Author: Jeremy A Walker

Double Minded

One of my favorite passages in scripture is the Doxology of the book of Jude.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

I really cant tell you how many times I’ve read this passage. In fact I have often quoted or used this passage in lessons or to encourage someone else. It has been a pillar in my spiritual growth, and I often read it and reminisce about some of the things that the Lord has done to show off; but today, as scripture often does, this passage shined a spotlight on an area of my life that needs correction.

I wrote this in my journal:
I have no intellectual problem submitting to the idea that Jesus Christ is Lord of all times past and future. Eternity seems like such a speck of existence when compared to the all-encompassing enormity of our God; yet in my personal blasphemy, my actions betray my commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in this clear and present darkness at work in my own heart.

The mind can imagine things to which the heart isn’t ready to surrender.  The body can do things that seem right, but are misunderstood. The spirit can long for things that the mind cannot understand, and the body cannot yet accomplish.

If you were to ask me about God’s sovereignty, I would have no problem discussing and illustrating how I believe him to be supremely sovereign, yet in my actions, I dispute those claims. You see, I continue to make decisions that contradict God’s prescribed order and will. I move contrary to His movements. I confess one thing, and do another. Then I get frustrated by the entire process, and either try to talk my way out of the responsibility of obedience, try to fix everything by ONLY changing my behavior, or I simply hide the issue altogether.

The problem is, when I do those things, NOTHING CHANGES!

My One Goal: Love the Lord, my God.

The issue isn’t my activity, my posture, or any other outward expression. My issue is that I continue to fight against the spiritual concept of submission. Sure, the body can help transform the mind, and surrender the heart, but it can also be a hypocritical performance. If I do the right things on the outside, but obsess about another thing, I’m like two people in one.

I must see these three areas as being the culmination of the whole self, and dedicated them to Christ’s service as inseparable expressions of myself.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 illustrates for me the prescribed unification of my heart, soul, and strength. To love God “with” these elements tells me that they are separate expressions of me, and that they represent all of my being.  If I hope to stop warring with myself, they will need to be unified in love for the Lord.

Heroic Journeys Begin with Bold Mentors

The hero’s story often begins in obscurity. For Luke Skywalker, it begins on the desert planet of Tatooine. For Frodo Baggins, it begins in the all-but-forgotten realm of the Shire, and for Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), it is the remote island of Themyscira.

And these heroes stay shrouded in obscurity if not for a Bold Mentor who possessed the two things that heroes need, experience and perspective. These mentors saw that there was evil in the world that could not be defeated without the hero, draws them out, trains them, and commissions them

According to the mythologist Joseph Campbel, the Hero’s Journey includes wide variety of components, but I wanted to focus on the relationship between the Hero and the Mentor, from the perspective of the Mentor. I wanted to see what kind of a relationship produces heroes.

Because it’s not just a story… It’s rooted into our being somehow. These legends resonate with us because, deep down, we hope they are true.

Influencers VS. Mentors

Influencer Mentor
 

·      Passive & Impersonal

·      Share general knowledge aimed at Anyone, Everyone, or Nobody at all.

·      Invests little

·      Risks little

·      Reaps Almost Nothing

 

·      Active & Personal

·      Shares specific information aimed at only one or two at a time.

·      Invests Much

·      Risks Much

·      Reaps Generously

 

When you decide to be a mentor, you probably wont have to look very long or hard to find potential candidates. Heroes, like we said before can be found in obscurity, but in all honesty, obscurity often looks like the street you live on, or a friend of a friend, or maybe just where you work.

It’s not about being significantly older than the hero, it’s about having experiences which form perspectives that could encourage them.

But if you look around, and you simply cannot find anyone to mentor, then consider joining forces with an organization that has already made inroads into populations rich with heroes. Organizations like:

Many of these organizations already have a program designed to train you, and pair you with a person who could use your experience and perspective to achieve new heights.

Be Honest and Authentic

When you are Honest about your faults and limitations you open the door for your hero to be just as honest and open about theirs.

  • Paint an Honest Self-Portrait
  • The real you they get to know over time should look strikingly similar to the first image you paint for them.
  • Share past success and failures in context because it displays your progress

Trust your hero with the truth!

Regardless of how bleak and distasteful it is, be the person who refuses to sugarcoat the conversation.

  • Young people have been fed a distorted Image of Reality through Social Media. their world has been Filtered, Cropped, and PhotoShopped to the point that it hardly resembles reality.
  • Some may even ask questions they already have the answer to, just to see if you can be trusted

When a subject comes up that you know nothing about, admit it.

  • It’s okay that you don’t know about the latest artist, song, game, app, or selfie filter.
  • It’s good for your Hero to be the expert at something.

Use Shared Experience to Inspire Them.

Your vulnerability here opens the door for them to get excited

  • Is it something they love or is it an injustice in the world?

Teach them invest in whatever inspires them.

