My inbox has been flooded with people asking me for a few quotes from this past weekends message. Here they are:
“Most people who appear to others to not want to get well actually do, but they are consumed by their powerlessness over their dependency and paralyzing fear of living without the thing that is keeping them sick. It’s not that they don’t want to get well, they just don’t believe that they can live any other way. That doesn’t make sense to most people, but to bring this to a personal level, that was the case for me at one time.
I realize how hard that is for the people around the addict to understand. I know now I always had a choice, but there was a time when I absolutely didn’t believe I did. Everyone around me thought that I was refusing to get well, and that was true for a while, but I very well remember the hopelessness of wanting to make different choices to be well, and failing every time. God saved me from that, and that’s the only reason I am well today.” – Lisa Brandenburg
“I prayed every day that God would take away my thirst for drink, and every day when I woke up my first thought was Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Then one day I realized my craving for drink was the very reason I pray every day. My weakness drives me to God.” -Philip Yancey quoting a friend in his book, “What Good is God?”
In case you missed the announcement video last weekend or simply desire more clarity on why we are not providing NIV Bible’s in the lobby anymore and instead are providing ESV Bibles this blog is for you. The NIV (New International Version) 1984 addition has been widely used by millions of Christians and is one of the most popular english translations being used in churches today. The NIV came out with a new translation in 2011 that has continued to utilize much of the gender neutral language that the now defunct TNIV had a few years ago. Unfortunately along with releasing the 2011 they have decided to stop printing the 1984 version. So the only NIV Bible available to us for distribution is the 2011. We simply cannot embrace this new translation. If you want to have a more extensive explanation of the problems with it you can check out this article here. The English Standard Version that we are now giving out for free is an excellent, faithful translation and the one I use to study from every day. Jim and I will still primarily be teaching out of the NIV84 unless we specify otherwise.
I asked a member of our staff who serves on our missions team, Tracee Rudd to write a short blog about Kony. Here it is.
Stop and Think before you Act
I’m sure by now you have seen the Kony video. Are you passionate to do something about it? Ready to join the campaign? Did you do any research about Kony and Invisible Children before you passed along this very moving video? I must admit-I pushed the share button right away! Then I got to thinking and deleted my “share” until I could look a little deeper into it.
I’m not writing this to share with you my conclusions on whether or not I support the Kony2012 campaign. Instead I am writing to encourage you to stop and think before you blindly jump on any ‘activism bandwagons’.
In just a few days “Make Kony Famous” has raised all kinds of conversations on blogs and in the media. Some people are questioning the organization and/or their tactics. It’s really easy to get lost in all the videos and blogs about this topic. I think it’s exciting that there is so much buzz about topics that are definitely worth talking about; Kony, and what is going on in Central Africa, as well as the who, how and why to support any specific organization.
I’m not writing to tell you what to think. I’m writing to encourage you to think! In a day and age where there are flashy campaigns popping up all over the place, we need to stop and think about the facts and not just go with the emotions that they were able to stir in us through a well done video. We need to stop and think about a couple of very important things: if a project or cause is really helping or if our “help” is actually hurting? Is our money going to what we think it is going to? Is this the best way for me to use my talents and resources to help this cause? Do I fully understand the cause in the first place?
I think an awesome outcome of this viral video “experiment” would be for people to think critically and become smart participants in movements that call to them for involvement. Even better than that would be people surrendering their talents and resources to God and asking him to use them to stop injustices around the world, to bring healing to broken people and to make Jesus famous!
I was in Uganda and South Sudan last fall and saw some of the devastating conditions that the people there exist in every day. I also saw amazing work being done to heal and teach and give hope for future generations. Actually, flatirons has a team on the ground in that part of the world right now. Flatirons was a part of what is going on in Central Africa even before the Kony 2012 campaign trended across the world.
Our team is in South Sudan right now looking at how we can partner there to help the people that have been affected by the wars in their country. Then they will head to Uganda to visit the Musana Childrens Home. Musana is an organization that we partner with and it was formed in response to the devastation that war and poverty has brought on the children of Uganda.
Leah one of the founders of Musana heard about the situation in Uganda and didn’t just buy a t-shirt or bracelet but instead surrendered her life to God and is now a part of a very smart project that is helping the children of Uganda.
I personally have never been a part of a sit in or a protest, but I would consider myself to be an activist. I have dedicated my life to causes. When I was 18 years old I dedicated my life to serving God. He has used my talents and resources to make an impact in big and small ways in different parts of the world. When I see the injustices done in our world I can’t help but want to be a part of ending them. Being involved in stopping injustice and brining healing to broken lives has cost me more than the cost of a bracelet.
