Unwanted? Perfect.

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“Unwanted”…that’s the word that stands out to me from this screenshot. That is the word that breaks me and makes me want to cry out. The unadulterated selfishness is daunting.

“Your life, your essence, your very existence…the mere thought of you is not worth me sacrificing my dreams because you are unwanted.” That’s what this comment is saying about a child…a human being.

I want answers for substandard education. I want improvements made to a broken healthcare system. I want opportunities for people to break out of their socioeconomic bindings. I want to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless…but when did any of these become more important than someone’s most basic right to simply have a life in the first place?

“My college dreams are worth more than your life.” How can you put a measurable value on life? I can put a monetary value on a college education, healthcare, food, clothing, and shelter among other superficial things. But how is it even feasible for someone to place a monetary value on the life of a human being? I couldn’t even begin to care if any aborted baby ever cured aids or cancer. Why is that even an argument? The value of your life will never be determined by the remarkable things society thinks you have or have not done. There is value to be had in having a life.

“Perfect”. Not only is this total devaluation of life condoned, it’s celebrated. That’s not daunting, it’s disturbing. How can anyone think that there is anything perfect about an argument that would place going to college on a higher level than the life of a child.

I’m broken by this. It saddens me to new depths to see this screenshot circulating on social media. In the time it took me to write this short post, babies were aborted. Lives were ended…and there is nothing “perfect” about that.

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Midweek Music 08.12.15

“Christ is Enough” | Hillsong Worship

We all “need” something from time to time. A new car, new clothes, certain foods, different job, more money, better social status, etc… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been guilty of “needing” something that, in actuality, I didn’t.

We play a game with God. “Give me (insert item) and I’ll do better about (insert spiritual attribute)”. We treat our relationship with Christ like a points-based reward system. I’m just curious when Christ stopped being good enough. When did his unjustified love and grace towards us stop being more than what we deserve.

It’s hard to live the words of this song. It’s hard living in a material world and not being a material girl (or guy) to reference a song with a different mindset. It’s hard but it’s worth it. Letting Christ be more than enough, let alone enough, is so worth it. Commit yourself to Christ, be encouraged by his unmitigated grace, and follow the direction toward which he is leading you. Let Christ be enough.


I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Jehovah Jireh

Throughout scripture, many descriptive names are ascribed to God in order to portray the active role he plays in our (his creation’s) lives. One such name is “Jehovah Jireh” or “the Lord will provide”. It’s taken from Genesis 22 and the story of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. At the last minute, after proving himself faithful, God stops Abraham and provides for him a ram to sacrifice instead. It was a test for Abraham to prove his faith and obedience. In response, Abraham names that location “Jehovah Jireh” to acknowledge God’s faithfulness in providing.

Over the weekend, I found out about a couple friends who are in need of jobs. Someone had been talking to them about “Jehovah Jireh”. This type of theology makes me shudder. God is faithful and God is just but I see the “Jehovah Jireh” theology, such as this one, taking firm roots in Evangelical America. The idea that your want is in actuality a need and that God is a magical genie waiting to grant your wishes if only you ask enough and/or are “good” enough.

That is not the Gospel of Christ. That is dangerous thinking. That is prosperity gospel.

I believe that God loves you and because He loves you, He wants to be in relationship with you. The problem is we live in a first-world society which seems set on the mentality that being in relationship with God means material blessings. It gets worse when we equate the amount of our material blessings to how much we love God and God loves us. What does this theology say to third-world missionaries? To starving children? To our atheistic neighbors?

I believe that God plays an active role in our daily lives. I believe He loves and cares for us. I also believe the opportunity to use my passion for leading worship as a career and the fact that I have money in my bank account is not because God loves me more than a friend who is serving as a missionary in Africa. He doesn’t love me more than the starving and homeless people my friend works with on a daily basis. He doesn’t love me less than Joel Osteen and his $50 million estimated worth.

God will provide. It just might not be in the way you expect.

Midweek Music 08.05.15

“By Our Love” Christy Nockels

This song has been stuck in my head for quite some time now. With the recent political climate, both in the last few months and beyond, Christians have become known for what they are against and what they dislike.

It’s easy to be on the defense. It’s easy to sit back and wait for someone to say anything you don’t like and then make sure everyone knows you don’t like it. But imagine a world where Christians proactively worked towards being on the offensive side of love.

What if Christians, instead of being known for what we don’t like, were known for showing love and kindness. What if Christians were known for feeding the hungry, helping the poor and the homeless, healing the sick. What is Christians were known by their love.