  • Empower your hero to take bold risks.
  • Be there to help them process, and plan for another attempt.

Be ready to let go!

  • Either help them launch, or;
  • Connect them with a new mentor – one who can take them even further!

 

So why is it that we don’t see this happening more?

  • We’re so busy that we don’t have time for anyone else.
  • Socioeconomic, Racial, Ethnic, or Age Biases

I have seen far too many potential heroes dismissed because of a label. Because people have already determined that ‘this kid’ is a Self-Centered, Helpless, Takers who will never amount to anything.

And if left in isolation, regardless of the demographic, this could be true of anyone.

But its just like Alan Turing says in the movie The Imitation Game,

Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine. – Alan Turing

 

May is National Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month, a time designated to recognize foster families, volunteers, mentors, child care workers, and members of the local community who help foster children connect with area resources, and hopefully, adoptive homes! Throughout this month, you will likely see a variety of organizations making significant efforts to raise awareness about the foster communities in your area, and across the nation.  I know that there are a number of organizations in the Lubbock area that serve the foster community, and I have been impressed with the work that is being done by each agency I have encountered.  I think that an investment into any of our area organizations is worthwhile, and will directly benefit the foster children of our area.

#myredboxdonation
Click to find a Red Box near you.

As a Foster and Adoption Agency, Texas Boys Ranch consistently relies on our donors to support the ongoing ministry to our children in care.  As a result, we have a variety of systems set up to make donating easy:
1. You can bring new and gently used clothing to our campus to be sorted and distributed to our kids as they have needs.
2. You can donate more worn out clothing and shoes in the Red Recycling Boxes located across the South Plains.
3. You and your church/social group can organize a resource drive through our Advancement Department.
4. You can even donate online.

Our regular supporters make it possible for us to serve our children with more than the basics.  We are able to provide them with a variety of services that are not available without the help of a generous local community! We provide them with regular counseling, therapeutic indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, not to mention being able to keep the ratio of children to staff far below state regulations.  Each and every resource we are given are prayerfully funneled to the children we serve.  Nothing goes to waste!

But we need more than money.

Foster kids need the one thing that our society values most – time.

We have programs that only function through volunteers, and we almost never have enough volunteers to meet the needs of our students.  We need: Mentors, Tutors, Homework Helpers, and Advocates.  We need people who are skilled  in areas like: arts and crafts, sports and recreation, music, cooking, or party planning.  As a working ranch, we need people who can help out on the ranch by building fence, maintaining buildings, caring for horses and cows, mowing lawns, bailing hay, and any number of other things that have to get done so that our kids can receive the highest level of care possible.

Every time we have a volunteer provide a service, we are able to provide more for our children.  Because the fact of the matter is, our kids will benefit more from seeing how much you care for them, than they ever will from the act itself.

If we ever hope to help these kids break out of the generational cycles that led them here, we will need them to meet you!

More information about how you can get involved in the lives of our children can be found at www.texasboysranch.org

Mentors Keep Us Deeply Rooted

Mentors increase resiliency by keeping you rooted when hard times come.

Some of he most profound moments in my life have been times when I thought everything was going to crash down around me, but one of my parents, or one of my mentors helped me weather the storm. The honest truth is, storms are going to rage against us, and it may seem that we can’t keep going. If we believe that we cannot stand up to life’s challenges, we may be willing to throw in the towel, but that’s when we need to lean on the experiences of others.

More experienced people have something that younger people need. They have experience, and that gives them perspective. They have seen storms come and go. They have seen droughts come and go. They have seen presidents come and go. They have seen wars come and go. And if we will open our eyes long enough to see that they are unfazed by the current circumstances, we will be able to join hands with them and regain our footing.

Yeah, yeah…I know what you’re thinking.

You think this is all sappy nonsense that won’t matter when life gets hard, but its not. Leaning on the experience of others is one of the most valuable skills of successful people. I his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey dedicated almost half of his points to the concept of interdependence. He claims that by working for the good of others, building a network of like-minded teammates, and leaning on their strengths when we fall short, we can each be more effective in whatever work we do.

Learning from someone else’s mistakes or successes is a powerful tool, and that power is magnified if we get to hear their story firsthand.

We must learn that growing deep roots is the only way to grow stronger, and the best roots are intermingled with those of the men and women who have gone before us. Through their experiences we gain insight, and our experience becomes that much richer.

How Does a Loving/Good God Doom People to Hell?

Asking good questions is the foundation of the learning process.

The form in which a question comes is as important as the answer that is given, because the question can reveal some assumptions and expectations of the questioner. To simply answer a question without first recognizing the questioner as a real person with a real background including real joys and pains, is to ignore the eternal nature of that person, and the image of whom he/she is created.

