Before we throw stones

It seems like America is unsure of what it cares about. It seems we are at a loss and wandering around trying to figure this all out. Recently we were split on our opinion on the gorilla zoo incident. For a moment we were all enraged, either at the zoo or the parents. Just this week another incident happened where a child was taken by an alligator into the lake the child was playing now. Again, a debate of what the parents should have done differently yet weirdly enough there was no outcry for the 4 gators killed in the attempt to find the one that took the child. I guess animals don’t matter as much if they’re not in a zoo…not really part of my discussion here but still something to think about.  My point is that we as a nation are constantly finding things to argue and disagree about yet painfully ignore bigger and more threatening issues. By no means do I want to belittle the incidents of these two children or the lives of the animals. By no means do I want to dismiss other things. What I do want for us to realize is that our nation is walking on some dangerous  grounds when we see incidents like this and decide to sling judgment, hate, even just an opinion that happens to be the loudest voice. What we have created is a culture that wants to please everyone, offend no one and pretend to think that that’s actually a viable option. All of this got me thinking even more with a recent event in the news. I was already aware of some of the situation and case. But suddenly everyone figured out because, of course, it went viral on the Internet and specifically on social media like Facebook.

It seems, enraged again, we as a nationa got caught in what looked like a unified anger at “the system”.  A rapist was given only 6 months of a sentence that usually gets a decade or more.  But before we continue, lets first discuss the facts. Let’s get on the same page then see where we are at.

A rapist, named Brock Turner, was caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He was caught by 2 grads students and then physically held until the authorities arrived. Even with the victims statement and the statement of the two witnesses, along with the conviction decided by a jury, he was given 3 felonies that would send him to 10-14 years in prison, the judge chose to listen to the father of the rapist. He described his son as a good boy, great athlete and shouldn’t be punished for “20 minutes of action”. The judge chose the lesser sentence…in fact among the smallest sentence ever for a rapist convicted of 3 felonies. When the court cases as revealed, the nation seemed to go nuts online. Everyone was posting articles and statements and videos of the case. Mug shots and statements of death and hatred were slung. I had so many friends posting hat he should be given the death penalty, that he’ll become someone’s sex toy in prison and learn what it feels like to be brutally assaulted and sodomized. I had so many friends say so many things.
But there’s more.
We can probably almost all agree hat Brock Turner and other rapists deserve prison time and proper justice. We would probably all agree that the crime was heinous. We would probably all say rape is bad. Let’s check ourselves, though,and see if we truly can say we live in opposition to the rape culture we are seemingly surrounded by, the very rape culture that gave this judge the ability to give such a light sentence.

We have become so quick in our culture to sling stones of judgment and hate and criticism yet are we really in a place to do so? I mean….are we really?

When the incident of both the gorilla/ zoo  and the gator/kid took place, everyone was suddenly the world’s best parents and said that they could never possibly make such a mistake. Of course I have opinions and would hope I could never have such a thing happen to my child. But last I checked I’m neither a parent nor perfect. Those parents will never forget what happened. So stop beating them up and love your kids as best as you can.

When the Brock Turner case became public, everyone suddenly was an attorney, counselor, executioner or tough guy. What bothered me about this case specifically was that everyone agrees rape is wrong but not everyone is living in a way to terminate the rape culture. If we truly cared about it at our core we wouldn’t allow for the other elements of the rape culture to continue. Need some examples?

  • Movies or shows that glamorize rape
  • Jokes about rape
  • Objectification of men and women through things like the adult industry, sexualized ads, etc.
  • Victim blaming
  • Slut shaming
  • Saying “boys will be boys”

You see, unless your life reflects the true desire and behaviors that align with wanting the end of the rape culture, then you are in no place to throw stones to Brock Turner, his parents, or the judge. I don’t say this to at all state that this case or others aren’t important. In fact, I believe that they are so important that we need to have more conversations about this. I can tell you one thing: I am absolutely fed up with the hypocrisy in our country, and even the Church, when it comes to the rape culture. If we really cared about stopping rape, stopping assault, ending the attitude, removing excuses, then we need to truly make some changes. When we glamorize rape in TV shows or movies, when we have advertisements and commercials that objectify and even subtly show domineering behavior, assault, or abuse, when we have campus rapes that aren’t being reported because schools “deal with them from within”, when we have fraternities where guys treat sex like an amusement park but sororities that do the same are deemed sluts, when we have such a large sex industry which is heavily connected to trafficking, when the Church talks about sex only as negatives avoiding the beauty of God’s design, and when we have magazines and media that create a pop culture that continually treats sex like pure recreation or experimentation, can we really say we are surprised and truly angry when a rapist is only given a six month sentence?

My point is not that complex. Opinions matter. Your voice matters. But more than anything Truth matters. And sometimes what really needs to happen is conviction and humility need to knock us on our knees and show us where we are wrong instead of casting stones at other’s mistakes or insufficiencies.

