Monthly Archives: July 2013

Time for Us to Have This Discussion…

…And while I might not necessarily agree with Rachel point-for-point, I very much agree with her article as a whole.

What do you think?

Why millennials are leaving the church

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

(CNN)  At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial.

I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb.

I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.

I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.

Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.

Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.

Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”

And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.

Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. –precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.

We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.

We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.

But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.

Their answers might surprise you.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of “Evolving in Monkey Town” and “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” She blogs atrachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Rachel Held Evans.

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Guess Who Has a Dynamic Personality…

fireworksI am so sad.

I’ve got to wait over 11 more months until my favorite holiday of the year — the 4th of July — rolls around again. Not because I am especially patriotic, mind you. But because Independence Day is the one day out of the year when I can legally blow things up.

It’s true. I LOVE fireworks. I’m addicted to the pops, bangs, and whistles of the holiday. I stare amazed at the sheer energy released every time a match is applied to a fuse and it burns itself down to the inevitable, earth-shattering, ear-ringing “BOOM!” The dynamic power unleashed in that controlled explosion called a firework is to me irresistible.

But here’s a thought, a thought that makes me smile: We don’t have to wait for the next 4th of July. The next time we want to see dynamic power unleashed in a controlled explosion, all we need to do is to look into a mirror.

Don’t believe me? Then believe Jesus who said,

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).

Power. Dunamis. The Greek word from which we get our English word, Dynamite. 

As a Holy Spirit-indwelt Christian, you have the dynamite-like power of the 3rd person of the Trinity dwelling right inside of you, making you a veritable powerhouse of potential. 

You — Yes, YOU!!! — have a dynamic personality.

“How dynamic?” you ask. Just look at Peter.

At the very moment when Jesus needed him the most – just after His arrest and just prior to His crucifixion – we find Peter doing and saying the unthinkable. We join the narrative in Matthew 26 where we read,

“Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard (with Jesus’ executioners, no less), and a servant girl came to him. ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee,’ she said. But he denied it before them all. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, ‘This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ He denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’ After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, ‘Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.’ Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Peter was the guy, remember, who swore in front of the other disciples that he would gladly die for Jesus. Yet, when the moment of truth arrived, Peter folded like a house of cards. Not very heroic by anyone’s measure. Hardly a controlled explosion of dynamic power.

That was then. Some seven weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, before an assembled crowd of thousands, guess who stood before the masses, and heroically and explosively and dynamically declared,

“Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst… you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” 

That’s right. Peter.

Whoa. What in the world happened to Peter? Something utterly not of this world. Peter was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. (You can read all about it in the opening verses of Acts 2.) 

The Holy Spirit transformed Peter from a weepy, self-confessed coward into an oratorical dynamo whose fearless preaching (at the risk of his life, I might add) resulted in the birth of the Church as three thousand people answered his call to place their faith in Jesus.

Similar stories abound. Examples…

Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

The Apostle Paul was empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Barnabas was empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Paul prayed that the Christ-followers in Rome would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

The Christ-followers in Corinth were empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

The Christ-followers in Ephesus were empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

The Christ-followers in Thessalonica were empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Pastors Timothy and Titus were empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Oh, and by the way, YOU are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Yes, little ole you! 

The 3rd person of the Triune Godhead resides within you. You have the power of Almighty God right at your fingertips: The power to say “No” to temptation. The power to live a victorious Christian life. The power to overcome the trials that beset you. The power to be a blessing in the lives of the people around you. Power, power, power. You possess power – the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit.

Let there be no doubt. When you received Jesus into your life, you got a Heavenly bonus. The Holy Spirit took up His residence right inside of you, along with His promise that He will never ever leave you. He lives in you forever, along with His power, giving you one dynamic personality.

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Viva Junior Highers!!!

HartlandcampBelieve it or not, the origin of the word “Viva” is Italian!!!

