Why Reading the Bible is Turning Millennials Away from the Church

“Almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States has lost a significant number of members, Pew found, mainly because millennials are leaving the fold. More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.”

Let’s talk about this.

I grew up in the Church. Both my maternal and paternal grandpas are pastors. My parents served in youth ministry my entire life and are now missionaries in Colombia. I grew up in RA’s, Awana, VBS, Sunday school, homeless ministries, church pews, youth group, small groups, men’s breakfasts, youth retreats, and bible studies. You name a church thing and I probably participated in it at some point. I’m a Millennial Christian. I was raised in a certain culture and am who I am today because of it. A ton of people were raised similarly, but are leaving the Church and the faith and the Savior that I hold so dear. A lot of you older Christians are very confused by this. You try desperately to make youth group deeper, to get us in Scripture more, to get us to go to Bible schools and study theology and pursue God. What many of you don’t realize is that much of where you’re pushing us is actually leading us away from God, but not for the reasons you might realize.

I studied theology a bit in college. I took some classes in which I ate stuff up. I love God’s Word. I love when God corrects my beliefs or teaches me new stuff. But what confused me for a while was that these classes killed the faith of many. People actually got angry at the school and reported professors for, in their minds, discrediting and destroying faith. People across campus still talk about how the UFND theology classes at SPU pushed them away from God. In my mind, this almost has to be because the faith of these students had been placed on the wrong foundation by their churches, teachers, and culture. Rather than being taught that all of this is stuff God meant for us to encounter and wrestle with and figure out, they were taught that a challenge to previously held notions or beliefs was wrong. When all of these challenges suddenly came on, there was no foundation in the critical absolutes.

“If _____ wasn’t true, then everything could be wrong. Many of us don’t even think that _____ isn’t “true” per se, but that it can just maybe mean something else than what we’ve been taught.”

A memory of mine that has firmly shaped my theology today is that of a few words from my parents when I was a kid. It was a Sunday, the pastor had preached a good message, and I was talking to them about the service and Church. I’d left my Bible at home on accident and they reminded me, “Make sure to bring your Bible. Make sure to read your Bible and double check everything that’s said and taught. Because even though Pastor is a good guy, he could still end up teaching something that isn’t sound. Anyone can. That’s why you have to be ready to check everything against what God Himself says.” Thank God for my parents. Luckily they trained me up in a way in which the reality of my faith was dictated directly by Christ and His Salvation and what God says in His Word. A lot of us weren’t taught to challenge teaching and the Church from within it. A lot of us weren’t taught that we should be questioning and finding things that seem to conflict. A lot of us were taught that Scripture is inerrant and that this means that something that seems to conflict can’t be real, rather than being taught to dig even deeper and find the proper interpretation. A lot of us tried to resolve these things and were just shot down by leadership as if we were challenging the existence of Christ Himself. Because if ____ wasn’t true, then everything could be wrong. Many of us don’t even think that ____ isn’t “true” per se, but that it can just maybe mean something else than what we’ve been taught.

What’s happening today is what happens when you have a church with a faith based not on Christ and the Gospel, but on doctrinal teachings, culture, family, music, morals, and politics. What’s happening today is what happens when we ignore Paul when he said that he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” What’s happening is us Millennials decided to study Scripture further than anyone before us and couldn’t reconcile Scripture with what we’d been taught was foundational. What’s happening is seminary is nicknamed cemetery because of how much people’s faith dies in it as God’s Word seems to conflict with things they’ve been taught. What’s happening is a deep confusion between pursuing and knowing God and what to do when we discover things that run counter to what some have taught us “Christianity” is. What’s happening is we’re further into Scripture than ever, with an abundance of head knowledge, but our churches are failing to emphasize heart knowledge.

As we dig and dig, we’ve found things that seem to conflict, both with what was taught to us and what Scripture seems to say. We dove headfirst into Scripture and for many of us it destroyed our faith; a faith that some of Christian culture had pushed onto the wrong foundation. The Church told them that women can’t lead in Church or society. They found Deborah in the Bible. The Church told them that homosexuality is wrong based on Leviticus (Seriously, why not base those beliefs on Romans 1?). They found that you eat shellfish and that the Law was fulfilled in Christ. The Church told them that the world had to have been created in 7 literal days. They found that Jews saw the Creation account as poetry and that chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis give different orders and accounts of Creation. We found that Jesus’ ascension happened in completely different places in different parts of Scripture. You told us to dig and dig and dig. We did. And we came to you with questions. You told us that Scripture all aligned and all meant X. Much of the Church, rather than acknowledging these tough questions and trying to figure them out with us and properly interpret them, just said they were wrong, misinformed, or even blasphemous.

So what happened?

Many millennials decided it ALL must not be true; that it all must not be real. Many millennials said that if their church wasn’t right about _____ in Scripture, it might not be right about anything. Many millennials dove into Scripture and found everything they’d been taught to be challenged and at that point just said, “What? This doesn’t make sense.” And with no foundation built on challenging and deciphering Scripture, with no foundation on the essential truth of Christ, the importance of Christian community, and how to figure out seeming paradoxes, Millennials left the Church. I’ve seen this happen right before my eyes. You’ve seen it happen. Many of you just don’t seem to get why it’s happening.

