THE DEVIL RAN AWAY FROM ME: A declaration of power, authority and war on ordinary life

Last week, the devil ran away from me.

No, I’m serious. He took off. Fled. Forrest Gump-style booked it.

I was riding the RTD W-Line into work, just like every other morning. If you live in the Lakewood/Denver area, you know the W-Line community features some interesting cats. I once saw a dude on the train trying to consume a pod of Snack Pack pudding cups (yep, those ones from elementary school) without opening them. He was literally trying to eat the pudding with the packaging still on, teeth into plastic. That’s a story for another time, I guess.

Like most mornings, I was minding my own business. I called my mom, per usual (I’m a Mama’s boy!). She typically picks up the phone and says “you know I’m at work, right? Just because you’re not at work yet doesn’t mean I’m not!”…then proceeds to stay on the line for 15 minutes and listen to whatever problems, exciting new revelations, or other rants I happen to have in my back pocket that day. She’s awesome.

I was telling her about whatever current goings-on happened to be on the forefront of my mind while standing in the step-well next to one of the doors. It wasn’t the most comfortable positioning, so I decided to move to a different part of the train. That’s when I met the devil.

I was talking on the phone through my earbuds (I’m not cool enough to own AirPods, so I still use wires), so I may not have appeared to be mid-conversation to anyone out of earshot. When I turned and moved to a more open area, I looked up and my eyes met a dude whose eyes met me with terror and rage.

“WHAT THE F&%# ARE YOU LOOKING AT? YOU GOT A F*#@ING PROBLEM WITH ME?”

You might be as stunned as I was at the moment. For those of you who know me fairly well, you know that speechless isn’t one of my modes. I always have something to say, and I usually say it. But I was speechless. Completely frozen. My mom lost me on the other end for a moment. I couldn’t gather my thoughts, and I forgot what I was talking about with her. I was confused about how to respond to this man while also continuing the conversation with my mom. And I’ll be honest, I was a little scared.

I turned my head and looked out the window in front of me, trying to collect my thoughts. I was stunned, as I hadn’t ever laid eyes on this dude till the moment he boldly cursed me to my face. I didn’t know why he had chosen me for a verbal lashing. I ignored him for a few moments as I figured out what to do next. His dark, bruised and cold eyes were burning a hole through the right side of my face as I attempted to mentally prepare myself for, well, I didn’t know what.

I completely lost the ability to converse, so I hung up the phone with my mom. Then, I turned and faced the devil. In a moment of boldness that surprised even myself and the two women sitting near this mystery man, I approached him. I sat down across from him and looked him straight in the eye. Those cold eyes stared back, surrounded by bruises, tattoos and facial stitches.

This man was clearly embattled. What happened next revealed to me what was embattling him.

He repeated his verbal outburst.

“WHAT THE F%&# ARE YOU LOOKING AT? YOU GOT A F@#%ING PROBLEM BRO?”

In the shock of the moment (and the shock of my own decision to approach this dude) I forgot to come armed with words. I knew I didn’t want to engage in a pre-work day fistfight, so I kind of just stared back blankly. I didn’t need to make the next move, because he did.

“I’M GETTING THE F%#& AWAY FROM YOU!” he blurted while standing up.

And he did. He got up and left, moving to another seat in a different part of the train with his back turned to me.

I looked at the two women across the aisle and managed some words… “what just happened?”

They looked back at me with big, shocked eyes – probably confused as to why I hadn’t just ignored the guy and decided to engage him instead, probably thinking I was some kind of idiot but relieved that the dude ran away.

“He’s not all there,” one of them said.

I eyed the guy as I got off the train, but only saw the back of his head. I approached my office building, in shock of what had just happened but also breathing a sigh of relief and moving on with my day.

I didn’t think much of the encounter at first, but it hit me later what had happened that morning.

The devil ran away from me.

That guy, I’m certain of it, had a demon inside him. And that demon may have entered him in the form of drugs or alcohol, but that demon was manifesting outwardly. That demon saw me and lashed out at me. That demon chose me as a target and launched an attack.

I’d recently been listening to a powerful sermon series on spiritual warfare from Dr. Eric Mason of Epiphany Fellowship. I’d been growing more in tune with the reality of Satan and his demons on earth and the simultaneous reality of Jesus and His angels waging a constant battle with those demons. As my good friend Preston Coles has always told me, this spiritual realm consisting of angels and demons – which we can avoid realizing even exists for months, years, even lifetimes – is even more real than the physical life that consumes our attention.

That truth became incredibly apparent to me in this situation. After launching an attack on me, the demon inside this guy on the W-Line quickly cowered in fear when it realized who it was messing with.

It wasn’t messing with me. It was messing with the Creator of the Universe who lives within me. It was messing with El Shaddai (God Almighty), Jehovah Nissi (“The Lord is My Banner”), Yeshua. And before you think I’m overreacting and over-spiritualizing this seemingly simple situation, remember what this rugged and frankly scary man (who was asking for a fight) did when a very average, 5-foot-7 ¾ dude in dress clothes looked him in the face and stared blankly without words.

He cowered and fled. Because that’s what the devil does when he stares the power of Christ in the face. He has no choice but to flee. He must run. He must hide. He is overmatched.

Too many of us Christians are living in absolute fear of our surroundings and circumstances when we LITERALLY HAVE THE SAME POWER THAT RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD LIVING WITHIN US.

We blend into the world, cowering in fear of the future, fear of our superiors, even the fear of fear…because fear is all too real to us. Meanwhile, the devil-stomping power of Christ inside us sits dormant because, frankly, we forget it’s there.

If you are in Christ, you have power and authority. In fact, you have the only power and authority that matters…and the only power and authority that has any actual power and authority! Jesus Himself said you’d do greater things than He did because you have the Holy Spirit within you. Let that sink in for a second.

