I think we were all made to be strong.
Let’s not beat around the bush: I’m trying to be part of a church youth ministry that will talk about the hard stuff and be confused about it together, and I hate that I feel like I’m in the minority of church leadership in the U.S. when it comes to wanting to engage hard topics from the stage. (pardon my cynicism)
Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like many of my friends grew up in youth ministries that were more concerned with their students having fun than they were about their students knowing how the Gospel gives full hope in the midst of what was going on in the culture around them. Many of my friends were sheltered from the realities of racism, sexism, abortion, sex trafficking, porn, and homosexuality by glaring into bright lights and big production and games on games on games; OR they were taught to ignore it by doing yet another book study with their vastly homogenous friend group.
(I don’t blame them, just so we’re clear. They were just doing what those before them had done. They didn’t know any different. I don’t think it was malicious, but that doesn’t change the reality of the current situation.)
I don’t think that’s all bad. I don’t think middle schoolers need to be as caught up on all the politics that adults have to deal with on a daily basis. That would be a detestable thing to do to students — to strip away their emotional adolescence. However, I think it’s yet another social injustice to force our students into ignorance and to send them off into adulthood having no earthly idea what the world around them looks like.
(Let’s be honest, if my parents hadn’t been straight up with me about the culture in which we live, I think when I got to college, I would’ve given a rude finger and some harsh words to church-people for living in augmented reality and never stepping out of their prim-and-proper Christian bubble.)
But there lies the challenge: how do you protect the emotional innocence of students while still equipping them and sending them into the culture?
Grace. Grace and patience. And I’m bad at those things.
Personally, I think in such a black-and-white manner and my natural expectation for people is to get concepts objectively and be able to think critically about them immediately. But that’s not even how most people work, much less middle schoolers and high schoolers. So it takes being able to take a deep breath and chip away slowly at pre-conceived notions. It takes chronic honesty and a willingness to not know the answers. It takes a willingness to hurt when their hearts begin to hurt for someone who faces injustice. It takes a whole lot of patience and it takes a whole lot of empathy.
We are talking about the Sanctity of Human Life in youth this week, and specifically in that conversation is a dialogue on abortion. My hope for our students is not that they would learn all the stats and have a cold, hard opinion on the policies and legislation that our country has on the matter.
My hope is so much more for our students!
I want them have a deeper valuation of all human life.
When they hear their friends quoting our president about other cultures, I want our students to know that all humans have inherent value apart from their economic states.
When their friends devalue movements such as Black Lives Matter, I want our students to confidently know that Black lives DO matter, because our African-American brothers and sisters are also made in the image of God.
When they hear arguments back and forth about whether it’s okay to kill an unborn baby, I want our students to think about the inherent value of that unborn child and for their hearts to break that it would even be a question to kill the child. Because contrary to what the Left thinks, the child has more value than any human could attribute.
But I don’t want another generation that is baby rights vs. momma rights. I want their hearts to shatter at the injustices that have been done to women for centuries. I want them to raise their voices for the voices of unheard women. I want them to value, protect, and fight on the front lines for women. Because contrary to what Right thinks, the momma has more value than any human could ever attribute.
Jesus valued the economically impoverished (the “shithole countries” if you will) by first inviting the shepherds to his birth scene before anyone else in Luke 2.
Jesus valued the invalids who couldn’t perform and make themselves look all prettied up and perfect before they came to him by healing the paralyzed man in Mark 2.
Jesus valued women by protecting the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (who, for you classic conservatives out there, had “already made her choice” to sleep with the man), and by raising the little girl back to life in Mark 5, and by letting the women be the first to see him after he raised himself from the dead in Mark 16.
Jesus valued other cultures by going out of his way and giving up his time and emotional energy to sit and converse with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
Jesus values sinners. He valued us before the world began when the Father chose us in Christ to be set holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1). He valued us when we were DEAD IN OUR SIN, unable to perform and earn the right to be valued (Ephesians 2).
We like to play this game of valuation as if we are all a bunch of estimators for a contractor. But the valuation of human life is not up to us! Our value is solely in the fact that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Humans never lose their value because they did nothing to earn it in the first place.
You are loved and you are valued.
I got saved almost seven years ago, now. After getting saved, most people immediately get baptized in their local church context; however, I chose to busy myself instead of being obedient! Last week I finally decided to be bold and enter into a space that was really terrifying to me. I stood in front of 500+ people and told everyone that I had missed a step and that I’ve been putting it off because I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t done the process perfectly.
The following is my story that I shared last week. I’m praying that it gives you hope as you read it that the Lord loves you as much as he possibly can right now without you doing anything to earn it. All of his love. Right now.
I grew up with incredible and supportive parents who love Jesus and love me. But I also grew up in the church enslaved to my own morality and performance believing that “of course God would love me. I’m a great kid and I deserve it.” You see, I was that kid at my private Baptist high school that saw myself as so far superior over all the drinkers and smokers and partiers that I would probably feel offended if one of them talked to me.
