Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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The Problem So Easily Ignored: Race, Education, and Sacrifice

school integration

Recently This American Life released two episodes surrounding Ferguson, Michael Brown, and integration within the American education system. Despite the charged issues, the producers created the kind of episode worth listening to: prompting more questions, wondering where you might fit within progression for all sides.

At the heart of the episodes was the question of why American school districts gave up on the integration focus of the 70s and 80s. Test scores from these periods in history show quite clearly, integration worked. Why? How? A journalist interviewed as part of the episode had this to say:

“It is not that something magical happens when black kids sit in a classroom next to white kids. It’s not that suddenly a switch turns on and they get intelligence, or wanting the desire to learn when they’re with white kids. What integration does is it gets black kids in the same facilities as white kids. And therefore, it gets them access to the same things that those kids get—quality teachers and quality instruction.”

The most striking segment is found toward the end of episode 1, during a parent meeting with their district school board, located outside St. Louis, Missouri. The district (overwhelming majority white) was being forced to accept and pay for the cost of students who had opted out of their poorly performing school district (overwhelming majority black). This was allowed due to the poorly performing school district losing their accreditation, an unprecedented move within the state. The state was essentially saying that the poorly performing school district was so bad that students could be bused to another district, at no cost.

The audio from the parent meeting is heartbreaking. Here were just a couple parent statements that were met with loud cheering:

“I want to know where the metal detectors are going to be. And I want to know where your drug-sniffing dogs are going to be.”

“I shopped for a school district. I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed because that’s the issue.”

On the one hand, I get it, and you probably do too.

Why should students in a great school district be forced to go to school with students from a poorly performing district? Despite studies showing the success this brings for the students coming from the poor situation, someone has to pay a price it would seem.

But it’s heartbreaking, even still.

The whole time listening to the parent meeting, my skin crawling, wanting to scream…

Where are the people of Christlike faith?

Where are the people that welcome those who did not receive what they deserved? Where are the people who weep for the students in underperforming schools?

It’s not as if the question of “who is willing to sacrifice their own supposed wellbeing for the sake of another?” is easy to answer. But for people of faith, it should be. Full stop.

Consider the words of Jesus:

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15

The episodes and the issues raised within them, prompt these all kinds of questions for me. Especially questions for people of Christian faith. If the Gospel has nothing to say to the heart of this issue, the Gospel has no power.

The questions in my head are right along the lines of what Sharon Hodde Miller asked in her piece responding to the episodes. I’ll leave you with Sharon’s questions, which are well worth considering:

  • Rather than ask, “Is this best for my child?” what if we asked, “What is best for the children in my community?”
  • If I am pro-life, how do my pro-life beliefs extend to the education of the poor and underprivileged?
  • Jesus spent the majority of his time with the poor, the sick, and the broken–how might we rethink Christian education so that it reflects Jesus’ own priorities?
  • Can I trust God to protect my child as I seek to follow His heart?
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Drowning in the Stain: Sexualized Swiping and Hook-Up Culture

the stain

In the year 2000, award-winning American novelist Philip Roth published a book titled The Human Stain. The book is a loose continuation of 2 prior books, whose main character follows significant cultural events during his lifetime. The Human Stain follows a college professor named Coleman Silk. Coleman is a fair-skinned black man, who decided in his early 20s that he could pass for a white Jewish man, while in fact not being Jewish or white. Coleman rose in the ranks of college professors, gaining a fair amount of notoriety, so much so that others around him did what they could to bring him down.

Late in his career students in his class misheard him say the word “spooks” in reference to ghosts, but some students believed he used the word in a derogatory manner toward blacks. He, actually being a black man, of course, did not. But accusations swirled and Silk would not apologize, and he was forced to resign into early retirement, his character successfully tarnished.

In trying to process the evil that took place in forcing him out, while clearly ignoring the evil that made him create a whole new identity for himself, he has a conversation with his sister, and she has some profound thoughts related to evil, sin, and what the author Philip Roth calls the human stain:

“We leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error…there’s no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. It’s in everyone. Indwelling. Inherent. Defining. The stain that is there before its mark. Without the sign it is there. The stain so intrinsic it doesn’t require a mark. The stain that precedes disobedience, that encompasses disobedience and perplexes all explanation and understanding. It’s why all the cleansing is a joke. A barbaric joke at that. The fantasy of purity is appalling.”

