Saturday, January 28, 2012

Following the "American Dream" or Following Christ

This blog is something that has been weighing on my heart very heavily recently. Due to the length of this blog I have broken it up into sections. In these sections I am addressing two main questions that are left for you to answer: Can we live the "American dream" and still be a Christian? And, how can we live in our culture to show to others we are Christians? These questions are important to address seeing as they speak to all of us as believers. There are a couple of books I have read that talk about this issue very strongly. One of them is a book by Francis Chan called Crazy Love, and another by David Platt called Radical. I'm sure there are many more books on this topic, but these were the two I have read recently so they were fresh on my mind. Yes, by the titles you can see that the ideas behind these books are probably going to be different from what we are used to. These books are basically saying that we are fading out as Christians, and that the Christ followers we are supposed to be are getting too comfortable in our worldly ways. So at the end of each section there are questions, thought provoking questions about what you just read, that are asking you what you are doing for God in your life. They are to make you ask yourself whether you are telling Jesus to walk next to you while you choose your own path, or if you are going to do a 180 and turn to Jesus and completely surrender everything you have to follow Him instead.

Our culture:
Let's start off with the main problem at hand, the "American dream." This idea, or dream, has been drilled into our minds since we were kids through advertisements and the media. At least for my generation it has seemed this way. Now when I say the "American dream" this is what I mean. The "American dream" is setting your goals: as the pursuit of well being, to be totally independent and self-sustaining, to be financially wealthy, to have the idea of a college degree as a "back up plan" while you pursue something else, to get married and have kids, to have a retirement plan for when you turn 65, to be able to go on vacation every summer or winter. These are just a few things that come to my mind to keep from going too far with it, I figure you get the idea. These are the dreams and ideas that many pursue daily, even those outside of our country get into the same mindset. Some are still good ideas or goals like getting married and having kids, but some people set that as one of their goals instead of it being for God's glory. I am here to ask, is this the way Christ wants us to live our lives that he so lovingly gave his life for?

Small changes:
I have been changing a few things in my life to try and actually start living it according to what Christ tells us in the bible instead of by the "American dream." For starters, as many of you may already know, I am a big gamer. Well, was a big gamer. Xbox Live was where you would find me late at night and many times very early in the morning. I would be playing online games, like Halo Reach and Call of Duty, for hours on end wasting away in alternate realities. Online play for Xbox isn't free either, as it costs around $70 a year. When you think about it with the common mindset today, that isn't a lot of money. It's only around $6 a month. Little things like this have been eating at my heart though. Small monthly payments here and there for things like entertainment, when combined, start to add up pretty quickly. I haven't played Xbox for almost a month now. For those of you that know me well, that's a big step. But I don't want to take credit for that, or pat myself on the back. I feel there is much much more I can change in the way I live or think. From this new mindset I have also cancelled my Netflix account and my cable TV service. I have begun to read the Bible daily, Old Testament and New. I have been trying to get into a routine of praying many times daily, and have begun to look forward to that time alone with God. I have been trying to start to go out of my way to help others. The idea of helping others has been growing on me a lot, and I have been thinking of different ways I can go about doing that. This is just a start of things that are to change in my life. So I ask myself, "What else can I do differently to show that I am taking what Christ says seriously? How can God use me now that will bring glory to him?"

Being blinded by our wealth:
There are so many in the world around us that are in need of help, and if we all start doing small things to change the way we live to help others, it will make a huge impact. I know the idea of everyone doing something small sounds kind of cliche, but try to prove it wrong. It hasn't been proven right because we are too caught up in our own little worlds to do so. Think about it. What do our comfortable lives of luxury have compared to sharing Christ's love? Nothing. The veil of our wealth surrounding us keeps us from seeing what Christ commands us to do as Christians. For example, us driving around focused on deciding where we are going to eat may be blinding us from seeing someone stranded on the side of the road in need of help. Because we are so concerned about where we are going to eat, we don't make time to stop and help them out. Look at the story in Luke 16 about Lazarus and the rich man. Because the rich man was so wealthy he lost sight of  what God called him to do. The rich man had everything he thought he needed and became blinded by his possessions and luxuries. The poor man had nothing and still put all his faith in God for everything. Once they died, the rich was condemned to Hades while the poor man Lazarus was carried up to Heaven by its angels. After reading this parable I wonder, are we being blinded by our wealth like the rich man being too busy to stop and help someone in need? Or, are we covered by the veil of our possessions so much that we can't see that we are desperately in need of God's grace?

