Thursday, June 11, 2015

In Your Own Handwriting

I've begun my Summer Writing Project, and thought I'd share an early draft of the introduction. Feel free to let me know what you think of it.

Handwriting Intro
Imagine if everything you’ve ever learned was placed in three-ring binders.
All you know about math, history, the Internet, video games, the stock market. Everything. Some thick volumes, some thin.
In binders stacked all around the room, each one labeled with the subject matter.
As you look around, you see a folder labeled “Faith,” and you pull it out from its stack and open it.
Sure enough, it’s your faith journey, whatever it has looked like so far.
For some of you, it’s Bible stories you learned in Sunday School, for others it’s blogs about the harmful effects of religion on society. Legalistic codes or free-flowing emotionalism. Racist rants or pleas to bring justice to the oppressed. Whatever has had the greatest impact on your view of faith, it’s all there.
But then you notice something: Almost none of it is in your own handwriting.
Some is in your mom or dad’s handwriting. Some might be in your pastor’s or youth leader’s or priest’s. The idea that religion breeds ignorance is in the handwriting of a television talking head or popular blogger or author. The paragraph exhorting you to love your neighbor, in the shaky scrawl of your grandmother.
A few brief, indecisive passages in your own handwriting, but the overwhelming majority penned by others.
Here’s the thing. This is normal.
Most of us absorb our faith from the people around us. As we reach our late teens and early twenties, we often find that the view of faith we possess isn’t really our own. It’s the one given to us by others—or the one we built reacting against the views of others. And if nothing else happens, that inherited view of faith is the one that we carry throughout our lives.
But whether you now consider yourself a person of faith or not, if you are reading this book I’m going to assume that at least a part of you is drawn to the concept of faith. And whether you are wanting to find a reason to accept faith, a guide to increase your faith, or a final push toward a permanent rejection, the thing you want most is for the final conclusions to be your own. You don’t want your faith—or lack thereof—to be something you inherited from others.
Whether the decision is pro or con, you want the answer to be in your own handwriting.
And that’s one of the primary purposes of this book. To honestly examine faith, specifically the Christian faith that I claim, to see if it makes sense at a logical and emotional level; to strip this faith down to its essence, see what it really means to be a Christian; and if you come to believe that it does, to give you the tools to write your personal faith in your own handwriting.
The first section of the book will look at the logical, historical, and emotional basis of faith. It’s not an exhaustive (or exhausting) argument for Christianity. Books that focus on that area of faith fall into the category of apologetics and can be highly valuable. But in this book we’re only going to (hopefully) show that Christianity makes sense, and that it does a pretty good job making sense of the world around us.
In the second section we’ll be looking at the faith itself, the beliefs that make up what I rather arrogantly call Authentic Christianity. We’ll see that a lot of the beliefs that you may find offensive about Christian faith aren’t integral to the faith, but are actually just the way some people have personalized their own faith (or adopted and adapted the faith of others). Don’t worry, there is still plenty of offensive stuff in Christianity[1], but there’s not nearly as much as you may have heard. Again, this section will not be exhaustive or exhausting. People who dig deeply into this type of material are called theologians and their books are called theologies. But I believe it will be comprehensive enough for us to move to the final section, the one we’ve built toward from the beginning.
In that the third section, we’ll talk personalization. How to take the basics of the faith, add in what we learn about that faith both on our own and in community, identify our (I believe God-given) passions, and fuse it all into a faith that each of us can call our own. A faith we can live with. And ideally, a faith that can give us a reason to live.




[1] The idea that we’re all sinners, for instance. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Destructive Adoration

I’ve spent months trying not to write this blog. But the news won’t let go and the issue won’t leave me alone. So now, the least popular blog I will ever write.

I need to write about Bruce Jenner.

See, as a person who appreciates science and logic, I’m confused.

As the husband of an amazing wife and father of three wonderful daughters, I'm offended for them.

And as a person who empathizes with the pain of others, I hurt for Bruce Jenner.

On the science front, this is just the latest example of our culture’s inability to handle basic science. It seems, in the same way we decided there’s no such thing as absolute moral truth, we’re now saying there is no such thing as absolute scientific truth if that truth doesn’t fit with our agenda. Whether it’s true nutritional science, medical science, or genetics, if the science doesn’t fit with our agenda, we say the science is wrong. No matter the conclusiveness of every study.