 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Midweek Music 07.15.15

 

“Tear Down the Walls” Hillsong United

This song is directly tied to what God has constantly placed on my heart as of late. The vast majority of the church has become egocentric. In our outreach, in our corporate and personal worship, in our message…we hide behind a false persona of who we want Christ to be rather than who he actually is.

Rather than let Christ reflect on us so that we can be more like Him, we reflect ourselves onto this false persona of Christ we create…in essence we create a Christ that is simply a model of ourselves and worse yet, we worship it.

We have actively built up walls to shut out the noise of anyone who disagrees with our perception of Christ. We use these walls to protect these perceptions. The thing is, Christ isn’t yours to protect. More so, Christ isn’t yours. Christ doesn’t belong to you, you belong to Christ.

It’s time to tear down the walls, open our eyes, reach out, and love. Lord, let love tear down these walls.

 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.


Midweek Music is a new series published on Wednesdays that will be replacing Music Monday.

 

I’m So Very Hungry

I was ready to be home. I’d been in my office all morning and afternoon and I followed that with a long band practice that night. As I left the church, I debated making my customary stop at the nearby RaceTrac to take advantage of my free Sodapalooza refill. I decided to splurge and get a Dr. Pepper. As I walked out of the gas station indulging in my favorite soda, I caught sight of a disheveled man looking at the ATM. He was just standing there looking at it…no attempt to grab a wallet or reach into his pockets.

He noticed that I had noticed him and began patting the outsides of his pants and jacket as if he was searching for something. I immediately recognized it for the act that it was. I walked past him toward my car when I heard him speak up from behind me.

“Excuse me, sir.”

I stopped.

“Excuse me.”

I turned around. He stumbled over his words as he began informing me he had forgotten his wallet at his house down the street. He spoke of his embarrassment. I mentally prepared myself to inform him that I didn’t carry cash.

“Sir, I’m so very hungry. I haven’t been able to find any food today. Would you mind if I asked you to buy me a sandwich?”

I was pretty shocked. I have a standing rule that I don’t give cash to strangers approaching me in parking lots. Both because I have no idea what their real intent is for the cash and also because it is genuinely a rare occurrence that I carry cash. I typically offer to purchase them some food, something to drink, put gas in their car…help them in the way they say they need help. Sometimes, people accept. Sometimes, people decline. Sometimes, people get angry. This was the first time someone had just asked me for food.

His eyes were sunken. He look tired and hungry. I couldn’t tell if he was as old as he looked or if a rough life had just taken its toll on his physical body. I asked him his name.

“George, sir.”

I laughed a little on the inside at his insistence on calling me, someone so very much younger, “sir”.

I took George inside. We stopped at the sandwiches in the cooler and I told him to pick one. He asked which one he could have and I told him whichever one he wanted. He looked for a second before settling on a simple ham and cheese on wheat.

“George, I don’t know about you but I don’t like sandwiches without chips. Why don’t you pick out a bag?”

He looked surprised but didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity. He talked about his love of BBQ chips as he grabbed a bag.

“You’re going to need to wash that down with something. Let’s grab you a drink.”

We walked over to the fountain drinks and I grabbed the biggest cup they had. “What’s your favorite?”

He looked at me and hesitantly responded, “Coke, no ice please, sir.” I filled his cup up and we walked to the counter.

“What’s your favorite candy bar?”

He stood for a moment staring at me like I was about to drop everything and walk out on him. He didn’t respond.

“Do you have a favorite candy bar? I can recommend a couple if you don’t.”

“It’s been an awful long time since I had a candy bar. I do like a Hershey Bar.”

I walked over to grab a Hershey bar.

“With almonds.”

I grabbed the Hershey bar and put it on the counter with everything else we had accumulated. I paid the cashier and asked her for a pen and a slip of paper. I wrote my name and number on the paper, handed it to George, and told him about the church right up the road that had breakfast on Sunday mornings and dinner on Wednesday nights. I told him to call me if he was hungry or if he needed a ride. He promised he would as he thanked me.

I didn’t buy that food for George because I’m a Christian. I didn’t buy that food for George because I consider myself to be morally superior. I didn’t buy that food because of any inherent “goodness” I have. I bought that food for George because he was a human being who approached me broken and hungry.