One of the things that I love about what I do is the opportunity to engage in deep, meaningful conversations about the harder questions of life. Often these questions come from students, at other times they come from parents, or other church members. Nevertheless, the best questions are those that come from the hearts of people who are seeking the truth. The question about God’s goodness, and questions concerning eternity, are often at the forefront of faith because they beg the ultimate question, “Will I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

The question, “How can a loving/good God condemn people to hell?” can be broken down into at least four more basic questions.

Does God exist?

Is God good?

Does Hell exist?

Does God condemn anyone to Hell?

The answers to these questions have been hotly debated for millennia by individuals far smarter than myself, so I will try to make my answers concise. References to my position, or opposing positions will be made so that the reader can come to their own conclusion. So lets begin.

Does God exist?

Without plunging into the labyrinth of the existence of a deity, the more important question for our discussion today is, “Does the God of the Bible exist?” The answer to that question is almost as cumbersome as the general assertion in “Higher Powers,” but at least we have a starting point. The original question established a baseline assumption that God is good, and that hell exists, so the questioner is hoping the answer rests within the context of the Judeo-Christian God and Judeo-Christian sacred text. As a result, we will be deriving our answers from the Bible, which minces no words when it comes to the existence of God.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1 [ESV]

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14 [ESV]

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 [ESV]

Again, being that the original question assumes the existence of a God, we won’t belabor this point, but will press on. ***Additional Reading regarding the existence of the God of the Bible can be found: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel; or Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharius

Is God good?

For the believer, the question usually conjures one of two different emotions. First is the assurance that our God is good as evidenced by Christ’s death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. The assertion that God is good is at the heart of our story because, how is it that we come to know God outside of his mercy and grace? Others among the faith feel that this question is an indictment against God, and respond to any question about God’s goodness with contempt and anger. However, responses like these simply should not be present among believers for two primary reasons.

First, the asker has every right to question our gospel, and without evidence of God’s goodness, they ask an important question that should lead us as believers to site evidence of God’s goodness.

Secondly, what kind of puny god can’t be questioned?

Questioning God’s existence or goodness doesn’t damage God in the least. Quite the contrary, when individuals ask for evidence, and such evidence is provided, the case for a good God becomes all the more believable.

Outside of scriptural references to the goodness of God, C.S. Lewis, in his introduction to The Problem of Pain, discusses the contradictory relationship between nature and the notion of a “good” God. When the frigid expanse of space is coupled with the profound isolation of Earth, how is it that our intellectual ancestors, failing to understand a mere fraction of how cold and isolated they really were, proposed the notion of a good God?

     But all civilizations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man. That our own civilization has done so, no one will dispute; that it will pass away like all its predecessors is surely probable. Even if it should not, what then? The race is doomed. Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogeneous matter at a low temperature. All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter. If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit
There was one question which I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists’ case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?

Lewis goes on to postulate that the very notion of a creator who is both all-powerful and completely good is the product of either an absurd fantasy, or divine revelation.

Some philosophers attempt to site perceived inconsistencies within the Bible itself as evidence contradicting the idea that the God of the Bible is good. However, within the text itself, references are made to the extraordinary patience God has for mankind. Nonetheless, references often include, the Great Flood (Genesis 5-10), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-19:38), the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6), and the relegation of all non-believers at the end times (Revelation 19:11-20:15).

However, in each of these cases, except for the destruction of Jericho, scripture references the wickedness of the people who were being destroyed. Each passage listed illustrates God’s repulsion toward wickedness; and his response to a culture overrun with wickedness is consistent; God will judge the wicked.

In the case of Jericho, it is important to understand that God did not act outside of his nature by unjustly destroying a city. Instead, we must look to other passages of scripture that illustrate the culture at work in the city of Jericho to ascertain some of the motivations1 of God (Gen. 15:16; Lev. 18:21-30; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:29-31; etc.). In spite of the lack of overt references to the level of wickedness at work in the rituals of the people of Jericho, along with the rest of Canaan at the time of the Hebrew conquest, the worship of Baal in the region of Canaan consisted of a variety of wicked practices including sodomy, bestiality, and child sacrifice.

***See Joshua’s Conquest: Was it Justified? and The Saga of Ancient Jericho for more information about the culture and specifics surrounding the fall of Jericho.

Some may read this and ask, “What gives God the authority to determine what is right and wrong?” These same people may attempt to maneuver the hurdles of human logic and moral economy to convince others that the God of the Bible has no right to condemn those who are simply, “acting in the nature of their own condition.” But that would be the same as my 3-year-old son judging my authority at bedtime. Bedtime is arbitrary in his eyes, and the line drawn seems harsh in relation to his desire to stay up longer, but the issue is one of obedience, not one of pragmatic intellectualism. My son cannot comprehend the rationale of bedtime, nor will he soon come to grasp that my response to his disobedience is an act of love, but at some point in his life I expect that he will agree with my decision, and be grateful for the loving boundaries I have set for him. However, in no way am I setting these boundaries in hopes that my son will some day love me for the decisions I have made. I act now in response to my overwhelming desire for his good, and for his flourishing. To act in another way would be wicked.

