Stuff Christians Like: The Soloist

http://www.stuffchristianculturelikes.com/

I love sites like this. It’s always entertaining to get a humorous perspective of something when you live so closely to it that you’re often blind to the parts of it that are, to be blunt, pretty silly. It’s no mystery that the modern Christian is quickly becoming defined by fashion statements, coffee shop attendance, and entertainment choices. I especially love the one about Leading Worship Barefoot. We LOVE to be comfortable on stage and create a non-threatening atmosphere for those who come to worship with us! ;)

And I only bring this website up to familiarize the concept a bit. I frequently think like this. Just by nature, I’m a bit of an observer. I never hesitate to point out something that seems odd, or to ask why if I don’t understand. I need more than two hands to count the times I’ve offended someone by challenging something near and dear to their hearts just because, quite frankly, I never saw the connection between their faith and the subject of said offensive question (eg: removing hats for prayer, using ‘soft’ swear words).

Last night my roommate and I were watching The Soloist. And I’m going to bold this sentence because it’s important: I’m NOT speaking out against The Soloist, or any movie that would fall into the same general category. I swear, if anyone sends me an email or responds to this with some dimwitted comment about how I missed the point of the movie, he or she will be met with a swift reply about something in which he or she also missed the point. ;)

The movie had a good message. In all honesty, I liked what the director said in the preface more than the movie itself. Homeless people ARE our brothers and sisters, and often times, treating them like human beings might be more helpful than apologizing for not having any spare change. But that’s the moment that hit me: This is something Christian culture loves.

We love movies with wholesome messages. We love songs with motivational and encouraging lyrics. We love any and all media that encourages a humanitarian reform in our lives.

Ready for the kick in the crotch? Here it comes…

Why does it end there?

Why do get so swept up by movies that call us out on crap that we do that is actively damaging the world around us, and then not change? Is it Christian to just show our support for those things, and then go about our daily lives as if it doesn’t apply to us? Are we honestly so na├»ve as to think that just because we agree with a convicting message that it somehow excuses us from any responsibility?

I mean, imagine if Luke 9 had actually gone like this…

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: "Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." 6After that, while nodding in approval, Peter said to the other disciples, “Wow, yea, he’s got a good point!” Fidgeting uncomfortably, Andrew nervously suggested, “You guys wanna just go back to fishing? I’m sure there’s someone else who is better at this whole ‘Kingdom of God’ stuff than us.” 7They all breathed a sigh of relief, and walked away knowing that the weight of the world was no longer on their shoulders.


Can you begin to imagine the fury Jesus would’ve felt? Unless I’m drawing a line between things that are unrelated, that’s roughly what we, as Christians, do. A defining aspect of our Christian culture is to say support good causes, but not actually get off our butts and do anything about it.

Anyway, I’m going back to my comfy desk job. I just thought I’d share these musings with you.

Why I Will Never Own an iPhone

There are a lot of Christian bloggers out there who love to take an aspect of our culture, vilify it, equate it to sin, and make us all think twice about doing something that we all do anyway. Well, I’m no different. There are a lot of things that genuinely abhor about the way we live our lives as we claim to be followers of Christ. But, I’m not about to blame the gun for hurting someone – we make our own choices, and we’re responsible for the consequences. And, for the record, I won’t preface anything I say here by saying I don’t intend to offend you. In fact, if something I say here pertains to you, I hope it DOES sting a little, because I think it’s a pretty important that we step beside ourselves once in a while and look at the big picture of our lives in relation to the one we call our savior.

That said, the recent hype over smart phones has been an excellent reflection of something that gets to me sometimes. I’ve owned one. They’re pretty slick, there’s no denying that. It’s fun to instantly text your friends as many times as you want, even while you’re sitting in a boring meeting at work. It’s nice to be able to poke around on the internet in the middle of a conversation to look up some important information. And heck, I’ll even admit I’ve been impressed by the program that can identify a song just by listening to it.

But, here’s where I get hung up. I know a million people who own these top-of-the-line phones, so I’m frequently exposed to conversations about them. While it’s neat that these fancy phones have all these extra features that could probably neuter your dog if you needed them to, I almost never hear anyone saying how thankful they are that they own this big, fancy phone. They tout the features of it, but never how helpful it is, or how convenient it is, or how “It totally saved my life when I was lost on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere” (a frequent excuse for owning one).

