Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life: A Thing To Be Cherished

I shall now continue to state my opinion on very delicate issues that I simply feel are far too important to be silent on. The last time I touched on this kind of touchy subject, I got more reads than several of my posts combined. So, whether people agree or not, people are reading this stuff and perhaps pondering more than they have. And I'm good with that. So, here we go again. Strap in, remember to be loving, and let this open up some dialogue. 

I have considered myself Pro-Life for years. Only now am I truly able to understand what that should actually mean. Some people reading this are like "Yeah buddy!" and some are more like "Hey now" and both are most likely not fully understanding where I am going with this. So, hang in there. 

First and foremost, when I say Pro-Life, people think of being against abortion. As always, I believe the better point is not to be "against" something, but to be "for" something else. I consider myself in all ways a proponent of life. 

I could rattle off all kinds of arguments for why life in the womb should be protected and scientific facts about fetuses and how early they are like "real", outside the womb human beings. I could even rattle off the classic Psalms verse about "being knitted together in your mother's womb." Here is basically how I see it. God made sex for multiple reasons, but one of those most certainly is procreation. It is sacred, and the life that is made is sacred. More than cells that simply end up as dead skin, what God is able to make with two cells from a man and woman according to His design is sacred. Life, no matter how feeble or frail, is sacred to God, and should be protected and cared about. 

Now, fact of the matter is, a good number of Christians agree with this sentiment. They are in essence, pro-life, but do not see themselves as capable of telling other people, women in particular, what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. I understand this, I truly do. I do not consider myself able to legally force my morals onto other people. However, I feel as though this is one area I must disagree with. 

Of all the "moral" things that I would want to see our nation hold to, it's the protection and value of life. We have been able to witness what happens in places where life is no longer valued. Genocide is of the worst evils in this world, and it is the result of people no longer valuing life. Nearly 50,000,000 children have been killed via this legal means. That is the greatest genocide of all time. 

Some do not see it this way, and in fact would claim that it would be better for some babies to go and be with Jesus, rather than enter into whatever social situation they may be in. I know there are Christians who have this opinion. However, let me make this application. If the baby is born, and the mother killed it then, would that be ok? Surely it could be argued that it could be better for some toddler to be with Jesus early rather than grow up in a social context that would very likely lend itself to all kinds of abuse, drug addiction, and countless other factors that come with lower income contexts in which abortions seem the most justified. However, once the baby is alive and outside the womb, very few people would be happy with a family who decided to abort that child. Sometimes in life, we externalize things. Imagine spit (saliva) - it fills our mouths, digests our food, and we swallow it on the daily. However, spit into a cup and it becomes a different story. Most people would gag at the thought of drinking a cup full of their own spit. It sounds gross just typing it. However, it's the same thing. With babies, I feel like we tend to do the opposite. We protect it from harm once it is outside the womb and are disgusted when people bring harm to babies, but do not blink when an abortion takes place. 

Some Christians also always cite cases of rape or incest as a situation that they feel abortion should be allowed. One sin does not justify another though. Furthermore, in all abortion cases, rape and incest account for (if my memory serves me right, I could be wrong) less than 1% of cases. These things are tragedies, but God shows up in tragedy and makes something good out of it. The world is a fallen place where other people's free will often impedes on others, but that does not make killing an innocent child justified in my eyes. 

Now here is the thing, if you are going to claim that you are "pro-life", that should include more than you might think it should. If you have been nodding your head up to this point...this next bit may be tough. Being pro-life means taking care of the mothers that are so tempted to have them. Some mothers truly cannot imagine how they will take care of a child. It is up to those who are pro-life to help them. Being pro-life also means helping the poor and not looking down on those who accept things like food stamps. One cannot simply wave a "moral flag" in another's face without offering to help them out of the situation they find themselves in.

Another interesting fact. Abortion is almost as prevalent in the church as the rest of the world. Why? For some reason, we have made girls feel more shame over getting pregnant than killing their unborn. We say that church is a place where we accept people, but then when people do open up to the church, they are treated as if they were a leper.  Also, my previous statements do NOT mean that I think we need to shame those who have abortions. These are not malicious people, but confused and scared individuals. These mothers are not murderers in the way that the word connotes. They are human beings who deserve to be loved. So, for those who claim to be pro-life, show that you are, don't just say that you are or just vote like you are. I honestly care so little for politics it is uncanny, but I know that being pro-life is an action, not a vote. 

This in fact has very little to do with politics. I'd far rather live the example than cast the vote. Plus, there is a side to being pro-life that I have not discussed yet. Remember back when that one abortionist was caught doing hundreds of illegal abortions and was convicted for his crimes? You think that would be a victory for the pro-life movement, but from those I am close to that are very involved in the movement, things like that actually divide the movement like no other. Why is this? Because half the people are screaming "give him the death penalty!" That's the thing, I truly do not wish to associate with political party, for neither hold life dear the way I wish to. One side is far more apt to support abortion while the other side tends to be more pro-war and pro-death penalty.

