Winter Jam

I went to Winter Jam for the first time this past Friday, and I have to say, it was quite the experience. For those of you who don’t know, Winter Jam is a nationwide Christian concert series that happens every year. At each location, ten major Christian artists take the stage throughout the night as well as a couple of speakers. When all is said and done, the event lasts between 5 and 6 hours (or at least ours did), and so it’s well worth the $10 entrance fee even if you don’t like all of the bands that are playing. Anyways, the reason I’m writing about this isn’t to be an ad for Winter Jam (although you should totally go if you get the chance), but because before the concert got underway, there was a time for youth pastors and leaders to go to a separate room for…well, something. It was kind of ambiguous when it was announced, but I figured it was worth a look, so I made my way to the designated room. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to actually be given some encouragement and advice from a handful of the headliners from the concert. As cool as the concert itself was, it’s hard to top being 30 feet away from some of Christianity’s biggest current names in a room of about 150 people and have them encouraging you on the path you’re on. They left me  with a few interesting thoughts, so that’s what I want to discuss in today’s post.

The first one to come out and speak was Mike Donehey, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North. When I first started listening to Christian music around 8th or 9th grade, these guys were one of my favorites. I don’t think I’d call them my favorite band of all time, but they’re the only ones from that I listened to back then that I still consistently listen to today, and they’ve always been in my top 10. So basically, I’ve got a ton of respect for these guys. Their newest album is titled “Followers,” and Mike pretty much used that as his mini-message to us. The whole idea behind the album is that even though we’re leaders, our highest calling is to follow. We can’t get so caught up in leading that we forget that the true leader is Christ. It’s so easy to fall into pride when you’re in charge of something, especially if it’s something that’s working. But when you keep in mind that your youth are only following you as you follow Christ, you’ll not only avoid sin, but you’ll become a much more effective leader.

The next to speak was Sadie Robertson. To be honest, I don’t really follow her at all and I’ve never really been into Duck Dynasty, but she spoke well here, so that was cool. As a younger person (she’s currently 19), she obviously spoke more from a youth’s perspective than a pastor’s or leader’s, but it was just as important. She spoke about the importance of youth group being like a second family. Many youth today don’t get a lot of support at home, and even the ones that do are always looking for more. Sadie talked about how when Duck Dynasty first started getting really popular, she was worried about what the spotlight would do to her friendships and relationships, but her youth pastor made sure to let her know that no matter where this journey would take her, she would always have a home and a family there. Obviously, not everybody gets a positive spotlight thrust upon them, but even if it’s negative things that are coming to light, the same principle applies. Regardless of their situations, these kids are all still human, and more than that, they’re all still kids. They need reassurances even more than us adults do, so make sure to give it to them, whether you’re a parent or a leader or just a church-goer with any amount of influence (which is all of you).

The last two kind of went together. First, David Crowder came out, but before too long he brought Louie Giglio up with him. David shared a story of how if it wasn’t for Louie, none of us would probably have ever heard of him. David had been the worship leader at his church and had written a few of his own songs, but he never dreamed that they would ever be heard outside of his own church. Then, one day Louie Giglio heard some of his music and suggested that he go to a recording studio and try to get his music out there. David protested, saying there was no way that he and his band could afford to go get a professional recording done, so Louie offered to pay for it. And the rest is history. David’s main point from his story was that just because you have a gift that you’re using in your church doesn’t mean that it’s meant only for your church. God isn’t bound by the four walls of your church, and neither are the gifts that he’s given you. We talk so much about not putting God in a box, but then we put ourselves in one.

Louie Giglio’s message kind of piggy-backed off of David’s. He started off by talking about how Tychicus was one of Paul’s friends who kept him company while he was in jail. He actually ended up being the one to take Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, which we now know as the book of Ephesians in the Bible. Louie focused in on the fact that even though Tychicus knew that his mission was important, he had no idea that this little letter he carried in his bag would have an impact on the entire world for thousands of years to come. So he asked us: “What’s in your bag?” What do you have that you know could have an impact, but could also do something way beyond what you would ever expect? It could be a personal gift or talent, a student that you’re raising up, an event that you’re taking part in, or any number of other things. You never know what impact you’re going to have, so always work as if working for God Himself, because honestly, you are.