Many churches across North America I feel are focusing on growth, as in more members, and bigger buildings. Some churches today will even give the example from the Old Testament of King Solomon's temple, as an excuse to make their buildings larger and more elaborate. How many examples do we see like that in the New Testament? When does Christ tell us to build our churches bigger and bigger? Does Christ ever say, "Build it and they will come?" Jesus commanded us instead to go and make disciples of all nations. The Bible even says that our bodies are the temples in 1 Corinthians 6:19. So by building larger churches, it sounds to me like we are trying to make it more comfortable for ourselves here where we are. I suggest once we reach that point of having too many people in our services that we branch off and make sister churches to spread throughout the community. I read an interesting line from the book by Francis Chan called Crazy Love that said, “Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.” So instead of spending that money to build the one building, spend it on making a sister church on the other side of town. Better yet, don't build another church at all. Make two services, and spend the money that would have been used for the other church, to instead feed the hungry, serve the poor, or build wells in places that don't have fresh drinking water overseas. Even more, we could donate the money to an organization that is helping a cause like freeing slaves. Yes, human trafficking still exists. In fact there are more slaves in the world today than there has ever been in history with an estimated 27 million. It is shocking to hear, but there are millions of children captured and sold into slavery whether it's for sexual services or even physical labor. Freeing them, I feel, is a very big goal for us to accomplish. Many times I feel the church overlooks the needy, when that is our job to take care of them, not the government's. That is another topic on it's own. But as far as the causes go, I feel churches should have a large portion of their budgets set aside for things such as helping the needy. Look at Matthew 25:31-46 when Jesus talks about helping those in need. Jesus basically tells us that whatever we do for the needy, we are doing it for Him. If we truly love God, it will show by what we do for others. Are we building churches for our lives and our kingdom or are we building God's kingdom?

Simple But Drastic Changes:

I feel as if we all can make a huge impact by making some drastic, yet in a sense, simple changes. Think about this with me for a moment. In our culture we are booked full of entertainment like special events and throwing parties. For those of you in high school: what event does most every girl think about more in her senior year? Prom. It may be anticipated even more so than graduation. I don't know a girl out there that doesn't get excited thinking about getting all dressed up, going to a nice formal dinner, possibly riding in a limo, and dancing all night long. It makes girls feel... well, like a girl. Prom is fun, and can be fun for any senior guy or girl. You are now graduating and this is how we are trained to celebrate it. This is your night that you have been looking forward to most all of your school life because of what you have been taught as a kid. You have been raised to look forward to this big elaborate party to celebrate something that is almost required of everyone to accomplish, graduating high school. Now let's look at the costs of this party. We can roughly estimate: dress -$200, shoes -$20, a tux -$100, a limo -$25 per person, dinner for two -$40, corsage and boutonniere -$30. These are all rough estimates and are most likely underestimating the actual costs. But from that cheap estimate we have $415 already, not including prom tickets and after prom expenses. Think about that for a moment. How many people are you graduating with that will spend around this much for one night of fun? If you estimated 200 couples at $415 a couple, that's $83,000. And remember that was a cheaper estimate. What could that money go to instead to benefit the lost and hurting people? Here is the kicker. There are children in other impoverished countries that don't even get the opportunity to go to school, and here we are spending so much money to celebrate that we simply graduated high school. What about those slaves I mentioned earlier. Just stop and think for a moment about how we have been trained to desire this night of celebration while there are others literally being raped every day and are cold at night with no place to sleep but a concrete floor. They are used totally against their will. Shouldn't we be desiring to help those in need as Christ helps us when we are in need? I'll admit, I went to prom and spent money for all those fun things limo and all. Looking back I ask myself, would it have been more worth it to get my senior class together, not to go to prom, but to spend that money on helping the needy instead? I say absolutely. I could have lived without that one night of fun, or that experience, knowing that we could have helped someone else in need. Is this starting to click in your heart, that this may be what Christ has been telling us to do all along? If so, here is an idea to get you started: you could go through all the motions as if you were going to prom by picking out the tux and dress and things, add up all the costs, find a cause to help support, and use that money for your chosen cause. You could even throw a small pizza party afterward to celebrate with a small portion of the money. Now that would be something worth celebrating, not for what you accomplished, but for what God has enabled you to do. Since I have already graduated, I wish that this realization would have come to me sooner, but those of you in high school or younger still have a chance to make a real difference to bring others to Christ. You are the senior class of your school, all the underclassmen look up to you. Would you be willing to step up and guide your senior class to help out the needy so that other classes may follow in your footsteps?