He wasn’t being facetious. You were actually meant to do greater things than Jesus because of the power He so graciously gave you. If you’re having trouble believing that, so am I. But He said it, so I’ll take my chances.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” – John 14:12-14 (ESV)

The power that took a dead God-man and resurrected Him in order to triumph over sin, death and Hell is living inside you. Let that one sink in for a second too.

Ok, now you know.

Say it with me. All together now…

I DECLARE WAR.

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Me, Job, and the Military Man: How God Is Using My Broken Relationship to Repair My Heart

The Lake men don’t have that gene that makes you scared of interactions with strangers. Everyone is our friend.

Even that dude at the airport hogging the wall outlet.

“Hey man, can I charge my phone?”

I did need to charge my phone, but we also had a while to wait until boarding the plane, and I’m the kind of person that would rather make a friend during the wait rather than plug in the headphones and zone out (well, sometimes at least).

I noticed this dude, who had biceps that were (individually) bigger than my head, was wearing the HE>i brand. “Dude, I love HE>i!”

And thus, big bicep dude became my newest friend.

I figured there was a story behind his endorsement of HE>i, and soon, we were talking about our faiths and what God was doing in our lives. I told him I was going home to Wyoming for the summer after driving my girlfriend back to California, where she would live for the summer. We’d be apart for the next three months.

Big ‘ceps one-upped me. Hard. He’d been in the military since college and had been married for six years, but he and his wife had spent much of that six years apart because she was serving, too, and they were stationed in different places. I couldn’t imagine the difficulty of that reality.

The next two hours became the most life-giving two hours on a plane I’ve ever experienced. The military man and I talked about God and life, dove into the Word together, even prayed together. He encouraged me about my long distance relationship, spoke truth over me, inspired me to be a good man…a man as good as him. I was in awe of the mature words that flowed from his mouth, the absolute peace and strength with which he carried himself. And this was a guy enduring what I thought sounded like the daily torture of living across the country from the woman he loved so much.

He spoke of being able to move back under one roof with his wife. It was just weeks away. He could hardly contain his joy, but it was a measured joy – he knew there would be a lot of adjustments to make in what was basically a new relationship with his wife. A relationship that would be housed in one location for the first time in years.

He gave me his email address and we exchanged pleasantries as we left the plane. I was pretty sure I’d never see the military man again, but I thought it was amazing that God brought two strangers together and made them brothers over the course of one flight. From total strangers to instant brothers. That’s the family of God.

Fast forward a few weeks/months, and a package showed up at my house. It was from the military man. He had sent me his two favorite books about relationships. The military man cared.

We exchanged emails, and I told him I hoped things were going well since he moved back in with his wife. Some difficult adjustments, he said, but it seemed things were going well in general.

Life happened, and I didn’t talk to the military man for at least a year. I was finishing up grad school in Wyoming and then on to a new job in Denver. I was in a serious relationship with my girlfriend. He was probably soaking up his new life across the country, probably starting a family.

I heard a message at church a few weeks ago and it reminded me of that flight I shared with the military man. Did I still have his email address? Sure did.

“How are you doing, man? I was in church this morning and the sermon reminded me of that flight we shared. That meant a lot to me. It’s cool how God unites strangers and makes them brothers. How have things been going with your wife? Hope you both are doing well. Peace.”

I got a response a few days later.

“Agreed, man. That was so cool when God brought us together on that flight. It’s cool how the Holy Spirit works in those ways…”

I was shocked when my eyes met the next few lines of his email.

“Things were really hard…

…counseling…

…irreconcilable…

…divorce.”

NO! Not the military man! He was so strong…in every sense of the word. This can’t be possible. The military man? Divorce? How? My heart dropped. He had some deep words about it.

“I don’t know if you have experienced divorce in your family or close friends but the closest thing I can describe it to is death…but you can still reach the other person by picking up your phone. Hard and confusing.”

“Woah,” I thought. “That’s heavy.” My heart hurt for him.

The truth is, a few months earlier, my own serious relationship had ended after a long period of struggle. I was stunned at his divorce, but I felt his pain. My broken relationship wasn’t divorce, but it was still broken. I had seen a side of myself I’d never seen before…one that could be pretty ugly at times. Different paths, long-distance, external factors beyond our control…it was more than we could bear. We called it off after almost two years.

Before I even knew of the military man’s divorce, I had shared with him about my own breakup when I sent him an email after being reminded of him. I was in the midst of the aftermath, and it was on my mind. And before my eyes met news of his divorce in his response email, he had encouraged me once again, just as he did on the flight a year and a half prior.

“Regardless if it was for the best, I am sure it was hard. I pray that God would comfort you and continue to give you hope in His goodness.”

Then the shocking news of the divorce. I couldn’t believe it. I thought his email would read, “please be praying for me as I’m trying to heal from this. It’s really tough.”

Basically, I was just expecting a big, fat, “THIS SUCKS.” And that would have been completely normal and understandable. That’s probably what I would’ve said had I been facing his situation.

I found something different. I found that the military man was experiencing the same thing as me.

“God gave me just what I needed each day walking through that desert,” he said. “By His grace (and very unexpectedly) He brought me to a new place emotionally and spiritually late this past fall. I feel like a completely different person in some ways. Eager for life. Hungry to be used to serve Jesus and others.”

My response was a big, fat, “ME TOO.”

The last few months have been nothing short of life-changing for me. When everything I thought I wanted was ripped away from me, I thought I would be a hopeless wreck. And for a while, that probably would’ve been an understandable response.

By the unrelenting grace of God, I’ve been anything but.

The military man said it best: “The last 18-months have been a combination of surviving months and months in the desert without “water” and then arriving to a new oasis completely unexpectedly.”

My relationship was a daily fight to survive. You may have been there – you can feel it teetering, but you hang on because you KNOW there’s something good, something worth fighting for. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Though at completely different levels, the military man and I both experienced it.

What’s supposed to follow is immense pain. Emotional brokenness. Emptiness. Loneliness.