Just as those mothers who choose abortion in desperation deserve to be shown the love of Christ, so do murderers and thieves. 

Let me tell you the story of Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer was a notorious serial killer who liked to eat his victims. After being convicted, Dahmer was given a life sentence instead of the death penalty, much to the dismay of many who wished for him to get the death penalty. While serving his sentence though, Dahmer came to faith. Some may be skeptical of the legitimacy of this conversion, but if David could wind up a man after God's own heart and a guy like Paul could become the greatest missionary in the history of humankind (not to mention the fact that I have been saved, despite my shortcomings), then I shall not pass judgment. 

Now, according to Romans 13, the government does have the "right" to bear the sword. However, the chapter before tells Christians they should have nothing to do with that. So, while I shall not be so bold as to say it is wrong, it should not be something Christians desire, for it does create the "eye for an eye" mentality. Also, if a soul like Dahmer can be changed by the power of Christ, then perhaps we should scream for life, not death. But, when we send someone to prison, remember that it is at the core of Christ's teaching to visit those in prison, for how would Dahmer have changed if no one visited him and shared Christ's love with him? Not to mention, I heard once that it actually costs tax payers more to kill a person than to keep them alive. Must be true. Read it on the internet or something. 

I've already written about it and perhaps will take another post to expand my thinking even more, but when it comes to matters of war and killing in the name of something good, Christians just tend to be FAR too supportive of such things. We should be the group that is SCREAMING for peace, even if some do believe that some war and killing are necessary or justified. LIFE should be on our lips in every way. That should be our default. To use a quote offered to me recently, "death is the consequence of sin (according to Genesis), and we as Christians should not be about the business of causing it, no matter what the circumstances."

Also, remember this. We as the church are a countercultural force. These things I say here may never come into fruition. We may never live in a place where there is no death penalty, no abortion. Fact is, whether those types of things get put into law or not, they will continue. However, just because something won't work, doesn't mean that a Christian is then under no obligation to do them. We will never rid ourselves completely of sin, but should we go on sinning so that grace may abound? Heck no (a more literal translation of the Greek there in Romans). We strive to be pure, even though we never will. So, we also speak for life, despite how effective we are. Effectiveness does not equate to faithfulness. 

This is not about political side, after all, neither major political party truly values life in the way that I feel a Christian should. This is about cherishing life in a consistent way. Perhaps it is this kind of consistent ethic that we can truly unite behind as a church and be a light in a dark, sinister world full of death. 

Perhaps it is in our cherishing of life from conception to the grave that we can show the life that Christ offers, and how much he cares for every individual life in this world. 


A lot. I have read a good deal of things on this subject that have rattled around in my head and spilled onto my keyboard, so if you have a question about any particular part, it very well may have some extra insight or reading behind it. Ask and I'll be happy to try and remember specifics. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Gates of Hell

This will be an extension of a facebook thought I put up the other day that got quite a bit of attention. I asked and answered the question - How do we remain faithful? The fact of the matter is, the church is losing kids like crazy as they come out of highschool and go into college. This is something that I think about quite a bit. The first reason that I do is because I am a youth minister, it's on my mind. The second reason is because I have seen a good number of friends leave the church. Great people that I grew up with, going to various church camps and what not, just vanishing. Some come back after a bit of hiatus, and some still seem to be on the fringe. 

The other day I had about 18-20 friends share the link to the movie "God's Not Dead" which seems to be the next Facing the Giants, Fireproof type of movie. All but one person were like "Yeah! I can't wait! This looks so good!" and there is not a thing in the world wrong with that. One of my friends and fellow youth ministers actually dared to ask the question of how the atheist crowd was going to receive such a movie. Would this movie do anything to reach out to others or would it simply be an apologetics type of movie for our Christian youth and young adults? 

If you haven't seen the trailer, it essentially focuses around a young male who goes to college and is confronted in freshman philosophy class with a professor who is extremely atheistic and has the entire class write down the words "God is Dead" on a piece of paper (playing on the coined phrase of Nietzsche that "God is dead" because we have killed him. An interesting read if you never have). Now, I have to admit, this is a little dramatic. The freshman of course says he can't do so because he's a Christian and then is put on the spot to come up with an answer to why he refuses to write such a thing down. And so the movie is centered around the young man making the argument that God's not dead and asking questions to get at why the professor has such a bad taste in his mouth with God.

Now, I'm not saying anything against standing up for what you believe in. I agree that if one is presented with such a task that is denying God before fellow humankind, they must proudly be able to say that they believe in God, and be able to give a reason for the faith that they possess as Peter would commend them to do. 

However, there seems to be a premise behind the movie that tries to answer the original question: how are we to remain faithful? The movie seems to put forward the idea of defense. In the movie, the young protagonist Christian is attacked by the antagonist atheist professor and thus must defend the faith that he has. The actual tactic is to put God on trial, thus literally, the plotline is God (or this young man) defending the faith possessed by Christians.

