Category Archives: Christianity

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.

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.

 

 

 

Why #MerryChristmasStarbucks is Everything Wrong with American Christianity

#MerryChristmasStarbucks Blog Photo

A few days ago, former pastor Joshua Feuerstein posted a video announcing a campaign against Starbucks due to their switch from festive holiday cups in previous years to a new plain red look for the 2015 holiday season. In the video, Feuerstein claims that Starbucks wanted to “take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups” because, according to the caption on his video, “they hate Jesus.”

Feuerstein goes on to explain that when he visited a Starbucks store, he told the employee making his drink that his name was “Merry Christmas” so that his cup would read “Merry Christmas.” He later says “Guess what, Starbucks? Just to offend you, I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt into your store, and, since you hate the 2nd Amendment, I even carried my gun!” Three days after the initial post of the video, it has over 130,000 likes and 380,000 shares. Feuerstein has started a #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign in which he urges other Christians to post pictures of themselves performing the same prank in an effort to stick it to Starbucks and keep “CHRIST” in Christmas.

This, my friends, is complete and utter ignorance.

This, my friends, is the reason my fellow students at Colorado State University think I’ll hate them when I tell them I’m a Christian.

This, my friends, is why my African-American brothers and sisters are left begging for answers from an evangelical community who turns a blind eye to their suffering.

This, my friends, is everything wrong with American Christianity.

Full disclosure: I’m now a Starbucks employee. I’m also a follower of Jesus. I also have no issues with the new plain red Starbucks holiday cups. As I start my job as a barista at Starbucks in the coming weeks, I’ll probably familiarize my taste buds with the Starbucks Christmas blend – yes, Christmas blend – by drinking from these plain red cups.

I do have issues with #MerryChristmasStarbucks, though. Most of American Christianity’s blatant problems are exposed in this one excruciatingly real social campaign.

First, I’ll take us back to WWJD. Yep, the four letters that perpetually encircled your wrist if you grew up as a Christian kid in the ’90s. I can certainly tell you that if Jesus walked into a Starbucks store and found that their new cups celebrating the occasion of his very own birthday were simplified to a new plain red look, he wouldn’t have boycotted the store. He wouldn’t have told the employees his name was “Happy Birthday Jesus” so that they’d have to glorify him by writing the phrase on his cup. He wouldn’t have done anything “just to offend” them. Instead, he probably would’ve done something like what my good friend Caleb wrote in a Facebook post concerning the #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign:

“If Jesus was to walk the earth today and enter the nearest Starbucks, what would his agenda be? Would he zero in on the closest employee and tell them to write, “Merry Christmas” on his peppermint mocha? Would he then smile smugly at the pained barista who had nothing to do with the corporation’s decision to implement a new design? Would he later boast about it to all his friends as they marvel at his moral victory?

Or perhaps Jesus would choose to order his coffee and ask the barista how her day has been. Perhaps he would invite her to sit with him during her break so he could get to know her. Christian, would he not choose to love her? Invite her to church, tell her what he did for her on the cross, explain grace and mercy, ask how he could serve her with the same humility he demonstrated 2000 years ago?

Christ is our example in all things, including everyday interactions that may seem inconsequential. Let us not lose sight of that this Christmas season, and let us boast in Christ and Christ alone as we live in a world, country, and state that is not our home and never will be.”

Beautiful. Profound. This looks more like the Jesus I know. This looks like a more accurate answer to “WWJD” than choosing to “offend” Starbucks and their disdain for the 2nd Amendment. As I consider what Jesus would have done upon walking into a Starbucks and finding a simplified red cup, a word I’ve been pondering lately comes to mind.

That word is meekness.

What’s meekness? Good question. It’s a tough term to define. I once heard Jefferson Bethke (a dude whose biblical stances on social issues I’d recommend paying attention to, by the way) call meekness “the inability to be offended.” That struck me hard, because I’m someone who struggles with being easily offended. Meekness is an extremely difficult characteristic to develop, because… what about my pride? What about my ‘being right?’ What about the fact that American corporations are trying to take Christ out of Christmas?

Meekness, however, is a fruit of the Spirit. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). When Jesus went to the cross and died for my sins, your sins, and the sins of Starbucks’ governing board, he showed the epitome of meekness. When he saw the sins of the world, he wasn’t offended. Instead, he was heartbroken. He went to the cross with full knowledge that Starbucks’ corporate decision-makers would one day change their holiday cups to a simple red design in an apparent attempt to take his name out of the season that exists only because of him. He subsequently died for their sins anyway, in hopes that they, too, would accept the free gift of his all-consuming love and live with him for eternity.

