“Hi-Jacked” Part 1

I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past few weeks about how we, as Americans, have taken things that were never meant to be about US…and made them about…US. Interesting, right? The first two that come to mind are things you have most likely been thinking about lately as well: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and many other holidays. I suppose it is our human nature, our flesh screaming out, and perverting beautiful things at every opportunity. We fight to choke out our flesh, and feed the Holy Spirit of God that lives inside of us. It’s the classic wrestle that Paul talks about in Romans 7. I plan on diving into some other examples of the things we have hi-jacked in the near future. For now we will start with Thanksgiving…

I find it funny/interesting that I cannot tell you the historical background behind Thanksgiving, where it came from, and why we celebrate it. I could probably piece bits of things together from elementary school, along with some “B.S.ing” skills, and come up with a pretty good explanation. There are enough “good” things that come to mind when we think about Thanksgiving to dismiss the thought of ever needing to ask tough questions like “why?” & “what’s the reason?” This is the same reason we do not question much of ANYTHING that we do anymore. It’s all we have ever known. Our family has always done it. It’s “good”. No need to question it…but what if our human nature over time has taken something and slowly twisted it into something far from what it was intended to be…something that tragically has become more about US than it was ever intended to be…in fact, something that was NEVER supposed to be about US at all, but now has been hi-jacked, and made completely about…US? On the surface it’s still good…but if we dig deep could it be beneficial for us to strip some of these things down, and get back to the roots? There is a scary parallel that crosses my mind when thinking about some of the things we do just because that’s how we’ve always known them to be done…never even stopping to ask ourselves why, but continuing in the same old ritualistic traditions…  : )

Anyhow, I think Thanksgiving has to do with the pilgrims and Indians…and Columbus, or something, right? All I know is that every year family members get together to eat ALL DAY LONG. Some people use this day as one out of the two opportunities they will take to serve someone else throughout the year. (Soup kitchen, etc., and there is sometimes a hidden motive, or agenda behind this “act of service” to begin with-an entirely separate post) Of course, there is nothing wrong with getting together with family to enjoy quality time, and great food. However, may I propose that we start breaking the mold by re-thinking the purpose for why we do what we do instead of just going along with everything because it is the only thing we have ever known? Maybe we can start taking the opportunity to get back to the heart of things…Maybe we can do more on Thanksgiving than go around the circle at the table and share one thing we’re thankful for without allowing it to cause us to actually DO anything outside of ourselves…

Will Morgan and I eat all day long tomorrow, and spend time with people we care about? Of course. I am not suggesting that anyone should stop doing that, or that it is wrong. In fact, we’ll probably go around the table and say what we’re thankful for as well. No problem with that either. I suppose I am simply suggesting we take it to the next level, and continue taking it to the next level until it becomes more about others than us lest we look back and be accused of hi-jacking some of the most beautiful things on earth…

The purpose of this post has little to do with holidays, but holidays are a good example of how we hi-jack things that were never meant to be about US in the first place, and make them about US. There are millions of examples of how we do this all throughout the day in our lives. We serve ourselves, bless ourselves, and do very little that has anything to do with anyone other than ourselves.

“Each of you should look not only at our own interests, but the interests of others. You should have an attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Phil 2:4

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28

Last night our simple church had the amazing opportunity of blessing a single mom who lives in our neighborhood. Our I.G. Community came together and prepared a Thanksgiving feast for her and her two kids. Ava, Kayla, and Coren do not have any family in the city. Last night they came over; we all had a great time cooking, and pillow-fighting with the kids. We sent them home with everything they will need to enjoy a great Thanksgiving meal. Tomorrow we will swing by to drop off a HOT Turkey, a card with some personal messages, and a gift card for her to buy presents for the kids for Christmas. It’s amazing how God can use a group of broke twenty-somethings to live out the Gospel in their own neighborhood.

img_0098Kayla, Morgan, and Candace in the kitchen…

img_0099Joseph, Ava, and Chaz chattin’ it up…

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Coren crashed out after pillow-fighting!