Look it up in a dictionary and this is what you will read: “‘Long live!’ (Used to express acclaim or support for a specified person or thing.)”

Well, that being the case, I am using it as an expression of acclaim, and support, and a heartfelt wish for a long life to every single Junior High student with whom I spent a fabulous week at one of my favorite places on this planet: Hartland Christian Camp. They blessed me, and would have blessed you, beyond words.

Just imagine the scene: Scores of students lined up early outside of the outdoor chapel, ready to rush in to get the closest seats. Just imagine hundreds of students taking notes, laughing and crying, and interacting with and responding to the Worship (shout out to the Bryan Easter Band) and the Word of God. Just imagine during decision night, dozens of students taking a public stand to tell the world that on Tuesday night they had “decided to follow Jesus.”

I’m telling you, my faith in the next generation, my faith in the future of our country and our world has been restored by the precious gathering of some very special students on top of a modest hill ensconced in the beautiful mountains above Fresno, CA.

So many students were so kind as to thank me for the blessings that they received from me as their speaker. But I’ve got to tell you… They blessed me far more than I could have ever blessed them.

My heart is full, my soul is refreshed, my hope is renewed… all because of some 400 or so students who made my week, my month, my year, and who touched and captured my heart, at a little place called Hartland.

“Thank you” to the dear students, whom I am now thrilled to call my friends, for putting up with me for a week, for lending me your ears, and for giving me your hearts. YOU touched my life in ways that I will NEVER forget.

Viva Junior Highers!!!

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I’m Definitely a Fan!

cropped-outdoor-chapel-51.jpgCan I say something here? I LOVE camp. 

Not camping so much. I’m talking summer camp. More specifically, speaking to and loving on some pretty special students at camp.

Yep. I’m definitely a fan!

That’s where I am and what I am doing as you read this. A place near and dear to my heart. Hartland Christian Camp in CA. You can check it out by clicking HERE.

I’m not quite sure what it is about camp that I love so much. Maybe it’s that everyone is (in theory, anyway) unplugged at camp. No Wi-Fi — which means no Facebook, no Twitter, no Spotify, no Tumblr, no Internet! — no TV, no cell service, no technology of any kind. It’s amazing how much easier it is to hear God’s “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) when every other voice clamoring for our attention is turned off and tuned out.

Perhaps it’s the setting. A place of spectacular beauty that leaves no credible doubt that there is a God. I mean, if we do not doubt the existence of Rembrandt as we behold his handiwork, how can any thinking person doubt the existence of God when we behold His handiwork? The blue skies, white puffy clouds, green trees, lush grass, the sounds of the wind rustling the leaves, the starry night glistening like peep holes into Heaven — what a portrait God has painted for us. At camp, we see different things than we see at home. And what we see, we see differently.

Quite possibly it’s because for one blessed week, we are bathed in prayer by the many faithful friends and parents back home who get on their knees on behalf of the camp as a whole, the students individually, the staff, the members of the band, and the speaker. God’s hand is on the place. His blessing permeates, penetrates, and fills the camp like the air. You can feel it — no easy task for a guy like me who is anything but touchy/feely. Yet, feel it, I do. Or more accurately, feel Him, I do.

Of course, it just might be because for six sacred days we become a family and — for all of us this week — Hartland becomes our home. A home where God’s Word is taught, God’s love is shown by every staff member to every student, God’s glory is on display, God’s the Father is pleased, God the Son smiles, God’s Spirit is at work, memories are made, friendships are formed, and lives are genuinely changed. Forever.

Put it all together and guess what? I LOVE camp.

Yep. I’m definitely a fan!

Please, please, please become a part of our prayer team by praying for every single Junior High/Middle School student up at Hartland this week, for the staff, for the band, and yes, for the speaker — that God will be honored, His Word will be held up high, His name will be praised, and every one of us will leave the holy hilltop of Hartland changed. Forever.