Thankfully, each day, I try to take on the challenges, mistakes, failures, good, bad and everything in between with the perspective of Jesus working in me showing me his love and life and redemption before me.

Empty seats. 

I started crying today in church. Not during a song. Not during a sermon. But a video. In fact I write this as I sit in the back of the auditorium of the middle school my church is renting out. I started to get teary- eyed watching the video about our new building….our dream coming true.  I’ve only been going to my church here in TN for a year now. I’ve only been around these people for a year. But in a year I have seen something that is rare and authentic and true. 

Lives changed. 

Currently we are in a school because we simply could not fit in our building anymore. So many new families, couples, kids, singles, soldiers, and more. So many people who have been coming to this church not because it has good music (it does), not because it has a funny preacher with great sermons (it does), not because it has a community (it does). People have been coming here because Jesus has changed their lives through this church. 

It’s not a life-change forced by rules and doctrine. It’s not a life-change because you need to live a certain way. It’s life-change that has been brought on because people have found truth, life, redemption, restoration, and freedom in Jesus- his love and forgiveness. 

So why was I getting a bit emotional? As the video aired this morning showing a glimpse of the new sanctuary and the many more chairs, tears came to my eyes. Think of the people…the people that can come to know who Jesus is because we as a church are making room for them. Think of the people who might find freedom from addiction, help in their marriages, wholeness in healing, family in their loneliness, community in isolation, identity in their confusion. Jesus loves every single one of us so much that he died for you and for me. He died to bring forgiveness and restoration to anything could face. Your past doesn’t define you and your mistakes don’t disqualify you. Jesus loves you! Jesus loves the people who will fill those yet-to-be-built empty chairs. Jesus loves the struggling single, the suicidal soldier, the crumbling marriage of the couple who feels hopeless, the awkward and adorable children, the stripper from the local club, the police officer, the teacher, the homeless, the transgender, the gay, and the whoever else might find theirself in those seats. 

Those empty chairs, the dream coming to fruition, is God’s heart. Not to be a bigger church or have a larger building. Not to have a name or nortoriety. Not to have it all. But to be a place of small and humble beginnings that God used to bring people in wholeness, fullness, healing and hope in Jesus Christ. A place that reaches a city and an Army post because every single person in this city and on that post matter. Those empty seats aren’t an expense, they’re an opportunity for someone to have their life changed because of Jesus’ love. 

“Your past doesn’t define you and your mistakes don’t disqualify you”- Kelly F. 

We need to be better than a rape culture.

I can’t even begin to express my feelings in something as short as this blog to explain how angry, sad, and broken I am for our culture today. We, America, have a long history of having the wrong opinion, wrong action, and poor judgment when it comes to rape and assault.  We have allowed for generations to live and die without having something substantial to show for having action and justice for victims of rape.  This needs to change. Now.

I have found myself at multiple times wanting to write something about this subject. But I usually find myself too upset or too angry to coherently write something capable of getting my thoughts across. But tonight, tonight I am here and ready to say something. We have created and endorsed a culture that glamorizes violent sex, rape, trafficking, prostitution, and assault. The very fact that we need to have this conversation shows how far we really are in this ugly pit.

Don’t believe me? Here are some examples…

  • movies like 50 Shades of Gray– manipulative and exploitive relationship
  • rape fantasy porn
  • phrases like “I’ll rape you in this game”
  • slut shaming (but boys will be boys…right?)
  • making jokes about rape
  • thinking its cool that celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence had her privacy betrayed so the world could “enjoy her” a bit
  • when we allow and enjoy songs like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and endorse the thought that its okay to have blurry vision about consensual sex and possible rape
  • victim blaming

I could honestly make a longer list but there’s the gist. We have collectively taken such a light stance on rape and assault that we don’t even realize the tragedy taking place in our society. Just today pop-star Kesha was denied in court her request to terminate her contract with Sony because she claims a producer assaulted her. I don’t know Kesha. I don’t know her alleged attacker. But what I do know is that her right to remove herself from a place that she finds unsafe was denied. She will be forced to work alongside the producer over and over.  What I find most sad about her case is that, it being so public, will probably prevent so many victims of rape and assault from coming forward because the justice system has failed her, so why would it work for them?

Less than 2% of all rapes are reported with an even lower percentage for men reporting their assault. Women and girls are terrified of their attackers. Kids are petrified of their molesters. Boys and men feel humiliated because in society’s eyes they are less manly for having been assaulted, and even worse if their victimizer was a woman. Yes men can be raped by women too.