What followed for me has been the unexpected oasis. An oasis where the water flows stronger than any place I’ve ever been…an oasis of Living Water that is feeding my soul everything it needs and more.

By breaking my relationship, God pointed me away from the empty well where I’d been lugging my water pail. In turn, He has gracefully pointed me in the direction of the only water source that has a deep enough supply to meet the needs of my sinful and weary self: HIMSELF.

Transcendent and inexplicable peace – the kind Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:7 – has been the result.

Just a few months removed from the loss of a relationship I thought would last forever, God has shown me – as He has done so many times before – that He gives His children immeasurably more than they can ask or imagine. He’s provided me a new spark for life, a new hunger for Him. He’s blessed me with new opportunities, new friends, and open doors. He’s shown me (and keeps showing me) how lost I was without Him on the throne of my heart.

The flame that has been flickering inside me for the last two years has been rekindled into an absolute raging fire. Just like the military man, I’ve unexpectedly discovered a new hunger for Jesus and a new desire to glorify Him with my life. As I press into Him each day, He stokes the flame with His ever gentle yet supremely powerful breath of life. He’s revealing a new sense of calling on my life and a burning desire to reach the world for Jesus Christ.

I haven’t written in a while. I haven’t spoken out in a while. That’s because I haven’t felt like myself in a while. I’ve been wandering. I’ve been unsure of my life. I’ve been anxious. I’ve been controlled by fear.

“There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 4:18

The perfect love of the Father has released me from fear and launched me at a rocket’s pace into my destiny. My passions are returning and my fire is burning. And this is just the beginning.

Before, I couldn’t sleep because I was so anxious. Now, I can’t sleep because I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life and I can’t stop worshipping. Restoration. Redemption. Renewal.

The military man knows what I mean. Strangers……….brothers.

Recently, I’ve been reading through the story of Job. How could God break a man so fiercely, taking away everything he thought he wanted?

I think we’re just not quite able to understand how insanely powerfully our God loves us. He disciplines those whom he loves. He takes away so He can give all the more.

“And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” – Job 1:21

The Lord has taken away from me and the military man, but He has given all the more. If you’ve read Job, you know the end of the story – when Job emerged from the desert after cursing the day of his birth and enduring greater loss than any of us will probably ever know – God gave Job twice as much as He started with.

The Lord has taken away from me. He snatched everything I thought I wanted right out of my grasp. Same goes for the military man. But He’s given twice as much, if not more, in return.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.

I think I can speak on behalf of Job and the military man when I finish the sentence:

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

We Must Not Be Silent: Why the Only Gospel is a Social One

WE MUST NOT BE SILENT

A few days ago, in the midst of this past week’s series of tragedies that included the horrific deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five members of the Dallas Police Department, Christian leader John MacArthur appeared in a video titled “Racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement.” The video was posted by The Master’s Seminary, where MacArthur is the president. The video addressed the topic in a fairly roundabout manner, closing with MacArthur stating that “when the Gospel changes your life, you go from social issues to spiritual issues.”

Let me begin by saying that the aforementioned statement is a downright theological disaster. The Gospel — the pure, unadulterated Gospel — does not set us free from taking part in social action. Instead, the Gospel demands our presence when social problems arise. If we care in the slightest about the temporary and eternal well-being of our fellow humans, we MUST respond to social issues. In fact, we must be at the forefront of response. Christian rapper Trip Lee responded to MacArthur’s video on Twitter by saying “The Good News doesn’t mean ignore social issues, because it’s all that matters. It means we can’t ignore them. God cares & we should too.”

If we believe God is a God of justice, we must be His hands and feet during times of social turmoil. If we do the opposite and remove ourselves, retreating to what some would call “more spiritual things,” we’re doing a poor job, to say the least, of reflecting God’s character. Scripture clearly states that God loves justice. Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah’s love for justice in Isaiah 61:1-3:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.”

Jesus did not only care about justice. It was His mission. He came to this world as a man, He felt our pain and He chose to die so that we’d hear a resounding “NOT GUILTY” come Judgment Day, if we simply believe in His love for us. While on Earth, He demonstrated this justice by refusing religious passivity and instead showing compassion for prostitutes, loving those who were at the time the very symbol of injustice (tax collectors), and declaring that His followers should do the same. He was the greatest humanitarian the world has ever known.

The Gospel preached by this man, this Jesus, demands social action. To instead build a wall between sacred and secular is to misunderstand such a Gospel. There is a false theology circulating amongst many Christian communities and even believed by pastors and leaders, even in this day and age, that there is some sort of barrier between the sacred things and the secular things. Those who subscribe to this barrier attempt to push Christians to the side of the sacred. This could mean simply reading Bibles, praying, attending Bible studies, memorizing Scripture, etc., WITHOUT involvement in non-Christian circles. In my humble opinion, such a way of life has detached Christians from engaging with culture in the name of creating Christian countercultures that have little potential for spreading the Gospel. Instead of seeking and saving the lost (the words of Jesus), we retreat to our Christian bubbles.

It’s safe there, right? We won’t be affected by the world’s evils and we won’t have to face others who don’t think like us. Bring your notebook and your acoustic guitar! (Please don’t take this the wrong way).

While studying for my undergraduate thesis project, I read a book by Al Wolters entitled Creation Regained that deconstructed this sacred/secular divide and instead provided the outline for a reformational worldview of Christianity. A reformational worldview calls Christians to step directly into what some would call “the secular,” proposing that Christ is sovereign over every square inch (Abraham Kuyper). Christ is sovereign over politics, art, sports, government. He is sovereign over the world’s problems and injustices. There’s not one space in the universe over which Jesus Christ is not sovereign.

The implications of this worldview are many. One of them is blatantly clear: as Christians, we MUST care about justice. It’s simply a requirement of following Christ. He cared about justice, so I must. It was His mission, so it must be mine. And that doesn’t mean I should start to care about justice when I die and go to Heaven, when I’m finally surrounded by every nation, tribe and tongue.

