Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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An Overflowing Life

Reflections on #Oscars Sunday, smartphones, and Lent. 

This past Sunday Moonlight won the Academy Awards’ Best Picture for 2016, in rather dramatic fashion. But what is most dramatic about its victory is that fewer people have seen this year’s best picture film than nearly all best picture winners, ever.

casey affleck amazon oscarsCouple that with this year’s best actor award going to a film produced by a video streaming service (Amazon video) and you can quickly see the shift taking place in film and audience viewership. It rarely pays the bills for a Hollywood studio to try to win an award. But producing another summer superhero blockbuster? That’s another story. The movies that sell in theaters are in large part, thrill rides.

So actors and directors and film houses are slowly pushing their energy to creating content for these streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and a few other small ones). For example, Will Smith is starring in a movie to be released by Netflix later this year. If it sees the big screen of local cinemas that’s only because Netflix is looking for it to be award season eligible. Netflix wants to add to their library to motivate users to sign up for monthly access.

Yesterday I got onto Netflix and starting scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling. I ended up watching a running documentary. It was decent. I scrolled for 7 minutes looking for something to watch and I barely even scratched the surface of all I could watch on Netflix.

If the main producers of content have a goal of creating more content, instead of creating art that matters, what have we lost? If your goal (like mine) for having Netflix is because there’s always something to watch, what affect does that have on us?

Last year a study released said the average American checks their smartphone over 200 times a day. I read that and I thought the number was low, because, well, it’s low for me.

Yesterday I got on Facebook. Then I closed out of Facebook and without realizing it I opened Facebook again, because I thought, “hey I should check Facebook. Great idea!” The same idea I had a few minutes prior.

There’s a reason people in the tech industry are creating things like the distraction-free iPhone” and why Nokia is bringing back it’s “dumbphone.” It’s more than a nostalgia thing, it’s because people are realizing the unrelenting pace of smartphones is crippling their lives. Here’s The Atlantic discussing the re-release of the Nokia 3310:

For years, internet-driven, mobile computing technology was heralded as either angel or devil. Only recently has it become possible to admit that it might be both. Cigarettes, after all, produce pleasure even as they slowly kill.

We tell ourselves we want to be connected and informed, but have we considered the side-effects of never-ending vibrations and notification dings that sit in our pockets and purses all day long?

(and if you think that question is too exaggerated, why not look at the 5 new brain disorders developed in our digital age)

Today is the beginning of a season in the church calendar known as Lent, a season of preparation leading up to Easter. Traditionally Christian believers have abstained from something in order to rely more heavily on God’s presence in their lives.

Lent is a reminder that less is more.

Is it possible to have abundance when our lives are overflowing with chaos?

Certainly, I’m not asking you to cancel Netflix or sell your smartphone.

But shouldn’t you at least consider it?

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The Gospel of 2017

As Lady Gaga took the stage for 2017’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, I could think of no other more fitting artist for the times we live in. While she certainly had the attention of fans previously, her song “Born This Way” became an anthem for generations who felt overlooked, misunderstood, and unvalued by those around them (if you haven’t seen the music video to “Born this Way” it’s fascinating, in a troubling way).

Underlying this cry from many—given voice through the lyrics of Lady Gaga—there’s a desire to be free to do what makes someone happy. It’s a cry for liberation. Gaga taking the Super Bowl stage is just a reminder to everyone this is mainstream thought throughout much of the world, not an isolated principle only a few people believe.

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While most dictionaries understand “gospel” to be a word associated with the life and teachings of Jesus as understood in the Christian faith tradition, “gospel” can also be understood as something accepted or promoted as infallible, bulletproof truth.

In a sense “gospel” could be more easily understood as “good news.” When extracted beyond the Christian faith tradition, we can begin to see how there are all sorts of “gospels” in our world, so which ones are gaining traction?

In 2017, when Lady Gaga can take the world’s biggest stage proclaiming, “Don’t hide yourself in regret. Just love yourself and you’re set,” I think it’s fair to say that the biggest gospel is the personal autonomy to be happy. Meaning you are given full control of your life, no constraints, and the largest goal for having this control is personal happiness.