“I do not believe that I am inerrant or that my pastor is inerrant.”

I believe Scripture is the inerrant Word of God. I believe it is a tool that God gave us to figure out life, to guide our morals, and to know Him. But I believe this means that we must follow Scripture over culture. I believe this means we will find things that challenge what we’ve been taught. I believe this means we will learn we were wrong and God will grow us. I believe this means that when we see stuff that doesn’t make sense, we have to dig into the Greek and the context because there really is reason for the differences. But I do not believe that the Church is inerrant. I do not believe that Christian Culture is inerrant. I do not believe that I am inerrant or that my pastor is inerrant. It seems that we’ve mixed this stuff up here in America.

I know this has been long, but I want to leave you with this encouragement, both for you Millennials and for those of you who want to make this right or dig into this stuff yourselves. The Protestant Church exists today (and the Catholic Church is better today) completely because one man found a false teaching in his church and, rather than leave or abandon the Church, attempted to teach and reform it. Perhaps you’ve heard of this Martin Luther guy. Let’s all be a little bit more like him (minus the anti-Semitism and crazy stuff from later on) and be unafraid to dig into Scripture and continue shaping and reshaping our faith forever. Let’s not abandon the Church, but wrestle with guiding it from within. Let’s not lose faith because we find God seems to say things that “Christianity” doesn’t, but rather shape our faith to the new things God teaches us constantly. Let’s be a learning and mobile Christianity.; one Body dedicated to Christ, under His grace and salvation, and living lives of sacrifice for His creation, people, and Kingdom. Amen.

A Parable

A Parable

All Who Are Thirsty

I need you to form a mental picture with me. Imagine a man. We’ll name him John. John is in a desert, on a long journey to a destination that he does not know. All he knows is that he must continue on. Of course, being in a desert, this man finds himself thirsty for water rather often. At various points along his way, he finds small bodies of water. Sometimes he even finds an oasis, with some green, shade, and cool air that gives him temporary relief in his journey. Still, at every point this water is always dirty and mucky and quite often carries some nasty stuff in it. Every now and then John finds himself sick from it. But hey, it’s what’s there. And when he’s thirsty, naturally he’s going to go to this water. After all, even if it doesn’t always leave him amazing, and sometimes even makes him worse off, it quenches that thirst of his; that ever-present thirst that never seems to go away for too long.

One day, John comes across a stranger in his travels. This stranger doesn’t look like much, but something about him intrigues our character. So John approaches the stranger and greets him. The stranger greets him in reply. This stranger has a gleam in his eye. John can’t quite place it, but there’s something welcoming and friendly about this guy.

After some conversation, the stranger points out the obvious. “You look a little parched man.”

“Yeah, no kidding. Have you looked around? This desert never seems to end. Who wouldn’t be thirsty here?”

“Yea, I can tell you, this journey isn’t exactly a short one. Sorry man. The water that you do find isn’t too great, is it?”

Slightly frustrated that this stranger is bringing up his chief point of annoyance in life, John replies, “I mean, it’s all pretty much the same. Not especially clean…and every now and then I get a little sick. But hey, it still feels great when it quenches my thirst and it’s not like there’s anything else.” The stranger smiles to himself about something as John is thinking of his exasperation, annoying John even further. “Is this amusing to you? Are you any better off out here?”

“Not amusing,” replies this stranger. “I’m just excited about what’s in store for you.”

“What?” asks John, somewhat incredulously. He goes on to make his lack of amusement clear. “What are you talking about? More desert? Oh yay.”

“Well, yes, there is more desert. Everyone’s got to make this journey. But I can help you out. I have this canteen here. It’s kind of mystical. You see, it always has clean water.”

“Well where do you get this water to put in it? Why can’t you just tell me where to get it?” inquires John, with his curiosity now piqued, but still somewhat annoyed.

“No, you don’t understand,” says the stranger, with a knowing smile. “You’re right where you get it. Just take the canteen from me and it will always have clean water. It will never run out. It will be better than what you have and you’ll have it more abundantly.”

Now John’s a little skeptical. If this is so great, why doesn’t everyone have it? Who is this guy to have this thing? Tentatively, John reaches out his hand to accept the canteen. He grabs hold of it and decides to check this thing out for himself. He takes a swig. “Wow. That really is some good stuff.” But still, he wants to see about this. It never runs out? Seriously? So he drinks more. The thing is still full! John can’t get enough. He pours it freely, with it overflowing past his mouth and down his chin.

“Pretty great stuff, eh?” comments the stranger. “Sorry, I just realized I never told you my name. I’m Judah.”

John pauses from downing the canteen and wipes his chin, “Excuse my excitement. I just haven’t ever had anything quite like this. Can’t say I ever expected to find something like this in this place either. I’m John.”

