My views on abortion

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This post was written in connection with a larger post, Why I am voting third party, so I’m going to take a decidedly election-centric approach here. Sorry if you stumbled upon this looking for a more generic discussion. This is a long post that you may not agree with, so here is your trigger warning. Read at your own risk.

Everyone oversimplifies the issue of abortion. One side says it’s simply an issue of women’s rights while the other says it’s straight up murder. From my point of view, it’s actually an incredibly complicated issue, and one that has very little real middle ground. This is the result of years of attempting to come to terms with it and to try to find some middle ground. First off, let’s start with some of my basic assumptions. People support or oppose abortion for a variety of reasons. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to assume that individuals on both sides are actually being forthcoming with the reasons they state. I’m going to assume for the sake of this discussion that a woman’s right to control her body and make her own choices is the foundation of the pro-choice argument and that a desire to avoid the killing of a child is the pro-life argument.

Despite what people say, this is not always the case. I’ve had conversations with lots of people on both sides. I’ve read hundreds of posts on the internet. There are pro-choice individuals who argue for abortion because it’s a women’s rights issue, when they really support it as a form of population control. Some say they support access to abortions for poor individuals because it’s a women’s rights issue, but they really support it because they believe it will prevent crime and poverty. On the other side, there are plenty of “pro-life” people whose primary objective is to press women towards chastity or punish women for making their own independent decisions. It’s obnoxious and disgusting. All of these are noble goals in the minds of those who support them, but they are also paths that lead to complex conversations independent of the issue of abortion. I’m going to touch on them at times, but they’re not going to be the primary focus here.

So, having gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the foundations of both sides’ arguments. The pro-choice arguments rely upon the assumption that until birth, a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus is not a human child and does not therefore have any rights. This viewpoint is clearly spelled out in-depth on the ACLU website. If this is true, it proceeds that the fetus is simply a part of the woman’s body, and as such, she should have full rights to do with her body as she pleases. The pro-life arguments, on the other hand, rely upon the assumption that a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus is actually a human child even before birth and should have its own rights.

Any situation where the rights of separate individuals come into conflict is very complicated. It is for this reason that we have a government…to determine who should have rights and whose rights should get precedence. Sitting atop the legal system are the courts. Even if a law is proposed by the legislative branch and signed into law by the executive branch, the courts still have the ability to declare it unconstitutional. It makes sense, then, that the battle over rights has been fought primarily in the courts. It also makes sense that the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, is seen as the key to any significant legal challenge to abortion. Giving the multiple potential vacancies that could occur during the next presidency, the issue of abortion has taken center stage this election cycle. So, having laid out the foundation, now it’s time to do some digging into where I land on it.

My beliefs

I’m about to say a lot of things that a lot of people disagree with. I realize this, and I just ask that if you read the following, you continue past it and read the rest. I promise it gets better. 🙂

I believe that from the moment of conception, a new human life is formed. Given the right conditions, this human zygote will develop into a human embryo, a human fetus, and then be born as a baby. I believe that at every stage, this human should have inalienable rights. I believe that this means everything possible should be done to nurture, preserve, and develop this life.

I have a variety of reasons that I hold these beliefs. One main reason I initially developed this belief was that I saw so much conflicting information and conflicting opinions on the issue. I’ve met multiple women who aborted an unwanted fetus early in life and then mourned over losing a baby to a miscarriage later. Despite mostly rulings in favor of abortion, even the courts are still confused on it. I’ve seen cases of criminals who attack pregnant women and cause them to lose their pregnancy charged with murder. At some point I had to wonder why something is a human with rights worth defending and mourning if it is wanted and simply a part of a woman’s body if not. This confusion is what the ACLU is attempting to combat via its opposition to fetal rights.

Everyone seems to agree that a newborn baby has rights. Walking back through the process of pregnancy from there, I cannot see another point other than conception at which one can argue with logical consistency that this organism becomes a human with rights. If it’s a human with rights when it exits a woman’s body, why isn’t it a human with rights 15 seconds before it exits. If it’s a human with rights before it exits, why isn’t it a human with rights at any point after it could survive viably outside the womb? If it’s a human with rights when it can viably survive outside of a womb, why isn’t it one when 10 more minutes of development would make it able to do so? Can one be a human without a heart? How about without a brain? Well, what if with another 10 days it could get a brain or heart? Back and back I go, until I arrive at fertilization, in which a zygote is formed with a unique genetic code. In-vitro fertilization, in which a zygote is created by humans, kept in a growth medium for a few days, implanted into a woman’s uterus, and then carried to birth can lead to a human being born. So, why stop anywhere before then? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my Christian faith plays into this to an extent. However, it mostly plays in through the fact that I believe that every human has intrinsic value given by a loving God. I believe denying the value of any life not only has consequences for the life in question, but for the lives of many others. I don’t believe in exemptions for rape or incest, because I don’t believe a child born out of rape or incest has any fewer rights than any other. I am hesitant to support exemptions for health of the mother, because pregnancy can be a dangerous thing and from what I have read, determining when the mother’s life is at risk is complicated.

Yes, I know all this this sounds like lunacy to many people. It sounds like lunacy to me sometimes. You see, I’m also a strong pragmatist, and I realize that this is a nearly impossible standard to hold to. Aside from its legal effects on abortion itself, it would have far-reaching consequences. It would make IVF incredibly complicated legally. It would eliminate the possibility of supporting any birth control methods that prevent implantation by thickening the uterine lining or damaging the zygote. It would bring into question a woman’s legal responsibility for smoking or drinking during a pregnancy. I keep returning to the fact that a lot of policies and laws put in place are impossible to uphold. Take speed limits, for example. These laws are put in place to protect people, but everyone goes 5 over. As I’ve sat and thought about this issue, I’ve asked myself which pieces of this belief are bend-able. Which are practical? Which are enforceable? How do we get as close to this goal as possible, if this is my gold standard (this is a figure of speech…I don’t support the gold standard…that is dumb)?

The current reality

I’ve studied economics, and I have a very healthy appreciation of consequences. I have studied public policy, and I have a healthy appreciation for the challenges of implementing laws and policies. In 2012 in the U.S., there were an estimated 700,000 abortions performed. I’m not a woman, so I can never fully understand the pressures that come with pregnancy. Having said that, being raised by a single mother, I got a firsthand view of how incredibly hard that was. Having watched many of my friends go through pregnancies recently, it’s an incredibly difficult experience, physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and professionally. Each of those 700,000 abortions represents a woman facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, trying to determine how to continue living her life in light of it. She could have the child, taking on a decades-long financial and emotional commitment. She could put the child up for adoption, but that means going through a long, challenging pregnancy, often without the support of the “father” who ditched her. She could have an abortion and deal with any emotional consequences down the road.

I wonder sometimes how many pro-lifers really understand the full impact of their beliefs and what their coming to fruition would do. How many really sit down and spend time thinking about those 700,000 women, or to make it more realistic, one of them. I wonder some times how many actually care about that woman or that child, and what they would be willing to give up to stand behind their caring. The pro-life movement has so often thrown its energy and resources to the courts, and I honestly think it’s hard to see them as unjustified in doing so. Most oppressed groups can at least speak out on behalf of themselves, but pro-lifers like myself believe each of those 700,000 fetuses were actually humans that can’t speak or advocate for themselves. If we truly believe it is the taking of a human life, then shame on us if we don’t speak out. However, I can’t just turn my back on the consequences of what a legal victory would bring. Sure, I think some of those unwanted fetuses would become incredibly loved children after their mother met them. Sure, I think there are some women who probably make the decision without seriously considering the implications. However, that does not in any way take away from the fact that many, and more likely most of those women sat down, measured the costs, and found that abortion was their best option.

The sad part is there’s really not a whole lot of middle ground here. Take Hillary Clinton’s statement that an “unborn person” has no constitutional rights. She pissed everyone off. It’s either a person or a fetus. If it’s just a fetus, then any restrictions on abortion are oppressive, unnecessary, and even tragic for women. If it’s actually a person/human with rights, then any allowance for abortion is oppressive and tragic.

So, where does this leave me?

I wish every day that there was a freely available and highly effective method to transfer a recently-conceived human zygote, human embryo, or human fetus from one woman to another. I would pay hundreds of dollars in taxes or donations to that. There are so many women and couples facing infertility, aching for the chance to have an infant, and I have seen significant numbers of additional families who would be willing to adopt infants. However, I haven’t seen anything yet that shows that as a possibility any time soon.

It seems to me that we’ve had serious problems in the past in our country with people trying to decide what was a full human based on their own interests and needs. At one point, we essentially decided some people were only worth 3/5ths of other people based on how they looked, and that “compromise” didn’t really work out so well given that we now see it as a tragic time in our country’s history. I think we can all agree that humans in general are really bad at seeing past our own interests, so I think the only way forward is for us to have some honest conversations and be willing to put some things on the table.

I think the court battles need to continue to happen, because I think they’re necessary. However, I don’t think that’s the only hope for decreasing the number of abortions that take place. In fact, I wonder sometimes if it’s even a good hope. Look at Brexit. Everyone thought it was a good idea until it happened, and now everyone is sitting around wondering if they really wanted the change they voted for. In the meantime, I wish people from both sides get together to try to come up with a plan to simply minimize the number of abortions that happen, because I think that’s the only middle ground available at the moment. 

I depart from many conservative Christians in that I think a good starting point is funding sex education and ensuring availability of contraception for all people. However, I realize beliefs have some effect on that, as even I take issue with most non-barrier methods due to them preventing implantation. As much as it bothers me to do so, I think I just have to give in on this one. I think conservative families have to step up to the plate on adoption, especially from foster care, to prove to the world that we’re serious about this. Until these things happen, I don’t think the pro-life movement can be taken seriously. Perhaps these things make me a hypocrite. Perhaps I’m not standing strongly enough for what I believe in. However, I’m looking for a path forward…motion…progress…something.

I think liberals need to ask themselves how much they’re willing to risk here. If there was a true, strong moderate/conservative running for president this cycle, there is a decent chance, through supreme court appointments, that the legality of abortion could be challenged and even overturned within the next 4 years. Just sit back and think about that. Seriously, do it. Are you ready for that eventuality? That’s really the only option on the table at the moment, and for the first time in decades, it has potential. Now, realize this. This one, single issue, might turn out enough voters to get you President Trump. Assuming ya’ll are really for women’s rights, let’s sit down and talk about how serious you are about it. What are you willing to give up to make sure those are maintained? Would you be willing to negotiate a sex-ed curriculum with people who have a fundamentally different approach to sex as you? Would you be willing to give up federal funding of Planned Parenthood and make up that funding yourself? Yes, I know abortions are only 1% of what they do, but you’re sitting across the table from people who believe that 1% of some of their taxes are going to murder. Yes, I understand you feel the same way about some of your taxes going to a military that sometimes accidentally bombs civilians. Hey conservatives, come sit down. Let’s talk about military funding.