When we’re offended that Starbucks changes their cups, we completely fail to show the Christlike characteristic of meekness. Instead, we settle for the moral upper hand.

Another reason #MerryChristmasStarbucks is everything wrong with American Christianity is its improper, miscalculated expectation of Christian values from a non-Christian entity. Simply put, Starbucks is not a Christ-centered company. That doesn’t make Starbucks bad. In fact, Starbucks employees – many of whom are Christians, like myself – often show Christlike characteristics in their jobs, even if they do so unknowingly. Starbucks is a very friendly, comfortable place where millions of Americans enjoy drinking tasty coffee.

What Starbucks’ position as a secular entity does imply, though, is that we shouldn’t expect the corporation to make decisions based on Christian tradition or Christian values. What if Starbucks’ holiday cups were black? What if they featured upside-down crosses? What if they were embroidered with pentagrams? If these outlandish scenarios were in fact realities, I’d hope that Christians would be no less surprised – and no less offended – at the changes. Yet at the simple change to red, we’re shocked, offended, and filled with an anger that’s anything but righteous.

American Christianity has adopted the unfair, improper, and potentially hurtful position that non-Christians should somehow live by Christian moral standards before Christians show love to them. “If we fix their behavior, we’ll show ’em,” we think. Did we forget the words of Romans 5:8, that God presently and continuously demonstrates his love to us because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us?” 

This is sick and twisted. Jesus loved us while we were at our worst. In fact, in the words of Matt Chandler, without Jesus, even at our best we were utterly offensive to God! But he still loved us as his own, still chose us, and still appointed us to be representatives of his sacrificial love. Sadly, we’ve chosen to settle for spreading around our political opinions, allowing ourselves to be filled with pride after our preaching to the choir garners praise from those who already agree with us. We’ve settled for the sickness and self-righteousness of moralistic therapeutic deism rather than the life-changing and eternally powerful message of the Gospel. We’ve settled for religiosity, which frankly doesn’t attract anyone to Jesus. Instead, our moralism repels potential believers while we high-five our fellow Christians for sticking it to the man.

News flash: Jesus already stuck it to the man named death so that we wouldn’t have to. Stop expecting somebody to behave like you and agree with you before you love them. If Jesus expected perfect behavior out of you as a requirement for spending eternity with him, you’d be doomed from the start.

Lastly, Boko Haram has killed 3,500 people in terrorist attacks in Africa this year, many of which have targeted Christians. Up to 340,000 people have been killed in the crisis ravaging Syria over the last four years. ISIS continues to target both Christians and Muslims as it terrorizes the Middle East. Don’t forget, about 30 million people are currently stuck in the horrors of modern slavery. Let’s also add the racial injustice that’s drowning America in turmoil.

James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

But hey, have you seen those new Christ-less Starbucks cups?

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.

Reading into 2015, Part I: Blue Like Jazz

Two miracles happened.

First, I started a book. Second, I finished it.

When I was a little kid, I loved reading books. I think I read most of The Hardy Boys series, like any boy should do. I bet there were some days that consisted solely of me peering into the lives of Frank and Joe as they solved yet another mystery (how did they get in so many strange situations?).

Recently, though, I’ve been distracted. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and plenty of other things I love to waste time doing have choked out the power of reading in my life. I read a book by Francis Chan, if you could call it reading. It was more like reading and then forgetting what I read and then reading some more and then forgetting again. I think that took about a year. I couldn’t make it through a book if I tried. And I didn’t really try, anyway.

I went to Michigan over Christmas break. I stayed in a house that held one of the most impressive book collections I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. In front of me was a wealth of stories, knowledge, and inspiration. On one of the bookshelves, I’m pretty sure I saw the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I would never read, but it was cool. There was an entire bookcase filled with what looked like ancient books. The classics. Even as a non-reader, I was impressed.  I didn’t know the WiFi password for the house, if it even had WiFi, and I would only be staying there for a few nights. Opening a book and looking inside couldn’t hurt for those few nights, I thought.

These were just a few of their books.
These were just a few of their books.

I picked a book that I’d be able to get something out of without having to finish it. I found a book called Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey. Each chapter was about a different person who greatly influenced Philip’s life, and more specifically, his walk with God. I read the chapter about Martin Luther King Jr., who I thought I knew everything about. It was not so. Some of the MLK quotes included by Yancey truly shook me. I was inspired. I’ve always been fascinated by Martin Luther King Jr., but this time I was fascinated at something else, too – why did I ever give up on reading?