I can’t honestly say that I have ever heard anyone, nor do I think I ever will hear anyone, say, “I am SO happy that I have this iPhone so I can play farting noises in the middle of quiet rooms!” Yes, there is a Fart application. I’m not kidding.

And it makes me wonder, how often do we do things JUST because they’re the cool thing to do without really thinking through whether it’s something we need or not? I’m not about to roll into a rant about being wise with your money, or how we should consider our blessings in light of those less fortunate, though those are both topics very worthy of discussion in their own rite. What I am more concerned about is the underlying behavior, and how we drag it into our faith.

It reminds me of when I first started in music ministry. I was itching like crazy to play. I remember harassing Michael Novotny for weeks on end to get me an audition in the middle of Easter season. And when he finally did, I was all over the place almost instantly. I got into playing for the Hope weekend services, I quickly got asked to play for Immersion, people in the Immersion band asked me to help with student ministry music, and soon I was dragging my bass out to Jordan Creek and Ashworth 5 or 6 nights a week. I was on fire!

And this isn’t entirely different than what it’s like getting a smart phone. First you see your friend’s new phone and all the fun things it can do. Soon you’re enamored and hell-bent on getting one for yourself. FINALLY the day arrives when you’re holding that $500 pile of plastic and gadgetry in your hands, and it begins! You get all your contacts organized, synch up your email, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other account you “need” to access with it, load on all your music, get pictures of all your friends, download all the latest applications, and use any and every excuse to be meddling with your phone throughout the day. I mean, if you’re stuck in a long line at the McDonald’s drive-through, the Twitter-verse needs to know about it, right?

But, slowly it started to wear on me. This super awesome music schedule that I’d run headlong into had basically overtaken my life and was pulling me away from friends and family, distracting me at my job, and interfering with good habits that I’d worked hard to develop. There came a point where I realized that it had felt like months since I’d even sat down and had a heart to heart with the person I considered to be my best friend. And from there, the realizations of the life I’d lost started pouring in…

How I never got to work out…
How I never had time to go out to eat during the week…
How I never spent time reading the Bible…
How I was blowing off family engagements and holidays to play…
How I hadn’t seen to my mom in nearly a year, and was using music as a reason not to…

And what killed most, how most of the time when I was out there playing, I felt empty. It wasn’t giving me life. I wasn’t giving a gift to God – I was there begrudgingly, because I felt I had to. As a musician, this is just what you did, right?

Well, in my heart, I don’t think so. I don’t think Christ would call any of us to live that way. I will boldly say that I think we, as Americans, do way too much, way too often, and we let it suck life away from us JUST because that’s what is expected of us. Or, that’s just what we do. That’s just what is cool.

If you are a Christian, and you aren’t going to church at LEAST once a week, you don’t read your Bible every day, you aren’t in a Bible study, you don’t volunteer in some ministry within the church, and you haven’t shared the gospel with your coworkers, you’re some kind of failure. Tell me that message hasn’t crossed your mind at least once. Do it, and I’ll happily call you a liar.

I could go on and on about this, but I think you see my point by now. Never be afraid to genuinely examine your life, your time, your investments, your activities, and asking why they’re a part of your life. Is it there because it’s a genuine calling from God, or is it there just because you felt like it was what you should do? If you never even have time to just go sit in the sun and watch the grass blow, maybe you need to think about the relative importance of everything that is filling up your life.

Try it sometime; I think you’ll be pleased with what you discover.

Redefined, But Not Recreated

I don’t really know how or why it came to me, but this morning I had a pretty neat thought pertaining to all of the current relationship discussions we’ve had at Immersion:

Christ calls us to be servants, not to change who we are.

Jesus finds us just as we are, accepts us, and then invites us into a relationship in which we’re called to submit 100%, just as he already has for us. In the midst of our sins, shortcomings, and failings, he doesn’t withhold his invitation for a single one of us. And in those times when we don’t submit ourselves entirely to him, he offers us grace - a chance to get up and try again, all the while knowing full well that it won’t be long before we slip up the next time.

And in that grace, Christ encourages us to turn from those things that pull us away from him. Never forcefully, Christ offers us a chance to redefine who we are. We don’t have to define ourselves according to our struggles. Instead, a few words that describe us are redeemed, valued, treasured, special, adored.

But the most beautiful part of that is, when we know that we’re redeemed, valued, treasured, and adored, Christ encourages us to be who we are! He encourages musicians to sing and play, he encourages artists to paint and create, and he most certainly encourages those with a knack for the culinary to cook mouth-watering feasts!

