My heart is sad every time I turn on the news and watch the aftermath of the Boston tragedy last week. It's hard to imagine someone willing to cause so much destruction in the middle of a peaceful celebration of fitness, agility, and competition. But, that must be the world we live in now.
I'm amazed that two people can actually have the entire city of Boston shut down on a manhunt. I feel the blanket of fear covering the country when we're wondering who, what, why, when, and how. The millions of dollars spent on security going forward are going to be a tribute to the nature of evil in the world today.
One comment jumped out over all the others when I heard one of the bombers say, "I don't have one American friend." And I audibly groaned. WOW!! How in the world can we continue the isolationist mindset in our culture until we have the ability to reach out to people in our own community.
There's no question the blame lies with the two who set the bombs. But it begs the question, "Who was taking care of the relationship needs of these two boys?" We can hum and haw around about how the religious leaders tried to radicalize them, but really; radicalization only happens when there are victims who are ready to be trained and brainwashed.
As I sat back and wondered about the work I do in Colorado, it pushed me even further to wonder how we can help create spaces for people to connect. I'm moved by the stories of innocent victims who didn't ask for this lot in life, but I'm also moved by the sad state of the bombers who "didn't have an American friend."
I suppose Boston taught me a few important lessons.
There's certainly evil in the world we will have to endure.
I want to make sure to reach out to everyone in my community who needs a friend.
Celebration is an important part of life and we shouldn't allow those who wish to cause fear to win.
I'm more impressed to pray.
Today I'm praying for the state of our country.
Today I'm praying for the people who fell victim to this senseless violence.
Today I'm praying for God to give us divine meetings to reach out and create relationships with the people in our own communities.
One thing is for sure, Life wasn't meant to be lived Alone. Those of us who are able have an obligation to look around and take care of those who are feeling isolated.
I'm praying for Boston in the aftermath of this atrocity.
This morning I need some help.
A dear friend, Randy Bister, is back in the hospital fighting Leukemia and Pneumonia. Randy worked at KIVU a few years ago, and made such an impact on hundreds of students, but today is fighting for his own life.
I welcome any prayers from those of you out there, to lift up my friend Randy. We know God can heal. We know Doctors heal. We know medicine heals. But as believers, one thing we are called to do is to pray.
James 5:14-15 says, "Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven."
We know God chooses to heal those He chooses to heal, but our job is to pray.
Please pray for my friend Randy. His family and friends are giving updates on a special facebook page...CLICK HERE to see what's happening and show support.
If I'm honest in my own spiritual life, I have to admit it's easy to get caught in the things that aren't important. Just like the families I counsel, I have the same temptation to push hard to produce the next book, sign the next deal, fill the next camp, or do the next big global mission.
For a physician it looks like becoming part of a medical society with power and prestige.
For an attorney it looks like winning the big case so all the other attorneys think highly of you.
For a construction manager, it's building the next building people can gawk at.
For a businessman, it's sealing the next deal that will buy you a bigger house, a faster car, a sleeker suit.
But in the end, What do all those things really matter?
Solomon took a long walk down the road of life's meaning in a book called Ecclesiastes. He sought to find the ultimate meaning in life through pleasure, women, work, riches, power, prestige, and ultimately found that the world poses nothing but fleeting satisfaction. "Vanity of Vanity, All is Vanity."
No matter how much money you get, there's always a need for more.
No matter how many clothes you have, there's always a desire for more.
No matter how many championships you win, there's always a need to win another.
It's a crazy hedonic cycle that feeds something inside us without a true sense of satisfaction.
The problem working in ministry is, you can justify all those things under the banner of doing something for God. How can you sit in a place of apathy when God NEEDS YOU!! (or needs me, which is really why I'm writing this.)
I need to learn to live in the present.
I need to take the lesson from the great leaders of old who figured out how to live with the most important things.
Being grateful for today.
Being thankful for the life God has given me.
Saying Thanks to the people in my life who continue to act like they like me, anyway. HA!
Making sure I take time to live today without giving into the pressure of worrying about the future.
Today, I want to live like Jesus. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34)
Can you imagine what it would look like if we found the things that really mattered, and focused on them in the NOW...rather than worrying about what was to come?
I'm reading my daily gospel Meditation today, and the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 people is today's image.
I've been sitting here thinking, "What in the world were the disciples thinking?"
Can you imagine having 5K people sitting at a certain church outreach in the middle of some field somewhere. There's no rest stop, no fast food joints, no grocery store around; and the pastor may have gone a little long, and everyone is itching to get something to eat.
Now, I don't know about your church, but I've been to churches where the 11:30 itch hits the middle of the pews, and the congregation starts hinting to the pastor that it's time to get out and beat the 'other' churches to the Golden Coral for Sunday Brunch.
Can you imagine 5K?
Of course we know the story where 5 loaves and 2 fish become a meal for all 5 thousand people with 12 baskets of left overs to be eaten later. And it's easy to read through a story where we know it turns out well, but what if it didn't?
That's where the crux of faith and real life meet in real time. Sure, I believe God can multiply food, after all He created it all. He can do whatever He wants. But what about the times He decides not to?
WHEW..now that's the difference between someone who can live in the middle of faith, and someone who Jesus would continually look back and scold, "Oh, yea of little faith."
I have a friend who lives with incredible back pain. We've prayed for years God would heal him. He's been to the best doctors in the world. He's been to countless prayer meetings. He's still walking around with back pain.
Or what of my friend's mother who recently died of cancer? We prayed in faith she might be healed, but God took here at 46 years old. What happened? Did we live life without the faith Jesus calls for?
Or what of my friends who've been faithful in their business for 30 years, and just recently were told they had to shut it all down? Were they living outside the bounds of faith when they kept praying for God to intervene?
I don't know if I have any answers today, as much as I have questions. I'm not trying to start a fight, or reiterate any theological positions. I'm simply asking, how do we get the place Jesus asks us to get in our faith?
Certainly James talks about faith in terms of trials and circumstance. "Consider it joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." But none of us REALLY want to welcome trials into life.
Modern faith movements tell our youth to dream Big and let God move. He's ready to answer your Big Dreams and make His name known to the world. And then I watch my 25-30 year old friends just trying to survive in the world. They bought in with all the chips on the table, and God didn't show up like they thought.
I'm impressed by the leaders of the faith who are able to frame their lives in the context of faith. The one's who have the ability to see beyond circumstance and honestly and authentically climb into a space where faith drives their next decision.
I guess the first place to start for me today is back when Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worries of it's own." I supposed worry, doubt, guilt, and self worth issues are the things that cripple the ability to walk in faith.
Ok...so today...It's time to live by faith. God I give you my day today (as I take a deep breath) and I choose to focus on the things you have for me today without compromising for tomorrow.
What ways have you found a life full of faith effective? I'd love to learn from my friends here at The Journey.
The Eastern Part of the United States is enduring the annual Tornado Ritual. Each spring when the warm air of spring collides with the cool winter wind of the north these crazy storms show up tearing apart everything in their path.
I've been in the middle of storms like these, and I can tell you, they're pretty scary.
This morning I was reading the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41. It talks about the disciples being in the boat, and the group heading to the other side of the sea. A storm came and threatened to capsize the boat and the disciples cried, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
That's when Jesus stood up in the boat and demanded the winds to be quiet and the seas to be still. The disciples were amazed and asked themselves, "who is this that can calm the wind and the waves?"
As I was praying this morning, I started thinking about the significance of God's choosing to come and live life with us. He didn't dictate morality from a golden throne in heaven, but rather; chose to come and live on earth at a specific time in history.
He didn't choose to come in the form of a King or a Business leader. He came as a teacher, a rabbi, a mentor to help the common man understand the ideas of heaven. And, in the middle of His time on earth, He kept reassuring those that followed that He was indeed who He said He was.
Then I started wondering, Maybe some of us have never been through a storm on the sea, or a tornado in the prarie, but we all endure storms in life. In fact, one thing is certain about all of us...
Storms in life are coming, and we have a choice, to fear the storm or have faith in a God who cares.
Today, I choose faith.
I know there are times in life where the wind and the waves will crash all around.
I know there are times when I will wonder which direction to turn.
I've been in places where I didn't know to turn right or left.
But I know, this morning, I choose to set my sights on something greater than myself.
Have you ever seen the storm coming?
Which direction did you go?
I've been noticing more and more people standing in a model pose with their iPhones at arms distance. Taking a picture and posting it on Instagram or Facebook has become the 'new way' of telling people a story.
"Look what food I ate!"
"See who I met last night."
"I'm on a island cruise...don't you wish you were here?"
The problem with this kind of story is, it's almost always focused on, well; YOU.
Many of my teen mentor friends have used words like selfish, self centered, even narcissism to describe the way social media is changing the way we think. I think that might be a little over reaching, but the ideas now where our story is THE most important part of our journey through life tends to focus SO much on self, I believe it leads to isolation. I think you can be so obsessed with your own story, you can find yourself in a place where you're the only one who cares about the next picture, the next event, or the next status update.
In my book ALONE, I try to outline ways for us to re-engage with honest relationships. And one of the ways I propose we start living is to create a story.
Climb a Mountain, not for the sake of conquering the mountain, but for the memories you'll make with your friends.
Travel to a place you've never been before, not so you can wallow in your own bravery, but so you can remember the place with your friends.
Eat new foods, with friends.
Discover new hobbies, together.
Put adventure in your life, even if it means walking through a block of town you've never gone.
I believe when we stretch ourselves to create a story together, we can always remember who was with us when.
And what a difference it makes when you begin creating a story with God. (I know this gets a little theological to think about, but hang in there with me.)
If God began the story, and has invited you into it, How great would it be to dive deep into the waters of togetherness with your creator.
I'm convinced, most of our loneliness comes from either a lack of togetherness with our creator, or a lack of togetherness with one another.
When Jesus said, Love The Lord your God with all Your Heart, Mind, and Soul, this is the first and greatest commandment, He offered a remedy for the loneliness we feel. For as we Love God with everything inside us, we discover the story He intends to live WITH us, in the present.
If you're feeling Alone today, start your day as I start mine. "God I praise you for being the Creator of All things. I'm excited to see what chapter you're writing today. May I live my life in such a way to live Your story With You."
Just start your story there, and let's see where it goes.
Last week I saw the internet in it's most raw form. After the announcement of Rick and Kay Warren's son Matthew breaking via CNN, Twitter, and The Huffington Post, the comments following the articles were nothing short of vile.
I'm all for free speech, but when I witnessed the nasty comments concerning the possibility Rick and Kay were responsible for the death of their 27 year old son Matthew, I just felt dirty. With each comment, I just kept asking myself, "Where in the world did the Internet give people the right to be so vile?"
And then I saw the names of the people commenting.
None of them were actual names.
None of them had any responsibility to reveal themselves.
They were comments hidden behind the mask of a computer screen with no way to be known.
It's almost like they had a mask on, stealing the joy away from people who were hurting, only to share their own "free" advice on how to handle mental illness in your own family.
What have we become?
When it's more important to stand on your opinion of someone else's life work in the face of tremendous tragedy, is that human?
Could we, for a moment, understand the loss of a child in our own family deserves at best, a time of grief, sympathy, and condolence?
I'm fairly certain the founding fathers who afforded us the freedom of speech outlined in the constitution had no intent for the freedom of speech to be taken to the point of hurtful hate toward one another. Free speech was specified as a method whereby people didn't have to fear the government oppression they lived under an oppressive King, NOT to claim free speech as they proverbially kick a family in their most painful time of need.
This isn't the Wild Wild West, is it? According to social evolutionists, we live in a world with morals and evolved to a place where we know right from wrong. Or do we?