I didn’t ask George his thoughts on gay marriage. I didn’t ask George what his opinions were concerning the Confederate flag. I didn’t ask him how he intended to pay me back. I didn’t ask him his thoughts on the welfare system. I didn’t ask him when was the last time he held a job. I didn’t ask him if he was or ever was on drugs, when was the last time he possibly used drugs, or if he planned to use them in the future. I didn’t ask him who he voted for or if he could vote at all based on any criminal record. I didn’t ask him about any of his political or religious views. He didn’t seem concerned with mine either.

You see, while we were arguing about who has the right to marry who or which flag should be flown where…while we argued about whether or not a baker should be forced to make a cake for a wedding they don’t support, George wasn’t eating. I’m sure George would have eaten any cake he was offered.

I would give up my right to marry if it meant George didn’t have to go hungry again. I would stop flying any flag if it meant that everyone would not have to experience the deep pain of malnourishment. I have a feeling there are a lot of people who wouldn’t. The sense of selfish entitlement in this country, both amongst liberals and conservatives alike, is deeply embarrassing. It’s shameful.

Conservative Christians, you keep arguing that a man shouldn’t be allowed to marry another man. LGBTQ people, you keep suing those bakers who won’t bake you a cake. Northern liberals, you keep trying to outlaw a flag and southern conservatives, you keep daring to defend your right to fly it.

You do you. I’m going to go buy George a sandwich.

The Opulence of Not Giving

I have an acquaintance that started a charitable organization a few years ago. It’s not unlike him to do so as he is a really nice guy, eccentric at times, but nice. I won’t give names or specific details because my goal is not to publicly embarrass this guy. Let’s just say his charitable organization is moderately successful through his and his father’s connections, a pretty concerted social media effort, and the fact that his charity has the potential to do a lot of wonderful things for some human beings that are in desperate need.

I’ve never given any money to his charity.

Why? It’s not because I’m a stingy miser. I do donate to charities. But I don’t donate to his. It’s because of his lifestyle. Maybe I’m overreacting, maybe I care more than I should but this guy lives a ridiculously lavish lifestyle. He takes marvelously expensive trips multiple times a year spending (seemingly) more money than I make in that same year. I’m suspicious that some of his clothes cost more than the entirety of what comprises my closet. I’m fairly certain that some of the parties he throws costs roughly the same amount as that of the value of my car (which isn’t all that much so maybe a bad example).

Not only does he live this lavish life, he flaunts it.

Not a day goes by where I login to one of a variety of social media accounts that I don’t see any number of pictures/statuses/tweets/snaps about his latest expensive venture. I won’t deny it makes me jealous sometimes as I sit at my desk in my office and look at pictures of him in cities all around the world. I am human after all. But my fleeting jealousy is not what fuels this post.

Here’s the thing, I don’t completely fault this guy for spending his families money they way he sees fit. If that is the lifestyle he wants to lead, that is totally his choice. I vacation, I go shopping and eat out. I’m in no place to criticize those things. My problem lies in this fact: this same guy who is leading and flaunting this lavish lifestyle is the same one asking me to donate to his charity.

The charity’s most recent campaign was trying to raise $2000. It exceeded it’s goal, which is fantastic. As the campaign went on, I watched it’s CEO take a vacation to Europe. I couldn’t help but question how much the money spent on that vacation might have helped his organization’s beneficiaries. The plane ticket alone might very well have covered the entire campaign. As he flew to Europe, person after person dedicated $10, $15, $25 to helping others.

He is not alone.

In 2013, American households gave $241 billion to charitable organizations. I’m amazed at that kind of generosity. It’s heartwarming to see that kind of giving. There’s a catch though. In that same year, American households spent $621 billion directly on leisure travel. Individuals spent 158% as much on traveling for fun as we did on feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, disease prevention, and educating the uneducated.

This isn’t intended to guilt you into canceling your vacation. I sure as heck am not canceling mine next month and I won’t feel one ounce of guilt as I play with my nephews on the beach. But I know that I also have a responsibility to live within a certain means so that I can help others. Maybe I even need to reassess what I spend on a regular basis.

Someone once told me, in regards to this argument I am making, “Trey, there is always more that can be done. You’ll never be satisfied.” And they were right, there is always more than can be done and I won’t ever be satisfied. I hope you won’t be either.

Child of God

I’m fortunate enough to live in a nice house in a nice surrounding area. Throughout the week, I go running along maintained sidewalks towards a nature preserve located about a mile from my house where I get to experience God’s awesome wildlife creation, both plants and animals.