What it needs to come down to for us in our American culture is that we need to have a paradigm shift in our society. Enough is enough. Too many rapes happen. Too many victims stay silent. Too many victims lack justice being served. And too many rapists are set or kept free. We need to stop the jokes that make light of rape. We need to stop supporting porn (its all unhealthy) but especially rape fantasy porn. No more crying wolf because of regretful sex.  We need to learn that consent is vital in a sexual relationship. If consent is not given on either party…then don’t have sex. No means no. Silence means no. Yes means yes. We need to stop glamorizing artists/music whose lyrics not only glamorize but endorse rape, assault, abuse, etc. Snoop Dog (Snoop Lion?), Nicki Minaj, Robin Thicke and many others but just to name a few. We need to realize that as much as we have embraced something like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, we are also embracing the objectification of women. We need to stop it. Stop it all. We need to understand that even if someone has given sex before, it is also their right to refuse. We need to understand that regardless of what a woman or man, boy or girl, is wearing it does not mean it is the right for the taking. Enough with the victim blaming. Enough with the objectifying. Enough. ENOUGH. ENOUGH!

 

We need to be better than this. We are better than this because we were created for more than this.  Do your part to better the world around you. Is this really the world we want our children to grow up in? Is this really a world you want to live in? No. Speak up. Act. Do something. But don’t sit around and allow for this rape culture to continue. Not on your watch. Not on mine.

 

 

 

 

Valentine.

This time of year brings out a few different types of people. There are the couples, excited to share their love with one another. There are the bitter singles who hate the holiday because they are mad about their own relationship status. Then you have the indifferent category- the ones who regardless of being in a relationship or not could care less about the day. It is in fact, just a day. And I beg the question…could there be more?

A culture is brilliantly marketed with commercials, flower/chocolate companies, lingerie ads, and more, all the while enticing couples to do something or give something  to the one you love.  What I find so tragically sad about this is that the marketing is in fact only for one specific day. Really? We really want to encourage couples to show their love once a year? Well the advertising isn’t exactly doing that, but it sure is close. We live in a world that cares so much about satisfying our need. Think about the ads around Valentine’s Day. How many of them aren’t sexually charged or about giving something just in order to receive something? Tell me it has more than this.

Between “free communication” weekends with eHarmony, Match.com and similar dating sites, it seems as though love equates relationship status, not love equating….well, love. At the same time, there are so many singles that are bitter and angry because of lacking a relationship. Many will drink away their loneliness, while many others will engage in porn, while still others might eat their feelings and spend the night in a bitterness binge on Netflix. Valentine’s Day is just a day, yet so many people find themselves feeling utterly alone.  Why can’t they be happy?  Why can’t they have someone special?  This assumes that being in a relationship equates happiness. And it also assumes that happiness is a standard for life (I’ll explain).

Then there’s me. The single who doesn’t care. There are plenty of people who don’t actually care about this holiday. You know something? I have never actually celebrated Valentine’s Day…at least not romantically. I  would love to be asked out for a cute date and to be treated special. Who wouldn’t? But my happiness is not contingent on how someone else treats me. My happiness is not contingent on anything else in this world. I know I matter and have value and worth because of God. Period. Its that simple. Everyone needs to know they matter.  Like I said, I would absolutely love to be asked on a Valentine’s Date with a fancy restaurant, flowers, chocolates, and maybe dancing. Yeah, I’m a romantic. But you know what? It’s okay.  Unlike culture, I’m not looking to get laid, get gifts, or anything else that this holiday heavily influences. I’m just me content with where I am.

I commend the couples that go and celebrate. Go! Have fun with your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend! Be romantic in your own way. Make the night special. Get each other gifts, or chocolates (or cake?), or whatever else you feel like. Let me challenge you with something here: put your significant other first.  Instead of caring about what you’re getting, what you want…maybe surprise them by making the night all about them. Heck, if you know they’re already doing something for you, do something else for them later in the week. But make it about them, not you. Show them a love that is selfless, worthy, and beautiful.

For those of us that are single, please for the love of God, stop whining and being bitter. Yes be sad if you really are, but stop being angry at the couples who are actually happy and enjoying their relationship, and the night devoted to “love”. But please please just stop. Do something that betters you that day. Go volunteer. Go have a bro-date or a girls day. Go hiking. Camping. Do something that gets your mind off of single life and have fun. Events like “Night to Shine” by the Tim Tebow Foundation are fantastic because its a Valentine’s event that doesn’t care about your age, weight, body type, relationship status. It simple cares for you to know you matter.  Do something that still puts others first.

I end with this. Know that no matter what, God loves you. You matter. You have value. You are worthy. No relationship, one-night-stand, hookup, Tinder swipe, pornographic image, or (dare I say) healthy relationship will have bring satisfaction or happiness, at least not long term and most definitely not joy like that God can bring you. He loves you so much.