Call me a Pharisee; because at best, that’s exactly what I was.
And because of this, despite growing up in the church, my salvation wouldn’t happen until I was 16 when the Lord started taking things – and people – from me. And there weren’t very many people that the Lord could’ve taken from me that would hurt. But there was one man in particular who never stopped treating me like his own son; who never wavered in his love and grace towards me. And this man was my youth small group leader.
It was on a May night in 2011 that I would sit across the street from my small group leader’s house and weep at his sudden, unexpected death in a freak motorcycle accident. It was that night of feeling some of the deepest pain and sorrow that I have ever felt in my entire life that the Lord would show me my need and call me to himself. It was on that night at 16 years old that the Lord totally shattered the idea that I could ever be good enough to earn his love. It was on that night that I would begin to realize that the love God has for me is far greater than I could ever imagine and that he had already lavished ALL of it on me in the person and work of Jesus.
You see, the Lord doesn’t just arbitrarily take. He took from me so that he could give me more of himself. And what the Lord took from my friends and I that night wasn’t just the friendship and discipleship of a man who deeply loved Jesus. What the Lord took from me that night through pain and suffering was the shackles of my slavery to legalism and perfection. He took those shackles off of my wrists and he replaced it with the faith to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was ENOUGH. I no longer was a slave to proving my worth to the Lord, because Jesus took ALL of my sins and ALL of my messes and paid my debt on the cross and rose back to life three days later in complete and utter victory. And because of that victory, I’m no longer a slave to sin, but a son.
I’m an adopted son of the King of the universe.
And I would love to stand up here and confidently proclaim that I’ve never picked up my old self and tried to force it back on since that day.
I would love to stand up here and say that the broken shackles of perfection and self-righteousness don’t sit on my bedside table fighting for a chance to enslave me again.
I’d love to stand up here and tell you that I functionally believe that my performance has nothing to do with how the Lord feels about me.
But over the course of the past six years, I’ve mostly failed to put on my new self. To be super honest, every minute of every day is a battle to trust the Lord more than I trust my competency. I still need Jesus just like I did that night after my friend died. I still regularly forget that Jesus is ENOUGH and his performance in my place satisfied the Lord’s demand for perfection. I struggle so hard to receive grace.
There’s a song I’ve found that explains my current season almost to a “t”. It says this,
“…but the list goes on forever of all the ways I could be better, in my mind; as if I could earn God’s favor given time, or at least “congratulations”…I’ve spent my whole life searching desperately to find out that grace requires nothing of me”
And that’s been really hard for me to come to terms with. This fact that I’m probably never going to figure out how to perfectly leave behind my old self and put on the new. (At least until Jesus comes back to take me home!!) I’m probably never going to figure it out because if I were to figure it out, then I wouldn’t need Jesus anymore. I’ve spent most of my life thinking that I’m supposed to grow out of needing Jesus for everything (as if the Lord gets tired of meeting my needs and caring for me in ways that I can’t and don’t care for myself). It hasn’t been until the past couple months that I’ve begun to realize that I’m actually supposed to need Jesus for everything.
It’s just now starting to functionally click that there’s NOTHING that I can do that could separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
So I stand before you today, a beaten, broken sinner trying to learn to admit to myself and my community that I constantly need Jesus. But I ALSO stand before you as a son that has been justified with the blood of Jesus and is absolutely being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Jen Wilkin says it like this, “…we were not created to be self-sufficient. Nor were we re-created in Christ to be so. Sanctification is the process of learning increasing dependence, not autonomy.”
And today I boast in our God who is faithfully self-sufficient. And I proclaim to you my constant need for the grace and love of God. And I do this now, almost 7 years after being saved, because I need to confess to this church – my community – that I don’t have everything together. I’ve lived under the belief that I could never admit a missed step along the way. I’ve been afraid to admit to my church family that I am not perfect because I love getting credit. But I can’t live in that lie anymore. I don’t stand here today because of how good of a job I’ve done. I stand here today because of how PERFECT of a job that Jesus has done. I’m here as the older son that’s constantly having to choose the party inside over my self-righteousness and competency.
So here I am before you, boasting in my weakness that I chose fear over obedience for 6 years and passed up this opportunity to proclaim the gospel; because I want you to see the faithfulness of the Lord in my brokenness and depravity. While I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me 16 years to understand that I’m not God; the Lord has looked at me since before he spoke the earth into motion and has called me “son”. And just like he looked at Jesus in Mark 1 before he “did” anything in his ministry, the Father looks at me and says, “Hey. You’re my son. And I love you so much. And boy am I proud of you. Not because you earned it, but because I made you.”
The Father loves me because he loves me, and there’s absolutely nothing I could ever do to make him love me any more or any less.
