Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Is the Church Easily Deceived?

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In 2nd Corinthians 11 Paul makes reference to men he calls “super apostles” because they think highly of themselves, but he also says they are false apostles. In fact, he comes on quite strong about who these men are, saying, “deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:13-14).

What makes their teachings and leadership false? Well, Paul doesn’t say. No specifics are given. You could make some educated guesses, but the fact is Paul is vague about how these apostles masqueraded as of Christ.

While understanding the specific situation in Corinth becomes more difficult because of this, this vagueness provides with an opportunity to think about our own situations. And I think that leads us to this question:

What commonly held perspectives in the church today are masquerading as of Christ?

I’d like to identify two that jump out to me, and then discuss how to avoid other deceptions of the truth. 

1. God rewards increasing levels of faith with greater amounts of health and wealth.

You might hear this kind of perspective referred to as the prosperity gospel. And let me be clear, churches that champion this kind of perspective often seem on the outside to be quite healthy, they often have a lot of people and a lot of resources to build up something that looks nice and flashy on the outside.

There’s a number of issues with this kind of perspective.

1) If wealth and health are a result of the degree of faith a person has, this leads to the conclusion that the poor are poor because they are spiritually deficient. While personal sin may result in poverty, the prosperity gospel ignores the effects of the sin of others and structural evils that may be the cause of poverty. Believing harder fails to eliminate poverty and advance human flourishing.

2) The prosperity gospel overemphasizes the importance of wealth on the individual. Monetary gain rather than obedience is seen as the sign of faith. While Scripture records examples of faithful rich men (Abraham), it also records examples of people who were poor or sick, yet were also faithful (Paul). 

3) The biggest issue with this perspective is that it places suffering and difficulty under the heading of lacking faith and giving into sin. There is an absence of teaching or emphasis on a right understanding of suffering, which is not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced, according to the Bible.

A prosperity understanding of the gospel avoids weakness, and poverty, and suffering, rather than embracing such hardships to the glory of God.

2. It’s All About You

A few years ago a study was released saying for the previous four decades the number one career aspiration of children ages 12 to 16 was to become a teacher, but that in 2009 this was replaced by a desire to become famous through sports, music, tv, or movies. On the surface it’s not surprising but I think it highlights a shift most recognize: a teacher seeks to build into the lives of others, but the goal of being famous is first and foremost a goal for the individual.

“Discover who you are” and “be who you are” are the anthems of our society today. Anything that impedes this process for individuals is often seen as discriminatory and thrown into the pile of things that bring about the rage of social media. And this me-first kind of attitude is quite prevalent in church too. Church shopping is a commonly held thing, where people look for a church that meets their needs.

And it is quite often what you hear in church. It’s all about you. “You’re going to change the world!” While God loves you and pursues you, an overemphasis on self leads to narcissism, which often leads to anxiety and depression.

A self-centered reality is not a healthy way to live. Us being created in God’s image means that our lives must look to and extend beyond ourselves, in order to be fully who we were made to be.

How do we know which messages are deceiving?

Or another way to put it would be, how do we know which messages and messengers within the church to trust and which ones to ignore? I ran across some advice John Piper shared relating to this subject that I found to be helpful. Here’s some questions to ask when deciding who to trust:

  • Do they make the greatness and majesty and glory of God their focus? Is that their sole aim, or are they more focused on themselves?
  • Do they talk about themselves more than God and others?
  • Is their heart broken over sin? Is there noticeable repentance? 

When these questions are posed against the two teachings shared above the truth shines brilliantly.

Each day presents opportunities to buy into something new. Every day we’re inundated with various pictures of what a good life looks like. Over time the church can become compromised from teachings within and beyond that deceive us away from the truth that leads to life. Each of us must examine the things invading our lives so that we can protect that which is held dearest to us (Proverbs 4:23).

[Image: NAFA]

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Rage Against the Opposition

Any given week you choose among two or three of the latest controversies. At this point, it’s no longer worth discussing which ones are warranted because there’s too many to keep up with. Rage fatigue is now a thing. Companies lose millions of dollars in stock value because of tweets deemed to be bigoted. Spend a few minutes on social media and you’ll quickly realize EVERYTHING IS WRONG.