Let's take another shift on things and talk about sports. We as Americans love sports. Some of us watch it almost religiously. ESPN and Sports Center are the main stations that stay on some of our TVs daily. Let's talk about football, now that you have made it through almost the whole season. The Super Bowl is coming up, and it's a pretty big deal to us Americans. Big enough, that we throw huge parties for this event. Huge enough that stores stock up on snacks and finger foods especially so that people can buy them for their parties for this event. So large that the advertisement agencies plan long and hard and pay millions of dollars to play a commercial during the same time slot of this game. How many Americans do you think will be watching the Super Bowl? As large as we make this game to be, it was reported by the Huffington Post that over 68% of Americans that own a TV were watching the Super Bowl in 2010 (huffingtonpost). Now think back to all the weeks of the many playoffs that led up to this one game. Look at all of the Sunday afternoon and Monday night football games that are played. Think about all the fans keeping track of their teams all the way through the playoffs, or all the fantasy football leagues that were keeping track of points on individual players. With all that in your head, what do you imagine the world would look like if we were as obsessed with God as we were with football or the Superbowl even? What if we knew the word of God like we knew the stats of every player on our favorite teams? What if we were aware and as concerned about of the needs of the world like we were aware of the wins and losses of our favorite teams?

Other obsessions:
Now, personally I am not a big fan of sports. I couldn't tell you the head coach's name for the Tennessee Titans, so this topic doesn't hit me specifically in that area. So let's take it a step further for those of us that aren't in to sports that much. Like I mentioned earlier, I am a gamer. I could tell you countless details I observed in my online play. I could list what strategies I would use on certain maps, what perks I would set, what attachments for certain weapons that worked the best for me. The list goes on. I was obsessed with my gaming. I know more about those games still than I even know of the Bible. Like I mentioned in my earlier blogs that I have started to read my Bible daily so that by the end of the year I will have read it cover to cover. Even with these daily readings I still haven't caught up in the amount knowledge of the Bible that I still know about my video games, but I have learned enough to see what Christ is telling us. Many of you may have other obsessions that you know so much about as well. For some it may be cars, other games, or even outdoor activities. For others it may be movies or books like The Hunger Games, or Twilight, or maybe even a TV show like Glee or Grey's Anatomy. Whichever it is, in our culture we almost live for entertainment like these and become obsessed with them. We gain so much knowledge of those things that we enjoy, when really it is all pointless. Where will knowing whether you are team Peeta or team Gale, or whether you are team Edward or team Jacob get you 10 years from now? Now think about this for a moment. What are we investing our time in doing, what are we occupying our minds with day in and day out? What will you be doing when Christ comes back? When Jesus comes back will we be at a Superbowl party with our friends, playing some online Call of Duty, or watching the latest episode of The Office? Will we be reading our favorite fantasy book, watching an action movie, or memorizing the stats of our favorite players? Will we be at the local Mexican restaurant drinking margaritas, at a club dancing on the person next to us, or at a bonfire with some friends doing things we know we shouldn't be doing? Or instead, will we be in the kitchen serving food to the hungry, checking people in to a homeless shelter, or even downtown passing out blankets and a granola bar to those who wonder the streets? Will we be hosting a small bible study at our homes, at a worship service at our church, or even studying the word of God for yourself so that it may be set on your heart? In Matthew 24:36 Jesus tells us, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." (NIV). I think Jesus says it pretty plainly there. So, what will we be doing when our time is up, or when Christ comes back to take us home? Will God be pleased to see what we were doing as He allows us to breathe our last breath?