This is why the words that came to me this morning struck me as so profound. Christ asking us to turn from our sin isn’t asking us to change who we are; he’s peeling away layer after layer of crap to get to the core of who we are, while revealing the most beautiful parts to shine more brightly and truly than before.

When you’re thinking of your current relationship, or a future relationship, keep that in mind. Know that being a servant doesn’t mean giving up what makes you who you are; it means allowing God’s love to shine through that other person to you, and vice versa, so that you can both be complete in one another, lacking nothing. It means being completely open and honest about your deepest struggles, and loving each other enough to move out of them together.

It doesn’t mean you’re going to have to give up every hobby you enjoy. It doesn’t mean you’ll never get to enjoy Thai food again. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to be bored by every movie you choose to see. Heck, with the way that God knows the deepest desires of our hearts, the person he pairs you with might even have those same quirky preferences as you! ;)

Unpacking

It never ceases to amaze me how often I find myself revisiting what I consider to be the most basic, core principles of Christ’s teachings. You know what I mean, those little token phrases that get tossed around in the church, like how “Jesus loves everyone equally” or how “Jesus was God.” So often, I dismiss those concepts as things I’ve heard before, and don’t give them so much as a second thought. But it seems that God has done some of the most powerful work in my life – or at least, in my brain – with those very concepts that I never bothered to think through completely. Although these sayings that we’ve all heard a million times are very familiar, the implications are vast, and seemingly endless.

The one that really has been ringing loudly in my ears lately is the one about how Jesus calls us to be “in the world, but not of it.” Jesus himself frequently spoke about his kingdom not being of this world, and likewise how if the people questioning him knew his father (who is also from said kingdom), then they would know him. However, a quick read through any gospel will quickly reveal that friend and foe alike had no clue where Jesus was from, where his kingdom was, or why he was there with them in the first place despite his best attempts to explain everything clearly.

I think it goes without saying that there are a million great examples of Jesus demonstrating behavior that not only affirmed his own faith in his claims, but validated them. Curing diseases, controlling nature, and raising people from the dead are just a few. But, what particularly interests me is how he interacted with the culture – the people of the time.

Anyone who had grown up for over 30 years in first-century Nazareth would have had a pretty sound understanding of the cultural norms of that time. Said person would know that people with skin diseases are to be avoided. He would know that when a person has been dead for several days, there is no saving them. This person would understand that disrespecting authority would earn you more than a slap on the wrist.

But, these are exactly the kinds of things that Jesus ignored. He did everything that made people’s jaws drop. He chose love over the norms that their culture had constructed because he knew that love was greater.

This isn’t anything new under the sun, nor is it a huge revelation for most people. But as I said, it’s when I think through the implications of those things that I think God really starts talking to me. With that in mind, I have to wonder about a few things…

Jesus knew what he was doing. He had to know that people were going to react extremely when he turned a deaf ear to everything that was “right” in their time. He had to know that the lowly, mistreated, and ignored people would almost instantly turn their hearts over to him. Likewise, he had to know that he was going to piss off the people who had dedicated their lives to keeping their religious beliefs in check, and their communities in order.

Think about that for a second. It’s easy to say, but put yourself in the shoes of those people. Think about how incredibly offensive Jesus was, right or wrong. I have to wonder if maybe the heated arguments that Jesus got into with the Pharisees weren’t fueled by the fact that he had no respect for their high-and-mighty position in society. Numerous times, we see them coming back to fight with him and try to catch him in a trap. Do you think maybe their pride was a little bent out of shape? I mean, we paint the Pharisees to be such horrible people, but we’d react the same way if some low-life came talking to us like he knew something we didn’t. How would you feel seeing someone standing outside an abortion clinic who, instead of protesting, was doing nothing more than giving hugs to the women who walked in and out? What if he sat on the bench outside the clinic and had a conversation with them? What if he loved them as if they hadn’t done anything wrong? Does that get on your nerves just a little? It probably would.

Now, on the other side of the coin…

Be brutally honest with yourself about your biggest insecurity, your worst fear, or the thing you hate most about your life. Think about the thing that you feel segregates you from the rest of society, or the thing that prevents you from ever taking risks in your life. What if an unsuspecting person on the street, who looked to be nothing special, walked up to you and relieved you of your affliction? How would you feel? Part of me would feel completely thrown off by the fact that someone who appeared to have no money, no education, or no power changed my life in a way that a doctor or psychologist never could! If it were me, I’d probably be asking for a way to repay him and show my gratitude! I’d go around telling everyone about the incredible thing he did for me!