Lady Gaga and Kevin Durant: Cut from the Same Cloth

Last week Bill Simmons interviewed Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant for his podcast. I loved the interview. Durant is historically a soft-spoken, out of the spotlight guy, and he’s one of the great basketball players to ever play.

Last summer Kevin Durant was a free agent, essentially able to sign with any team in the NBA he wanted. He chose to leave his previous team Oklahoma City, in order to play with the Golden State Warriors. We could evaluate the move on a number of levels, but when Simmons and Durant discussed this decision now over half a year old, he continued to talk about his desire to do what would make him happiest.

Durant scoffed at the notion that his decision should have included how it would effect former teammates. He also defended several players who switched teams in previous years, each time saying they had to make a decision that is best for them.

Kevin Durant is connected to Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz and has spoken of the importance of his Christian faith. Lady Gaga was raised Catholic and has said she still believes much of what she was raised in.

I share those two examples to point out that this gospel of personal autonomy toward happiness is not something beyond Christians today, is it firmly entrenched within.

How else do we get to the point where a Christian pastor can write something titled “Your Best Life Now” and people will make it into a best-seller?

Death to the Gospel of Self

Yes, today we live in a world fixated on self-expression, and anyone opposed to this freedom of individual expression is deemed to be bigoted. But I do believe the question must be asked: does pursuing life through the lens of seeking individual happiness actually result in true happiness?

Let’s consider how Jesus went about valuing himself, his life, and those around him:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7)

Considering moving or taking a different job? Have a big life decision to make? Certainly, you should not eliminate yourself from the equation entirely, but you must also consider what serving those around you looks like. You must consider what dying to self looks like. Part of considering others as better than yourself is to actually consider them and their well-being over and beyond your own.

If Jesus made himself nothing for our sake, we must put to death the gospel of self, because true happiness cannot be found there.

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Ten

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To be honest, I was still surprised she said yes as I stood there.

Ten years feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago, at the same time. Where did the time go? Yet everything has changed. Well, everything other than us still looking like we’re 18 years old.

She’s walked with me through a drastic career change, just 5 months into our brand new marriage.

She’s worked 3 separate jobs to help us make ends meet when I was between jobs.

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All throughout dating and engagement, I promised her a lavish life, a large home, world travels—all the things I knew would come in my desired line of work. But I gave it up, knowing it would be the end of me if I kept with it. Not once has she ever complained that she went from my promised lifestyle of grandeur, to the life of a pastor’s wife.

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Just as soon as she had established herself at a great job, using her advanced degree, I moved her to one of two places I told her I’d never live. While we didn’t have to say goodbye in totality, she had to leave behind everything she had known for our entire marriage, to go where I wanted to go.

From her I’ve learned how to put people first. I’ve learned that sometimes you throw away the plan. I’ve learned to “live a little” as she told me over and over while we were dating. There is no question, she’s the best thing that has ever happened to me—God’s grace in human form.

To be honest, I’m still surprised she said yes.

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1/6/07-1/6/17

Here’s to 10 more.

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Looking in the High Places

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Leading up to the time of Jesus, the nation of Israel had their eyes fixated toward the coming Messiah. He would be the one to loosen to chains of Roman rule, leading a revolution toward freedom and power for God’s people.

The Jewish people would read and study texts such as Isaiah 10 and 11 and come to an understanding that the Messiah would be a man of great nobility, of political and military prowess, and he would fight for God’s people. Several men did lead the Jewish people in victory and quickly they would gain a following: “This must be the man long foretold,” the people would think.

One of these men was named Judas Maccabeus, who led the Israelites in revolt a few hundred years before the birth of Christ. Through various battles, he led the Jewish people in taking back the Temple in Jerusalem from a foreign power. His victories led to the yearly Jewish holiday we know today as Hanukkah.

But alas, with Judas Maccabeus and several other men who gained a following, their success would wane, and the search for the Messiah would begin anew.

In this hot pursuit for a Savior, the Israelites totally missed it. They were looking in all the wrong places.

No, the Messiah was not a man of great nobility, or a man of political and military prowess.

