Culture

Four Questions to Ask Before you Post

Have you ever posted something to Facebook and then wished you hadn't? Or tweeted 140 characters you later decided to delete? Social media can be a minefield and Christians aren't always walking through unscathed. We are often the ones setting off the unseen bombs. Like most tools or technologies, social media itself is morally neutral - it can be used for good or ill. But how do we use it well?

Here are four questions you can ask before you post, comment, share, retweet, like... The next time you see your friend share a quote that offends you, stop and ask these questions before you comment. The next time you want to share an article or video, stop and ask a few questions. The next time you want to post that picture or personal update, take a moment and ask yourself these four questions.

What is my motivation for sharing?

Of all the questions, this is the most central and necessary. It gets at the heart of the matter. We can often engage in social media in response to a deeper heart issue. Rather than deal with the real garbage going on in our our lives, we cover it up through the facade of a perfect life, but no matter how many pictures we share or positive reports we give, our reality will find its way to the surface.

We can also use social media as a weapon. We wield it in defense of a cause or perspective, without care or concern for who we hurt or ostracize. We attack and we berate and never consider why. What is our motivation?

The public personas on social media are numerous and what motivates our desire to share or post varies as much as our personalities. I cannot possibly provide an example for each. But it is a necessary question for you to ask. Why am I posting? What is my motivation?

Is this intended to build God's Kingdom or my kingdom?

This question gets at a very particular motivation. Am I posting this to build God's Kingdom? Or am I trying to build my own? Platform building is its own industry today, with books written, podcasts recorded, seminars delivered and resources given, all in the name of teaching people how to build a platform. Pastors, churches, authors, business owners and more are using social media to make a name for themselves.

Not everyone using social media to build a platform is interested primarily in building their own kingdom, but it can be a narrow path to walk. Even if we are not interested in building a platform, we can so often use social media to draw attention to ourselves. We are constantly looking for the red dot to pop because we want, we need, to see the new like, the new comment, the new share, or the new retweet. All in the interest of helping us feel a little better about ourselves.

Let me be clear, sharing a picture of your son because you want to celebrate a new milestone and share it with your friends and family is not personal kingdom building. It is one of the joys of social media. Knowing and sharing in the lives of our friends and family is beautiful, but if you are constantly playing the game of choosing which life event you want to share, because you know it will garner the most engagement from others, it is a dangerous arena to play in.

Is this unnecessarily controversial?

Controversy is inevitable. If you want to say anything of substance in the world, you will likely offend someone along the way. In asking this question, I am not suggesting you live a life in which you do nothing but please the people around you. That is a different sort of problem. I use the word unnecessarily because sometimes we do choose controversy for controversy's sake. There are bloggers, public figures, articles and news sites who build their following on the knowledge that rabble-rousing draws a crowd.

The question you and I need to ask before we post or share on social media is whether it is unnecessarily controversial. The gospel can be offensive, and sharing something about the gospel which causes a stir does not fit into this category. The gospel is necessarily controversial at times because it is unavoidably controversial at times.

If you find two or three articles which represent your thoughts on recent public events, and you feel you must share one, choose the one that is not out to pick a fight. You can tell by the tone of the article. You can tell by the way its creator treats people who disagree. Don't create strife where it isn't needed.

Have I read, watched or listened before I respond or share?

This question should go without saying, but unfortunately it must be said. If you are going to share an article, read it first. If you are going to respond to a video someone else posted, watch it first. I see so many people share something for its headline, without reading its contents. Or I see a string of comments arguing a point the article never attempts to make. This is a simple question, but too few people are asking it before they post. Have I read, watched or listened before I post, share, comment or tweet?

Final Thoughts

The tone of this article is somewhat serious, but social medial doesn't always need to be so serious. You can have fun with it. Whether it is a funny comment, a late show clip, a satire article or a comical meme, you can enjoy yourself on social media. Don't take yourself too seriously, but be thoughtful about what you share. 

Donald Trump is Our Next President - Now, What?

Donald Trump has won the election and will be the 45th president of the United States. His victory culminates one of the most divided election cycles in recent history, with two of the least liked candidates we have seen secure their party's nomination. Trump's unfavorable rating was at about 58% going into election day and Hillary Clinton's was in the same ballpark. Suffice it to say, Trump will take office with more than half the country unhappy about him being their president.

It is very possible you are one of the people who is less than excited about who will soon take over the presidency. You may not only be disappointed, but even in despair. Let me encourage you, all is not lost. A year ago, I wrote that this is election is important, but it isn't "that important." Those words remain true, even today. Even in the wake of our most recent election.

Or you might be thoroughly excited about Trump winning the presidency. You might believe that he is exactly what the country needs right now. And I pray that is true. I was one of the #nevertrump advocates. I was not unwilling to express that opinion, although I was not overly vocal. I have concerns about his character, his competence and some of the cultural threads he was willing to pull in order to motivate his base. I have been told that he is growing - that he has surrounded himself with good and wise people, who will have his ear, who will advise and constrain him when needed.

I hope this is true. I am hopeful that he will rise to the office, and take on a tenor of humility that unifies rather than arrogance which divides. I am hopeful that he will fight for the sanctity of life. I am hopeful that he will be honorable and fight for a peaceful nation. I am hopeful. But I must admit, I am also a bit fearful. I am concerned that some of what has characterized his campaign will be seen in his presidency - a short temper, crude demeanor, disrespect for others, racist overtones and more. I am uneasy about what his victory will mean for the perpetuation of lust for political power among evangelicals, especially white evangelicals.

I am genuinely torn. Because I am hopeful that he will lead well. But I am also fearful that he will not. Let me be clear, I was also not excited about the prospect of a Clinton presidency - I could not, in good conscience, vote for either of them. I had actually started this post before the election, and based on all the "experts," I fully expected it would be her victory to which I was responding. Much of the sentiments have remained the same, but with a few differences. 

