True Sacrifice (Part 1)

If you could boil Christianity down to a single action that encompasses everything a Christian should do, it would have to be sacrifice. Here on Earth, our life is meant to serve God and to serve others. We’re supposed to emulate Christ, sacrificing for others like He sacrificed for us. But what does sacrifice truly look like? I think that in our modern-day American Christianity we’ve really forgotten what it means to sacrifice. We’ve become too used to our cushy lifestyles, we’ve lived too long with having everything we need (even if we don’t have everything we want). To us, sacrifice looks like giving up an extra hour during the week to go to a midweek service or giving our tithe or holding our tongue (or even our hands) when all we want to do is lash out. And while these are all important things to do, they’re not really all too much of a sacrifice. At this point, you may be wondering, “Well, Kyle, if that stuff doesn’t count as a sacrifice, what does?” And if you’re asking that, I’m really glad, because it means that this post was worth writing for you. So to answer your question, let’s take it back to the basics and look at some examples of true sacrifice from the Bible.

First, let’s take a look at the very first sacrifice recorded in Scripture. If you don’t already know, the first sacrifice we hear of comes from the recounting of the tale of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-5. It reads, “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord has regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (ESV). So here we see two kinds of sacrifices: one that God approves of, and one that he doesn’t. So what’s the difference? Why does God appreciate Abel’s offering more so than Cain’s? Is God just like the rest of us and prefers meat over pretty much anything else? Well, there are plenty of other Scriptural references of God accepting crops as worthy sacrifices, so that isn’t the issue. So what was the key difference between them? The Bible tells us that Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground,” and that Abel brought “the firsborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Did you catch it? The difference is right there: Abel brought the firstborn; Cain did not. But why does that matter? Why would God care if you sacrifice what comes first or what comes later, so long as you actually offer up to God what He deserves? Because one of the things that makes a sacrifice a sacrifice is that it is an act of trust. When you give up what comes first, you aren’t garuanteed what comes next. If you get paid and immediately set aside your tithe from it, that money won’t be there if you end up needing it later to buy that new gadget or fix your car or pay for a doctor’s visit or anything else.  It’s gone, handed over to God. And if you sacrifice some of your precious sleep to get up early and read your Bible and pray every morning, you can’t get that back either. But if your “sacrifice” doesn’t require you to put your trust in God, how much of a sacrifice is it?
Thus concludes part one of this two part post. Look for the next part next Sunday, where we’ll take a look at a couple of other examples of Biblical sacrifice and come up with some ways we can change how we look at sacrifice and how it affects our relationship with God.

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.

In Case You Were Wondering…

Earlier this week I made a post, and 24 hours later I took it back down despite the fact that it was already one of the most popular posts I’ve had so far. Unfortunately, the whole reason I wrote that post in the first place is the same reason why I had to take it down. Which is frustrating, especially when you take into account the whole reason I started this blog. It’s called “Behind the Blurs,” loosely based on the Twenty One Pilots album Blurryface. Basically, the idea behind the name is that we all put on a mask that blurs our true feelings to match those around us in order to avoid offending people or because we’re afraid what people will think of us or because of any other of a myriad of reasons. And this blog is supposed to be a place where my mask comes off, no matter what other people think. But this was one very specific instance where that wasn’t in my best interest. This isn’t going to be a normal thing, and it doesn’t mean I’m going to start shying away from hard topics. I’m not changing the name of the blog, and I’m not changing its purpose. 

I’m still glad that I wrote that post even if it can’t stay in a public space. At the very least, it opened the conversation for those of you who got the chance to read it and I also actually wrote a blog post for the first time in months, which hopefully will kickstart me into a more consistent writing schedule. So to those of you who didn’t get a chance to read it, I’m sorry, but I’m looking forward to sharing much more with you in the future. And if you want to talk more about that specific post, I’m more than willing to do so, just in a not-so-public forum. Thank you for your understanding, I can’t wait to continue on this journey with you. 

Standing Solo (Part 1)

I originally had a much longer title for this, but I like this one because (1) alliteration and (2) Star Wars. It is a little vague though. My original title was more along the lines of “Jeremiah Went Through a Heck of a Lot More Than You Ever Will and Still Lived Out God’s Calling For His Life, So You Should Too.” It’s much more specific than Standing Solo, but there’s no alliteration and no Star Wars references, so I changed it. But now you know the original title too, so I guess you get the best of both worlds, lucky you!