There is nothing inherently wrong in this. However, I think it is the wrong tactic when it comes to living out our faith. Remember when Jesus said to Peter that He would build his church and the gates of hell would not stand against the church? It was then this same Peter who writes that you should be able to give an answer concerning why you have the faith that you have. However, I think there is something we tend to misinterpret. When you think about gates, what is their purpose? They keep things out. They are defensive structures. Now, if the gates of hell will not prevail against the church...that puts us on the offense. I always got this mixed around. Somehow I made the image of gates beating on the doors of our churches trying to get in work in my mind, but that's not what we're talking about here.

In general, we teach people (and especially our kids) to go on the defense. We tell them not to drink, not to smoke, don't dance, don't cuss, don't have premarital sex, don't watch this or that tv show, and most certainly be able to stand up against the classmate or professor that will try tell you about evolution or Nietzsche. Now, there is some merit to some of these things. Our stance on these, even if it is moderation is what makes us the separate and holy entity that the church should be, embracing being Light and Salt, vastly different than what they invade and make different. However, sometimes this is all we teach. We teach what not to do. And just so I don't have angry parents hitting me up in the comments, you should teach about these things...maybe some less than others or in moderation and appropriateness (My mama taught me how to dance, but appropriately). 

This point is important. I know many people who have been burned because of this in one or both of two ways. Firstly, people get burned out of church when we make doctrine out of opinion. If the Bible doesn't address it, even secondarily through some sort of standard or topic not directly involved in the issue, why do we make that a rule? The Bible doesn't have anything to say about carpet color. It doesn't have anything to say about a good deal of things. So, we have to have opinion in order to structure our lives and church, but there is freedom in that. We do this in church, and in parenting. Fact is, "treat your body as a holy temple" has nothing to do with smoking cigarettes and tattoos. Now, perhaps there are issues of health or addiction that may be guiding issues here that we can assess the goodness of these things, but the Bible just doesn't address it. Now, you might be thinking "yeah, but the Bible does address tattoos" - and you would be right (kinda). However, in context, there are very specific things said. The same could be said about other things that we come down very prohibitively on. The Bible simply doesn't prohibit some things, and so it is the humble opinion of this theologian that respect and moderation are preferred ways of teaching. Learning about change in graduate school makes me even more so aware that prohibition can actually encourage negative behavior, whereas respect leads to healthy treatment. Example: sex education. Sometimes we in the church make sex seem bad or dirty. This comes from the prohibition mindset but also just not wanting to deal with the subject. Respect is explaining how sex is supposed to rock, but in specific contexts.  

HOWEVER. All of that should not be our focus in teaching. Those are very elementary teachings. Spiritual milk if you will. When a toddler is learning how to walk, most commands are NO. Because they could get hurt. The problem is...we sometimes don't grow out of that stage with our adolescents. All they are taught is what they shouldn't do once they get to college. Now, once they're there, they get bored and decide to go ahead and see what it's like. This is by no means a post on what is appropriate and what is not, for I want to draw your attention elsewhere.

Instead of teaching our youth to go on the defense, I want to show them offense. I don't want to spend even HALF of the time telling them what NOT to do, I would SO much rather talk to them about what TO do. Sometimes in the church, we get so caught up in defending the faith that we forget to spread it. The Gospel of Love is what we offer, not creationism versus evolution. We offer Sensational Sex set within the parameters of the One who made it, whereas we generally either shy away from the subject or pound abstinence into the ground. We offer not a rule book by which they are going to have to cut things out of their life as much as we offer a Book of Life that offers a way of living that is so abundant that it fills even the most stubborn holes in our lives.

We aren't teaching our youth how to live our Christ-like, loving offense, so no wonder they rebel against a rigid defense in which they feel no relationship with the Savior and no community with fellow believers. Mother Teresa was invited to an anti-war rally to which she replied that she would not be able to attend, but the next time they had a pro-peace rally, count her in. Being anti is unfortunately what we're known for. When asked "What is the church about?"...the most common answer from a random selection of unchurched people was that the church is anti-gay. Somehow pro-love didn't make it into our description as much. Positives outweigh negatives.

Have you ever stopped to think about how you go about battling sin? We focus so much on fighting the bad, but I think we may have more luck if we spent more time filling ourselves with good things, "whatever is true, whatever is noble...think on these things." It's a whole lot harder for the bad to sneak in when we are filled up with the good.

So, we need a paradigm shift in Christianity. It's something that many are attempting within various religious movements and church leaderships. However, if when asked, the most common thing about the church from the world's perspective is us being AGAINST something...we have some serious work to do.

I genuinely believe with all my heart that if we spend more time focusing on our non-offensive offense of Christian love, we will create an environment where our youth do not want to leave the church. A proper offense almost replaces our need for a defense at all.