So, I have been asking myself, what are we to do? What now? I want to encourage you with four important ways God calls us to respond.

Pray for him

In the midst of a highly unfavorable political situation, Paul penned one of his letters to Timothy, which we know today as 1 Timothy. Paul was writing to instruct Timothy on how to lead the church in Ephesus. In this short letter, we read about many practical ways the church is called to live and function. After some introductory and general remarks, Paul begins with some very straight forward instruction at the beginning of the second chapter. And what are the first words he writes?

Pray.

He urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim 2:1)."

Then Paul gets specific. He tells Timothy, and the church in Ephesus, to pray for "kings and all who are in high positions (1 Tim 2:2)."

Do you know who was the emperor of Rome at this time? Nero. He was a nasty dude. Historically, he has a reputation as one of the first and worst persecutors of Christians. And there were likely no Christians in any high political positions at that time. Yet, Paul calls the church to pray for their political leaders. You may love Donald Trump. Or you may not like him at all, but you would be hard-pressed to make an argument that Trump is worse than Nero, or even in the same category. He isn't.

If God called the early church to pray for Nero, we must also take up that command and pray for our leaders. No matter how you feel about Donald Trump being our president, are you going to pray for him? God calls us to pray for him. If you are asking, what now? Pray.

Honor him

As Christians, we are called to honor and respect the ruling authorities which God appoints. "For there is no authority except from God, and those who exist have been instituted by God (Rom 13:1)." Governments are not perfect, and they do not always do what is right and good. But God instituted them to be a terror to bad conduct, not good (Rom 13:3). God is in charge.

God calls us to honor our ruling authorities (Rom 13:7). This is different than silently watching as our government promotes and approves evil. We are not called to be silent and sit idol. We are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, whether that be the unborn or underprivileged. We are called to speak for babies in the womb, immigrants in our cities, infants in our homes, elderly in our communities, and anyone else who has a hard time speaking for themselves. We are called to advocate for what is good and right.

But we are called to do it with honor. Do you honor Donald Trump in the way you speak about him? If you are wondering, what now? How do we respond? Honor him as our future president.

Seek the good of the city [nation]

As Jeremiah (and the rest of God's people) are being hauled off to exile in Babylon, God gives them a command that is not intuitive. God says, "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7)." Like Jeremiah, we are called to seek the good of our city and nation. Not in a nationalistic way. We are not nation-building. This isn't about power.

We are called to be agents of good in the cities, states, nations and world in which we live. God wants us to care about the communities in which we reside - no matter who our elected officials are, whether you like your president or not. So, if you are wondering, now what? Seek the good of your city. Invest yourself into your community and work for its good.

Have perspective; have hope

In the end, we must always remember who is on the throne. The world has existed for a long time, and our young nation has played a small part in world history. Trump was elected to a four-year term. That is but a vapor in the history of the world, and less when compared to eternity. God remains on the throne, and He will still be there when Trump's term is over. Unless Christ returns first, the sun will rise tomorrow, as it always does. The world will not stop spinning.

Whether you like Trump or not, we need to have perspective. He is not our savior. He cannot fix all your problems. Don't put your trust in him or your government. He is also not pure evil, as some want to suggest. He is but a man. He cannot do anything God does not allow. Just as God used the Babylonian ruler, Cyrus, nearly 3,000 years ago to "subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings (Isaiah 45:1)," Trump cannot do that which God does not allow. God's mission will still be accomplished. He is still on the throne. One day, God will set all things right in the world. He will wipe away all tears. As Sam asked Gandalf, "Is everything sad going to come untrue?" Our God's answer is, "yes, but not yet... someday soon. Be ready." Trump has not changed that plan.

So while we are here on this earth - let's have perspective and let's have hope. Pray for president-elect Donald Trump. Honor president-elect Donald Trump. Seek the good of our cities and nation. And have hope.

A Week Later: Reflections on #AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastile and #DallasShootings

It has been a difficult week. Less for me than for the families that have been directly impacted by this past week's events (although I have had some personal and ministry related challenges that were added to last week's events). It might be a hard few days or weeks for some of us, but it will be a hard few years or more for the families impacted by the deaths of the past week. My heart grieves for the four year old girl who watched as Philando Castile bled out in front of her. Or for the 12 year old boy who had to bury his father after the Dallas shootings.

Beyond the families that were impacted, you can add entire cities and neighborhoods. My small city of Lauderdale borders Falcon Heights, and the Saint Anthony Police Department helps to serve and protect my little suburb. The Philando Castile shooting occurred a mile and a half from my home, and I was driving along a parallel street about the time he was shot. The proximity of that particular shooting has made this so much more personal for me. And I know that I am not alone. The people of Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minneapolis and Saint Paul are experiencing this in a far more personal way. Those who have been impacted by similar events in the past, are being reminded in fresh ways of their own previous loss.

This is my experience. I write this post as my reflections. I recognize that I am a white male, whose experience in life has been largely privileged. I know that as a member of the majority culture, certain advantages have been given to me, and as a result, I cannot fully understand what the black community is experiencing in the wake of these events. But I know they are hurting, and the pain is real. My heart grieves for them as well. I cannot imagine what it is like to walk around in the country you call home, and feel oppressed.

I generally write as a pastor, helping to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." I write as a mentor, helping you along your journey as a follower of Jesus. In this post, I do not assume a voice of authority on this subject. These are simply my reflections. My thoughts. I am watching as so much hatred, injustice and vitriol is flying around me, and I felt compelled to speak. Not as one who knows the way, but as one who is walking the journey with you.

