3 Reasons Why Becoming a “None” Might Be a Good Choice for You

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I remember pretty vividly sitting on the floor, beside my grandmother’s bed in her house without a soul in the room…other than mine of course. I had my black NKJV Bible cracked open to 1 or 2nd Kings. I was reading about an epic battle that Israel was involved in. I remember closing the Bible in frustration. I recalled all of the Sunday school stories, the hokey Jesus movies, all of the pictures in my Bible of Bee Gee Jesus (white with long brown hair) laughing with the children and I was utterly confused. This same Jesus that I had been told to trust and love was also the God of war and anger.

At the moment I had closed that Bible, I had also closed the book on Christianity for a season. I had become, what experts now call, a “none”. “Nones” are individuals who check “none” in the religious affiliation category when filling out applications. This category of people is growing and becoming more common than not in our country. Some might be frightened by this trend but because I’m weird and a little optimistic, I think there are at least three reasons why becoming a “none” is a good thing.

1. RETHINK YOUR FAITH – I recently listened to a piece that NPR did on this very topic. Yes, I realize that listening to NPR classifies me as a commie to some of you but let’s try to look past that. They interviewed three twenty somethings about why they left the church. The majority of them were just tired of feeling like they couldn’t question their faith. God doesn’t call us to “blind” faith but one that is well thought out. Romans 12:2 tells us that we are to be “transformed” by “the renewing of our mind”. The reason we are to do that is so that we can discern what God’s will is.  God is a BIG God and can handle your questions.  Pray to Him in your confusion and lean on the fact that God may not fully answer your question but walk you through your doubt.  What will happen at the end of that is either you will decide this Christianity thing is not for you or it will strengthen your faith and what you believe about God.

2. STOP PLAYING GAMES – This leads me to my second point.  Giving “religion” the boot will allow you to stop playing games.  If you don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, don’t pretend that you do.  It doesn’t help you or anyone else.  It might also bring you to a place where after admitting that, God will reward your honesty with Him by working through your doubt.  Once you put something like that out on the table, you know what you are dealing with and can begin to find answers to some of the bigger questions you’ve chosen not to deal with for fear that it will classify you as “a bad Christian” or reveal something about yourself that you already knew “I don’t really believe this.”  God wants us to work out our salvation and to know why we believe what we believe. (Philippians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:15).

3. DO CHURCH DIFFERENTLY – Once we’ve made it through the above steps we can come to a place where we realize that we can’t operate in a scenario where it is “business as usual”.  Church (which really consists of Jesus followers not a building) becomes a safe environment where we can put doubt out on the table, stop playing games and then become a place where all of that is perfectly acceptable.  Peter had no qualms about shouting his wrong answers at the tops of his lungs in front of Jesus.  He was corrected time and time again and Jesus still used him in a BIG way to establish what we know as the church today.

Let’s be a group of people that excels at transparency and is okay with the tension of unanswered questions.  That is attractive to a group of people that are tired with “business as usual” religion.  People are leaving the church in droves because we have adopted a “because I said so” mentality.  Let’s be as comfortable with the tension as Jesus was and is.  It’s all He had to deal with in the disciples that He chose.  There was “doubting Thomas”, impetuous Peter and the traitor known as Judas (maybe we shouldn’t imitate this one).  Let’s be committed to doing church differently and reaching a group of people that are exasperated by religion.

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Not a Cat Person

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I would not consider myself a “cat person” and yet I have two cats, my family is currently Jonesing for a third.  I’m not sure how this happened.  Okay, I do remember.  When I married my beautiful wife, Jennifer, a cat came with the deal.  I happily accepted.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that “you can’t just have one cat”.  I guess its like Lays potato chips, the urge to get a second cat is so strong…there’s no fighting it.  Of course I’m not talking about my urge to get another cat, I’m talking about my family’s urge.  Then we got a second cat.  At least I got to name him.  The first one’s name was Maychen, which I think is a version of the German equivalent for “Little Girl”.  Since we already had a cat with a German Theologian’s name (Gresham Machen), I was given the honor to name the next cat (part of the deal).  So I went with Dietrich, in honor of the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I’m sure Bonhoeffer is throwing a party in heaven right now due to this great homage.  His place in history as someone with enough intestinal fortitude to stand up against Hitler is nothing in comparison to being named after an alley cat.  Too far?  I’ll continue.