Scientific fact: Jenner is a man. It’s not about the way he dresses, it’s about every gene in his body. When they finished the mani-pedi and hair styling that went into the Vanity Fair photoshoot, if you’d gathered up all the hair and nail clippings, and sent samples to DNA labs all over the country, each would have concluded without any doubt that the contributions came from a man. That pesky Y chromosome just won’t go away, no matter how many hormones we pump in, how much mascara we apply, how much we wish it wasn’t so.

Our anti-science bias met its match when Jenner pointed out to an interviewer that he was still attracted exclusively to women. “Does that mean you’re a lesbian?” the interviewer replied. And because we want to ignore the basic facts of science, very few people even caught the irony.

Which leads me to the women in my life and how I am offended for them. To make this one simpler to understand, let’s say that instead of saying he was really a women trapped in a man’s body, what if Jenner had said he was really an African-American trapped in a Caucasian body? Hey, I’m possibly the whitest man in America, and I would have been offended.

Being African American is about a whole lot more than skin color and hair style and cultural preferences. It’s about how people look at you when you walk down a street at night. About what goes through your mind when you see blue lights in your rear-view mirror. About how you are viewed by others every moment of every day, knowing you’ve been viewed that way your entire life, and will be viewed that way every day for the rest of your life. Knowing that if you succeed in many venues, some will say it was because of special privileges granted because of your race while you’ll know it was probably accomplished in spite of your race.

Now let’s add in the female components. Being a woman means your body—and your life—has run on a calendar since you were a pre-teen. It means you are rarely the most powerful person in the room, either in terms of physical or perceived power. It means that you have to work harder to be taken seriously, speak louder to be heard, and be exposed to standards no man has to deal with. I’ve yet to hear any discussion of the clothing choices of the male presidential candidates. Hillary’s pant suits, on the other hand…

I read a blog once that said if life was a video game, the “Easy” setting would be titled “Heterosexual White Male.” And now we’ve got the white Olympic decathlon champion, a person who has normally been the most physically powerful person in every room he’s entered, saying he truly understands what it means to be a woman.

If our culture wasn’t so ironically impaired, we might point out that the same week Jenner hit Vanity Fair, every female who entered the Army’s Ranger course failed to complete it, and The New York Times called for the WNBA to lower the basketball hoop. “Female athletes deserve a chance to really soar,” the Times proclaimed. Meanwhile, on USAToday.com, the main ad on the article about women failing the Ranger program is a picture of the former World’s Greatest Athlete smiling in lingerie.

Which brings me to my biggest problem, what we as a society are doing to Jenner and other people like him. This is a hurting person. He is hurt deeply and has obviously been hurting for a long, long time. But like many people he is trying to solve emotional (or maybe even dare-I-say spiritual) pain with a physical “solution.” And it’s not going to work.

If you don’t believe me, just look. Jenner has been trying to salve this pain with physical transition for years. That nose is not the nose he had in 1976, and I doubt there’s been just one surgery. Make-up and hormones and a new wardrobe aren’t going to help long-term any more than the surgeries.

But unfortunately for Jenner, our culture has decided that his issue, his pain, should be lumped in with sexual orientation, so whatever the person says is true. Even if it is verifiably not.


So Jenner puts make-up on his real pain, we cheer and call him brave, and I wonder what he’ll do when this latest physical attempt to solve an emotional/spiritual problem doesn’t work. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Forgiveness Teaching Videos

Forgiveness
It is one of the most challenging aspects of life. Forgiving others. Forgiving ourselves.
In September 2014, I did a three-week series on forgiveness. It was important enough a topic that we came up with an attention-getting name for the series: The F-Bomb.
You can pick the one you feel most drawn to, or binge-watch the entire series below.

Part One: Receiving Forgiveness

Part Two: Getting Past Guilt

Part Three: Granting Forgiveness


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Is Christianity Dying?

It's all over the news. The Pew Research Center's newest report has dropped, and the headlines are blaring.

"Christians drop, 'nones' soar in new religion portrait," USA Today proclaimed.
News Max declares, "Christianity Declines Sharply in US, Agnostics Growing."
The Los Angeles Times is a little more subtle: "U.S. has become notably less Christian."

The headlines are technically true. But are they accurate?

See, a lot of times with data, the "true truth" is lingering just beneath the surface. Are there fewer people who self-identify as Christian in America than there were a few years ago? Undeniably. But is the change because there are fewer people who are authentically following Jesus, or because the people who used to check "Christian" by default, are just more accurately reporting their true beliefs?

The data supports the second idea. As Russell Moore puts it, "We don't have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America."