Yeah, that’s kinda funny, but it’s the truth of the situation. This isn’t easy, and I don’t think it should be, but I think we’ve come to a time where we have to get serious about this issue and try to find a way past the impasse that’s held it steady for years, because we’ve gotten incredibly close to it shifting via the courts.

How does this affect my vote?

I don’t feel that I can ever support a candidate who outright endorses abortion. I ache over the issue of abortion. I pray and am brought to tears by it. I honestly wish for it to be made illegal. However, I also don’t feel that I can support a candidate who is willfully blind to the consequences that making abortion illegal would create.

How does this affect my faith?

For the Christians out there. I trust God. It’s hard to write that, because a lot of times it’s not true. However, believing in God demands trusting God, and as much as I try, I cannot escape believing in Him. Here’s something I’ve learned over the years. I prayed for years for revival, for thousands to believe the gospel. I prayed for it, I fasted for it, I ached for it. I wanted others to know the hope that I had found. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the church isn’t ready for revival. So, I turned my efforts to asking what it would take to prepare for revival. We’re told over and over again to prepare the way of the Lord…to prepare for His coming. Well, I think the same thing is in play here. I don’t think we’re ready for abortion to be illegal. As much as I ache for it, I have turned my efforts towards preparing for it. I’ve tried my best to understand the plight of the poor, those who are struggling with the question of how they can support a child. I’ve donated to friends adopting children. I’ve set it in my heart to consider foster care and invest in communities in need as I can. Yes, I know many of us do that already, but do it with renewed vigor, knowing that it could prepare the way for that which many of you have ached for.

I don’t believe that me choosing not to vote for Donald Trump dooms millions of children to death. I don’t believe it makes me a bad Christian or conservative. I don’t believe it makes me a supporter of abortion or means we’ll be losing the country. I believe the situation is far more complicated than that, much more is at stake, and I earnestly hope and pray that the single choice I make in a booth will be eclipsed by hundreds of decisions I make on a daily basis for the cause of Christ. I trust God.

 

 

Election reflections

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It’s been fascinating to me to watch this election cycle. I’ve had at least half a dozen deep discussions and and full on debates with friends about so many different sides of this. I decided I’d put down a few thoughts just because everyone else is and I need to clear my head.

The grass isn’t nearly as green as you thought

I feel like this election is giving the parties the opportunity to see what it looks like from the other side. Democrats have two rich, white candidates. Granted, one of them is female, which is a huge deal. Very few women (among them Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin) have even gotten close to just becoming Vice President, much less President. However, on the other side, Republicans have had two individuals of Hispanic descent this cycle and have had a black man as a serious contender in both of the last two cycles. The party often identified with racism and bigotry has shown quite the tendency towards diversity, and I think that’s progress.

Speaking of minorities, Republicans have claimed for years that minorities are winning elections for Democrats, but that the policies Democrats put in place are hurting these individuals more than helping. They usually argue this on the grounds that Republican fiscal policies would better promote job growth for these often working class individuals. I’ve often heard this paired with frustration that stems from a belief that many minority individuals are uneducated and are just voting for the party they’re told to or voting based entirely on personality and not on substance. I think back to President Obama’s first run, when he was seen by many Republicans as simply having won a popularity contest with no actual ideas. I seem to remember the phrase “voting for someone who looks like them.”

Enter the current Republic front runner, who has offered essentially no tangible policy ideas and has run entirely on personality and questionable business success. He’s a man who says what he thinks and feels in the moment without regard to how it sounds and whose most noticeable fashion accessory is a trucker hat. Donald Trump, to me, is everyone’s redneck uncle and/or 3rd cousin who made (and also lost) a whole lot of money through various odd business ventures. He’s the guy whose dad was a home builder in a rural area turning suburban who started helping out with the family business in high school and was able to make it work from there…except he was in New York working with much higher numbers. Everyone said George Bush was someone you could have a beer with. The Donald is that guy you can share a case of beer with while watching a football game and complaining about how your neighborhood is becoming more dangerous because of all the blacks and hispanics moving in…at least until he got annoyed with your whining.Take a look at a voting heatmap and you’ll see that most Trump supporters tend to live outside of major cities, have lower relative income levels, and lower education levels. The rapper Eminem has a lot in common with the Donald, in his statement that he’s “Like a head trip to listen to, cause I’m only giving you things you joke about with your friends inside your living room. The only difference is I got the balls to say it in front of y’all and I don’t gotta be false or sugarcoated at all.” Well, there is one other difference. The Donald actually has a means of doing something tangible with those feelings. I think there may be a correlation here…something about voting for someone who looks like you.

As President Obama surprised everyone with his breakaway campaign in 2008 by preaching hope and change, Mr. Donald is surprising everyone with his breakaway campaign by preaching…himself. The thing is, we’re ok with that, and this isn’t an isolated case. Trump, to me, is all these things mixed with the Georgia Board of Regents member who was voted into another term even though he was having a well publicized extramarital affair with the gymnastics coach and earned the team sanctions by flying gymnasts on his private jet to party in New York (http://www.redandblack.com/opinion/leebern-jr-should-not-still-be-a-university-system-regent/article_e9ccca27-1122-5181-b8dd-c1668d4198b3.html). The thing is, no one really cares about that guy. He’s one of the biggest donors to the University system. How much harm can he do? It’s probably a net positive to keep him there.

Why is Trump succeeding?

As I wrote to a friend yesterday, economics teaches that gathering and processing information has a significant cost in terms of time and mental energy. Information that challenges your beliefs is even more expensive. College removes significant amounts of that expense, as you’re forced to sit in rooms and confront ideas that differ from yours and people who are different than you in order to move forward. Living or working in a major city does the same. Those who don’t get the opportunity to go to college or who live/work in rural areas have much higher cost and time barriers to delve into the depths of topics like economics or immigration reform. That said, we all actually face those same constraints. When’s the last time a college educated city dweller delved deep into determining the relative pros and cons of the two candidates for state commissioner of agriculture? I know there are quite a few rural-dwelling blue collar individuals who could give you an earful about them, whereas I just abstain or pick whatever name I’ve seen the most signs for. I think people are choosing Trump for the same reason.

In a time when it’s tough to get even 7 out of 10 top economists to agree on the best minimum wage level, when there are massively diverse opinions from experts on how to reform the prison system, when we can’t decide if having guns increases or decreases violent crime rates, and when a single payer system may either give everyone healthcare or lead to death panels, it may be a bit optimistic to expect people to vote on anything more than a name or personality. When life consists of working 40-50 hours of hard work a week and coming home to take care of a family of 4, a tweet of a quote from a dictator whose name you haven’t heard in 30 years probably doesn’t seem that important. In reality, how much is it going to matter which person gets in office anyway to that individual? They’re probably not making minimum wage, so that’s not a concern. To them, getting less money from their paycheck due to higher taxes, making sure an immigrant doesn’t take their job, making sure the economy doesn’t go bad so they still have a job, making sure they can keep buying ammunition for their ranch rifle, and making sure terrorists don’t blow them up are probably actually the most important and relevant issues.

Speaking of which, Trump has said things about all of these. Sure, he’s been on both sides of all of these issues at most points, but hasn’t every politician? John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both famously changed their stances on many major issues, which may have led to their eventual defeats as the Democratic electorate tried to decide whether they were trustworthy (or it may have had something to do with recounts…who knows). Now the Republicans get the chance to deal with the same. Does he want to accept refugees or deport them? Yes to both. Is he actually pro-life? I have no idea. He likes being flexible…whatever that means. At this point, we enter what I’ll call Maslow’s hierarchy of giving a damn. I’m sure there’s a proper sociological term…perhaps a stress-induced halo effect? Anyway, it comes down to…when you can’t be sure you’ll have a job tomorrow because you’re afraid immigrants will take it, it’s probably somewhat harder to care about the fate of terrorists’ families. This is why economics is called the drab science…because we say things like that. Remember that time you had a bad morning, were running late to work, got cut off, and you turned from NPR to the rock station in anger because you really didn’t have the emotional capacity to care about the person talking about the fate of kids living on the streets in Cleveland anymore? Same idea, in a more chronic sense.

People behave differently under stress, and both sides of the aisle have done a great job stressing us out by convincing us the US is struggling and in need of hope, change, and being made great again. It’s a great strategy, and likely a necessary strategy to build momentum and interest in a process that generally frustrates and exhausts us. People have mental and emotional limits on how much empathy they can give and how many decisions they can make, so let’s make empathy and decisions easy by using slogans instead of policies and emphasize the vague over the specific. Specifics are hard, but fear alleviation is easy. Sure, when you dig in to it, you find that research generally points towards the immigrants not replacing you but instead eventually leading to more management positions opening up, but when’s the last time you sat down and cracked open the American Economic Review? The individual may have heard something about it on CNN, but that’s a liberal news outlet, right? Can it be trusted? Information costs time and effort, and trustworthy information takes more. A lack of trustworthy information leads to more uncertainty, and more uncertainty leads to simplifying our decision making process. I can’t trust the information I’m getting externally, so let’s turn internal. Hence…is this person likable…can I relate to them…would they make the same decisions I would? I like that goofy hat…he’s been successful so far in business…I can tell because he’s rich…I don’t like politicians…at least he has some strong opinions…he’s a Republican…I’m a Republican…he can get things done…it’s a go.

The Berninator

Having said all that, there is one candidate who seems to be quite consistent in his opinions. The Berninator has been the new hotness (while on the surface appearing old and busted) this cycle. I’ve found it interesting watching his campaign, especially in that it’s so similar to Trump’s. Sure, he has some actual policy ideas, but their political and economic feasibility seems right up there with Trump’s insistence on making Mexico pay for a wall. Do we really think a congress filled with individuals making over $200k annually is going to approve a plan whose top bracket effective tax rate has been estimated at anywhere from 52-75%? I’m pretty sure he couldn’t get that through a Democratic supermajority in both houses. They’d go all Will Smith on it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hs3NzBx5ei0). Also, most estimates I’ve seen show increases in the tax burden across the board. Taxes can be both helpful and dangerous things, causing much damage when used poorly. I admire Bernie’s dedication to healthcare for all, and honestly even as a conservative I would love to see it in my lifetime. However, I just don’t think it is realistic in a country and a government filled with as much division and bloat as we currently see.