It starts here and now. It starts with the thrust of the Gospel: love your neighbor. Most of your neighbors don’t look like you, and many times it’s uncomfortable to love them. Sometimes you won’t feel like you belong. Sometimes you won’t know what to say. In those times, simply listen. I promise you, if you take a step toward hearing the story, the pain, the joys, the life experiences of a neighbor unlike yourself, the GOSPEL will come alive to you as you begin to love the person’s very humanity. I promise you, this Gospel will taste much sweeter than the one whose rulebook instructed you not to associate with anyone who regularly commits taboo sins you’re supposed to be afraid of.

Jesus both taught and demonstrated that we should go to people who don’t act like us, don’t look like us and don’t believe the same as us in order to hear their stories and love them in response. Through this love, the world will know that we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).

This is why, as a white Christian, I must be involved when my African-American brothers and sisters tell me they’re hurting. When they release cries of oppression, I listen, because Jesus was sent to bind up the brokenhearted. Therefore, I will attempt to do the same. When they mourn, I mourn, because Jesus was sent to comfort those who mourn. When they are grieving, I grieve, because Jesus was sent to provide for those who grieve. 

If I want to be like Jesus, I must step into the social narrative of our day and do what He would have done. If I settle for what is merely “spiritual,” I have completely missed His Gospel of love and compassion. On the other hand, if I have made an intentional move toward the so-called secular sphere and have there made a conscious effort to hear the stories and pain of those who don’t look like me, responding with pure compassion, I’ve actually stepped into the spiritual.

I challenge you to take that step. You’ll meet Jesus there. He’s already there, binding up the wounds of the brokenhearted. His Spirit is in the shouts of “we shall overcome.” His love is in the hearts of those who respond to the cries of the oppressed.

I want no part of a gospel whose believers would prefer to remove themselves from social issues, simultaneously refusing to validate the pain of others with passivity and instead retreating to what they’d call “more spiritual things.”

I’ll take the social Gospel instead… the one Jesus preached. I will not be silent.

Live it with me. Reject the fear-motivated, false dichotomies that have been perpetuated in the voices of those who prefer comfort over compassion. Reject safety in the name of love. Jesus didn’t save the world with safety. He saved it with a daring, reckless love.

Get woke. Stay woke.

Note: An incredible piece of art that encompasses the beauty of the social gospel is Kendrick Lamar’s song titled “How Much A Dollar Cost.” I challenge you to listen, read the lyrics, and act accordingly. Search for the metaphor at work in the song and read Matthew 25 to understand how it’s not so metaphorical after all.

White Christians: Time to Get Woke

I should start by giving a disclaimer. I don’t claim to be completely “woke.” In fact, I’m probably far from woke. I’m trying to get woke, hence the title. I simply want other people like myself to try, simply attempt to get woke with me. 

I am as white as it gets. Nearly 100% European ancestry, mostly English. I grew up in a mostly white suburb and live in a mostly white town. I’m soon moving to a town that’s probably whiter than the one I live in now. I’m WHITE. I haven’t shielded myself from cultures different my own, but I haven’t exactly immersed myself in them.

However, for probably 10 years, I’ve truly appreciated many pieces of art created by brothers and sisters who do not share my skin color. In my middle school years, the rhymes of African-American and Christian rapper Da’ T.R.U.T.H. filled my headphones. I had little to no understanding of the meanings of said rhymes, but the beats pumped me up and I sensed a true devotion to Jesus in his music.

Da’ T.R.U.T.H. had some dude named Lecrae in a couple of his songs, but it wasn’t until my college years that the latter man burst onto the scene and became easily the most well-known Christian rapper of all time. Lecrae’s music was (is) raw, real and authentic. His carefully crafted words told (tell) of past sins, current struggles and future hopes. Like me, many others found inspiration, motivation and breaths of fresh air in his tunes. I began to appreciate Lecrae, Trip Lee, Propaganda and other African-American rappers because of the truth in their words and the vulnerability of their souls in the face of potential hate.

While I began to truly appreciate the art crafted by my black brothers and sisters (Jackie Hill-Perry, for one) for their pure takes on life, the university environment and my simultaneous maturing process opened my eyes and heart to things going on in the world that were outside myself. I remember hearing the buzz about Trayvon Martin and reading up on the situation. I was mostly confused. I still didn’t quite care. This situation was too far outside of my sphere of influence. Too far for me to care, or to spend serious time thinking about it.

I continued to grow in Christ through the next couple years and my compassion grew for those who didn’t look, act or think like me.

Then came Mike Brown and Ferguson. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Laquan McDonald. I couldn’t turn a blind eye. These news stories haunted my soul… but they were more than news stories. They were the stories of real people, and they sadly became more normal than anomalous.

I didn’t only hear stories, but through the artists I mentioned previously as well as the general voice of the African-American public, I heard the cry of a people in utter pain. I heard the creative voices of Lecrae, Propaganda, Kendrick Lamar. I heard the cry of a suffering people. I watched closely as the commentary from African-American leaders in the church screamed “Black Lives Matter!” These were genuine, Jesus-loving people. Their cries weren’t attempts to advance an ideology. These cries would hopefully find the ears of others who would simply care. 

Not to fix. Not to politicize. Not to pity. Definitely not to argue.

To simply care.

I will not mince my words here: it is an absolute disgrace, in fact, a downright abomination that these cries have mostly failed to find listening ears from white people who claim to love Jesus. It’s sickening that these cries are met with arguments and agendas.

In my communications classes, I learned something called the XYZ skill. In conflict, accusing and pointing fingers rarely works or incites progress. It’s much more effective to frame the issue this way: “when you do X, I feel Y, because of Z.”

Why is this effective? Because somebody can’t tell you that you don’t feel a certain way. They’re your feelings. You’re the only one who truly knows them. When the listener understands how you’re feeling, the path to understanding, compassion, and forgiveness grows much wider. Healing begins. It’s still a process, sometimes a long one.