“Oh I know,” says the mysterious Judah character, with a twinkle in his eye. “Your journey will forever be different now. In a very good way, I trust. I’m glad I could sate your thirst and make this journey somewhat easier for you. Now, I must go and continue my mission to bring this mystery to others.”

“Who exactly is this guy really?” John wonders to himself. Shaking Judah’s hand, John bids him a pleasant journey and the two depart.

As he continues on, John thinks a lot about this encounter. It always leaves him a little bit in awe and amazement; how his life could change so quickly and in such a great way, from such a simple gift. Soon enough, it’s been weeks since John was thirsty. The journey still isn’t exactly peaches and cream. After all, he is still in the desert. But it is certainly better and easier. And what was it that guy said about everyone having to make this journey? What exactly lies at the end? “I don’t know,” John thinks to himself. “But I have a feeling it’s something good. That man seemed to hint at that anyways. He certainly seemed to know more about all of this than I do.”

Just as he’s thinking on this, John sees some green in the distance. An oasis! Pleasant respite. As he gets closer, he sees the body of water home to this oasis. This water actually looks really inviting. He hasn’t really drank any water from anything but that canteen in so long. Why not try something else? He approaches and dips his cupped hands into the somewhat murky water. He raises his hand to his mouth and drinks it. Not incredibly amazing, but it is certainly familiar. It just feels good to drink something here from the ground itself rather than that canteen water. After taking his fill, he sets up camp at this oasis and falls asleep for the night.

In the morning, John awakes and finds himself not feeling too great. “Ah, that water I drank must’ve had something in it. Not again. Oh well, it tasted good and I had to drink something,” he thinks to himself. Wait, it seems that John has forgotten entirely about Judah’s canteen. It’s deep in his bag. How does that even work? How does one just forget about something that changed his life so drastically and that he found so wonderful? Days go by, John drinks fills a bottle up at various watering holes, and the old life seems to be back. One day, he’s shuffling through his bag looking for something and finds that old canteen from Judah.

“Wow! I totally forgot about you!” John exclaims as he lifts the shiny silver canteen. “How did that even happen?” He excitedly drinks from the canteen, finding his thirst sated in a way that it hasn’t been in days. Our character determines that he will never let this canteen out of his sight again.

Before too long, it’s back in the bottom of his bag, he’s found a tempting oasis, and the whole process has repeated itself. Each time he comes back to Judah’s canteen, he can’t imagine why he ever let it go for so long. Sometimes, the time he goes without it is very long. Sometimes it’s only a day. Sometimes he sticks to the canteen alone for months. Sometimes only for days. But each time he rediscovers it, it’s as fresh as ever. Always there to satisfy his thirst when he needs it, no matter how long he’s foolishly left it in his bag. As time goes on, John forgets about Judah’s canteen less and less. One day he reaches the final destination of his journey. There he finds Judah and a paradise that he never could have imagined. With open arms, Judah welcomes John.

“Welcome home. I’m glad I could sustain you all the way through the journey, even if it was a little bumpy at points,” Judah says. “Now you will truly never thirst or hunger again. After all, I am the source of the water in that canteen. Let me show you the beauty of this new life.”

Let’s Break This Down

This story is the journey of a man whose life is not too much different than ours as Christians. We are all on a journey through deserts and oases in life. We all came to the One who said that we would never thirst again if we drank from his cup. And still, we somehow forget this fulfillment from time to time. We wander. We drift. We fill our lives with water besides that from the Fountain Himself. We forget entirely about this Fountain and find ourselves with empty bottles that we must refill with dirty water, pursuing all sorts of things besides God, when we have this continually full and clean canteen right there, already full.

Here’s the thing. We are made full in Christ. When we put him aside, we put aside that only fullness we have. Naturally, we will need to fill our lives (or water bottles) with something. And it will most definitely be worse for us than Christ’s ways and fulfillment, no matter how appealing it looks. It doesn’t work to merely go on and say no to the dirty water. We have to drink. We are people in need of some sort of fulfillment; some sort of pursuits and passions. This is what Christ meant when he called us to abide in him. He didn’t call us to morals first. He called us to abide and drink from his cup. After that, all things of Christ will come naturally. When you have that canteen in hand, suddenly that dirty water doesn’t look quite so appealing. Suddenly, our sin nature, the nature of this world, those natural and dirty ponds, they all seem clearly lesser than this new Source of sustenance available to us. So today my encouragement to you is this: Drink from the fountain. Don’t fight thirst with nothing but an empty bottle. Keep Judah’s canteen on hand. Don’t struggle through a desert without the Fountain of Life present with you. And if you don’t yet have Judah’s canteen, let’s talk. I know a guy.

(This blog has been based on Isaiah 55 and John 4. Check em out. They’re pretty great.)

What The Heck Am I Doing?