At least Bernie isn’t racist or bigoted…or otherwise dismissive of individuals due to certain characteristics or beliefs they have, right? No, he’s really not, from everything I’ve seen. He’s run a very good, somewhat unrealistic campaign. However, there was that one time he went to one of the most conservative colleges in the country and spoke to an audience likely filled with individuals who feel that the killing of half a million+ babies annually might be a serious issue. Now, before I make a point, we need to pause here for an honest chat. You see, to many people (including one whose name rhymes with Panders), these are just fetuses with no rights. They often refer to them as parasites or simply tissue. To these people, it’s absolutely beyond reason that anyone would care about a clump of cells. They are unwanted growths that have encumbered a woman’s life and don’t deserve any consideration. However, some people (especially those whose names rhyme with Drumpf) view undocumented immigrants and their children as individuals with no rights. They often refer to them as “Mexicans.” They are unwanted parasites that have broken the law and don’t deserve any consideration. To these people, it’s absolutely beyond reason that anyone would care about an undocumented immigrant. “It’s a human with dignity and inherent rights,” screams the opposition from both sides. “It’s not the child’s fault that he was put in the situation he’s in. She doesn’t deserve to be taken away from the only place she has ever been, the source of provision and life, and put into a situation where she will surely die.” You see, we have more in common than we thought. Is this a perfect argument? No. Is it overly simplified and does it gloss over critical parts of both sides? Yes. Is it offensive? Probably. Does it make a point well? Hopefully. No, we’re not all the same, but we do all view certain beliefs that other people have as completely irrational, untenable, and worth of being called a name. That said, many people actually have have strong, logical reasons for the ridiculous beliefs they seem to espouse. Even if they don’t, perhaps they themselves deserve some dignity as we approach these beliefs. I prefer to skip the names and try to talk about these things…though that’s hard to do.

So, back to Bernie, who was at a talk filled with individuals who believe that half a million children are being legally killed annually. He made this statement early on in his speech: “I understand that the issues of abortion and gay marriage are issues that you feel very strongly about. We disagree on those issues. I get that, but let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and in fact to the entire world, that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on and maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.” It’s a great line, and well delivered. However, I can’t help thinking that it feels more than a bit dismissive of an issue that a significant portion of his audience considers the biggest humanitarian and ethical crisis in our nation. I get it…most Democrats do the same…but the audacity that it took to plan a speech at such a venue and then drop that line is incredible. Sure, it’s not racist or bigoted (perhaps birthist if you need a term for it…discriminating on the basis of whether one is born or not), but I’ve yet to see Trump go to Agnes Scott and dismiss women’s rights or LGBT issues to talk about growing the economy. To me Bern Gully is pretty much just as unrealistic and probably as brazen as the Donald.

Where do we go from here?

People talk about how the Republican party is fracturing, and a lot of people are scared for its outcome. However, I think a lot of Democrats have to be nearly as nervous for their own party. It’s much less likely to split, but it seems we live in a time where personality, unwarranted devotion, and extremism is king on both sides. John McCain was always called a maverick, but these guys are showing him up quite well. This is perhaps a dangerous game to play, but one that doesn’t have a readily available solution. Checks and balances are there for a reason, but even those have weakened more and more in recent years. I hope that whomever ends up in office will live up to the dignity of the position. I hope whatever ends up happening with congress, that they will realize that the President is actually their enemy as much as he’s their ally. I hope that the justices appointed will adhere to the constitution as well as to justice itself. I will pray for all of them.

For me, I believe I will always lean conservative. I’m ok with change, but only when it’s actually based on serious discussion, debate, research, and has a healthy dose of empathy to the other side’s concerns. Empathy seems fairly lacking in today’s environment. Liberalism just jumps too quickly for me. That said, conservatism gets frustrating sometimes. The Republican party missed its chance on so many issues. The libertarian side could have offered a non-governmental solution to same-sex marriage years ago, but the religious side prevented it. The Bush administration issued a tax reform study that came back with great analysis, but nothing was ever put in place from it. The compromise 2007 immigration reform bill had promise, but was not passed. I wish that conservatism would be just that…conservative. Hesitant, thoughtful, yet willing to move when needed. I just hope I don’t have to choose between Trump and Hillary, because I honestly don’t know which button I would push…

 

Second-Cousin In-Law (Once-removed)

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Pastor is an odd word. I hear it on a near-daily basis in the Christian world, but I rarely stop and think about what it actually means. Wikipedia tells me that pastor comes from pascere, a Latin word for shepherd, and I’ve surely heard it equated as such many times. That said, I feel many modern pastors never get the chance to truly walk out the life of a shepherd. With live video-casts, online sermons, and e-Bibles…with many churches boasting hundreds or thousands of members…our modern-day shepherds often have their hands full.

In that vein, I know of few pastors who had their hands as full as David Huskins. As the presiding bishop of the International Communion of Charismatic Churches, he oversaw a flock spanning dozens of countries, thousands of ministries, and millions of members, all from his relatively humble church in rural Cedartown, Georgia.

Tragically, David Huskins was found dead in his home on Monday, August 25, 2014. Four incredible children and a loving family, of which I have been honored to be a part of, survive him.  As of now, I know little of the circumstances. I’m sure details will be forthcoming in the days that follow, as will countless stories, articles, and testimonies to David’s public ministry. However, I feel moved to share a little of the private ministry that many never saw, as a means of honoring this man who had more impact on my life than most could ever know.

The top priority of a shepherd, as I see it, is to protect his sheep. He is to ensure the safety of creatures that are, as Robert Robinson put it so eloquently, prone to wander. Thousands…perhaps millions…could attest to David’s knowledge of scripture, his strong teaching, and his willingness to say what needed to be said. These are all strong pastoral giftings, and his congregation was blessed to have them. However, I had the privilege of seeing beyond that…of directly witnessing the protective, fatherly heart that drove David…even at a relatively young age…to pursue me.

It still amazes me that this father?…no…uncle?…no…close cousin?…nope…try second-cousin in-law once-removed…there it is…could care for me and invest in me like he did. David and his wife Michelle hosted me at their home for multiple weeks over my childhood summers, and I have vague but wonderful memories from those days. I remember the tiny shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) that was reserved for me to sound. I remember spending time at the Victory 91.5 offices (David was on the air there for a while), listening to their vast collection of Adventures in Odyssey tapes when I got bored. I remember falling asleep to the sound of my shoes bumping around in the dryer (are you even supposed to dry shoes…and what was I doing that got them so wet anyway?). I remember feeling left out when I didn’t get a gum ball for using the toilet while their oldest son was potty-training (I was probably 5 or 6 at the time and definitely didn’t deserve it)…and then feeling awesome when I was given one anyway. My family tells me of others I’ve forgotten (I was apparently wont to follow David pace for pace as he walked around the room preparing sermons).

I was a very shy child…a restrained child. I was quiet and tended to stick to myself. However, when I was around David Huskins, that all changed. I ran all over Cedar Lake Christian Center…hid behind the altar kneelers, climbed up in the chairs on stage, and ran down the long staircase to the backstage bathroom (and it was a loooong staircase). Thinking back, it was all pretty irreverent. However, even if I had understood that at the time, I don’t think I would have cared. When David was near…I felt really, truly safe. I think it was because I was loved…perhaps as near perfectly as a boy can be on this earth. It was living proof of I John 4:18…perfect love truly does cast out all fear.

I think my clearest memories are from the day of my mother’s wedding…or my aunt’s wedding…or any other family wedding…or any other family gathering for that matter. Despite the long drive from west Georgia and his busy schedule, David took part in most every family gathering and significant event…and he was a treasure to have around. He could easily dominate a room, but tended to just speak when necessary, which was fine as his wit was sharp enough for two…or three. That said, he was often still near the center of attention, given that he officiated most every wedding, prayer, baptism, or game of pass-the-blessing that arose. David truly was a mainstay of my childhood.

The most important investment David ever made in me was in my spiritual development. David Huskins read me scripture…David Huskins prayed with me and for me…and after I accepted Jesus, David Huskins baptized me. Even in the latter years when I saw him less and less, I still was blessed by the insights on living a covenant life from his books and the process of discipleship from sermons like “A Diamond in the Rough.” I truly believe, like his namesake, that David Huskins was a man after God’s heart. Years before prayer rooms began springing up across the U.S. thanks to the work of international organizations like 24/7, David Huskins had a prayer tower at his church, and David Huskins frequented that prayer tower.

As often befits a man of his influence and calling, David’s life and ministry were, regrettably, not without controversy, and I suspect that his passing may bring its own brand. My hope and prayer is that in the coming days, any such controversy would take a back seat in light of the hope and faith that God brought to so many through David’s life. In 2008, David spoke powerfully about the desire to leave a legacy (http://bit.ly/1p7MT8J – starting at about the 1:20 mark). While I cannot speak to the legacy of his children or his church, I can truly say from personal experience that David loved one of the least of these…me…a shy second-cousin in-law once-removed…about as well as a child could be loved. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 that when we do that, we are really loving Him. Had he never preached even a single sermon, David Huskins would have still been counted as the best pastor I ever had the privilege of being shepherded by due to the love that he showed me and the feeling of hope and safety that it provided. If that’s not a legacy, I don’t know what is.

My heart breaks with his loss, but my heart is filled with hope as well, for John 12:24  says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The Christian life is a path to death, that in and through death we may find life in Christ.

Presidential Inaugurations, Sodom and Gamorrah, and the Faith of Abraham

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This past week has seen a lot of controversy surrounding the presidential inauguration. What it basically comes down to is that a certain Christian minister was asked to give the invocation, and later stepped down from doing so amidst controversy about a sermon he gave 20 years ago regarding homosexuality. I’m not going to give it any more press than that. If you haven’t heard, you can read the story on any major news outlet. That’s not my purpose here.

It seems that this is one of the core issues of our time, and is seen as such from every side. I  have tried to avoid wading into this arena due to the messiness of it, but I have one simple observation tonight that I’d like to share. It’s a point of conviction for me, and one I think could be for the church as a whole. Regardless of one’s view of Christianity, regardless of which side of the debate one is on, one has to do something with what the Bible says about homosexuality. Some adhere to historical orthodoxy and hold that same-sex sex is a sin (like any other). Some re-interpret scripture in light of culture and the times and therefore reject that it is a sin. It seems that often both sides stop at this point and go on with their lives. To me, however, there is a burning question that must be answered. What do we do next? Some say we should fight a culture war. Perhaps they’re right. Some say we should advocate. Perhaps they’re right. However, in the midst of the turmoil, I believe beyond any doubt that Christians are called to pray. Scripture actually provides an extremely clear illustration of the call to prayer for this issue in particular, and I feel it wise for the church to heed it.

I don’t know that anyone “likes” the story of Sodom and Gamorrah. It’s messy, confusing, and really tragic. It’s also at the epicenter of many of the debates about the sinfulness of same-sex sex. A lot of people can’t come to terms with God directly destroying cities due to unrighteousness. However, I think I can kinda understand it. You see, Genesis 19 tells the story, and to me, the key verse is 13…where an angel explains to Lot that “we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” I’m sure all of us hope we will never come to a place of crying out to such a degree that destruction happens, but I know that I’ve seen it in my own life. We Americans were all pretty united in outcry when terrorists crashed planes into our buildings, killing thousands. I think we’re all pretty united in outcry when we hear that there are 8-year old girls being forced into prostitution in some places in the world. However, I feel like most of us stop at that point of outrage and outcry. I know I have. At worst, I have voiced my opinions by posting on social media, have felt justified, and have walked away. At best, I have made a small donation to a nonprofit or done some advocacy work. However, most always, I eventually forget about it until confronted with it again whenever the next controversy happens. I know I’ve been lazy in this regard, and I imagine many in the church have as well. Recently, though, the Lord has been calling me to scripture and prayer, and in it I found another way.

