Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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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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A Follow-Up to Yesterday’s Post

As I somewhat expected, the reaction to my post published yesterday was strong, from various perspectives. Love, hate, etc. I’m grateful for friends and connections who were comfortable enough to share their honest feedback with me. Rather than rehash my thinking and my possible errors I wanted to show you a conversation I had with a pastor after he read my post and contacted me. This follows below.

Tyler-

I usually love your posts/articles, and have quoted them in my messages.  This post is hateful, extreme, and beneath you.

PS- I am a life-long Democrat recently changed to Independent who did not vote for Trump.
Pastor (name hidden)
Dear Pastor (name hidden)-
I appreciate you reaching out. I hope you know my writing well enough to know I would never purposely intend something hateful.
I did my best to be clear this was how white evangelicals are perceived. I doubt any of those statements (in the post) are reflected in you. They aren’t reflective of me. But I do generally believe it is how a variety of outsiders see us. And I think it would do us some good to recognize that instead of rationalizing it.
I used some hyperbole to make that point. I recognize that. My apologies if I did a poor job of writing clearly.
Do you think my statements are reflective of our perception?
Tyler
Tyler,

Thank you for your response. We all use hyperbole to get a point across…Jesus used it extensively (“plank in the eye, swallow a camel”…), and I do not disagree that many view Christians/Evangelicals as you portrayed. I am also not unaware that many of those Klansmen attend church somewhere on Sundays. But just like “all Nazis were German” doesn’t mean “all Germans were Nazis”.
To equate the lynchings, cross-burnings and murder done in the name of the vile and evil KKK to a typical Christian evangelical is deeply unfair, and just perpetuates the stereotype that you note that the world has of Christians.
I pastor a small church that is app. 20% black, 20% hispanic, 5% Asian and 55% white. I had to think of these percentages just now, as we don’t categorize people that way, and in fact are much more likely to categorize people by age groups. I am very proud of our diversity, and cannot imagine a church where race is considered something to be concerned about. I am ashamed of some of the history of the white church, more because of what we have ignored, but I also embrace the fact that the Church was the leading force in emancipation and justice in our nation as well.
I look forward to your articles…this one just felt like throwing fuel on a bonfire. It is a tragic time, and as a pastor and a father, I am embarrassed and sickened by recent events in our country. This last election was the first that my 16 year-old daughter was old enough to follow closely, and I apologized to her many times over the fact that it was so base and ugly, and that the “final four” candidates surely were the worst ever presented in history…at least in the last 100 years!
Thanks for your response!
Pastor (name hidden)
Lastly another good friend of mine who took exception to the post shared this wonderful quote to me and I will leave it here without comment because it stands on its own.
“…most of the key leaders in the Civil Rights movement were evangelicals who were motivated by their faith and a deep sense of how Christian ethics should influence not just individuals, but also cultures—especially cultures that claimed to be strongly influenced by Christianity, such as the Jim Crow South. Like abolition in the 19th century, the Civil Rights movement had a strongly evangelical flavor.” -Nathan Finn (quoted from here)
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Are White Supremacists Really That Different From White Evangelicals?

After the events of Charlottesville and the near-universal repudiation of the march and actions of the group encompassing white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan, I found myself wondering how this group here generally referred to as white supremacists are different (or not) from how white evangelicals (of which I am one) are perceived. 

gettyimages-831222026

White supremacists march and protest and threaten violence due to the removal of confederate flags and statues.

White evangelicals march and protest and threaten violence due to the existence of abortion clinics.

White supremacists want to “take back our country” from other minorities who push a progressive left agenda.

White evangelicals want to “take back our country” for God from a progressive left agenda.

White supremacists helped elect President Trump.

White evangelicals helped elect President Trump.

White supremacists believe a violent response to their opposers is a right given by God.

White evangelicals believe a violent response to those seen as evil is a right given by God.

White supremacists have been labeled a discriminatory group by many outside organizations.

White evangelicals have been labeled a discriminatory group by many outside organizations.

White supremacists are primarily known for their disgust with skin colors other than their own.

White evangelicals are primarily known for their disgust with gay marriage.

White supremacists are often driven by Islamophobia.

White evangelicals are often driven by Islamophobia.

White supremacists call on the name of Jesus as the one who provides them authority.

White evangelicals call on the name of Jesus as the one who provides them authority.

White supremacists find their roots within white evangelicalism.

White evangelicals find their roots within white supremacy.

White supremacists are operating from a place of fear of losing their power.

White evangelicals are operating from a place of fear of losing their power.

[Image: Evelyn Hockstein]

Related Posts:

Whose Lives Matter?

The Church and White Privilege

The Problem So Easily Ignored: Race, Education, and Sacrifice

The Church and Race Issues

Being Black

 

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Bypassing Prayer for Action (God Isn’t Fixing This)

God Isn’t Fixing This.