The latest vileness I witnessed on Monday and Tuesday leave me to wonder if our evolution as humanity hasn't come nearly as far as some might have us believe. We still live in a world where humanity chooses to serve it's own interest, rather than the interest of others. We're just downright mean.
I have to respect Mr. Warren who tweeted yesterday, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." With the final words of Jesus, Pastor Warren once again evoked the grace and mercy of God he continues to try and embody in his own heart. I can't imagine the pain.
To the Warrens: I'm deeply saddened for your loss. I have no idea what it means to loose a son. I'm so sorry for the pain you are experiencing, and I for one will be praying for you and your family. I'm sorry for the comments you had to endure during this tragedy, and my hope is you will continue to feel the love and support from your fellow humans, even if they disagree with you.
Maybe we should return to the Wild Wild West. At least there, you had to take responsibility for the people you shot.
I've been getting the news back slowly but surely. The University Acceptance letters have gone out, and many of my High School friends are already packing up their rooms. Excitement is in the air, and the promise of a great future s just across the threshold of their fall admissions. There's so much to do.
But as they get excited for their Freshman year, I'm also hearing from my Sophomore friends who were in the same position just a short year ago.
They're wondering if the class schedule is really going to make a difference in what they want to do.
They're looking for internships.
The wide dark clouds of uncertainty are beginning to build in their future plans.
The once wide eyed new Freshman are now facing a bit of reality.
And that's how the cycle goes.
Each spring, I get excited with my friends, only to see them the next year wondering if they made the right choice.
I've got to tell you, for three years now, I've seen a program work that doesn't have the same feeling. The cycle is actually beginning to break, as I've seen three classes of students decide they weren't scared of the world, but rather; excited to engage with the world.
The KIVU Gap Year is creating global leaders with the initiative, internships, and networking ability to do whatever they want to do across the World.
One of our students this year posted an awesome blog this morning. I invite you to read...http://kristenhendrix.tumblr.com/post/47538893646.
Kristen has put in as much as anyone in the program, and she's getting more out of it than she ever thought.
Last week, the Christian Broadcast Network sent a reporter to do a story on The KIVU Gap Year. As soon as it breaks, I can't wait to share it with you, as it will be broadcast to over 130 different countries.
The reporter and the crew were so excited about the project, we think they're going to put it into a 5 minute segment. FIVE MINUTES!!! Never heard of in the Journalism world.
In any event, take a long hard look at your choices coming up this fall. You still have time to come and join The KIVU Gap Year, just check it out at www.kivugapyear.com.
I promise the lure of the Freshman year is nothing compared to spending a year traveling the world, meeting high powered government officials, and interning for some of the most well established relief organizations around the globe.
I've been watching from a distance as the Catholic Church has turned over three leaders in my lifetime. From Pope John Paul, to Pope Benedict, and the newly elected Pope Francis, the Catholics have certainly been moving in the last 10 years.
I didn't grow up Catholic.
I have many Catholic Friends.
I've taught in Catholic Schools and Youth Groups.
And one of my deepest respects for the Catholic Church is the long held liturgy of reverence and respect for the person of God. Every priest I've had the honor of interacting with has a humble heart for the things of God.
I saw this picture of Pope Francis on the web, and did my own reading of the newly elected leader. I don't know about you, but I rarely see leaders of any organization willing to prostrate their 'rightful' leadership and bow to washing the feet of their members.
In fact, today I rarely see the bright ray of humility grace many of our religious leaders, so this picture popped off my computer screen this morning with much interest. What's going on here?
Many of us have read the account of Jesus' washing the feet of His disciples (John 13), and it can often be looked over as a story told in Sunday School, but can you imagine?
Imagine God's Son being sent from heaven to bow before fishermen.
Imagine the Creator of the Universe willing to bow His power at the feet of Tax collectors.
Imagine what it must have been like to know the man who fed 5,000 people, healed the sick, and gave hope to the hopeless; was willing to perform one of the dirtiest deeds of the day.
When I saw Pope Francis' picture washing people's feet, I was inspired to know more. This leaders who now is in charge of nearly 1 Billion people on the planet has taken a humble view of his own paritioners. Interestingly enough, the picture alone tells us a message of "togetherness," a place I think is unique in the Christian faith.
Although we all endure different circumstances and a variety of decisions, we're all on this Journey to Understand who God is, and How we can interact on the planet together.
I don't know about you, but when I see leaders choosing the path of humility, it causes something to rise in my own heart to follow. When leaders choose the path of arrogance or celebrity, it makes me cringe with cynicism.
I am encourage by Pope Francis this morning. I know the church has MAJOR issues to deal with, but this may be the beginning of someone wiling to come to the table of togetherness to find real answers to difficult questions.
Thank you today for this image.
The voice over the loud speaker came on, "Go ahead and order when you're ready..."
Then in a rush of noise, all 7 kids shouted at the same time, "Dad, I want a ..."
I couldn't help but laugh out loud. The guy on the other end of the speaker laughed. "Wow, you got an army in there?" he asked.
"Nope, just the Braner kids." I laughed again.
We ended up getting everybody something to eat, and drove down the road to our destination. But as I was driving, I started thinking about how we learn to choose at such an early age.
Here in America, our lives are full of choices:
Our T.V.'s have thousands of choices for channels, but we can only really watch one.
If a restaurant doesn't have thousands of choices for food, we go to another seeking more variety. But let's be honest, we can only choose one something to eat.
Our schools have choices of classes. When I signed my son up for High School, I was amazed at the different classes he could choose. One class was called 'Outdoor Literature and Fly Fishing.' Can you imagine going to a high school that offered something like that?
Our clothing stores sprawl for hundreds of thousands of square feet to display thousands of choices of items to wear.
Our culture adds choice on top of choice where we are forced to make decisions almost every second of the day.
And then I started thinking...
Not long ago, I was in Saudi Arabia talking with a group of Arabs talking about the necessity of understanding your faith in the face of so many choices. A large Arab man came up to me after my talk and said, "There are only really three religions in the world. Jews, Christians, and Muslims."
I left the meeting thinking, "Are you serious? Only three? My post graduate work is in Philosophy of Religion, and I'm pretty sure I read about more than three."
But after I drove through the fast food joint the other day, it hit me.
The West is different than the Middle East.
The Choices we have at our restaurants metaphorically symbolize how many people see faith.
If you want a little spice, you choose _________.
If you want a little bland, you choose _________.
If you want a little sweet, you go with ________.
And in a plural world, it all makes sense.
But what of what is TRUE?
What of Common Good?
What of a place where we can point to the beginning of the cosmos, the first breath of humanity, and the natural order of things around us? Why so many choices? (of course, I'm leaving my atheist friends on the outside of this conversation. I apologize, but for the sake of the article, bare with me.)
Choices..Choices..Choices...We all have to choose.
The Constitution is a choice. 'I get to say Whatever I want to say, no matter the consequence.'
The Law is a choice. 'I get to obey the laws I want to obey. The one's I don't agree with, well...'
Faith is a choice. ' I get to believe in what I want to believe. As if God is just waiting for us to choose.'
This morning here on the Journey I wish to put this lifestyle to a test. If you you choose to believe God does not exist, and He does; is it really a choice?
If you choose to believe in a religion you made up, what kind of choice is that? Is it real or less-real than the place of beginning?
We all have choices today. Some might call that "Free Will." I think it's the most beautiful part, and the most frustrating part of being human. We all have a choice. Choose this day, who you will serve. (Joshua 24:15)
I must admit, when I heard Mark Burnett was behind the creation of the 5 week mini-series to tell the story of the Bible, I was pretty skeptical. I watched as all the Celebrity Christians started to tweet to watch The Bible when it appeared on the History Channel, and my pessimistic nature came to full froth.
Surely this was some grand marketing scheme to sell T.V. After all, Mr. Burnett is one of the most successful television creators of all time. And now, I thought, "we were going to be subject to another "cheesy" version of the Bible." I knew Christians would rally behind it, just because it was called The Bible. (Let's be honest, we haven't been known as a tribe of creative geniuses in the last decade.) I was afraid Mr. Burnett was giving ammo to my Atheist friends who once again would call into question the viability of a 2000 year old book critical it would in any way relate to our world today.
I even watched the first episode, and on a whim tweeted some snarky comment about how all the people looked like White people speaking perfect Queen's English. (I really am sorry about that Mark.)
And here's where it gets interesting...
Last Sunday night, the Braner Party of 7 was sitting around the living room looking for something to wind down Easter Sunday. I reached for the remote, and The Voice was on. Usually, the family is interested in hearing new music, and voting on who is the best audition, but ALL my kids said, 'Dad isn't the Bible finale on tonight? Turn it to The Bible." I was SHOCKED!
My kids are 14, 11, 9, 8, and 5, and all of them were really excited to watch the last chapter of the mini-series. I sat in amazement as they started asking questions about chronology of the Bible, purpose of the Resurrection, and finally the message Paul was tasked to take to the Gentiles.
Well, I stand corrected. I owe Mr. Burnett, and Ms. Downey a huge apology. The production was incredible. Instead of being someone ashamed to explain the Bible to my Atheist friends, I found myself excited to show certain chapters of the Bible through the eyes of this new way of thinking.
The section where Peter was all alone and called to the Centurion spoke deeply to my soul. He was called to explain the faith to Kings in the face of uncertainty, and I must be honest; I've been in that place more than once in the last year.
In any event, I just wanted to take a little time to say thanks. Thanks to @markburnetttv and all those who were involved in the creation of the Bible Experience. I, @braner, apologize for my pessimistic first outlook. I look forward to exploring the chapters I missed, and am proud of seeing someone willing to push the conversation to the public square. With a world continuing to retreat from spiritual formation, we need creative forces like this to bring the discourse to the water cooler, the public square, and the normal times of conversations among friends. The Bible Experience has afforded that chance to talk about God and not be weird.
Today the Bible comes out on Blue Ray and DVD. If you have a chance, pick it up and see how interesting the producers flew through several thousand years of story line. As usual, the book is better than the movie, but this time; it's awfully close.
Every Good Friday, I go back and listen to excerpts from my favorite pastors. I don't know why I do this, but in an age where the best teachers in the world are right here at my fingertips; I find a unique way of putting together a composite of teachers who speak to the Easter Weekend.
Tony Campolo has an interesting way of engaging with a congregation, and he continues to speak to the heart of the culture where we live today. Some theologians focus so much on the equations of the Passion week, they miss the heart behind what's really going down.
I listened to this monumental 3:00 minute video this morning, and found myself longing to be in prayer. If you've got a second today, check this out... It's is only Friday...But Sunday's coming.
Friday is the day when the world seems to be dark and dismal.
Friday is where hopes and dreams fade into death.
Friday is the time when everything was supposed to go another way, but Friday is the day Jesus was hung on a cross and the disciples were left thinking, "What have I spent my life doing?"
But Sunday's Comin'....
Friday is the day your friend woke up and turned on you.
Friday is the day your boss treated you like a minion.
Friday is the day your spouse was angry with you.
Friday is the day your kids went off the reservation.
Friday is the day when the future looks impossible.
Friday is the day when the dark clouds of doubt and despair hang heavy on the human condition.
But Sunday's Comin'....
Sunday is the day when the world begins again.
Sunday is the hope we have the darkness will be moved back to the place it deserves.
Sunday is when the world spins the right way through the reconciliation of God to His creation.
Sunday is the day when the rey of light breaks through the clouds.
Sunday is the place where we look at the impossible parts of our family, our workplace, or our community and we look to the heart of God.
It's only Friday...but Sunday's Comin'
I would like to thank Dr. Campolo for this hope filled reminder. Some days it seems dark, but with our eyes set on the hope of things to come, our faith will be strengthened and empowered to reach out to our communities.
