Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Christmas Is Not the End, It’s the Beginning

The afternoon of Christmas Day is the worst, especially as a kid. All the presents are unwrapped. Piles of wrapping paper have filled the living room. You’ve gotten in a few hours of playing with all your new gadgets, and then reality sets in…it’s over Christmas is over. All of that anticipation is over. Time to clean up the mess.

This is where the traditional church calendar comes in handy. The old traditions of Christmas for Christians put the celebration of Christmas as beginning on the evening of Christmas Eve, leading into the 12 Days of Christmas, all toward Epiphany. Prior to this is Advent, a season of waiting and expectation, beginning four Sundays prior to Christmas Eve.

While following the entire liturgical church calendar has been abandoned by most evangelical churches, Christmas is one cultural season where the calendar helps us from getting lost in the chaos.

The most obvious difference this produces is a change of mindset. In following the church calendar, we see that Christmas Day is not the end of a season, but the beginning of a celebration. It is also not a celebrate that involves opening presents for one morning, it’s an ongoing feast for 12 days.

What needs to happen is a recalibration of what Christmas is. This is taking place through movements like Advent Conspiracy. Gifts can still be a focal point of the season without leading to the evitable letdown. To instill this Christmas focus extending into January I’d recommend following an Advent/Christmas devotion that doesn’t end on December 25th (take a look at the quality work Biola is doing with this), and consider planning some events for family/friends past Christmas.

The season of Christmas (and the celebration that comes with it) need not end once the wrapping paper fills the living room.

The afterparty is about to begin.

(Photo: National Geographic Creative)

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In Favor of Social Media Overuse

phone usersI fully admit that I use social media far too often. I joined Facebook back in the days of college exclusivity. I joined Twitter before Oprah joined and it blew up. And since then I’ve continued to pour hours and hours into the ongoing boom that is social networks. I’ve even made what I consider legitimate friendships through them, but none of this is why I’m in favor of engaging on social networks as much as possible.

In years past you could stay up with current events by receiving the newspaper every day, and watching the nightly evening news. It lacked the social aspect of today’s networks, but you could stay informed. The social aspect of understanding these events took place at community events, at church, at the office, and through friendships. They all took place in person.

Fast forward to today and there’s any number of ways to stay up with current events. In fact, you need to choose which niche of current events to stay up with because it’s impossible to know the facts within all of them.

Here are the reasons I’m in favor of being a social network overuser. I share these reasons as a pastor, because that is my vocation and the lens in which I view much of the world. But, of course, most of my reasons translate to so many other perspectives as well.

People Share What They Think, But Won’t Say

This is (to me) by the far biggest negative of social networks. All of us have seen an individual go on a rant about some anonymous person, but we actually know this person. Of course, the ranter (that’s not a word, my apologies) would never share these thoughts to the individual’s face. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. It’s bad.

But flip this around and you can see that many people (especially introverts) are too intimidated to share their actual thoughts in person, but they will on Facebook. You are able to get a snapshot into their world, gaining a greater level of understanding about them.

The New Way to Have Your Ear to the Ground

As a pastor, the single most important thing I must do is know my people, and know my culture, on a local, national, and international level. Certainly Facebook and Twitter make this far more accessible than it ever was before. People today are more likely to post about their latest life event on Facebook instead of calling their pastor so he/she can pray with them. Every week I’m able to be in the lives of individuals and families without them needing to have direct access to me.

When I was choosing a new phone a few years back a friend gave me advice to go where the majority of people are, saying, “If your job is to know the people around you, use what they’re using, understand them. That’s a lot better than trying to be a trendsetter.”

In the past a public figure needed to work hard to “keep up appearances.” The importance of this hasn’t gone away completely, but all things online and social have created a new way to stay continually engaged with people. Each Sunday my church connects with over 200 people, it’s the highlight of my week, it’s the one thing I build toward all week. But I’m also able to connect with many of those same people throughout the week. It’s my way of keeping my ear to the ground.