Messy, vulnerable, baby Jesus

So Christmas is here. Soon we will be tearing apart the presents that were wrapped in attempted, not necessarily succeeded, beauty. The stress of it is most certainly here for so many. Family is in town. Maybe some travel. Others have house guests. We have our trees, whether natural or fake. We have our piles of presents. We have our Christmas villages and Santa Clause. Some parts of the world will have snow. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music, cheesy Christmas movies, decorations, ice skating, peppermint…pretty much anything that has to do with Christmas.

Yet in the midst of the Christmas season- holiday season for that matter if we go back to Halloween and Thanksgiving, we lose something. Even for those of us who are “religious”, faith-based, when we attend church, midnight Mass, or something else during this season, we often miss something. I think of something from a movie I find to be hilarious, though to many, they might find this scene sacrilegious. There’s a scene in Talladega Nights where, at the dinner table, there is a comical and ridiculous discussion on how to pray to Jesus. One claimed that he prays to grown up Jesus. Another prays to “6 pounds, 8 oz dear Lord baby Jesus”. It makes me wonder…

When people think of Jesus, even at Christmas, he is often thought of as the Jesus who died on the cross. We forget he was a baby first. We forget that he was vulnerable, exposed, dependent, bloody, uncomfortable, and messy. Jesus was a literal baby. He was born to a woman, just like any other person born. A C-section was not an option. He was born vaginally, where his mother had no pain killer, no doctors, no nurses, no ice chips. He was born and in his birth, the mess followed. There was blood, a placenta, possibly feces from Mary, as that is common for women as they deliver their baby. He was covered in the same amniotic fluid and blood that any other baby would be covered in, only he didn’t have a nice bath and towels to get cleaned. I imagine Mary’s screams being heard in the fields and houses nearby.  I imagine the pain that she would have had, delivering a baby with nothing but will and body.  I imagine Joseph nearby probably freaking out like any dad would be.  I imagine a very messy, very noisy, very painful, very uncomfortable, and yet all the while, very beautiful, powerful moment of history.

Baby Jesus was born.

I think it was on purpose that God chose to let Jesus enter this world painfully, in mess, and in vulnerability. You see, I believe God chose this to be the story of salvation because God wanted the world to see that he gets it…that life is messy and painful. I think God wanted to show Mary and Joseph that his story is bigger and better than we can fathom or understand. Rather than Jesus showing up as a man who had no life experience in relationship to everyone else, he, instead, came as a baby…a baby that pooped, peed, cried, and slobbered depending on Mary and Joseph to take care of him, just like any other baby.

nativity3

This world is very very messy. It is broken. It has so much pain. Moments, sometimes longer for others, challenge us. We are faced with hardship. I believe the Christmas story- the reason we actually go buy the presents, decorate trees, and attend services- completely and fully relates to our realities of brokenness, pain, and mess. Jesus understands and knows and wants to be part of your story. This Christmas, I pray and hope that you don’t pass it without thoughts on Jesus and the truth of his love for the world. Jesus could have chosen to not come. Jesus could have chosen to come as a man and not relate to us. Jesus could have ignored us altogether. Instead, he came in such a way that he truly and deeply knows our struggles and our pain. He knows our mess. And he is aching for you to recognize him. So many people ignored the star that showed over Bethlehem that first Christmas night. Kings and commoners ignored Jesus- the Messiah, Emmanuel, creator, and comforter, but more than anything, the king…the only King that can bring salvation, healing, restoration, and redemption. He can cleanse our mess, restore our brokenness, heal our hurts, and give us a hope.

Messiah.
Savior.
Emmanuel.
Prince of Peace.
Wonderful counselor.
Redeemer.
The Light of the world…

In Him, and only Him, we have life. True life.
Don’t miss Him this year.

In the darkness of the road…

This time of year seems to make everyone reflective and nostalgic.  With Thanksgiving, everyone wants to list things they are thankful for. Christmas is always seemingly about family. And New Years is about new chapters in our lives. I find myself here tonight, on Black Friday, reflecting on a whole lot more than the turkey I ate or the family I spent time with. I didn’t go shopping- never have on Black Friday. Instead, holidays for me sort of create a different internal response. I don’t typically share this with most people, but I want to be vulnerable with you tonight.  For me, as much as I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find them to be increasingly harder with each year passing.

I struggle with my desires and wants and yet try to be content with what have. I am nearly 28 year olds at this point and spending holidays with family and friends also just reminds me of the family I don’t have. There are usually people at some point who I don’t know at holiday events who will ask the inevitable question of who my husband is or what he does.  In finding out about my single-hood, people are quick to either remind me of the “you’ll meet him at the right time” bogus encouragement or they’ll try to do a setup.  Neither of which are helpful or wanted.  I don’t get to share the holiday moments with a husband or kids. I don’t get to make memories and create traditions.  I love my family, don’t get me wrong, but I want more. I always have. I want to be married and have the inconvenience of choosing who to spend holidays with. I want the hassle of preparing my own house for the holidays. Holidays for me at some point remind me of my lack.