As you look into whatever darkness plagues you today, let me be the one to remind you
It's only Friday...Sunday's Comin'
On the Eve of the Passion Weekend, I decided to read through the story of Jesus' last days on planet earth.
I've heard the stories since I was a young boy, and even spent quite a bit of time analyzing the events in detail during my post-graduate work. But reading the story of Jesus sacrifice this morning brought the same emotions I've experienced every time.
The Disciples gathered together in the Upper Room, a small rooftop gathering place. The Biblical account tells the discovery of Judas, and Jesus foreshadowing His coming capture, trial, and death. I wonder what they were talking about? Did they just carry on like it was another day? Or was there an air of common uneasiness?
After Judas is revealed and the meal finished, they traveled to the Garden of Gethsemane. I was in the garden where scholars think Jesus and the disciples prayed the night of his capture. When I walked through the gates, I felt something strange. It was as if I was whisked away to the time when a spirit of suffering blanketed the olive grove where Jesus cried out, "If it possible, let this cup pass from me."
I wonder if the disciples understood the pain and agony pulsing through the spirit of their teacher, leader, and friend? I wonder what Jesus would say about his time in the garden praying to a God who seemed to leave Him in the greatest hour of His need?
I'm envious of the faith of a God/Man who could live in the moment, yet have faith in the hope of things to come.
On the Journey, I think this weekend is a wonderful time for reflection on the Passion Week. Take some time to sit in a quiet place of solitude, and ponder the weightiness of what is about to happen over the course of these next few days in history.
This is the time the world changed...FOREVER!!
I've been in Florida this week working with Southwest Florida Christian Academy. Each year they take a retreat to a resort in order to focus the Junior class on their upcoming Senior Year. The Seniors go somewhere entirley different each year, but they bring the 8th-11th grades to have a memory to begin the next year. It's a brilliant idea.
This year the title of the retreat is called Unplugged, and it's been enlightening. Try to take 150 students to a place and ask them to turn off their phones, computers, iPods, and video cameras. In other words, No Facebook, No Twitter, No Facetime, and actually there are REAL RELATIONSHIPS being built for the next year. I don't know many places on the planet where this kind of retreat is happening. As a culture, we are ADDICTED to technology, but its interesting to bring them to a place where real relationships can be formed.
It's amazing to watch teens learn how to look each other in the eyes and TALK!
Yesterday I had a time to sit around with about 15 students in a Q&A session, and I just wanted to let you know, the topic of the day is Homosexuality. They weren't asking about their own sex identity, but as people who belong to a Christian Community, they are asking how they can learn to care for and pay attention to their homosexual friends back in their community.
I think for youth directors and pastors around the country, if you haven't already begun to focus your attention on how the church responds to the gay community, it's time to begin. I realize there are many who read this blog from different parts of the country, so I understand how many of you already have engaged. But for those who haven't, the next generation is asking....HEADS UP!! Get ready. It's time to form a position, and help our students understand what their role is in a culture that is shifting.
I can't shake it!
Remember the last movie you saw, and there was just something lingering around you like a cloud you just couldn't shake? Or maybe it was the sense that something was still to be discovered, but you just didn't know what?
Well, The Life of PI is sticking around with me.
As I was thinking about the film yesterday, I was trying to describe it to my friends Luke and Bob. Bob hasn't seen the movie. Luke saw it a few months ago. We were talking about how interesting it was that PI was involved in all these different ways to worship God when Luke said, "Well, isn't that what the world needs? Not that we worship the same God, but we have to communicate, right?"
And then it hit me.
There is a scene in the movie where PI was in the life raft with the Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker. PI was tired of always being on guard, and Richard Parker was just getting hungrier.
Out of no where PI says, "If we are going live together, we are going to have to learn how to communicate." And he goes on to try and develop methods the tiger can understand.
It was AMAZING!!
Almost like the time the light bulb goes off when you discover something you've never seen before.
PI went from living in a Big Community in India to a small cargo ship traveling across the Pacific to a small life raft hoping to survive.
We went from a world without instant communication, to a world of the telephone and television, to a world of the internet. We started living in our own broad world where space wasn't an issue, to now everyone is in everyone else's space.
If PI wanted to get away from the Tiger at the beginning of the movie, he could erect walls, cages, or even just walk away and observe the Tiger from afar. But when they were stuck on the life raft, they had to learn how to talk to one another.
Today, we don't have the luxury of just walking by one another without living in a close space. Thomas Friedman was right, "The World is FLAT!" And if we are going to survive with one another, we're going to have to learn how to communicate.
Just like PI and Richard Parker, we don't have to become the same. PI never transformed into a Bengal Tiger, and Richard Parker was far from human. But in the end, they developed a method of talking which kept the other from violence.
I believe we're attempting this idea at KIVU. We started learning how to talk ecumenically, certain church traditions beginning to talk to other church traditions around the fundamental core principal that we all wanted to live more like Jesus.
And now we've had Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, and Muslims all come to the camp with an understanding we'll be talking about Jesus. Some come to learn. Others come to Understand. But one thing is certain, all of them get a chance to discover Jesus in their own time, on their own terms, and in the space we've provided in the mountains of Colorado.
The beauty of what we're doing is exactly what PI and Richard Parker had to do. We have to create a space where we can communicate. It doesn't mean we all have to think the same way, but it does mean we can learn how to respect each other, and develop a deeper understanding of our faith along the way.
I'm telling you, Life of PI is like a cloud in my space this week. I can't stop thinking about it.
I don't know if you had a chance to see the movie Life of Pi, but I would HIGHLY recommend seeing it. The DVD is on sale today, and I took my daughter and a friend last night to one of the final showings in our small Gaslight Theater here in Durango.
I saw Pi a couple of months ago, and I forgot what an incredible story it is. A Young Indian boy stranded on a life boat with nothing but a few cans of water, a few packages of biscuits, and an adult Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.
The castaway story is nothing new. We've seen these stories told via Giligan's Island and the Tom Hanks movie Castaway, but something is different about Pi.
In the beginning, the adult Pi tries to tell the story to a would-be novelist, and one of the questions the story writer poses, "Mama G told me you had a story that would make me believe in God."
Of course with my work in the Faith and the always tornadic world of teenagers, this question comes up on a regular basis. Is there a God, or not?
A new study shows nearly 20% of 30 and unders in America are now classified as "Nones." These are people who have crossed the barrier of faith to a place where "None" is more appealing than traveling through the long journey of discovering God. The Washington Post also reviews this new category of young adults.
I've put my life's work into figuring out why someone would dismiss faith in God. After all, if the creator of the Universe wants to have a deep meaningful relationship with me, Why would I reject that concept? I've come to a pondering. In the realm of possibility, could it be most of us have willingly limited the view of God to be wrapped up in a Sunday morning worship service or a prayer over a meal? Have we categorized God so much that we don't allow Him to...well, be God anymore?
I wonder if we don't really get the bigness of God, because we need to classify Him in a logical linear way to make sense of Him, when He's bigger than our logical constraints.
I laughed at the beginning of Pi when the young Indian boy said he met God first as a Hindu, then he met Jesus through a Priest, and devotion through a Muslim. There's a scene where Pi is literally praying to Vishnu, "Thank you Vishnu for introducing me to Jesus the Son of God."
And that's where it gets real interesting.
In a follow up scene, The father warns Pi, "I would rather you believe in something rather than everything, and begin with Reason." he declares at a night time dinner. "You can't believe in all religions because that's equal to believing in none."
I may agree with the father on account that religion sets up lines for us to protect; but can a Hindu be introduced to Jesus? Or can a Muslim be introduced to Jesus? Or what about an Atheist? Can an Atheist Find Jesus through asking some of life's hardest questions?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
Why would a perfect God sacrifice for an ordinary man?
Where can I find truth?
I suppose my presupposition in the argument tends to lean toward the fact that I believe Jesus is bigger than all those things. The life and teachings of Jesus have been the most dramatic shift in the way the world spins. No other man who has ever lived has had the kind of impact as Jesus has on our planet. There's something special about the man Jesus. I for one believe Jesus is Divine, the Son of God, Come here to take away the sins of the world. But can someone who doesn't look like me, talk like me, act like me, or worship like me find Jesus?
I laughed in the scene where father is trying to help Pi understand the importance of choosing one faith over the other when Pi interrupts and says, 'Father, I want to be baptized." HA!!
A Hindu, Christian, Muslim, person of Reason, saying I want to be Baptized, What a comedy of Faith! Battles have been forged, Wars have been bloody, and people have been literally burned at the stake for asking such questions. But is it a question worth looking deeper...
I guess my question this morning is this...
In the realm of possibility, are we missing the shift of faith to a new generation because of the lines we've erected? OR...Is culture evolving to a place where God isn't welcome in the public space anymore? (at least here in America)
If that be the case, then Why?
Have WE created a place where God can't be God anymore without our tradition?
OR...Are people resistant to 'old time religion' today?
Surely you can read my indication there, maybe its our problem, not culture's problem.
I'm just thinking about how to help people understand the man and message of Jesus. Surely we could say "The world hated Him first." (John 15), but is that the argument we need to keep as foundational to our approach to others?
Are we willing to allow the cloud of hate and separation sweep away the command to love others no matter what? (Matthew 22:37-40)
Even though it was only the first part of the film, I thought one of the best scenes in the movie happened when a priest from the church came to bring Pi a glass of water. He didn't try and talk theology with Pi. He just offered him something he knew the boy needed...a drink. I wonder if that's the biggest plank in our eye. We think people need a healthy dose of eschatology, when all they need is a glass of water to drink.
Maybe the Nones are just fed up with all the fighting over things that seemingly don't matter. (at least in this life.)
Maybe they are longing for a faith that seems real, in real time, with real people, who believe and adhere to their convictions in real time.
If you think Pi is just a movie where culture is trying to move faith to a pluralistic way of thinking, you've missed the life raft. That movement has already sailed. We are living in a world looking for honest/authentic/belief. Are you showing them today? Are you giving them the glass of water? Or do you, like me, enjoy sitting on the throne of wisdom to try and outhink the bigness of God?
Just thoughts for the day...
This isn't meant to be a post on any definitive link toward any other faith having absolute truth...
I'm just wondering why nones? Why Pi? What does it take for people to see how Rich a life centered around Jesus can be?
Please join the conversation if you think it worth your time. (and please make it civil. no one is trying to hate here)
In response to yesterday's Speaking of Jesus Blog, I figured it was probably a good idea to follow up with an explanation. You see, when something controversial goes out on the web, I'm literally amazed at how many people sit behind their computers and think they can just post a comment no matter how un-educated, how ill informed, or how mean.
Yesterday, when I posted the message about my friend Carl, I started getting people telling me how they couldn't agree with the way Carl Loves Jesus because he loves Muslims. REALLY?
Another e-mail I got criticized the methods they've seen people employ when Simply Jesus becomes the mantra. They just can't imagine being in the court of people who might compromise the idea that God is on the throne of heaven and earth. No matter what the person who does recognize God thinks, we should all just build a mountain where God exists, and leave the rest of the world to their own vile. REALLY?
And a Twitter handle of someone I've never met started to claim the "Allegiance" we have toward God supersedes our ability to love people that think differently than we do? Allegiance? Now that's where this thing God weird. My Allegiance to Jesus has nothing to do with where I go, who I hang out with, or how I decide to share my faith. I can defend that socially, psychologically, academically, AND theologically.
So it made me feel kind of sick yesterday, when I was thinking about the state of affairs concerning the Faith Population.
Not long ago, my friend Andrew asked me a question when we were sitting in Iraq talking to a prominent European Ambassador, who has become a friend.
"Do you ever let Jesus get in the way of Jesus?" -Andrew Schill-
When he said it, I thought, "Well, that's a silly statement." But the more I thought about it, I REALLY LIKE IT!!