Then something terrible happened, Maychen got very sick and passed into the feline great beyond.  Every parent knows that this place exists because that’s what we tell our children and of course we would never lie to them.  When that happened, now Dietrich was alone.  I’m sure you can fill in the blanks, you seem like a smart person.  So then we went to the kitty shelter, where the cream of the crop dwells.  The land of forgotten kitties.  Cats who have misbehaved so badly, now they are in cat juvy.  We then decided to find the cat that had the most energy out of any cat that was there.  The cat that was zigging and zagging and could go from one end of the building to the other without being spotted (save the calico blur).  We brought her home, after prying her from the curtains, and named her Chloe.  I think Chloe is greek for “I want to kill you”.  Our reasoning at the time was “We need a cat that can match the energy of our kids”.  How could that have backfired?  Again, you seem like a smart person.

Now we are pushing for a third.  I’m not sure if the reasoning now is “Let’s prepare Chloe for when our other cat dies of natural causes…after all, he weighs seventy pounds (not really…just seems like it).” or what.  But here I am, a dog person in a family of cat people.  I’ve told Jenn many times, “When I die, you will become the crazy cat lady.” She giggles in agreement.  If you have any recommendations for how a dog person can actually get a dog in the mix without going insane I would greatly appreciate it.

 

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Honest Hypocrisy

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I’ll be really honest with you, I can’t believe I’m looking at houses right now.  Its a long story but after living in the house that we are currently renting, we’ve been told that the owner is coming back and we have to look for a new house.  We were pretty shocked initially, mainly because we haven’t been living in this house for a full year yet, but we see God’s hand in it ultimately.  It helps that we started looking at houses to buy!  The kids have had a ton of fun picking out their rooms, checking out the backyard and rummaging through people’s stuff that currently occupy the house.  Just being honest here.  We don’t encourage it, it just happens.  Sorry if you are reading this and we looked at your home.

As excited as we are about looking for a house to own, we are suffering from sticker shock a little bit.  I am floored by what people think their houses should be valued at!!!  I totally get it though.  You buy a house at $160,000 and then you replace a roof, a water heater, put in new flooring and bingo, bango bongo…it should be worth at least $200,000 right??!  Wrong actually.  We all know the housing market isn’t what it once was.  I feel like I need to have a heart to heart with some of these people.  We have been surprised by  what people think their house is worth versus what we see when we walk through the door.  In their minds, what we are looking at has a higher value than what it actually does.

That’s humanity for you.  We assign different values to things and that may or may not match up with reality.  We often live our lives in a bubble where we make cartoon drawings of others, exaggerate their shortcomings as well as our righteousness.  We are living in a $160,000 house but telling others that it is $200,000.  In other words, we make our lives seem better than they actually are, while demonizing others.  We are hypocrites!  I think as believers in Jesus, we have to come to terms with our hypocrisy.  Let’s face it, we are all hypocrites.  We are all professing a lifestyle that we will never live up to.  Should we shoot for it?  Absolutely!  Should we get as close to the life of Christ as we can?  We better try!

One of the chief reasons people leave church is because of our hypocrisy.  What if we just fessed up to it?  What if we were okay with our hypocrisy?  Don’t get me wrong, their is a dangerous type of hypocrisy that says, “I’m just keeping up appearances and have no intention of follow through on this Jesus thing.” That is clearly not okay.  It is also not okay to point out the faults of others while being oblivious to your own.  What I’m saying is that we need to be self aware.

What if we could say “I’m a hypocrite. I try to live like Jesus but I will never be perfect until I’m with him forever.” Let us be honest hypocrites and fail forward!