Proverbs 16:3,9
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

I graduate in basically three weeks. I keep worrying about life and how to dedicate my time. What to pursue primarily. Whether to work in the non-profit sector or business. At what pace I want to (or even can) grow my business. Should I momentarily take a break from Zima as I figure out the rest of life? What if I make the wrong decisions right now? Am I even supposed to stay in the US? Or am I supposed to be in Africa asap? Should I even work in the non-profit or business sector? What if I just work in ministry as a pastor or something? I could definitely see myself as a pastor. Should I look for some openings in that? Am I even qualified for that? I studied Global Development, not Theology… And then would I be able to leave my church for ministry in Africa at some point in the future?

Again, where does Zima lie in all of this? It’s really hard to start a business. I don’t feel adequate. I don’t feel like I know how to do this. But God can carry it if he wills, right? What if it isn’t his timing though? Then again, people are depending on me, on Zima. So many people across the developing world are already seeing hope and opportunity in Zima. And we’ve launched sales and operations. We can’t just put it on pause, can we?

Basically, over and over and over I enter into self-doubt throughout my day. I don’t know what to do or how to do it. But I read this passage and I find a certain peace.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.”

In my heart, I plan my course. I plan it over and over in a million ways. Sometimes I wish I had several lives to pursue several different careers and life paths. In one I’d be a missionary. In another I’d work my way up the corporate ladder. I’d have to use one life to pursue my passion for music and another to dedicate the time and practice to be a professional soccer player. Yet another life I’d spend as a pastor and author. Another I’d have to pursue would be life in the Air Force.

I know that the career I desire above all is to impact Africa through business and development and use that as a platform for missions, but as I approach graduation and begin applying for jobs and stuff, it’s really hard to see how I’m gonna get from A to B. I plan and plan and plan, trying to figure out how I’ll do this. But this verse reminds me that, hey, you really aren’t gonna be the one to make your life happen. If you’re committed to God through it all, he’ll carry you where he wills. And where he wills is better for you than anywhere else that you can be.

So Lord, here I am, committing it all to you. I’ll do what I can, but you take it and run with it. My prayer for myself and for the rest of you finding yourselves at different crossroads in life is that God will establish your steps and that you will find peace in that. As we try to “do life”, remember that God’s sovereign and has got your back. In fact, he created you for exactly whatever it is he’ll be guiding you to. So don’t worry too much about it. God’s gotcha. I promise, he’ll establish your steps.

Why So Surprised?

Short post today, but I’ve just really gotta get this off my chest.

Very few things upset/disappoint/sadden me as much as my fellow Christians exhibiting outrage when persecuted. There is no humility in outrage. There is no love in outrage. There is no witness in outrage. The only times outrage was clearly justified within New Testament Scripture were when God’s Church or temple were defiled (when Christ overturned the vendors’ tables in the temple, when Paul called Christians to excommunicate those among them bringing evil into the Body, etc).

People, this is what we committed to when we chose to walk with Christ. Christ warned us time and time again that, hey, if you choose to walk with me you’re gonna have a tough time at points. It’s to be expected that people who don’t know Christ will act as, well, people who don’t know Christ (1 Cor. 5:12). So why do we act so surprised and angry when we get some flak?

I yearn for a day when Christian culture in America realizes that we have no greater opportunity to be a witness for Christ than to respond to all forms of persecution with the love, humility, and grace first shown to us by Christ. Please, I implore you today to dare to try to be like the Lamb who didn’t even begin to protest when falsely accused, tortured, and crucified. Let’s show the world something radical: an unnatural love it cannot know outside of Christ.

My Second Meaningful Encounter at One Simple Old Stoplight

Yesterday, I had my second meaningful encounter at one specific stoplight in Seattle. Some of you know about the time I was blessed by a stoplight that skipped me three times and allowed me to talk with an incredibly kind homeless man, reminding me that things we view as inconveniences are sometimes God’s way of telling us to slow down and look around.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a man named Doug at that stoplight. I pulled up and saw a homeless man with a sign that summarized a life-changing episode, saying, “Laid off, now homeless, need work.” I looked around my car to see if I had anything to give him real quick. Nope, nothing. Then I remembered that I had some extra snacks that my boss let me take home from work today.
“Hey buddy,” I called and signalled him over. “How’s it going?”
“Eh I’m alright, how about yourself?” he replied.
“No complaints here. Hey, what’s your name man.”
“Doug.”
“Hi Doug, I’m Christopher. I just wanted to let ya know that I’ll be praying for ya. Also, I work at a cafe and have some snacks from work here. Would you like them?”
“Uh, sure,” he said, seeming kind of startled. He probably didn’t expect to encounter a guy with a little pink cardboard box offering some strange looking South African treats.
As I handed him the treats I told him, “You know, I was almost homeless once. Just last year.”
“Really? What happened?” he asked, obviously surprised.
“Lost my job, just like you. I was just kinda lucky that my parents and roommates could spot me money for my rent for a couple of months. I understand how difficult of a time it can be though, not knowing where your money for life will come from. You’ll be in my prayers man.”
Doug then reached into his pocket and pulled out the white slip that I’ve included a picture of.
“Here, these are thank you notes of sorts.” After he said this he took a bite of the spinach and feta roll I’d given him. “Wow, these are really something! Thanks!”
His face lit up just a bit and suddenly my insignificant gift was actually worth something. I hope I brightened his day at least a little.