Last night I went to bed thinking, "Am I living in an alternate Universe?" or "Have we let our own idea of JESUS invade our methodology of sharing Jesus' love with others?"
I got SUPER sarcastic and starting thinking, "There must be so many people following Jesus' teachings that the best use of our time is to criticize fellow believers about how they go about loving?" I apologize for my lack of cooth right here up front.
Those of you who think this way...
You're loosing whatever battle you're fighting.
Nobody wants to hang out with Christians because everywhere they see a wave of judgement, hatred, and bigotry.
I can see if we're sitting in some theological discussion deciding every jot and tittle of God's word being included in the scripture, but REALLY? Are we going to waste one minute of breath giving credence to argue about how people love other people?
I thought about my friend Andrew who asked me about letting Jesus get in the way of Jesus, and I wondered...Could it be true?
Do we live in a world where it's more important for me to be right about theology than it is to care about the person who lives next door?
Do we seriously care more about putting the right answer on the test, than sharing our lives with people where it might get messy?
Have we created a theological bubble only allowing those who agree with our positions to enter in?
COME ON!! You gotta be kidding me.
Some of us have certainly maintained this hard core lust to be right, and we have allowed the US to get in the way of seeing God work in the THEM. I'm sorry for the rant, but I'm just tired of trying to defend people who claim to love Jesus, and then in the same breath veer far from where He is.
I couldn't hardly sleep, because I thought, "This is it!!" This is the biggest problem facing those of us who believe today. We don't have a view of God that is Bigger than our own small kingdoms we've created.
Well, I for one will not fall into that pool.
I'm not ashamed of the gospel, and I can sit with Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, or any other religion without compromising my faith or "allegiance" to Jesus. Can you? Are you threatened by someone else's belief system so much, that you're willing to compromise your love and compassion toward them for your own security of knowing what you think is right?
Last night I just wanted to fill out prescriptions for the people who commented on my blog, and just mail the valium and say, It's gonna be ok folks. Even Jesus said, "Love The Lord your God with all your heart, with your soul, and with your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it...Love your neighbor as yourself. ALL the law and the prophets hang on those two commandments." It's pretty hard to argue when the Son of God says, (paraphrase) "Have fun studying as much Biblical truth as you want, but if you want it all to fall into place, Love God, and Love Others."
You can't go wrong if you love.
If you decide to become God's judge here on earth, you better be darn sure you're on the right side of history. "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness." (James 3:1)
We need not fear.
We need not walk in a world trembling from everyone else.
We have the answer.
We just need to DO IT!
We need to live IN the world and Love ALL people.
And unless God has called you to be the prophet and judge of this generation, maybe it's time to take a long hard look into how you care about the people to your left or to your right.
I for one am tired of telling the world, "No, that's not who we really are. Those people are NUTS!"
Let's be known for what we ARE, rather than for what we're NOT!
Let's not let OUR idea of Jesus get in the way of JESUS message to the world.
Love God Love Others
It's really not that hard.
Remember the story in John 2 about Jesus turning Water into Wine? He was at a wedding ceremony, and the wine ran out. It was probably an intense time since the host was supposed to provide the necessary elements for the grand feast, and I can only imagine the scene.
The family starts to freak out.
The groom probably feels the pressure to provide for the community.
The bride gets that "bride" look in her eyes that something isn't going to end well.
The community starts rumbling.
You know the scene?
I've been to several weddings, and when this kind of stuff starts happening, nobody ends up in a good mood.
So Mary looks to Jesus for help.
We all know the end of the story, Jesus turns the ceremonial water into the BEST wine for the guests, and everyone goes back to having a good time. He takes care of the situation with a simple spoken word.
But the part of the story I was thinking about today was the moment stress enters in the scene, and everyone starts wondering how it's all going to play out.
Ever been there?
Have you ever wondered what's going to happen when life turns into potential tragedy?
Have you ever had a business deal that looks like it's going well, and then in an instant it turns to potential disaster?
Or what about the time when you feel like you've got the world by the tail, and everything around you points to success, and then something enters into your world and threatens the feeling of security?
I don't know about you, but I've been there.
I've felt the mounting pressure of all those things. Family, Faith, Ministry, Business, Health, and other Relationships all seem like they're going well, and then in one fell swoop, BOOM; the outlook is unpredictable.
As I was meditating on this section of scripture this morning, I kept feeling a sense of "Just Trust Me" whisper over my spirit.
Now, I have to be clear, I don't hear God audibly.
I have friends who claim to hear God, and I've always asked for assistance in that matter.
Wouldn't that just solve all our problems if we could hear God's voice? I for one would absolutely LOVE for the clouds to separate, and a booming voice from heaven instruct me to do whatever he wants.
But to date: Not happening.
So when I feel this whisper in my spirit this morning, I wonder...is this from God?
Coupled with the message I was reading, I just couldn't help but grab onto one of God's Ultimate truths. Trust Me!
In whatever event seems to be looming...Trust Me.
In the Good Times of Success...Trust Me.
In the Valleys, Dark with Uncertainty,...Trust Me.
If God is who we say He is, the creator of all things who cares for every moment of our lives, Who Better to Put our trust in?
We may not know our financial outlook.
We may not understand why things are happening around us.
We may feel like we should be in a different place in our work, in our school, or in our homes.
But God reaches out to say...Trust Me.
Today, I'm really working on the concept that IN ALL THINGS, I can trust He will make the way right.
The idea of physical purity, and understanding sexuality is important with today's teenage and college students. We're seeing an incredible shift in the thought process of teens who are dating, college students looking for a good time, and marriages that have to endure a long process of recovery from our youthful habits.
Since this interview, I wrote a book called, And Expose on Teen Sex and Dating. If you're interested in knowing what's going on in the High School world and the University Dorms, CLICK HERE, and you can download it today. If you'd like to hear the interview, click the image at the top, and you'll be taken to the Family Talk website.
I got an email today from a past KIVU camper who's last year was 2007. His family was heavily involved in all of our programs and continues to be a bright spot in the past. I must admit, sometimes, you never know how kids are going to turn out or what they're going to do in their lives. But the way I see it, we take a 10-20 year investment strategy in the heart of a teenager to watch God move in their hearts and grow them into the people He wants them to be.
I thought it would be interesting to share just a simple testimony of what my friend shared yesterday.
Remember that story in Luke 10 about the Good Samaritan? Jesus was approached by a teacher of the Law who asked Him, "Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?" They shared a few barbs back and forth and Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And, love your neighbor as yourself."
The Lawyer turned back to him and asked, "And who is my neighbor?"
The crowd, expecting to get an answer, were then subjected to another one of Jesus' long story parables. This was the story when a man was beat up on the side of the road, and then a Rabbi walked near, a Levite walked near, but it was the Samaritan who came and had mercy on the man. He took him to the Inn for medical attention and paid the entire bill.
At the end of the story Jesus turned and asked the Lawyer, "And which of the three men proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers." And the lawyer answered, "The one who showed him mercy."
He didn't even have the courtesy to say the word Samaritan because of the long felt hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. After all, nothing good came from Samaria, right? The Story isn't really about helping people on the side of the road, as much as it is a question of "Who is my Neighbor?"
Who am I actually supposed to love in this world?
Are they merely people who think like me? Talk like me? Act like me? Worship like me?
Am I supposed to see the good in all people, even if we don't see eye to eye on social, religious, philosophical, or economic policies?
I just read a story in the Arab News about King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Saudi Arabia. Evidently there was a tragic automobile accident in 2006 where one of the drivers, Saleem Basha 45 of India, was responsible for the death of 9 Saudis.
According to Saudi law, Saleem had to pay SR 653,000 or $174,000 to the families to serve as a payment for his recklessness. With a Salary of only SR1200 or $320.00 a month, Saleem was destined to live the rest of his life in jail for failing to pay, or worse, face the death penalty.
The Arab News Article reports that The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, heard of Saleem's plight, and actually paid the money for his ransom. The Arab News headline is King Abdullah pays blood money for Indian Convict.
When I read this story I was deeply moved.
Certainly there are criticisms that could be made of any government official around the world, but I wonder how many of those leaders would actually take the time to help this poor ex-patriot who meant little to national security? It would have been easier for the Royal Family to just lock him in prison and never think about it again.
The King showed great compassion on this man, otherwise he would have never been released.
It made me think of how God's spirit dwells here on the planet. Some will look at this story and line up pages of offenses they feel justified to bring down on the Kingdom. We are good at pointing out the bad, but what about bringing up things that are good? Issues and ways of life we often take for granted in America sometimes become the fodder for many to criticize, but when was the last time you heard American Media report something thiat might be good?
If we take a step back, and look at this one isolated incident, at least for me; I can see this as the modern day Samaritan story. The King stood in the way of judgement for a man who was guilty, so he could go free. WOW! What if the rest of the world could adopt a similar understanding of forgiveness, compassion, and well...LOVE?
This isn't a post about justice.
This isn't a place to voice complaints about how you think the Muslim world differs from your own.
I'm in no way positing a defense of any other issues around the world, except this one place. (so hold your hate emails)
In this particular story, I'm seeing a parallel of how God gives us pictures of grace in the most unlikely places.
For if God, the King of the Universe, looked at humanity and saw it fit for Him to pardon those who commit vile offense to His law through forgiveness and repentance; that's the hope we have to one day be reconciled to a perfect creation. He is WITH US!! He FORGIVES US!! His LOVE is for US!!
Thank you King Abdullah for giving the world a picture of grace. You didn't have to pardon this man who was visiting your country, but you acted in a way that gives us a clear picture of how we can treat our fellow man everyday.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:7-11
Love is an interesting concept. Most languages have different words for the different kinds of love. I spent some time in Mexico during my University days in an effort to immerse myself in a Spanish speaking culture. It was interesting how latin people express love to one another. A friendship love is different than a romantic love which is different from an erotic love. All the phrases are distinct in their sounds expressing a deeper level of commitment.
I can't help but notice how we confuse so many different types of love. Loving food, loving hobbies, and loving pets; we all use the same word...LOVE.
But when we look at the way God loves us and commands us to love one another, it seems like there should be a different word.
The Love God shows the world is summed up in the story of the gospel. The idea the creator of the Universe continues to dwell WITH His creation is a Valentine's day gift surpassing any cards or roses that might be exchanged today.
My hope is, when we see the nature of God's love for each other, we can mirror that love to all we come into contact with. I pray I can hide behind my own pride and arrogance to love people where they are for no other reason than God loved me.
Happy Valentine's Day today...
Don't forget how much God loves you!
I've been thinking recently about the peddling of fear, and the consequences of submitting to fear in our daily lives.
I've watched countless hours of Cable News Shows, and I've come to the conclusion: Today's News is Just a Fear Masquerade. Like a Cesspool of fear conjuring up the most illogical reactions.
It doesn't matter what Channel you watch, whether it's CNN bringing you the world's news without opinion (yea right), or FOX bringing the news so you can decide (whatever); it seems the circus of selling fear is shaping our debates across the land.
Think of the Gun Debate going on today. Before Sandy Hook, I can't recall any massacre that comes close. How in the world can anyone see fit to walk into a kindergarten classroom and shoot kids multiple times? I just can't even fathom the evil existing in the heart of that kid.
But the news spins the "safety" card, and now gun sales are through the roof. Everyone is scared and needs to protect?
When was the last shooting in your town?
I don't mean to minimize the right or need for protection, but REALLY? Are you really ready to take your 9mm concealed handgun, and shoot someone?
Now, I understand the arguments for the 2nd amendment, another conversation blown out of proportion, but what I'm more interested in is the effect of FEAR!!
We're afraid someone is coming to get us.
We're scared our kids are next.