As I said, these are just my reflections. In the wake of these events, I have been asking, "What am I to do?" I don't want to do nothing, but what am I called to do in response to last week? So, here are five actions I want to take:

Pray

I believe that God can change hearts and minds. Some have found the statement, "My thoughts and prayers go out to... [insert affected party here]," to be a weak and pithy response. I disagree. At a minimum, it is an expression of support, but far more than that, it is a statement about where our trust lies. My thoughts and my prayers have been given to these events and the racial reconciliation I believe God wants - and I trust God with it far more than myself.

I don't know what else to do sometimes. Prayer seems like the only response I can muster. The first action I want to take in the midst of this tumultuous time is to pray. And so that is what I will continue to do.

Listen

I want to be someone who is humble and willing to listen. As I mentioned earlier, I experience a great deal of privilege in this country. And as a result, I believe it is my responsibility to listen well. Whether I agree with someone's perspective on these matters or not, I want to make sure I hear them well enough to understand what they are saying.

I think everyone could do a little better job of listening. I have seen way too much hatred spoken and unfounded statements made over the past week. I don't want to add another voice to the conversation unless I have taken the time to hear another well.  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”

Listening also involves hearing more than one side. I have tried to read and listen to voices from all sides of these issues. I want to hear the pain that is real. I want to listen the proposed solutions. I want to use my ears before I use my mouth.

Speak

I don't want to be silent. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who as murdered by the Nazis for his rebellion in Germany, once said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." I do not want to keep silent when I see injustice in the world. I don't always know what to say and I want to use my words wisely. The tongue is a powerful tool, so I want to wield it well.

I have a voice and I have a small measure of influence. It might be small, but I feel responsible to use my influence well. I don't have a clear vision of how, but I know that I don't want to stay silent.

Do

Speaking is not the only way to affect change. And I know that I cannot do all things, but I am reminded of Gandalf's statement in The Lord of the Rings,

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

I may not be able to do much. But I have seen that inequity exists, and so I want to do something. I believe that God wants to redeem and restore broken relationships and broken systems. Jesus, "went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

Jesus came to fulfill what was written in Isaiah. Until the day Jesus returns, we will still see the impact of sin on broken relationships and broken race relations. But God still wants his people to work toward the reconciliation he brings, and will fully bring in a time yet to come. I don't know that I can do much, but I want to do something.

Hope

It can feel perilous. The complexity of the issue is massive. But there is hope. One day, God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).” Or you may think of it the way Sam does, when he asks Gandalf, "Is everything sad going to come untrue?" The answer is yes. Yes, it will.

Even now, I believe there is hope. I remind myself that God is good and in the middle of our pain, we can end in praise (Psalm 13). I have seen some reasons to continue hoping that God will restore relationships. There is a video on CNN's website of opposing protesters who come together in Dallas and pray. It is powerful to watch.

I believe there is hope. There is always hope to be found in God.

The final thing I will end with in my rambling reflections is a video. Jenny and Tyler, who have a heart for fighting injustice in the world have a great song called Faint Not. It is a call to endure, even when you feel like your efforts to affect change are not helping. I believe there is hope, so this is a reminder for me to Faint Not.

Three Common Barriers to Hearing a Sermon

Sermons are a central feature of the Sunday morning church gathering. Especially in Protestant and Evangelical churches. Whether it lasts for twenty minutes or fifty minutes, no single portion of the morning will be given as much importance or weight. And when done properly, we can understand why, because preaching is meant to be the explanation of God's Word and exhortation of God's people. But unfortunately, there are many barriers to hearing the sermon well.

I am not talking about circumstantial impediments, such as volunteering on a Sunday, loud children or problems with the sound system. The barriers I want to discuss are the ones that hinder you from truly hearing the content of the sermon on Sunday, even when you are able to listen distraction free. When you are sitting in the pew, ready to listen, but you just can't seem engage with the sermon. Or you feel like it isn't having an impact on your life. There is a fog that doesn't seem to lift, and the words are fighting to get through like headlights in the hazy precipitation of your mind, but you leave feeling unchanged and unaffected.

There are many reasons you may find it hard to fully participate in the sermon on Sunday. Too many for me to enumerate here, but allow me to suggest three barriers, that if rightly confronted, may help you engage more this coming week.

When you hear a sermon, hear it for yourself and not your neighbor

We are prone to believe that problems exist more in others and less in ourselves. Sometimes because we are prideful and fail to understand the propensity for sin that exists in our hearts (Jer. 17:9). Or we avoid our own issues, and make ourselves feel better by focusing on the sin of others. Rather than asking ourselves how the sermon will inform our own understanding of God or the way we live, we think about how great it would have been for our friend, neighbor, coworker, spouse or classmate to have heard that sermon. You may even approach your pastor after the service and say something like this to him, "That was a great sermon pastor, I only wish my cousin Suzy would have been able to hear it."

When teenager, Deborah Hatheway, a new believer in Suffield (then part of Massachusetts, now part of Connecticut), wrote a letter to Jonathan Edwards in 1741, she asked for his advice to a young convert. He wrote her a letter with a number of points, and one of them begins like this:

"When you hear sermons hear ‘em for yourself: though what is spoken in them may be more especially directed to the unconverted, or to those that in other respects are in different circumstances from yourself. Yet let the chief intent of your mind be to consider with yourself, in what respects is this that I hear spoken, applicable to me, and what improvement ought I to make of this for my own soul’s good?" (you can read the entire letter here)

The advice was as valuable then as it is now. When you hear a sermon, listen to it for yourself, not your neighbor. There might be good application for others, and it may be given with a different sort of person in mind, but your job is not to hear it for them, but for yourself. Before asking who would benefit from hearing the sermon, ask how you can personally learn and grow from hearing the sermon.

When you hear a sermon, listen to it for yourself, not your neighbor.