Well, it’s been a minute since I made myself sit down and reflect on what life has been lately. Mainly because sitting down and reflecting means processing and processing means time and I’d rather not give myself time out of some pseudo-humble mindset thinking that’s the most selfless and servant-hearted thing to do. It’s funny that I perpetually think this way after so many times of realizing that the most selfish thing I could possibly do is not deal with what’s going on with me and the way I feel and what has been great and what has sucked.
Don’t worry, the point of this post isn’t to list out all of those things, just wanted to let you know that’s why I didn’t have a blogpost about December and why this one about January is so late!
Some things I learned in December/January:
- I can’t change who the Lord says that I am. (see this, this, and this)
- People really can care about you. It’s O.K to believe them.
- It’s O.K for goodbye’s to be hard. It’s actually really normal. So I shouldn’t act like it’s not hard.
- “True peacemakers love God, others, and themselves enough to disrupt false peace.” – EHS
- Everyone is different from me. So let them be different. Different is wonderful.
I’ve been chronically bad at praying for myself for the past I don’t even know how long. My most consistent prayer in the past couple weeks is for the Lord to teach me 1) to recognize my need and 2) to humble myself and just ask for help (because it’s not like I stand a fighting chance of satisfying my needs anyways, honestly.)
So that’s the quick and easy version of where my mind has been the past couple months.
As for work, my job has been a lot of reading, which I love.
We’ve still been going through “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” as a staff and it, of course, has continually be kicking me in the gut and making me realize that I am not nearly as put together as I would’ve said in August (or December, honestly). So I highly recommend it for anyone. Find some pals, get the book, be honest with each other, and delve up all of the fun things you didn’t even know you were suppressing! It’ll be fun, I promise, you just may have to wait until the end of the book to see how fun it is…
The other book I’ve been reading is specifically for “worship” leadership, and it’s called “Doxology & Theology“. I’ve been going through it with a couple of friends and am about to teach through it with some of our band members at church. It does an incredible job of teaching the whys and the hows of worship leadership, and it’s also incredibly readable.
My team is still incredible. We’re excited to have Blake back from Sabbatical tomorrow and to finally be a full team again. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and family in this season of life. (The people’s faces that are covered are like so because I am not about to potentially compromise their ability to get into certain countries because they are linked to a church).
(an open letter to the upper-middle class white Christian conservative American)
Quit fighting half the battle.
Sunday marked forty-four years since America became polarized on yet another front (as if we really needed any help). Now instead of just being polarized racially, culturally, and generationally, America was now polarized on life. And America has remained polarized on life ever since.
Because of this argument of whether the baby’s life or the mother’s life matters more, I believe that very few people are actually pro-life. I think that the vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. I think that the people that are more worried about the baby’s life than the mother’s life are just as guilty of stripping someone’s voice as the opposite side. The devaluation of life is the same whether you fight only for the baby or only for the mom.
On Sunday, we had a guest speaker at church that spoke on the sanctity of human life. One of his big points was this, “Fight for the voiceless.” But he spent much of the message talking about how pro-mom AND pro-child he and his wife are.
This is the proper view of human life: to be pro-mom AND pro-child; because while the baby is voiceless, there is an astounding chance that the mom has never been given a voice either. Is this always true? No. Absolutely not. But instead of shaming women for getting abortions like the Church has generally been really great at for decades, what if we just befriended? What if we helped the woman instead of just telling her she’s wrong and making a project out of her? What if we fought fear with hope?
Is abortion wrong? Yes. Totally. And that’s not really something on which I’m willing to compromise. Also not the point of this blog, sorry.
Have we been engaging the space in a non-helpful way? Mostly.
Mostly we’ve engaged the space with verbiage like “She chose when she decided to have sex! It’s the baby’s turn now!” or “There are consequences for every action and they need to learn responsibility!”
Hate. So much hate. So much ill-will and hopelessness. When pro-baby people say things or think this way, you strip the voice from the woman just like pro-abortion people strip the voice from the child. The voices have equal value and should be taken equally serious.
We. Need. Hope.
If you know me in any capacity, you know that I love kids. As a matter of fact, kids aged 1½ to about 8 years old may be my favorite demographic of human being on the face of the planet. They teach me so much about living life to the full and having fun and laughing a lot and being an adventurer.
One of the highlights of November was going to watch my pal Jett at his first soccer skills showcase (try saying that 10 times fast…). While it obviously wasn’t the best soccer I had ever seen, it was unbelievably incredible to see how much he lit up when Drew, Marissa, and myself all showed up just to watch him! (It was also incredible to watch his mom play goalie against his dad and hope that he didn’t kick her in the face and also hope that she didn’t beat him up for kicking her in the face).
There were a few other things that happened in November, as well:
-The Aggies’ football program spontaneously combusted.