One shooting, and it was tragic, has crippled the logical conversations we should be having, and paralyzed any ability for us to do serious human thinking about the nature of mankind.
Where is the conversation about who those kids are doing the killing?
c. A History of isolation
d. On high medication
e. All seem angry about something
Whey aren't we talking about helping these issues?
We've just accepted evil is coming, and we're running in the shadows. WHY? Maybe it's because there is a 24 hour need to fill the time slots at the news stations so they can sell ad times and make HUGE profit. And we're ADDICTED!
(I can hear it right now, thousands of people are saying 'not me. that's the lady down the street. she watches that stuff all the time.)
NO, it's all of us.
Maybe it's not the Cable News Channel, maybe it's the addiction to fear in T.V. shows. Maybe it's an addiction to fear in the movies we watch. Maybe it's the adrenaline we need to function through life, as we watch sporting events get scarier and scarier, and more risky for the athletes. (See X-Games SnowMobiles)
Why are we like this?
Why do we buy into the need to be scared?
What ever happened to living in a community where your kids could ride their bikes down the road, and your neighbor wasn't some lunatic?
I was reading in 2 Timothy the other day, and found "God did not give us a spirit of fear..." And it resonated with me.
God didn't give me a spirit of fear for my family.
God didn't give me a spirit of fear for my kids growing up.
God didn't give me a spirit of fear for my business.
God didn't give me a spirit of fear in my faith walk.
My life shouldn't be shackled by the fear propaganda I'm so used to consuming in my media life.
IT's NOT GOD's GIFT.
I should be able to stand firm in the foundations God established before the beginning of time. Mainly God loves me, and my life should be a crucible to show His love for me to those around me.
The news stories, the cultural Frey, or even the norm is something I can't run and hide from. I live in this world. And until I take my last breathe, I have a duty, and obligation, a mission to show all mankind how much we can trust and live in God's creation.
When your heartbeat starts rising....
When your blood pressure feels high...
When you hear phrases like, "Our country is going to hell in a hand basket..."
Or you begin the centrifuge of fear...
Shut the T.V. off.
Take a fast from the people in your life who are causing the emotion of fear to rise up and control you.
Spend time meditating on the Words of God that give us foundation in times of trouble.
As for me and my house...We will serve The Lord. And to do that...we've got to live life with the confidence that He is still sitting on the throne of heaven and earth. He still has the 'whole world...in His hands.' He hasn't left us or forsaken us. He's given us the power to be effective agents of change in the sphere of influence He's provided.
So today...Don't fear.
Can you look in the mirror and know with confidence that you love God, and more importantly, He loves you...and He has it all under control.
Yesterday morning, I was invited to speak to the Youth Group at the Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa. Scott French and the staff at the Kirk were incredibly welcoming, and I was honored to see about 100 students, and maybe half that many parents wanting to know what the central issue is in the Teen World we need to be addressing.
I'm so thankful for the people who set all the events up,when I go to places like the Kirk. The sound, the computer stuff, the books, and just the general invite to the community is overwhelming sometimes.
Yesterday, they invited all the Adult Sunday School classes to come and join us, and it was awesome to see so many people interested in the heartbeat of our youth culture.
This morning, I just want to say thanks to the Kirk, to Scott, to everyone that helped pull the morning off. It was a total success.
This week I'm heading to Washington D.C. for the National Prayer Breakfast. I'm expecting there to be many stories coming out of the week, so stay tuned....
Next weekend, I'll be speaking to a few churches in the D.C. area. I'll get those up on the blog too.
Thanks again for hanging with me here at The Journey. As we continue to re-assess the way we do faith; I'm thankful for you your support.
Yesterday I had a chance to talk with some people in the heart of Broken Arrow at Forrest Ridge Country Club. We got together to talk about teenagers and the state of the union of young people in our culture. I was excited to see the hunger for knowing what's going on in the teenage world.
I talked about the #1 issues facing our youth today, and surprisingly, there was quite a bit of interest in how students can begin their own spiritual journey. I'm convinced our schools have taken away a whole part of education by bowing to the lowest common denominator of "No faith." We don't have opportunities in the education system to allow for spiritual development, even though most of the world finds faith as a monumental part of their lives. I find it fascinating there are fewer and fewer public places helping to allow for spiritual training, but I understand the reason for making sure equal faith opportunity is provided for our kids. I don't advocate that we promote a certain brand of faith, even though I come from a Jesus tradition. But I do think we need places where kids can explore the spiritual side of living.
In any event, I was talking to a group of Mid-Western, Highly Educated, Highly Professional People, and I found it interested they wanted to talk about Multi Faith Conversations. The level of intrigue took me off guard, as you know; I've been working in the Middle East for the last few years developing this conversation among teenagers. The Parents, Grand Parents, Pastors, and Teachers asked questions about how to talk to people of different faiths for about 35 minutes.
I greatly underestimated the need for people here to want to talk through how to talk to someone who thinks differently. I was under the impression it would be severely homogeneous, but was incredibly surprised at the level of understanding and the willingness to push a boundary of conversation not usually associated with such a crowd of professional Christians.
Overall, I was encouraged to see the need growing. We need to have conversations about the things most important to people. Religion and Politics are the two most talked about subjects of most friendships achieving more than, "How you doing" type of relationship. We have tons of spaces to talk politics, and I think we need more spaces to talk faith in rational ways.
I'm off to Bartlesville Oklahoma tomorrow Morning to speak to Men at Liberty Baptist Church. I'll be there at 8:30 if you're in the area. And then on Sunday Morning, I'll be at Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian. Come on over at 9:30, and I'd love to share what's going on in the world of Teenagers, and faith.
Thanks for your support, and thanks for continuing to think about the work I'm involved in, and thank you for praying. There are hundreds of kids who are learning a fresh new way to think.
If you are in Ministry, have dreams of entering ministry, or think you have your finger on the pulse of ministry; a new buzz is catching waves on the internet describing a new group of people you need to know about. THE DAILY
Commonly called "The Nones," this growing segment of the population is bursting at the seams. With only 6 percent of the population in 1990 claiming to dis-avow any affiliation with religious organizations, it's been reported this week there are over 36 MIllion today. Among 30 and unders, "The Nones" represent 1/3 of the total population. So what are they? WASHINGTON POST
The Nones are a group in our culture who are running away from organized religion, denominational branding, and looking for a more 'spiritual approach' to their faith. Some are agnostic, atheist, but most call themselves "spiritual" without being "religious." So what does it matter? Why would I take time to highlight this new group?
I think so many times in our ministry circles we listen to our own press. We talk with people who agree with us, and fill our day with meetings of people who think we're right. A common misleading feeling among youth pastors is to see a certain % of growth in their youth group and somehow corelate those numbers to a "thriving" program. But obviously we're missing it here.
If 30% of 30 and unders don't have anything to do with faith, it seems like a necessary time to ask, Why? What's going on? If we have the 'BEST MESSAGE' of forgiveness and reconciliation in the world, why would anyone want to walk away from it?
Is it because many of us have created a sub-culture not reaching into the heart of today's issues?
Is it because we've misrepresented faith to be a list of do's and dont's?
OR...Could it be a generation finally realizing the church exists outside the four walls we go to on Sunday mornings?
I believe there are powerful things that happen in church as a formal meeting time, but is this generation beginning to identify a new way of learning aobut God? Or...are they just mirroring the "Me First" type of need which can be seen as the app store provides self service at all cost?
Do students just want a God they can call their own, in their time, on their terms?
Or have we finally realized the necessity of belonging together is something greater than a certain brand can provide? Are we longing to experience life together away from four walls?
I'm baffled as to these numbers. Especially when I read my favorite pastor blogs who tell us things are getting better.
And if we're going to be a part of a solution of helping people find forgiveness and reconciliation with God, we've got a whole lot of work to do. And it's going to cost us the pride of thinking we know the pulse, to achieve genuine honest understanding.
This week, ALONE officially hits the bookstore shelves, online downloading applications, and I'll be traveling the country telling people of this incredibly insightful message. The thesis of the book is simple, Even though we're more connected than any generation ever in existence, we find ourselves all alone.
It's been a 5 year project, and most publishers were wary of risking a book on a title called ALONE, but the folks over at NavPress took a chance and I'm grateful. I'm grateful, not because they took a chance on me, necessarily, but because this is THE issue of this generation. Just think about it...
We are watching the first generation grow up inside a Facebook World. Before 2004, there was no such thing as Facebook.
YouTube wasn't even an idea previous to 2000, and Google was simply a Big Number before 2000.
So what are the implications?
We are watching students who've replaced the valuable lessons of learning how to interact as humans regulated to a self-preservation lifestyle. There's no risk of rejection. Even though we call it "Social Networking" the platforms are anything but social. You can be whoever you want to be behind the walls of a Facebook platform. On Twitter, you've been given 140 characters to get your ideas out to the world.
I'm not at all trying to demonize these tools, they've made gathering together much easier. With groups, followers, ability to post messages, and communication; we ARE more connected. So why is it when I talk to teens around the world they say THE #1 problem in life is they don't feel like anyone knows them?
Please know, I'm not trying to take down Facebook.
I'm not trying to be a trendy pastor attacking a popular media outlet.
I'm genuinely worried about the ability students have to "Rejoice with those who Rejoice. And Mourn with those who Mourn."
We don't know how to do that anymore.
ALONE highlights real time stories of students who are finally able to talk with freedom about their addiction to the internet. They explain how texting someone and not hearing back within the first minute skews their perception of acceptance. They give real insight to why Teen Suicide rates continue to climb in pockets around the country. And ultimately ALONE gives a few helpful tips about how to develop friendships that will run deep.
The book launch is officially October 15, and I'll be running articles all week about how this book could help Students, Youth Leaders, Parents, Coaches, Mentors, and lets be honest; US, be able to identify why we feel so empty inside without the proper level of friendships in our own world.
Here's a video we made to help convey the message of the book. I hope you like it...It's only 1:58. So take some time, watch the video and let me know what you think. Tomorrow...The first Chapter, right here, online at andybraner.com
I think we can all agree, the world spells out faith in very different ways. I mean, even in the Christian faith, there are over 3500 different ways people express their faith around the world. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet, I think we can rest assured there are lots of different ways people express their faith to the community around them.
Recently I had a GREAT conversation with a friend who was absolutely defensive when the topic of faith was brought up. Claims the church was evil, the Bible is ridiculous, and the necessary need to believe in a God was offensive to them.
I was so excited. I love these conversations. I love talking about why I follow Jesus. I love helping people get over the hurdles of their own past and baggage to see the hope God has for people on earth today. I think so many of us are either 1. Programmed to talk about talking points taught by someone else, and we're intimidated to reveal our own story; or 2. We just fill our circles of acquaintances with people who think like we do.
We have a lot to learn about how the world looks at the faith, and I believe we do an injustice to the hope God entrusted us when we create "Christian Environments" void of anyone who thinks different. At the same time, we can't negotiate the core of who we are just to win friends. As we walk through life with others who express themselves different, we can hold to the truth of the gospel and listen to others without getting offended.
I find more and more people on the outside of faith often have tragic stories where someone failed them. The expectation that all people of faith are perfect met with the reality that we're not, causes confusion to people who are looking for hope. I love listening to the issues people have with faith. I listen intently with an empathy of heart for the destruction certain organizations have caused in the psyche of people. But in the end, as 1 Peter says, " but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect," (3:15).
I'm always ready to talk about faith, but I'm always ready to be gentle, respectful, and honoring in my speech. I don't try to judge someone for where they are in their own spiritual journey, but rather; I'm willing to concede that some people have a long way to go in understanding the heart of Jesus.
After all, I have a long way to go to understand Jesus.
I have to continue working on my own walk with God.