When you hear a sermon, listen for what can be helpful rather than jumping to critique

In the age of podcasts and celebrity pastors, every local pastor gets compared with nationally known pastors and speakers. It is simply not fair to expect your local pastor to give sermons that compare with some of the most gifted and talented preachers in our nation. God has gifted each person in a different way and for a different task, so don't compare your pastor's sermon to the one you heard last week on a podcast by Matt Chandler, Timothy Keller, John Piper, James MacDonald or many others. It isn't helpful to your pastor. And it isn't helpful to you.

If you are wondering why you aren't getting anything out of the sermon, it might be because you are spending the entire time critiquing every word that is said and comparing them to others. Rather than spending the sermon asking yourself what is wrong with it, stop and ask yourself what you can learn and apply from it.

There is a place for critique. And we must be honest, not all sermons are good. But good sermons are often dismissed because they are not great sermons that will go viral. Be careful to not undermine the work God wants to do in you and your church community because you have spent the whole morning being critical. Your pastor probably doesn't need another critic. But he could use another person in his church who is taking God's Word, and their own growth seriously.

When you hear a sermon, find a way to keep your mind attentive

There is a lot happening in life. You have projects to complete, groceries to buy and work to finish. Monday is just around the corner and a new week is on the horizon. When we are listening to the sermon, our minds can wander to many of life's responsibilities. These are often important and necessary things to think about and deal with, but just not during the sermon. Our inability to keep our mind on the subject at hand is a barrier for hearing the content of the sermon.

I have two very practical suggestions. First, take notes. Bring a pen and a notepad, or use the sermon notes page that you are given when you walk through the door. The notes don't have to be extremely detailed, but even creating an outline will help you stay focused. It will help you follow the general argument and progression of the sermon. And it will help you stay focused and attentive.

Second, have a place to write down the important thoughts that pop in your head, which do need to be dealt with eventually. I find it hard to get mental distractions to go away if I don't write them down. I can't let them go, because I don't want to forget to deal with them later. So they hang out in my mind, taking up space and mental energy, crowding out room for me to take in the message of the sermon. If I have somewhere to write down the thoughts that pop up, then I am able to let them go, knowing I will remember to deal with them later. I actually practice a similar habit when I am reading my Bible, praying or having a quiet time.

Be ready this week, to hear the sermon well

There are likely other distractions. If you can think of one that I didn't mention, write it in the comments section below. Otherwise, prepare yourself this week to be more engaged in the sermon content. Be ready to fight the barriers that commonly occur. Be ready to listen to the sermon for yourself and apply it to your life.

Do you Make Time for Extravagant Waste?

The world goes round each day. The sun always rises in the east and it always sets in the west, and the next day it returns to the same place. People drive to work and people drive home. The freeways get clogged the same time each day. Only to get clogged again the next. You can empty your inbox at the end of the day, only to find it has filled again by the same time tomorrow. Sometimes life feels a bit monotonous. 

Sometimes life is exhilarating. Anyone who has been a student or worked on an exciting project knows the pressure of approaching deadlines. When schedules get full and projects mount, it can feel like running on a treadmill, speeding up with no end in sight. Day-by-day the pressure builds, and it crowds out everything else in life.

Whether monotonous or stress-filled, life has a way of crowding out our willingness to spend time on activities that feel "impractical," but are essential for our souls and our creative energies. When we get up in the morning, rather than taking time to be quiet - spending time in prayer, meditating on God's Word or journaling - the pressure of the day assaults us like cold water to the face.

The need to accomplish

We feel an intense need to accomplish something in our days and lives. Utility and pragmatic solutions press hard against us. In the world of ministry, or much of life, we fail to step back and take time for reflective work. For creative work. For the life of the mind.

I recently had lunch with a friend, and as we discussed what it means to truly be God's people in the world - what it means to be The Church, I was reminded that I often fail to take time to think deeply about important issues. I am pulled quickly to the practical, the immediate, the useful. Carving out time to read, write, create, dream, pray, journal or just think is hard. It feels like a tug of war for my time. And the immediate seems much stronger in its pull.

Do you create time in the present to invest in what feels like a waste? Or do looming deadlines crowd it out? Do you create moments in your days to not accomplish a task, but to invest in the immeasurable and impractical?

Creating space for extravagant waste

There is a video by Sara Groves, a singer-songwriter based out of the Twin Cities. In the video, she reflects on a blog post by Makoto Fujimura, in which she quotes him saying, "Pragmatism and utility have infected every area of life, every institution... primarily the church." Sometimes the space we create, that doesn't always seem pragmatic or useful is "extravagantly wasteful."

I appreciate her reflections, which you can watch in this short (2:30) video:

Our society focuses on Utility and Pragmatism - and it is has crept into The Church as well. Everything must be useful. But that is not always the way of God. Makoto Fujimura is a prominent artist in New York, who loves Jesus. You can read his blog post - the one Sara Groves quotes - here.

And here is a neat video about Makoto illuminating The Four Holy Gospels for Crossway in order to commemorate of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version Bible.

God's economy is not our economy

I am not like Makoto Fujimura. He is an artist, who is fully immersed in the artists life. I am not like Sara Groves. She also creates in a way that I am not wired. Fujimura and Groves are artists, who push hard against the utilitarian and pragmatic society in which we live. They push hard against the way my personality naturally flows. While I am not an artist in the sense of Fujimura and Groves, I do have a desire to create. I like to write, to share in the beauty of creating. I write to bring glory to God and good to others. And their words are helpful to me as I consider my own life.