As you probably noticed, this post is only part one. This is actually a sermon that I got to preach last week that I’m adapting for my blog. I was going to put the whole thing in one post, but that would make it way longer than anything else I’ve posted before, so it’s getting split up into probably three parts. So look out for the next part in a few days!

Anyways, back to the task at hand. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about the prophet Jeremiah today. Here’s a little background in case you’re not caught up on your Biblical history: Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom). He started his ministry in 626 B.C. which was about 100 years after Israel (the northern kingdom) had been captured by the Assyrians, and he continued to minister up until Judah fell to the Babylonians about 40 years later. The reason why Israel fell and the reason why Judah was about to fall was pretty obvious: they turned their backs on God and worshiped idols. Jeremiah was God’s last effort to reach out to His people before He turned them over to their enemies. But no pressure. 

So let’s start right at the beginning: Jeremiah chapter 1. Verses 4 and 5 should be pretty familiar to you if you’ve grown up in church: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'” Now then, we may not all be called to be prophets to the nations, but we do all have a calling on our lives. Most of us, though, tend to respond exactly the same way Jeremiah did in verse 6: “‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.'” Maybe I’m alone here, but that sounds a lot like me. Not necessarily being too young, but when God wants me to do something, my immediate reaction is to tell God why I can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how cool of a thing it is that God’s asking me to do, I’m never good enough. And what does God think about that? “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord” (v7-8). You see, God already knows every excuse, every reason, every shortcoming you have. He knows your weakness better than you do, but that didn’t stop Him from calling you. He knows exactly what will cause you to fail, and He’s already answered it: “I am with you and will rescue you.” Now then, that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. God also says “Do not be afraid,” and the only reason why He would say that is because there’s something to be afraid of. For Jeremiah, it was “them.” Who is the “them” God refers to?  Well, it’s actually the people that he’s ministering to. So right off the bat we can see that Jeremiah isn’t going to be having a great time. I mean, just imagine this situation for a minute: Hey Kyle, I really need you to go work at this new job. I know that you don’t really have the qualifications necessary for it, but don’t worry, I’ve got it covered. Ok, I guess I can do that. Oh, and whatever happens, don’t be afraid of the customers. What? Why would I be afraid of the customers? Well, they’re probably not going to be very happy that you’re doing your job. But like I said, don’t worry about it. Just follow my instructions and don’t worry about how they’ll react, I’ll take care of it. Oh…ok. Super encouraging, right? But Jeremiah went ahead and did what God told him to despite his fear, which is what the rest of the book is about. So when God puts something on your heart for you to do, be like Jeremiah. Face up to the fact that there are things that are worth fearing, but realize that the only power they have over you is when you allow them to paralyze you. 

Look On Up

I have a problem, and it’s one I think I share with a lot of you: I don’t know how to live without my phone. I never had a smartphone until just over a year ago, and now I can’t leave it anywhere for more than a minute or two without freaking out a bit inside. I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is check up on all of my social media. Right before I go to bed, I’m checking my social media. Every time I get a notification, I have to drop whatever it is that I’m doing and check it right away, even if it’s just an email that I’m not even going to look at before trashing. And it’s taking away from real life. I can be in the middle of studying, or a conversation with a friend, or working on a new blog, or pretty much anything can be going on, but as soon as I hear my phone go off, my attention is immediately ripped away. 

I’m not saying that phones are totally evil or anything crazy like that. I’m not even saying we should give up social media. These are good things that help us stay in contact with people that we don’t get to see very often. But there’s something that I remember hearing a lot growing up that I almost never hear anymore: you can have too much of a good thing. It’s good to keep up with the people you care about, but the point of a text, the point of posting things online, the point of the entire internet, is to put things somewhere where you don’t have to check it right away. It will always be there later. But if you’re talking to someone face to face, that opportunity only lasts as long as you’re in the same room. So take advantage of it! Don’t be so caught up in what’s going on “out there” that you totally miss what’s going on right in front of you.

But like I said, I’m just as guilty – or maybe even more guilty – of this than you are. So what am I doing to change this? Well, to start, I’ve turned off the notifications for pretty much everything except for texts. I left badges on for my email, but the only way I’ll see notifications for any of my social media is by opening the app or going to my notification screen. Does this stop me from just going back to the app every 5 minutes to check if I have a new notification? No, but it does stop me from losing my focus when I’m actually working on something and getting somewhere with it, which is kind of the whole point of doing this. 