The Messiah, God Incarnate, came down as a baby, the most helpless, needy state a human being can be.

He was born in Bethlehem, a town of zero prominence.

He was born in a stable, surrounded by the smoke of a fire, and the manure of cows.

Shortly after His birth, our Lord became a refugee, rejected by the powers that be.

Isaiah 53 prophesies about the Messiah, saying: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” While this text is often associated with the crucifixion of Christ, it just as well applies to His birth.

Everyone was busy looking for the Messiah in the high places of society, and God sent him down into the dirt, a place with which he would become familiar during his earthly ministry. While everyone was looking toward a place of prominence for the Messiah, God sent him into obscurity.

Throughout the Old Testament there’s a theme of God’s people going to “the high places” in search for God’s presence. At one point, the people built the Tower of Babel, believing it was the high places where God can be found.

Too often we’re busy looking for Him in the obvious places, desiring to find Him in the headlines, and for Him to raise us up to prominence as well. But the truth is God desires the back pages, in obscurity, where only the faithful servant can find Him.

For those who seek to find Him, this is good news, because God sits with you. He sits with the rejected, the overlooked, and the sinner. More than the feeling of nostalgia or the warmth of a gift exchange, Christmas is the story of Good News where God chooses to come as weak and lowly, extending a hand toward those who need a lift.

So, let’s be like the shepherds and the wise men, who saw past the allure of power and prominence and found God in rejected obscurity.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year friends! I’ll be back in 2017. -Tyler

[Image: Gari Melchers]

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Why I Wore a Safety Pin During My Sermon Last Sunday

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This past Sunday I wore a safety pin during my sermon at my fairly conservative, mostly white, evangelical church. I share those details because approximately 81% of people in that demographic of Americans voted for Donald Trump (though, here’s a well-informed read on why that number is very misleading).

Those of you who have been around this space over the past year know I’ve been decidedly against the Christian evangelical support of Trump (HERE and HERE and HERE, mostly notably).

I lamented to my wife on election night that in 4 years I would need to explain to our then 6-year-old daughter how Americans could have chosen Trump to lead them. The things he’s said about women are disgusting at best, and probably don’t make a list of the worst things he’s said or done. I’m no closer to being able to explain that to my daughter today than I was a week ago.

So why wear a safety pin? Trump has been elected. Time to move on and give him my full support, many have said.

What’s the Safety Pin For?

Before I share my reasons, here’s some background on how this whole safety pin thing started.

The safety pin movement started following Brexit, as a way to declare to refugees and immigrants that they did not need to live in fear around those wearing the pins. The New York Times summarized safety pin accessory wearing by saying, “Groups of people across America are attaching safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to signify that they are linked, willing to stand up for the vulnerable.”

My wife Rose had a client of hers share her fear of the coming Trump Presidency, not because she feared him persay—she had fear for the normalization of what he stood for throughout this campaign. He has spoken in such disparaging terms about some of the most vulnerable groups in society: people of color, immigrants, women, people with special needs, to name a few. This particular client of Rose’s finds herself in one of those vulnerable groups of our society.

Sticking it to Trump Supporters?

After hearing of Rose’s client’s fear I decided to wear the pin. What if this woman showed up to my church on Sunday, thinking that people like me stand with Trump on everything? I could not stand for that.

Those of you who know me well know that I am not a “do something to make a point” guy. I drive a boring car. I wear boring clothes. So I waffled about this, knowing some would see the pin and think I was just trying to cause a commotion.

I shared the idea with some friends ahead of time, and one wisely asked, are you doing this to stick it to Trump supporters? While I disagree with supporting Trump, I came to the decision to wear the pin because I believed I was standing up for the vulnerable, not trying to stick it to any particular person or group.

Validation and Normalization

In order for common ground to be found, even the person who leans toward the conservative side of governance (as I do) must point out when it is in error. My worry is that by Trump winning, many will believe it validates his methods and messages.

When asked if Trump wishes he could take back any of his campaign blunders he responded by saying, “I won.” Normalizing hate of people groups does not advance a society. If the KKK celebrates your victory, it should bring pause, not validation.