And yet, it doesn’t quite end there. While everyone talks of careers and time off, retirement and tenured, I struggle with debt that is suffocating and sucking the life out of me. I get frustrated with the holidays, especially Christmas, because in my heart I want to bless others and make people feel special, buy them what they need or want, yet wrestle with what I can actually do.  Between parties, gift exchanges, Christmas presents, meals to prepare, and even traveling, I fight with myself with what I can or should do, and yet wish I could do more. And of course, along with the question regarding my relationship status, I am also asked what I do for a living.  Well, I pretty much work my butt off for just above minimum wage so I can pay off debt that I got for two degrees yet am not getting hired by anyone to actually use. Its a frustrating, sometimes infuriating, place to be in when I don’t have an answer to that question. What I do have is the knowledge that I’ve been rejected by hundreds of jobs while working multiple/overlapping part-time jobs, not using my degrees, and yet still struggling to make ends meet. Struggling with needing and desperately wanting a job that is utterly fulfilling doing what I was born to do.

What I realized, and have been processing, over the past 24 hours, is that life is just really really hard sometimes and there isn’t always a solution or formula.  Sometimes, we just get knocked down over and again. For the past year especially I have felt like I can’t catch my breath. I looked up previous posts and saw that I wrote 3 other posts regarding car and financial issues in the past year, with this being part of the 4th. (Previous posts: Shattered Lights and Black Ice, Cracked Windshield, The Life I want)  You see, last night while driving home from dinner at my sister’s, my car decided to die rather rapidly in the middle of the road as I was going 45mph. As my car died in the middle “suicide” lane, I sat in my car fighting tears and the desire to just yell as loud as possible. I sat, with my hazard lights flashing, in the darkness of the road just angry and lost. The moments before my car died, I was praying for breakthrough in areas of my life…those frustrations written just earlier in this post. I was praying specifically for God to grant favor financially for me. I feel like I’m busting my butt but not getting anywhere. I also was praying to God and telling him (rather honestly) how I am sick of being single (let’s be clear: I’m not desperate, I desire marriage- there is a BIG difference). I was telling God how lonely the holidays can be and how it’d be nice for that area of my life to change. I know that may sound stupid, but sometimes, we need to be honest with ourselves and with God about our wants and our needs.

Last night, I had wants, but definitely had needs.

I sat in my car stuck…and angry. I was angry even though my sister, brother-in-law, neighbor’s father, and my dad, showed up and towed my dead Jeep out of the darkness of the middle of the road. I sat angry at yet another financial thing that I knew I couldn’t pay. I sat angry that I just can’t seem to win. For a moment, I almost wished someone hit my car enough just so insurance could take of it. You see…desperation can make us crazy, but that desperation should still be towards Jesus. In all of my anger and frustration, my tears and my yelling (yes I was yelling at God rather angrily last night too), God was not offended nor was he absent. He created us with emotions- to feel things. But regardless of what we face in life, we need to turn to Jesus. He is not offended by our anger or our sadness, our bitterness or burdens, our brokenness or our weakness. He loves us tremendously and wants us to come to him as we are.

When I got home and into the silence of my bedroom, I broke down. Weeping. Angry. Upset. Broken. Frustrated. Lost. Everything all in one. I was mad at God for everything- my job situation, my finances, my job rejections, my singleness, and more.  I went into work this morning still frustrated and mad. Still broken and lost. But as I continued to silently pray, my attitude started to slowly shift.  My situation has’t really changed too much from last night. Yes, I got my car fixed and the finances of it were worked out. But I still have the same other things- the things I was praying about in the moments before my car died. And yet…I still serve the same God who has provided for me before, who has kept me from things not out of anger or overprotection, but because he understands the things I cannot see. I still serve the same God who has proven his love over and over again. I may be struggling and dealing with my own needs and wants, but my God is with me. I am human and this emotions and wants and needs won’t just disappear. But God is unwaveringly faithful. For that, I can and will thankful.  I serve a God who wants me to bring him my desires and wants, and trust him with them, even if my timing or outcome isn’t as I see fit. If I believe he is who he says he is, than my weariness can be lifted and my head held high on that simple fact.

Jesus and Jihadists.

There have been so many heartbreaking things lately to happen. So much suffering. So much hate. There is no way to avoid hearing about the hurting happening in this world.  There is no way to avoid hearing about the evil. Lately, it seems the world’s greatest named enemy are Jihadists and terrorist groups. They are doing a great job of instilling fear and terror across borders and around the world. Between beheadings, bombings, mass shootings, public executions, and other threats, the world is hearing and seeing their evil.  What broke my heart this weekend was seeing some more news about more evil and pain through terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad.  So many lives lost.  So much hurting and pain.