Many of us know the story of Sodom and Gamorrah’s destruction from chapter 19 of Genesis, but I think we often overlook or forget about chapter 18. Don’t do it, or you’ll miss one of (in my opinion) the most beautiful moments in scripture. You see, before these angels went to Lot’s house, they stopped in at Abraham’s house. Being a man of faith, Abraham recognized that these weren’t mere men, and rushed to wait upon them. After good food and talk of miracles, the angels got up to leave, but then paused and had an internal conversation. It went like this: 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. 20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” There’s a whole sermon in there about this, but we’ll skip it for now and go on to Abraham’s glorious response…intercession.

Intercession is a big word that simply means intervening or mediating between two parties. In Christian parlance, it most often refers to prayer to God on another’s behalf. Intercession was Abraham’s response to hearing of forthcoming destruction resulting from sin. The NIV even names the section “Abraham Pleads for Sodom.” Specifically, Abraham asked God, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” It would be easy here to say that Abraham didn’t care about the wicked, but only about the righteous. I don’t want to read into what’s not there, but I feel like Abraham really did care about all the people. He could have just as easily asked for the righteous to be removed from the city if there were any. He didn’t do that. He instead asked that if even 10 people were found in the city who were righteous, that God would effectively impute this righteousness to sinners, saving them. Did you get that? The righteousness of a few would prevent the destruction of the many. Thousands of years before Christ came, hundreds of years before the Levitical law and sacrifices were established, Abraham was praying to God for propitiation by imputation of righteousness from the innocent to the guilty. No wonder Jesus stated in John 8:53 that “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Abraham got it. He stood as an intercessor on behalf of those he knew were destined for destruction, repeatedly asking God for even more grace. Tragically, ten righteous were not found in the city that day, and God did not relent from bringing destruction. However, as Christians, we know and believe there was One who was righteous and died as an atoning sacrifice to bring life to the many.

So, where does this leave us? Pray, church. It doesn’t matter if you believe God has slated these people for destruction tomorrow…pray like Abraham. Intercede on behalf of these. As a contributor to the student newspaper at my alma mater stated, “The gay suicide rate is sky high. Gay depression is rampant. Gay loneliness is widespread. And where is the church?” No matter what you believe on the issue, pray. Ask the Lord that He would bring hope in Christ. Pray that He would draw these into confession and repentance that leads to imputation of Christ’s righteousness in them for their salvation. Ask that God would bring a revelation of truth that would be transformative. God doesn’t change, and His truth doesn’t change, so pray for His truth to be revealed in Christ (the truth, himself).  Ask that God would allow your church to minister to these…that we don’t miss this like the Tekoite nobles from Nehemiah 3:5 that “would not stoop to serve their Lord.” Like Abraham and the tax collector from Luke 18:13, pray from a place of humility, knowing that 1 Peter 4:18 says even those who are righteous are “scarcely saved.” In that regard, pray that God sends laborers into the harvest, but that He does the work, as we are completely incapable of saving anyone by ourselves. As Ephesians 6:12 says, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Finally, don’t pray once and be done with it. Be like Abraham…boldly come before the throne of grace and repeatedly ask (seek and knock) the Lord for more and more grace to abound. Pray daily, or even hourly, as often as you can. Oswald Chambers said “Prayer does not prepare us for the greater work, it is the greater work,” and John Wesley taught that “God does nothing but in answer to prayer; and even they who have been converted to God, without praying for it themselves (which is exceeding rare), were not without the prayers of others. Every new victory which a soul gains is the effect of a new prayer.” Prayer really does matter, especially in this time and in this issue.

End It

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There are and estimated 27 million slaves today…in brothels, in factories, in quarries, in 161 countries, including our own. Many of these are children, some as young as pre-school age. Atlanta itself is considered a hub for child sex trafficking. With those facts, a movement was launched in Atlanta on January 3rd at the 2013 Passion Conference calling our generation to be the voices that speak and the hands that act to end modern day slavery.

So, how does the average American actively take up arms against slavery? Here are five immediate ways you can get involved:

  1. Help awaken this generation by raising awareness that slavery still exists. Talk about it in your churches, small groups, prayer groups, friend circles, and on social media. Post right now on Facebook and Twitter that slavery still exists and point people to outlets for information such as The End It Movement and The CNN Freedom Project. If you’re a college student, organize or take part in the Stand for Freedom Campaign on your campus.
  2. Donate to organizations that stand on the front lines of the fight to prevent individuals from getting trapped in slavery and rescue and restore those who are or have been trapped in it. A list of 20 such organizations can be found on the Passion 2013 website.
  3. Being vigilant and willing to use the national trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 if you see anything suspicious. Put that number in your phone right now and tell everyone you know to do the same. The hotline is connected with nonprofits and law enforcement agencies in most every city in the country. In addition, the hotline team can provide resources to help you get involved in the fight against slavery. Many individuals trapped in the commercial sex trade industry don’t know this number exists. Freedom is one phone call away. Spread the word.
  4. Hundreds of people are fighting to curb the supply of slaves. You can be an agent of curbing the demand for them. Take the Slavery Footprint Survey and learn how many slaves work for you – based on the things you purchase, wear, eat, use and purchase on a daily basis. Be a conscious consumer and avoid purchasing products that are made with slave labor (pages 7-23). Also, be a generation that pursues and speaks out for purity. Pornography and slavery are closely tied industries. Stop.
  5. Pray. Pray for awakening, prevention, rescue, and restoration. Pray for those trapped in slavery, that they would be set free. Pray for those on the front lines of the battle, law enforcement and organizations like IJM, to receive the tips they need and to be extremely effective in their rescue operations. Pray for those communities where children are abducted or sold into slavery, that God would bring about economic development to make slavery unprofitable. Pray for the demand…that God would awaken this generation to pursue purity, abandoning the idols of pornography and prostitution. Pray that businesses would embrace ethical treatment of workers throughout their supply chains and act as an intercessor by demanding it of them through purchasing decisions and petitions. Pray for healing and restoration of those rescued from slavery and that their stories would carry weight to inspire and challenge all who hear them.

So, there are 5 immediate ways you can join the fight to End It in this generation. If this issue of slavery captivates you or you simply want more information, then download this PDF of 27 more ways you can take action and actually do them.

Matthew 13:44

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I had a dream last night where I was living in the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. It was a neighborhood that overlooked a city with a mountain backdrop. Think Vancouver or Denver. The neighborhood was filled with wonderful people and had easy access to great amenities. At the end of the dream, I thought to myself “If only I had the money, I would buy a place here and live forever.”

As I’ve been pondering and praying this morning, the Lord brought to mind Matthew 13:44, in which Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as a volunteer at the Passion conference this week and have gotten to see nearly 60,000 18-25 year-old students fill a football stadium to worship Jesus. It’s one of the most ridiculous and incredible sights I’ve ever had. I feel like this is a Matthew 13:44 moment for this generation. The Lord is demonstrating His glory to us in our day. He is showing us a small piece of what Heaven will look like, and I’m overwhelmed by it. My prayer this morning for all those who are taking part is that they will be given eyes to see and ears to hear that they would recognize the treasure that God is putting before them and would be given faith by God to lay their lives down and seek this out in scripture, prayer, worship, and service.

Many believers pray for revival, and as I look around the Dome, I see what it could truly look like. We’re expecting thousands of students to make first time commitments of faith or to rededicate their lives to Jesus. They’ve been challenged to trust God’s word and to live according to it. They’re hungry for truth and ache to see the Lord’s justice revealed in the earth. They are called to love Jesus and to be missionaries on their campuses, in their workplaces, and to the ends of the earth. However, my heart breaks as I look out…who will disciple these? Who will train them up? Where will they go after leaving the Dome? Are we truly ready for revival?

For this reason, I’m praying also for the generation above mine. So many in my generation have never had someone to look up to or learn from. Divorce and sexual immorality have ravished our families, and we feel like orphans. We long for someone older to take an interest in us and help guide us on right paths. We don’t like authority and reject institutions, but we love and yearn for discipleship relationships. We want to know someone cares for us enough to take time to walk with us through this thing called faith. My prayer for the older generation is that they would be inspired and encouraged by the faith of this one and would be willing to lay their lives down to disciple and mentor this generation as we begin to move into positions of influence, start families, and seek Jesus. Would the generation above mine look at the field of my generation and see that it is indeed white for harvest. Would they see the treasure in the field of this generation and be willing to sell everything they have and invest in it. Would the Lord of the harvest send these laborers into the harvest.

Over the past two weeks, three major Christian conferences have seen over 100,000 18-25 year-olds gather to worship Jesus, receive teaching, pray together, and make a declaration to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, end modern day slavery, and seek the face of Jesus night and day. For any gen x-ers reading this (and even any baby boomers out there), would you pray and ask the Lord how you can get involved in this work of raising up this generation to do that which they’ve been called to? Would you have faith to step out and be those laborers.

Hammered Dulcimers and Rich Mullins

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So, before the end of the year, my plan is to own a hammered dulcimer. I’ve wanted one for years now, ever since I first heard one played by Rich Mullins. I’m pondering taking a trip up to Pigeon Forge to visit the only dulcimer shop within 3 hours of me to do so. Should be fun.

In any case, pondering hammered dulcimers has gotten me back into Rich Mullins’ music, and that has gotten me a little sappy. If you haven’t heard of him, he was a contemporary Christian musician who got famous during the 90s primarily for writing “Awesome God” and “Step by Step.” Those two songs always take me back to high school youth group. However, those songs were probably the least of his accomplishments. Aside from being a phenomenal musician (specifically on piano and hammered dulcimer), he was about 10 years ahead of the new monastic movement that swept though when I was in college. Rich had a very unique perspective on faith, and reading his quotes is one of my favorite pastimes. Sadly, Rich was killed in a car accident in 1997, cutting short his innovative music career. I stumbled upon an interview with him that was rebroadcast as part of a tribute to his life. The full show can be found here, and a transcript can be found here. However, I’ve cut out most of the meaty portions of it. This is kinda for my own archiving, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If you really like what you read, there’s a full concert where he does a lot of speaking on Youtube. You can find part 1 here. There’s also a good interview with him here.

Begin excerpts:

Rich: In terms of the scope of eternity, I really believe that we are dust. I really believe that I will someday be dead no matter how good my songs are. Someday I will decay. I will rot and there will be nothing left.