Wearing a safety pin (for me) was not standing on the left, sticking it to those on the right. I wore a safety pin to say there’s something wrong with normalizing the kind of behavior and rhetoric the President-elect has led with, and he does not speak for me.

As I said two weeks ago, the way forward for our society is by humanizing “the other” instead of dismissing them. Certainly many have sought to divide in recent days, and while I recognize my safety pin wearing could be seen as divisive by some, I hope it brings about a helpful conversation while discouraging the normalization of hate-filled speech of any person or group.

To the Trump Supporter: Please choose to value those who feel like their voice has been diminished in this election. Don’t let political activism get in the way of Christian mission.

To the Trump Opposer: Don’t just wear a pin, anyone can be a slacktivist. Listen to those who voted for Trump. They aren’t the evil you might assume.

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But Now What?

but now what? bridge water

November 9th is coming quickly. This disaster of an election cycle will be over soon, leaving us with the duty of picking up the pieces. Soon the question will no longer be “who?” and it will become “but now what?”

 —

Last week I grabbed lunch with a church member nearly twice my age. He invited me. Turned out he wanted to talk about some controversial subjects, and once the topic was established I was ready to spout my truth.

Not long before that, a young man, a few years younger than me, visited my church looking for a group of people his age to meet with. While my church has plenty of people around his age, there are no established groups for people only his age.

I explained to him our focus on being an intergenerational church, and with that in mind, we won’t have groups for one specific age range. He didn’t come back.

I think this highlights the issues that came up throughout this election cycle, as well the issues I see around me, and probably most important, the issues I see in me. What are those issues?

We (and when I say we, I am primarily thinking of me) do not value those who are different from us, so we easily diminish them in the process. And when we can easily devalue and diminish those not like us, we no longer feel a need to be decent and charitable to them.

With this in mind, I think the issue continually pressing on American society, and beyond it as well, is a gospel issue. We choose not to value those unlike us, while worshiping a God who gave up everything to be near those unlike Himself. The question that must be asked is simply:

How can Christians live out the Gospel in a way that helps our society move toward civility rather than its current contentious climate?

The Other

I have a particular perspective when it comes to various issues relating to society as a whole. My perspective is largely a summation of my beliefs, experiences, and relationships. But my perspective is not necessarily the right perspective in every instance.

For the sake of simplicity I’ll call those unlike myself “the other.” They are the people who I quickly dismiss, in either a general sense or in many instances, a specific sense. Today, the other is discarded flippantly.

Rather than engaging with, or listening to the other, we give into fear. “What if people like them had power?” Rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt, we assume the worst. “They are a big part of the problem.”

What if we made the choice to humanize the other? What if we listened before we assumed? What if we sought out those unlike ourselves for the sake of knowing them?

Fear and assumption lead only to division, humanizing leads to charity.

For God, we are the other. We are unlike He is. Yet he humanized us in the fullest sense. God hears our prayers. God sought us out.

Common Grace

The other piece to this puzzle of civility in public life is seen in common grace. In many conservative circles, common grace is a frowned upon term, seen as a way to promote a progressive agenda. But what is common grace?

Here’s Theopedia’s take on the term:

Common Grace refers to the grace of God that is common to all humankind. It is “common” because its benefits are experienced by the whole human race without distinction between one person and another, believers or unbelievers. It is “grace” because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God.

What does this have to do with the divisions we see in society? Well, everything.

Common grace teaches that the other—the person despised by your preferred cable news network—has received a touch of grace from God without having accepted that God exists or believing that He provides a Lord and Savior for their lives.

All people bear the image of God, and therefore, contain a picture of grace in and other themselves by merely existing. Rather than simply dismissing them, we can choose to see grace and offer grace as well.

If I’m being totally honest, I’ve never been as discouraged about the future of Christian faith in my home country than I have been the last 6 months. This election has brought out the worst in Christians living in America.

But even as I say that, I still believe the best days are ahead. I do not say that flippantly. I say that because I believe we can experience civility instead of division. But it will only happen if we choose to give grace to those unlike ourselves.

If you’re interested in more on this subject I’d commend to you a recent event in New York City titled “Civility in the Public Square.” You can watch the video of this event here.

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