Something struck me through the many social media posts I saw. So many posts were blaming refugees for the attack specifically on Paris. So many posts were calling for immediate airstrikes. And still others were full of grief. What became all the more clear to me in light of the events that occurred over the last week around the world, is that this world needs Jesus. I may sound like a broken record, and frankly I don’t care. Jesus is the only Hope, only Redeemer and only Savior of this world. Whatever brokenness, whatever evil, whatever pain, whatever tragedy we face, he is our hope. Our everything.

 

That goes for everyone. The Gospel and love of Jesus Christ is radically, completely and totally inclusive. In light of the recent events, this could be a very hard pill to swallow: Jesus loves Jihadists.  11906265_195480400790708_347100879_n

I am sure my last statement is not a popular one, but it is a Biblical one. Jesus came to this Earth to save the righteous only, right? No! Jesus came to bring healing to the broken, freedom for the captive, forgiveness for the sinner, redemption for the evildoer. People who encountered Jesus weren’t the same after.  They lived differently. Jesus came bearing a message that would weigh heavy for all of eternity because it was one that included every person. He lived and died for the forgiveness of this world, for every single person.  It is a painful and hard, and even unwanted, to hear that the Good News- the Gospel- is even for the terrorist.  I am not saying that justice on Earth doesn’t need to happen nor am I trying to nullify the evil done. Earthly consequences are often necessary and unavoidable.  I am just trying to convey a message that Jesus died for: a radical love that loved the enemies, the adulterer, the murderer, the liar, the gossip, the slave, the free, the parent, the child, the homosexual, the straight, the old and the young.

This radical love is one that I want to be better at. I want to be someone that can live out a love that is so radical that I can forgive the terrorist. Why? Because Jesus wants even them to turn from their evil and live for Him. I want to be someone that can love someone who may never return that love. I want to be someone that kneels and weeps and prays for those that hurt me and persecute me. I want to be someone that embodies so closely the character of Christ, that people see Jesus first in me.

I would love to be there the day that a Jihadist- a terrorist, a murderer, adulterer, whoever- meets Jesus. The day their life changes. The day that might be forgiven. The day they take ownership of their sin and claim redemption in Jesus.  I understand that the likelihood of me actually seeing that take place is slim, but I want to be sure to pray. To remember to pray for the hurting as well as the offender.  I want to remember to believe that redemption is possible for anyone, even if its on the other side of eternity.

Red light district love.

the-red-light-district

I am certain this will not be a popular thought. But my silence is not okay. For those of you reading this who might be offended, that’s fine. Just be offended in the right way. Red Light Districts are not a joke. They are not romantic. They are not glamorous. The other day I was in a conversation with various people (some of you who might read this). In this conversation, someone brought up very casually that he and his brother, among others returning from a deployment training, went to a European Red Light District. He said that some of them “did stuff”. Now, I am no fool and I can assume that by doing stuff that meant that had some sort or variation or sexual acts with the prostitutes who work in that Red Light District. What broke my heart is that not only did he say it so casually, but that he probably didn’t even realize (nor those he was with) that the very women (or men) that they might have “done stuff” with were probable victims of human trafficking. I don’t say any of this to belittle or trash talk those who were a part of this conversation yesterday.  But I literally went home and wept.

Red Light Districts in Europe, along with many places around the world, are the primary locations of the sex industry. In so many areas, especially in Europe, the prostitution is completely legalized. Anyone, from anywhere, can go and pay a certain price for whatever sexual acts they desire. Its compared to ordering a pizza. When did sex because so casual? When did sex become something downgraded to the value of pizza? When did the value or worth of someone else’s life drop to near nothing? The men and women who work these districts are pimped and prostituted out. They are physically broken down so they won’t run and flee. They are emotionally broken so they will not betray those who own them. There families and loved ones are threatened. They are kidnapped, coerced, beaten, broken, raped, and tortured. Yet, people still go to these districts and pay to have sex with them.

Legal doesn’t equate right or just.

Dear friends and readers, please understand the heaviness of my heart tonight as I write to tell you: please for their sake, do not embrace the Red Light Districts, do not engage in sex or behaviors with prostitutes, do not treat sex so casually as that of a pizza. They are worth more than that. YOU are worth more than that. End the demand of the commercial sex industry that is really the forced sex trafficking of individuals who have no other option or way out. Use wisdom in your travels. Value your own sex and sexuality more than offering it up to just anybody. Don’t buy into the lie of buying sex or giving sex because you can.  Find your value somewhere else, not in the using or abusing of someone else’s sexuality. Be offended at sex being treated like a recreation instead of something valuable. We were designed for more and far greater things.