After that my light turned green and I had to drive off, but I would like to try to do a little more for Doug. You see, his note shows that what’s happened to Doug could really happen to any of us. He has a degree in CIS and has had work his whole life. Right now he’s just hit a hard time, as many of us will at some point. So I need your help. If you know of any opportunities for work for Doug in CIS somewhere, please let me know. Or if you might know anyone who might know someone, please share this with them. Help me to make Doug’s day even better.
God bless you all.

Persecution

Per·se·cu·tion
pərsəˈkyo͞oSHən
noun
hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.

As Christians, why does persecution surprise us?

Why does it anger us and bring us outrage? Why do we demand to be treated better, often see our persecutors as opponents unworthy of God’s grace, and even sometimes retaliate or call for retaliation? Were we not told to expect this when we signed on with Christ? (2 Timothy 3:12) Were we not given directions in advance to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (Matt 5:43-48) Peter even says not to consider persecution “as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12-19). So why does our reaction to persecution of the Church today look so…well, typical? Predictable even?

My fellow Christians, God has a call for us. He is calling us to shower the world with Christ’s love. He is calling us to respond to persecution of ourselves and fellow believers not with hate or disgust for the persecutors, but with support for the suffering. Dare I say it, he is calling us to respond to the persecutors themselves with love and empathy for these lost people. He is calling for us to graciously accept anything and everything that the world throws at us or the rest of the Church. He is calling for us to turn the other cheek, to offer our tunic to those who rob us of our cloaks, and to surprise the world with how incredibly different we are. He even calls us to enter persecution knowingly and willingly.

Today, the Christian church is facing persecution of various degrees.

Tens of thousands of Christians were recently forcibly evicted from Mosul in Iraq, Christians across Syria are suffering at the hands of extremists, Christians have been imprisoned recently in Iran and Sudan, the Church continues to be persecuted to near elimination in North Korea, and Christians in Nigeria are suffering at the hands of Boko Haram. Overall, Christianity is illegal or physically dangerous in about 51 countries of the world. Persecution of a lesser degree has happened in the West, with some seeing certain political actions as persecutions of the Church and with parts of Europe being seemingly hostile to religion altogether. So yea, we’ve got some tough stuff going on. But let me tell you, we can use that hostility to turn the world on its head.

We’ve just gotta respond in a way that would turn heads.

Jesus says some pretty awesome stuff in chapter 5 of Matthew. Something he says about persecution specifically that’s always stuck out to me is Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Wow. Be glad about persecution? What? Um, Jesus, you do understand what persecution is, right? It kinda sucks… Huh, maybe he just doesn’t understand what persecution is like… Or maybe, just maybe, He plans to use our persecution to save others and to glorify His name.  In all honesty, I think many of us Christians today often respond to persecution in much the same way that anyone else would. We avoid it, detest it, and get angry about it. We march in protest, shout about our rights, and overall demand to be treated right. I can’t blame ya. Everyone deserves justice, yea? Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, yea? Isn’t that what Western society, democracy, and the modern world is all about? Equal rights for all and such gooshy stuff?

But what if we took a more humble approach?

What if, instead of spending time marching for our rights that are infringed upon, we spent that time ministering to the needs of those infringing on our rights? What if we considered others as more important than ourselves? (Phil 2:3) What if we chose to be wise not in the world’s way, but in God’s way. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18.

I will say, it is crucial and absolutely called of us as Christians to stand for justice. And we are meant to oppose wrongdoing and evil. But I believe we should oppose evil itself. Oppose the Evil One, not the ones he has deceived. Make it your priority in life to reconcile the lost to Christ, even when they persecute you or others. Let your heart break for those stuck in hatred rather than also being driven towards hatred by their actions. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12. Trust me, God will judge those who allow themselves to be instruments of evil and do not turn from their ways. No condemnation from us will even make a difference in the end.

But for us, love, above all things, is meant to emanate from our lives, absolutely regardless of anything going on in the world around us. I call you to pray for the persecuted, but to pray for the persecutors just as much (if not more). We can change the world through Christ, but we must consider ourselves nothing for the sake of others first.

Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

About a century ago, a band of brave souls became known as one-way missionaries. They bought tickets to the mission field without the return half. Instead of suitcases, they packed their few earthly belongings into coffins. As they sailed away, they waved goodbye to everyone they loved and all they knew, knowing they’d never return home. They gave up everything to leave for near-guaranteed persecution. One of those missionaries was A.W. Milne. He set sail for the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, aware that the headhunters there had martyred every. single. missionary. before him. But guess what. Milne didn’t fear for his life because he had already died to himself. His coffin was packed. He ended up living among the tribe for 35 years, sharing Christ and His love with people who had previously horrifically killed many of his brethren. When he died, they buried him in the middle of the village and inscribed the following on his tombstone: “When he came there was no light. When he left there was no darkness.” I wish to see more people thinking like that today. Counting our lives as nothing for the sake of others.

See the world as God sees it.