God does not always gain the most glory in what is most useful and most efficient. That is not the economy of God. He is notorious for using things that seem impractical to the world. Sometimes he is most glorified in what would be deemed wasteful to the world. God's wisdom is not ours.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25)

From the world's point of view, there was nothing more wasteful, nothing more foolish than the crucified Christ. Why would God subject himself to that sort of suffering? Why would the innocent die for the blemished? Why would the perfect die for the imperfect? Why would the sinless suffer a sinner's death? The only real answer is love and beauty. Love for His people and being glorified in the beauty of this sacrificial act.

God does not always gain the most glory in what is most useful and most efficient.

Make time to do the impractical

Investing in the impractical is not easy. It takes effort and it takes intentionality. For the sake of clarity, this is not the same as being truly wasteful. Rejecting pragmatism, only to find yourself binging on social media, television, food or folly is not what I am talking about.

The intentional investment in the extravagant waste that Sara Groves talks about, that Makoto Fujimura writes about or that we see in the death of Jesus does not happen by accident. We do not stumble into this sort of living. It will be a fight, because everything in our world and our culture will pull you into the monotony, the stress-filled projects or the truly wasteful entertainment binge.

Make time this week to be extravagantly wasteful. Take the time to have a true Sabbath. Take the time to think about theology. Take the time to read your Bible. Take the time to have a conversation with someone that may not feel "strategic" but simply to nourish their soul (and yours). Take the time to pray, unhurried prayers. Take the time to create. Take the time to meditate on a passage of Scripture. Take the time to paint. Take the time write. Take the time to go on a walk. Take the time to listen to good music.

Take the time to invest in your soul. To draw close to God. To push hard against the world that will want to collapse upon the time you have set-aside. Make time to do the impractical. Make time for extravagant waste.

Will you give some feedback on a new book for men?

A friend, Mark Benson, and I are in the early stages of writing a book for men. This has been on the horizon for each of us in different ways for quite some time. A few recent events have catalyzed some fresh movement and we are beginning to nail down some of the essential details. And we would love your thoughts and feedback!

How we got here

There have been a variety of factors that have led us to this point. Allow me to briefly share them with you.

Family Man series

In January, I had a Guest Post Series on the blog that was called "The Family Man that Follows Jesus." Mark was one of the four guests that posted on the blog. The response that I got for the series was extremely positive. It was a clear reminder of how important it is for men who follow Jesus to live in a way that is consistent with their faith in Christ.

C.S. Lewis Quote

Mark was reading through The Screwtape Letters and was struck by a particular passage in which Screwtape writes to Wormwood:

"And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal way a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off."

The idea that Satan is seeking to steal away the best years of a Christian man's life through meaningless distraction resonated with Mark. And when he shared this quote and general idea with me, it was illuminating.

Desire to communicate and apply gospel-centered truth

As you will see when we explain our general premise, we believe that the remedy is not simply a need to refocus on what matters and then work harder. The most basic problem is a loss of identity and a lack of seeing how the gospel of Jesus frees us from the various distractions in life.

We have a deep commitment to communicate the gospel and help people apply it to their lives. In this case, men are in need of a renewed understanding of the gospel, and how it can free them from the indifference caused by life's many distractions.

We saw a need

There are many books for men already in existence. But none that take the unique perspective that we will. And we see a great need to address the apathy and lethargy caused by input overload. We believe that this will be a timely book, and one that men need to read.

The premise of the book

Here is the working premise statement for the book:

One of the greatest problems facing men today is the enormous amount of distractions in life. A lack of intentionality in the ordering of our priorities leads to idols and failed responsibilities. If the demands of life are constantly pressuring you to work harder, be better, and run faster, this book is for you. God is calling men to trust in Christ and know the reality of their new identity in him. Rooting out idols and fighting to reorder our lives around a Biblical vision of manhood, so we can be fully alive in God.

Feedback survey

And now we need your help! Your feedback will be extremely helpful for us to consider various perspectives and elements that we may not have otherwise. We also have a list of seven potential titles we would like you to vote on. So, please take a couple minutes and fill out this survey.

Gender *
Select the title that you like the best *
What are the core problems you feel that men face today (choose up to four)? *

Is this the most important election of your lifetime?

They will tell you that it is

The 2016 presidential election is less than a year away, and the two major parties are in full campaign mode as they work to select their respective candidates. The Republican field is massive, and twelve different candidates participated in Tuesday's debates. The democratic field is much smaller with only three candidates set to participate in tomorrow's debate. Throughout this election cycle, you will inevitably hear candidates say that this is the most important election of your lifetime. If not that exact statement, you will hear rhetoric that is similar.

We have heard it said election after election. During the 2012 cycle, Dennis Prager wrote, "The usual description of presidential elections -- 'the most important in our lifetime' -- is true this time. In fact, it may be the most important election since the Civil War, and possibly since America's founding."

Ronald Reagan said of the '84 election "I think it's the most important choice we've face in history."

Truman said of the '52 election, "I am campaigning for the Democratic ticket because this is the most important election... since the Civil War." 

[You can read more similar quotes here.]

But is it? Is it really the most important election of our lifetime?

It does matter, but not that much

It may or may not be the most important election, but in the end, it doesn't matter. Regardless if Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio or some other candidate wins the presidential nomination next November, God is in control and His purposes will stand.

When the Israelites were taken into captivity, they felt a level of despair that far outpaced the sort of sorrow we should feel next fall if "our candidate" doesn't win the election. And yet, God says that even Cyrus, a foreign ruler, was going to be used as an instrument of God's purposes (Isaiah 45:1-13). God used Cyrus as his device "to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings (Isaiah 45:1)." Eventually, Cyrus gave a decree that enabled the Israelites to go back to their home (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). Even the ruler of Israel's captives was not outside the sovereignty of our God. 

Nearly 3,000 years of history have passed between the events involving Cyrus and now. And our young country has been around for less than 250 of those years. This election does matter, but let's be honest, the world will go on as it has for many centuries, and God is still in charge. In the world God has created, the government is an extremely important institution. It has a unique and necessary function, but no matter who our next president is going to be, God is still in control.