Til the day I die…

It seems that our news is becoming more and more bleak, full of hopelessness, loss and despair only to be met with hatred, viciousness, and suffering. I have so much to say and I feel like I cannot fully express what exactly is going on in my mind and heart. But I can say this, that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened. You see, Christians globally are becoming more and more of a target of things that are reminiscent of the Early Church; things such as public executions, beheadings, crucifixions, shootings, and imprisonments. And I sit here in my dimly lit bedroom fighting tears wondering how I play a role in Christian history as events continue to unfold.

More Christians have been slaughtered brutally. In Syria, under the oppression of ISIS, 11 Christian missionaries were crucified and beheaded, just last month. Two of the women missionaries were publicly and violently gang raped only the to then be crucified. Other Christians have been beheaded in Africa. Others have been caged and drowned. And yet, still others, closer to home, have been shot. I can’t help but have a sense of camaraderie with my fellow Christians worldwide. But as I hear each story and painfully take in their suffering as a martyr and hero of faith, I am reminded of something that changed my life more than a decade and half ago.

April 20, 1999.

A normal day, until it happened…Two students, dressed in trench-coats and carrying various weapons, decided that they were going to change the course of history for their school and Littleton, CO.  These two gunman, teenagers, began bringing havoc on their school as they sought out specific targets. Some of their targets were classmates that confessed love for Jesus Christ and that they believed in God.  By the end of the day, they had intentionally shot, at close range, 12 of their classmates and 1 of their teachers, and then themselves.  As an early middle schooler, I was saddened and broken by this news. I remember it clearly. I remember watching TV reports of students and faculty fleeing the building. I remember seeing images of people jumping out of the second story windows. I remember the names of victims. But it wasn’t until a few years later, the events that unfolded that dark day at Columbine High School would forever change my life.

Having grown up in the church and being raised by Godly parents, I pretty much assumed I was “good” for a long time. I think a huge part of me loved God and loved church- especially events like camp. I loved youth group. I loved learning about Christianity and God. But one day I realized that it wasn’t enough. For two years, I was constantly reminded of the murders of the Christians at Columbine. For two years I couldn’t get a few of those names out of my head: Cassie Bernall, Rachel Scott, and Isaiah Shoals. Then, in 8th grade at a winter youth retreat, I was broken and realized that I had missed something in this story of Christianity. A youth group had done a drama to a song dedicated to the victims- specifically the Christians- of Columbine. A phrase in the song is what did me in.

“What if tomorrow, what if today, faced with that question, what would you say?” 

I realized that my religion wasn’t enough. My church attendance wasn’t enough. I realized in that moment, I did not have the faith those students had in their final moments. I remember thinking “God I don’t love you enough to die for you, but I want to.” It was in that moment, February 17, 2001, that I made a commitment, until the day I die, that I would try to love God with everything I had, even my last breath. From that day, I realized that it would be a journey to keep loving God no matter what was going on around me or happening to me. This journey is still happening. And that’s why news is painful at times, but necessary, to remind me of my commitment.

Last week, in Oregon, a similar shooting took place at Umpqua Community College, where a shooter targeted Christians for their faith. When I heard the news, my heart stopped for a moment, to give a silent prayer for the survivors of the shooting, and at the same time, remember the fallen of the Faith. Today, I learned of more executions by ISIS. There will be more. More hate. More evil. More persecution. More brokenness. But one thing, one thing I know for sure, is that in spite of the evil that exists in this world, the pain that follows, the brokenness that remains, I have Jesus Christ as my savior and my lord. This means I trust him, love him, and serve him with my life. He is my constant, steadfast and unwavering confidence in the midst of the darkness around me and in this world. Earlier in my blog I said “that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened”…I am sad and angry for the evil and hatred that exists. I am sad for the loss of life. I am angry at the taking of life. But I am overjoyed and strengthened because these Christians, faced with the question of belief and love in One God and Savior in Jesus Christ, they refused to recant, run away, make excuses, or betray. They stood firm. They were steadfast. They looked evil in the eye and said that God mattered more, even than their life. They knew that losing their life still meant gaining life and eternity with Jesus forever.

You may read this and think I am crazy. Just another religious nut. You make think this is bogus. But let me challenge with one thing: if I am wrong, then so be it. I lose nothing. But if I am right, I gain everything. I have a hope. I am not in despair. I am not lost. I am not weakened. I am redeemed and I am confident in Jesus. If I am faced with some event, whether natural, or evil, I want to know that I am doing my utmost, my best to live in a way that honors the God I say I believe in. If I am faced with death- I want to be among those that give up my life instead of give up my God. I want to be among the ones who finish strong and firm and confident in Him. Life is messy and painful. Life has evil. I don’t always understand everything. But I have hope in everything.

Til the day I die, I will live for Him.

 

 

 

Pierce the darkness with light.

