew Greek. Mr. Radcliff of Plymouth even used a similar type of short hand to write the Lord’s Prayer like this “Our Fth wch rt n hvn ; hlwd b y Nm Y Kgdm cm Y wl b dn n rth z it s n Hvn.” And people are still using X as an abbreviation for “Chri” or “Chris” today. If you are a fan of The Voice(which I am) you would know that Christina Aguilera’s team is called Team Xtina, a short way of saying Christina.

So that’s it. Xmas is not some made up, non-Christian term. It’s actually just as correct as saying Christmas. But if you want to be really holy you can walk around telling people “Merry Xp̄es mæsse.” Totally joking. People will probably think you’re crazy. Let’s be honest. There is no point in Christians putting other people down or getting in arguments over something as simple as this. And if you are reading this as a non-Christian, I would like to apologize. In a time that should be about celebrating one of our most core beliefs as Christians, the birth of Christ, some Christians forget about our other beliefs. Such as love and patience. Please do not allow the ignorance of some to define the whole.

No matter what your beliefs are, enjoy this season. Have fun with family and friends. Mediate on what you have accomplished this year and what you plan on accomplishing next year. So from me to you have a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year.

 

Life as an Intern

Often when I tell people that I am an intern with Destiny, I get a couple of different reactions. The first, and most common, when talking to most people is “What’s an intern?” The second is  “Why? Don’t you have something better to do?” Even after I explain the concept of internship and why I do it, some people just don’t get it. So as a guest blogger, I want to talk a little about my experiences as a Destiny Intern. 

I began my life as an intern when I enrolled in Destiny Leadership Institute, or as we affectionately call it, DLI. I enrolled in the Fall of 2012 as a Core 1 student. One of the mantras of DLI is: “Study while you serve.” In fact, the first year includes a course entitled Servant Leadership.  To fulfill the “serving” aspect of DLI, all students are required to serve at least 5 hours in a local ministry. I served in my local church by helping in the youth ministry, music, and graphic design. In February of 2013, I had the privilege of moving to Heber Springs, Arkansas to serve at the Destiny Ministries office and to travel with Dr. Brassfield. I am the twelfth intern who has traveled and served with the Brassfields over the past thirteen years of ministry.  My internship experience this summer involved a chance to travel to Sierra Leone and Nicaragua and spend an extended time with Pastors Bobby and Dawn Rivera in Victoria, TX. I recently settled back down in Heber for the Fall and started Core 2 of DLI. 

Now you know a little bit about how I became an intern, but you’re probably still wondering what I do. Well, I’m going to be honest with you, it’s a lot of driving. Instead of trying to make a list of responsibilities and duties, I thought it would be better to give you a brief summary of one of our weeks on the road. Now this was a pretty heavy travel week, and they’re not all like this. But, it really encompasses many of the things that an intern will experience while traveling with Dr. Brassfield. 

Saturday, Sept. 21- We started our journeyaround 11 AM.  We drove from Heber Springs to Springfield, Missouri. That evening, Dr. Brassfield met with the church’s staff for leadership training. 

Sunday, Sept 22nd: Dr. Brassfield ministered at Journey Church, then we drove back to Heber Springs. 

Monday, Sept 23rd-  We enjoyed a break from the road.  I took advantage of the day off and climbed Sugarloaf Mountain, a popular destination for hikers and climbers. 

Tuesday, Sept 24th- We were on the road by 6:30 AM for a drive to Northwestern Arkansas for a visit to Ecclesia College for a day of meetings.  Dr. Brassfield also spoke at the college’s chapel.  During the meetings, I was able to catch up on some of my DLI work. 

Wednesday, Sept. 25th- After another round of meetings, we drove to a nearby church so that Dr. Brassfield could minister at their midweek service. 

ThursdaySept. 26th- We spend the morning at Ecclesia and attended another chapel service.  To my surprise, Dr Brassfield gave me a few minutes to address the students.  I taught for a few minutes on the values of servant leadership.  Then, I drove us back to Heber Springs.

Friday, Sept. 27th- It was another early morning.  We left for Victoria, Texas around 7:00 AM. Because of complications, it took us all day just to make it to Houston.   SaturdaySept. 28th- We finally made it to Victoria, and spent the day with Pastors Bobby and Dawn Rivera.

Sunday, Sept. 29th- Dr. Brassfield ministered in two services and conducted a meeting with the church staff.  Then, we headed to Rosenburg, Texas for a meeting with Pastor Jimn Kyles and some of my fellow DLI students. 

Monday, Sept. 30th- We started the day with meeting in Houston with Pastor James Green before heading back to Heber Springs. 

So to sum up that week in numbers: over 50hrs driving, 2100 miles, 3 different states, 7 meetings, 5 services,  and a whole lot of caffeine (Coffee for me. Dr. Brassfield prefers Diet Dr. Pepper.)

Back to the original question, what do I do as an intern? I would summarize it like this: Serving Dr. Brassfield and Destiny Ministries in any capacity, so that they can more easily do what God has called them to do. That can sometimes be hard pill for people to swallow, especially people my age. I constantly get questions like “Why do you do that?” and “What’s in it for you?” But, that’s not really what it’s about. 

Matthew 28:26b-28 has this to say about serving others “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” So if we want to be first in the Kingdom of God, we have to be last. Some may see the word slave as a little extreme. But if it was good enough for my Savior, it’s good enough for me.