Infinitely more important, the existence of an omnipotent and omnipresent God draws forth the notion that the economy of said deity is all but incomprehensible to those of us bound to mortal bodies.

Does Hell exist?

Prior to a couple of years ago, I didn’t really think anybody questioned this point. However, there are several schools of thought that debate the existence, severity, or duration of hell. Being that the word hell does not appear in the original Hebrew or Greek texts, some see the concept of hell as a simple metaphor. In the book of Matthew, Jesus references the actual place outside of Jerusalem called Gehenna, and somewhere along the line, Christians started translating Gehenna into the English word Hell. In their eyes, the idea of hell is more of an object lesson, rather than a spiritual destination.

Others see it as a compound reference to the metaphorical condition of man outside a relationship with God, a real warning to a particular group of people at a particular point in time, as well as an eternal place of judgment for those who do not know God at the end of time.

While speaking to a group of Pharisees, Jesus began a list of woes (final judgments) and concluded these statements with a final question:

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? – Matthew 23:33 [ESV]

However, being that the word “hell” does not appear in the original language, how should we interpret this passage?

A more literal translation would be, “Serpents, offspring of vipers, how escape you from the judgment of Gehenna?”2

The Greek word for judgment used in the text is Krisis, which is defined as: Judgment (human or divine), justice, the concept of determining the correctness of a matter; negatively, punishment, condemnation.3

On the surface, especially to the original audience of the day, Jesus is illustrating the impending doom of the lifestyle and philosophy of the Pharisee/Sadducee/Scribe in their practice of religiosity and the condemnation of everyone who could not live up to their particular brand of legal interpretation. Jesus is condemning them as refuse, or waste that should be cast into the valley and burned.

An additional layer of condemnation for that particular audience may be the prophetic nature of the statement. In the year 70AD, the city of Jerusalem was sacked by Rome, the temple destroyed, and many of the religious elite were taken to the valley of Gehenna, killed and burned. It is possible that some who heard these words from the mouth of Jesus were among those killed by Rome.

The final layer of interpretation for contemporary Christians is the context of eternal damnation for failure to believe in Christ as Savior and Lord. In this layer of interpretation, one must reference the White Throne Judgment:

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 [ESV]

In this passage a phrase is used to describe the final destination of those not found in the Book of Life. The destination is not “Hell,” but instead the “Lake of Fire.” Literally translated: Lemne (Lake) of Pyr (Fire). 3

Exactly what, where, how, when, and for how long this “Lake of Fire” event will endure is uncertain. However, it is evident that there seems to be some kind of terminus for individuals who reject the Lordship of Christ Jesus.

***More about this complex idea: Love Wins by Robb Bell and Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

Does God condemn anyone to Hell?

Perspective, more than anything else, sets our ultimate trajectory in regards to philosophy. Cultural statements like: outside looking in, in-crowd, half empty vs. half full, top down, and bottoms up, are representative of perspective. Sometimes, questions are asked in an effort to determine the perspective of an individual. The thought is that the individual is likely to make future decision based on their overarching/general perspective in life.

For example, in the course of being interviewed by a church, I was asked to define my outlook on life. The questioner asked, “Do you consider yourself to be an Optimist or a Pessimist?”

My response was, “Neither. I am a Realist.”

Not satisfied with my answer, the interviewer tried to dig a little deeper with, “Is the glass half-empty, or half-full?”

“Neither. And Both. And None of the above.” I commented. “The glass can be neither half-full nor half-empty because the terms Empty and Full are absolutes. The glass is both half-empty and half-full if you are only interested in the relationship between the fluid level and the bottom or top of the glass. Or you could say that the answer depends on the state of the glass prior to its current situation. Was it being filled, and stopped midway through, or was it being consumed and that process halted? Moreover, the question of the height of the fluid must come subsequent to other questions like; What’s in the glass? Do I need that fluid or a different one? Why do I need the fluid? How much do I need?”

Somewhere along the way I realized that I had missed the point altogether. They wanted to know if I was going to be an encouragement to the overall mission of the church, or if I was going to constantly demoralize the congregation.

It’s easy to see how perspective can influence your view. I was so dead set on being argumentative, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees (another great analogy of perspective). Similarly, individuals who ask questions about Hell often phrase their question in a way that reveals their ultimate perspective. For example, if I ask whether or not God condemns people to hell, it may be assumed that I am placing the entire issue in the hands of God, as if people and their actions play no discernable roll in the process.

Without getting into the Calvin/Arminius argument, it is apparent to me that a choice is given to man. A choice is given in regards to the issue of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and the Lordship of the Risen Christ.

…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13

It appears to me that an individual who hears the story of Jesus Christ, and who understands the implication of that story, will be held accountable for the decision they make in regards to belief.

