Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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The Balaam Trap

From Tyler: I write for a daily devotional, which you can pick up for $5 here. We’re slowly building to having it be a year-long devotional, so it’s well worth your money. Here’s a recent post I wrote for it. 

“They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness.” 2nd Peter 2:15

Numbers 22-24 tells one of the funniest stories in the Bible. In the story we’re introduced to two main characters: Balaam and Balak.

Balak: king ruling a nation directly north of the Israelites in their conquest through The Promised Land God had given them.
Balaam: world-renowned false prophet the Bible describes as a diviner (meaning he talks to God).

King Balak, in his worry about the impending doom coming to his people, offers to hire Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam declines. Balak ups his offer considerably, and the extra money sways Balaam. He agrees to help King Balak with the condition that he can only speak the words God gives him.

On Balaam’s journey toward the capital city of Balak’s nation, he rides a donkey who on three separate occasions sees an angel of the Lord blocking the road. The donkey ends up throwing Balaam off the road into a ditch and into a wall. Here is the world-renowned “man of god” who cannot notice God’s messenger, and yet the donkey can.

After being hired to curse the nation of Israel, Balaam is only able to speak words of blessing over God’s people, to King Balak’s dismay. They move from mountain to mountain, giving an endless array of sacrifices, trying to provoke the God of the universe to go against His people. But God only gives Balaam words of blessing.

King Balak’s plan fails. The Israelites prevail. Balak and Balaam go down in history books as fools. God’s blessing cannot be bought and proclaiming you are God’s prophet doesn’t make it real.

Two things jump off the page from this story:

– God loves to bless His people.
– Words without action are cheap.

In the book of Revelation, one of the churches spoken of is referred to as being like Balaam, meaning they were prone to sinful ways because their faith was fake (Revelation 2:14).

They were all talk.

Are you?

Don’t fall for the Balaam trap—real faith inspired by God at work within, always extends to real action, real love, real care, toward those beyond yourself.

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The Faceless Enemy

A while back I had the opportunity to see Dunkirk in theaters. While I thought the film was exceptional, I will say for a first watch it was difficult to follow. The film features three separate storylines that all connect in places, but the film has little chronological cohesion. Weaving between these three storylines makes it difficult to know the order of events taking place.

dunkirk-movie-preview-01_featureWhere the film shines is in overwhelming the viewer. The lack of chronological cohesion, mixed with it probably being the loudest movie I’ve ever seen in theaters, discombobulated me. The musical score helped create tension even where the film presented none. And the enemy’s face was never shown, only seen in the form of airplanes dropping bombs and bullets being fired from various directions.

I walked out of the theater hardly remembering where I was, totally disoriented, shell-shocked. While I’ve read some reviews declaring some of these techniques as poor storytelling, I think Christopher Nolan achieved his goal: make the viewer feel as overwhelmed and anxious as a soldier on the beach of Dunkirk.

Often times the goal of the enemy is not to kill you, but to disorient you, disordering your life so that you worry about your next step. From there, the enemy can have its way. You see this disorientation in a nameless soldier played by Cillian Murphy, who is unable to even answer basic questions from his rescuers.

During the entire film you are thrust into the anxiety of knowing you are a sitting duck, surrounded by the enemy, incapable of saving yourself. Even when the obvious danger relents, the pressure never releases.

It reminds me that our lives are thrust into a battle, against an unseen enemy, who often prefers to disorder our lives rather than ending them. In fact, in this battle the enemy disorders us enough that we kill each other, losing sight of the image of God in others. The Apostle Peter describes this lurking enemy, by saying,

“Stay alert! Watch out! Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, searching for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, TLV).

This adversary is as strong as a roaring lion, to be feared more than any other wild animal. Yet it also prowls, often unseen, looking for the window of opportunity to open. Out in the open, on your own, you become its prey.

But there’s another element to this roaring lion. Its strength gives us fear, yes, but the sheer terror of any possible attack is what disorients us most. We often think of the worst evil as overt, directly in front of us, on the news, but the Apostle Paul reminds us we are in a battle far beyond what we can see or touch:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Much could be said about what Paul means when he refers to “rulers” and “authorities” and “powers of this dark world” and “spiritual forces of evil,” but I think it would be fair to say he’s referring to the existence of evil things, things opposed to God, operating below the surface.

Murders, war, genocide, racism, classism, all examples of injustice, these only begin to exist when pride and greed and selfishness are allowed to run rampant underneath the surface. And these only run rampant when Satan is given an opportunity. These oft-hidden evils can only lurk beneath the surface for so long before shadow shows its ugly face in the daylight.

Before we get too proud ourselves, we recognize this same evil prowls around us, lurking, looking for the window of opportunity. We too, are on the beach of Dunkirk, surrounded by bullets and beach, our lives hanging in the balance.

How can we fight this great war? What tools has God given us to overcome?

God’s Word is clear, we only need a few things to fight and win this battle:

  • We need each other.
  • We need the armor of God.
  • We need to recognize our need.
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Called Out Episode 001: Anxiety

Copy of called out

Studies show 40 million Americans struggle with some form of anxiety, yet when it comes to an issue so many feel burdened by the church is largely silent.

I’m excited to share with you the first full-length episode of Called Out, my new podcast. Today’s episode is on the subject of anxiety, and was really the inspiration behind starting a podcast. The podcast medium is great for telling stories and because anxiety is an often ignored subject, I thought telling the stories of people who have struggled with anxiety was a great place to start.