Follow Through

It’s been two and a half months since my last blog post. I have seven different posts currently in the draft phase that I’ve at least put some thought into, but none of them have gotten finished. It’s not that I don’t have the time. I mean, I am busy, but not so much so that I couldn’t put an hour or two into writing pretty much every day if I felt like it. But that’s exactly it: I haven’t felt like it. I want to write. I absolutely love writing. I wish I did it every day. I want to write things that resonate with people, make them think, make them feel, make them look at the world around them a little differently. And I have a lot of ideas floating around in my head that could potentially change a lot of lives. But none of that matters if I don’t actually doanything about it. It doesn’t matter if I have all the time and creativity in the world at my disposal if I don’t sit down and actually write something out about it. And even if I do sit down and write, if I don’t finish the thought, it will never go any farther than a few sentences on the screen in front of me. Instead, I spend my free time watching shows, playing video games, and scrolling through my various social media feeds. And it’s not that any of those things are inherently bad – or even detrimental to productivity. You can’t be efficient if you’re always being productive. You need to have down time where you aren’t doing anything other than recharging. But having the capability to work with 100% efficiency means nothing if the work being done is zero. So I’m reorienting a bit. I’m placing less of an emphasis on the things that are less important, and a bigger emphasis on the things that are more important. Or at least I’m trying to. I’m still going to fail, I’m still going to spend too much time on things that didn’t earn it, but I’m moving in the right direction. I’m trying to be a little less of a procastinator and to be a little more proactive. I’m going to follow through on what I’ve started.

So now that this is out of the way, I’m going to start working on my next post, which you’re going to see on Sunday. Because that’s when I’ll be posting for the foreseeable future, every week. And if you’re looking forward to these posts, please bug me about it. The best motivation to continue writing is to know that people actually want to read it. I started this blog mostly for me, but it’s about you too. So pester me with comments if you need to, ask me my thoughts about different things, and together we’ll figure out how to stop hiding behind the blurs and just be truthful about what’s going on around us.

Equality vs. Fairness

I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but I have worked in a daycare for more than three years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about kids, it’s that their absolute favorite phrase when things don’t go their way is “That’s not fair!” Whether it’s because Suzy got a different colored sticker or Connor got a couple of extra minutes on the computer or Drew got to be line leader twice in the span of two weeks, something always “isn’t fair.”  And when those kids see something that doesn’t seem fair, they are definitely not afraid to let me know about it. But what I’ve realized over these past few years is that more often than not, these “unfair” situations really aren’t that unfair – they’re just unequal. The kids have a hard time understanding the difference, and I’m pretty sure that’s because we don’t know the difference either. I honestly don’t know how long it’s been going on, but we’ve been trying to pound it into our kids’ heads for years that everybody is equal. But the truth is, we aren’t all equal. Not that any one person is born better than another, but we are all different, and to try to treat everyone as if they were the same as everyone else does a disservice to everybody. Are there certain situations where equality is needed across the board? Of course! But that doesn’t mean that we need to fight for straight up equality in every situation. Should men and women receive equal pay for doing the same job? Yes! Should men and women receive equal punishment for the same crime? Yes! Should men and women be equal in their responsibilities for raising a child? Well, maybe not. First, a caveat: I am most definitely not implying that men (or women) can slack off and let their partner take the brunt of the effort all the time. What I’m saying is that it won’t be equal. And you know what? It’s not the end of the world. Maybe mom is always the one who changes diapers and dad never does, but he takes out the trash and keeps the baby occupied so mom can get some rest later. It doesn’t need to be a split down the middle type of deal in order to be fair – in this or pretty much any other situation. 