Rich: Because I write pop music, it is all very disposable. I think everyone would be surprised twenty years from now that that song will have completely fallen out of use.

Rick Tarrant: I would not be surprised if twenty years from now to hear Awesome God sung in our church.

Rich: Either way you go. In terms of eternity, those people who did the greatest things for God were the people who weren’t trying to do anything at all. They were just simply being obedient

Rick Tarrant: Those are the people God can use.

Rich: Those are the people God can use. And I want to be one of them. If God should use me, that would be great but if He doesn’t there is a very interesting thing you can do. In the gospel of Mark or in any of the four gospels, you go through the gospels and you say, what people are absolutely essential to this story? So Mary is essential to the story because Mary had to give birth to Jesus. And you could say, well someone else could have. But lets say that if she wouldn’t have done it then the story wouldn’t have happened. So, you have God who chose to become flesh, you have Mary who gave Him flesh, you have Jesus who was God in the flesh or who was the child of Mary and God, you have Pontius Pilate who had, in an artificial sense, the power to kill Christ, you have Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ and handed him over to the bad guys, you have whoever it was that nailed Him up to the cross. Out of those people that God used to accomplish His will in the gospel, only a couple of them were very nice people. Most of them were bad people. We all want to be useful to God. Well, its no big deal. God can use anybody. God used Nebuchadnezzar. God used Judas Iscariot. Its not a big deal to be used by God and the shocking thing in the book of Mark, and the reason why it is so shocking is because Mark is the briefest of all the gospels but he has these terrific little details and one of the little details is that it says, “and Jesus called to Him those that He wanted.” And you realize that out of the twelve people that He wanted, only one was essential to His goal in coming to earth. The other eleven people were useless to Christ but they were wanted by Christ. And I kind of go, I would much rather have God want me than have God use me.

Rick Tarrant: What do you hope to accomplish when you do an album after you have gone to all the effort of recording and overdubbing and vocals and bringing in other people? What is the end of it?

Rich: The end is that God made man. He created him in His own image. He created him out of dust. He breathed into him the breath of life. Man became a living soul. He gave man sexuality. He created them male and female. And he gave man work. And I am just doing my work. I am not trying to write great albums. I’m not trying to write great songs. I’m not trying to do any of that. What I’m trying to do is be faithful. If I were a plumber, most plumbers don’t say, “Man I’m going to come up with the most original arrangement of pipes here.” But when you flush your toilet, if things go the way they should go, you are very thankful that the plumber was doing their job.

Rich: But I think that part of our identity as human beings is that we have work, that we have things to do. And I am gifted as a musician. I am gifted as a writer and so I have to do that out of obedience. I am not gifted as a singer. I have a weird voice. I have a terrible speaking voice and when I sing its not as weird as when I talk so I should probably sing more and talk less. But, nevertheless, I don’t like my voice even when I am singing and people say, “Why do you sing then?” and I go, “Because it is the most reiterated command in the whole Bible.” And I figure there must be a reason why it says over and over and over, sing sing sing sing sing. I also kind of go, this is a lot easier than loving my enemies so maybe I should start with the easy stuff and maybe by the time I am really old I will have been able to tie the more complicated knot.

Rich Mullins: The preaching of Brennan Manning – we practice silence in the truck a lot of times so we hardly ever have a tape on or anything like that. But we don’t have any rules – you can do what you want. But Beaker put in a Brennan Manning tape and I really didn’t want to hear it because I didn’t know who he was and don’t ordinarily like preaching. I went “Argh, great.” Well, I think about five minutes into it I think I had to pull off the road because I was just bawling my eyes out. I thought, what I am experiencing here is that I have gone to church ever since I was wee little, probably from when I was a week old, and this is the first sermon in my memory that is the preaching of the Good News of the Gospel of Christ. He’s not preaching about an issue. He’s not preaching about a theological position. He’s not preaching about anything except this is the Good News. And I thought, wow, this is what I am hungry to hear. This is what I am dying to hear.

Rich: People say “Why do you write music?” and I always say “Well, how many of Wesley’s sermons do you know?” And I’ve talked to a lot of good Methodists and they don’t know any of them. Then I say, “Well, how many of Wesley’s hymns do you know?” and most church goers know at least a good solid dozen hymns that Wesley wrote. Most pagans know at least a couple. And I kind of go, that is why I write music and not sermons.

Rich: The hardest part of being a Christian is surrendering and that is where the real struggle happens. Once we have overcome our own desire to be elevated, our own desire to be recognized, our own desire to be independent and all those things that we value very much because we are Americans and we are part of this American culture. Once we have overcome that struggle then God can use us as a part of His body to accomplish what the body of Christ was left here to accomplish.

Rich: My twenties were very very disturbed years because it was the time of the real battle between my will to submit my will and my will to assert my will. I wanted to love God and at the same time I resented God for being who He is because if He was God then I couldn’t be. And I would flip-flop back and forth between saying thank you God that you are the Lord and that I am not because even I am a rotten steward I would be a terrible Lord. I would flip-flop between saying that and saying yeah but we are going to do this my way right now. So I do love you but I’m going to go my way and so blink for a long time. You know, by the time you’ve gone through that long enough after you have beaten your head up against that wall for a good decade, you come out of it and you have accomplished all of the damage that God wanted to save you from. All you can do at that point is go, “Wow! I am so sorry that when You told me to walk in faith, I refused to do it. And now I know why You gave the commands that You gave. Now I know why You say what You say. And I wish that I didn’t have to know that in order to obey it.”

Rich: Yeah and especially in a day when so much emphasis and so much pressure is put on us to esteem ourselves I kind of go, wow, I don’t know how anyone can wake up with morning breath and pillow head and feel any self esteem. (laughing) That is not the sort of thing I want to put my faith in. And in the church it is unbelievable to me that this whole foolishness about esteeming yourself has leaked into the church. I kind of go, “Christ didn’t ask us to esteem ourselves.” I think if Christ were asked, I think He would probably say, “Look buddy, you would be lucky if you could forget yourself. If you could lose yourself, you would be luckier than if you found yourself.” It would be wonderful if you knew the names of the trees between your house and where you work, between your house and your church. If you knew that that was a tulip tree and you knew that that was a red bud. It would be great if you knew the names of the constellations. It would be great if you knew something about your neighbor. It would be a lucky thing for you if you forgot yourself, if you lost yourself. I remember when my brother and his fiancŽ were eating a meal with us and it was absolutely sickening because we were trying to eat here and they were staring at each other in the eyes and I’m going, “Golly, can you not wait until football.” And then I realized, wow, what a terrific thing when you are so in love that you forget how obnoxious love looks to everybody else. (Rick laughing in background). How I wish we were all French. Although I really appreciate modesty and I detest public displays but nevertheless, what a wonderful thing when you are so caught up in a moment when you are so lost in an experience that you forget to straighten your tie or to comb your hair. Why esteem yourself? Forget yourself. You’ll have a lot more fun.

John Rivers: Rich loved God’s word. He once wrote, “The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart. It is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice. It does not so much nibble at our shoe as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from bone to bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our smaller minded questions but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.”

Rich: I don’t think you read the Bible to know truth. I think you read the Bible to find God, that we encounter Him there. Paul says that the scriptures are God’s breath and I kind of go, wow, so let’s breathe this as deeply as possible. And this is what liturgy offers that all the razzmatazz of our modern worship can’t touch. You don’t go home from church going, “Oh I am just moved to tears.” You go home from church going, “Wow, I just took communion and you know what? If Augustine were alive today, he would have had it with me and maybe he is and maybe he did.”

Rich: A lot of times we think something spiritual is happening and it is merely aesthetics. That is why it always bugs me at the end of a concert someone will say, “Wow the Spirit really worked” and I kind of go, “How would you even be able to know that? It was so noisy in here tonight. How would you know if the Spirit was working?” “Well, I was really moved.” Well, that is an emotional thing. That’s not a spiritual thing. A spiritual thing is folding your clothes at the end of the day. A spiritual thing is making your bed. A spiritual thing is taking cookies to your neighbor that is shut in or raking their front lawn because they are too old to do it. That’s spirituality. Getting a warm, oozy feeling about God is an emotional thing. There is nothing wrong with it. I think there is nothing more practical than real spirituality. But nothing more fun than just a good heartfelt emotional experience of God because I think emotions are good. They are only dangerous when we come away from an experience where we were emotionally manipulated and we confuse that with being convicted. I think conviction – there is an emotion that accompanies that but it certainly goes deeper than just coming away going, “Oh isn’t God neat? Two different worlds.”

Rich: The first line of that I wrote when I was on tour with Amy Grant on the Unguarded tour I think or whatever tour that was. That was years and years ago. We were driving through Nebraska and there was a big beautiful full moon and I don’t know how it happens but I just thought well, the moon moved past Nebraska and spoke laughter on those cold Dakota hills. Buffalo Bill. (laughs) That was where it started. I went, “Oh I will use that someday. I have no idea where but I know I will use it.” And so I just kind of stored it away. Then I was riding my motorcycle in the Flint Hills and pretty much finished the song there. This would have been six years later that I finished it. But I do that. I keep little scraps. I think writing-wise, I am probably more of a quilter than a weaver cuz I just get a little scrap here and a little scrap there and sew them together and…

Rich: I am very very fortunate that I come from a family that is real family oriented and our extended family is. You know, when I was growing up I had uncles and aunts…. my uncle Loren brought dilly bars every Friday night up to the house. And my great grandma would read to me and tell me stories every afternoon for my nap. If my mom had to go to town, I had aunts and uncles everywhere I could stay with. And they all lived within a few yards of each other. What I discovered is heritage doesn’t puff you up with pride. It really humbles you. If you look at the lives of the people you have come from and you kind of go, if they had married anyone else, if they had moved anywhere else, if their lives had been one iota different, you wouldn’t be here. And so you have not a big debt, not a crushing debt to pay, but you are part of an ongoing thing. You are not alone in the world. You are part of an ensemble.

Rich: Its like my dad who died when he was 60. He died good. He had a stroke and was gone instantly. And the cool thing is that he was out working in the nursery. He was digging a tree and my mom was right by him. And you know my mom and he had been married for forty something years and he loved working so the last thing he saw in this life was the woman he loved and the last thing he did in this life was dig a tree and who knows what he saw on the other side. I think my dad had that adolescent illusion that he was going to live forever and that he was invincible and that nothing bad was ever going to happen to him. And because of that, I think he was a little reckless, not in terms of …because I appreciate and enjoy my dad’s recklessness in terms of , he would do anything, anytime, anywhere. But I think he was a little negligent in terms of …I think he never really told a lot of people in his family how much he loved them because, first of all he assumed that we knew. And second of all I think he always assumed that there would be plenty of opportunity. In the last three or four years of his life, after he realized that he was mortal, he was a very very changed man and the relationship was completely restored in that amount of time. Looking at that, I kind of go, boy God is a good God. He will complete our lives. He will impute His holiness onto us. And I think part of holiness is having right relationships with other people.