It was an epiphany. Surrounded by thousands of books in a quiet room, I realized I needed to start reading again. Reading could be the escape that I admittedly search for sometimes by scrolling through Twitter, as shameful as that sounds. The new year was about to start, but I didn’t want this to be a New Year’s Resolution that I gave up on after a week and a half, like every other New Year’s Resolution that ends in dissolution.

I wrote down a goal: one book per month in 2015. Not terribly difficult, but if you do the math, that’s 12 books throughout the year. That’s 12 times as many books as I would usually read in a year’s time, so I figured it a good goal. This goal was actually inspired by my friend Jenn, who set the same goal in 2014 and succeeded. Jenn looks like Kristen Wiig, but she doesn’t think so. She’s wrong, because she definitely looks like Kristen Wiig.

Back to those miracles I mentioned. When I got home from Michigan, I looked on the bookshelf downstairs and pulled out a few books that looked interesting. I found my first book for 2015, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It sounded vaguely familiar, and I knew who Donald Miller was, but I didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully I would follow through with my goal. I opened the book and started reading. That was the first miracle.

Today, January 12th, I finished Blue Like Jazz. That was the second miracle. Maybe I will even exceed my goal. Maybe I will read two books this month. Miracles do happen.

I decided to blog about my reading adventure for the sake of accountability and because Kristen Wiig told me she wishes she would have done the same thing in order to remember what she learned from her year of reading. When I finish each book, I’ll share what I learned and why you should or shouldn’t read the book. It turns out, Blue Like Jazz was a good place to start, because Donald Miller taught me a lot.

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Donald Miller seems like a pretty cool guy.

Here are some things I learned from Blue Like Jazz:

  • I am a lot like Donald Miller in some ways.
  • I am nothing like Donald Miller in other ways.
  • Donald Miller is a very unique writer.
  • As Christians, we should be apologizing to people we’ve failed to love.
  • There is something profound about friendships that rest on the basis of appreciation of differences.
  • I suck at loving people.
  • Jesus can truly set us free. He can set us free from closed-mindedness and give us the ability to love everyone as if they were our best friend.
  • When Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself,” he meant it.
  • It’s ok to be weird. And to tell people about how weird you are.
  • Sometimes, I should live a little.
  • I am addicted to myself.

I realize that last one is a bit heavy, but that’s one of the main ways I could relate to Donald as he told his story. He thought the world revolved around him. Until he truly experienced the unconditional love of Jesus playing out in his life in a beautiful manner, he was subconsciously but harmfully addicted to himself. He prayed that God would rip this self-addiction from his grasp. God did, and Donald was free. Free of himself. Free to live, free to love. Free to experience Jesus. Free to experience Christianity as “blue like jazz.”

“The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 239)

I realized that I’m trapped in the same addiction of myself. That’s a pretty heavy revelation for my first book of the year. If the rest of the 2015 plays out like this, I’ll be in trouble. It’ll be a good kind of trouble, though, because I’ll be a better person for it. As I read Blue Like Jazz, I heard God telling me to let go of all of my pride and prejudice (pun halfway intended). There’s no room for self-addiction if I want to follow Jesus and truly love people. I need to let go of myself and understand that the fullness of my worth is found in Jesus. I can love myself fully by receiving the love Jesus has for me. Lose my life, and I’ll find it. I think somebody important said that once.

Donald Miller certainly isn’t one of those authors caught up in theological debate or concerned with “the (insert number) things that will help you with doing ________ in your life.” He tells his story and hopes and prays that people will learn from it. It’s possible that I learned more from his writing than I could ever learn from some Bible scholar who’s smarter than both Donald and I put together. Donald really knows how to be transparent and honest. I like that. I also feel like I have taken on a variation of his writing style throughout the course of this blog post. I guess he really impacted me.

Blue-Like-Jazz-e1335535652212

Blue Like Jazz revealed a self-addiction that I didn’t really know I had. It was a hopeful revelation, though, because that’s what Jesus does. He gives us hope despite our attempts to choke it out.

I’m excited for the 11 or more books I’m going to read throughout the rest of this year. Please keep me accountable. I hope you enjoy the thoughts I will share along the way. Oh, and read Blue Like Jazz. It will take you from Portland to the Grand Canyon to the innermost caverns of your heart and mind. I am recommending that you read this book, which is something I usually can’t do, because I haven’t read the book in the first place. Supposedly there is a movie about this book. I think I will watch it now. Kristen Wiig says I can be one of those people that makes snarky comments about the movie because I read the book first and the movie left out so many important parts. Wait, I read the book first?

Miracles do happen.

Ferguson: Love is the Strongest Weapon

Protesters take part in a peaceful demonstration against shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri

I am not here to tell you if justice was or wasn’t served by the acquittal of police officer Darren Wilson. I am not here to tell you that the people of Ferguson are or aren’t acting inappropriately in response to that acquittal. I am not here to tell you why I know that my opinion on the mayhem happening in Ferguson, MO is greater and more intellectually sophisticated than yours.

