Violent Silence: The Church and Social Injustice

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.

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Finally Getting Baptized

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.

Baptisms-43And 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 hBaptisms-51ome!!) 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.

When In Bryan (Month Five)

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:

  1. I can’t change who the Lord says that I am. (see this, this, and this)
  2. People really can care about you. It’s O.K to believe them.
  3. 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.
  4. “True peacemakers love God, others, and themselves enough to disrupt false peace.” – EHS
  5. 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).IMG_5093.JPG

An American Poem of Hope

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.

 

When In Bryan (Month Two)

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.

In Whom Do We Trust? (Part III)

One of the more dense focal points of the argument against an originally Christian United States is that there was a severe wanting of true Biblical Christianity; a wanting which started during the founding of America. This is especially pervasive as they moved past the founding and into the Second Great Awakening. Fea describes the Second Great Awakening as so:

Humans were no longer…waiting passively for a sovereign and distant God who…offered select individuals the gift of eternal life. Instead, ordinary American citizens took an active role in their own salvation…the new theology empowered individuals to decide their own religious fate by accepting or rejecting the gospel message.[1]

In this philosophy and theology, Americans became their own saviors. They were in charge of saving themselves; whether or not God wanted to save them did not matter. The problem here is that this was not and is not Christianity; this is moralism. The implicit idea of this theology is that humans can be good enough to determine if they may enter heaven or not. In other words, this theology is centered on the idea of self-salvation.

The Second Great Awakening was a force driven by its teachers and preachers. Many of these “Christian” teachers, such as Theodore Dwight Woosley[2], proclaimed that the majority of Americans believed in Jesus Christ and the Gospel. This pervasive assumption led to evangelists such as Billy Sunday that would take the assumption even further and say, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms…”[3]. This absurd assumption projected Christianity onto Americans and inspired a self-fulfilling prophecy across the nation. This notion encouraged Americans to think, “I love this country; therefore, I am a Christian. God bless America!”

This is just not how Biblical Christianity functions; this is American nationalism. Mercy Otis Warren was another teacher who did not fight for Biblical Christianity but rather fought for this sense of nationalism. She is quoted as saying “religious and moral character of Americans yet stands on a higher grade of excellence and purity than that of most of other nations.”[4] There was an implicit sense of arrogance in the fact that the people Ms. Warren knew were better than the people she had heard about in other nations. A true Christian would see Romans 3:23[5] and acknowledge the equal depravity of all mankind. The practicing Biblical Christian was the exception in this revival, not the rule.

If the United States was founded and purposed in Christianity, then America would look vastly different than it did and does. If the founders of the United States intended for the nation to be attached to a specific religion, then they all would have had at least moderately uniform thought processes on that matter. The part of America that gives people hope – domestically and internationally – is that basic American tenet of freedom and the ability to believe what one wants to believe without ridicule and persecution. The United States was not founded and purposed in any specific religion; rather, it was founded and purposed in freedom – all encompassing freedom.

[1] Fea. Was America Founded… pg. 5

[2] Fea. Was America Founded… pg. 26

[3] Fea. Was America Founded… pg. 32

[4] Fea. Was America Founded… pg. 9

[5] The Bible in the book of Romans chapter 3 verse 23

In Whom Do We Trust? (Part II)

It is important to note that a moderate number of the founders of the United States were not Biblical Christians; if they even considered themselves Christians at all. As was previously discussed regarding John Adams and the Treaty of Tripoli, Adams believed the government of the United States to not at all be founded on the Christian religion[1]. He was also a Unitarian and disbelieved the Trinity, an important aspect of the Christian faith. Unitarianism is also part of the universalism movement, which teaches universal salvation to all who believe in any god they so choose. In other words, no matter which god or religion to which you ascribe, everyone will end up in the same place. Thomas Jefferson also did not believe in Scripture as written; so, he decided to write his own bible removing content at his own will and discretion. Jefferson also wrote, in a letter to John Adams in April of 1823,

The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.[2]

Furthermore, because of Jefferson’s manifested beliefs in this letter, one may conclude that Jefferson thought of Christianity as tomfoolery at best. If two of the first three democratically elected leaders were so clearly not Christian, then it is, at best, ill reasoning to assume the nation to be explicitly founded upon the Christian religion.

Another aspect of the debate is the discussion of national mottos; such as, “In God We Trust” – imprinted on coins and Treasury notes – and “…one nation, under God…” in the Pledge of Allegiance. In regards to “In God We Trust”, this was not imprinted on money until 1861[3] and was only done for political appeasement of the National Reform Association, not out of true belief on behalf of Congress or President Lincoln. The NRA brought before the president an entire amendment to the preamble of the Constitution that would explicitly make the United States a Christian nation. This was too great a favor to ask, so the politicians compromised with the committee and put “In God We Trust” on United States coins. A few presidents after that, namely Teddy Roosevelt[4], attempted to remove the motto from money, but every attempt was failed on grounds of tradion. In regards to “…one nation, under God…”, this phrase was added to the pledge in the middle of the twentieth century by President Eisenhower[5]; this was not, by any means, and original phrase, contrary to popular belief.

 

[1] Fea. Was America Founded… pg. 4

[2] Schweitzer. Founding Fathers

[3] Fea. Was America Founded… pg. 23

[4] Schweitzer. Founding Fathers…

[5] Schweitzer. Founding Fathers…