I hope that we can all come to see the world as God sees it, a place full of people desperately in need of their Creator, beloved and beautiful, and in need of healing over their brokenness. In Ezekiel 18:23 and 27 God says, “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?…Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live…if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.” I encourage you to do all you can in your life to help people turn to God and be reconciled to Him, so that their incredibly valuable lives will be saved.

I will leave you now with the passage of 1 Peter 3:8-18. This passage summarizes beautifully the focus that God hopes to see in our lives.
“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
    and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

The Most Difficult Love

I’m going to be vulnerable right now. I’m going to tell you something that God has put on my heart for myself to hear, but that I feel he wishes for me to share. Now, read this closely and carefully, or you will most definitely get the wrong message. I absolutely hate when people misinterpret what I’m trying to say, so pleeeease try not to do so.

But here, this is my confession: It is sometimes extremely hard for me to love God.

It’s not hard for me to like Him, to adore Him, to serve Him, or even to worship Him, but it’s honestly difficult for me to love my Creator with every ounce of my being. To add to the irony, it is often easier for me to love people than it is for me to love God. We love because He first loved us, yet it’s easier for me to show His love to others than it is for me to show that same love to Him. It’s crazy. And upon the beginning of my introspection, this discovery didn’t make much sense to me. I’m here in Africa right now with the purpose of serving and loving God and others. Yet, even in my ministry, I find it easier to minister to others, to display God’s love to the people of Nairobi, than to love God as He loves me. Despite my entire mission here being to glorify God, to live intimately with Him is still a struggle that surpasses many others in difficulty. When Jesus told us “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” he knew that we were going to face a powerful struggle just to walk with Him. Following Him can be much harder than merely following His ways. So I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve realized some stuff.

Love is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational.

First of all, a loving relationship with God is different than any other loving relationship. And we should address it as such. The closest thing to it is the analogy of a romantic relationship, as shown in Hosea and countless places in Scripture in which we as the Church are referred to as Christ’s bride. A reality that many of us know is that romance, ironic enough, is filled with a more difficult love, despite being perhaps the richest love we can experience with another person. I wonder, is this because it’s more demanding? Is this because it encompasses more? Is this just because along with more opportunities to love also come more opportunities not to? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all of those. I mean, you can cheat on a spouse, but you can’t cheat on a friend. Yea, I think that the more all-encompassing a love becomes, the more challenges we will face to its integrity. I think this fact has a role to play. A romantic love is not one that is called to action on occasion. Rather, it is meant to be constant, thoughtful, intentional, and relational. It’s a love that lives and permeates everything. In the words of DC Talk, “Love is a verb”. We don’t try to refrain from actions that would hurt our significant other just because they’re wrong, but more because of the hurt that our actions would bring them. And merely not hurting them isn’t enough. If two people in a relationship never do anything wrong, it can still be dead. We also need to be active and intentional in our love to keep a relationship strong. All of this applies to our relationship with God too. The reality that we face in our human relationships also extends to our relationship with our Creator.

We can’t just follow God as a teacher of morals, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too.

To add to the struggle in this relationship though, our entire beings, our biology, our flesh (as Paul put it), is against God and His ways. Survival of the fittest, self-interest, human nature, it all dictates that we follow our way, not God’s. Even in religious spheres, we find ourselves wanting to do things in very specific ways that we’re most comfortable with. In the social sciences, this human nature is acknowledged by many (regardless of religious belief) as something that we all must overcome, but it takes on a new dimension when we think about this nature’s potential impact on our relationship with our Creator. Luckily enough, Christ has given us a new nature, capable of acting beyond our fleshly instinct. But we still have tendencies to revert back to our old nature.

Sadly, when we pursue the desires of our old ways over his, we aren’t aiming to hurt him, yet that’s often what happens. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30). We should be aware of that. To sin against God (and all sin is directly against God), given the analogy found in the book of Hosea, is to cheat on him. It’s tantamount to betraying a spouse and the intimacy of that kind of relationship. It’s really crazy. But loving God and not sinning against Him is so much more than just not doing things. It’s about actively doing things too. You could be getting all the morals right, but still be missing the message behind the morals. We have to make sure not to just follow God’s way in our religious beliefs, but to follow God’s way in our life and relationships too. We can’t just follow God as a teacher of law, we need to walk with Him as our intimate Maker too. Dang, this love thing is complex!

It’s easier to display God’s love than it is to bask in it.

But it sure is rewarding. I’ve always found it ironic that so much within us tells us that we have better things to do than pray in God’s presence, get into Scripture, or spend time just…in relationship with God, when those very things are the most fulfilling, joyful, and peace-bringing activities we can engage in. In fact, that’s what’s at the heart of Christianity itself. In Matthew 22, Jesus says “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Everything in our faith stems from these two commandments. If we learn to be consistent and make that our lifestyle, it changes things for us. Yet, how easy it is to forget that joy, that peace, and that fulfillment. It’s crazy. It’s easier to go out and display God’s love than it is to bask in it. But the most difficult things are often the most rewarding. How greatly that applies here. I challenge you today to take a second to thinking about whatever you’re doing for God, to pause in your worship, service, or adoration, and reflect on whether you’re really loving God or not. I challenge you to pause as I had to do and make sure that you aren’t merely living a life for God, but that you’re living a life with God.