 

For a moment, or rather just a few moments, the world seemed to care about the moon and story it had to tell. In case you weren’t aware, this past Sunday was the super moon lunar eclipse. It was nicknamed “blood moon” as well, as it was allegedly a prophecy for the end times (I don’t buy that part of the story). Whether you’re a sciency sort of person, a religious person awaiting the coming of Christ in the appearance of the blood moon, or someone who just wanted to see what the fuss was about, a lot of the world, waited and watched the lunar eclipse. Here are a few of my pictures from the night…I missed a few phases of the eclipse, I missed most of the red reflections of light (hence the nickname of “blood moon”). Clouds were in the way. We’ve had rain off and on and I just didn’t think I would get to see any of the eclipse. Actually, I was disappointed because I love astronomy- constellations and the incredible depth of mystery around it all. Staring into the night sky is easily among my favorite things to do pretty much ever. After checking outside to see the moon, I decided to grab my camera, you know, just in case.

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The clouds blocked a lot of the moon. Even when I checked on the phases of it, often it was hindered by clouds and was pretty much a moon like any other night. Or at least, it wasn’t anything worth fussing about.

 

But I continued to watch it sporadically and see if anything changed.
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Still….so many clouds. I tried to capture the ending of the eclipse as best as I could. Between the clouds and my amateur photographer skills (Nikon baby!), it wasn’t the best shot. It was still so incredible to experience. I mean think about it, the world almost collectively watched the moon and regardless of location, the moon was present. It doesn’t mean that clouds, storms, buildings, or something else hindered its presence. The visibility was just blocked.  Not only were so many people watching the moon, people were going at it on social media posting pictures. If I may be honest for a minute- like I haven’t already been honest- I get so sick of poor quality pictures. I know I am not professional photographer, but I know enough technique and have enough skill to spot good pictures or, in many cases of social media, bad or outright terrible ones. But nothing bothers me more than people posting either their own or someone else’s poorly or obviously photoshopped picture and claiming it to be either a masterpiece or declaration of truth. Its a fraud. I am all for using editing software and even photoshop, but please, for all that is good and beautiful, stop with the terrible photoshops being passed as fact. I saw people posting pictures of a bright red moon sitting on the horizon of the Mount of Olives essentially peering over the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. Not only was the moon placement incorrect, the size and color were both terribly wrong, and quite obvious. But then there were other, less obvious, frauds that had so many people believing its validity. And though many were deceived by these frauds, we still will declare to the world, that we don’t like fake…

After my attempt of catching the eclipse mostly failed, I went inside my townhouse to read and watch some Netflix. I like evenings because I like the quiet and reflective nature of them. So after some binge watching, junk food, and Facebook, I unplugged a bit. At this point it was about 2 in the morning. Silence. Part of why I love the silence of the night is because I like to go outside on a porch, balcony, in a backyard, or wherever I am, and pray, reflect, then listen for what God has to say. When I stepped outside, I was taken aback for a moment. I thought there were new street lights or something because it was so unusually bright. I quickly realized something: I got to see the finale of something incredibly beautiful while the world slept (or in reality the Western Hemisphere). The moon was brighter than I had ever seen. It was big and bold and perfect. The clouds were gone. The sky was clear. And it was lovely.

I stood at the backside of my apartment building and fence just smiling in awe of such beauty. The darkness was gone. The night lit up like it was the day. And then something came to my mind, I believe, a whisper from God.

Pierce the darkness with light.

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Our world is filled with so much filth. Distraction. Hate. Evil. So much darkness engulfs this world. Just like the earlier part of my evening and watching of the eclipse. The clouds got in the way of the beauty and perfection. You see, when we allow for things to pollute us and fill us with filth, we aren’t in the light. We all have sin, innate darkness, within us. It is the very reason why our world is full of evil. Its why there is brokenness and pain. But with Jesus, light has come. I know this may make me sound like a crazy person, but that’s honestly fine by me. Jesus died to bring life. He died to redeem. He died and rose again for each of us.  As Christians, Jesus needs to be the most important thing in our lives. He must be the light within us, but it must also break forth from us. What good is it if the light in us remains hidden from the rest of the world stuck in darkness? What good is it if we have been forgiven much and redeemed, yet aren’t telling others about it? Remember when I was talking about the bad photoshops? Yeah…nobody likes a fake, and if you’re a fake Christian- a hypocrite- people will eventually catch on.  Some might buy it, but eventually frauds are uncovered and exposed. If Jesus is the light of the world, if he is “the way the truth and the life”, why are we not excited to live that out and let the world catch at least a glimpse of that light? What good is grace and mercy in our lives when we aren’t living differently or offering it others? If we, Christians…if we, the Church, stepped up and lived as we say we believe, and let Jesus not only change us, but light up the world around us, this world would and could look very very differently. Pierce the darkness around you with the light of Jesus Christ.