This issue is incredibly complex, and I am not trying to oversimplify the journey that some have endured. However, the truth of belief in Jesus Christ is a simple one – Not at all easy, but simple nonetheless.

Do you believe?

I believe that your response to that question is the defining perspective of your life.

It’s not a question of half-full or half-empty, or greener grass beyond fence. The question of how you will respond to the story of Jesus Christ will create the foundation of your worldview. How you see what you see is wrapped up in how you see Jesus.

So the question of God condemning nonbelievers to hell is not so much a question of God’s action in the end, as it is a question of our action here and now.

Also, be careful to focus on your own heart before running off to some distant hypothesis about what happens to those who have never heard the gospel. The fact of the matter is, you have heard. And you, and you alone will be held accountable for your response.

Simply put, a righteous judge will pass a righteous verdict of condemnation if sufficient evidence is presented, regardless of his or her own discomfort in the process.

So, how does a loving/good God condemn people to hell?

The way I see it, He doesn’t condemn anyone who has not first condemned him or herself. It is out of His goodness, love, and mercy that we are given an opportunity for redemption and restoration. Furthermore it is an act of righteousness and justice that those who fail to yield to God’s rule on earth are condemned to spend eternity in the unrestrained wrath of God. For God to react in any other way would be evidence of his failure to be righteous, just, or good.

As always, I eagerly await your comments, and discussion. May we all be ready to ask good questions, and may our ears be attentive to hear the truth.

1 God cannot be motivated because there is nothing in existence that can apply any kind of force upon the Creator. Additionally, being that God is fully content in himself, there is nothing that can lure or draw God to act in a way outside of his nature. The word motivation use is intended to illustrate the self-derived impetus of God’s activity.

2 Marshal, A. (1993). The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan

Strong, J., Kohlenberger, J. R., & Swanson, J. A. (2001) The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan

I Quit Going to Church and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Debates surrounding the validity of church membership/attendance have raged for as long as there has been a building designated for worship. However, the question about attendance/membership is a silly conversation until you correctly define the term, “Church.”

As a believer, and even as a minister, I had intellectually addressed the idea of church attendance, and had concluded that I must go for a number of reasons.

1. Scripture indicates that fellowship with other believers is important. (Hebrews 10:25)
2. It is the best place to be encouraged in my faith.
3. It is the best place for me to encourage others.
4. I get paid to be there.

But I still struggled to make myself go. I wanted to go, but only because I assumed it was my duty. So I drug myself to that pile of bricks almost every day. The more I drug myself to a place I didn’t want to be, the more I became a person I couldn’t stand to look at. Sometimes I could only be there for a few hours before I wanted to burn the place down; which seemed to be an odd reaction for a person in my position, so I’d just leave.

I never lost a passion for the work I was doing, I only struggled with the demand that I go…So I did the only thing I could think to do. I quit going.

Really! I quit going. I made the decision while driving to my parent’s house one day, and I never went back to a church again. Ever!

I know what you’re wondering, “How are you employed by a church if you never go?”

Great question. I’m glad you asked.

That trip to see my parents was a watershed moment for me because it began a process of healing in my heart and mind that I never saw coming. I was listening to a podcast when my eyes were finally opened to the truth. (It was either Matt Chandler, Ravi Zacharias, Eric Mason, or Charles Stanley. I can’t remember which one it was, but those are the podcasts I listen to so it had to be one of them. If I had to put money on it, I’d say it was Chandler, ‘cause it sounds like something he’s say, but I wont put any money on it because gambling is a sin…I think.)

There I was, driving east toward my childhood home, when my ears caught on to some of the most freeing words I’d ever heard. In a single moment, the Lord used one of his servants to free me from an obligation that had wrecked my happiness, and stripped my ministry of potential fruit. Honestly, I can’t even remember what the rest of the message was about, because I was so stunned by a single statement in it.

“It is theologically impossible to go to church.” – Unknown*

I almost had to pull off the road for a minute because of the overwhelming sense of relief I felt. I realized that I was pressuring myself to do something that was impossible.

I never went back to church after that. I realized that my membership in the body was, as it had always been, determined by my relationship with Jesus Christ, and rested solely in the fact that Jesus had made me a new creation. My born-again nature had grafted me into the church.

I couldn’t go to church, because church wasn’t a place.

For example, I can’t attend human, because it’s not a place; it’s a word that describes something that I already am.Church is the same way. It describes who I am, not where I go!

Oh, but it doesn’t end there…everything began to shift. I couldn’t go to church, nor could I leave church!

Being that I am a member of the church, regardless of where I am geographically, my ministry and calling are just as permanent. I can’t stop working for the church, because my calling as a minister is also an identifier, not an occupation.

Wow!!! I was free!

Free to pursue ministry in a way that wasn’t confined to a location. Free to minister as an agent of THE CHURCH instead of just ‘my church.’ Free to move in and out of my office as an ambassador of our local gathering.