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“I Will Build an Altar from the Fragments of My Broken Heart.”

altarThough I have never met him (living, as he did, in medieval times), I can tell you that Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid understood the deepest, and for many of us, the darkest aspect of the human condition.

We’ve all lost someone or something near and dear to us. And given enough time and circumstance, we will lose something or someone yet again.

And when we do, the inevitable result is a heart shattered by our loss.

Some times, probably more times than we’d like to admit, we feel as though our hearts are crushed beyond repair.

Do you know that feeling? Emotions so deep that we cannot turn them into words, only tears?

Loss comes in many different sizes and shapes. The loss of a dream. The loss of a prized possession. The loss of a career. The loss of a beloved pet. The loss of a person oh so precious to us that we cannot bear the thought of living without him or her. The loss of a relationship, especially one where the breakup was not what we wanted. The loss of one’s health. The loss of our idealism. The loss of our innocence. The loss of our faith. The loss of all hope.

Nothing in this world will splinter our hearts more completely than a profoundly personal loss.

And of such a loss, no one is immune.

Last Saturday night at The Safe Haven — which, as the name implies, is a secure refuge for anyone and everyone nursing a broken heart — in a matter of a mere 15 minutes, four dear people shared with me their most recent losses.

And the thing of it is, the way I am wired, I want so desperately to wave a magic wand and fix everything. But I have no wand. I can fix nothing.

What have you lost recently?

How is your heart holding up?

Don’t feel ashamed to admit that you’re not doing especially well with your loss. Trust me, it’s OK to sit amidst the rubble of your once whole heart.

There is a precious promise contained in one short verse buried in the middle of the Old Testament, what Rabbi HaChasid would have called the Hebrew Bible. I don’t know if Psalm 51:17 inspired him to compose such a beautiful sentiment when he wrote, “I will build an altar from the fragments of my broken heart.” But it surely wouldn’t surprise me if it did.

Consider this verse — an invitation and a promise — with me. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart — these, O God, You will not despise.”

Sacrifices speak of those precious possessions that the people of God voluntarily lay upon an altar as an act of worship — our feeble way of expressing to God our recognition of His infinite worth or value by giving Him something of value to us.

An altar marks the place where we make such a sacrifice, a place where our worship takes place, a place where we meet with God. An altar is where the human touches the divine. Where God Himself touches the earth. Where He meets with us — unseen, unfelt perhaps; but there nevertheless. Assuring us that even in our darkest hours, we are not alone; we are never alone.

When God inspired David to write Psalm 51:17, it was His invitation to gather up all of the splintered pieces of our broken hearts, to then pile them up into a modest, nondescript little altar. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It need not look like much. But its significance cannot be measured. Those are the stones of our hearts — broken, splintered, fragmented, but now fashioned and formed and made into a meeting place with God. 

To meet with us so that we need never to bear the loss alone.

It was most appropriate that God chose David to pen those words. Just think about some of what he lost: a baby to an untimely death, a beloved son to the bitter hatred he felt for his dad, his reputation, his standing with the people, his home in the Holy City of Jerusalem from which he had to flee in fear of his life… 

What have you lost recently?

How is your heart holding up?

Rabbi HaChasid said it so beautifully: “I will build an altar from the fragments of my broken heart.”

In response to his words I would humbly suggest, “Poor is the person who has never suffered a loss.”

Poor because Psalm 51:17 makes crystal clear that there is a richness — a closeness, an intimacy, a depth — to our relationship with God that we cannot know in any other way but through profound and personal loss.

What have you lost recently?

How is your heart holding up?

Perhaps it’s time to build an altar.

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When “Christians” Won’t Let Us Forget…

I learned something last week, ironically enough from the unlikeliest of sources.

taxcollectorHis name was Levi. I say “was” for two compelling reasons: 1. Levi is no longer with us, having graduated to Heaven a long, long time ago. 2. Levi changed his name to Matthew, and that for one very good reason.