Instead, I’m here to deliver a quite simple message that it seems most people ignore when a controversial issue such as this surfaces.

This message is for those of you who claim to follow Christ, who trust in His name, who find identity in His transforming sacrifice. If you call yourself a Christian, this message is for you.

John 13:34-35 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In Mark 12:31, Jesus lists “love your neighbor as yourself” among the two greatest commandments.

Jesus told us to love. In the same way that the ultimate example of love has transformed and continues to transform us, we are to love. Jesus has given us each unique gifts and called each of us to use them in unique spheres of influences, but our actions are to be dressed in love no matter where we are or what we do.

When things are easy, we are to love. When things are hard, we are to love. When it seems impossible to love, we are to love. Love is our purpose. Through our love, the Gospel speaks.

Jesus is love, and if we want to represent Jesus to others, we need to love them. In fact, love (and thus, the communication of the Gospel) should be our goal in any and every relationship we have. And even though it may feel indirect, you have a relationship with the people of Ferguson, Missouri.

Before you blindly reduce this relationship to a political one, as the minds of Americans have been so systematically trained to do, first pray for, at the very least take a second to mentally consider those affected by the events that have transpired in Ferguson. Take a second. Think about the family of Mike Brown. Think about Officer Wilson. Think about the people of Ferguson. Think about the police chief who is undoubtedly experiencing one of the most stressful times of his life. Think about those in the Ferguson community who fear for their safety simply because of the violence taking place around them. Think of the African-American community as a whole. Think of the human race. For a second, please drop your party affiliation and consider humanity.

The minds of Americans have been systematically divided into opposing groups that have left no space for the consideration of humanity. Groups that constantly fight back and forth for position, for power, for the ability to make changes. Groups that desire to be right.

We often fall victim to the lie that once we attain correctness, we have the power to make change. We must earn the respect of our peers and the general public by proving that our opinions are more consistent, more sensible, and more coherent than the opinions of those who disagree. We simply desire to be right. 

While being right may seem like a high calling, you are stooping to mediocrity if your actions display this to be your highest purpose. Jesus has called you to something so much higher – He has called you to a level of love that has the true ability to break the chains of injustice.

If you call yourself a Christian, please lay down your desire to be right and step alongside those who are hurting. This is exactly what Jesus did. Even when Jesus has disagreed with your actions, He has loved you and has shown you this through His grace. Please lay down your party affiliation and let your Kingdom affiliation do the talking.

Your party alignment will soon fade away. Be a beacon of hope, not an agent of argument. For goodness’ sakes, and for the sake of souls, love your enemiesThat includes your political enemies. The people of Ferguson are not simply political machines. Whether you agree with their actions or not, do not reduce them to objects of your mind. They are people with hearts, desires, and other people who care about them. Act and speak according to their hurt.

In your hurt, Jesus meets you where you’re at, even when you handle it the wrong way. In their hurt, meet them where they’re at, even if you think they’re handling it the wrong way. Even though you likely don’t know anyone in Ferguson or anyone directly involved with the issues at hand, you can display this love through fervent prayer – even for your political enemies.

If your political allegiance comes before your love of humanity born of Christ, something is disconnected. Are you first inclined to pray for those affected by the violence and treachery in Ferguson, or are you first inclined to scoff at those who don’t share your opinion for their supposed stupidity?

If it’s the latter, step back and understand that Jesus draws no party lines. When He took your sins to the cross, He suffered so that you would KNOW LOVE. Jesus put aside His differences with you, knowing and understanding that your actions would be insufficient to earn their way to His approval, because He loved you so much (and still does).

The least you can do for the people of Ferguson is put aside your differences with, whether those differences be of race or opinion, and love them. Love those with whom you disagree. It is this standard of love that will truly break down walls, something that the desire to be right is utterly powerless to do.

No matter how badly you want to be right and to tell others you are right, understand that people are hurting. Walk with them in their hurt. Love the brokenhearted. That’s what Jesus did for you. Settling for ‘being right’ would be settling for less than the standard of love that has salvaged your soul. Be a beacon of hope, not an agent of argument.

Remember, you carry the Spirit that has the power to change the entire world. This Spirit allows you to love those with whom you disagree. It is this type of love that will break through the chaos in Ferguson, MO and will cause the rightful death of injustice. It is this love, the true love of Jesus, that you are called to.

The desire to be right may be strong, but love means comforting those who hurt even if you believe they’re wrong. Love is the strongest weapon.