Don’t just buy an action pack and wear a bracelet. Educate yourself about what is going on in Central Africa. Pray, and then do something smart to make a difference. Ask God how he wants to use your life to help stop the injustices going on in the world. There are many wonderful organizations out there doing wonderful work before you get involved–stop and think before you act.
The Kony 2012 Video
The New York Times: Topics/Archives, “Lord’s Resistance Army”
Christianity Today – “Deliver Us From Joseph Kony”
Invisible Children – Official Response to Critiques
KONY 2012, viewed critically Visible Children
Christianity Today: Why Joseph Kony is Trending
So… we wrapped up our series on manhood entitled Reverse Engineering. If you’re anything like me, you almost feel a bit relieved (…maybe I’ll be able to catch a breath for the next few weeks!), but mostly you feel empowered. Hopefully, if you’re a man, then you feel the heavy responsibility of leadership combined with the gracious offer from Jesus to give us strength, mercy, integrity, and wisdom. And if you’re a woman, then hopefully you feel uplifted by the last two months of teaching – I hope you feel honored, blessed, and ultimately freed by the clear understanding of the role a man should play in your life. Even more so, I hope that the men in your life live up to the standards set by God for leadership. If they are wearing a bracelet with a thin red line, I hope they continually earn it every day.
In all honesty, this series has felt like an eight-week-long kick in the… shins. Before January 7th, I thought I was doing a pretty solid job of being Ali’s husband. And to give myself an ounce of credit, that was partially true. I loved her, I listened to her, I honored her, and I didn’t hit her or treat her like crap (let’s face it… that is a reality for some of you reading this, right now). I thought I was doing well. But leading my home spiritually was a different story. ‘Seeking God’ was something I did alone in the mornings or with my buddy Luke on Tuesdays. I can talk about anything with Ali… but when it comes to God and the spiritual health of our marriage, I flinch. I don’t know why.
But I feel like things are beginning to change. Reverse Engineering has started something new and fresh in my life and – most importantly – in my marriage. I can’t even put words to it yet. I can’t give you any examples of drastic change in my home… I just know that the starter has been ignited. Something got the ball rolling. The best way I know to explain it is that I feel like I’m growing roots. When a plant grows, it’s only because there is a ton of unseen hard work going on beneath the surface; its roots are straining against rocky, unforgiving sediment to ensure the plant can flourish. The spreading of those roots takes consistency, determination, and lots of time. The spreading of those roots takes pain: stretching, splitting, and clawing through stubborn soil. But after time, something beautiful happens on the surface. I hope this is what is happening in my marriage. I hope I’m setting down roots. And just because it will be a long, difficult, and painful process doesn’t mean that it won’t be the most natural, beautiful, life-giving process to ever take place in my marriage.
My prayer is that all of the men at Flatirons who have felt similarly aloof in their roles as spiritual leaders can finally begin to set down some roots. And if we continue to set down these roots over the next few months and years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Flatirons begins to see some amazing things happen on the surface.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
As husbands, we are called to use scripture to cleanse and purify our marriages in order to present them to our God as unstained, unwrinkled, radiant, holy, and blameless pictures of the church. We are responsible for making the Bible the cornerstones of our relationships with our wives.
If you’re anything like me, that responsibility makes you feel a little sick. If that verse were to say, “…cleansing her by the washing with water through hard work,” then I have no problem. If that verse were to say, “… cleansing her by the washing with water through commitment, kind words, and York peppermint patties when she’s had a long day,” then I think I can handle that. However, according to Paul (who carries a lot of clout) in Ephesians, the only way to cleanse and purify the relationship I have with my wife, Ali, is by introducing the Bible into my marriage.
Peppermint patties seem easier.
I wish more than anything (honestly) that I could use personal stories to exemplify the role of scripture in a healthy marriage, but I can’t; unfortunately, Ali actually reads these things – she would call my bluff. I consider the lack of scripture in my marriage to be one of my greatest sins as a husband. In Genesis 3, after Adam failed to protect his wife at the tree, God asked Adam a haunting question: “Where are you?” This same question echoes in my head… Where am I?
A year ago, as I was writing the PB&J book, I became really convicted about the lack of scripture in my marriage. I talked to both Scott and Jim about what that looks like in real life, and they both gave me some helpful tips. They said to start slow and start with Jesus… read through the Gospel… take it slow and easy… engage in reflective discussion after weekend services… don’t be afraid of not knowing everything…
I soon began to own up to my responsibility as a husband. Ali and I began reading through the Gospel of John together. We bought brand new Bibles to have a physical symbol that signified our desire for change. I became intentional about reflecting on the weekend services with Ali. It wasn’t easy, but the best things in life never are, and honestly, it was really good for Ali and I. Now, a year later, I’ve let that responsibility fall back through the cracks. I meet with a buddy on Tuesday mornings to discuss books about Christianity, I try to start most of my mornings in scripture, and I pay attention at service every weekend and mark up my Bible… but I can’t seem to consistently do any of these things with my wife – my best friend.