Let's show a dying world what it looks like to be Salt and Light. Let's show them what kind of gatebreakers we can be. It's an almost violent image, bursting down the gates of hell and releasing those ensnared by them, but it is our love that we show as the body of Christ that truly has such conquering power. 

Let that love radiate from us and let them say of those Christians, "Man, they're weird, but they really do love everybody." 

Monday, October 21, 2013

'Merica, We Don't Dial 911

Sooner or later I'm bound to make someone angry. I don't want to, honest to goodness. However, I feel strong conviction about certain things and how Christians sometimes handle them and I must voice that. So, if this rubs you the wrong way, let's dialogue about that in a loving way. I have seen many of these signs like the one above in my life. It's usually laughed at or played off as humorous. I see many Christians who have used this sign as well, sometimes there is even a Christian message attached to these types of messages like below. 

Somehow I don't think that this is what Jesus meant when He said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." In fact, I'm rather certain of it. Just ask yourself this question and really think about it: Who Would Jesus Bomb? I don't ask this to be sarcastic as much as to jar you a bit. Images like the one above severely disturb me. Now don't jump to conclusions, posts like this tend to make people think that I hate guns, hate veterans, hate the flag, and all those types of things. I'll save my opinions unless asked on most of those things, because that's not the point, but I promise you that I will never intentionally treat a person poorly because they hold a different opinion than me. That is also not very Jesus like. Despite how much I think Jesus would disagree with someone hosting a sign or shirt with one of the images above, I also know that He loves them dearly, and so do I. 

However, when did the church get so wrapped up in nationalism? When did being Christian equate to loving the Red, White, and Blue and all of the "Kicking Butt and Taking Names" that comes with that? When did Christian Evangelicals become the single most supportive group of war (Fact: without the support of Christian Evangelicals, the war in Iraq might never have started)? When did it become churches that were the most likely place to hear things like "nuke 'um all" when we are attacked? Why are Christians some of the first to want to assign the death penalty for criminals, creating the "eye for and eye" atmosphere?  Why are some more vocal about being able to own assault weapons than they are about Jesus's love for all people? Why are we the LOUDEST when it comes to these things?

I said this in my last post, but America is not God's nation. We are not, I repeat NOT, the new Israel. The book of Ephesians lets us know that the Church is the new Israel, God's chosen people are no longer associated with a nation. The U.S. is not a holy nation, set apart by God. If it were though, IF IT WERE, things would look differently. Perhaps we'd follow the warfare policy set forth by God for Israel where there is no standing army, no taxation would fund the army, there would be no superior weapons (Israel was prohibited from having horses and chariots, the tanks of the day) - so no tanks, drones, and certainly no nukes, there would be no bootcamp - the only way soldiers would prepare for battle would be to pray, fast, and sing worship songs, and we would in general allow God to fight for us most of the time, being undermanned and undergunned (Sprinkle, 68-71). 

As I said, we're not God's nation, and all of the previous will certainly not happen. However, God does have something to say about trusting in superior fire power as His people (not dialing 911), He calls it idolatry according to the book of Isaiah. (I talk greatly of the U.S., for it is where I am, but I know that I have readers in many, many countries, so apply this to wherever you are).

I don't intend to answer questions of ethical warfare and defense of one's family in such a short post, but I do think that there is some serious disconnect between Jesus's command to love our enemies (the word for enemy indicating the strong possibility of conflict greater than your uncle you don't like) and the claim that my automatic go-to is going to be to shoot anyone I have the right by law to shoot. Somehow our first response is to shoot our enemy, not love them. Somehow American Christians see themselves as on some sort of Holy Crusade to rid the world on injustice through force.

In a game of rock, paper, scissors, Self-Defense and even Property-Defense seem to trump Enemy Love a good deal of the time. And I think that's a tragedy. I used this quote in a post this last summer, and I re-use it for it's appropriateness now - "
On that cross at Golgotha was nailed the One who was unjustly abused, tried, and murdered - and in His dying words He prayed that the Father would forgive those who killed Him. But instead, imagine the result if Jesus had lived in Kentucky, and just before they nailed Him to a cross, He claimed his rights as a citizen and pulled out a .38" (Camp, 44). 

Despite how far one decides to take these ideas I've set forth, perhaps I can inspire you to take a few steps to what I consider a more Jesus like way...a way where this - 

Is not your automatic dualistic mindset. A way where you preach love and grace FAR more than you preach about 2nd Amendment Rights. A way where when you say "God Bless America", you remember to ask for blessings on everyone else too. A way where when you pray for troops, you don't pray for "Our Troops", for the church has none, but instead pray for troops everywhere and on every side (fulfilling Christ's commandment to pray for your enemies [Luke 6:28]). A way where retaliation is not praised, but mourned, for it goes against what Jesus said. And ultimately, a way where Life is cherished, and we mourn when it is lost in any capacity, friend or foe. 