Anyway, like I said before, this is probably nothing that you’ve never heard before, but God’s really been speaking loudly to me about this lately. It’s easy to say that I’m a Christian, but it’s not always easy to do the “right” thing and risk being seen as someone who has no clue how a culture operates. It’s not easy to get off my high horse and serve someone lower on this irrelevant totem pole of society that we’ve arbitrarily constructed. It’s equally as challenging to speak love into situations that 90% of our culture would chastise me for contradicting.

Home Away

I was left tossing and turning, jumping at every noise outside my window, wondering who was out there, making sharp turns to look at my bedroom door. I didn’t want to feel this way, I prayed that it would stop, it felt so…. so… unnatural, when I think being afraid of a serial rapist would be societies “natural.” I felt so distant from myself, so lost, so disturbed. How could this man who I have never met or (to my knowledge) never come in contact with, have so much control over my thoughts and actions. It occurred to me that I was in my home, but it didn’t feel safe, it didn’t feel like home. My fear took that from me.

Why did this feeling have so much control over me? It was running my life. I know that God is always with me, whom shall I fear? God is my strength and my refuge… all those things were so far from me… I couldn’t seem to control myself. How did I get this way? I wasn’t acting like I knew these truths.

I was fearful.
I was a mess.

I hated it!

It got me thinking as to the other thoughts or feelings I may have throughout my day that steal God’s best for me.

Selfishness, envy, insecurity, lust, impatience, laziness, anger, gluttony, greed, oh… did I mention selfishness… I swear that is the root.

There are so many “little” things that can creep into my mind that eat away at my soul and destroy my life. Do you ever act our of one of these ugly things listed above and think to yourself “this isn’t right, this doesn’t feel like my true self, this is stealing me away from my home, my life with my maker.”

I want to take steps and notice these little things before they become bigger, deal with them with God and try not to let them control my thoughts and actions.

I want to be home.

@JesusChrist

For those of you who weren’t in attendance at Immersion last night (or for those of you who weren’t watching the live steam on live.bedeviant.com) Justin gave a pretty neat talk about the ways that we have seen advancing communication forms change the way in which we’re able to share the news of the gospel.

The example that he gave that pertains the most to us as Christians, I think, is Martin Luther’s belief that everyone should have their own Bible in a language that they could understand (not Latin). More specifically, the example relied heavily on the technology that allowed him to run with this idea: the printing press.

Martin Luther pushed printed translations of God’s word to everyone who had ears to hear, and became revolutionary in doing so. Today, the effects are still very tangible as 99% of us still have a printed Bible of some sort.

Justin went on to compare the technological advances of the internet to the printing press. The internet has given us nearly limitless capabilities to reach people on all ends of the globe in a plethora of mediums. Much in the way that the printing press was able to bring God’s word right to people’s hands and eyes, the internet takes that to a whole new level. People can watch church services online, watch worship music on YouTube, meet fellow Christians on Facebook and Twitter, read blogs where nerdy musicians are allowed to ramble, so on and so forth. The fact that we have a million golden opportunities is undeniable.

But, a question remains…

After the service last night, a friend of mine seemed less than enamored with the message of the night, so I inquired for an explanation. She told me that although Justin was correct about everything he said, she was concerned about the internet making church so accessible that it could promote complacency [or, at least, that’s what I heard]. That, while it’s great people can watch Immersion online, if that’s all they ever do with their faith, are we really helping? Or are we holding them back?

It’s a great question, and a very valid concern. If we go to the aforementioned example, we can definitely say that something happened between Martin Luther’s revolutionary actions and where we are today with printed Bibles. Perhaps people in Luther’s time were concerned that giving a Bible to everyone would have similar negative repercussions. Maybe they were concerned that people would sit in their homes and read, and that church attendance would plummet. Maybe they were concerned that people would start forming their own ideas of the Bible and start their own religious belief systems. Who knows? All we can say is that despite what concerns they may have had, the printed Bible has become a staple of anyone’s faith, and that a Christian life without it would be a very difficult one indeed.

I think that as we move forward into this unavoidable digital future, it would behoove us to ask similar tough questions and address our concerns about what we’re doing.

  • What can we do to ensure that, even though we are using technology to reach people, we are still nudging them into community?
  • How can we simultaneously broadcast our services to be viewed in front of a computer and promote a life of action that involves people getting up and going?