Those of you who are social connoisseurs, why do you use these networks? What keeps you coming back?

As a caveat to this, I want to end by saying that social networks are a great way to pass information and to make initial connections, but they do not replace the human need for interaction, in person. They are a great way to supplement already established friendships. Most often social networks become the easy way out. Instead of actually making an effort to care about someone we just “like” their status. While I love these social features available to us today, let’s not abandon the people who deserve our extra effort of love and care. 

(Photo: We Never Look Up blog

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The Church and Race “Issues”

Over the past few weeks I’ve posted a fair amount of thoughts on various social networks related to Ferguson, Eric Garner, privilege, and the church. Needless to say, I’ve received a fair amount of pushback in the process. The comments have been: “I don’t know all the facts.” “I wasn’t on the grand jury.” “I’m just following the latest media outrage.”

eric-garner-protestsBut what if I’m right? What if this is a critical juncture for racial “issues” in the United States, and, therefore, the world. (I use issues in quotes here because we’re talking about people and when people call these protests and media coverage issues, I get angry) What if the church stands idly by as our culture faces these debates head on? What if we’re the ones with our hands in our pockets when the world is looking for a people who will take a stand?

We must all strive to know and love our neighbor, and right now that means bending down and listening to the muted cries of “I can’t breathe!”

Rather than speak on this subject myself I want to highlight the thoughts of others who have much more to add than myself.

Here’s Trillia Newbell’s urge for us to be people who listen:

“You don’t have to agree with all of the issues surrounding the case. We can all disagree about how the case was handled. We can disagree with intent of the officer, etc. But what we can’t ignore is that there is an entire community of people of all colors (but majority Black) who are mourning and grieving. We can’t ignore that.”

Thabiti Anyabwile sharing his thoughts on why it could have so easily been him.

I’ve tried in conversation to figure out why the situation with Brown and Ferguson has erupted into a national debate and not some other situation with a “cleaner” victim and “dirtier” officer. I don’t know why God in His providence chose this situation. But perhaps it’s to expose to us–if we’re willing to see–the prejudices and biases we harbor and pass around without thinking. Perhaps it’s the messier situations that bring to surface the deeper matters of the heart.

Lastly, this post from Joshua DuBois is hard to read. He recounts the story from a year ago when police went after he and some friends because of a racist restaurant employee.

It is a little over a year back. I am with a few friends at a pizza spot in D.C., on Mass Ave., just about 10 blocks from the White House. One friend gets into the mildest of arguments about the pizza we were served—the type of pizza we were requesting, one slice being cold, and the clerk refused to warm it up, etc. For whatever reason—maybe because our suits, doctor’s scrubs, and government badges aren’t on that day, just jeans and hoodies—the young man tells us to eff off and keep it moving. He goes on to serve the next customer.

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The Silent Killer

One of the more surprising parts of the Bible (to me) are the Psalms of lament. This is surprising because when most people think of godly men and women we think of exemplary men and women of faith who rarely struggled with doubts or frustrations.

Consider the opening verse of Psalm 74:

O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

I don’t hear those kinds of prayers too often. In fact, the Psalms of Lament represent 5% of the entire book of Psalms, but 0% of the church gatherings I’ve been to in my lifetime.

Lamentations is a poetic book of lament written by Jeremiah during the siege on Jerusalem. The people of Israel have turned away from God and their punishment is just, but it does not make the circumstances any easier to face. As they take on this battle Jeremiah thrusts his frustration right into God’s face, saying: “I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord'”” (Lam. 3:17-18).

Clearly there is something for us to learn here. Often when I see people turn away from God it has much more to do with a lack of honesty with God. Frustrated with God? Better keep quiet. Struggling with temptation? Giving into temptation? Better not go to church. That’s the line of thinking that leads toward self-inflicted alienation from God.

Often the killer of spiritual vitality is silence, not sin. (tweet this?)