Nationalism is usually only beautiful in the eye of the beholder. Christians went to war during World War II in the name of their Christian nation. The thing is, people did this in the U.S. and in Germany, and had the exact same mindset. During the Civil War, both sides prayed to the same God for victory for their noble cause. One cannot assume that their side is righteous. 

If you're in the army, marines, navy, air force, etc...I love ya. If you want to be in the armed forces, I love ya. If you own a small armory and are easily the safest place to go in case the zombie apocalypse occurs, I love ya, and perhaps we can go shoot some clay pigeons or vermin or something (not human). I'll shake your hand and call you friend. But I do want to challenge your thinking as you challenge mine, and may we ever sharpen each other like iron sharpens iron. 

Let your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven supersede any and all earthly citizenships that you may have. Be a Christian American, not an American Christian (or wherever you might be). 

Works Cited

Camp, Lee C. Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003. Print. 

Sprinkle, Preston. Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013. Print. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Life As A Dirtbag

Believe it or not, I’m not actually being offensive to myself in the title of this post. A dirtbag has many connotations attached to it, I’m sure. However, in the climbing community, the term is used with a bit of endearment, actually. A dirtbag refers to someone who is in all ways a minimalist, but like a lazy minimalist (to use modern language – think “granola,” but less healthy and more lazy). A good example of a classic dirtbag move would be the climber who shows up to the crag (climbing destination) in jammies and house slippers.  What I just described has been done many times, although I can say, not by myself. Their gear is old and tattered, they do really weird crap, and generally, you can easily spot a dirtbag by how they live out of their car, sometimes incredibly literally. Some actually just live in vans near climbing destinations like Red Rocks and have some sort of small trade they do to keep food in the…uh…glove box.

The other day, I got called a dirtbag by one of my best friends. It was after I had tweeted about doing my dishes while showering. So obviously, this is kind of deserved. I do almost live out of my car, it’s a complete wreck, and in general, I just really don’t do a whole lot of self-care. I haven’t shaved in almost three years, only trimmed. I went on a two month kick this summer where I didn’t wear deodorant, maybe not a shining star decision, but it worked out for the most part (to be honest, I still forget to put it on a fair amount of days). All kinds of stuff like that. Now, I can at least explain the washing of dishes in the shower.

I’ve moved down to Abilene to pursue a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, and I just happened to find a free apartment through a connection I made at the church I’m working at currently. It’s hard to argue with free anything, especially housing when your budget is…pretty much nothing like mine. So free is good. However, free means doing without some things. My grandma told me the other day that the way they used to describe apartments back in the 50s and 60s were “Apt. With Mod Cons” which shorthand for “modern conveniences.” So, I’m very much living in an apartment lacking Mod Cons. I have an average sized room in which I’ve been able to have a bed, table, lazy boy, and a fridge. There is no kitchen and so I have to either do my dishes in the bathroom sink, or in the shower. So far, I’ve generally chosen shower. Killing two stones with one bird type of thing. I just have a dish drainer/dryer thing I keep on the floor of the shower. I have a tiny closet, which I have put my dresser in to save space, but unfortunately this space also is shared with the hot water heater, so it’s a tight fit. There is nothing better about my apartment though, than the bathroom. It’s about 40 inches by 75 inches, so just over 3 feet by 6 feet (I used by body; I laid on the floor - classic dirtbag measurement means). In that space is the shower, the sink, and the toilet. There isn’t a tub; the floor just starts gradually sinking down towards a drain. If the curtain were not pulled shut, the water would be hitting my legs whilst I am sitting on the toilet. It’s tiny, and it’s awesome. The toilet paper holder that was in place when I got here is a simple bolt that is held up by two pieces of wire. I call it the Bolt(e) toilet paper holder. I cook using a mix between a toaster oven, a George Foreman grill, and a really old electric skillet (and a Nuwave cooktop, but I don’t have a pan for it yet). My meals are pretty basic.

If you know me well, you’ve probably heard me say that I think I could live in a tent. This is a few steps above a tent.  Man am I happy with it though. I’m not trying to make you feel bad for living with all kinds of Mod Cons, I’m really not. I do think that it’s incredibly healthy to go without from time to time though. Simplicity has been a theme in my life that I’ve been trying to live out better. Jesus was an even bigger dirtbag than me; He didn’t even have a permanent place to lay His head, so I’m still living in way more luxury than Jesus did. I’ve said it before, but it fits really well here – one of the underlying themes behind the First Century idea of purity was Creation. Purity was seen in how God made things in the beginning. The first dirtbag was actually Adam (quite literally). I’ve experienced this form of seeing purity in creation. From leading camping/climbing trips on the weekends with OC Excursions, spending several days backpacking in Colorado on Trek, to simply interacting with a beautiful cliff line as I try to scale it, there is something really pure about being in Creation and not having much more than what God made directly. It makes you appreciate God, but it also makes you lean on Him because you don’t have a whole lot of Mod Cons to lean on.