So will my friends have to wait a little longer to hear back from me when they comment on my post? Yes. Will I have up-to-the-minute knowledge of what my friends across the country are doing? No. But what I will have is better focus on my work, my friends, and what God is doing in the moment. I’d say that’s a pretty good tradeoff. How about you?

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. 

Getting Back on Track

Warning: This one’s a little different and a little more personal than what I normally write, so be prepared. 

I haven’t written on here in a while. Since this is where I’m supposed to take my mask off and all that, I’m not going to pretend and I’m not going to lie: it’s been rough lately. In the past couple of months I’ve felt everywhere from spiritually ok to spiritually dead. I want to tell you that being at a place like Missio Dei automatically makes you a better Christian, uninfluenced by the highs and lows of life but simply pushing ever onward, getting closer and closer to God. But I’d be lying. Yes, there is a lot of opportunity for growth, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t take advantage of it. So instead of growing closer and closer to God, I’ve kind of drifted back into going through the motions in a lot of things. Don’t get me wrong, I can still get into the moment when a service really speaks to me, but even then I can tell that I’m not as into it as I used to be. 

Maybe you’re going through the same thing. Maybe you’re feeling like you aren’t connecting with God like you used to, or maybe you feel like you’ve never really connected with Him the way you should. If that’s you, remember this: you are not alone. Sometimes it seems like you are and so you feel like you need to put on a happy face so nobody judges you for being different, but there’s plenty of other people out there doing the same thing. If you’re feeling dry, talk to the people you’re close to, gain some insight and perspective from them, and try to figure out what’s causing you to dry up. A lot of the time it boils down to one simple thing: intimacy with God. Chances are, if you’re actively pursuing God through reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping every day, then you aren’t going to find yourself being dry very often. I’ll be honest with you, this was exactly my problem. I wasn’t taking the time to put God first every day, so my spiritual life suffered. I’m getting back on track now, and it’s amazing how quickly you start seeing improvement in your thought life, your self esteem, your decision making, and pretty much any other aspect of your life that you can think of. 

Now then, the reason I’m choosing to write this now is because I cried. Not a gut-wrenching sob or anything, but I shed a few tears at the altar tonight. Why? Because God dropped something on my lap that I wasn’t expecting. We went to Sunday night service here in Brewton, Alabama, and the pastor did a sermon about the dual nature at war within us. He compared it to the story of Jekyll and Hyde, a tale of a scientist who tried to make himself perfect and ended up simply separating his evil self from his good self, allowing only one to have control of his body at a time. The main point that I got out of the sermon was that you need to recognize that there is still evil at work within you, but you have the power to refuse it. After being in this dry spell for so long, I was more than ready to go up to that altar. So I went up and I prayed. (Not crying yet). And the first thing I said? Why? Why do you want to use me? All I do is fall again and again whenever you pick me up. How am I supposed to be a youth pastor, leading students into a deepening relationship with You, when I can barely even keep myself on track? I went on, thanking God for the opportunities that He’s already given me, then slipping back into that doubt for a little while, asking again how God could use someone like me. Right as I came back to that, someone came up behind me and prayed over me. And the first thing he prayed was that God’s annointing would be renewed in me and that I would be able to feel the calling on my life. I mean, come on. If that isn’t a God thing, I don’t know what is. (By the way, still not crying).

So after he finished praying over me, I prayed a little more, kind of moved but still not totally convinced that I was ready to be used by God. Then, one of the other guys from Missio Dei came up and prayed over me. When he started praying, the first thing he started with was, “No more Jekyll, no more Hyde, just Kyle.” And he repeated that a few times before continuing on with the prayer, but honestly, that line is all I remember from what he said. It may seem weird that he was saying that since Jekyll was supposed to be the epitome of perfection, but this is where God dropped it on me. God doesn’t want to use some perfect version of me. He doesn’t want to use the version of me that’s got all of his ducks in a row and has all of his insecurities figured out and knows exactly how to handle every situation the world throws at him. He wants to use me. Me me. Messed up, sinful, struggling-just-to-get-through-the-day-sometimes me. He wants to use me just as I am. I’ve heard that line used so many times, but this moment was the first time that it really sunk in. This moment was also the first time I’ve cried in months. Something in me broke a little there, and I think that’s just what I needed. I’m still not back to where I want to be in my relationship with God, but I’m definitely back on the right track. 

So if you’re feeling dry and tired and drained, just remember this: you aren’t alone and you will get through this. Keep pushing.