How do we respond to the election?

Knowing that God is in control and recognizing that we will continue to see election after election being tagged as "the most important election in our lifetime," does not mean that we should not care? No, we should care a great deal, and we should be invested and informed. We should know the candidates, what they stand for and the measure of their character. The government can be a force for both good and bad in the world. As Christians, we are called to do what we can to ensure it brings good (which is consistent with God), rather than evil (which is opposed to God).

How we represent ourselves and engage in conversation is important. Do we speak with respect? Or do we spew slander and hatred? Do we genuinely seek the good of people, or are we more concerned about our own power and privilege? Christians have had a large voice in American politics over the past 50-60 years, and have shaped the outcome of multiple elections. As the political power of the Religious Right wanes, the way Christians continue to engage in the public sphere is important. Power and privilege are not necessary to follow Jesus well in this country.

In order to participate in the political conversation well, you should be informed. I have watched every debate so far, and I will continue to watch them. I encourage you to watch them as well. You can see them all here. I also try to read about the candidates and make sure I am aware of what is happening politically. You can read more here. We should be well informed and we should care about what happens. Our biblical values should influence how we vote and the way we conduct ourselves in the public sphere.

But we need to remember that ultimately God is in control. Jesus will build his church, "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt 16:18)." It matters, but not that much. We should care, but we should not be afraid of the outcome.

Response to Rock City (ft. Adam Levine)'s hit single "Locked Away"

A common yearning

You may have heard "Locked Away," the hit single by Rock City (ft. Adam Levine). It rose to the top of Ryan Seacrest's Top 40 multiple weeks and draws in listeners through a compelling melody and lyrics that connect with our deepest longings. It draws upon a common yearning of the human soul, a desire to know how our closest loved ones would respond to the core questions asked in the song.

Questions like, If you knew my flaws, would you still love me the same? Would you stick around if you knew the mess I really am? If you knew the ugly parts of me, would you stand by my side?

Every day, people are wrecked by the feelings of abandonment caused by those whom they care for most. An absent father who is present physically but not emotionally. Or a father who doesn't stick around at all. A husband or wife who gives up on their marriage entirely, or seeks fulfillment with a coworker or website. We see this all around us and wonder if our own loved ones will stay. If they knew our mess, would they stay?

[If you haven't heard the song, I have included the video and lyrics below. The chorus is very catchy, so be warned - it may be in your head the rest of the day.]

Marriage says yes

A covenant-keeping, biblically faithful marriage says yes in answer to those questions. The gift of marriage is that we can show our flaws, and trust that our spouse isn't going to run away. Our consumer driven, me-first mentality has undermined the beauty of that commitment. As a result, romantic relationships are often driven by what we can get, not what we can give. We enter them with a performance mentality, always feeling a need to only show the best version of ourselves. It ends up feeling like a job interview. We are always trying to show our best and hide our flaws, hoping we will make it to the next round, constantly wondering when we are going to be cut loose.

This consumer mentality has crept into our marriages. A fear of divorce and selfish motives continue to fuel a mentality that asks "what can I get?" before asking "what can I give?" We expect our spouse to be asking the same questions, so we hide our worst for fear of them leaving. And we wonder, "If I showed you my flaws, if I couldn't be strong, tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?"

The beauty of marriage is that it says yes! Marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant. It is not at all like a job interview, it is like God's relationship with his people. Love in a marriage invites us to strip off the façade and share our true selves, with confidence our spouse isn't walking away. Love says, "I've seen the ugly and messy, and I love you the same."

Love says, ‘I’ve seen the ugly and messy, and I love you the same.’

Jesus says yes

Our hope in marriage is grounded first in the hope we have in Jesus. God has seen us at our worst and he still pursues us in love. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rm 5:8)." There is nothing you can hide from God. He has seen it all and knows the worst parts of you. There might be things about you that make you say, "If my spouse knew XYZ about me, they would leave me for sure." Whatever that thing is, God knows about it, and he has not left you. In fact, he did the exact opposite. He pursued you, even when you were living in the darkness of your sin. Jesus says yes to you. Even if you have had to endure the difficulty of a spouse saying no, Jesus still says yes.

Jesus also gives us an example of how we are called to respond to our own spouse. When we learn about their dark places, do we offer them the love and grace Jesus has given us? Or do we respond in condemnation? Even at our worst, Jesus has said yes to us, and I believe that he calls us to do the same for our spouse.

So in response to Rock City and Adam Levine - Jesus says yes! And so does a covenant-keeping, Christ-centered marriage.

[Note: I realize that there are certain actions our spouse could make that will require us to walk away, for safety, etc. And you might be in one of those situations. If so, you need the help and support of pastors, family, friends and loved ones to know how to proceed. This post is not intended to be comprehensive for every possible scenario, although it will be applicable for most.]

Music Video and Lyrics

Video

Lyrics

If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Verse 1: R. City]
Right about now
If a judge 'for life' me, would ya stay by my side?
Or is you gonna say goodbye?
Can you tell me right now?

If I couldn't buy you the fancy things in life
Shawty, would it be alright?
Come on show me that you are down

[Pre-Chorus: R. City]
Now tell me would you really ride for me?
Baby tell me would you die for me?
Would you spend your whole life with me?
Would you be there to always hold me down?
Tell me would you really cry for me?
Baby don't lie to me
If I didn't have anything
I wanna know, would you stick around?