The idea behind fasting in the first century was to cease from the physical to long for the spiritual better. It also served as a reminder of where your trust and security truly reside – In God. We have so much noise in our lives, and honestly, so much comfort, that we don’t always need God. Fasting from something realigns our focus. For us today, fasting from food probably isn’t even the best thing. Try fasting from your phone, laptop, car, radio, whatever it may be for you (maybe it’s just instagram). When you get rid of some of the noise, it’s easier to hear God. But it’s also good to remember where to lean, not on possessions, but on God.

I honestly do not believe that God intends for us to have comfortable lives. We tend to thank God for our physical blessings a whole lot, but what if those things are getting in the way between you and God? Did God really put it there if it comes between you and Him? The answer can be yes, after all, He made sex, but even something that beautiful has very specific contexts that God says to use it in. The answer can also be no though. I’m not sure God blessed you with an iPhone 5 and a luxurious house full of Mod Cons. The reason I think this is because there are extremely faithful Christians in the world, who simply don’t have these things. God sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. America isn’t the new Israel and thus the recipient of God’s extreme blessing, after all, being so free and prosperous has led churches and the Christians in them into some awful forms of materialism.

In all this, I’m one to talk. I’m receiving an education that a miniscule fraction of the world will ever receive. I have invested a ton of money into climbing gear. And I am typing these words on a MacBook Pro. However, I realize all of this about myself and attempt to practice minimalism as often as possible. It’s not that I’ve attained these things I challenge you with, it’s that I’m working through it.

Ultimately, the life of a climbing dirtbag can be a lonely and potentially selfish one. Those who are dirtbagging it might give up family and friends to go do so. They offer very little to the outside world, they instead spend their time focused on the self and their own climbing. They live poorly so that they have the time for climbing, and what little work they do goes towards funding climbing (or just food). Jesus was a dirtbag for the sake of the poor, the oppressed, and for you. The life of a Christian dirtbag could still be a lonely life from time to time, definitely one of hardship, but the purpose is selfless, instead of selfish. One definition of a dirtbag is this: A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. That sounds like the call of discipleship right there, our focus is just on Christ.  

So, might you be able to better further the Kingdom of God by eliminating some of the noise from your life? For all of us, the answer is likely yes. 1 John 3:17-18 reads “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Maybe you need to fast, maybe you need to lose some comfort, but in all ways, we need to be about blessing people. If you’re a Christian who just happened to be born into an exceptional area and exceptional economic situation, bless those Christians and people who weren’t. Are you really so much luckier than them? Or is your responsibility greater because of what you were born into? I'm not telling you to not make money, I'm telling you to not let the money make you. You cannot serve two masters - and money is a really sneaky master. 

Don't let Mod Cons pervert your faith. Practice minimalism. Be a dirtbag for Jesus. It’s really pretty adventurous, you may even like it. But most of all, bless others with the resources you have and don’t let anything distract you from leaning on God entirely. 

"Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." Genesis 2:7

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Salt, Light, and Bobby

Well, it’s me again, back with more crazy stories that I’m learning from. This one involves a guy named Bobby. Bobby was almost without doubt a drug user of some kind, I’m going to guess either meth or weed. Meth for the behavior, weed for the smell (I go to concerts, don’t’ be jumpin’ to conclusions).

I was studying with a buddy who is in the same graduate program as me at a coffee shop in downtown Abilene. During our conversation, a guy with a crazy look in his eye walks into the coffee shop and approaches our table. He extends his hand to me, I shake it and introduce myself and he does as well. All this time his other hand is behind his back, kind of unsettling. During our handshake, he grabs my hand very firmly and kind of pulls me towards him. At this point, his other hand comes out from behind is back and goes towards my face. Now, I’m obviously alive and writing right now, so he didn’t kill me. He in fact just wanted to touch my beard and complimented me on it. This did not stop me, however, from nearly crapping my pants and jumping backward rather abruptly from his hand. He moved on to different parts of the coffee shop and I went to see if I had any extra underwear in my car.

A little later, my buddy and I headed outside towards our cars and talked outside for a bit. Bobby approaches us and starts to talk to us. The conversation that followed was one of the single strangest I’ve ever had. He told us that he was an ex navy seal and kind of talked about how he had laid concrete at a hotel within view of where we were. Note: all the time that he talks to us, it is a very disjointed series of thoughts, very hard to follow. He rather abruptly started talking about fighting with his wife, and then how his brother had died a few years ago from what seemed to be a drug overdose from what he was describing. He started crying, to which I tried to comfort him as best I could. Then, he started talking about theology. I could kind of describe the transition, but like I said, it’s difficult to follow (especially out of context). He talked about Genesis and the creation of man. He talked about how mother earth was ummmm….upset (censored) because of how we were treating it. He talked about Jesus and how he sacrificed himself for all of us. He talked about how God loved us more than we could ever know. And then he talked about how at the end of times, he would be holding the book of life because he himself was Michael the Archangel. Like I said, it got weird. He went into full detail about how his wings were gonna sound (which he acted out quite well) and all kinds of stuff about how we needed to pay attention in our college classes and be good men who don’t hit women (like I said, it was a rather disjointed). I wanted to offer to pray with/for him, but I kind of thought that maybe Michael the Archangel would take offense to a mere human offering to pray for him.