-I’ve begun to practice the art of task delegation. Which means I get to actually equip and train people in areas instead of doing jobs myself.
-I turned 22.
-My niece, Zoey (check out the #zoeywatch on Instagram, if you’d like) who is three years old will finally snuggle with me for more than ten seconds.
This month has been far lighter than the last couple months and I am so incredible thankful for that. In my last blog, I wrote about how the Lord was growing me in emotional health and that has absolutely continued. But it has been wonderful to live in the kind of freedom that is offered by living in the light. I’m learning how to communicate with my co-workers, friends, and girlfriend better and better. I’m learning that I don’t have to hold in my emotions or how I’m feeling and that it is OK to externally process the good and the bad with my people. However, this month has not been quite as much of a punch in the face as last month was (praise the Lord).
The Lord has also been growing me in thankfulness. Maybe it’s just the season, or maybe I’m just growing up, but I wake up most mornings more thankful than the day before. Thankful for my breath, thankful for the ability to move and walk and run and lift things, thankful for people that care, thankful for means of transportation, and ultimately thankful for the fact that Jesus came and took my place, lived a life I had no shot at living and died a death I absolutely deserved. And Jesus did all of this so that I could live with the Father forever? Dang. That thought breeds thankfulness.
It’s been a good month and I’m thankful for the breath of fresh-air with which the Lord has gifted me in this season. BRING ON THE HOLIDAYS!
I woke up this morning and felt like being creative. So I formulated some thoughts on today’s election and decided to put them in a poem. My hope isn’t found in who sits in the White House in January. My hope is in the King of kings that was in full control over Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Xerxes, Caesar, James, and is still in full control over world leaders today. So, my hope gets to be unwavering and I hope that your hope does too.
It’s not about you and it’s not about me.
It’s not about the “system” to which we cling.
It’s not about the firsts that are on the brink.
It’s not up to us anyway.
It’s not about the red, about the black, white, or blue.
It’s not about the information we’re fed on the news.
It’s not about the Millennials, Gen X, or Baby Boom.
It’s not about us and it never has been.
We’ve lived for so long thinking we call the shots;
that the elected representatives are the ultimate crux.
We think we are gods and that God should serve us
and keep us so safe and secure how we want.
This illusion of power of which we’re convinced
has never been real, we’re just wrong once again.
We’ve put all our faith in some liars and cheats
and forget that the King’s in control of all things.
The King’s still on His throne and is over all things.
I can’t even believe it is already November. I feel like October would’ve been nearly non-existent had the LORD not totally began to demolish a bunch of the walls I’ve been building up in my heart and soul for the past five years. This past month has been a lot more emotionally taxing than physically taxing (as September was).
We as a church staff have started reading a book together and spending a good chunk of our staff meeting processing through it together. The book is called “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. This book has been a consistent kick in the teeth for the past few weeks. Here’s a few things the Lord has been revealing to me about myself (some of which I may write about as the month goes on, but this isn’t the time to go in to detail about all of this).
- I am not good at submitting to leadership.
- I am not even close to as humble as I thought.
- I am afraid of being known because really anyone who has truly known me in the past has pretty much dropped me at some point (with a few exceptions).
- This has led to me choosing to live in the dark on a lot of stuff and let me tell you, I wish everyone would live in the light. It is far healthier and far more bearable and joyful of a life. It far more closely reflects the life Jesus describes in John 10:10.
- I have an inherent lack of trust for people within the Church.
- I also generally have unrealistic expectations of people in the church, I think.
- Love doesn’t hinge on clarity and clarity doesn’t bring forgiveness.
- Love breeds forgiveness regardless of clarity.
And in the midst of all of this demolition of my synthetic inner walls, I’ve realized this as well: I am far less important than I thought I was, but I am far more loved and cared for than I could ever imagine.
I’ve had so many conversations in the past two weeks of repentance and forgiveness. Not because I am fully healed from things that have happened or the lies people have fed me or the abandonment that I’ve faced from people who have used me. No. Those things still hurt. But what’s different now is that I’m not pouring the salt of bitterness and resentment into those wounds while the Lord is trying to bind up my broken heart and heal my wounds. Now I get to sit and be taken care of by the Lord and by my friends and I don’t feel resentment anymore. I can sit and be bandaged and not rip the bandage off to pour in more dirt and salt. My wounds aren’t infected anymore and that is the first step of being emotionally and spiritually healthy.
Please don’t get me wrong, it has been really terrible and exhausting for the Lord to come in like a bull in a china shop and demolish all of my walls. But it has also been so good because I’ve gotten to taste, see, and feel the goodness of God the Father because while he’s come in swinging, he sits there with me while HE builds everything back up and speaks life and speaks identity over me.
“You’re my son.” He says. “Of course I’d fight off all of these lies that have surrounded you.”
October was crazy and tiring, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.