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Verse 2: R. City]
Skilidi dong dong dong dang
All I want is somebody real, who don't need much
A gyal I know that I can trust
To be here when money low
If I did not have nothing else to give but love
Would that even be enough?
Gyal me need fi know

[Pre-Chorus: R. City]
Now tell me would you really ride for me?
Baby tell me would you die for me?
Would you spend your whole life with me?
Would you be there to always hold me down?
Tell me would you really cry for me?
Baby don't lie to me
If I didn't have anything
I wanna know, would you stick around?

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Bridge: R. City]
Tell me, tell me, would you want me?
Tell me, tell me, would you call me?
If you knew I wasn't balling
Cause I need a gyal who's always by my side
Tell me, tell me, do you need me?
Tell me, tell me, do you love me?
Or is you just tryna play me?
Cause I need a gyal to hold me down for life

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
 

You can find the video and lyrics at this link: http://genius.com/R-city-locked-away-lyrics

 

Facebook doesn't have to be evil: How Christians can (and should) use social media

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/WBWKY1FQ2I

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/WBWKY1FQ2I

Social media: good or bad?

With the explosion of social media over the last decade, it has caused appropriate angst in Christians. We see the way Facebook has caused addictive behaviors and undermined relationships. As a result of social media on mobile devices, husbands and wives commonly say to one another, "Would you please put down your phone?!?!" I was waiting in line at my bank a few months ago and 11 out of the 12 people waiting with me pulled out their phones - likely to check something on social media. Just two days ago, I brought my kids to the park and saw four other kids playing on the playground while their mother sat in her car on her phone.

As I throw daggers at these unsuspecting people, I need to confess that I also reach for my phone far too often. When I am at home, I need to set my phone on the counter far away from me, or out of habit, I will pull it out of my pocket to check Facebook or some other app.

Social media (and mobile phones in general) do not need to be seen as evil or destructive. Like many of the things in this world, often very good things, social media can become a consuming idol if we are not careful. I believe there are some principles that can guide a Christians use of social media which are consistent with a Biblically grounded vision of life.

How Christians can (and should) use social media

Create boundaries

It is essential that Christians set appropriate boundaries in many areas of life and social media is no exception. The boundaries you set should be appropriate for you and your relationship to social media. If you sense an extreme attachment, then you may need to create more boundaries. This could mean setting your phone on the counter when you get home from work and leaving it there for the night. It might mean you delete the app from your phone all together. You need to decide what is right for you. The important thing is that you are proactive and set the necessary boundaries. If you are passive in your relationship to social media, it will eventually creep into your life in unhealthy ways and you will soon be confronted with the reality that you have made it into an idol.

Be selfless and generous

Social media is a great way to be selfless. It is so often framed as a medium that promotes selfishness, but I don't believe it has to be that way. Our friends, family and loved ones are often sharing different moments from their lives. Their child may have just taken their first steps, they might be celebrating an anniversary or maybe they got to enjoy a local sporting event. Social media gives us an opportunity to encourage and affirm our friends through likes and comments. We can acknowledge them and be generous in our affirmation.

Celebrate

As we are generous with others, we also have the opportunity to celebrate events in our own lives and the lives of those around us. My wife and I recently had a reveal party to find out the gender of our newest baby. It was a very meaningful time for our growing family (we found out it was a boy!) and it was fun to celebrate with the friends and family that gathered with us. Through Instragram, Twitter and Facebook, we were able to share that moment with hundreds of people who were not able to be there, but got to find out right along with us. Not every moment in our lives needs to be shared via social media, there are some that we should intentionally keep private. But some of our moments do get to be shared and celebrated with the large community that social media creates.

Conduct yourselves well

It is incredible to see how people act on social media - especially some who claim to follow Jesus. For some reason, computer mediated communication (ie. email, social media, blogs) gives people the impression that they can be mean and nasty. Some people are just mean in general, but others are only through social media. If you follow Jesus, then the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) governs your actions on social media just as much as when you engage with someone in person. Before you post that comment, ask yourself - Is this Loving? Is this Joyful? Is this Peaceable? Is this Patient? Is this Kind? Is this Good? Is this Faithful? Is this Gentle? Is this Self-controlled? If you cannot answer yes, don't hit enter.

Add value to others lives

Through social media we are able to add value to others lives through the things we share. When you read an article or blog that was helpful, you can share it with others. If you bought a product that you enjoyed, you can let others know where to buy one too. You can share quotes or Bible verses that may encourage others. Every time you share something on social media, you have the opportunity to add value to the lives of others. Do you consider that when you engage in social media?

Platform

Social media has given many authors, bloggers, speakers, designers, etc. a platform to share their message with the world. If you have a message worth sharing, then social media is an opportunity to get it into the world. Anyone who follows Jesus has a very important message to share with the world, and we can be creative in the way we do that through social media.

You don't see everything about another person's life

People often share only the good things in life. Remember that when you scroll through your newsfeed. In fact, there is sort of an unwritten expectation that we will not fill one another's newsfeed with constant complaining. We don't often hear about the bad or hard stuff, and Facebook isn't always the best medium to share it anyway. SO, remember that you don't see everything about another person's life. Don't think your life sucks because you are not perpetually living a "social media share worthy" moment. Not every moment in your life will feel like it is worthy of a share because no one has an every moment is worthy of a share type of life. Even though you might feel like they do, they don't. Be careful of this trap and guard your heart.

Life is not about you

Your life isn't really about you anyway. It is first and foremost about God. It is about the glory and fame of His name. After that, Jesus calls us to serve others and says that the way to true greatness in the Kingdom of God is through service (Mark 10:42-45). Don't get too caught up in how many friends you have or how many likes you get, because it has never really been about you. You are not the center of the world, but sometimes social media can make you feel like you are.

Social media does not give us our worth and value, because that comes from Jesus.