These new technologies are fantastic, and embracing them with the hope of spreading God’s love is equally as fantastic. As Justin said last night, “If Jesus were here today, he’d be on Twitter.” But, I’d have to add, Jesus would still get off his computer to go cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach the good news. Let’s make sure we’re doing the same!

Eyes to See

I was taking a walk the other day when a little boy who couldn’t have been older than two or three suddenly ran out from behind a house, looked at me, and yelled, “Hi, Mom!” Now, this greeting was surprising on at least two levels. First, I’ve never come close to mothering a child. Second, I’d never seen this little boy before. I laughed, but then got to thinking about it. Kids aren’t the only ones who get confused. As adults we sometimes do the same thing; we don’t see things as they really are, though we may not notice at the time. We call it love when it’s really lust. We deem something or someone a success or a failure, when really we’re merely thinking in worldly, temporary terms. We consider situations hopeless when God’s cooking up something really great. God must react to those mistaken assessments with laughter, much as I reacted to the little boy, and also with grief, when these situations pull us away from him.

As I turn 27, I find myself struggling with questions about where I should be and what I should be doing. As I crawl closer to my “late 20s” it’s hard not to evaluate life so far and consider my current situation versus that of others and the expectations I had for myself through the years. When I look at it compared to the world’s standards, I’m lagging behind in a lot of areas.

Like a lot of people these days, I’m really struggling to find a job. As some of you know, I worked with a team of missionaries in Mexico City for most of 2008. I could talk about my time there for hours, but let’s just say it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But I arrived home last winter in the midst of a brutal economic crisis. I’ve looked online nearly everyday for the last four months or so and have had little success. Thus, I’m pretty much itinerant, living with my parents, my sister and friends. Also, as my friends get married and some begin to have children, it’s easy to feel a bit left behind sometimes. Besides that, I still yearn for Mexico and constantly ask myself (and God) if I should be there or here.

So let’s review: no job, no place of my own, unmarried, confused about the future. This is not where I expected to be at 27. But this is exactly where God expected me to be and that’s so much more important.

I think as Christians we should constantly remind ourselves of the things that God has already done in our lives. When I get bogged down by my frustrations, I pull out journals I’ve kept over the years and meditate on things God has done for me. I’m not a stranger to waiting on God’s provision. I waited for almost a year to see if the funding would come through and everything would line up for the Mexico City trip to happen. It was a year filled with uncertainty, stress and worry. But it worked out perfectly. If God had my life so under control then, even though I wasn’t aware of it, why would now be any different?

And I also remind myself that we all have different needs, which God knows utterly. I could have all the things my younger self expected me to have at 27 and still be completely unhappy. God wired me with a heart for Mexico and took me there. And in order to have the incredible experiences I had there, other things had to be put on hold for awhile. But those things will happen when God, in His complete knowledge of the world and of me, deems it right. And that makes the world’s standards insignificant.

But what do I do in the meantime? Despite the comforts I just described, I still have days when I’m really frustrated. And when I’m frustrated, it inevitably spills into my relationship with God. And it’s confusing, finding myself vacillating between trusting God’s provision and getting discouraged when nothing changes. Sometimes I get hung up on just asking God for things - for guidance and for signs - or just complaining to Him. Don’t get me wrong, God still wants to hear those honest petitions and expressions of anguish. But sometimes I lose track of seeking God merely for the joy of seeking him, being in his presence and knowing him better. At times my soul doesn’t long for Him, but rather for direction, an answer.

Since my time in Mexico City was so important to me, it particularly touches my heart when things I’m learning or experiencing here are affirmed by friends there. As we talked about having “eyes to see as God sees” at Immersion a few weeks ago and I processed through these thoughts, I talked to a friend in Mexico City about some of my frustrations. In response, he said “Ask God to give you understanding so that you can see what He wants you to see”. I don’t think God wants me to just see my struggles. The point of this period of my life is not just to find out the answer or the next step. As I wait for guidance and opened doors, God wants me to see the joy of a beautiful Iowa spring, of reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, of learning to salsa dance, of meeting my first niece. He wants me to see his faithfulness as he provides in his timing, and his comforting presence when everything seems messed up. And, most importantly, He wants me to see Him.


A side note: Please continue to lift up the people of Mexico City in prayer as the city is disrupted and frightened by this influenza. Thanks.