Rich Mullins: One song that is likely to be released is a song called Boy Like Me/Man Like You and we wrote that in Illinois. This guy came and was telling me that they had used Awesome God on this picket line and I was hoping it was like a rescue mission or something like that and he said no, we were picketing the movie The Last Temptation of Christ. And I said “Oh (and I’m not as dumb as I act sometimes – I played stupid) Why were you picketing that movie?” And he said, “Why haven’t you heard? This is a terrible movie. It portrays Christ as being a man.” I said, “Wow that is really weird because I thought that was the Good News was that God had become a man.” And I realized that the movie probably failed. I didn’t see it myself so I can’t say. But I understand the movie failed to portray Christ as being divine as well as being a man. So, after that, Beaker and I started talking about the whole mystery of the incarnation, oooooohhhhh big heavy theological thinking. But what it all comes down to is, what would it be like to be God almighty and to inspire those phophets to write all those great books and Moses to write those books and then to have to become a little boy and endure Hebrew school and listen to some rabbi rattle on about something that you wrote before he was ever born? What would it be like to be Christ? I mean, did He ever play ball? Did they ever knock a window out of somebody’s house and did He ever have to explain to His dad that He had to borrow $12.00? So, we just started talking about what a weird thing it would be to be God and then to become flesh and then we also went on and just talked about what a weird thing to be nothing and then to become flesh. That at one time we were nothing and then we got here. And wasn’t it great and aren’t you glad that you were born? And isn’t life full of a lot of loneliness and misery and all those things but who wants to give it up? Nobody! Its a wonderful thing. Isn’t it great to have legs?

Rich: I am a very very blessed person in terms of friends. What I look for in a friendship is someone who will beat you up. You get in a big fight with them and then the winner rides the other guy home on the bike. One of the things I appreciate about traveling with Beaker is that he just really doesn’t cut me a lot of slack because I can be a real whiner and a real complainer. Ohhhh nooooo, you gotta….. He just goes, “Well don’t then. If you don’t want to do it don’t but don’t gripe about it . If you’re going to do it be glad you get to do it.” So its kind of cool because friendship is a very big deal to me.

Rick Tarrant: Are you married?

Rich: No

Rick Tarrant: Do you want to be?

Rich: Someday. Why? Are you proposing? (laughing all around)

Rich: I would always be frustrated with all those relationships even when I was engaged. I had a ten year thing with this girl and I would often wonder why, even in those most intimate moments of our relationship, I would still feel really lonely. And it was just a few years ago that I finally realized that friendship is not a remedy for loneliness. Loneliness is a part of our experience and if we are looking for relief from loneliness in friendship, we are only going to frustrate the friendship. Friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things, and loneliness live together in the same experience.

Rick Tarrant: We always think about you being the…

Rich: the happy celibate

Rick Tarrant: The happy celibate, yeah.

Sherry Rivers, (John’s wife): The quintessential bachelor who is not looking

Rich: Well I think I am that now and you know a lot of people really don’t get it but I kind of go, you know what? I’m not a real….. I don’t know. I have no interest in anybody else and she is married to someone else so that’s the way it goes and I don’t mind that. Right now I cannot imagine that life could be happier married than it is single so I’m not in a panic about getting married. And I think, you know, maybe God wanted me to be celibate and the way that he accomplished that was to break my heart. So that’s the way it goes.

Rich: When I wrote Doubly Good For You, we were getting married, and I had written that for our wedding. A friend of mine said, “Boy that is a really cruel song.” And I said, “Well, why?” and she said, “Because you are inferring that if God doesn’t give you a love that is centered around someone that is true that he hasn’t been doubly good to you. I’m like, “Well, exactly.” But God doesn’t have to be singly good to anybody. We all have got it better than we deserve so we should be thankful for what we have.

John Rivers: The Monday morning after losing Rich, I received a fax from another friend, a friend of Rich’s in fact, Billy Crockett. I think it only appropriate that we share that with you. “Sunday, September 21, 1997 I found out last night that Rich Mullins was killed in a car crash. This is hard to swallow for anybody who knew him or his songs much at all. Rich’s quirky life got inside us. His worked moved and disturbed us in its relentless homage to the truth of Christ. So full of whimsy the sound of the eternal ringing in his ears, Rich was famous for being clueless and profound at the same time. He was both an eccentric stranger and a friend to me. I played and sang on his albums. We did concerts together. Being part of his music is one of the cherished hallmarks of my life. I suppose its not real surprising that his life ended abruptly. He did seem to live like a meteorite. The reckless raging fury of God’s love is what he was on to. I simply hoped for more chapters, more chances, more strange improvisational occasions to play for and glimpse the wild heart of a true believer. So good-bye Rich. Go headlong into the mystery of God. I am grateful to have lived during your lifetime. Billy” From Billy Crockett.

Rich: God is a good God. He will complete our lives. He will impute his holiness onto us. The wonderful thing about God is that I deeply feel that once we come into the covenant through Jesus, once we have come through the way with him, that God really sees Christ when he looks at us and the sin in our life really is buried with Christ. And when God looks on us he sees what Christ has imputed onto us. And the work of the Spirit is just to get us to catch up with what has already happened.

Rich: From when I was real little, I heard stories about people from Holland, people from Ireland, people from France, wherever our family came from. My grandma was an orphan. My grandpa ended up, being, unfortunately, an elected official but none of us held that against him too long.

Rich: I think the big problem is that, as Christians, we forgot that our identity is wrapped up in Christ and for a long time we bought into the illusion that the will of the masses would be more generous and more benevolent than the will of one dictator. But democracy isn’t necessarily bad politics, its just bad math. A thousand corrupt minds are just as evil as one corrupt mind.

Rich: I’m very hurt at the apathy in the church. I’m very hurt over the determination of the government to destroy life and its not simply over the abortion issue. Anyone who has any awareness at all of Wounded Knee, not only the first Wounded Knee but what happened there, what 20 years ago, whatever. You kinda go, there can be no doubt that governments that are controlled by men are without exception anti-life and anti-Christ.

Rich: I think for a long time I believed that there would be political solutions because, growing up in America, you endure several political campaigns and these people make promises and they say, we will do this and we will do that and you believe them because you don’t know any better. And I really believed for a long time that this was all going to work. And I thank God now for Richard Nixon and for Gerald Ford and for all those people who betrayed any confidence that the American people could have in their government who said that the leadership of this country is not accountable to the people who elect them and who made so clear what we now know that no government works. And I wanted the government to work. And what I have now realized is I used to make fun of the sentimental feeling of the church that there was an afterlife. I used to mock songs about Heaven. And I used to think that it was somehow stupid and even wicked to dream of Heaven and to long for Heaven. And now I see the kind of a horrible place earth really is. And I go hiking and I go, this could be so beautiful. I met the guy last night sweeping the stairs down there and I talked to this very gentle man, a very kind man, a very simple man and I thought, how could a world made up of people like this be such a horrible place. And then I pick up the paper and read about dishonesty and deceit and betrayal and all that and go, I do long for Heaven. Someday God will destroy injustice. Someday there will be a judgment and because we have a loving and a forgiving Father, maybe we’ll survive it. If we don’t, sometimes I think hell is better than what we deserve anyway.

John Rivers: I remember when I first met Rich standing against a lightpost or a lamppost, whatever it was, outside of some really beautiful hotel in Nashville, Tennessee in our big convention in the spring back in the 80’s when he wasn’t too famous yet but just famous enough to be brought to Nashville. And showing off was something he felt really uncomfortable with. He was dressed typically Rich – he may have even been barefooted, can’t remember. Unpretentious, maybe a service station Dickies shirt on and trousers. Kathy Sprinkle, a dear friend, was with him at the time. Had a burr haircut. I already loved his music and I thought I recognized him so I said, “Rich!” He said, “Yes.” “John Rivers,” I introduced myself and asked if I could buy his lunch and he said, “Yeah, love it, kinda hungry anyway” so we go in this fancy hotel, this ritzy restaurant where he probably felt a little uncomfortable. It wasn’t Rich’s kind of place. We sat down to lunch, one of those places where the entree is $19.95 you know and started eating. Rich looked at me and said, “Have you read Tozer? heheheh Chesterton? I said, “No” and he says, “Well you can’t be a Christian.” Kidding of course. Later, throughout the years he would send me various books by his favorite authors. He talked to me about Brennan Manning, Tozer, G.K. Chesterton. In fact he sent me The Romance of Faith, Orthodoxy, by G.K Chesterton circa 1900 as I recall. On the inside front cover he wrote me a note saying, “Man here is the book I promised ya. If you have already bought it, please throw that one away and keep this one. It’ll make me feel better.” Then he referred me to the pages that were maybe most important to him. Who can forget, maybe at that same big convention, at that gigantic dinner we used to have after the Dove Awards. They had every unimaginable food and everyone was dressed to the nines and Rich Mullins was there and he felt so uncomfortable in that rich setting so to speak. I’m going along the dessert line and I see, I think, a guy who is Rich Mullins, who has relieved one of the servers and has now donned their white jacket and their little white chefs hat or whatever it was and is serving desserts to all these people after the Dove awards. I think most of them didn’t even know it was him. But that was Rich Mullins. He’d rather be behind the counter serving than out with the folks in their fancy duds. Rich Mullins was the real thing. Rich Mullins loved Jesus. I loved him and still do.

Do You Believe in Life After Campus Ministry?

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The Lord gave me a wake up call last week. He demonstrated very clearly to me that there are some things in my life that need to change. In the days since, I’ve spent more time in prayer, worship, and earnest seeking than I have in the past three years. I’m experiencing a world of healing and reconciliation, and it’s incredible.

As I’ve worked through things, it’s become clear that many of the really hard things I went through over the past few years can be directly linked to a year I spent interning with a campus ministry and my failure to fully prepare for leaving it. The past three years have been a downward spiral of sorts, and much of it is just now being redeemed. After some consideration, I decided to write this post as an open letter in the hopes that someone might read it and be encouraged. Keeping the Cher theme, if I could turn back time…if I could find a way…these are the things I would have told myself in December of 2008.