I totally understand why we’ve been trying to push equality, because everybody should be treated equally, right? If everybody treated everyone the same, life would be so much better! I mean, how couldn’t it be? We just want everybody to be treated the same, no matter their color, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical condition, mental condition, financial status, or any other “determining factor” that we tend to separate people by. But then what are we? Faceless crowds being subjected to the needs of the common denominator while having their unique problems and issues left totally unaddressed. 

I mean, think about that for a second. What would life look like if men and women, adults and children, one religion and another, politicians and janitors – what if each one was actually treated exactly the same as the other? We all have different wants, different dreams, different ideas about who we are and what we deserve, so to look for equality in the midst of all of that just doesn’t make sense to me. So the next time you want to complain about your situation being unfair – whether the “blame” lies with the government, your family, your boss, or anyone else – take a step back and look at it from another angle. Make sure that this “unfairness” isn’t really just inequality. And once you’ve done that, realize that inequality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Then, live your life a little less cynical and a little more happy. 

Is This Persecution?

Every one of us has our own trials, our own triumphs. We have things that are easy for us to do and things that take everything we’ve got – and sometimes more. We all face discouragement, opposition, persecution. Normally, when we hear the word “persecution,” we think back to Bible stories of Joseph being imprisoned even after earning Potiphar’s trust or David fleeing first from Saul and then from Absalom even though he was the rightful king or Stephen being stoned to death by Paul before his conversion, or Paul himself being imprisoned time and time again for preaching his faith. Or else we think about more modern examples like Pastor Saeed Abedini being imprisoned for years because of his unwavering dedication to Christ or the students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, faced with the ultimate decision between life in this world or the next just a few days ago. Then we look at the “persecution” we face in our own lives, and we feel a bit ashamed of ourselves. There are Christians all across the world who are dying for their faith, and we look at our cushy American lifestyle and ask ourselves why it’s so hard to be a Christian here when, for the most part, we don’t really face any danger apart from a few nasty comments when we take a stand. 

While it may not look like it, there is persecution going on in your life. It doesn’t look like persecution, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. In fact, I’d say this type of persecution is even more damaging to Christianity than “regular” persecution is. You see, the persecution against American Christians isn’t waged out in the open, it’s waged within your own mind. Here in America, people aren’t imprisoned, stoned, executed, or really punished much at all for being a Christian. The main “punishment” inflicted on Christians comes from either the media or social media. Since these lesser attacks don’t seem as threatening to us, we aren’t as vigorous about defending our faith, and so we become complacent, allowing things to slide by that don’t seem super important. 

While those things may seem pretty trivial, that’s exactly my point. We aren’t being encouraged to grow, and attempts to discourage us are lukewarm at best when compared to the opposition aimed at Christians in other parts of the world. And lukewarm attempts against Christianity only call for a lukewarm response from Christians. But we should all know what lukewarm Christianity gets us (check out Revelation 3:16 if you don’t). 

So where does that leave us? Should we be hoping for more violent attacks on Christianity so that we can have an opportunity to show just how much faith we have? Umm…I think I’ll give a resounding no to that one. What we should be doing is taking a stand in the small things. Don’t compromise, even when it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Don’t just take the easy path when you see it, look for the right one, even if it costs you more than you want to pay. The road to holiness isn’t a highway, it’s a toll road. The farther you travel down it, the more it’s going to cost you, but it’ll take you exactly where you need to go. 

So in conclusion, no, we don’t face the kind of persecution that makes everything black and white, but that just makes it even more important to show those around you what exactly it is you stand for, because they won’t be able to tell if you don’t. 