That’s the headline from the Daily News in response to the shooting in San Bernadino 2 years ago. The cover includes a few tweets from Republicans leaders at the time, with emphasis added on the prayers they declared to offer. In the wake of tragedy everyone wants to offer thoughts and prayers. It’s the one thing we can do because tragic headline news makes us feel helpless against evil things.

dailynews

This past weekend a 5 year-old boy drowned in the river not far from my house. The local newspaper ran a few stories about the search for the missing boy, not declared dead for several days, while the search continued. Hundreds of comments poured in, the overwhelming majority simply said, “praying.” I must admit it strikes me as a weak response to such tragedy for the family.

Once you’ve seen enough tragedies you begin to think thoughts and prayers are not enough. Or maybe they aren’t needed. Or even worse, they’re just a way for people to deny their own part of working toward a solution.

Before the suspects in the San Bernadino mass shooting were found and killed in a gunfight, social media had reacted and then reacted to the reaction. You can consider this the backlash to the backlash against the reaction (figure that one out, why don’t you?).

As with every tragedy, people begin posting their simple status of “thoughts and prayers” for those affected by an awful event such as the one on a Wednesday afternoon in southern California. You can rinse and repeat this for every tragedy worldwide—people have the same online reaction to headline news tragedies and shootings coming at us day after day.

Sure the “thoughts and prayers” status update has gotten a little tired.

But does that make prayer a pointless act of “meaningless platitudes”? No.

It should be said that God’s Word is clear that faith without action is of no value. A work of God done on the interior of someone’s life will always result in external action. Consider 1st John 3:17-18:

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

But to use a verse like this to say the prayers of God’s people are of no value is ridiculous. This logic creates a false dichotomy where praying equals no action. The headlines could read, “Don’t offer prayers, do something!”

Henri Nouwen eloquently pokes a big hole in this perspective by saying,

Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. If prayer leads us into a deeper unity with the compassionate Christ, it will always give rise to concrete acts of service. And if concrete acts of service do indeed lead us to a deeper solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the oppressed, they will always give rise to prayer” (Compassion, pg. 116, emphasis mine).

It is not prayer that needs critique, because prayer is what we need more of. Why? Because no prayer ends in prayer. Prayer leads to greater unity with God in Christ, and greater unity with God in Christ always leads to concrete acts of service.

Also, we should not elevate human action as the focal point of human life, because we recognize there is something beyond us, rather Someone beyond us that we need help from. Lamentations 3:25 says, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” We wait, in prayer, for God’s action, and His leading us in action, but this all begins with prayer.

In close, God may not be “fixing this” on the timeline we desire. The world may be torn asunder.

But God will fix this, and we invite Him to do so now, in prayer. Make me an instrument of your peace, Lord.

Maranatha.

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Fast Food Faith

Last week I drove by a McDonald’s at 5:30pm only to find a drive thru line over 10 cars deep, wrapping all the way around the restaurant into the surrounding parking lot. I said to the people in the car with me, “People still eat at McDonald’s?!?” Ignorance is bliss I guess. I certainly don’t eat the healthiest, but I do draw the line at fast food. Oh, and I rarely use the drive thru (though that may have more to do with my power window being broken than some ideological position on drive thrus, it’s possible).

fast food drive thruWhile I tend to point a finger at those who would eat the “food” available through the drive thru window of so-called restaurants, I’m certainly not adept at allowing for slow change in my life. If something doesn’t come quickly, I’ll move onto the next thing.

I’ve noticed something in myself and I see it in other Christians, and subsequently in other churches as well—there’s a pull toward something that on the outside looks like it will quickly meet a felt need. We’re drawn to things that will scratch the itch, put a salve on the wound, and provide a quick boost. But rarely do these things change the trajectory of our lives.

Talk to anyone involved in helping individuals change—psychologists, physical therapists, financial advisors, AA sponsors—they all teach that change offers no short cuts.

This is the struggle of change: our minds are like rubber bands; they want to revert back to the status quo after being stretched.

It takes incredible patience to change.

Eugene Peterson describes this well in his book on discipleship, saying, “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction).

A friend of mine recently told me he chose the church he’s part of because he thought the pastor had depth lacking in many of the other pastors he’d interacted with. I found his reasoning to be refreshing, yet rare. Most often I hear of people choosing a church or a book to read or music to listen to because it seems to scratch an itch they have.

Christians, in choosing to follow Christ, enter an ongoing journey toward Christlikeness. But this journey offers no short cuts. And the destination is both realized and far off, at the same time. From this stable foundation of your realized destination (you are in Christ, seated in the heavenly realms) you can endure the slow process of change, knowing God’s timing is always best.

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