The issue with this is, of course, if everything is wrong, nothing is wrong.

But what’s the outcome of this rage against the opposition? Back in the early days of online rage Joseph Kony was the object of scorn (just 5 years ago, but you get the point), for plenty of valid reasons. But I bet you haven’t heard that name in years. Did you know he’s still at large despite an ongoing international manhunt?

Our attention spans for online rage are short. Often our rage produces little to no recognizable difference. But in a partisan society, where middle ground is a wasteland, it seems our rage is increasing not decreasing. I find this quite troubling.

I’ve been thinking a lot about online rage. You have to live under a rock to avoid it. In my decade of online writing I’ve been blindsided by a few controversies, all from things I’ve said.

Was the rage warranted? Depending on your own perspective, I would say yes, it was.

Did the rage do any good? No. Simply, no.

What rage against the opposition misses is that it leaves no room for conversation, charity, or learning opportunities.

The key to discourse among opponents in an increasingly online society to space for understanding.

So how do you go about allowing your disagreement to lead toward conversation, charity, and learning opportunities rather than rage? A few ideas:

Tell Your Story

John 9 tells the story of a blind man who was healed by Jesus. After the healing the religious leaders go after the previously blind man, sensing the whole thing was a farce. The man simply replies by telling his story, over and over again, because the religious leaders do not relent in their questioning. His reply is consistently just telling the story from his perspective.

In the face of great opposition, or when facing great opposition one of the best things you can do is teach your own context. This is different than a “what is true for you must be true” mantra. This is simply setting the scene for why you have a certain perspective.

One recent online rage storm has been about changing health care coverage in the United States. As with much of the rage, there’s been a lot of noise, but one thing that broke through the noise was Preston Yancey’s Washington Post article describing how the proposed changes would dramatically affect the life of his son. In the middle of a rage storm, a personal story provides the opportunity for continued conversation.

Ask Good Questions

Online rage is fueled by those who wish to pile on. Pointing fingers is always easier than extending a hand. Questions extend a hand because they continue the conversation. Sure you can ask accusatory questions, or overly simplistic questions, but good questions benefit both parties involved.

Ask open-ended questions that force others to provide something beyond yes or no.

Ask clarifying questions if you think there’s something ambiguous about the other perspective.

Good questions help people of all perspectives think critically about the subject at hand. Good questions force people to reflect in unpredictable ways (“why would your perspective work best?” is one way to get at this). Good questions challenge the preconceived notion of the opposition. Good questions de-escalate the rising pulse of rage, something easily missed as things ramp up.

More than likely you will find plenty of opportunities to rage against the opposition this week (or even today), but I hope you’ll consider your own place in the story and I hope you’ll utilize thoughtful questions as a way to prompt conversation instead of an argument.

We can do better.

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The Best Quotes from The Curious Christian by Barnabas Piper

Note from Tyler: 

I’ve blogged about books a lot over the last decade, using various formats to do so. I’ve blogged through books, chapter by chapter. I’ve written book reviews. And I’ve simply plugged books I enjoyed. But I’ve struggled in recent years to keep up with sharing about books I’ve read and enjoyed. For the foreseeable future, rather than posting lengthy posts about books I’m simply going to share quotes from books I’ve enjoyed. This is certainly not a new or unique idea, but it fits with my reading style (because I underline a lot), and will hopefully help you discover some more books I would have previously not had time to send your way.

I’ll be choosing quotes that stood out to me in my reading of the book. Pick up a copy of the books whose quotes pique your interest. Now to today’s book.

Now to today’s book.


 

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In what is now his third published book, Barnabas Piper has shown an ability to take a seemingly overdone or obvious topic and turned it into an area of intrigue. Just like his first two books, when I heard the topic at first I thought the subject seemed trite, but upon further exploration, I see the value of devoting a book to the subject. I think the value of curiosity is easily overlooked, and because of that I think Barnabas has done us a great service in writing The Curious Christian.