African-Americans are feeling pain because of the systematic racism that exists in this country. To white people who claim to follow Jesus, we are simply asinine if we tell our brothers and sisters they’re in the wrong for feeling a certain way. The feelings may not be verbalized in a way that makes you comfortable, but that probably just reveals their legitimacy even further. You can’t disqualify the feelings of an entire demographic because you don’t agree. At the least, that’s illogical. At most, it’s insane.

But you can pay attention. Better yet, you can listen. You can be educated. There are plenty of resources available to learn the Z behind the Y, the why behind the feeling. The reason for the cries, the purposes for the pain. You can attempt to get woke. That doesn’t mean you’ll always say or do the right things. I’ve probably misused my language somewhere within this post.

But I’m freaking trying, man. Because white Christians NEED TO BE BETTER. The church has to lead the way in tearing down the ugly walls of racism, but our arguments are simply adding bricks.

I’m not above this. I can count my black friends on one hand. That hurts to say. There are parts of my heart and mind that tend toward racism. I have to actively condemn these and ask God to change my wretched heart. It’s the sickness of my sin that causes racism to live inside me… but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s absolutely gasping for breath, until it finally chokes and dies. But I need help. I want to get better.

Do you really believe that African-Americans who believe in Jesus are your own flesh & blood? As unworthy of grace as you are, but as forgiven and redeemed as you are? Made in the same image as you, the image of a God whose color is yet unknown to our eyes? If yes, do your actions follow? We must ask these questions. We must listen. We must converse.

You’ll find that the process of getting woke is much more gratifying than settling for winning an argument.

As Propaganda himself said in Lecrae’s “Gangland,” being right is a distant second to the joy of compassion. A collective step toward compassion is a step on the head of Satan.

In his song Broken, Lecrae says “we all broke together, and if we don’t swallow our pride we gon’ choke together.”

White Christians: we’ve already choked together, now it’s time to get woke together.

*I highly recommend this podcast from The Liturgists, featuring a conversation with Propaganda and worship artist William Matthews, to begin your journey towards getting woke.*

Note: After writing this post, I heard the absolutely sickening news about #AltonSterling. I sobbed after watching the video of his murder. This post is dedicated to him, the memory of his life, and the countless people before him whose lives have been taken unjustly. Alton, I’m sorry this is too late.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15

WOKE.

 

Your Left Didn’t Make Me Right

 

Your Left Didn't Make Me Right (1)

To the dude turning left,

All I could see was your left turn signal. You had it blinking, hoping you could get over into that turn lane, but we were all waiting behind you. The light was green. You weren’t moving. Which means I wasn’t moving, because I was two cars behind you. Didn’t you know I had to get to work by 4:15pm? It was 4:06pm, and you weren’t moving. What if I got to the parking lot by 4:12pm and couldn’t find a spot? The parking lot at work is usually packed on a sunny afternoon around this time. But you sat with your left blinker on, trying to get over to turn left while a huge line of cars, including mine, sat behind you. It’s as if you didn’t realize the parking lot might be full when I got to work. What were you thinking?

I was pretty frustrated with you. Not frustrated… angry. Not angry… furious. I screamed out my window and waved at you. “MOVE! You’ve GOT TO GO!” I half-assumed you wouldn’t hear me, but you did. You heard me loud and clear. You heard my words and you heard my anger… my fury.

Luckily for you, I negotiated a deal with the car in the lane next to me to let me in so that I wouldn’t have to wait behind you any longer. You were being selfish, anyway. Holding up a whole line of cars just so you could attempt to turn left. Didn’t you see the oncoming traffic that would prevent you from turning left, anyway? Your whole plan to turn left might not even come to fruition, anyway. But your plan to make us all late was sure working out alright.

The car in front of me pulled off into the right lane. Now I could see your whole car…

Your right blinker was on, too.

Right and left, they were both blinking simultaneously. You responded to my yelling and angry waving: “DUDE, MY CAR IS BROKEN DOWN!”

In an instant, we switched roles. You were innocent. I was the selfish one. You still weren’t moving, and I was still likely going to be late. But now you were justified in being stuck. Because that’s what you were…stuck.

I blew it, man. I was the merciless jerk that failed to see you were enduring through the horribly embarrassing experience of being broken down in the middle of a busy intersection at rush hour. But didn’t you know I had to be at work by 4:15?

I wasn’t even late.

Your left didn’t make me right.

 

 

 

 

Death is Still Dead.

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I love Easter Sunday. Every Easter, I attend church with my family and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. There’s no shortage of singing or dancing (although there may be more or less of the latter depending on the denomination you may or may not associate with… Alright, bad joke). The point is: there’s hope. And there should be. Jesus defeated death, and we’re stoked about it. The resurrection is a fact of epic historical proportions that carries epic present and future implications. It’s the turning point of human history. Death has died. We are free.

But why did death come back to life after Easter dinner?

Many of us don’t actually feel free. We celebrate on Easter with our arms held high, our hearts captivated with the joy of the fact that Jesus ripped apart the chains of death and gave us true eternal freedom. But we soon recede back into the chains that bound us: chains created by sin, depression, and failure. Chains created by success, self-righteousness and earthly treasures. We drag them around in routine fashion as we re-trod back into the grave.

“Easter will come back next year,” we think.

Jesus has risen, and we know it. We sang about it on Easter Sunday. However, many of us quickly descend back into the everyday struggle of trying to earn salvation, a struggle that knows no success.  We try to make life better. We try again. We try harder and harder. The chains still bind us.

Maybe you’re one of us. I’ve been one of us. Sometimes I still am. Somewhere along the line, somebody told you the Gospel. It saturated your heart and mind, and you felt FREE. You had never known a joy like the one Jesus created in the entirety of your being. The Gospel had changed both you and your eternal destination. But somewhere in the more recent past, the Gospel became more like good advice than the Good News it is. You knew the facts, but they didn’t always seem real, or didn’t carry much weight anymore. The big, almost-exploding balloon of joy that you used to carry around had deflated. The resurrected life became a good idea rather than a reality. You longed to sense the real Gospel again, to feel real and pure freedom again.