I didn’t have to justify my attendance at a basketball game, One Act Play performance, or even taking stats for our high school football team. I didn’t have to try to convince people that I was really ministering when I met kids at the school while substitute teaching. I didn’t have to persuade my local body of believers to continue to allow me to do the things I felt called to do as a minister, simply in an effort to comply with a job description.

Now it was evident to me that to do anything other than what I felt called to do, in the way the Holy Spirit called me to do it would be a disservice to the dedicated attenders of my local congregation. They called me to lead them in student ministry, as well as worship ministry. They called me to lead them. And up until that point, I had been a reluctant follower. But now, I began to realize the freedom I had to lead. Lead in passionate ministry. Ministry that was more than hours at a desk, more than songs on a Sunday morning, and more than lessons on Wednesday night.

I was free to minister!

If you want to experience that same kind of freedom, then stop going to church.

Be the Church!

 

 

* Earliest reference I could find for this particular quote.

What To Do When Your Friend is Grieving

The loss of a loved one is an event for which we can never be prepared. Regardless of the timeline, or circumstances surrounding the passing of someone we care deeply for, the process of grief is both common and unique. In so many ways, our grief will walk us through a variety of stages that include; denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, the individual steps will be filled with experiences and longings that are unique to you as an individual, and related to the person who you lost.

Reminders are everywhere; from their favorite food, to their favorite song. Maybe it’s a shared activity, or even a whiff of a fragrance that catapults your conscious mind down an unrelenting cascade of memories and emotions. Regardless of the trigger, our emotions are set on edge and our thoughts are captured. Grief is an all-encompassing experience, and without help, can lead to a devastating end.

I’ve already written an article discussing some of the factors that prevent depressed people from getting the help they need, but the suddenness of the loss of a loved one can set us on a course destined for depression that we could never see coming. And just like the loss, our depression happens upon us without warning, and sometimes, without hope of climbing out.

One of the more important factors in a healthy grieving process is the presence of an individual or individuals who care for those who are grieving and act as advocates on their behalf. The impact that these friends can have on those who are suffering is substantial because they are able to offer glimpses into the world that are often veiled by sadness and eventual depression. These advocates offer encouragement, compassion, and empathy so that those who have suffered loss don’t have to walk this road alone.

If you find yourself supporting a grieving friend, here are some helpful guidelines for you to follow.

Be Practical
When we acknowledge the reality of the situation and pain that our friend is enduring, it helps them engage the grief process in a healthy way. Yes, the grieving process is healthy, and needs to be engaged in order for the sufferer to be able to emerge on the other side instead of getting stuck on one of the 5 stages.

Make sure that any assistance offered is something that can actually help the individual make time for their grief, instead of compounding their activities and schedule.

You can offer to: mow their lawn, take kids to school, volunteer at church/school/community in their place, bring food, or just talk. Make sure that you offer these services, instead of demanding that you be allowed to do them.

Be Present
Nothing is worse than the goofy philosopher that tries to undermine the grieving process by regurgitating some empty cliché instead of simply being present in the moment.

Romans 12:15 teaches us to Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. So be willing to sit there and weep with them. It’s fascinating to me that we don’t get this. The more I engage those who are hurting, the more I hear their friends and family say meaningless stuff to them. Don’t be that guy! Even Jesus, when confronted by the loss of his friend Lazarus, wept in his own sorrow (John 11), and nobody came up to him and tried to remind him, “Lazarus is in a better place.” Or “At least he’s not hurting anymore.”

Maybe just sit there and weep with them.

But don’t forget to be ready to rejoice with them too. When the time is right, and the bereaved begin to laugh again, don’t stifle that laughter by reminding them of their situation.

Being present means being tuned into their struggle, and putting aside your emotional comfort zone, to share in their journey.

Be Patient
This is a grieving process. It won’t happen in a day. If someone says it did, they lied. They are still in the denial phase. They will struggle through a variety of emotions and engage memories that force them to deal with things they never though to be relevant. They may even move back in the process a time or two…and that’s perfectly okay! You have to remember, you are not their savior.

Your job isn’t to, “Get them over the hump,” it’s to be with them as they walk.

It’s going to take some time.

The last thing I would encourage you to do is to make sure you don’t do this alone. When you take on the role of advocate for your friend, you may encounter some of the same processes that they are engaging. Such a phenomena is common, and should be acknowledged. Be open to conversations about how your interaction with your grieving friend is affecting you, and hear other people’s observations with some openness and grace. They are most likely not attacking you, they are probably trying to do for you exactly what you have done for someone else, even if they go about it the wrong way.

 

If you would like more detailed information about helping people through grief/loss process, you can find it here:
Breaking Through the Clouds (A novel about finding hope in the midst of profound loss)
How to Help Someone Who’s Grieving

 

You Really Don’t Want to Be the Storm

The Devil whispered in my ear, “You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”
Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear, “I am the storm.”
-Unknown

What about the days, when you’re just not?