Dear Cory,

As of right now, you’re in one of the safest environments you’ll ever be in. You’re surrounded by people that you can confide in, ask to pray for you, and be encouraged by. You have Biblical authority over you; a chapel available 24/7 to worship, weep, or just experience the Lord in; and a great weekly worship service to attend. You have a ministry team of people around you who are passionate about the things that stir your heart and are walking in the things you feel called to. Enjoy it now, because in a short 6 months, this won’t be the case. You’ll be coming back from a mission trip to Japan, jet-lagged, exhausted, and required to move out of your apartment in 12 hours. You’ll have less than $500 in the bank and will be leaving a downtown area that you’ve prayer-walked dozens of times, a campus that you know like the back of your hand, and a support network that has been unmatched up to this point in life. You don’t know it yet, but it’s going to be really hard. Here’s your roadmap for survival:

December and the Spring

Apply for one job before the end of December

It doesn’t matter what the job is, if you’re passionate about it, or if the Lord told you to do it or not. Applying for jobs is a hard thing to do. It takes a lot of time, a lot of hard work, and a lot of emotional effort. So, along with eating lots of good food and opening presents, here’s your game plan for December:

  1. Talk to your family and friends about what you want to do after this year. What kind of job do you want? Where do you want to live?
  2. Write a resume you’d be proud to send out and a cover letter to go with it. Get help from your fiends and family. Spend at least 3 hours on it. You know you’ve got the time.
  3. Go on indeed.com or christianjobs.com or teachgeorgia.com or sites like these, find a job you wouldn’t be miserable in, and fill out an application.

See, that wasn’t that hard. It’s done. Now you have a resume and cover letter template you can use in the future. However, this won’t be enough. You see, your future plans are going to be: “I could teach, or I could work at a church, or I could work for IJM, or I could work for World Vision.” Well, you now need multiple resumes and cover letters, some of which are secular focused, some of which are ministry focused, and some of which are organizationally-focused. By the end of this, you’re actually going to need 5 different cover letter templates and 4 different resumes, so stop playing video games and start writing!

Apply for at least one job a week starting in January

Even if you can’t start work until May, you need to start applying for jobs now in January. No one told you this, but sometimes when you apply for a job, it takes the organization 3 months to actually even start looking at resumes. The actual hiring process itself can take upwards of half a year. Some organizations, like schools, make all their hires in January and February. Even if you don’t get an offer, you can get valuable interview experience that will help you later. If you do get an offer, tell them you won’t be available to start until July. If you made a strong impression, they might be able to hold a job open for you until then. As of right now, you’ve got a strong support network around you with friends, a discipler, a ministry team, and the like. Searching for jobs can be an emotionally exhausting process. Not getting callbacks or being turned down can lead you to struggle with feelings of rejection and a lack of purpose. It’ll be much better for you if you experience the rejection now and can work through it in community than if you start doing it in June after moving back in with your parents because you didn’t start applying until May. Yes, this might feel at times like you’re cheating on your campus ministry. However, their heart for you is to learn, grow, and move on to being a witness of Christ wherever you end up. They’ll understand. Set aside one day a week for this and do it! Maybe you feel called to stay on for another year at your ministry. That’s great! However, maybe that’s emotion and not the Lord. Maybe that’s fear. You’re going to be better off making this decision out of choice over another job than making the decision because you don’t have anything else in front of you.

Start Going to Bed by 11

“I’m not a morning person” is not a valid statement. Go to bed by 11. Think this is impossible? All right, fine. Go to bed by 10:30. Do we need to continue this conversation? Most any job you get will require you to be there by 8 or earlier. Start good habits now. Despite everything you think, you can actually learn to love mornings more than nights. Turn your computer off by 10 p.m. and go to sleep. It’ll make you incredibly happier.

Go on a Media Fast

Spend a month not playing video games, watching television, or browsing facebook or reddit. In fact, other than applying for jobs, checking email, and reading scripture, turn your computer off entirely. See how much time you have? Live life like this. As Mark Driscoll says, video games aren’t sin, they’re just stupid. New life rule…never play video games or watch movies by yourself. Be a social/communal person. Get out of the house. Spend time in prayer and worship instead. It’ll revolutionize your life.

Find a Mutual Accountability Partner to Stay in Touch with After This Year

Find another guy and pledge to be accountability partners. Like…really. This could be a friend or someone you barely know. Make a deep commitment to one another to talk on at least a weekly basis and to confess things in your life that you’re struggling with. Pick someone you really trust whom you know will be honest with you. Pray for one another. Ok…now pledge that wherever you end up after this year, you’ll keep doing so. Try doing this over the phone now so it isn’t awkward later. This will absolutely be the most valuable thing for you moving forward, as it will force you to confess and repent on a constant basis. You will need this after you leave your discipler and ministry team behind, as it might be hard to find real authority in the churches around you. This is for real. Do it!

Start Going to Church in January

Start going to church. Campus ministry is not representative of what life will look like in a year. While you’re at it, don’t go to the later contemporary service. Go to the early one that’s not filled with college kids. Now that you’re going to bed  by 11, you’ll be able to wake up by 8 and do this. The fact is that most churches in the country aren’t Athens Church or Prince Avenue Baptist or even Saint James. They aren’t filled with college students. They’re filled with couples in their 40s, their grade-school children, and older adults. Despite what you see around you now, 18-30 year olds are the least-churched age group. There just won’t be as many of them, and those that are there might not be as passionate about their faith as you are. While you’re at it, join a small group at the church…and try to make sure it’s inter-generational. This will be the main way you meet Christians in the future, so you need to be comfortable with it.

You also need to get used to not being in charge of church things, because you probably won’t be in the near future. Make a real effort to learn to receive ministry from a regular church, because you’re currently much more used to working to give than receive. Once you get out, your tendency will be to hop into leadership…and your church will be more than happy to let you do that. However, many churches aren’t all that great at feeding their leaders. Giving without receiving will dry you out, leave you frustrated and exhausted, and eventually make you bitter.

Learn to Forgive and to Confront Situations

You either have been hurt in ministry or you’re going to be…especially in college ministry. You’re surrounded by impulsive people who are trying to seek Jesus while simultaneously trying to figure out who they are. Many of them have issues in their lives that have never been addressed. At some point, you’re going to bump into one and it’s going to explode. You’re going to experience hurt. You MUST learn how let go of things and to forgive. You also must learn how to confront situations that need confronting. Ignoring things is equivalent to suppressing them and will just lead to a later explosion. If you’re struggling with either of these, talk to your accountability partner you made. Talk to your discipler. If you don’t do this, it will tear you up later. Jesus said if you lay down to go to bed and remember you have an issue with someone, get up and go talk to them. That person whose calls you’ve been avoiding? You need to have a conversation with them. That person you are angry at…you may need to confess and apologize to them face-to-face. If you don’t…it’s just going to nag at you constantly and make you feel terrible.

Ask Her Out

So, you like this girl. Have you committed to being single? Probably not. Is the Lord calling you to never marry? Probably not. Are you fake dating her? Probably. If not physically than definitely mentally. Ask her out and get it over with. A yes or a no is better than mental gymnastics of wondering forever. While you’re pondering, though, realize that she has plans and dreams too. If you’re planning to move to Seattle or Jakarta at the end of the year, that has a really good chance of putting a strain on any potential relationship. Be wise about things, but don’t be motivated by fear. The Lord really does put people together.

 

After Spring

Find a Church

If you end up leaving Athens, find a church as quickly as possible. Here’s a protip…look for a men’s ministry. An active men’s ministry shows a maturity that many churches are lacking. Within the first month, set up a meeting with a pastor and ask to be assigned a mentor/discipler. You’ve grown accustomed to this type of relationship, and if they can provide it, you’ll be immensely helped. If they have sunday school class(es), visit and introduce yourself. Try to meet people. You’ve just left your community and you’re going to have a hard time. Consider inviting your friends over to pray with you. You must have community, or you’ll die.

Save Money & Give Money

You’ve just spent a year on support. You’re not going to be wealthy at the end. Assuming you get a job, you’ll be tempted to spend a lot of money. Don’t. Keep living simply…pay off student loans…put money in savings…and establish a lifestyle of giving. Perhaps get in contact with an intern or missionary and start supporting them. Take a check to church every week for some amount. Doing this now will make it much easier later.

Go To Counseling

Just try it. You’ve never done it. There are things in your heart that need to be worked out. There are people trained and gifted by God to help you do just that. Many churches aren’t very good at discipleship. This can be a great addition or even temporary alternative to Biblical discipleship. Just make sure it’s Christian counseling. Most every church can give you a referral if you ask.

Go On Another Media Fast

So, you’re working full time, single, and bored at night? You’re not quite the bar-hopper that all the other 24-year old single guys are, eh? So, you started watching the entire series of Lost last week? You’re reading through the Harry Potter series for the 17th time? Sounds like it’s time to go on another media fast. While media isn’t necessarily bad, it can distract you from your devotional life. Go on another media fast. Seek Jesus. You’ll end up doing more things with people, going to more church functions, and will be better for it.

Keep Seeking

No matter what happens, what hurt you’ve been through, or where you end up, keep seeking Jesus. Don’t let your guitar collect dust. Don’t let your Bible end up on the bookshelf. Worship, pray, seek! Get on a Bible reading plan. Open it even when it’s hard. Trust me, it’s worth it.


I don’t know how far this blog post will reach. If anyone reads this and wants some help with the process of adjusting to life outside of ministry, let me know. If you need some help writing a resume, drop me a message. If you had a rough time moving out of ministry and want to commiserate, I’m down. If you’re a guy, I’d love to act as an accountability partner. The Lord is faithful, but we are fragile. I’m currently in the process of implementing a number of these suggestions, and I have a ways to go yet. We all need a little help sometimes, and I’d love to be that for you. Blessings.

On Pascal’s Wager and the Cost of Discipleship

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I had a conversation on Pascal’s Wager a couple months ago with a friend that brought about some interesting thoughts, so I figured I’d write them out.

Pascal’s Wager is an argument commonly used to promote and defend the Christian faith. You’ve probably heard it before. The idea is to take a null hypothesis that Christians are wrong about their faith and determine the gain/loss for them given that they believed something that was wrong. Then, you take the alternative case that Christians are right and look at the gain/loss for non-Christians. When compared, there is supposedly overwhelming cause to believe in Christ. As an example, a common version of the argument says that if Christians are wrong about heaven, hell, and Jesus, they lose nothing but “a little fun that wouldn’t have been good for them anyway.” Conversely, if Christians are right, non-Christians lose an eternity of joy dwelling with Christ and gain eternal pain and suffering in hell. Yikes!

This argument makes sense on the surface. One need not be a mathematician to understand that infinity suffering/loss is much bigger than any finite suffering/loss. Even to the non-Christian hedonist, the slightest probability of infinite pleasure or infinite pain should carry a much stronger value than finite pleasures or losses. Infinity times any probability greater than zero still equals infinity and outweighs any non-infinity temporal outcome.  It’s math! However, I see a number of problems with Christians using Pascal’s Wager. One such problem is that the same wager can just as easily be used to argue or justify anything. For example, how can anyone argue against environmentalism if temporal inconveniences like higher gas prices are set against the seemingly eternal consequence of wiping out the human race through global climate change? Is there a 0.00001% chance climate change is taking place? If so, infinity wins and we should have $100/gallon gas. Another example might question how can we allow people to do anything dangerous when them dying, as the movie Cloud Atlas teaches us, has echoes through eternity?  If there’s a 0.0000000001% chance of them dying, then the eternal consequences are too much for us to let them bear the risk. No more flying, driving, or eating food (you could choke!). I always hate using Hitler in examples because it’s insensitive, overly dramatic, and overdone. However, we’ll do it anyway. Hitler could have easily wagered the temporal pain of wiping out entire populations of people against the seemingly eternal benefit of having a “pure” race for the rest of history. In any of these cases, Pascal’s Wager says infinity always wins. I feel for this reason alone, Pascal’s Wager is a dangerous argument and Christians should avoid using it at all costs out of concern for it being turned against them…or others.