Final thoughts:
I have been thinking about all of these topics so much recently. I feel this year is the start of something new for me. I am actually trying to follow Christ instead of asking him to follow along with what I want. I am not perfect, nor am I even close. I know that as I walk with Christ I will continue to make mistakes. This blog was to get you to think about what the Bible actually says, and what sort of impact it should be having on your life. I have to admit that this blog was very preachy, and you have probably heard it all before just said in a different way. Or you may even be a little upset or turned off by what I have said. I pray the latter is not the case. I pray that what you have read changes you, or makes you reconsider what you may have thought was one thing, but is really something else. I feel as if so many of us get caught up in the worldly desires and pleasures and forget what we were put on this Earth to do, and we need reminders. This was simply a reminder. We as Christians have a set of commands to follow so why aren't we following them? Not everyone feels that they are called to go overseas to be a missionary, but no one is "called" to be a missionary. In Matthew 28:19, we are all commanded by Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. All nations. That means our nation as well. So whether that's in our backyard or 3,000 miles away from our hometown, this is our command to follow. Let's start taking the Bible seriously, and start taking God's word to our heart. Let's start by prayer, asking God to change our hearts so that we may fully surrender everything to him. Then let's go make disciples with those who work with us. We don't need a stadium full of people or a church building full of people to make disciples. Christ spent time with His twelve daily, lived with them, and taught them what they needed to know. Aren't we told to be like Christ? In everything we have read about Jesus and know about him, was He not perfect? I know, we are fully human and we are not God so we will make mistakes. Though that shouldn't stop us from loving God and totally surrendering our bodies, like Christ surrendered His for God to use for His own glory. This is the example Christ gave us and if we love God, we should follow it. Now, let's do what it says and go.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A little about me.

This is my first time blogging since the xanga days (many of you do not know what that is), so it has been a while. That just means I have all that much more to say that has been building up over the years. I thought I'd start my first post about me so you can get an idea of where I come from for my posts in the future. So here it is!

I was born in Murfreesboro, TN, the city that is the very geographical center of Tennessee! I know that's not very exciting, I just thought that I would add in a fun fact about my birthplace. When I was born on Wednesday, my lungs did not disperse the oxygen into my blood like they were supposed to so I was hooked up to an oxygen machine. The local hospital's machine could only give me up to 70% oxygen and I needed more. I was then life-flighted up to Vanderbuilt and put on 100% oxygen there. By the next day the doctors suggested to get everyone together because I was not expected to make it to the end of the day. God let me live, and by Sunday they could see small improvements in my condition. To give you an idea a to how bad off I was, when they put me on the machines one of my lungs had two holes punctured in them, and the other later had one hole punctured in it from the pressure of the machine. I was 9lbs and 5oz in the NIC at Vanderbuilt with premature babies that needed hearts, and I was labeled as in the most critical condition. The next Sunday they planned to expect me to be there for at least another 6 months. By the following Monday, the doctors couldn't explain what happened but said I was healthy enough to be sent home. So that night I was sent home at about 8:30pm twelve days after being born, and have never had any breathing issues since then.

At the age of six, I began to ask questions as to who Jesus was and why we went to church. After long talks with my parents and pastor, I "accepted" Christ as my Savior. I was young and did not fully understand the unending grace of God (and I am still learning), but I feel that I believed in Christ as much as a six year old boy could.

I have lived in Murfreesboro my whole life. I went from one of the oldest schools in the city called Central Middle School to the newest called Siegel High School. I was in the first class to go all four years at that school, and graduated in 2007. From there I went to the MTSU, which was deemed the largest state university in Tennessee with around 26,000 other students. School was never "my thing". I had other goals for my life. I have always thought that God had bigger plans for me, but through high school and college I started to stray away from that idea. I started thinking more about me, my life, and my big plans for myself rather than His plan for me. I decided to move out after I graduated at the age of seventeen. I got a couple of jobs along with taking sixteen hours in school. I started becoming lazy and started missing classes, although I would still go to work so I could pay bills. I was never the party type or into drugs, so I stayed out of that crowd. Work, sleeping in, and gaming was my thing. I dropped out of college the beginning of my second semester after flunking the first. I had a 0.42 GPA. Recently, I went back to school to retake those classes and with the help of God I brought my GPA up to a 2.9.

I was never good at test taking and would always question "why" I needed to learn something instead of just taking the time to learn it.This, like many, is the question I have asked about so many things throughout life. As I have gone around asking "why" I have found many answers and many dead ends. I am twenty-two years old now, and even though I "accepted" Christ at six I have recently been re-awakened to only find the glory of God staring me in the face. I spent four days watching live sessions of a conference called Passion, reading my Bible, and praying. Now that the sessions are over, I am still reading His word and praying more than I ever have. I have now decided to fully surrender my life to Him.

This blog is about my studies from being raised in a Christian home my whole life, mixed with the views of others on Christian theology that I have adopted, and my daily Bible readings. I pray that in these blogs, God gives me words to bring Himself more glory and praise, and that you may open your hearts to His word. Whether you like or not what you see here, I challenge you to go read His word for yourself!