Sometimes though (for example: the entire Month of May), it rains and I have to drive to my gym to get any sort of workout. I enjoy my gym, it’s inexpensive while still being a great facility and it’s only about 2 miles from my house. While the immediate area surrounding my house is nice with a low crime rate, my gym sits just on the outside of that area where the income level drops and the crime rate rises. As I get close to the gym, I see less cars and more walkers. I see less houses and more homeless.

I’m not going to lie, there are times when I’m leaving my gym a little later at night that I’ll see someone walking by and get a little nervous. If they’re in gym clothes, I don’t have much of a reaction. If they’re in street clothes, I become suspicious of why they’re walking around a parking lot so late at night. (This is the moment where my mom stops reading my blog and calls to tell me to stop going to the gym at night). It’s not always at night though, I see more homeless people out walking around in the day than I ever do at night.

The other afternoon, I was driving home from my gym when I was stopped by the only traffic light I encounter. There was a homeless man walking toward the corner where I was waiting on the light. From the opposite direction, a father and son were walking hand-in-hand towards the same corner. I’m fairly certain they were not homeless but I’m equally certain they weren’t walking just because their Mercedes was in the shop.

The homeless man and the father-son duo arrived at the intersection at the same time. My windows were down and I briefly considered rolling them up so as to avoid any awkward money requests. As I was contemplating my window situation, the boy suddenly yanked his hand out of his fathers and walked up to the man.

The homeless man kept his eyes down and didn’t react. The boy looked up at him and without missing a beat held his hand up while saying, “You look thirsty. I don’t like it when I’m thirsty. My daddy gave me $2 to spend at the gas station but I’m going to give you one of my dollars. Then I can still get a drink and you can too.” It was at this time that the light turned green…or at least it was at this time that the car behind my honked and I noticed the light was green. As I pulled away, I saw the homeless man smile and take the crumpled $1 bill from the young boy.

I drove away thinking about the innocence of the moment. A child saw someone in need and did what he could to respond to that need…even when he didn’t have much himself. The father and I both shifted our eyes away from the unwanted opportunity to awkwardly decline giving the man money. We didn’t want to deal with the inconvenience of recognizing a need. The boy though, it was almost as if he couldn’t ignore the need.

Mark Miller wrote a song, “Child of God”. The lyrics are simple but an important reminder:

No matter what people say
Say or think about me
I am a child
I am a child of God

No matter what people say
Say or think about you
You are a child
You are a child of God

I think this is the mindset the little boy had as he handed the homeless man that $1 bill. I think this is the mindset I should have had as I contemplated rolling up my windows. I think this is the mindset I should have as I drive through the part of town in which my gym is located. I think this is the mindset I should have when I don’t want to recognize someone’s need over my convenience.

The next time someone or something makes me feel uncomfortable and I don’t want to deal with the problem, I pray that I remember that I am unbelievably fortunate to be a child of God. I hope and pray that no matter what I say or think, no matter what anyone else says or thinks, I remember that everyone I encounter is a child of God. Everyone I encounter is worth my time and my love. I hope and pray that I remember this boy’s innocence and his willingness to help another child of God.

4 Reasons articles and lists won’t solve the church’s (or it’s inhabitants) problems

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Apparently, the church is close to meeting its end. At least, that is what anyone who has even the slightest presence on social media might think based on the countless articles about millennials leaving the church. You could also be led to believe that one or more denominations are about to meet their demise due to their willingness or unwillingness to embrace traditional worship, contemporary worship, (insert name here) theology, church coffee shops, small group structure, gay and lesbian membership, or any set of “demands” by one generalized age/race/culture demographic. It appears to be a bleak, bleak world for the life of organized religion, especially Christianity.

I’m calling BS (This is the moment where some people stop reading this because I used “BS”). It’s fine if you stop reading at this point, I’m still calling it and I have several reasons. I’ve been in the church my entire life. I was born into it. I grew up in it. There were times in my teenage years and adult years since that I’ve doubted it. There were times I wanted to leave but didn’t. There have been many family members and friends I’ve watched walk away from it. Some have come back to it, some haven’t. There have been many family members and friends I’ve watched come to it for the first time. Some have stayed, some haven’t. All of these people have different ages, races, careers, socio-economic statuses…there are a lot of differences.

And ultimately, that’s the point. Even if they are the same age and race, they might have different preferences. Even if they have the same preferences, they might be from completely different walks of life. So with that in mind, here are my 4 reasons you should stop reading or writing these articles.