When you are really weak and you cant try anymore?

What about the times when the storm rages against you and you fling your fists in the air and make no headway?

What about the times when you are so beaten down and broken by fate that not even your Instagram account can fake it anymore?

Are you the storm then?

Unbelievers often watch Christians and see us make statements of strength, but live lives that are just as shattered as theirs. Our failure to acknowledge our failure leads them to dismiss us, along with our gospel, as either crazy or untrustworthy. I think the reason we make claims like this and attribute them to our faith is because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be strong in the Lord. This misunderstanding leads us to trade the truth of the Bible for the lies of the world.

Why is it that we as Christians settle for so much less than what God has promised us?

Why is it that we are so willing to allow Satan to deceive us into believing we are less than what we have been created to be?

Why would some of us rather be the storm, instead of Sons and Daughters of the Most High God?

Because they have no faith in the One who conquers all who oppose Him.

When I saw that one of my former students had posted this quote on his Facebook page, my first reaction to this quote was to comment, “That’s just silly,” but the more I saw this quote being shared, the more I realized that this was evidence of a real problem. I realized that for many Christians, the idea of being a champion or victor over the evil one is appealing, but they really don’t know what that means. It’s apparent that many assume that to be able to conquer the enemy, Christians have to be stronger than the enemy, but that’s not the case. Apparently, some believe that to win a fight against the Devil, they must embody the very thing that the devil is using to defeat us, but that’s even farther from the truth.

The reality of our existence is far more compelling than some silly quote.

When Jesus was with his disciples, he made his nature and character clear to them on several occasions, and even though they didn’t always understand what he was saying, Jesus was patient with them as they learned. One such event occurred while on a boat with his disciples. The boat was about to be lost in a violent storm, but Jesus had another motive altogether.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
Matthew 8:23-27

It’s apparent that Jesus’ disciples could not withstand the storm that night. It’s also apparent that they tried and failed to the point that they could no longer try any more. Their only course of action was to ask Jesus to intervene. They asked this carpenter’s son what to do on the open sea. They asked a Rabbi what they should do when their ship was breaking up. They asked because they had run out of fight.

Jesus, half-asleep, scolds them by asking them why they had no faith…

I’d bet that at least one of these fellas was thinking, “What? Faith? We don’t need faith; we need to not drown tonight!”

Jesus got up out of bed and spoke to the storm like he knew it. He told it to be still, and it did. Jesus expended more energy getting out of his bed, than he did eliminating the very thing these fishermen couldn’t withstand.

The Devil didn’t have to whisper in their ear, “You aren’t strong enough to withstand the storm,” because they were acutely aware of that fact. They had struggled against it, and realized that truth for themselves. And honestly, there hasn’t been a follower of Jesus in history that could withstand the storm. But you don’t have to!

Jesus didn’t call his disciples because of their experience in withstanding storms, and Jesus didn’t ask them to withstand the storm. He asked them to have faith in the fact that He, and only He, could overcome the world.

The same is true for you and me. I don’t have to carry the weight of my church, or even my youth group on my shoulders, because I can’t even carry the weight of my own sin.

The reality is, Jesus already conquered sin and death. Satan’s fate has already been sealed, and we have been enlisted into the greatest mission that the world has ever seen. We have been called to tear down the gates of hell to redeem those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins.

God doesn’t want us to be the storm.

More Than A Game

To be honest, I have not always been a sports fan, and I realize that this can put me at odds with some who read this, but its true. Sure I’ve enjoyed playing and watching sporting events my whole life, but I haven’t always been willing to follow one particular team over another. However, several years ago, my wife and I watched a documentary that altered the way I thought about sports, especially the role they play in the lives of teens.

In October 2009 a stunningly well-presented documentary, directed by Kristopher Belman, told the story of a basketball team from Akron, Ohio. More Than A Game centers on a particularly talented individual who played on that team, and focused on some of the elements of basketball that failed to make the stat page.

In this documentary, LeBron James is depicted as a child of a single mother, who’s future options for life include very little, and whose circumstances don’t seem to be changing any time soon. Correlations are made between him and several basketball players before him who failed to attain a level of play that could help transport them out of the arena in which they lived their lives.

The film focuses on the hard work and determination that this group of young men possessed, and illustrated the importance of the mentors, coaches, and schools that supported this team throughout their AAU and High School careers. And yes, it even helped to open my eyes to the fact that a game, even as simple and insignificant as basketball, could be life altering for some students.

But the title of the film helps to address the most important element presented in the case of LeBron and his teammates. For them, this was far more than a game. This was a ticket out. A ticket to…something they could not really even fathom. It was the means, by which they might escape the confines of the inner city, and the culture and an economic system that had failed them.