As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.

Metaphorically, are you the person who’s buying their kids anything and everything they could ever want, yet who never spends time in relationship with them? What those kids want most isn’t the stuff that they have plenty of. What they want most is their parent’s love. Those toys and goodies mean nothing if the parent giving them is nothing more than a stranger. So don’t be a stranger with God. He saved you to reconcile you to Him, not to just get you to do more stuff in His name. ‘Reconcile’ is a relational word. Remember that. Let us together strive to live out this difficult, but incredibly rewarding, relationship of love with God. As you try to live out a life for God, don’t forget to love Him in the process.

I’m Going to Kenya!

Dear Friends & Family,

I hope this letter finds you well!  Life has been full of a lot of things for me lately.  I’m currently in my junior year at SPU as a Global Development major, serving as the administrative assistant on the Sharpen ministry team at SPU (Sharpen is a hospitality ministry tasked with creating opportunities for community for off-campus students at SPU), working as a barista at a South African café by the name of Cederberg Tea House (Come visit me at work for some good eats and drinks!), and now preparing to serve with Africa Inland Mission this summer in Nairobi, Kenya!

 

I have a strong love for the people of Africa, their unique stories, and their cultures.  At this time it seems that God is allowing me to serve in Africa for my second time before I’ve begun my full career.  When I was in high school I had an opportunity to serve on a team with Adventures in Missions in Swaziland.  Now I’ll be serving in Nairobi with Africa Inland Mission alongside local missionaries and one other short term missionary from the US.

My primary ministry will be taking on a discipling and mentorship role for young men going through a vocational training program put on by the Africa Inland Church.  For many participants, this program is the only chance at a life outside of poverty.  Also, many of these young men have aged out of an AIC orphanage and struggle with identity issues, having no family or tribe to identify with.  Not only will I provide companionship, discipleship, and counsel, but I’ll also learn plenty myself from these men.  This will be an opportunity for me to grow and learn alongside young men whose own spiritual and physical conditions are also being nurtured.

My secondary ministry will be serving in the Kibera slum alongside the organization Spur Afrika.  My tasks will likely vary widely, but I will likely be working with youth primarily (through sports if I’m lucky!).  Kibera.org says of the slum, “…money cannot help without people to direct it – all the organizations require assistance.  They all need intelligent, keen, willing, and compassionate people to help…Many could work in Kibera, where they would achieve a real sense of doing some good.  Kibera is crying out for people to help.”  I hope to be able to fill some needs in whatever ways God leads while I’m ministering in Kibera.

 

As I prepare for this trip, I have needs that I would appreciate your assistance in!  For one, I could definitely use your prayers!  Please pray for the following:

–          That God would prepare me spiritually, physically, and mentally for ministry in Nairobi.

–          That He would guide me in my preparations for the trip and keep things smooth as I take the necessary steps to make this trip happen.

–          That He would prepare hearts and minds for the works and words that my mission teammate and I will bring.

–          That He would teach my teammate and myself many things before, during, and after our trip.

–          That He would open hearts and bring all of the financial support needed by myself and my teammate.

–          And that He would make his name glorified through us.

 

Also, I need to raise $3,600 more by May 2nd for this trip!  Two weeks to go! Whew, we’re on a crunch! If you have even $5 that you can donate I would greatly appreciate it. You can donate to my trip and help establish God’s work by going to aimint.org/usa/, clicking on “Online Giving” under the “Giving” tab, and finding my name under “Missionaries (from USA)”.  You can also give me a written check or cash to put towards my funding.  All donations are tax deductible; and all checks should be made out to Africa Inland Mission. Please do not place my name anywhere on the check – instead use the included form. All checks should be sent directly to me, so that I may record them and then pass them on to AIM.  All donations will be incredibly appreciated and will be blessed by God above (2 Cor. 9:6-15).

I will periodically provide updates on my preparations and then hopefully on my trip itself on my blog.  I hope you all have a pleasant spring and remember me in your prayers!

 

Sincerely,

Christopher Haylett

 

 

P.S. Some fun facts about where I’ll be serving:

  • The 14th largest city by population in Africa, Nairobi is known by much of the world as the hub of East Africa.
  • A neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, the Kibera slum is the second largest in Africa, with anywhere from 200,000 to one million residents.
  • The Economist published an article in 2012 suggesting that Kibera “may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet” and that “to equate slums with idleness and misery is to misunderstand them”.

Recognizing Brokenness

Today in my Issues In African and Asian Christianity class we spent some time reading about a pastor in Baghdad.  In our reading, the author took a moment to briefly describe the reality of the violence that this pastor had placed himself in the midst of, mentioning that one day on his way to his church the pastor walked past 60 bodies graphically hanging along the street. What struck me at this moment wasn’t that fact itself, but how I almost heard that and merely thought “Wow, that’s rough,” instead of feeling actual anguish; anguish over the brokenness of our world displayed in the reality that this pastor was experiencing around himself.