You know what though, there is a lot to be learned here. I sure know that I did.

Firstly. Everyone has a story, and what happens when you take the time to listen to someone’s story can be rather amazing. It can be really crap-your-pants terrifying, and as weird as all get out, but it can also be very rewarding. No one is the way they are for a lack of reason and context. Get to know it. It’s fascinating.

Secondly. Bobby taught me about witnessing. The dude had some serious spiritual gumption. I promise you that I’ve never been so bold in my faith as Bobby was talking to me tonight. He was laying it all out there, crying even, with complete strangers. I had an experience the other day where a guy came up to me (I was on crutches from a bouldering injury) and asked to pray over my ankle. The guy even “laid hands” on it. Now, from the conversation I had, it seemed like the guy wanted to be a spiritual healer. However, his intentions aside, what kind of crazy courage does it take to walk up to someone and ask to pray over them? I wish I had some of what they had.

Thirdly. Bobby taught me a lot about being Salt and Light. The two aspects of Salt and Light that I think Jesus used them for are that they are invasive, yet distinctly different from the environment they are introduced into. I heard a question asked (concerning being Salt and Light) that went like this – Are Christians so separate from the world that they can’t make a difference, or are Christians so much like the world that they can’t make a difference? Obviously neither are where we want to be. Salt and Light are both invasive, they get in there, into the darkness, into the bland, but they are also so distinctly different from the environment that they are a part of. Now, Bobby was extremely invasive. He was up in our business pretty hardcore, he tried to touch my beard. However, the world definitely got to Bobby. Drugs, extreme profanity, and all kinds of other things most likely filled his life. I assume drugs did because of his behavior and because he at one point told us that you could do whatever drug you wanted to, because God made it all (well Bobby, I think Walter White makes meth, so not sure your argument holds up). So, unfortunately Bobby only had half of this concept down. But man, what a life lesson, even if we learn from both the positive and the negative displayed by Bobby.

Anyway, my experience was quite the trip. Why don’t you go have an experience? They’re kind of crazy, a little dangerous, but they are really fun and God tends to do a lot through them. Go be salt and light, go witness to a world that needs spiritual awakening, and go get to know people’s stories. It’s worth the effort.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hitchhikers, Trust, and the Gospel

So I had a heck of an experience. One that honestly has taught me a crap ton in such a short period of time (As I write this now, it's only been 5 hours). I picked up a hitchhiker. 

Now, that might seem smaller to some and larger to some. For me it's huge. I've never done it before. Now, it's important to understand that whatever I write on here is not the result of me having attained this level of sainthood and thus I'm writing to change all your minds about it. EVERY SINGLE post I've ever put up is something I am learning to do better and might honestly tank at, but that's why I write, I am constantly seeking to grow. So as much as I write about loving others, for some reason hitchhikers have always been a group that I've come up with excuses about and not actually done anything about when I see that thumb go up on the side of the road. 

Today was in part no excuse to that. I still struggled to do it greatly. Let me explain. 

I stopped at a gas station to fill up and as I was leaving the store the cashier asked me if I was traveling (I was purchasing an energy drink, apparently that's a giveaway). I said yes and that I was going to Abilene. She proceeded to tell me that a girl with pink hair was recently in the store and was heading to Abilene herself (apparently this cashier is just Chatty Kathy with all of the store patrons). The cashier expressed concern that this girl may be hit by a car because she was hitchhiking. Immediately I could tell God was up to no good (JK) and was trying to get something across to me. I left the store saying that perhaps I would see her and be able to offer a lift since I was going in that direction. Now, as I said this I was reminded that I'm moving to Abilene and so my car is rather full of all kinds of stuff, including my front seat; there was not readily available space in my car. You can see me forming excuse number one. 

I hit the road and honestly expected it to be a few minutes before I came upon this girl. Almost as soon as I pulled out I caught a glimpse of pink hair as I drove past her, quite accidentally. I just wasn't expecting it to be so soon and so I passed her before I had the ability to register it was her. Satan was working. The old trickster continued to work for the next 14 MILES as I came up with every excuse why I didn't have to go back and pick her up. Normally, I'm very successful in this and do not go back. Today I was not so lucky and so 14 miles down the road I pulled a U-turn and headed back the other way. 

I pulled off and moved all the stuff out of my front seat so that she could sit there but very much so retained the information that I had actually passed her up. I essentially made it appear as if I had seen her and stopped. 