You waited for next Easter. Next Resurrection Day.

I’ve got good news for you and for me. Good News, actually.

Every day is resurrection day. Jesus never went back into the tomb. He’s still risen. He’s risen on Easter and the day after. He’s risen next Sunday when church feels mundane and you’re feeling more fulfilled by the restaurant lunch you ate after church than the sermon you heard during it. He’s risen when death is all too real. He’s risen when depression chases your joy away. He’s risen when you accomplish something great, only to come crashing down from the temporary high success brings. He’s risen. It’s just a freaking fact.

So why do we forget it? Why is “He is risen” just an Instagram hashtag people use on Easter? Or even worse, just a bumper sticker? Why is the pure joy of Easter reserved for 1/365th of the year?

For me and many others, it’s because we simply have a hard time believing that the Gospel is unshakable truth. As we slip away from the understanding of our forgiveness, we begin to believe that God’s love is based on our successes and failures. In doing so, we shun the very Gospel that caused our Easter dancing. Our actions and feelings say it’s too far-fetched. We’re really forgiven? We’re really loved? Our sin taunts us, begging us to answer no to such questions and turn away from God rather than turn toward Him and repent.

On Easter Sunday my pastor quoted Brennan Manning, who once said “I am now utterly convinced that on judgment day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask each of us one question, and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you?”

It’s a painful question to ask, but it reveals why many of us confine Easter’s truths to one 24-hour holiday. We simply have a hard time believing that the resurrection means we are truly free, free indeed. We simply struggle with accepting the truth of the Gospel.

What, then, should we do?

In John 6:27, Jesus says “The work of God is this: to believe in him whom he has sent.”

We should return to the Gospel. The Gospel is the answer to our failure to understand the Gospel. Sounds foolish, but doesn’t the Bible say the Gospel is foolishness? Foolishness of the absolute best kind. Life-saving, eternity-altering foolishness.

We must let the Gospel saturate our minds and hearts by the minute. How do we do that? By repeating it to ourselves relentlessly. By constantly informing others of its life-altering truths… even those who could produce a list of 10 literary differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Even to those who have chapters and books of the Bible memorized. Even those who outwardly appear to be poster children for good Christianity, seemingly epitomizing holiness. Those people struggle to believe the Gospel, too. They’re in dire need of the Gospel every single day. They’re just like you. In fact, we’re all in the same boat. Each one of us desperately needs the redemption of Jesus Christ on a perpetual basis.

We just can’t believe the Gospel on our own. We’re simply helpless to do this without those around us. So I have a challenge to you. The next time you meet with a Christian friend, look them straight in the eye and tell them “God loves you so much that no matter how bad you’ve messed up, time and time again, you’re still forgiven. He will never fail you. He is so proud of you. He lavishes His grace on you. You are a child of God. You are infinitely cared for and worth it. You are seen. You are heard. Your sins are dead. You are free.”

I tried this recently. I tried this with a friend who is a model of Christian leadership and moral behavior. I mean, this dude has it put together…

But wait. He doesn’t. He needed to hear the Gospel in that very moment. And just as badly, I needed to hear myself preach it to Him. It refreshed both of our souls and we walked away feeling free of works-based righteousness, free of good advice, free of prescriptive behavioral fixing (should I get that term copyrighted?), free of what Matt Chandler calls “moralistic therapeutic deism,” or more simply, a lifestyle of upstanding moral behavior that we stamp God’s name on, but that ultimately serves to make us feel better about our sorry selves.

So have a Gospel conversation with yourself: “Jesus loves me. I am free. I can never be separated from His love, no matter what I do.” Then, do it again tomorrow. Repeat it to someone else. Before you try to fix somebody, look them in the eyes and tell them God loves them abundantly and infinitely and eternally. Heck, why shouldn’t every conversation be a Gospel conversation? We are ALWAYS in need of people to refresh our souls with the truths of the Resurrection.

Every day is Resurrection Day. The freedom brought into this broken world by the resurrection of Jesus is available to you now (and tomorrow, and on November 24, 2023). You are forgiven. You are free. God is too good and too loving for you to live in shame today. The Gospel is too freeing (and too REAL) for you to live in bondage today. Your life has been resurrected from the grave. If you believe in Jesus, you’ve been taken care of.

You, believer, are free. Yes, you. YOU. ARE. FREE.

 

Death is still dead. There’s a reason I titled this post “Death is Still Dead.” and included the period after ‘Dead.’ The period represents completion. The end of something. The end of a sentence… in this case, the death sentence of sin.

Death is still dead. He is still risen. Time to celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top 5 Albums of 2015

I’m at least nine days late making this post, but I love music more than most things and I couldn’t let my favorite jams of 2015 go unappreciated. That being said, though belated, here are my top five albums released in the 2015 calendar year.

5. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

 

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I’m not usually much of a folk fan, and I don’t listen to much soft music in general (with the exception of post-rock). However, this record caught my ear the first time I heard it (which was through playing the LP on a turntable as my friends began a journey to change my metalhead ways).

Anyways, this record is simply haunting. It’s sad, depressing, and perfect for a rainy day. But it’s also great music. Sufjan details his broken relationship with his mother in a raw manner, but provides calming instrumentation to create an overall soothing experience. Some of my favorite moments are the reflective instrumental breaks that give the listener some time to chew on the heavy lyrics. Carrie & Lowell is a good companion to a hot mug of tea.

Favorite track:  “Death with Dignity”

Favorite lyric:
Jesus I need you, be near me, come shield me
From fossils that fall on my head
There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking I’m dead

– “John My Beloved”

4. Purpose – Justin Bieber

 

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Yep. I’m completely unashamed to say that Justin Bieber released one of the best records of 2015. This album is inventive, versatile, and most importantly, honest. It details Justin’s struggles as a young person dealing with one of the most inflated examples of fame in, well, all of history. The lyrics recount his newfound purpose coming from belief in God.