Here’s a good chunk of what I see as the best quotes from the book:

Do you find yourself asking questions often? That’s not a sign of being dumb; it’s a sign of being curious. (pg 1)

Most people avoid most complex ideas and happenings that do not directly relate to their immediate needs or interests. They go about their business living in their narrow view of life. (pg 2)

Curiosity asks what’s next, what not, what if, what about, what’s that, who, when, and most especially why. It asks and asks and asks in part because it knows a surprise waits and in part because it harkens back to childhood. (pg 17)

Curiosity seeks truth. (pg 20)

Godly curiosity keeps us from becoming simplistic legalists who just label everything as either good or bad. This is discernment, a trait all wise Christians have, and one that relies on curiosity so that it can deeply understand. (pg 31)

If we entrust our children to schools alone, we are setting them up to be warehouses of knowledge with little idea why it matters and what difference it can make in the world. (pg 42)

Curiosity enlarges the world. It opens our eyes to experiences of others, to celebrate or to mourn. It moves us to think about what someone else needs or might like instead of only what we need or want. (pg 49)

Real curiosity is not frivolous…curiosity takes the mundanity out of the mundane and breathes life into the most intellectual of pursuits. (pg 70)

Who are you? Who are you becoming? Active curiosity will help you find the answers. (pg 109)

The same people who consider curiosity a dangerous or foolish endeavor are the ones who want to keep their distance from the world…They write off much of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable because of its proximity to that which isn’t. (pg 114)

Be willing to listen to arguments carefully and process them honestly, but do not move from a conviction without ample reason to do so. (pg 119)

The Christian faith should be curious, not blind. It should be full of questions, not fear questions. (pg 131)

Curiosity watches for all the same reasons it listens—watching is listening with the eyes. (pg 143)

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Embracing Weakness

I mentioned a few weeks ago my break away from blogging was unintentional, but needed. What God was doing in me is spoken of in a message I shared with my church last Sunday. The post below summarizes the sermon, but if you’d like to listen to or download the message, it’s right here for you to dig into.

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2nd Corinthians 12:9

The first half of this verse is words spoken to Paul by Jesus, as Paul had repeatedly asked for what he calls a “thorn” in his flesh to be removed. Jesus’ ultimately responds by saying no, why? Because the power of God is made perfect as Paul embraces this weakness in his life.

Embracing weakness is not exactly a hallmark of life in the 21st century. Kayne sells millions of albums by declaring himself to be the greatest. The hashtag #GOAT (Greatest of All Time) gets thrown around constantly as we look for people to define greatness.

Even when weakness is shown, it’s usually a bait and switch tactic to gain notoriety and influence. “Look at how weak and broken I am,” mixed with a selfie always sells on social media. But Christ isn’t encouraging fake weakness, he’s talking about a broken, contrite, and humble spirit.

Paul writes on this in his first letter: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate” (1 Cor 4:12). And then he adds, “We have become like the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things.” Not exactly the kind of weakness that builds a following.

In other words, this kind of lifestyle, this kind of response to abuse, suffering, and brokenness, looks feeble and inept to society today. Well, at least it looks that way to those who thrive on pride and power.

But the Christ follower is not called to live like the world. No, we are called to glorify God in all that we do, and Jesus tells us that the greatest way to do this is through weakness. The Bible is full of men and women who embraced this:

Moses had a speech impediment.

Jeremiah struggled with depression.

Jonah ran away from God.

Abraham was a liar. So was his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob.

Every single one of the disciples abandoned Jesus in the hour of his greatest need.

Rather than putting off weakness as some sort of negative character trait, Christians should embrace their faults, knowing God’s power will shine through all the more brightly.

John Newton once said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Embrace this today!

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13 Reasons Why Didn’t Go Far Enough

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Over the course of a week and a half, my wife Rose and I watched the recently released Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. For us, with two small kids, that was binge watching, even though I realize many will watch the entire 13 episode season in a couple days. Here’s a few adjectives I’d use to describe the show: horrifying, painful, illuminating, raw. It took me right back to my own difficult days in high school, while simultaneously showing the different difficulty students are faced with today.