Or, as Ed Stetzer puts it, the nominals are becoming nones.

Here's an article that gives a solid perspective on the data from Mr. Stetzer. And here's one from Russell Moore that expands on Stetzer's concept that this Pew report is actually good news for the church.

I agree with Mr. Moore. We need fewer people who call themselves Christians, and more people who truly try to live like Jesus.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Surprised by Hope


Surprised By Hope:
Why Christians Flock to an Atheist's Films

I'll admit it. I really enjoy the Avengers' films, and most of the Marvel Universe pictures. Here's an interesting take on why I might like them so much (in addition to all the smashing up things and stuff like that).

Friday, April 17, 2015

Transform(180)

Once upon a time, I wrote a daily devotion and emailed it out to a couple hundred people or so. Some of them actually liked it and were less-than-happy when I got too busy to continue. We called the daily readings "The LightSwitch."
A couple years ago, I got a team together and we edited about six-months-worth of LightSwitches into a book that I e-published as Transform(180). Sold a few copies.
Yesterday on a whim, I corrected a couple mistakes readers had discovered and re-published it. I even lowered the price to $2.99.
If you're curious what they were like, I'll reprint one below. And if you'd like to get a copy for your Kindle Reader, here's the link.

An Ordinary Day

Focus Text: 1 Samuel 17:12-22

Key Verse:  Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp.” (17)

Comments:
David never set out to kill a giant. 
He wasn’t even doing anything special. He was taking groceries to his brothers. Oh sure, it promised to be exciting. He might get to watch a battle (and what teenage boy wouldn’t find that cool--especially at a time when, instead of television, they watched sheep?)
But that was it. No plans for anything special. Just an ordinary teen running an ordinary errand—at least ordinary for 1000 B.C.
So, David left for his ordinary trip, but God had something extraordinary planned. And soon all the Israelites would know the name of the man God had anointed to be the next king. 
Now fast forward a millennia or so. An ordinary girl in an ordinary town living an ordinary life. But God had something else planned. And Mary went from ordinary girl to extraordinary mother-to-be in a matter of seconds.
Okay, fast forward another couple millennia, to twenty-first century America. An ordinary person just like you. Matter of fact, let’s just say it is you.
Of course, God could never use you to do anything extraordinary. I mean, just like me, you’re an ordinary person going about your ordinary life. Maybe even an ordinary, boring life.
But don’t get complacent. Keep your eyes open. Never doubt that God is capable of doing something extraordinary through you as you go about your ordinary life.
Even if you never set out to kill a giant.

Prayer:
[Father, help me to keep my eyes open to whatever you want to do through me today. Use me in any way you please, to accomplish whatever you desire.]

Monday, March 23, 2015

World Praying

Sunday, I mentioned some tools to help us do a better job praying for the Church throughout the world, and here they are. (Now that's how you write a blog opening.)
Operation World. I've linked the prayer calendar here, but there are lots of other resources if you want to surf the site. (Do we still surf web sites, or is that term outdated?) Also, if you click on one of the dates, you will get a lot of data. (And I mean A LOT.) If you don't want to geek out on all the data, scroll down to the Challenges for Prayer section. You can also purchase their book that takes you on an annual world tour of basically every nation, helping you understand the state of faith in that nation and giving prayer direction. The book changed my life.
Voice of the Martyrs. If you want gripping stories about what individual Christians are enduring throughout the world, this is your source. There is a monthly newsletter and ways to actually get involved to help as well.
Release International. More focused on groups than individuals, Release has a Daily Prayer Shield (that's where the link goes), as well as a lot of additional resources.
Open Doors USA. Their prayer calendar (linked) is a world tour of Church persecution--and victory. Among their resources are opportunities to travel overseas to provide assistance.
Window on the World. Angie Jones sent me this link to a book that helps you get your kids involved in praying for the world.
PrayerMate. This is the prayer app that I use. It's available on all three major platforms, and among it's cool features is the ability to subscribe to updates from quite a few mission groups, including Operation World, Release International and Open Doors USA. Even if you don't want to use the app for anything else, the daily prayer subscriptions make it worthwhile. And it's totally free.
Tags. One other thing I mentioned yesterday is, as you're getting dressed, read the label on the clothes and pray for the nation where your garments were made. Ten seconds of doing this can get your day started off thinking in a world-wide context.
And if you'd like to listen to the entire message from yesterday, it's here.
Have you found any other sources to help you do a better job praying for the world?