Category Archives: Christian writing

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.

Death is still dead..png

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

READING INTO 2015, PART II: Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

Last month, I detailed my goal to read one book a month for the entirety of 2015. That may not sound like much, but for me, it’s a big goal. One book per month equals about 12 times as many books as I usually read in a year. To be honest, a few days ago I thought I wouldn’t make it out of February with the goal intact. I had three or four days ago and a lot of pages left, but somehow the time came. Against all odds, my reading adventure carried on into uncharted territory… two books in two months. I know, this is too exciting for you to handle. I should have warned you.

9781601424563_p0_v4_s260x420February’s book was Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick, the pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The premise/purpose/subtitle of the book is “hearing God’s voice above all others.” As somebody who has a constant mental conversation going upstairs (I promise you I’m not crazy), this sounded like an intriguing read. Shout out once again to my friend Jenn, Kristen Wiig’s twin, because she’s a major fan of this book and recommended it to me. I have a hard time believing she actually read it, though, because that acting schedule must be stevencrazy, right?

Crash the Chatterbox was a big change from Blue Like Jazz, because the two books are completely different in style. Blue Like Jazz basically functions as a collection of memories with profound insights about God and life along the way, but Crash the Chatterbox is more of a pep-talk meets how-to kind of book. Donald Miller and Steven Furtick also write very differently. I’ll just say it – Miller is a much better writer. That doesn’t make Furtick a bad writer, though. He’s actually very good at crafting memorable, quotable lines that stick around and can serve as reproducible advice:

Steven Furtick quote
“When your perspective is preloaded with the Word of God, lies lose their power over your life.”

“We don’t have to fear what we face when we know who we’re trusting in.”

“[The enemy] loves to project the past into the future, thus squeezing out the potential of the present.”

“Don’t let what you expected keep you from what God wants you to experience.” 

While I love those easily reproducible one-liners, here are some larger lessons I learned from Crash the Chatterbox:

  • We waste an excessive amount of mental time and space with our “what-ifs.”
  • God WILL carry me through any unfavorable circumstance I will ever face.
  • Many of my worries are unwarranted and unproductive.
  • I AM a child of God.
  • I can distinguish between the voice of the enemy and the voice of God.
  • It is possible to deflect the harmful thoughts the enemy sends my way.
  • I have believed many lies the enemy has told me, causing many insecurities to develop.

There are many other principles I learned by reading this book, but most of all, it helped me in a practical manner. Over the course of reading this book, I’ve found myself veering away from useless worrying sessions that have crept in and caused destruction in the past. I’ve learned to distinguish between what Satan tries to tell me and what God IS telling me. I’ve learned to rest in the security that is found in my very identity in Christ, rather than allowing insecurity to make a home in my heart and mind. I’ve caught myself many a time ready to drift into another harmful state of worry, when suddenly, it’s almost as if I hear the voice of Elrond saying “There is nothing for you here, only death!”

While that’s a somewhat cheesy and overused quote from Lord of the Rings, it’s TRUE. Matthew 6:27 says “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

No. The answer is no. There is nothing for you in worrying, only death.

I’ve always said that I’ve always been a worrier, but I’m no longer willing to accept that as a part of my identity. My identity is in Christ alone. Whom shall I fear? No weapon formed against me, especially the voice of Satan telling me to worry, shall prosper…

Crash the Chatterbox helped me realize the detriment of worry. While that’s a different lesson than many people probably take from the book, worry is the most frequent type of mental chatter that plagues me. When I let worry stay, and then grow, and then allow it to make its home in my heart and mind, it blossoms into full-grown insecurity. Crash the Chatterbox has assisted me in simply telling worry to leave. When it knocks on the door, I’m having dinner with some good friends named Identity in Christ and Blessed Assurance, so I can’t answer.

As somebody who overthinks and over-analyzes, I’m very thankful for the mental rest that Furtick’s words have helped me find. That rest has always been available to me in Jesus, but this book was a road map of sorts to help me find its exact location.

Clearly, Crash the Chatterbox was a practical and useful tool for me, and it’s very quotable, to boot. However, I do have a few critiques about this read:

  • I’m not a huge fan of Steven Furtick’s writing style. It’s often too choppy. While quotable, the highlight content comes in small chunks rather than flowing throughout large sections of his writing.
  • I feel like this book could have been much shorter and accomplished the same purpose. It was pretty repetitive and contained what seemed like a lot of filler content.
  • A little bit of celebrity pastor arrogance was present throughout the book.
  • I had a hard time connecting with the author on a personal level, which was tough because he tried to write the book in a very personal manner.
  • It didn’t dive deep enough. I was waiting for the plunge, but I felt like many of the book’s topics floated near the surface level.

All of that being said, I did like Crash the Chatterbox and I would recommend it to anyone who struggles with fear, worrying, insecurity, or any other type of mental chatter that you feel like you can’t control. God is bigger than the seemingly ongoing battle taking place inside our heads. Victory is real, and fear is a liar. Crash the chatterbox that says you can’t read one book a month for a year. Crash the chatterbox that says you aren’t worth it. Crash the chatterbox that says you won’t get through this. Crash the chatterbox that’s constantly trying to take what can’t be taken from you – your identity in Christ.

Crash. Crash. Crash.

2 down, 10 to go. Next up: Creation Regained by Albert Wolters, which I’ll be reading as a possible basis for my senior thesis project.