I should mention at the outset, I found the show extremely difficult to watch. I couldn’t help but think of my own children, friends who had similar struggles in high school, and students I’ve had the joy of caring for over the past decade. Knowing some of what the show portrayed is what they face every day in school is enough to bring me to my knees in prayer.

While it portrayed the lives of high school students, I do not recommend that high school students watch the show. In fact, plenty of adults who could be triggered by the content would do well to avoid watching. The graphic portrayals of drinking, drugs, rape, and suicide, along with excessive language, could clearly do immense harm to those who watch it. The show (for me) was not entertaining, but it was educational in a dark way.

In conversation with others, I’ve had a few people tell me they thought the show was “great” or “entertaining.” If this is your response to the show I think you TOTALLY missed the point of it.

A brief background on the show for those who haven’t seen (no spoilers in here): Hannah Baker (the main character) has committed suicide, but before her death she recorded 13 tapes for 13 separate people (hence why the show has 13 episodes) describing the reasons why her life no longer felt worth living. The show moves back and forth between the present day and stories she recounts on the tapes.

My Short Take on the Show Itself

As a work of art, the show is okay. It has moments where it stands on its own, but more so the difficulty of subject matter carries through rather than great acting and production.

While on the surface it has the same high school over-generalizations from movies I grew up on like She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring It On, instead it sheds light on reality rather than trying to provide comedic relief from it. On this alone it should be commended.

The show does not avoid any of what led to the suicide of its main character, Hannah Baker. None of the hardest scenes ever seem truncated. In fact, the hardest scenes were the most honest. It was the interactions less connected to the weight of the action that seemed unnatural.

There are plenty of moments of terrible acting. Too many scenes repeated the same points, and most of these were drawn out to the point where I felt myself disconnecting. Oh, and the ending was horrible.

But I’m not sure we can critique this show like a typical television show. Despite not being a student myself, I felt like I was engaging a cultural moment—when the veil of student life in America is pulled back and many are forced to grapple with the scene. Any criticisms I might have of the show feel unnecessary because of this.

Addressing the Pushback

I’ve heard plenty of criticisms of the show, both in person and online. I thought these two (HERE and HERE) were especially helpful.

  • Some have said the show makes light of suicide and rape, even to the point of glorifying it. Can anything be portrayed in cinematic form without being glorified? Seems to me this criticism is part of a larger one, beyond just one show. My concern is more that the show might allow a person to see suicide as a possibility to help rectify their pain.
  • The show hits “trigger points” for those who have a history with the various issues approached. Yes, I think this is absolutely true. One of the points made in the show is that the 13 tapes recorded by Hannah were “her truth,” as one of the characters said. If someone else’s truth is that the show is hurtful, they should not watch it. The producers could have done a better job of warning people.
  • I’ve heard that Hannah’s 13 reasons are her passing blame onto others for her own death, while in reality only she was responsible for her death. To this I would say I don’t think we should be evaluating the rationale of someone who took their own life, even if it was fiction.
  • Lastly many have said the show is over the top, portraying an overly dramatic picture of high school life. Many students don’t face the issues presented to the level of the show, some have it even worse. What’s true for some may not be true for others. This doesn’t make it false.

But, the Show Didn’t Go Far Enough

After we finished the last episode I told my wife that while I thought the show had notably raised awareness around often ignored issues, I thought their “solution” wasn’t enough. In watching a follow-up show the producers mentioned their desire for acceptance of people rather than judgment and bullying, and for increased dialogue around the pressures students feel.

While this may prevent suicide, does it lead to flourishing?

Seems to me we’re settling for something less than what’s best. What the show missed is that no person or group of people can ever show those around them enough love and acceptance. Eventually, their love and acceptance will fall short.

While some of what the show is pushing for might be helpful for students, it will never be enough to help them find the kind of flourishing life they desire deep down.

There is only one person whose unconditional love can fill the void students feel and his name is Jesus.

You might say, “well, Tyler you’re a Christian pastor, of course you think Jesus is the answer.” To that I would reply by saying the show did a great job of showing how broken everyone is. Every character in the show, no matter how perfect on the outside, displayed varying levels of brokenness, but none of them felt comfortable exposing it.