Counting the Cost

At church this morning, the pastor talked about Ephesians 6 and the armor of God. He didn’t leave it there though, he brought it full circle to being a soldier in God’s army. And he did all of this in the context of “the end” coming soon. He wasn’t fear-mongering or anything like that, but there is definitely an increase in pressure on the church to conform, which could easily transform into persecution somewhere down the line. It doesn’t really matter what your thoughts on the end times are, you can see that it’s going to become harder and harder to actually be a Christian. So that brings us to one essential question: have you counted up the cost? We throw that phrase around a lot in the midst of our Americanized “persecution,” but have you thought about what standing up for your beliefs could end up costing you? I know I don’t like thinking about it, so you probably don’t either. But really, are you prepared to give up everything for Christ? Could you give up friendships that you’ve invested years of money, tears, and time for, but they don’t want to be associated with you anymore? Could you let that promotion slide by because the company won’t promote someone who won’t toe their line? Or worse, would you allow yourself to be demoted or even fired rather than stop speaking about the power that transformed your life? What if you stopped getting tax write-offs for giving to the church? Would you still tithe? What if it came to the point where churches that didn’t adhere to certain teaching restrictions were fined or even outlawed? Would you change your beliefs to fit what was told to you or would you follow what the Bible says? What if the majority came to the conclusion that Christianity as a whole was degrading society and needed to be stopped? Would you follow the crowd to protect your American rights or would you cling to God’s promise that He will work everything to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? Let’s take it a step further: what if your life was at stake? What if it was decided that imprisonment wasn’t enough to keep Christians silent – I mean, just take a look at Paul and you know it won’t – and they decide that the only way to keep this infection from spreading is to kill it? If someone found out you were a Bible-believing Christian and threatened to report you to the authorities to have you executed if you didn’t renounce Christ right there, what would you do? Would you stand tall and use your last moments to encourage your fellow brothers and sisters to live for God no matter what, or would you bow out to live life regretting your lack of commitment? “But Kyle, I have a family to take care of.” You know what, good point. What if, instead of you, someone threatened one of your kids because of their faith. You might trust God with your life, but what about your son’s or your daughter’s? If they chose to stand up for the faith you’ve claimed, would you be proud of them and encourage them to live it out with whatever life they have left or would you try to convince them to back out? How confident are you in God’s plans?

I know this is a lot of heavy stuff filled with hypotheticals, but how you answer these questions when you truly take the time to examine yourself tells you a lot about your faith. If you’ve just read through all of this without thinking about what you would actually do – not just what you’d like to think you’d do – then go back, answer all of those questions honestly. No hiding behind excuses, just the truth. 

When all you have on this earth seems lost, will you deny Christ like Peter did or will you be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when faced with the fiery furnace? When they were told to bow down to the golden idol or be executed, they responded with this: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” -Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)

I’m trying harder each and every day to put more trust into God than my own efforts, and I hope you are too. If you aren’t, there will come a day when you need to choose either your way or God’s, and there won’t be any turning back. 

How Much Did Jesus Pay?

We’ve heard it plenty of times, whether it’s in a sermon or a song or some random person on the street: Jesus paid it all. In most cases, people use this concept to express that they no longer have any debts to God and that their past doesn’t need to determine their future. However, I want to take a moment and look at this from another angle. 

You see, when you say that Jesus paid all of your debts, you’re missing out on a really big part of it. Jesus didn’t die for your sins, He died for everyone’s. Not just your family’s, not just your friends’, or your youth group’s, or your church’s. He died for the stranger who cut you off in traffic, for the classmate who can’t seem to say a single nice – or even neutral – thing about you, and even for the hostile atheist who does anything he can to disprove every word that comes out of your mouth. When people do those kinds of things to you, it’s easy to get frustrated, indignant, even outright angry. But it’s at times like these that we need that 1 Corinthians 13 love the most – a love that is patient and kind, a love that doesn’t dishonor or hurt others, a love that keeps absolutely no record of wrongs. Trust me, I know that loving your enemies is much easier said than done, but there is one simple truth that makes it so much easier:

Jesus died for whatever wrongs you’ve committed, but He also died for every wrong anyone else has ever committed against you. 

Take a second and think about that. You believe that Jesus has died for your sins. Why would that be any different for the person who has wronged you? And if Jesus has already died for that sin and bought freedom and grace for that person, who are you to refuse that to them? Be the light in the darkness you have been called to become. Show those around you the love that they need – especially those who show you no love at all. Like I said, it is definitely much easier said than done, but it’s also definitely still possible.