Remember that your worth and value is not in notifications

We can sometimes equate our worth and value with the size of the number inside that little red dot next to the Facebook app on our phone. Our worth and value does not come from how many friends we have, how many shares we get or how many likes we accumulate. As followers of Jesus, our worth and identity is found in him. Jesus has given us new life (Eph 2:5), he has made us children of God (Eph 1:5), he has made us righteous (2 Cor 5:21), he has made us a light to the world (Matthew 5:14) and he has redeemed us from the curses (Gal 3:13). Through Jesus, we are more loved than we ever thought possible and in him we find our worth and our value. It can be easy to forget that and search for it in other places. Social media does not give us our worth and value, because that comes from Jesus. A Christian who uses social media well reminds themselves of this often.

Question: In the comments below, let me know your experience with social media and how you have sought to engage in it well as a Christian?

Are you known by what you are for? Or what you are against?

What are you known for?

My perception of the things I read and the things I hear, is that Christians are often characterized by what we are against, rather than what we are for. I do not believe it is an entirely fair assessment, but it doesn't change the fact that we can often be perceived as people who are against others. Against others beliefs, against others lifestyles, against others... [fill in the blank].

What if we were known by what we are for?

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

If I were to ask you what defines you as a Christian, how would you answer? If you had to consider what distinguishes you, as a Christian, from the general population, how would you answer? My assumption is that one of the reasons others often perceive Christians by what we are against, is because we personally define ourselves by what we are against. Frankly, that is not a very compelling vision. I am not motivated or inspired by opposing things, but on the other hand I am inspired by the things God affirms in the Scriptures.

I want to be known by what I am for. I want to be known for my love. I want to be known for my grace. I want to be known for my patience. I want people to know that I am for Jesus. The things I want to most define me are the things that I affirm, because the Scriptures affirm them as well.

Should we oppose nothing?

It is a common tendency for us humans to swing the pendulum too far in one direction or another. Lest we assume that in order to be known by what we are for that we need to remove all objections, this is a false dichotomy. There are plenty of things we should oppose. There are plenty of things we should stand against.

When events occur like what happened in Charleston last week, Christians should cry with a united voice that it was an evil act which goes against all that God desires for his creation. We ought to be passionately opposed to the racially motivated murder of innocent people.

We stand against hate and oppression and murder.

There are many acts that we as Christians ought to oppose. There are many behaviors that go against the heart of God in the world.

And it goes beyond just actions and behavior. There are also doctrines that tarnish the gospel of Jesus and are not consistent with the Scriptures. We should fight for truth and thought that is in line with Scripture, and this means we must oppose things.

These are just a couple examples of ways that we are called to stand in opposition to false doctrine and evil behavior. There is far more that can be said about this, but that is not the thrust of this post. My goal is to say that the church of Jesus Christ would be well served to consider what we are for. This little aside is to communicate that it doesn't mean we should not oppose anything, but let's not let our opposition be the thing that primarily defines us.

I want to be known by what I am for. I want to be known for my love.

What should I be for?

There are many things that the Scriptures heartily affirm, and that we as Christian should be known for. 

Our love for Jesus

First, and most important, we should be known for our love of Jesus. He is the defining figure of our faith. He is the crux of human history. He is God with us. He is the greatest servant-leader to have ever walked on earth, and he remains the savior of the world. Jesus Christ is our great hope, and we should be known by our love for him. Every other thing we ought to be known for flows out of our love for Jesus.

Our love for one another

We should be known by our love for one another. Jesus said that by our love for one another, we will be known as his disciples (Jn 13:35). Unfortunately, we are often known more for the way we quarrel and fight amongst ourselves than the way we love one another. And I don't even mean across denominations and churches - we have fighting, quarreling and dissension within local congregations on a regular basis. We should be known by our radical love for one another.

Our love for our neighbor

When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he answers, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Mt 22:37-40)." Jesus pairs our love for God and our love for our neighbors together in explanation of what is the greatest commandment. Are we known for our profound love for our neighbors?

Our love for our enemy

Jesus calls us to not only love one another, and not only love our neighbors, but also to love our enemy. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:43-44)." Are we known for the grace and love that we show to those who persecute us? Are we known for the kindness we show to our enemies, even when they are unkind to us? Our natural desire is to retaliate, to spew hatred when it has been flung at us. This is not the way of Christ. He calls us to sacrificial love for our enemies, even when they are not loving toward us. Are we known for our humility and love, even toward those who are enemies to the gospel?

The fruit of the spirit

The final thing I will mention that ought to define us is the fruit of the spirit. In Galatians, Paul describes the works of the flesh as qualities that stand in opposition to the fruit of the spirit. He is calling the Galatian church away from things that once defined them. He is calling them away from gratifying the desires of the flesh, because they are opposed to the things of the spirit. Here is an example of how we might be defined by things we are against. Paul is calling them to leave behind the works of the flesh, because they are inconsistent with the fruit of the spirit. The works of the flesh include: "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21)."

Paul speaks out against these things, because he has something better in mind for the church in Galatia. God has something better in mind for the church in Galatia. Paul calls them to the fruit of the spirit, which are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)."

Are you known for your love?

Are you known for your joy?

Are you known for your peace?

Are you known for your patience?

Are you known for your kindness?

Are you known for your goodness?

Are you known for your faithfulness?

Are you known for your gentleness?

Are you known for your self-control?

If we are known for something as the church, wouldn't it be great if these are the things that come to mind? Wouldn't it be great if we were first known for our love. Our love for Jesus. Our love for one another. Our love for our neighbors. Our love for our enemies. Wouldn't it be great if we were known for your joy. For our peace. For our patience, our kindness, our goodness, our faithfulness, our gentleness and our self-control.

How is God calling you to bring new definition to yourself today? It begins with our love of Jesus. Let's start there. And then, lets consider what other ways God is inviting us to be known by what what we are for, before we are known by what we are against.