The Christian faith provides the only answer to liberating people through their brokenness. Not avoiding it. Not going around it. Christ takes on the shame of your brokenness, sees you for who you are, redeems your life from the pit, creating a new life. John Newton, the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace understood this as well as anyone, saying:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

A Final Thought

For those who have watched, if you are not getting more involved with youth at your church or in your community after watching, I think you totally missed the point.

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Navigating Leadership

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I haven’t written on this blog in two months, the longest break I’ve ever taken during my decade of blogging. Why aren’t the words flowing? Why aren’t I motivated to come up with something new to write about? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself throughout those two months.

This is my attempt to walk myself through the jumbled mess of my life, in a way that may illuminate truths for you as well.

The stereotype of my generation is that we want to make an impact more than we want to make money. I tend to abhor and ignore generational stereotypes because they’re rarely true universally, but for me, this stereotype rings true—I entered into pastoral ministry because I tried the money route and burned out in three months.

The more I poured myself into church ministry the more I felt God was preparing me for leadership within a local church body. Through personal gift assessments, validation of respected people and co-workers, and through the encouragement of people I served with, I finished a degree and decided my life was meant to serve the church.

I started a blog to process through the many difficult tensions to navigate within churches, and more broadly for Christians within society today. Ultimately this provided the opportunity to write a book. Incredible! On the surface, the influence of my leadership was sky high.

Vulnerable to Exploitation

Every Sunday I was on stage, helping lead over a thousand people in various spaces. I wrote a book with a mid-sized nationally known publisher. My leadership trajectory was up and to the right. But I left the big church and haven’t written another book since the first. What I came to realize is that I was in a position of exploitation, where I could use my influence to lead people without ever being touched.

Now, this doesn’t mean I actually exploited people, it just means I was vulnerable to that becoming a reality because I risked very little in pushing the book, in leading the songs, in taking on various leadership responsibilities.

We tend to see vulnerability as personal exposure, but we often turn vulnerability into a commodity that can be used as a selling point (look at how authentic that person is!) to gain attention. I was good at learning how to expose myself authentically in a way that allowed me to gain notoriety, but I had never risked the thing I really cared about: influence. I wanted the chance to influence people.

Over the past 5 years I’ve become a dad to two, I’ve navigated pastoring at a smaller church in a smaller city, and in the process I’ve learned a different kind of vulnerability that involved me risking and then largely giving up the thing I had prized so heavily before: influencing more and more people. Why was I willing to give that up?

True vulnerability assumes personal risk for the sake of the other. Simply put, I knew I could not care for the people nearest me if I also placed a higher priority on growing my so-called influence. But to say I embraced this would be false.

crouch chartI was reminded of this perspective on leadership while listening to the Cultivated Podcast (a podcast I highly recommend to you). In the episode, Andy Crouch discusses the two keys of leadership being authority and vulnerability—this is something he develops fully in his book Playing God. This idea is summarized in the chart on the right –>

Dreams for Reality

I’ve written before about the danger of visionary dreaming, so I won’t rehash that again, but I’ve been embracing big dreams for the reality of my life—what are the best things God could do with the people and circumstances right in front of me?

In previous years I’ve given a lot of my focus toward online writing, blogging, platform building, whatever the latest buzz word is, and in this much of my focus has been on growth in influence. If your personal platform is reaching 20 people, why not 200? Why not 2,000? Why not quit your job so you can grow this influence? While I’m sure that’s worked for some, I’ve found that endless pursuit of growing influence to be a zero-sum game, not actually bettering the lives of the influencer (they’re more focused on the mythical “people” out there still needing their help) or the influenced (they’re another cog in a growing machine built on economics, involving little actual vulnerability from the influencer).

So I stopped all my growing influence stuff to start 2017. It started by accident, but it felt right so I went with it. The gap has given me a helpful perspective to jump back into writing, and the public processing of various topics like I’ve done in the past. My goal in re-entry is to influence the reality of my current connections and circumstances, and hopefully helping each of you who have supported me throughout this past decade of online writing. I can only pray that my influence might lead to flourishing instead of self-exalting exploitation.

Blessings friends.

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