However, apart from the previous issue, there’s a deeper problem with Christians using Pascal’s Wager…and it isn’t the logic (which has been debated up and down and is by no means my area of expertise). This problem is good for thought because it has theological implications (hence the theology category). The problem, to me, is in the assumptions used to lay out the two cases. Specifically, the “loss” that Christians experience if they’re wrong has seemed lacking every time I’ve heard it used (and I actually have heard it used). I think this comes from the fact that Christianity has been a dominant world religion for over a milennia. When Blaise Pascal cast his wager in 17th century France, there wasn’t much of a negative outcome to being a Christian. Much like America, being a Christian in France then was an accepted practice (though conservative and evangelical Christianity seem to currently be going out vogue). Even then, I think Christians had lost touch with the concept of “counting the cost” to becoming a disciple of Christ, and I think this is a tragic doctrinal loss (unnecessary excessive parenthesis).

To demonstrate this, I feel the wager would take a very different tone if the individual considering Pascal’s Wager lived in a country like China or North Korea where Christianity has been pushed underground. Christians in repressive countries put their lives at great risk  by believing in, living for, and preaching Christ. Hiding in underground caves to sing songs of worship to a Savior who may not exist under penalty of death seems like a foolish wager indeed. The apostle Paul himself wrote at length about the folly of believing in Christ if He was not who Christians believe Him to be. Taking the argument to its core, he says in I Cor. 15 that if Christ was not raised from the dead, Christians are “of all people most to be pitied.” This certainly does not sound like a sterling endorsement of Pascal’s Wager. Combine this with Jesus’ assertion in Luke 14:26 & 27 and the case grows even more bleak:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

While being pitied above all, “hating” one’s relatives, laying down one’s life to take up a cross of sacrifice, and fearing for one’s life may still pale in comparison to an eternity in hell, it makes the argument much more murky. There is a cost to following Christ, and it is a serious one. Tradition says most of the apostles were killed for their faith, many in very messy ways. The author of the book of Hebrews, while extolling the faith of those who have come before, explains some results of giving oneself to God in chapter 11:35-38:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

While the American church might not be there now, no one knows what the future could bring. Japanese converts living less than a century before Pascal made his wager went from joyful conversion to martyrdom at a single command of the shogunate, 26 of them by torture and crucifixion. It is for this reason that I groan whenever I hear of so-called “hellfire and brimstone” alter calls. While I do believe firmly in hell and do not ever want to undercut the seriousness of it, I feel that exciting individuals to make serious decisions about becoming disciples of Christ based on emotion is in error. Counting costs does not simply mean comparing hell to the annoyance of cussing a little less than you used to or not drinking as much. Becoming a Christian in the manner prescribed by Christ Himself requires a complete change in belief, lifestyle, priorities, and so much more. This decision should never be taken lightly, even when compared to infinite punishment.

While not directly related, I’ll leave this discussion of counting costs with an except from an article in Relevant magazine written by a former worship leader about the concept of working off of emotions versus working off of truth. The full article can be found here.

The passage of Nehemiah 8 provides an interesting example […] outside our modern context. Essentially, the people of Israel gathered in one massive crowd to hear Ezra read aloud the Law, which had been previously passed down to Moses. The text indicates that this reading took approximately half a day (from early morning until noon); and this was the beginning of the seventh month, a time of high celebration in ancient Israel. Written texts were also extremely rare at this time period, and it is quite possible this was the first time many of the members of the crowd ever heard the words of the Law.

Though standing in a crowded town square for half a day to listen to a priest read a book of law may sound boring to most of us (it certainly does to me!), the Bible tells us that the people responded in a strong emotional manner. Many shouted praises to God, some threw themselves face-first to the ground, and still others wept. The overarching sentiment seemed to be one of sadness and grieving, possibly because these people were hearing the Law for the first time (or maybe the first time in a while) and felt extremely convicted, as they fully realized they were not living up to its guidelines.

This is where it gets interesting. As a former worship leader, and occasional speaker, I tend to feel as though I’ve done something right when the congregation is at this point, when people are feeling confronted by emotions. However, both Ezra and Nehemiah responded, “Don’t weep and carry on … go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” At a moment in which a captive audience was experiencing a heavy, emotional response to Holy Scriptures, Ezra could have easily utilized these emotions to hammer the message home. In fact, to some of us this may seem like a wasted opportunity. I would not have batted an eye if Ezra instead responded with: “Do you finally see our brokenness? Can you see how we have failed to live up to our covenant with the God who brought us out of exile? Repent! Change your ways!”

It’s obvious to me that Ezra had perspective on the difference between emotional reactions and true worship of God. I pray the church would once again embrace the concept of counting the cost of following Jesus and would be given grace from God to joyfully incur those costs in pursuit of Him.

Credit goes to Francie Scott for inspiring this post though a great discussion.

Is Christian Scholarship Systematically Liberally Biased?

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I recently had a long discussion with a friend about Christian scholarship. The conversation revolved around the idea that many modern Biblical scholars will tell you that the Bible isn’t really as great as Christians believe it to be. Arguments range from “the Gospels weren’t written until 80 years after Christ’s death and therefore couldn’t have been written by the apostles” to “Biblical accounts conflict with historical accounts, meaning the Bible cannot be accurate” to “The account of Jesus in the Gospel of John is irreconcilable with the accounts in the synoptic gospels…meaning that the Bible is contradictory, flawed, and most definitely not divinely inspired.” In the aftermath of this conversation, I did a lot of thinking on whether there is a bias by-and-large amongst Biblical scholars and critics in the present day. However, this thought process ran against one of my core life rules…which is “never to assume another person’s motivations.” In my experience, trying to figure out why someone did something is nearly impossible without knowing that person’s history. So, I stopped that thought process and let it rest for a while.

This week, I had a conversation with a faculty member at the college I work for about the idea of beginning a Ph D program. During our conversation, I told him of how I had considered seminary for much of my life, but decided during my undergraduate that it wasn’t the path I wanted to take. This led to some discussion about the current state of Christian scholarship, and my motives for changing my mind about parish ministry. During the conversation, he made an interesting statement that I wanted to write down for future consideration. However, given the group of friends that I have, I thought some of you might have some good input on it as well.

As we were talking, the idea emerged that a core requirement for attaining a doctorate and becoming a legitimate scholar in our western system is to “contribute to the body of knowledge” in a particular field. However, not all contributions are viewed as equal in the field of scholarship. In fact, with its structure of peer-reviewed journals, fellowships, endowed chairs, prizes, tenure-tracks, and politics throughout, scholarship in the present day is perhaps one of the least egalitarian of all professions. The concept of “contributing to the body of knowledge” in a field inherently assumes that one must produce “new” information. While anyone who writes a decent dissertation and passes all their tests can get a Ph D, the most successful and influential scholars seem to be those who present information that is not only “new”…but is also compelling in some other way. In the physical sciences, this often takes the form of a new technological development. In math and economics, it is often a new model for understanding why a certain phenomenon takes place. In business, it could be a new means of understanding how incentives effect decision-making. However, things get a little hazy when one looks to the humanities.

In mathematics, a scholar who finds a new means of proving an existing theorem that has never been considered before is praised, lauded, and might get an award. However, the English scholar who develops “A Fresh Look at Hemmingway’s Contribution to American Literature” doesn’t get nearly as much credit. Even so, if one looks through a list of dissertation titles from recent recipients of Ph D’s in History or English from a major university, it’s almost laughable how many have similar themes. From “A New Perspective on How the Vietnam War Influenced American Educational Systems” to “Further Essays on Chaucer,” re-evaluating existing works seems to be the bulwark of historical and hermeneutics (textual interpretation) research today. This actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Take history, for example. Though history is happening all the time…current events usually fall into the realm of other disciplines. Political scientists and policy analysts study current political developments, geographers and and geologists study how the earth is changing, military scientists study wars, cultural anthropologists and sociologists study human cultures. History gets the short end of the stick, only getting to look at these things after everyone else is done with them. The same is true of English. Authors may become celebrities, and poets may be revered, but the English scholar is stuck studying what other people write and seeking new interpretations of that writing. Given that most every significant work has been reviewed, analyzed, chewed up, and spit out by literary critics and middle schoolers doing book reports alike, there’s not much left for legitimate scholars except to try to build entirely new perspectives on existing works.

Unlike the sciences, there’s little room for empirical research in english or history. Last I looked, it’s tough to do a regression analysis on the Grapes of Wrath or The Development of the US Space Program. Scholars are stuck simply attempting to devise new interpretations and perspectives on past events and works. I feel that up-and-coming Biblical and Christian scholars are forced into a similar mold as the historians and english scholars of the world. In essence, Biblical and Christian scholars are taking a source text and some historical events and trying to correctly analyze and interpret them. As these events and the text of Scripture are some of the most analyzed in history, new scholars could be forced to approach Scripture and Christian history with a lens of seeking “a new perspective” in order to make themselves known. No one is going to get a promotion or an award for a paper titled “Further Evidence that the Apostle John Actually Wrote the Gospel According to John” when it’s put up against “The Biblical Lie…Is Johannine Literature Actually Johannine After All?” I mean, which of those would you want to read…the one that simply tells you what you’ve heard for the entirety of your life, or the more provocative, extremely compelling “new take” that could debunk the Bible? When was the last time you saw a CNN article with the title “New Research Provides Additional Proof that Solomon Wrote Ecclesiastes?”

Through no fault of their own, modern scholars of Christianity and hermeneutics could be forced to find “new interpretations” or “fresh ideas” that are often counter to Christian orthodoxy and historical hermeneutics simply to have successful careers. If this were true, over time, the body of literature for Christian history and Scriptural hermeneutics would become more and more saturated with ideas that diverge from the traditional. I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that’s not what I’m going for. I’m just trying to understand why it seems that every piece of “legitimate scholarship” I see that relates to Scripture or Christian history seems to be contrary to historical interpretations and orthodoxy. It’s rare that I run into a scholar saying “historical interpretations are right, and here’s why.” This explanation seems to make a lot of sense to me, given my understanding of the current state of western scholarship.

So, thoughts…feedback…scathing critiques? Thanks for reading!