The lyrics of Hosanna immediately came to my mind when I considered this. It’s a song we sing in church all the time, but I don’t think we really always mean the lyrics. In the bridge we sing, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.  Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause.” Do we really mean those words though? Do our hearts break at the injustice in the world? Why do we tolerate the brokenness? Why do we settle for “that’s just how the world is”, rather than being the change that we [should] wish to see in the world and refusing to accept the world as it is?  Why do we hear facts like “About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes. (UNICEF.org)”, and not respond with outrage that we as a society allow this to happen?  Why is the brokenness of the world not constantly, or even really occasionally, on our minds?

I’m not saying that we should all be mopey and depressed about how broken the world is, but I think reality should hit us, and it should hit hard.  We shouldn’t just be satisfied living life with our nice cars, big homes, clean running water, and monthly $10 donation to some random charity.  We should be praying earnestly, taking some kind of time out of our year for ministry outside of our home city, taking some kind of time for ministry in our cities, ministering to the ‘least of these’, living as Christ actually lived.  Sometimes I think much of our Church in America seems more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, obsessed with a moral code and ‘righteous’ living, rather than like Christ himself, loving the marginalized and living humbly and embracing those who are suffering while walking with God in ways that reflect more of his positive actions than his negative ones (Do vs. Do Not).  We have an abundance of sympathy here in the US, but a real shortage of empathy.  When we see pain, we’re more likely to respond with “Wow, that’s a bummer,”  than we are to respond with, “Wow, that’s terrible.  Let me come alongside you and just be here for you in whatever way I can.  You’re actually worth some of my time.”

I’m not demanding that we all just pack up our stuff and leave for the most broken and violent regions of the world right now, ready to risk everything in order to display God’s love for people in the midst of violence and poverty (although some of us really should).  What I’m saying is that we should feel something for these people.  We should care.  The plights of the impoverished, the abused, the victims of violence, the trafficked, the homeless, the broken, the weary, and all those suffering should be addressed in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our giving, and in how we spend our time.  Christ did not come so that we could have happiness in our little bubbles of security and wealth (If you even make minimum wage then you’re richer than at least 80% of the world.  Think about that sometime.).  He didn’t come to establish a moral code (the Pharisees already had that covered).  He didn’t even come so we could just tell people about him and all share some kumbayas and joy.  He came to redeem the world back to himself and to change our lives radically.  The lives of the early Christians we find in Scripture were incredibly changed when they put their faith in Christ.  What if we actually began to care about the world as God does?  What if Christ’s love showed up in our time, our finances, our prayers, our churches, and even our daily attitudes and the most minuscule of actions?  What if the status of the world we live in really began to mean something to us?  I don’t think we could help but change it.

Even if we can’t regularly place ourselves among those suffering for whatever reason (Maybe you legitimately don’t have the time to volunteer regularly or something.  I get that.  I’ve been there.), we can at least make a difference in our every day actions.  For one thing, we can be active in intercessory prayer for those suffering.  In many places where God acts in Scripture it’s directly in relation to prayers (Exodus 3, Judges 3, and Acts 12 are just a few examples).  I don’t know why God allows us to have a direct impact on how and when he acts, but it seems that he does. For whatever reason, he seems to desire for us imperfect men and women to be part of the actions he takes in His perfect redemption of the world.  And beyond prayer, we should be living lives overall that serve as reflections of the grace and love that we’ve been able to experience thanks to Christ.  Next time you see that homeless person on the corner, invite em to dinner.  Next time you know someone struggling with finances while you’re doing pretty well yourself, anonymously help them out.  Maybe in the next year you could even dedicate some time to putting yourself in a distant city or nation in the service of God.  We can’t fix all of the brokenness of the world ourselves, but we can be unique parts in the story of God doing so.

I want to end with two passages from Scripture.  The first is one of exhortation to action.  The second is one of the hope that we can have in Christ’s redemption of the world.  As someone who currently studies poverty, injustice, and the overall brokenness of the world that needs fixed, the hope that God has given us for the happy ending is sometimes all that keeps me from just burying my head in the sand.

Isaiah 58:6-7,9-10
“6 Is not this the fast that I choose;
to loosen the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
…9 Then you shall call and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom shall be as the noonday.”

That’s what God wants from us more than all the worship, fasting, mega-churches, sermons, and tithing in the world.

Hosea 2:18-20
“…18 And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.  19 And I will betroth you to me forever.  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy.  20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the LORD.”

God promises to remove the pain of this world.  He promises that we’ll one day live in peace and justice and perfect intimacy with Him.  But if we do not fight the world’s current brokenness ourselves, we miss being part of God’s active redemption and renewal.  It has been said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.  Luckily for us though, we have a God who will act regardless of whether we do or not.  But still, I exhort you to be that change that you wish to see in the world, and to earnestly wish to see many things change.

Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours.