My friend Stephen Mattson wrote this amazing blog post. Follow Stephen and I guarantee you’ll be moved by what he has to say.
Originally posted on Stephen Mattson:
Relevant Magazine published my latest piece on their website today. You can check it out there, or I’ve posted the transcript below.
Christianity comes with a lot of expectations. Some are biblical. Some, we’ve grafted on.
Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations of what our lives will look like after accepting Christ into our lives. We think seasoned Christians have it all together, always feel close to God and never doubt.
But it doesn’t take long for those illusions to be shattered. We soon realize that following Christ doesn’t look exactly like we expected.
Here are 7 things I wish I knew about Christianity before becoming a Christian:
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You know the drill.
I visit my blog after a two-month absence, feel guilty about not posting since December, make promises to stay on top of it from now on, start a writing streak that might last a week or so and then… same routine.
I noticed this morning that Tyler Francke, a Twitter friend and excellent writer, is following my blog. Just knowing that Tyler follows my blog is enough to put the pressure on to keep it updated.
Tyler writes for one of my favorite sites, Sojourners, and although some of his theology raises eyebrows, I admire his honesty and his desire to journey through the Word of God with questions and challenges. Last week, I posted this tweet:
@tylerjfrancke Keep blogging, brother. I love that you hold all of us accountable to the real Gospel. Thank you.
— Jason Lilly (@WolfDreamer1112) March 6, 2014
Tyler is one of those writers who challenges other believers to strengthen their faith by studying scripture, asking questions, holding ourselves accountable for growing in our walk with God. He recently posted a biting commentary on an absurd $70 million project to create a theme park that replicates Noah’s Ark. Francke lists a number of other uses for this money that would be more honorable to God than rebuilding a famous (and now pointless) biblical relic.
“For example, Habitat for Humanity could build almost 40,000 new homes for poor families in India. World Vision could give away more than 100,000 dairy cows (along with the nutritious milk and valuable income they provide) to starving children and their parents in Liberia. Samaritan’s Purse could mobilize nearly 1.2 million emergency medical kits to serve the poor and needy all over the world.”
This is where Christian institutions often miss the mark. Churches, for example, view missions as a charity or a program that operates outside of the church. Church funds, then, are too often spent on projects that may be well-intended but do little to help the “least of these.”
The focus of the Church should be to care for the poor and needy, not spend a fortune on projects that seem more worldly than godly. [Tweet that!]
I think about people like Bob Goff, author of Love Does, who publishes a national bestseller and donates 100% of the profits to Restore International, an organization founded by Bob that “seeks to find daring and audacious ways to combat human rights violations, including forced prostitution and slave labor.” Instead of building a replica of the ark, Restore Int. builds schools.
I think about people like Mike Yankoski, who willingly gave up everything (money, possessions, a home) to live on the streets and fellowship with and empathize with homeless men and women who struggle every day.
Or Shane Claiborne, who decided early in his walk with Jesus to take the biblical call to be “set apart” very seriously and inspire others to do the same. Shane also works to serve the homeless and fights injustice of all types, including hot button issues like war, the death penalty, abortion, and the environment.
I admire people like Tyler, Bob, Mike, Shane, Brandon and Jen because they motivate me to check my own walk and see if I am in step with Christ. They hold me and other followers accountable without making me feel guilty. And even though their choices come with challenges, they press on with a joy that can only be from God. I read about their challenges and I see them living Proverbs 3:5, trusting in God rather that their own understanding. In her book 7, Jen Hatmaker admits to the misery of cutting things out of her life to make more room for God. But she admits it with such grace, humor, and understanding that it is easy to see her drawing further from her own desires and closer to the heart of Jesus.
Lives like these hold me accountable for my own life choices. I don’t mean they make me feel guilty, but there is a conviction of heart that grows as I read about other Christians who take Jesus very seriously and live according to His standards rather than the world’s standards.
So the pressure is on for me, to keep this blog updated and (more importantly) to keep my relationship with Jesus updated. Thank you, Tyler, Bob, Mike, Shane, Brandon and Jenn for the motivation to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.
Last year I posted a story about damaging my Kindle and how that experience reawakened my love for books.
Now, my Kindle is lost. I misplaced it, left it somewhere, put it away and forgot where, I don’t know. But it’s gone. This isn’t an easy truth to accept from someone who has a little over 1700 books in his Kindle library. I downloaded the app to my phone (which takes up a lot of space, by the way), but it’s just not the same.
After losing my Kindle, though, something strange happened. I don’t know how to explain it. When I had the Kindle, my time was mostly balanced between building up my Kindle library and actually reading a book on the Kindle. Once the Kindle was lost, though, it was back to other means of finding excellent books. And I chose some of the more old-school methods, too. I checked the library.
What I realized is that my reading habits have also become old-school. I’m looking for a good story, not just a good book. Is there a difference? I think so.
Between searching the library, recalling the names of some of my favorite authors and remembering some online recommendations, I picked up a copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
First, let me say I think I may be in love with the library in Dunbar, WV. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. In fact, it’s in one of the rougher areas of Dunbar, a part of town that used to be bustling with shops and restaurants but now contains mostly empty buildings and long-forgotten relics. The library is a square-shaped brick building, the entrance a metallic secured door that is not at all welcoming to the touch or easy on the eyes. But as you pass through the claustrophobic entrance hallway, the lighting changes from blinding to soothing; the atmosphere changes as the heart of the library opens up to an unexpected lofty ceiling, adorned by wooden columns and paneling. Shelves of books follow along the wall, some built into the wall and some standing separate.
What first catches they eye, though, are the books. Books placed in the shelves, books placed on top of the shelves, books “left” on the tables next to cozy chairs and couches. Whomever designed this library had one thing in mind:
People who love libraries also love a cozy place to read. [Tweet that]
And I did see exactly that, people of all types lounging in the seats or standing near the shelves, all of them with books in their hands. Most unexpected, though, were the empty computers, which seems to be the top reason many people visit their local library nowadays. In the days when MySpace was popular, I once saw a group of teenage girls in a library chatting with what looked like a grown man on MySpace. But not here. The few people who were on computers seemed to be working on something academic or professional.
As I searched for the book, without luck, I again had to make an old-school decision to seek help from the librarian behind the counter. This was usually my last resort as I’ve had experiences with public librarians that weren’t pleasant.
She was an absolute treat! “Hello! How can I help you?” she asked. Her tone was upbeat, and she smiled, but not in a fake or forced way. She gladly directed me to the correct section of the library to find what I was looking for, as if somehow sensing my own desire for the adventure of searching for the book myself rather than having someone else retrieve it for me.
Once I found the book, I struggled to keep from sinking into one of the available cozy seats and sticking around for a while. But I was in a hurry to get home. The librarian scanned my card, scanned the book, and said, “Okay, Jason, you’re all set.” She used my name, as if we were old friends! “Now don’t read that all in one night,” she said. We both laughed, and again I struggled to leave but had no choice. I was reminded of what Saul Bellow said: “People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” [Tweet this!]
A great library should compel visitors to stick around, enjoy a good book, and feel welcome enough to come back soon.
This is especially true of an inner-city public library where visits can quickly become havens for vagabonds and people off the street who may be there just to be under a roof or to take advantage of the library’s facilities. I saw a few people who looked like they may have fit this description, or maybe not. It was tough to tell because nearly everyone had a book and no one seemed to be “squatting” (for lack of a better term).
I will be returning, and hopefully soon and on a day when I can stick around.
Next post, more about The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Some great insight from my buddy Matt Walsh.
Originally posted on The Matt Walsh Blog:
We all understand how this works by now, don’t we?
There was a shooting at a Colorado high school on Friday.
It was headline news for about 43 minutes, then it became a little side story, now, according to the media, it might as well have never happened.
They’ve moved on to other things. And why is that? Well, he was an avowed left wing socialist who hated Republicans and capitalism. Not exactly the sort of profile that a mass shooter is “supposed” to have. I guess that’s why the Denver Post actually edited the word “socialist” out of their report on the incident.
I’m not claiming that his politics necessarily motivated him to commit this crime — it looks like he was driven more by a personal vendetta — but every rational adult in this country knows that this thing would still be in the headlines if only the…
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I skipped church yesterday morning.
By that I mean I went to the church, drove there with my family, stepped into the building, shook hands with some friends, made a cup of coffee, and even carried my stuff into the sanctuary.
On my way back from the restroom, though, I stopped to talk to Steve, a close friend who has been dealing with some faith issues. As he talked, I bounced back and forth between wanting to go back into the sanctuary and wanting to continue our conversation. And I could tell from his expression he felt the same. But I’ve been dealing with my own struggles, and as he questioned my feelings, the urge to leave him melted away.
Just a few minutes into our conversation, another friend, Chris, came back inside after a concerning phone call. Steve and I could tell from his expression that it wasn’t good. We stopped our conversation to console Chris. While talking to Chris, our youth pastor stepped out of the sanctuary and saw us talking. Before long, we were all standing together and Chris was praying… for me. For guidance, for strength, for wisdom.
God blessed me with some awesome friends. At first, I felt guilty that Chris’s prayer was about me. But as I heard his genuine heartfelt prayer, that feeling didn’t last. I was lost in this perfect example of godly friendship. I saw true, biblical manhood as Steve and Ronnie both stopped what they were doing, grouped up with us, and bowed their heads.
This is what Jesus wants. Men who share in the struggle and work together to strengthen each other. [Tweet that]
I missed the church service, but after we finished praying I stepped into the sanctuary right before altar call. Another friend of mine came down and asked for prayer because he and his wife foster a little boy. In fact, they went to the same foster parent training as my wife and I. The little boy’s mother’s rights were terminated, but it didn’t look like the court was going to terminate the father’s rights. I didn’t know how to feel, but I saw a friend in need who again shared in a struggle similar to my own.
When the pastor called for the deacons and the elders, I am neither of those but I stepped down front, hugged my friend, and we both cried. Having been through reuniting one of my foster children with her father, I understood how tough it could be to let go of someone you had welcomed into your home as a part of your family. Trust me, it doesn’t take long to get attached.
All of this calls attention to what Paul talks about in Philippians 2. “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” And, in Thessalonians 5 when he says, “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
I didn’t miss church. I missed most of the service. But I saw the body of Christ working together to help encourage their brothers and sisters in need. I saw Jesus’s church doing the work He called us to do, strengthening His followers to go out and continue to serve others.
Let me know what you think. Is this kind of thing typical? Was I wrong in missing the service? Maybe we should start a conversation about what really matters in “church.”
I leave you with a long, but affirming passage from Ephesians 4:
“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,
“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
My experience with Nelson Mandela came later than it should have. I was in 6th grade when he was released from prison. I don’t remember being aware of what was going on. I wasn’t much of a news watcher as a teenager, and even in college I knew who Nelson was, but had little interest in or knowledge of the South African president.
My awareness of world events grew as my walk with Jesus grew. As Jesus changed my heart, I became more concerned with human rights and equality, more aware of such damaging issues as poverty, disease, injustice, oppression, war. Along the journey, Nelson Mandela’s name continued to pop up as an active leader against injustice and inequality. often grouped among other peace/equality leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., William Wilberforce, Gandhi, and even Jesus Christ.
The more I learn about Nelson Mandela the more inspired I become. Nelson achieved more in the fight against injustice in his country than many of us have in our own lives while free. He believed so adamantly in equality and human rights that he was willing to die for it if necessary.
Today, I stumbled onto this article that looks at memorable quotes from sermons preached across South Africa today that honored Nelson Mandela. Many of them speak of her courage, his compassion. And one word pops up that tugs my heart when I read it: legacy.
— “We felt it important that we should have a day where all of us as South Africans can come together and pray for our first democratic president and reflect on his legacy. But it is also to pray for our nation … to pray that we not forget some of the values he fought for … Mandela distinguished himself for good things and good things only.” — President Jacob Zuma, speaking at the Bryanston Methodist Church in Johannesburg.
That legacy, one I feel I ignored most of my young life, is one that inspires me now. Nelson Mandela left behind a legacy of love and grace. Encouraging forgiveness of enemies, reconciliation instead of retribution, hope instead of war.
Mandela said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” [Tweet that] The more I learn about Nelson Mandela, the more I know my prayers from now on will be filled with requests for God to grow my heart and my head in order to spread love and grace to everyone, to forgive instead of fight, to live a life of reconciliation and compassion for others that is boundless and relentless.
Thank you Nelson Mandela for your legacy.
My heart is split in two right now.
On the one hand, my problem student was absent today. The class was outstanding. We opened our textbook, read and discussed some background information on The Canterbury Tales, and talked about characterization. Even when a small hiccup occurred with my PowerPoint presentation, the students waited patiently for it to load and class continued as if it had never happened.
Now, I’m not saying I expect class to run that smoothly every single day. But this is where my heart begins to ache. It was recognized by the entire class that things were running smoothly because of the absence of one student.
You are in a sad, frightening place in your life when the people around you are relieved by your absence. And I have noticed that this is the lonely pattern for those who too often exude anger, bitterness, frustration, negativity, disrespect. Eventually, people abandon you because it’s just not healthy for anyone to spend so much time filled with rage to the point of wanting to sabotage the success of others.
My heart breaks for this girl. She is 18 years old, barely an adult, and already her peers are relieved when she isn’t around. And, I must admit (although it kills me to do so), I was also relieved by her absence today.
What should I do for this girl? I have been positive, encouraging, loving, complimentary, and I have given her more chances than I can count on my fingers and toes. The Bible teaches that I should love my neighbor as myself, but I don’t think I have ever been where she is. That is a dark place, when an entire group of people are either afraid of you or dread being around you.
Jesus says in Mark that what comes out of the mouth is a reflection of what is in the heart. Where is this girl in her life if she so often spouts such disrespect and hatred towards people who are trying to help her (teachers, family, etc.)? What is in her heart? And if it is as dark as her words, what happened to her to make it so dark?
I know what I need to do. Pray. Let Jesus change her heart while still respecting her, loving her, and encouraging her as I do all of my students.
Prayer changes they way you see others because it challenges you to see them as God sees them. [Tweet that]
Jesus gained his strength by refocusing his thoughts and actions to that of His father through prayer. Even His humble words of forgiveness on the cross were said as a prayer to His Father in Heaven. “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” In John chapter 17, not long before His crucifixion, Jesus prays for every one of God’s children, including those who would persecute Him, betray Him, deny Him, and abandon Him. And, of course, just before His arrest, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus squashes all doubt and fear as He prays so fervently to the Father that He is soon ready to obey God’s will and die for the sins of all of God’s children.
Because of Jesus’s unconditional mercy on the cross, our mercy should also be unconditional. [Tweet that]
Pray for my student. Pray for me. See if there is anyone in your life who needs prayer and show mercy whether they deserve it or not.
I just needed a throwback to some classic preaching. As if an answer to prayer, I received a copy of D.L. Moody’s The Overcoming Life. I posted a review on Goodreads earlier today.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you’re tired of contemporary messages that are watered down by culture and feel-good “self-help” inspiration and contain very little Gospel, you must read some D.L. Moody. This is the way preachers used to get it done, when the message was about bringing people to Jesus and “inspiring” them to follow Him in obedience and in love.
I deeply appreciate D.L. Moody’s simple, but convicting way of delivering the Gospel. Reading his words made me long for something that has been lost in a lot of churches in America today: true, Biblical power preached in such a way that it inspires those who hear it and brings them to the feet of Jesus. I wouldn’t call Moody’s preaching old-fashioned because that would suggest the messages are dated and not applicable to our lives today. No, this message, like the Word that inspired it, is universal, timeless, and applicable to the walk of every Christian struggling to maintain their identity in Christ in a word that rejects Him.
Read this, let its message sink in. Be changed by Moody’s powerful prose and divinely inspired directions. This will be a message that will stick with you.
And the message does stick with you. I don’t know how familiar you are with Moody, but his gift as a preacher is a rare and very welcome mingling of conviction and love. He uses anecdotes, humor, and sound Gospel doctrine to strike straight to the reader’s heart and bring them to the heart of Christ.
I need that every day, some message or Bible verse or sermon that turns my focus back to Jesus. The world can be overwhelming and if I’m not living for Christ, then the world is overcoming me.
Change your life right now. Moody’s The Overcoming Life is also available for free on the Kindle, as well as a few of his other sermons.