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“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1 – Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost

Previous blog written on April 20th, 2008

I have recently realized how stubborn, arrogant, and prideful we are as humans…and Christians. On a small scale we think that we are always right with our individual convictions, or opinions. That causes us to act with irrational and selfish behavior. We don’t even know how to selflessly serve our spouses, loved ones, families, and best friends much less “love our enemies”. On a large scale our nation has been guilty of ethnocentrism for decades. Ethnocentrism: evaluating other people’s cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture. We think our way is better. We go to foreign countries with the idea that we are going to “enlighten”, or teach them a better way of doing things; our way. The reality is that there are movements of the Lord taking place in huge/powerful ways overseas, ways that we have never seen in the U.S! In the evangelical world this has translated to a large amount of Christians, if not all at some point, who feel that they have figured “it” out. (Even if they/we/I do a poor job at living out the basic principles of what “it” is) We begin our journey towards Christ with passion and vigor. Our excitement with this new awareness of grace ironically fuels our ability to start “living right”, and sin less. This is where something goes terribly wrong for many of us. I do not mean to make blanket statements about ALL Christians. However, this was definitely my story, and the story of many I know. We drastically change much of our old behavior, and add some new rituals to our lives. i.e., reading our Bibles, going to church often, praying, serving, etc. These are all great things. However, many of us aren’t quite sure how to handle our life change in terms of relating to others, and communicating these values effectively to those we come in contact with.

We quickly become self-righteous, and Pharisee-like. Either we want our friends to be where we are, making the same changes and commitments, or we distance ourselves from them because they are not. If the first is true then we tend to run them off because we pretend that we have it all together. We become judgmental, hypocritical, lame, boring, etc. If the latter, it is because “bad company corrupts good character”, right? Isn’t that what we have been taught our entire lives? “Aaron, you don’t need to be hanging out with them, they are a bad influence.” Many times that advice is not entirely wrong or bad if we are attempting to remove temptation from some area of our lives. However, it has sadly translated into every aspect of our lives as we become more mature Christians. How does that happen? Can we grow more mature as followers of Christ while we continue to distance ourselves from the rest of the lost world? Dan Kimball, in his book “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, states that statistics show most Christians lose contact with almost all of their non-Christian friends within two years of “accepting Christ”. I thought back on this in my own life, and it was somewhat true. When it wasn’t true was only in cases of sin in my life that I wasn’t releasing to Jesus; I stayed in relationships with those people not to reflect light to them, but to continue in disobedience. Those who participated in sin that was not included in my arsenal of sin were quickly deemed as unholy, and therefore, “unworthy” of me to associate with.

Dan talks about the “Christian Sub-Cultures” that we have created, and essentially locked ourselves in. Think about it, we spend much of our time at “church”. We surround ourselves by Christian friends. We join Bible study groups, and have accountability partners. We busy our lives with “Christian activities”. Many of us place our kids in private Christian schools. Heck, many of us have chosen our careers in ministry where we almost completely cut ourselves off from the outside world. We listen to “Christian” music, go to “Christian” concerts, eat at restaurants owned by Christians. We read “Christian” books, and shop at “Christian” stores. We drink coffee at “Christian” coffee shops, and go to “Christian” camps. We go on vacation with our “Christian” friends, and stay away from rough parts of town. We have cross collages in our living rooms. We refuse to participate in many activities based upon what someone has told us our entire lives from a pulpit instead of what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us through scripture. Kimball would say that some of us break free from our Christian sub-culture, but usually only for a very brief period of time before darting back to it. We have conditioned ourselves to be so different, and uncomfortable with anything unlike us. All of the sudden everyone who is not like us becomes wrong. And so it goes, that we, as the body of Christ, have isolated ourselves from the rest of the world. We so quickly forget that the rest of the world is what Christ has called us to humbly serve, and love in the first place.

Luckily, we serve a God of unending grace and mercy. Somewhere down the road of our journey we realize that we have lost sight of our purpose. We realize that our lives are ultimately designed to reflect glory to God, and that is most effectively done when His gospel is lived out. Part of this translation is that those who are different from us, those who are lost, are the ones we are to be broken over. Finally, we venture out. We try to relate to, and reach those who are “of the world”. The word tells us to be “in the world, but not of the world”. Sadly, we have been neither. The result is that we suck at reaching the lost. We try everything we can to be “cool enough”, or “hip enough” thinking this will reach out to a desperate world in need of a Savior. We realize that the places we’ve spent most of our time over the past however many years might not be where any non-believers spend time. So, we try going where they are. This proves to be quite the challenge. We have spent so many years in isolation that we fit in about as well as home-schooler in the real world. We are uncomfortable, and awkward. We get nervous when we get around “sin” and “sinners”, forgetting that Jesus spent most of His time with people of that label. The end result is sad. We retreat back to the comfortable boxes that we’ve created, and called churches. This is a safe place where “normal Christians” can be professional church members. This is where we stay away from sin, and sinners, becoming more holy, and pleasing to God, right? Now a paid staff is responsible for doing the “dirty work”. The professional member puts their check in the plate, attends all the events, serves in the youth group or nursery, and maybe even goes on the annual mission trip. Our only job now is to invite non-believers into our box, where the professional Christians who make up the staff take it from there. Unfortunately, a large majority of the lost world will never step foot into the doors of a traditional church building. Here we are, comfortable in our simple, easy, and normal boxes. We’ve even pulled God into the box with us. His Spirit in us screams out for air, but our fearful flesh can’t handle it outside of the box; we retreat right back into a life of safety and certainty. All the while the world that we are called to live in is absent from our lives…

It would seem that this has all occurred because of the expectations of those around us, the expectations of other Christians. It is these false, man-centered expectations that have caused the dilemma we are in today. The expectations of God, and the challenges of the scriptures are diluted to fit into our easy, comfortable, certain, and risk-free lives…

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Intro

Previous blog written on April 15th, 2008

This journey of life has brought me to many places, and beat me up enough to teach me some great lessons. I am not quite sure if that is a good or bad thing seeing as how I am only 23. I guess it is both, bittersweet if you will. I suppose it means that I have quite a bit more life to do, lessons to learn, beatings to take, etc. But in the end I simply hope to be closer to the one who has stolen my soul. Obviously, my wife has done just that, but in a way only a human can. However, my Jesus has taken this thievery of the heart to a new level. He has stolen it in such a way that I cannot describe. Therefore, I am not even going to try at this point. I say all of this to preface the thoughts to come. Please know that it is the Spirit of Jesus in me that produces such words. I am also not so arrogant to think that any of these ideas are fresh and new. In fact, they are centuries old, and thousands of books have been written about what I am about to share. Many of these thoughts have come straight from my personal communion with God, conversations with friends, life experiences, reading books, and much more.

The Lord has blatantly taught me three key principles over the past three months since Morgan and I have lived in Las Vegas, Nevada. As I jotted down some notes before writing this I realized that I had some things out of order. At first these key ideas came out of my head, and onto the paper as follows: 1) Spend more time with less people 2) Man’s expectations have crippled, and continue to cripple the growth of the kingdom 3) Christians suck at reaching the lost. After writing the three down, reading over them, and thinking through them I realized that the third idea is actually what has led to the need to bring attention to the first two. We now have a new order: 1) Christians suck at reaching the lost because 2) Man’s expectations have crippled, and continue to cripple the growth of the kingdom so 3) We need to spend more time with less people. I would love it if you would allow me to expand on these ideas a bit…

Parts 1, 2, & 3 to come…thanks for reading, and I hope you will continue to follow this essay over the next three entries.