What the main character’s sister is articulating is something I think all recognize, even if only in a small way. That this world is broken. That, in fact, we are broken, a part of the larger problem. And this goes deeper than our decisions or choices, there’s a stain deep within us that has damaged us, and it’s causing all of these impurities in us.

A few weeks ago Vanity Fair ran a lengthy and sweeping article on the use of hook-up apps such as Tinder among 20-somethings in New York. While it’s use in New York (or as stated within the article) may not represent the overall scope of hook-up culture, it was impossible not to read the entire thing with wide eyes, looking for a chaser.

Here’s the introduction the article has on the increasing phenomenon of hook-up culture:

“As the polar ice caps melt and the earth churns through the Sixth Extinction, another unprecedented phenomenon is taking place, in the realm of sex…Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship.”

The use of mobile apps only adds to ease of the hook-up instead of relationship building. There’s no need to pursue a woman when all you need to do is swipe. An investment banker had this to say about Tinder:

“You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger. It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”

When it comes to sinful behavior, confession of it in trusted community is God’s design. The typical reactions outside of God’s design are either to hide (see part one) or to indulge. While the overindulgence of sinful behavior will often lead to hiding, it does damage on its own.

This hook-up culture of overindulgence in sex and its neighbors creates a narcissistic individual who aims to use their freedom for their own benefit.

Beyond this, hook-up culture would posit God as someone who is so distant that our actions have no consequence positive or negative, and we must always be on the look out for our own good. In the absence of God we choose to drown in our own stain, or sin, as it were.

In Genesis 3 we see from Adam and Eve that you become what you behold. This same story of drowning in the stain we choose to hold more closely than Christ, continues on.

In 2nd Corinthians 3:18 we’re given a glimpse of breaking the cycle when Paul says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

As we contemplate the Lord’s glory, as we behold his glory, as we focus on it, we are transformed by it. Adam and Eve were beheld by fulfilling the desires of their flesh, for giving into the temptation they felt. They became what they beheld, walking down the empty road toward gratifying the desires of their flesh.

What we must be challenged by, is to behold the glory of God, that we might be transformed by it.

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The Blessing of the Ashley Madison Hack (part one of two)

One of the worst feelings in the world is when you’ve hid something and the secret gets uncovered. It’s a massive punch to the gut, causing the referee to wave out the team doctors. You’re not hurt, though you feel like you might die. You can’t breathe. Inevitably, hiding anything leads to this moment.

In college I had this feeling. The feeling of wrestling with a demon, who has you in a chokehold, unable to breathe. The secret I had kept from everyone close to me had seemingly been uncovered by my friend.

“It’s over. Life is over.” That’s the only thought that went through my mind.

“I’ve been found out. A fake. A fraud. I am not who I was trying to be.”

Thankfully (I thought at the time), I could lie about it all a little longer, and my friend would never need to know. He could be suspicious, but I would not confirm his concerns. That’s the thing with hiding, once you’ve done it long enough the only solution to hiding is more hiding.

Last week hundreds of church leaders resigned their positions after the Ashley Madison hack/leak uncovered their secret. Their fantasy life of moving from bed to bed had been found out. All of these people used Ashley Madison to go after a life they didn’t have, without real life ever knowing it.

Mark Zuckerburg is on record for saying that he wishes nothing was private on Facebook. Each time Facebook updates its privacy policy people get up in arms about Facebook trying to get into their business too much. While I agree people deserve privacy when they want it, I wonder if privacy is sometimes used to hide the truth (Gen. 3). Ashley Madison provided (supposed) privacy for men and women to live in fantasy-land, one bed at a time.

Jesus talked a little about our sometimes poor reasoning for wanting privacy, saying, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2). And it’s this kind of idea that I think we need to be reminded of—that life isn’t meant to be lived hidden, away from God’s presence. Life is meant for the presence of the light of a God who sees, forgives, and heals, and a community of people who seek after the truth of His presence. In him and only him is true life without fantasy, truly found.

I’m not pro-online hackers, nor do I love to watch the downfall of thousands of people whose secret has been outed. However, sometimes I think we need our secrets exposed, or flaws unveiled, for the light of the King of Glory to enter into the darkness. In fact, the exposure is often a great blessing. Healing comes no other way.

(part two, next week)

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3 Years Later, My First Book


3 years ago this month my first published book was released. Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way But We Can Find it Again was my attempt at telling my story in a way that would help others see that their own struggles did not impede them from living the life God desired for them. I never thought I had a book in me, but through a lot of support, prayer, and hard work I created something I am legitimately proud of.

Eighteen months prior to the release the man who would end up being my main support asked me if I’d ever considered writing a book. I said quite simply, “no.” Because of this I pitched the idea of a short ebook, instead of a full-length print book. This slowly changed, mostly as people who I’m indebted to convinced me that even though I didn’t consider myself a writer, I could write a book.

At the time of signing the book contract, I had another 18 months before graduating from seminary with my masters degree. I had originally gone to seminary for spiritual formation and to be equipped for leading more than music within the local church. But the process of writing the book helped me discover pieces of myself I never knew existed.

In light of all this I thought I would share a few brief lessons learned from my experience of publishing a book. I have conversations with young writers, Christian leaders, and mom bloggers, all with the hopes of publishing a book. I hope the lessons I’ve learned can be helpful.

You never know what you’re capable of until you take on a project you know you’ll fail.

My senior year of undergrad college I wrote a 3,000 word essay. I could barely get to 2,000 words before I felt I had run out of ideas. Taking on this book project was a 40,000 word endeavor, while working full-time AND going to school part-time. It was impossible.

And if I tried to take on the project myself I would have failed. I invited a group of writer friends to help me. The credit to a finished book largely belongs to them, not me.

In writing the book I started to realize I enjoyed the challenge of studying a topic and Scripture passages, and figuring out ways to communicate them to help people. I would not be in my current pastoral role had I not discovered that in the process of writing the book.

Discipline beats enthusiasm.

Karen gave me the helpful advice of not thinking about the large word count that I had agreed to in the book contract. She told me to figure out how many words I needed to write every week, every day. “Anyone can write 300 words a day,” she said. She’s right.

Eventually enthusiasm wanes, but the disciplined push through, finding new enthusiasm on the other end of their discipline. I think of book writing, marriage, and pastoral ministry quite similarly. I’m not always madly in love with my wife, but I choose to love her. I’m not always excited to pour into the lives of people, but I know my commitment to do so will produce helpful change.

Success is pointless. Utterly pointless.

What is success? And once you’ve reached that level of success, what becomes success after that? My friend Anne told me not to read the quarterly sales reports that the publisher would mail me. It was good advice because those will help you feel like a failure.

The lack of objectivity in finding success can lead some to lack internal hustle, but instead it should reorient why you take on such a large project. Work as hard as you can with the time and resources given, and then leave the success up to God.

A pastor I’m connected to released a book and then said, “I’m not really doing anything to sell it.” I thought he was rather stupid, to be honest. But now a few years later I see that he was probably smarter than me, because he wasn’t chasing after the mirage of success.

Why do I share all this?

All of these life learnings came from tackling a project I could not do on my own. I sure hope the book has and continues to have impact on many lives, but the process of writing it had as much or more impact on me. And for that reason I think all the effort was worth it.

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The Discipline of Secrecy in the Age of Shareability

using social media

Today’s students are growing up only knowing a life of constant connection to people through social networks. Because of this there’s an increasing dependency upon the community to help provide the basis for the identity of an individual, through likes and double-tapped hearts. When everything is shared, and all of life’s major moments are uploaded, the reaction of these digital clicks fuels whether we see ourselves as successful, acceptable, and loved.

Through the community, we form our identities.

Often this isn’t bad, because the community that is culture today is largely accepting. But what happens when you fall short? Or what happens when the community’s validation of you doesn’t match the expectations you had?

This was a point I made briefly during a message I shared with my church a few weeks back. The foundation of the message was centered on Matthew 6:1, which says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

What Jesus is not saying is to regulate all your actions in front of people; make sure nothing could be construed as you trying to get noticed. What Jesus is saying is that we are not made to need the approval and acceptance of the community. It is God’s seeing eye that provides the only affection we need.

The person who relies on righteous acts in front of others, forms their identity by the reactions of those around them, and is therefore, a slave to public opinion, instead of their Heavenly Father.

Having recently gone through my own dark season of allowing all the wrong people to determine whether my work was of value or not, I know how quickly we can go from healthy engagement within public and social settings (online or in person), to relying on the engagement to fuel our own desire for significance.

A helpful direction for getting beyond this is what Dallas Willard describes as the discipline of secrecy. Disciplines, or spiritual practices, such as prayer, fasting, weekly church gatherings, “enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort,” says Willard.

I’ve taken Willard’s emphasis on the discipline of secrecy and allowed it to change my use of social networks. Here’s my general guideline list for cultivating a discipline of secrecy within social media use (and really use of any public forum, online or not):

  • Track your time. Do you spend more time on social media than you do in prayer or reading the Bible? Might want to consider the implications of that. A study just released this month says that we check our phones 214 times a day on average. Up from 140 times a day, just 9 months ago. We’re becoming more and more addicted, so track your time.
  • Schedule breaks. Schedule them. Plan on them. The same principles for why God encouraged us to rest from work apply to resting from social media. It is a tool meant to be a slave to you, don’t become a slave to it.
  • Ask yourself, why? Why am I logging in? Why am I posting this? What is my motivation? What is my expectation? What does that say about me and my relationship with God?
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It Takes a Village


You know the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I believe this to be true. In the child dedications at our church we purposely ask the church family to join with the parents in raising the child presented. We do this because the parents need help and support. Child-raising isn’t a parent-only endeavor.

Earlier this week The Washington Post reported on a study whose findings conclude, “the effect of a new baby on a person’s life is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner.” Yikes. Now I know why the last 3 years of my life have been incredibly great and incredibly hard.

I’ve been honest both here and in face-to-face conversations about how hard my adjustment has been to becoming a dad. This has not been met with universal encouragement. I recently had someone tell me that I was missing out on the joy of parenting.

I guess that’s a fair conclusion to this study: parents stop whining! But in fairness to parents such as myself, parenting is hard work.

After reading The Washington Post article I thought about my church, and the greater Church. It seems not a day goes by when you can read about the latest and greatest program or focus for a church to reach younger people, and yet when it comes to my family and my church one of my greatest desires is to have people care about my family. 

After I posted this study on Twitter, several people asked me how a church can better support and care for families with young kids. I thought I’d pass along a few thoughts to you as well.

Unprogrammed Relationship

I think it’s great that a lot of churches provide childcare so that couples are able to take part in smaller group environments without the obvious distraction of their children. But, for many churches this is difficult or impossible to pull off.

A few nights ago a couple from our church offered to hang out with our kids for a few hours so Rose and I could get dinner together. What a gift! It happened to be our second date since our family expanded by another child, and it would not have happened if this couple saw their relationship to us as only through a church program. No, they’re just friends who love our family.

Shared Struggle

Shared struggle is obviously an extension of relationship within the church, but it flows out in separate ways: helpful instruction and same life-stage interaction. Rose and I moved to our current home city 5 months before becoming parents, and while it was a city I had lived in a decade prior, we both knew very few people. Since that time, through our church, we’ve tried to foster connection among people in the early parenthood life-stage.

Beyond relationship with those going through similar struggles, we’ve relied on the wise and helpful instruction of those who have gone before us. This often takes place in a small group environment, but also extends into homes and coffee shops around town. Parenting can be a struggle, and it’s important for churches to help foster connection between older and younger.

I could say a lot more, but those two areas of focus have stood out for me in my 3 years of parenthood. Churches filled with people embracing unprogrammed relationship and shared struggle will help young families who are barely hanging on. I promise you, there are plenty of families around you who could use your love and support.

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