 

1) No two people are the same.

Stop generalizingAs a millennial, there is nothing I am more tired of seeing than articles generalizing my entire generation. It’s asinine to believe that everyone in such a wide range of ages has an overwhelmingly strong preference towards any one thing in the church. Technology? Sure. I would concede that a vast majority of my generation likes their smart phones and Macbooks. But there is no way I could be convinced that there is one style of worship that is overwhelmingly preferred to another.

I know 14 year olds who love “I’ll Fly Away” and I know 70 year olds who can’t wait to hear new songs from Hillsong. I know people in their 20’s and 30’s who feel the need to say the Apostle’s Creed and take communion every Sunday and I know 40 and 50 year olds who would be confused if you asked them to “pass the peace”.

It’s 2015. The world’s population is massive and people are living longer each year. Individuality and conformity are simultaneously preached to the masses. Information is readily available at the literal touch of a button. People can come to their own conclusions and develop individualistic preferences better than ever before. If I have worked so hard to think for myself and be my own person, why would I be attracted to your church when you lump me into a cookie cutter mold with other people just because they share my birth year? The answer is, I wouldn’t.

2) Contemporary worship isn’t necessarily irreverent and traditional worship isn’t necessarily irrelevant. 

As I said before, I’ve spent my entire life in the church and thus, spent my entire life in worship services. In that time, I’ve experienced a wide variety of traditional and contemporary settings. I love both. I see value in both. I don’t like people bashing either. I have felt God’s presence in an auditorium filled with 5000 people, intelligent lighting, huge LED screens illuminating the words, and yes, even smoke machines. I have also felt God’s presence leading a choir accompanied by a grand piano and organ in ornate and intimate sanctuaries. And to hit my first point even more, both have involved a wide array of every demographic previously mentioned.

I’ve been moved by songs written in the last two years and I’ve been inspired by the the words and music of 15th century monks and 19th century composers. I can’t wrap my mind around this terrible misconception that one is “better” than the other. I’m not saying you can’t prefer one, but that doesn’t give you the right to disrespect the other. Liturgy can be nice but so can informality.

3) People named John don’t have all the answers.

John Calvin, John Wesley, John Piper, not even John the Evangelist. And neither does any other one person living on this Earth. I enjoy reading material by all of the above. I frequently study works by C.S. Lewis and Francis Chan and I’ll even read stuff by the likes of Joel Osteen and Rachel Held Evans. But none of them have all the answers.

They may not agree on interpretations but (almost) all of them are brilliant theologians. If they don’t have all the answers, if they don’t have the secret formula to universal success, what makes us think the contributors at Relevant Magazine hold the keys? Take everything you read about the church and about generalizations with a grain of salt, even this article.

4) You don’t need coffee stands or bookstores to attract people but having them isn’t sacrilegious. 

This is a complement to my second point as they often times coincide but they aren’t exclusive. Coffee stands and bookstores in churches are a growing trend and personally, I love them. They’re convenient and provide great opportunities for fellowship while supporting the church financially. Basically, they are an excellent missional resource. That being said, churches don’t need them nor are they “selling-out” by having one.


 

In the same way that we can’t generalize people, we can’t generalize churches. Are there contemporary services that don’t seek to glorify God and rather seek to aggrandize themselves? Of course. But we can’t assume to connect the two automatically.

We have to get to the heart of why we do what we do. Anytime I am working with others in ministry, the number one thing I say over and over is “This isn’t about us.” Whether you’re leading worship, participating in worship, going into the mission field, teaching Sunday school…I don’t think it’s something that can said enough. This isn’t about us at all. These articles attempt to lead us in a false belief that there is a secret formula but there isn’t.

What there is though, is God and His people. His diverse and beautiful creation. Stop looking for the secret formula. Put down the articles and appreciate individualism. Put down the articles and respect diversity.

Music Monday 05.18.15

“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” Stuart Townsend

Yesterday in church, our worship set was centered around the constant theme of love in Scripture. I spoke about the idea that God doesn’t simply love us unconditionally, God is love. It’s not just an emotion displayed, it’s not mere affection, God is the essence of love, the very being of it. Love exists because God exists.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are ransomed. We don’t deserve it. We’ve done nothing, nor can we do anything, to earn it. But because God is love, and because love is so deep, so wide, so vast beyond all measure, we are allowed to gain from His reward. To God alone be the glory.

 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Music Monday, feel free to follow it along with the posts.