And I've been a follower of Jesus most of my life.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, let your heart be gentle. Don't expect someone to be where you are. There's a lot of space between the awful history some people have to reconcile, and understanding the truth behind Jesus message.
I love these conversations, and I'm looking forward to many more in the coming weeks.
Saturday afternoon we attended the viewing ceremony together, and Sunday we witnessed a family in great grief try and muster words to help us understand the meaning of Chase's life. We watched as they layed him in the ground, and we left empty.
I can't say it was "fun" AT ALL, but we had a great time laughing together, crying together, and leaning on each other as I tried to help Hays realize the fact of life, "We're all heading this direction," I said, "but Chase just beat us to the finish line."
As I sat and watched a community come together, I was moved. Moved, not because Chase was gone, after all he got the best end of this deal, he's with Jesus; but I was moved at the emotion when a kid moves on faster than his parents and grandparents.
Of course it's one of the saddest moments of my year, but the saddness wasn't about Chase. The saddness came because of the break in community. It was the thought we won't be able to love on this little guy that caused emotion to swell in my throat. Chase won. We lost.
Hays was great!! We cried a lot together, but overall he was really concerned with Chase's mom and dad more than anything else. "It stinks we won't get to talk till heaven, but I wish I could help his Mom right now."
What a KID!!
I'm proud of my son.
I'm proud of the way he walked through a tragic circumstance with courage.
It didn't mean he lacked emotion, but he handled himself with grace, honor, and a caring heart.
Again, there's no words to comfort the times when a parent looses a child.
I can't imagine the hole that will be in the hearts of Chase's Mom and Dad...FOREVER!
But one thing I take great comfort in, the hope we all have that one day we'll all be re-united away from this earth.
Being a believer, we can get tangled in theological arguments about who, when, how, and why and forget the reason why we follow a God who defeated death. In the end the hope we have is, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:36-37)
Death, you will not be victorious.
You will not win.
You may have injured for a time, but your reckoning will come, and the celebration when all things are made new will be greater than our sadness in this moment.
This morning we woke up, and numbness continued to be the feeling of the hour, but I think we grew through something really hard. We had a chance to experience "mourning with those who mourn." Even the siblings were rallying around Hays and praying for him this morning.
One of the lessons I tried to emphasize was that grief isn't a one mountain deal. You can't just jump up on top of the mountain and declare your arrival. Grief happens over and over again. Even today, I find myself feeling the waves of sadness in the most unexpected places.
Sometimes I think we feel like people who experience grief have their time, and once it's over...it's over. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has designed our bodies to handle only what we can handle at the time, but it doesn't go away.
Like a wave crashing against the beach, sometimes the feeling is calm, but then the raging white caps start all over again.
Today, I'm just praying for Chase's family. I know they have several friends around them, circling the wagons so to speak, but the dark shadows they are enduring today must be oppressive.
We all know Chase is in a better place, but the broken world we live in has robbed us of loving and being loved by him here. I think that's the hardest part. It's not thinking about the hope we'll see him again, it's the now. The sadness isn't about loosing site of our friend forever, but for all the points where we can share life together.
Maybe you're in a similar place.
Maybe you've lost someone you care about.
It's ok to walk through the grief.
It's ok to be sad.
It's ok to be angry.
It's ok to feel loss.
But it's also ok to laugh.
It's ok to celebrate.
It's ok to wake up in the moring and look to the future of things to come with faith and hope.
Thanks so much for all of you who have prayed so diligently for Chase, my family, and those involved. The outpouring of love has been felt immensely. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
When I talk about the Gap Year, a lot of people ask, "What is that?" Often consumed with the cultural drive to get in the "best" college, or apply for the most "prestigious" scholarship. Many people overlook the reality of what's going on at the University level.
More and more students are finding it difficult to make the transition from parent life to University life. Freedom is a tough concept if you've never been given the ability to make your own choices, and we're seeing students unable to make the grades to stay, more interested in partying than learning, and MANY find themselves in a University Depression because of circumstances out of their control.
I've heard of students who were fed up with College because they didn't make the Fraternity or Sorority they thought they should.
I've talked with students who had no idea the academics were going to be as hard as they are.
I've even coached several University students through a time management regiment. They just don't understand how to make good decisions with their time.
THUS....The KIVU Gap Year was invented.
We wanted to help students find meaning in their lives before they start a life long journey to figure out what they wanted to do. The KIVU Gap Year students have a chance to intern in some of the most professional fields concerning social work, business development, education, medicine, law, and community development. They build a resume before they even enter University Level studies.
The KIVU Gap Year students spend a great deal of time working on personal development. They are working on a Life's Thesis during the program, so at then end of their travels, they present a whole life projection concerning their own interests, desires, and personal make up. They begin the process of knowing who they are and where they fit in the world.
They also have a significant time to connect with God's purpose in their lives. The Spiritual Development training at the University is almost non-existent. Unless of course you decide to join a ministry club on campus. The KIVU Gap Year is an extension of worldview training, IN THE REAL WORLD. They get a chance to explore the real world. They live with real people. They work with real life situations. And they're invited to put together a whole picture of how all of God's creation work together.
The difference in the KIVU Gap Year and most others: We don't just sit in a class to learn, We invite students to live life in the context of the real world.
I'm so excited to report what they'll be learning this year. If you'd like to follow the class, be sure to add www.thekivugapyear to your daily readings. We designed it so you can join them via cyberspace!
History is filled with icons of men who decided to take the status quo and flush it. There are so many of us who are willing to get in a rut/routine every day, and I get it. I understand the need to feel safe, secure, and know what's coming down life's busy highway. But what kind of life is it, that we become satisfied with where we are?
Academics don't stop learning just because they reach a terminal degree.
Athletes don't stop practicing just because they win a championship.
And spiritual journeymen shouldn't be satisfied just because they've found "the answer."
To know God isn't something you can just rest in. We have to be people willing to leave our own baggage of life at the door, and open our hearts and minds to Explore God's love for mankind. We've got to constantly question our Worldview through the lense of God's word.
We need to strive for truth, in all areas of our life.
One of my favorite authors once penned, "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S. Lewis; The Weight of Glory
How true is that? We are so pleased when we think we've found the joy God offers, when all the while he's offering us so much more if we're willing to explore.
My Goal #4 this year is to not settle for what I think I'm doing in the moment. I want to find contentment, like Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:12, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." But being content, and being satisfied with understanding God's work in the world today are two different things.
Don't settle for the status quo. Let's be known as a people who are willing to push ourselves to discover all we can about who God is, what He's up to in the world today, and how we can be a part of it.
When I was growing up in Central Arkansas, Michael Jordan was my idol. Yep, I freely admit, I've had idols in my life. Not the kind you might burn incense to or leave little baskets of fruit at an alter, but certainly a kind of worship akin to making my world revolve around M.J. I watched every game. I bought every piece of Nike Clothing (that was when you could still afford it), and I remember re-enacting M.J. like moves on the playground with my friends. We would pick teams to play a basketball game at recess, "I'm gonna be Jordan," one person would pipe up and declare. "I'm Larry Bird this time," and he would shoot three pointers all morning. "I'm Magic," another friend would shout out until every dream team member was picked.
We acted just like those basketball players on the playground.
Sure, we looked super silly, but there was something intrinsic about modeling after a player. In fact we were good enough to actually imitate as best we knew how, if you squinted your eyes almost close to shut, you might even think you were watching a dream team game. (ok, maybe not)
The point is...
There's something valuable about looking up to mentors and heroes.
And, when we look up to those people we admire, there's something about trying to imitate them and become "like" them, that we're drawn to.
Another one of my goals this season is to tune into the value of spiritual disciplines. Made popular by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster's "Spirit of the Disciplines" these are spiritual activities that garner a more intense involvement in tuning into the spiritual world.
Fasting: Going without food (or something else) for a period of intense prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.
Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others.
Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone.
Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.
Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him.
Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (Can include submitting to a person as unto Christ.)
Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life.
Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self.
Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together.
Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need.
Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices.
Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence.
I'll be writing more about my own spiritual journey through these disciplines. I hope you join me. After all, as we cry out to "Be like" our heroes, why wouldn't we employ the very methodology God gave us to connect to Him?
She's an inspiration to many. Diana Nyad is back in the water today trying to be the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the use of shark cages. FOX NEWS reports on Diana Nyad. She's 34 hours into a 60 hour ordeal, and is said to be looking good at this point in the journey.
Can you imagine?
What in the world possesses someone to even try such a feat?
Why would you want to endure the hardships, the loneliness, and the potential failure?
How can the human body even continue to function at that level of exercise?
When I teach teenagers about the human body, I point out how intricate the body is at efficiency. It's amazing to see this marvel of modern science continue to cause doctors and medical professionals to study, examine, and develop new technologies to treat it. It's nothing short of a miracle.
And I guess that's why it's amazing to see where we came from. The question about creation is simply wrapped up in "Did God Make it, Or Not." Genesis 1 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." and later on in v. 26 it says, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness."
God took special time in creating mankind, and its not surprising He made it work. He created a physical body that will go farther than we can even imagine.
I've decided to dedicate the weekends here at AndyBraner.com to health care. With the health care debate swirling around this political season, I think someone needs to be talking about it in a rational way. The attack ads on both sides seemed to be more and more focused on division instead of facing the giant of unhealthy living head on. I'm not interested in standing up for one health care "plan" or another, but rather; I think it's an important part of our spiritual journey to talk about living healthy.
We spend so much time talking about what is moral and not moral, but I don't hear any faith leaders stepping out to talk about how we can take care of our own bodies.
Proverbs says, " Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags." (23:19-21)
From a Faith point of view, it is a known heresy among believers as the Gnostics of the early church thought the body and the spirit were different. When the Platonic idea of Dualism entered the world, some believed everything that comes from the spirit is good, and everything that comes from the flesh is bad. So I think we need a faith leader to begin the conversation about the beauty of the body. Jesus said, "Love the Lord God with your heart, your soul, and your mind." As I read it, there's no exclusion for us to live in a world where we just love God with poor health.
As an economic issue, there's no doubt America is on a downward spiral as over 40% of our population is now thought to be overweight or obese. We need leaders to begin talking about the dangers of living in communities who don't care about their bodies, as this issue will effect us all. Health care costs will continue to rise, those interested in care are becoming fewer at the university level, and the shortage of doctors will be a reality in the next decade. It is in our own interest to forge ahead with people willing to live healthy while they're here on earth. No, this doesn't mean I'm advocating any trendy "diet" like program. There's always room for grace, but we need to start taking this health care issue serious. Our economic system depends on it.
Socially, I'm watching more and more teenagers be ostracized from their peer groups because they are self conscience about their bodies, encountering depression tendencies because of the food they eat, and feeling embarrassed to look in the mirror in the morning doubtful of God's Creation. How can we truly believe God is a master creator, when we destroy the temple He chooses to live in today? I would like to advocate for social groups dedicated to helping people live the abundant life Jesus gave us to live.
Biologically, the more we pay attention to our health, the more in focus our lives become. I'll detail ongoing studies to help you understand the connection between putting good things in your body, and the dangers of just eating whatever is easy and fast. Your body is a machine, and you can see with real numbers the effects of what we eat on diseases like diabetes, cancer, and bone loss.
Someone needs to take up the banner, so I'm forging ahead. I'll dedicate weekend days to health care discussion, and hopefully help educate all of us how to live in our bodies while we have them here on earth. But I need your help. I need you to post interesting articles, contribute to the conversation, and help us all talk about the ways we might not realize health is effecting us.
There's no reason we should treat this creation with anything other than the utmost respect. After all, God created it for a reason, and to treat it without reverence and respect is to live without the belief God gave us a body here for a purpose.