1 Timothy 1:15

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

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Where there’s fire, let’s make smoke

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I hate getting stabbed in the back.  Let’s get real, I don’t like getting stabbed in the front either.  Getting stabbed in general is not a good thing.  I’m speaking metaphorically of course.  Now that we’re on the topic, I don’t want to literally get stabbed anywhere.  I wanted to make sure I was clear on that.  I’m moving on now, don’t worry.

As much as I hate metaphorically getting stabbed in the back, I’m proned to doing it to others as well.  I’m not sure what is broken inside of me that I feel like I need to do that but it sometimes happens.  I’d have to say it usually starts out as innocent conversation and then an opportunity avails itself.  The opportunity to pounce on something that frustrates you.  You see, you realize that that same thing that frustrates you about a person, also frustrates something else.  In a weird way its a way to connect with someone and vent your frustration at the same time.  Its easy to write it off as just that.  In your mind, its not gossip, its just something that frustrates you.

We both know, deep down that it isn’t true though.  Imagine yourself saying that same exact thing in front of the person you are frustrated with.  Now, if you are okay with that and you wouldn’t mind saying the exact same thing to you AND you imagine that this person wouldn’t be hurt by those words, you MIGHT be okay.  Either that or you are completely socially unaware.  One of the two.

Matthew 18:15-22 reminds us that if you have an issue with someone, take it to them.  There is a whole process in place that follows but that’s a good place to start.  Other passages remind us to say those things lovingly (Ephesians 4:15) and by using the golden rule (Matthew 7:12).  My limited experience always shows me that when this doesn’t happen, people tend to demonize others and then jump on the proverbial bandwagon by make that person the target of all of their frustrations with life.  I do that too.

Once I remove the gossip from my life and refuse to engage in it, the fuel is taken away.  Then I can begin to pray for that person and for my own attitude.  So if you are tempted to engage in gossip, remember that.  Then, instead of jumping on the bandwagon with angry people, stop the gossip. Take away the fuel and watch the fire turn to smoke.

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.” (Proverbs 26:20)

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Houston Nine-Nine

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When I got my first full time ministry gig it was in Houston.  We found a pretty quaint (code for small) and cozy (also code for small) home right off of highway 6 in West Houston.  I’ve told quite a few people that we didn’t really live in the hood, but we weren’t far removed from it.  I can still remember looking out of our back window at night, which faced the back of a retail store, and seeing the rats run across the top of the fence.  Pretty swank right?  Okay I’m overstating it a bit.  We weren’t really in the hood.  It was a nice home and we were safe for the most part.  Let me emphasize, “for the most part”.

One day I came home from work and heard a knock at the door.  It was my neighbor from across the street, whom I didn’t know.  He was a pretty rough looking character with a handlebar mustache, truckers cap, flannel shirt and unshaven face.  And yes, a thick Texas accent.  He proceeded to tell me that he had seen some guys snooping around my house that day.  “Huh” was my response.  I’ve got a way with words.   He then told me that they were looking in my windows and went into my backyard.  Again, “Huh” was the only thing that came out of my mouth.  My heart was beating a little bit faster as he continued his story.  Apparently then my neighbor, who at this point reveals that he is an ex narcotics officer, ran inside of his house and grabbed a hand gun.  I do remember distinctly thinking “God bless Texas” even though I probably didn’t say it out loud.  He notified the police and then booked it out of his front door around my house and into my backyard tackling the suspect.  The police show up and arrested both suspects, one of whom they picked up down the street.  Both had criminal records in New Orleans (this was right after Katrina).

My response?  “Uh…thanks?!”  I told you I had a way with words.  What CAN you say?  This guy was amazing right?  He put himself into harms way because his neighbor’s house was in jeopardy.  For all he knew, my wife was inside of the house (which thankfully, she wasn’t at the time).  This guy had an “other’s” mindset.  He thought more of our safety, than he did his own.  I’m not sure I would have the courage to pull something like that off, would you?  Sure, he had training to back it up but still.  I was pondering this verse in Philippians that talks about having the same attitude of Christ.  It stated that even though He was God, He didn’t act entitled to the things God would be deserving of.  He was a servant.  In God’s economy, that is the highest rank you can have: a servant.  I’m trying to wrap my mind around how I can have that mindset.  I want to think more of others than I do myself, look after others well being even when it doesn’t serve me or further my advancement.