Obviously sin creates a barrier between us and God. We see this so clearly in Genesis 3 as Adam and Eve immediately hide from God as He approaches them. But it’s our response that alienates us all the more, not just the initial sin.

The Psalms of Lament and various other faithful individuals highlighted in Scripture, teach us to come to God with all that we are, not hiding anything. The doubts. The frustrations. The pain. The joys. God responds to that, not the person who would rather shield themselves, worrying about how God will respond.

(Photo: Nathan Wirth)

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Taking After God, like David

One of the more confusing parts of the Bible is David’s description in 1st Samuel 13, as a “man after God’s own heart.” At the moment God has declared this of David we know little of him. He’s the youngest son, severly overlooked and undervalued. We get the sense that he’s a hard worker, but there’s nothing in his actions that scream “Godly man!” or anything close to it.

And, in fact, if we read the story of his life, we learn that while he has some shining moments, and he has given us a tremendous gift in much of the book of Psalms, his life is riddled with missteps.

He, famously, stays back from a key battle for Israel, and eyes a woman he finds beautiful (hello Eve and the apple). He uses his position of power to have this woman, to get her pregnant, and to then kill her husband in a strategic battle maneuver.

He has tumultuous relationships with his kids. His failures eventually lead to the demise of the entire nation of Israel.

The question I’ve asked myself and God my entire life is how this guy could be categorized as a “man after God’s own heart” by God himself? It made no sense to me, until I viewed the word “after” in a different way.

You can read the meaning “after God’s own heart” in two separate ways:

  • David is following after the way God has called his people to live. His actions reflect the heart and character of God.
  • David is seeking after God’s heart. His actions do not always reflect the pursuit he has to follow God.

And clearly this second understanding makes sense with what we know to be true of David. As Steve shared at my church this past weekend, the trajectory of David’s life was fixed on following God’s heart. Sure, he wavered. We all waver. But David, often through the help and influence of others, always made the course correction to live into his reputation of pursuing after God’s heart.

His life is filled with mistakes and sinful actions. But his legacy steps beyond those missteps as a man who sought to follow God with everything he had.

I pray the same will be true of you.

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The Empty Moments

FireplaceThis past week I’ve crawled into the half-frozen covers of my bed earlier than usual. Sometimes I just stare at the ceiling. Thinking. Pondering. But mostly just trying not to think about how cold I am before the sheets warm up. Usually it’s this part of the day I despise most.

I’m a doer. Give me a to-do list and 3 hours of uninterrupted time and I’ll knock it all out. I live much of my life based on efficiency. Why do something one way when the other is just as good and faster?

I have the kind of job you always carry with you. That crumbling marriage. The guy making poor choices while pursuing a woman. The upcoming message on Genesis 38. These are the thoughts and circumstances I find bouncing around my head, nearly all day, every day.

You might not have the same circumstances surrounding your life or vocation, but in a societal push toward vocational independence and entrepreneurialism, many of you can relate to the feeling of work never leaving. My wife often asks, “I have stuff to do tonight, is there anything you have to do instead of us spending time together?” I always respond, “I could work all day, every day, and still have more to do.”

I do my best to shut down the neverending-ness of work while I’m home. Ignore my phone. Turn off the computer. Sit in front of the fireplace. Do the dishes. Forcing myself to slow down. In the moment I never value the simplicity of its emptiness, but I know it’s those empty spaces that bring life to the chaotic ones.

As I get older I place more value in these empty moments. The ones where the needle isn’t moved on the bottom line. It’s that space where relationships and soul-work are cultivated.

This week is one of those weeks of empty moments. Many people have a long string of days off. No one is checking their email every 3 minutes. The to-do list is short, or non-existent. If you’re like me you tend to fill in the emptiness with something, anything.

I think it’s these empty moments that give life to the chaotic ones. And as I wish you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving, my prayer is that God’s voice will be heard by you as you embrace the emptiness.

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