…and escape they did.

LeBron’s success in the NBA champions a list of accolades that this team received as they graduated, and helps to substantiate the role that basketball played in the lives of these young men. However, I have one question as it relates to my leadership of students in my own context.

Would LeBron James have ever said, “Ball is life?” Or was life, more than a game?

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a student share their deepest source of stress and regret, and it be about a game. Sometimes they are talking about their identity as a player, and sometimes they are actually talking about their failure to perform in a single game. My question to them is always the same, “Why does your performance in this particular game, or even this activity in general, mean so much to you?”

Their response never waivers, “My _______________ expects me to…”

That particular blank can be filled by anything. Sometimes it’s a real expectation expressed by a coach or parent, and other times it is a perceived expectation of living up to a former player, sibling, or self-projection. Regardless of the individual, and irrespective of the reality of the expectation, the pressure mounts upon the shoulders of student after student. It’s like these kids think they are going to be able to singlehandedly lift their families, schools, and/or communities out of some fundamental human struggle by hitting the game-wining three. And maybe they do hit the three and win the game. Maybe they even win it all and escape the doldrums of their socioeconomic reality. Maybe they even make it to the big show, and their success catapults them into stardom. What then?

What happens when you achieve everything you’ve ever hoped to achieve and it still doesn’t satisfy?

What happens when the ball drops for the last time?

Because, lets face it, at some point in time or another, the lights wont be for us, and the crowds wont cheer our name.

When that time comes, will we be like so many adults today, whose focus is held captive by past failure or even success? Will we be incapable of deriving any sense of hope or joy from our present because we believe, we really believe that our best days were spent in High School, and the best we can hope for is to live vicariously through our own child, desperately yearning to catch a glimpse of what it was like way back when?

I hope then, we can say that life is more than a game, and I hope we actually believe it.

For that team from Akron, basketball was a way up and out. It was a tool to adjust their future. It was a means to an end.

At some point in the future, even LeBron James will stop playing basketball, and he will determine for himself if life really is more than a game.

I hope his eyes will be open to the one who can satisfy, regardless of his legacy here on earth.

I hope you and I can start living as though there is more for each of us than a score on a board. I hope we can impress upon this upcoming generation that their success or failures in life only matter in eternity if they relate to matters of eternity. I hope I can display a level of satisfaction in Jesus Christ that my kids look to Him to satisfy the longing that is in their own hearts.

 

 

*Jeremy A Walker is an avid supporter of whatever team LeBron is currently playing on, and continues to herald him as the greatest player in NBA history. Any of you slack-jawed knuckleheads that comment otherwise will be censored. That is all. 

Sometimes We’ve Got to Actually Stir

Matt Chandler is one of the better-known Christian communicators today, and does an excellent job of answering the question of, “What do I do when I don’t feel God moving?”

I can’t really say how many times I’ve been asked a variation of this question, but the reality is, nearly all of us struggle at one point or another with our relationship with the Lord, and this kind of distance almost always manifests in a sense of spiritual boredom, callousness, or staleness. Many Christians struggle to find a spark to restart the fellowship they once had with the Lord. Others simply assume that the Lord has forgotten them altogether. But the truth is, sometimes we simply have to stir our affections. At other times, the method we are using to stir our affections is the very thing that is failing us.

But How?

I was recently asked this question, “Is it bad if I only read the Bible when I want to be closer to Jesus?”

At first, I’ll admit, I didn’t quite understand what my student meant, but as she described her Bible reading pattern, it began to make sense. She perceived that she was only reading the Bible to satisfy some vague sense of spiritual sluggishness. She wasn’t particularly interested in the content, nor was she all that concerned with fellowshipping with the Lord in the process, she simply wanted to, “Catch the spiritual feels…”

My encouragement to her was as simple as I could muster. I encouraged her to take an additional step before she read her Bible. I encouraged her to speak to the Lord as though he were present with her in the room, and ask that the Holy Spirit would focus her heart on the character and nature of the Lord God while she read.

I tried to open her eyes to the fact that she was speaking to the Living God, and reading the story of that Living God. I wanted her to see that the words on the page, the feeling of obedience, and even the fellowship with the Lord, if pursued as ends in themselves, can become idolatrous. I wanted her to connect with the Holy Spirit as a pursuit of God, not a pursuit of the warm fuzzy feelings we get at camp…

The last thing I encouraged her to do is to be willing to stop and ask questions.

I think it’s silly that Christians seem to have such a fundamental problem admitting that we don’t know everything about the Bible, but in the case of one of my High School Students, I hoped that she would see that the Holy Spirit is willing to teach us as we read.

I encouraged her to read until she misunderstood, then stop and ask the Lord to guide her. Then, start reading again.

When we acknowledge the Lord’s leadership inside our pursuit of Him, we recognize our limitation and deepen our dependence on Him. Now, He becomes both the means and the end.