You can listen to the episode below (click through to listen email readers):

Or find the episode wherever you listen to podcasts, including:

Apple Podcasts || Soundcloud || Stitcher || Overcast

Here are some links discussed in the episode:

Thanks for listening and sharing this episode. If you would take the time to rate and review the show wherever you listen, it would be greatly appreciated!

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A Church For the City

A Church for The City (2)

This past Sunday marked 5 years of my family and me being at New Harvest Church. Time flies, truly.

For the better part of this summer I’ve thought about what I’d like to say to in some ways commemorate the 5 years of calling Salem and New Harvest home. In many ways I was asking God and myself the question, “what kind of church does God want New Harvest to be?” As the summer wore on I kept coming back to the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself,” which is first recorded in Leviticus 19.

In his book Center Church, Tim Keller says there are 4 types of churches that exist within the city:

  • Church against the city: known for being against what is happening around it.
  • Church in the city: known for merely existing within the city, otherwise separate from it.
  • Church of the city: known for looking like and operating no different than the city around it.
  • Church for the city: known for supporting the flourishing of the city.

I want my church and yours to be a church for the city, where we partner with the city for its flourishing as a sign of God’s inbreaking kingdom.

What might this look like for individual followers of Jesus? Here’s a simple diagram I put together to describe it:

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 12.54.29 PM

It really begins on the bottom left, with God and what he’s done for us despite none of us being worthy of his kindness. As we take that in and as he continues to work in us we’re pushed and inspired by Him to love God back, but this doesn’t stop there, we naturally flow toward loving our family, and in the Bible family is not just the nuclear family. Remember Jesus asking the rhetorical questions: who is my mother? who is my brother? His point is that in Christ we have a whole new family, the body of Christ, comprised of local gathering congregations. So love of God pushes us to love our family, like our church and the people who live with us on a daily basis.

And from there we also continue moving beyond ourselves to love your neighbor. This could be the person across the hallway from us, it could be one door down or further down the street or on the other side of the world. Neighbor in a biblical sense is just a way of describing a person beyond yourself.

After moving out into the world we recognize our need for God. Engaging the world by loving your neighbor is so hard, and so difficult to do well without failing over and over again. So we’re pushed back to God because we need His help.

In this we see a paradigm where we’re constantly engaging and withdrawing. This back and forth is something we should be doing daily as individuals and in smaller groups and conversations and weekly as a local church body. We can’t thrive without that kind of withdrawal and engagement, we’re designed by God for both.

We need intentional withdrawal to spend time in worship, prayer, study, and meditation on God’s Word, time of devotion to Him. This naturally pushes out toward engagement in loving others, which pushes us to withdraw again.

I want to be at a church that exists for the city it calls home, to the glory of God—a church where we announce the kingdom of God in the public square, pointing out all the signs of God’s inbreaking kingdom. Do you want to be at a church like that? I pray it will be so.

You can listen to my message on this subject down below (click here email readers).

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A Meaningless Life

One of my great fears in life is to master work that doesn’t matter. It’s why I came to a point of crisis only a few months after graduating college—”Did I just waste my time for 4 years and a lot of debt?”

I’ve been reading the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the most interesting books in Bible, in part because it makes very little mention of God. Here’s a short piece of chapter 2:

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.” —Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

“Everything is meaningless.” Those are the words of the richest, most powerful man to ever walk the earth. No one before or after Solomon has ever acquired more, and no one had more influence on the people and places around him.

And yet after getting his name written in history books, after becoming by far the most famous person in the world, Solomon said, “everything is meaningless.” This is essentially the summary of the entire book of Ecclesiastes.

Eugene Peterson says Ecclesiastes is, “an exposé and rejection of every arrogant and ignorant expectation that we can live our lives by ourselves on our own terms.”

In the first three chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon breaks his meaningless pursuits down to three separate categories:

#1 Knowledge

“The more you know, the more you hurt” (1:18b, MSG). Simply acquiring more knowledge and understanding does not lead to more meaning in life, though it can certainly lead to more sorrow.

#2 Pleasure

“Let’s go for it – experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” (2:1, MSG).

Some refer to this as the pursuit of hedonism, which sees individual pleasure as the most proper aim in life. Certainly, no man on earth knew more pleasure than Solomon. However, his plethora of wives, money, and property, were not enough for him.

#3 Materialism

“I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces” (2:8). And yet as his days on earth were winding down, Solomon began to see that despite his incredible material wealth, none of it was continuing with him past his earthly existence. As John Ortberg says, “it all goes back in the box.”

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon brings up questions and frustrations fully answered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A meaningful life begins and ends with Jesus.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” —The Apostle Paul

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Announcing My New Podcast: Called Out

called out

I’ve been an avid podcast listener for over 5 years now. While I still love blogging, I’ve come to value the podcast medium for its ability to tell stories in powerful ways. Podcasts allow for meaningful conversation and storytelling in ways other written-word mediums do not.

With that in mind, I’m happy to announce that I’m launching Called Out: a podcast equipping the church to navigate the tension between its brokenness and healing power.

You can listen to the introduction episode (click this link to listen if you’re an email subscriber). It’s only 5 minutes long, just give it a chance!

The first full-length episode will be released on September 12th. Can’t wait to share it with you!

Find Called Out and subscribe on any of your favorite spaces for listening to podcasts, including:

iTunes || Soundcloud || Stitcher || Overcast

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