Over the next hour, I got one of the craziest stories I had heard in quite some time. Apparently she was actually going past Abilene but was just taking the trip in increments. After inquiring why she was so far from home, she proceeded to tell me a slightly disjointed story of how she was drunk, cut her arm somehow rather severely and had been admitted to the hospital in Wichita Falls. I don't know how that happened, but it did. After more inquiring I was told that she was only 18. Obviously there is a little disconnect between being drunk and 18 at the same time, but it didn't shock me.

I continued to inquire about her life story, which was no less of a crazy ride. From an early age she had been in Child Protective Services for various reasons, gotten addicted to meth but cleaned up 7 months prior to our conversation, and cut herself to the day and showed me hundreds of scars on her arms to prove it. 

I immediately went into counselor mode and started asking questions as to why she cut, how she got clean from meth, and the like. The answers varied but she was incredibly open and honest with me the entire time. It was apparent that she held nothing back. I offered some positive statements like any good counselor, but the conversation died down eventually and we went back to talking about normal yet random things like how bad she wanted spicy chips and a soda. 

I crafted a plan to somehow witness to this girl when we were about 25 miles out from where we would part ways. My basic approach was to make my talk the price of admission for the ride, explaining that she got to do with the talk whatever she wanted. I had let her chain smoke in my car to try and meet her where she was at, so listening to my spill seemed like a pretty low price. 

Earlier in the ride she had contacted her grandma to tell her she was on her way there and was hitchhiking. Her grandma told her to not get in any cars with men, something she told me about as she laughed. I proceeded to tell her in my talk that her grandma had a point, and normally doing such would not be a good idea. But from there I explained that the reason I had stopped was because I was a Christian and I was trying to show God's love to her. I explained the whole story about how I had learned about her travels but had accidentally passed her up and fought the urge to just keep driving. I told her that there was truly nothing about me that made me stop, for I am simply not that compassionate nor caring. But, because Christ has been generous to me, that changes everything about how I seek to be generous with others, but have to strive for that diligently or else my flesh will fail and my human weakness take over. I then explained how it was the love of Christ that compelled me to look out for her well being and pleaded with her to seek ways to avoid dangerous situations in the future like being drunk and cutting her arm open (especially as it is illegal). I told her I did not judge her for these things, for my past was also filled with darkness, but that I wanted her to take seriously her own well being and seek to stay clean from meth and if possible, seek to end the cutting for her own sake as well as for the sake of those she loved and who loved her. 

Her response to all of this was so encouraging. As I was saying all these things she was constantly pointing out things of a "Christian" nature such as a neon sign on a church that said "Jesus Saves" and a picture she had taken of the sunset on our trip in which an electrical pole looked like a cross. It was obvious that she was taking what I said to heart in some capacity or another. However, even if she had thrown all of this back in my face, I would have felt a million times better than if I had just kept driving. Those 14 miles had eaten me up and I would be in such a different place right now had I not stopped and turned around. Thankfully I get to tell a rather happy story. But if I had been rejected, my story would still have been so much more positive than the story of how Spenser saw a need but passed it by out of doubt, fear, and a sense of inconvenience. 

The last few weeks have really taught me about trust. Ultimately one of the underlying reasons behind why I don't normally pick up hitchhikers (besides my human compassion being lacking without Christ's power and love) is essentially a lack of trust. This is something I have been trying to better about myself, and try to lean on God for strength to do these tough things. Moving to Abilene has really seemed to have this theme overall. From the actual trip down to Abilene to the preparation in coming here, God has been trying to acquire my trust. For those of you who don't know, I don't actually have a permanent residence down here yet. I have several offers from amazing people to house me for a week or two while I find somewhere, but no actual residence yet. I also do not have a job of any kind lined up so that I can be sure to eat and pay the rent of the apartment I do not yet possess. Thankfully, God has made several things happen that really show Him working in this situation, even if they are not yet fully resolved. So I am quite literally going on nothing but trust that God's gonna do what needs to be done and will provide the path for me to get there. 

So, I am currently overwhelmed with the presence of God in my life and can see Him working and moving to my aid. I have not yet attained this in perfection, for I nearly passed up the opportunity to trust and reach out with the gospel today, but I am working towards better things. 

And so my question for anyone reading is what might God be asking you to do in order to put yourself out on the line for Him? In what ways and areas is He trying to gain your trust? And an even more crazy question, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are you willing to say "God can deliver me from this, but even if He doesn't, I will put my faith in God and not bow to the low expectations and doubts of this world." 

And my next question is this, who needs to be reached with God's love in your life and what might be your part in that? Who do you need to witness to? I'll be honest, I blog and talk about this kind of stuff all day but when it comes to witnessing to perfect strangers and even those groups I know sometimes, I come up wanting a good portion of the time. But brothers and sisters, I don't want it to be this way, for me...or for you. God has been so loving and gracious to us, who in our lives need us to illustrate that to them?

We are but weak vessels who are only made strong through the power of God. But through that power I challenge you to share the gospel and fully trust the God that we serve in order to better do so.