Thanks for hanging with me on this. It will be a bit dicey, as no one wants anyone telling them what to eat or how to live, but I think with a healthy discussion we can encourage people to find help. Most of the teens I talk to are in the dark when it comes to eating, drinking, and what certain foods to do your body.
Let's don't settle for being people just interested in the moral platform we're told to adhere to by certain groups. Let's take it further. What if the world knew Christians by the dedication they held to in spirit, body, and soul? Who knows, we might all find a closeness to God's creation we never thought possible.
So here's to Health Talk Weekends...
I've been in this conversation for the last week, and just got an e-mail asking me if I'm a conservative or a liberal, so I thought it was an article worth addressing if there are so many people out there wondering what camp they fit in, and how it works.
First, I think it's obscenely elementary to reduce someone's worldview into two camps. After all, isn't life an amalgamation of experiences, culture, education, and faith principles; all which come to the sum of differing ideas? So before we dive into what is liberal or conservative, I would encourage the readers here to allow for 7 billion people on the earth to exist in more than just two labels. Life just isn't that easy.
Two days ago, a friend asked, "What do you say when people call you a conservative?"
I simply say, "Yes."
I'm conservative in the fact I believe in God.
I believe in the Bible. (the whole Bible)
I believe in Jesus, and follow Him to the best I know how.
I believe God created the World.
I believe He is active in our world today.
So Yes, I'm conservative.
Today, I got a facebook message from a friend who wrote, "So the word on the street is your a liberal?"
To that, I guess I say "Yes."
I believe in life from the cradle to the grave.
I believe in Loving God and loving others Liberally.
I believe in searching for 'out of the box' ways to express God's love to the world.
I believe in accepting others views of life.
I believe it's God's job to reveal Himself to people here on earth.
I believe it's my job to follow Jesus as best I can.
So this morning, I starting thinking, "Which one am I, really?"
And as I think through the implications of the question, I don't think I'm either.
I'm not conservative in the sense I don't believe everything in a certain political platform.
But I'm not liberal in the sense I don't buy into the freedom of all men to live however they want. (i.e. After all, I don't think anyone has the right to murder someone even in their freedom.)
I'm not conservative in the sense I believe communities should be regulated by one central ideology.
But I'm not liberal in the sense I buy into the fact communities should be a free for all.
I'm not conservative in the sense I think we should hoard money for the good of my own desire.
But I'm not liberal in the sense I think everyone has a role in the economy and has an obligation to contribute.
I'm not conservative in the sense I believe in one camp is always right and the other is always wrong.
But I'm not liberal enough to think everyone has their own right to truth.
I guess that makes me a mutt. Like a dog who was dropped off at the humane society because someone didn't believe in the value of anything other than a pure breed, I've found value in respecting the ideas of others, and finding a solution that works best for all men.
I just happen to believe Jesus is THAT solution.
Loving God and Loving Others is, after all; the greatest commandment. We who follow Jesus, are told, "All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments." I think if we stop focusing on the two camps, and spend our energy focusing on applying our lives to following Jesus in lock step; we find a universe full of people who God loves. Both camps live under a vast universe of sky - living and loving and looking out for the needs of others.
After all didn't Jesus spend time with religious leaders?
Didn't He spend time with prostitutes?
Didn't He minister to the sick?
Didn't He stand up for the rights of the marginalized?
Didn't He re-assure us there is a God in heaven in control of all things?
Wasn't He concerned about the needs of all men?
So to answer my two friends: Yes.
To answer my readers: I'm hopeful my life is a picture of someone who swears allegiance to God, not some reductionary label to help people arm up and dispel arguments from two man made groups.
As one of my mentors says, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it." HA!
Which one are you?
I opened the morning news, and found yet again; another shooting which seems to be linked to hatred. My heart grew sad instantly, as I read early reports of a lone gunman on a rampage in a Sikh temple outside Oak Creek Wisconsin.
What is with this?
First we have a gunman willing to take out innocent people in Aurora, for no other reason than he thinks he's some sort of hate filled super villain. And now, we watch as an eyewitness reported yesterday, "He had on a short sleeve white t-shirt, black pants, and had a 9-11 tattoo on his arm." Early speculation was this lone gunman was taking up his own personal revenge for the tragic events occurring on 9-11-01.
Nobody knows that for sure just yet, but let's just assume it was. Why do we think violence will ever beget peace? What gives anyone the right to start taking someone else's life, no matter what the cause? I feel like I'm watching week after week the news reports as they are detailing the decline of the human condition to a place where the only hope people have is the death of another. Are we really to that point?
We're supposed to learn from history.
Our Science friends say we're the most evolved civilization ever.
Sociologists continue to claim we're living in a world where we can find harmony.
Religions preach we're a peaceful people.
Those that work in technology continue to boast of how technology is bringing us closer together.
But we're not any of those things.
We're the same old human, just with a different "0" behind the year.
We're more divided than ever.
Have's and Have nots continue to growing wider.
Religions continue to point fingers at the other claiming right over wrong.
Politicians are at an ultimate gridlock, because somehow we think compromise is a dirty word.
And bottom line, when I look at the picture above I wonder, "Because this guy looked a certain way, talked a different language, or worshipped in a different place, did that set the gunman off?"
We all need to take a long hard look into the deepest parts of our soul and ask, "Who would push me over the edge?" Because I'm sure there was a point in this gunman's life where things were normal. What happened? Is it just vile hatred? Did he loose a job? Divorce a wife? Loose a kid? Those are the kinds of things community is for, and without help from people who care about you and who you care about; hatred turns into violence.
I still feel like we're heading down a long road, as we continue to watch people point the finger of blame.
It was the guns.
It was religion.
It was Christians, Muslims...Whatever. (the irony of this whole story is that the Sikh's are a people of peace and don't have any history in this country of violence.)
It's only going to be when we follow the Prince of Peace, that's when we'll find answers. He didn't come for violence, even though He had the right. He didn't condemn, although he was flush with the power of condemnation. He came to give LIFE, and LIFE more abundantly.
When will we figure out, to follow Jesus and His teachings here on earth is the only answer.
It's not going to happen with more laws.
It's not going to happen with more security.
It's not going to happen because of some Religion in power.
We're only going to be a people of peace when we embrace the Peace Giver.
My heart is sad.
I mourn with the Sikh community today.
I'm ever hopeful there is a Jesus following group of people willing to reach out and be available to those who are in need today.
My prayers are with the families of those who were lost.
As I take a stroll in the morning news, I'm interested to see what people are really known "For." Lebron will be known for the 2012 NBA championship he sought for years. Gaga will be known for the shock value she brings to pop music. Michael Phelps will be known as the greatest Olympian who ever lived. And people of faith? Well...
People of faith are rarely "known" for something. So many people I'm reading today are the pillars of movements known for what they are "against."
I just read a southern Baptist leader is stepping down because of controversial remarks concerning the Treyvon Martin case. He is quoted as "fighting a culture war" here in America, and believes God has called him to stand up "against."
I've read many apologists willing to "defend God" in the Christian sphere, often taking the position that everything around them is some sort of evil eroding the moral fabric of our society.
Even the latest Chic Fil A rallies contain a narrative of being "against Gay Marriage."
And I get it.
The Bible talks about a war not against flesh and blood, but "against principalities." There certainly is a space where we have to stand up for what we think is right, but I wonder if the world ever gets a chance to see what those of us who follow Jesus are "For."
The world knows about Christians and the Abortion debate.
They know the stance we take on Murder, Theft, Greed, Lewdness, Envy, Anger, Strife; basically all the things Jesus said were inside a man and make a man unclean.
But how many casual observers of the faith know what those of us who are on this spiritual journey are actually in support of?
Maybe the better question is, "What are we for?"
I watched the hundreds of facebook pictures of people eating a Chic Fil A yesterday in an effort to support Freedom of Speech, Dissenting Cultural views, even standing up against same sex marriage. But how many of those lines outside the local fast food restaurant had a chance to declare anything other than what they're against?
Have we entered a debate with our arms up ready for a fight?
Are we ready to defend a God at all cost?
I've often wondered if God needed me to defend Him, He's in some pretty big trouble. I mean if the God who created the whole of the Universe is relying on my knowledge, wit, skill, or intellectual prowess; He probably better get ready to loose this culture war.
I know it's my responsibility to "put on the full armor of God." But at the same time, I think it's my responsibility to embody the love God showed me so others can see how He exists in the world. No, I'm not an advocate of a hippie style Jesus who lives in the world free from judgement, but I do think we have the same obligation to extend a hand of grace and forgiveness to those who offend us.
After all, Jesus did say, "You've heard it was said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you Love your enemy. Do good to those who persecute you."
How are we doing that?
I wonder if the story of faith would have been different yesterday if there were lines of people who were willing to buy their gay neighbors a chicken sandwich? Not out of support of gay marriage, but out of a common decency for those who think differently than they do.
I had a chance to talk to a Chic Fil A executive the other day, and it was evident Chic Fil A stands firm in their ideas of marriage; but they have no intention to discriminate against people. They feed anyone who is hungry. They give to all groups no matter race, color, religion, or sexual orientation. I wonder what message would have been sent if for a moment, we stopped and thought; how can I bless those who I disagree with. Would we really loose?
The way I read the Bible, it seems like God is in the business of restoring all things to a place that is right and good. He began a good work when He sent His Son for the reconciliation of all people, not just those who are out defending Him. Jesus sat with sinners when He was here on the earth, and even garnered the reputation to be a friend to the "drunkard sinners." The religious people found Jesus' methodology to be quite different from the one's they were used to.
I wonder if we've lost some of the power it takes to think beyond the moment in an effort to stand firm in our own opinion of right and wrong.
Please don't think I'm negotiating morality. I'm not. But I do just want to continue to call into question what the world thinks of a group of people who are constantly known for fighting, instead of reaching out to serve those around us.
What do you think? Am I off here?
It's been 12 years since KIVU opened in 2001. We've seen nearly 10,000 teenagers come through the facility in Colorado. We've done everything from organized sports, to outdoor X-Games type sports, to individual sports, all coupled with Worldview Teaching. We've hired University Students from around the world, but last night it all came to fruition.
Here at our 4th Two Week session, I looked at the enrollment and saw kids from so many places. We've got kids from Texas to Tennessee. New York to New Mexico. Florida to California. And now...We've got kids from China, Australia, The UK, Canada, Jordan, and Costa Rica.
When I looked out into the audience last night, I found a picture unlike most places I've ever taught. The beauty of seeing all these teenagers who've come to connect together, all having a gift they can share to make the fullness of life more abundant. They come from all different backgrounds, all different cultures, all different interests, and we have a unique opportunity to introduce them to the most fun adventures in Colorado.
I'm more excited about this as we see the beauty of what the world should look like. I wish you could see the friendships being made, the fun teenagers are having, and I wish you could hear the laughter filling the Valley. (I hope you can sense the excitment I have for this day!!)
What a unique opportunity!! I'm thankful today for the chance to make a differnce in the world here at KIVU
Sometimes teenagers scare us. They look strange. They talk strange. Their heroes are often less than upstanding citizens. But if you look deeper...each person has a hidden talent, a gift, that when given the opportunity can WOW even the most pessimistic critic.
The danger of posting this video is that music becomes the only ICONIC gift that matters in our culture, but if you can make it through the first 3 min. and see the inside of Andrew's heart, I'm sure you'll be WOW'd.
As I watched this the first time, I was moved because even though most teens don't wear strange contacts and look like they walked out of a bus station, EVERY teenager walks around looking like this. They all have a certain masquerade that protects them from the seeming ridicule of being who they are on the inside.
Here at KIVU, we find incredible joy in giving teenagers a place where they can let the walls down and be who they were created to be. This is why I love hanging with teenagers. No matter if they look Goth, Athletic, Preppy, or otherwise; every kid needs a place where they can learn to be confident in who God created them to be.
What a joy to watch a guy like Andrew find his gift.
Be sure to check out the video...pretty amazing stuff!
I've never heard of Abigail Washburn before I saw her TED talk posted here. It's only 6 minutes long, so it won't take too much of your time. As I was watching this, I couldn't help but wonder how many of us have gifts given to us we don't know much about? I mean it takes some risk to leave a dream of practicing law to help mend China/U.S. relations. And it is even more risky when it's done with a banjo.
Here at KIVU, we continue to figure out what a teenager's God given gift is. Who knows? Maybe someday, they'll be singing Mandarin in front of millions.
Well, it's happening. For the better part of 15 years, I've felt like we are making progress, helping young people understand the reality of God in their lives. But today, I got some alarming news.
A recent Huffington Post article outlines that 31 percent of young adults in America under 30 don't believe God exists.
I guess it's been like pushing a big boulder uphill all these years, straining for the top of the hill thinking there would be some kind of turn around. I knew the odds were against us, but when I read the stats going in the wrong direction its dis-heartening.
What about all the relationships we've built? Have they been for naught?
What about all the times we've reached deep into the lives of students to show them God's love and mercy in our own lives? Is it just not working?
What about all the times we felt God move through the facility working to free the chains of bondage held so tight around the minds of students looking for truth? Did we just make it up?
I start asking tough questions about my profession
That is, until I receive messages like this one...
Hey Andy, I just wanted to drop a line real quick. I was reminiscing the other day with a few friends about how awesome camp was. I just wanted to say how influential it was in my life and how awesome I think your vision is for what a camp should be. Thanks for everything you did and continue to do. Keep up the good work!
-A Recent Facebook Message from a former student-
Or, every now and then I'll get an e-mail like this one...
My daughter just returned from KIVU, and I cannot express how happy she is and what a wonderful experience it was for her. She is already talking about coming next year for 2 weeks ;)
The amount of joy and love shone by the counselors and other campers was amazing. You have truly built an amazing program. I cannot think of a better way to show God's love than to bring it to children. And to be able to do it in a setting like Kivu is a true blessing.
-A Recent E-mail from a KIVU Parent-
And then I'm encouraged again. Encouraged that the Journey of Faith is an important one. I'm encouraged that KIVU is a place where teens can explore their faith and find truth. I'm reminded of all the success stories over the years.
I remember how the KIVU family helped a teenage boy work through a pornography addiction.
I remember how we locked arms with a family when they found out one of their daughters was pregnant.
I remember the incredible freedom one of our students came and relayed to me when he said, "This is the BEST PLACE ON EARTH."
So even though the news is grim, we carry on. We carry on for the hope God will continue to work in the hearts and the minds of teenagers around the world. We carry on for the assurance, the work we do here is making a difference in the lives of teenagers every single day. And most of all, we will continue to push the boulder up the hill to glorify the one who created all things, and in Him all things hold together.
As I continue to search for methods to help teens and college students understand who God is, and how they can interact with Him in the Real World, I'm constantly being challenged. Generational differences, educational variables, and cultural awareness often taint our view of God's presence in the world today. I'm actually seeing a growing interest in a Deism movement where students don't actually believe God is moving in the World Today. So, My intention is to help students see a faith journey clearly with real people. So here's where you come in.
When I travel around speaking to different churches, different schools, and different places where people follow God; I find so many different ways people feel tuned in to their own spiritual journey, so to speak. If you wouldn't mind taking a few minutes helping me accumulate various ways how YOU connect with God, I would appreciate your help.
Here are a few questions to guide your thinking...
1.) When do you find your connection with God to be most REAL? (i.e. during tragedy, during worship services, helping others, etc.)
2.) How do you pursue your own spiritual growth and development?
3.) What are ways your friends tend to search for God?
4.) What keeps people from following God?
5.) If you're willing, could you share a story where you wanted God to show up, but for whatever reason felt like God left you?
You can comment here at the bottom of this post, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I won't share your story with personal information EVER, (unless of course you want) but I think it's important to allow more students to see the various ways God is moving in the hearts and minds of people around the world.
There are over 150K people reading this blog, and my hope is there will be a few willing to help. You will be directly helping the education of teenagers and college students in real time.
Thank you for your help. I really appreciate your willingness to spend 5-10 minutes educating and mentoring young people from afar.
Thank you. You guys are the best readers a blogger could ever ask for.
Last night here at KIVU, we threw a Wizard of Oz party. Isn't that Crazy? Isn't that Wild? Teenagers who dress up like the Tin Man, the Lion, and lots of Dorothys can have fun!! I know that flies in the face of popular logic, but it's true. You don't need all the ills of youth to have a good time. We can dance, create characters, and even do a little talent show for those who need a little courage.
Of course we don't make anyone do anything they don't want to do, but an empty stage is awfully tempting to 100 teenagers.
We played the section of Wizard of Oz where the lion talks the big game, but in the end he's just as insecure as the rest of the characters. Even more so in some circumstances. And that's what I'm dwelling on today. Courage and the lost art.
I've noticed more and more teenagers seem less likely to risk. They do this cost/benefit analysis of every action as they contemplate the do-ability, and I think we're loosing something. The guys don't want to be embarrassed. The girls don't want to be seen as too pushy. There's something going on in the next generation where putting yourself "out there" is seen as less than useful.
Again, I know you've read as I've written this before, but it is NECESSARY to encourage kids to take a little risk. When in life do you have less to loose than when you're a teenager? There's so many different personality traits you can awaken if you just give it a try.
Will you fail? Probably.
Will you learn? Definitely.
Will you do it better next time? Most Assuredly.
Courage is looking at a risky situation in the face, and staring it down. It's buying into an idea to see if it works. I feel like maybe the consumer mentality has taken over, and we all just want to sit and "be" entertained. But if we take a little risk, we might find that we are indeed the entertainers.
The same thing holds true with faith.
Unless you're wiling to risk getting out of the way, how in the world can you expect God to work in your life? Unless you're wiling to pray for something BIG, and I mean REALLY BIG, how can we expect God to answer? Or, let me put it this way, unless we start thinking in a Kingdom mentality, how can we expect God to move as we've tried to frame our own destiny before God has a chance.
(This is not a sovereignty issue, but rather; a free will discussion. There you go all my Calvinist friends. That ought to make your head spin a bit. HA!)
But really, take some time to think about courage. If you have it, give it away to a generation who needs a shot in the arm. We need to train our young people to be Courageous as they try to do the right thing.
Every now and then I get a chance to guide the White Water River Trips we do here at KIVU. I love taking teenagers from outside this area down the raging Animas River. It's a great trip through downtown Durango, and it gives the kids some thrill as we hit everything from the calm floating style to place where professional kayakers work on their skills. They think they're doing Niagra Falls!
I was looking at this picture this morning, and it struck a chord with me. I've been through this section of the river thousands of times, but every time I get to the approach I start thinking about the best way to hit the 'hole.' If don't line the boat up right on the approach, you can literally flip the raft and you have paddles, rafts, people, and all sorts of loose items floating down the river. It can be a dangerous deal, not to mention embarrassing as onlookers jeer, but if you hit it just right its the thrill of a lifetime.
I was thinking this morning about how many times we really line our lives up in preparation for the adventures in front of us. I've been working with teenagers and young adults for the better part of 15 years, and I'm finding more and more people just letting life throw them into situations without proper preparation. They think if they just hold on, they can make it through. If you do that on the river, you're going swimming in the cold snow melt waters of the Animas.
What if we saw life as an adventure, full of abundance; but instead of just letting it happen, we took some time to prepare? What if we took some quiet time out of the day to focus on the adventure and get ready for whatever life throws at us?
In the Spiritual Sense, you've got to spend time preparing your soul.
In the Physical Sense, you've got to feed your body, and make sure it's fueled properly.
In the Relational Sense, it takes time to work on building a community of people.
In the Academic Sense, you can't just learn by Osmosis, you've got to put in the time to understand hard concepts.
The difference in enjoying life's thrills and tragically enduring, often happens in times of preparation. This Journey through life isn't simply something we wait on, we spend time thinking about the WHOLE of humanity as life continues to present action packed experiences.
I just uploaded some other photos on the KIVU Facebook Page. If you'd like to see more about what we're up to check out our pictures and see how KIVU teenagers are preparing for life as they have a BLAST in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains.
Yesterday we were getting ready to take some of our younger kids on the river here in Durango, and I was just watching as everyone was getting ready. These two were standing out in front of the van talking about how scary it was going to be. They were building up this trip like they were Lewis and Clark heading out exploring the Americas for the first time. Little did they know, the Animas river runs right through Downtown Durango. There would be no strange animals on this journey. No natives. No unknown discoveries. Just a fun trip down the river.
And then I started thinking...
What a wonderful look into the heart of humanity!
How many times do we get ready to roll out on life's adventures, only to begin building up our fear. We don't know what's coming, but often our imaginations take us to the places where life and death will meet in the cross hairs of our experience. We worry about...
What school we'll go to.
What house we'll buy.
What job we'll apply for.
What tomorrow will look like.
Will we make a difference in the world?
Will my life matter?
And the center core of this discussion has to derive itself from our own Worldview.
If you have a Worldview where strength and determination are the centrifuge of life's success, then you'll look at life's raging waters as something to conquer.
If you think life is about destiny, and what is was always meant to be, then you'll drift and let the waters throw you from here to there.
But if you have a worldview with a force driving the outside world for a reason, then you'll approach life all the different.
When speaking about life's worries, Jesus said, "So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need." (Matthew 6:31-34)
Today, I'm focusing on the Kingdom of God. How can I live today in the Kingdom 'on earth, as it is in heaven.'
I wonder? What will these girls be talking about as they journey through the river of adolescence?
34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Before the holiday weekend, I was writing about sin and the issues we deal with when we don't understand the impact sin has on our lives and the lives of those around us.
Well, our summer experiment has begun again. Here at Camp KIVU, we have 100 staff members training to be the best mentors for High School students coming out for a two week Colorado Experience. They're learning how to Raft, Climb, Bike, and handle issues High School students will be dealing with as they become the backbone to our program.
I decided to set up times during the day where they could come and meet with me privately, and we could talk about the pressures of college life, anything going on with family back home, or general things they are working through on their own Spiritual Journey. WOW! The response has been amazing.
I've started to see the inner workings of what University Students are dealing with, and I'm more convinced than ever, when we try and hide the sin in our hearts, the darkness of guilt and shame overwhelm our ability to go forward and see reality for what it is.
Some of these students are literally paralyzed in their daily pursuit of God because they have dark spots shadowing over their own potential. They feel useless. They feel inadequate. They feel like they've been put on the earth to endure, rather than to experience a life more abundantly as Jesus talks about in the Gospel.
And believe me, I can bear witness to this darkness.
I've been reading quite a bit on the justification process the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 3, and I'm moved by the importance of sin and righteous living. I think many Evangelical Christians tend to look at the Old Testament as "those laws" people had to follow before Jesus, and they don't understand the depth at which sin can invade and keep us from understanding God in a more intimate way.
The faith exhibited through the adherence of God's law is not something to simply turn a blind eye toward as we cling to the idea of justification through faith. Rather; as we walk through life on this spiritual journey we have to recognize the seriousness of living under God's umbrella or venturing out on our own to face the consequences of living in darkness.
I'm astounded at the therapy going on when University Students are willing to talk openly and honestly about the issues they deal with in their own lives. It not only frees them up to focus on God's abundant love toward them, it gives our community ways to connect and pray for one another as we build a place where good work can thrive.
It's another season beginning, and I'm optimistic about the beauty that is emerging already.
A spritual journeyman interested in sharing life with teenagers around the world.