My respect grew immensely for Justin as a result of listening through this album, both as a person and an artist. He’s using his platform for good, and I respect that. Additionally, there’s a reason he broke the record previously held by Drake and some band called The Beatles for most simultaneous Billboard Hot 100 hits – that reason being that the tunes on this record (pretty much all of them) are catchy, memorable, and just good. Well done, JBiebs. I’m a Belieber now.

Favorite track: “Purpose”

 

Favorite lyric:
I put my heart into your hands
Here’s my soul to keep
I let you in with all that I can
You’re not hard to reach
And you bless me with the best gift
That I’ve ever known
You give me purpose
Yeah, you’ve given me purpose

– “Purpose”

3. Another Eternity – Purity Ring

 

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Although admittedly trippy and nonsensical as far as lyrics go, the sophomore release from Purity Ring is an electro-pop masterpiece. This group – which consists of just a male DJ and a female vocalist – completely opened up a new taste of music that I never knew I had when I originally listened to its previous album. When this record came out, I was a little disappointed that it seemed to be dominated by an EDM feel. However, the catchy beats grew on me and the true talent of both members of the group shone through each song.

Another key element to this album is that you can easily dance to every song. That’s important.

p.s. Don’t watch their music videos.

Favorite Track: Dust Hymn”

Favorite Lyric: I have no idea. Their lyrics make no sense.

2. Blurryface – Twenty One Pilots

 

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If Twenty One Pilots is the future of music, I’m glad we’re currently on our way into the future. There is no shortage of descriptors to use about their second record – versatile, creative, chaotic, intense, groovy, weird, awesome. One minute it’s hip-hop/rap, the next minute it’s soul, the next minute it’s hard rock. Actually, those transitions often occur in a matter of seconds.

These dudes blend just about every existing genre of music into 14 equally entertaining tracks that also have significant lyrical value. Potentially the most important characteristic of this album is that it’s real. The lyrics describe inner and outer battles with self-esteem, doubt, life, death and everything in between. The album is both thoroughly entertaining and simultaneously challenging. It’s very encouraging to me that raw stories of true wrestling with God and His Word are being brought into mainstream music.  Many of its lyrics take the form of conversations with God (in fact, my good friend Zack, who so generously introduced me to the genius of this band, pointed out that “Goner” is basically a re-written Psalm). This album is an emotional rollercoaster with musical influences from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and hopefully the future.

Favorite Track: “Doubt”

 

Favorite Lyric:
Even when I doubt you, I’m no good without you.

– “Doubt”

1. Fly Exam – JGivens

 

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If you’ve been around me at all in the past three or four months, you knew this was coming, because I can’t stop talking about, thinking about or listening to JGivens’ brilliant hip-hop creation otherwise known as Fly Exam.

Here’s how it went down. I heard that Humble Beast had a new artist named JGivens. I like Humble Beast (that’s an understatement), so I knew he’d be worth checking out. Little did I know he’d soon become my favorite rapper and create my favorite hip-hop record of all-time. Or that he’d be the Christian version of Andre 3000 + Kendrick Lamar + everything that’s good in rap. I listened through Fly Exam all the way through when it first came out and I was absolutely in awe of what I heard. Here’s what I heard:

I heard genius.

I don’t even know where to begin. This dude can write, rhyme and groove with the best of them. In fact, he IS the best of them. Throughout Fly Exam, you’ll find lyrical double (sometimes triple) meanings, intelligent and ongoing metaphors sometimes two or three levels deep, thematic developments throughout the album, and irresistible beats that will move your fingers to the repeat button time and time again. I’ve listened through this album probably more than 100 times (not an exaggeration), and each time through I’m still collecting little bits of lyrical creativity that I’d never before noticed.

JGivens has taken creativity to a new level. But Fly Exam isn’t just good because it’s creative, but because it’s impactful. JGivens comments on social and political issues facing both non-Christians and Christians alike in a fresh way that is never devoid of the Gospel. He engages listeners with the ugly heads of racism, drugs, and other cultural problems while pacing the discussion with grace. And discussion is exactly what it is – because this album isn’t one-sided. As the listener, you’re not just the listener. You’re confronted with necessary personal conversations about issues you probably don’t default to thinking about.

You’re also inclined to dance, praise, and rap along (even though your friends are probably less than satisfied with that last one, as I’ve experienced). This album was a constant pick-me-up this year. Every time I turned it on, it felt fresh, even if I had already memorized every lyric. That’s how I know it’s great music. I absolutely cannot wait to see what JGivens has in store for the future, because Fly Exam is straight gold.

p.s. He even made a 360-degree music video for “10 2 Get In”(which has a triple meaning, surprise surprise).

 

Favorite Track: “Take Off With Me” (which features his cousin and fellow rapper, John Givez. Here, I was simply picking the most favorite of all favorites, because I love every song on this record)

Favorite Lyric: How in the world am I supposed to pick one? I’ll go with the one I found most entertaining:

I’m antisocial
When I need my space, then I ran like Flo-Jo
And I hid my face
And now I’m lost in space in a coffin, solo
Han Solo
ET better keep that phone on, ET better phone home
Gotta be wise like Sam when it ring like Frodo
Sabotage, crash land of God
Give a hand to God
Michelang-applause
Watch that H-A-N-D heal
Hand of God
Supermand of God
That’s that M-A-N D. Steele

– “Lost in Space” (you could spend hours tearing apart the meaning of the verse I provided. It’s incredible.)