Levi, whose name means “attached,” attached himself not to the God of his people — the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his dear and loving parents who conferred upon him that name. He instead attached himself to Rome, as one of their long arms to collect Herod Antipas’ exorbitant taxes from his own people, the occupied and oppressed Jews of Jesus’ day.

From a Jewish standpoint, nothing could be worse. Levi betrayed his own people, overtaxed them in order to pocket the profits, and turned their collected taxes over to the Roman government to fund everything from lavish palaces to crucifixions — potentially of his own neighbors, friends, and even family.

Levi was the New Testament equivalent of a Jew selling his soul to Hitler as a Nazi collaborator.

But when he met Jesus, everything changed. And to punctuate that point of change, Levi even changed his name to correspond to the new life and new start that he received from Jesus. He changed his name to Matthew, which means a “gift from God.” Which was exactly what his new life truly was.

But here’s the problem… the most religious of the people would not let Matthew forget his past, forget what he was. Ever. Even to the point of chiding Jesus’ disciples who dared to dine with Matthew, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”

Yes, they said that. They said that AFTER Matthew left his tax office forever. AFTER Matthew changed his life from despised tax collector to committed Christ follower. AFTER Matthew even changed his name to commemorate his changed life. 

In their self-righteous, judgmental minds, he would ever and always be “Levi, the tax collector.”

You can hear Levi’s entire story in all of its dramatic detail by clicking HERE.

But here’s what I learned. This is what Levi-turned-Matthew taught me. A couple of things really.

1. There are some religious people even today (and yes, I’m talking some “Christians” here) who will never forget what we once were. And they will make doggone sure that no one else around us ever forgets. They are quick to remind anyone and everyone that we are flawed, as if they are not.

They may not be as overt as the religious leaders in Levi’s story were. It may not be with harsh-sounding words spewed with obvious scorn. But when our names come up in their hearing, it could be a raised eyebrow, a tone of voice, a slight recoil, a subtle warning that they assure their listeners is given with such sadness that they even need to say something that they surely do not mean to be negative, but is indeed negative.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you. Odds are overwhelming that you, like me, have been on the receiving end of such judgments. More than likely more than once.

“Christians” who will NEVER let us forget, nor let anyone else forget, what we were or what we’ve done, or what they’ve heard about what we were or what we’ve done. No matter that like Levi, we have changed. No matter that like Matthew, we are different now. No matter that like Matthew, we have received a glorious “gift from God” — a new life, a new start, a new beginning.

To “them” we will always be Levi. They will never see us, nor respond to us, as Matthew.

2. It just doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter what the self-righteous think about us. If they somehow make themselves feel any better by elevating themselves above us — which is exactly what judging, gossiping, snubbing, or shunning us is — so be it.

I’ve lived long enough now (to at least begin) to not care what other people say, and really only care about what God says about me. I know, I know, it’s a whole lot easier to write that than to live that. But I’m trying… (I invite you to try it with me. Together, we can do this!)

So in light of Levi-turned-Matthew’s story, I can’t help but to ask you: Do you know any religious people — “Christians” today who think they are righteous, as evidenced by their judging those whom they think are not as righteous as they?

If so, have you personally felt the sting of their judgments? Do you still bear the scars — mentally, emotionally, spiritually — of their criticisms and gossip, their shunning you or scorn?

Here’s the thing: Despite their judgments, their harsh criticisms, their malicious gossip, I’ll tell you what: I’d much rather sit among the judged than stand among the judgers. Wouldn’t you?

I’d much rather be scorned, than be a scorner. Wouldn’t you?

I’d much rather be gossiped about, than be guilty of spreading malicious gossip. Wouldn’t you?

I’d much rather be shunned, than be a shunner. Wouldn’t you?

It was Jesus who said, and Matthew who recorded Jesus saying it, “God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because you are my followers. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Can you just imagine the hope and encouragement Levi-turned-Matthew received as he both heard that statement, and wrote it down? Wrote it down for himself? AND wrote it down for us?

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