To do that, it has to start with looking at the way Jesus lived and following His lead.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

 

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Monumental

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There are moments in your life that are monumental. You will always remember them. I can remember when I married my beautiful wife Jennifer. I remember sitting at our rehearsal dinner and looking around the room and I distinctly thought to myself, these people will never be in the same room together again. I had people from my past and present sitting at the same table. Family and friends and their dates all occupying the same space. High school friends and college friends together.   I just remember thinking this is monumental! This point in time will never happen again!  I intentionally looked around the room, took a deep breath and soaked in the scene.

We each have times like these in our lives.  It could be getting married, having your first child, getting a new job or even retiring.  Each of these stages are monumental.  They are rites of passage.  This time of year there are a lot of students graduating from High School. This is one of those times.  It is monumental for students, parents and anyone who knows them.  Take some time to look around you, take a deep breath, soak in the scenery and celebrate.  I know that its difficult with everything that is going on but you will never be at this place and time again in history.  Take some time to celebrate this rite of passage with your student.

Be intentional about the next few months with these guys and girls that are about to go off to college.  Tell them how you feel about them, cast a vision for their future and pass on a few nuggets of wisdom to them.  Sure, they’ll think its corny and there will be some eye rolling going on.  It doesn’t matter though.  They’ll still look back on that time with fondness and might even get a few things out of what you said.  More importantly, they’ll remember the time that you spent with them.  It will be monumental.

Deut. 6:6-7 “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

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Eyes Open

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I was heading to church on Easter Sunday morning.  It was a pretty typical car ride for a Sunday. I was praying that God would prevent me from screwing up His message that morning and that He would open the eyes to the hearts of the students I was speaking to. The passage for that morning was in Luke 24 and contains the story of the two disciples that were heading out of Jerusalem, post crucifixion and resurrection, and were making a bee line to a village called Emmaus.

As the disciples are traveling together they are discussing the events that unfolded and were sad that Jesus had been killed. Revealing a little bit of their heart in the process. Essentially, they did not believe that the resurrection would or had taken place.  After speaking to them for awhile, Jesus reveals Himself to them.  There’s this great little phrase in the text in verse 31 that says “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,”

So as I am driving I’m praying to God. “Father, please open the eyes of some students this morning and help me keep my eyes open to You!” Maybe not those exact words but something really close. As I was praying, off to my left an axis deer leaps straight into the road in front of me. Mid prayer, without missing a beat my prayer switches to GOD #@!*. I’ll spare you the exact verbage but something like that if I remember correctly. I had to pray shortly after that for forgiveness…on Easter Sunday. Nice pastor move right?

I quickly slammed on my brakes but it was too late, I had already hit the deer. I won’t tell you what comes next because if you are an animal lover you’ll hate me but to everybody else, I’ll tell you the story later. Not sure if the deer made it but it would be an Easter miracle if it did.  Steam immediately starting pouring out of my hood and my car sort of crawled along. On the bright side I was able to coast into the church parking lot where a few caring individuals directed me to a parking spot and some quick tips to make towing my car a little easier.  Thanks Bob and Dave!

So I then get out of my car, resisting the temptation to lock my vehicle, and headed into the student building to finish prep for the morning.  Moral to the story?  Be careful what you pray for!  “God, open the eyes of my heart” may lead to a full on collision with wild life!!!  For the rest of the day I was thinking about how thankful I was that it wasn’t worse and how insignificant the things that we own are to human life and our loved ones. I considered the amount of trust I put into my daily routine and how I take things and people for granted on a regular basis.  God opened the eyes of my heart.  Not as I had expected but as was needed.

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.” Luke 24:31

 

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