Honorable Mentions:

  • To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
    • Note: I honestly didn’t include this in my list because I don’t know the record well enough, but the songs I know are incredibly convicting, original, and insanely raw, not to mention potentially the most relevant to America’s current situation of any music released in 2015. Warning: very explicit (try to find the underlying meaning before you dismiss this album, but I can understand if you don’t listen or don’t like it due to its explicit nature).
  • A Head Full of Dreams, Coldplay
  • 25, Adele
  • Found in Far Away Places, August Burns Red

The Brutally Honest Christmas Card

I stumbled across a blog entitled “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card” by D.L. Mayfield today, and I thought I would share it with you all. This is true genuineness and transparency. Read the full post here.

You Are Not Your Final Exams

YOU ARE NOT YOUR FINAL EXAMS

Earlier tonight, I was preparing for my thesis presentation. Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., I’ll attempt to defend an academic paper I spent a whole semester writing. It’s intimidating. I put in the necessary work and I’m expecting a decent outcome, but I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time the voices in my head told me “What if I screw this up…?”

Around this time of year, a lot of us are asking questions like this. What if I fail this test? What if my professor doesn’t like the topic I chose for my paper? What if I don’t pass?

What if? What if? What if?

In all honesty, these what-ifs do more harm than good. We follow what-ifs into ruts of self-doubt, where they suddenly become “I ams.” Before we know it, “what if I get a bad grade?” turns into “I’m a bad student. I’m not smart. I’m not as qualified as others are.”

If you’re like me, final exams (projects… papers… insert stress-causing school assignment here) turn you into a pressure cooker, feeling like you could explode at any moment. You begin to say things like “There’s literally no way I have enough time to get all these things done.” If you’re a planner like me, you schedule out each hour of your day in order to have some hope that maybe it’ll all get finished.

You cram. You attempt to avoid checking Facebook and Twitter (attempt being the key word in that statement). And if you don’t regurgitate all of the facts correctly when that fateful two-hour time slot arrives, you become a self-deprecator. Or maybe, if you perform above expectations, you turn into a pride machine.

Either one is wrong. Because you are not your final exams.

You’re not an A, you’re not an F. You’re not a pass or a fail. You’re a human being, and your worth doesn’t lie in your performance.

Earlier today, I completely crashed. I was having a very productive day, but suddenly I felt like I lost the ability to do anything. I got tired. I took a break, which became an extended break, which led to me writing this blog rather than making progress on any of the big tasks hanging over my head. And I began to feel guilty about it. I was unproductive. I didn’t take advantage of my time. I could’ve managed better. 

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

I fell into the rut. “Now what if I don’t get everything done? What if I just squandered good grades on my finals?” The great attack of the what-ifs. The one that I know all too well.

But this time, those “what-ifs” won’t become “I ams.” Because I’m more than a measurement of my performance. Tomorrow, when I go in to defend my thesis, I’ll put forth my best effort. I’ll try really hard. I’ll do all that I can to get an A.

 

But if I don’t get the grade I’m hoping to get, that doesn’t change who I am. The same is true for you. You are not your final exams.

Do the work. Try hard. But do it all knowing that there’s no A, C or F stamped on your life. I’m willing to bet you’re a lot more interesting than the information on your transcript.

Hang in there, people.

Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis can be Everything Right with our Christianity

Syria Blog Post

This morning, I went to church. This is a typical Sunday morning activity for me and for other people who follow Christ. It’s kind of just what we do. I’ve been doing this my whole life. When I was younger, it’s because, by the grace of God, I had no choice (which I’m now very thankful for). Now, I choose to spend Sunday mornings worshipping with other believers and learning from God’s Word.

This particular morning, the guest speaker at our church spoke about The Gospel, which is a pretty great topic for a Sunday morning if you ask me. He delivered an inspiring, convicting, and grace-filled message about moving from a posture of consumption (a conception of Christianity in which we merely partake in Christian activities to “get filled up”) to a posture of faithful presence (following the call of Christ into the surrounding community and bringing the Gospel to the lost and broken through word and deed). I was inspired and moved throughout his message as he beautifully articulated the recent meditations of my mind and heart. One of those, you know, “this guy must have read my mind before going to the pulpit” kind of sermons.

He slipped in one phrase, though, that really captured me.

“A Gospel that doesn’t interact with strangers and outsiders is no Gospel at all,” he said gently.

This is a hard and inconvenient truth. It implies the risk of my safety, my security, my comfort. But it’s true. To experience the fullness of the Gospel, we must risk. We must defy social norms. We must travel beyond the borders of what we already know.

Isaiah 61:1-3 says:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption in order to salvage some type of control over our own security, I fear we won’t see the good news reach the poor, or the captives set free, or the bound escape their shackles.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll stare at our own reflections as we look down into our wells full of “the oil of gladness,” wishing we had poured it out when the time was right.

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, to whom will we proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor but ourselves?

If we settle for a Gospel of consumption, we’ll be safe. We’ll be secure. We might even be happy. But we’ll never experience the true Gospel joy that floods into the heart when a captive is set free.

It just so happens that right now, the captives are knocking at our door. They’re begging for the oil of gladness to replace the smell of the burning of innocent flesh. They’re begging for the garment of praise to replace the deafening sound of bombs that’s too quickly becoming normal. They’re begging to wear a beautiful headdress to replace the ashes that already cover them in sorrow.

I know we’re scared. I know we don’t have the money. But I also know that if we follow Jesus into the unknown and the impossible, He will show us something we never expected to see. He will turn ashes to beauty. He will provide the oil of gladness instead of mourning. He will cloak us – and others – with the garment of praise.

We’ll suffer along the way. In fact, that’s inevitable (see 1st Peter). Our comfort and our security will be compromised, but our joy – and the joy of the captives – will multiply into eternity.

To my fellow believers: fear is real, but we already have the antidote. In fact, we’ve got an eternal supply. We can choose to simply consume our faith, or we can assume a faithful presence. If the latter becomes just what we do, we’ll hear these familiar words:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

Then the feast will begin, and we will not merely consume… We will, for the rest of eternity, be fully consumed by the love that risked all of its comfort so that we would truly live.

 

 

 

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