Yesterday morning, Scott came into my office, told me to listen to last weekend’s service, and asked me to address a question he keeps receiving in his emails: “How do I introduce the Bible into my marriage?” He probably assumed that, since asking the same question nearly a year ago, I had finally found some answers. The truth is that I have found answers… I just haven’t been consistent in living those answers out in my marriage.
I missed last weekend’s service because I was in Indiana for Ali’s grandpa’s funeral. Today, as I listen to Scott’s talk on marriage, I can’t help but replay stories about her grandpa’s last few months. Ali’s grandpa, Chuck, was a good man. He had cancer, and in his last few weeks, he began losing touch with reality. Yet, his disconnect with reality revealed his true colors. He would get out of bed in the middle of the night to stand guard over his house and protect his wife. He would utter long prayers that included thanking God for his confusion. He constantly asked about the health and safety of his kids, grandkids, and even his unborn great grandchild. Lastly, he had specific scriptures that he wanted read at his funeral.
When Chuck saw our God face-to-face for the first time last Monday, I’ll bet some unimaginably incredible words were exchanged. I have no idea what they talked about, but I can bet there was one question that God didn’t need to ask: “Where were you?” The way Chuck lived his life revealed where he was: he was standing right next to his wife and family… he loved his wife and gave himself up for her to make her holy… he cleansed her by the washing with water through the word. To use Scott’s analogy from the weekend, Chuck walked on the right side of the sidewalk.
How do I live my life like that? How do I hit that mark? The truth is that I know what I need to do; I already listed those steps above: read through the Gospel together, go slowly, initiate meaningful conversations, don’t get frustrated, use trusted authors to compliment your reading of scripture, etc. The question isn’t, “How do I do this?” Instead, the question is, “How do I do this consistently?” and here is our answer: with discipline, devotion, and a ton of prayer for God’s help.
Another aspect that can’t hurt is some accountability. Find a close friend who can lovingly check up on you and make sure you’re doing a good job of upholding your command to bring the Bible into your marriage (I’m preaching to myself now more than anyone else). I almost gave up on God and his people because of the vast number of Christians in my life who refused to ‘practice what they preached’. I promise I won’t become one of them. So this is my genuine (and quite public) promise to Ali and my community here at Flatirons: I will do this better. After posting this blog, it will literally be impossible to go home tonight and not talk about this with Ali, but it will be easier knowing there are a bunch of men here having the same conversations with their wives.
Thanks for being a community of great people who are genuinely trying to chase after God well. Thanks for letting me be a part of this community. And thanks for challenging me to be a better husband.
To all of the husbands at Flatirons: may we all hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” on the day we die rather than, “Where were you?”
, reverse engineering
Looking back on my life, I can identify several moments of helpless momentum. What I mean by a moment of ‘helpless momentum’ is a turning point when life picks up its pace in a frightening hurry. During these moments, the momentum is completely out of my hands… I’m helpless to the drastic velocity my life is gaining. All I can do is try to manage that velocity… I will either control it and experience some great changes in my life, or it will destroy me.
I experienced one of these moments when I left home for college. I deliberately chose a school that was 1,000 miles from everything and everyone I was familiar with because I knew I needed to experience something totally new. My mom, dad, and sister made that awful first drive with me from Dallas to the far northeastern corner of Tennessee. We landed at a tiny, liberal arts school named Milligan College that hid in the middle of a tiny, Appalachian town named Johnson City. The next day, after a quick lunch, my family left me in a Pizza Hut parking lot in the middle of that strange, mountainous city and drove home to Texas. I was completely alone in a foreign place. I literally knew no one. I barely even knew how to get from the Pizza Hut back to my campus. I was an eighteen-hour drive away from the comfort of my hometown, long-time friends, and family. A new phase of my life had begun, and something inside of me understood that it was going to be monumental. I was excited and hopeful, but I also felt wholly unprepared for what my future might hold.
Another one of these moments was when I first met Ali (whom I would eventually and miraculously convince to marry me). Our first, official date was a long drive through the mountains on a meandering, Tennessean highway. We shared stories, laughed until our stomachs hurt, and individually decided we wanted nothing more than to learn everything about each other. That night, as I dropped Ali off at her dorm, something inside of me understood that the rest of my life was going to look different because of that drive. Once again, I was excited and hopeful, but I also felt wholly unprepared to launch into a life-changing relationship.
Similarly, I think many of the men at Flatirons are currently experiencing moments of helpless momentum. I feel like we’re on the brink of something great. We’ve been challenged by our leaders to step up, take responsibility for our actions, and trust that our God can make us better men. I’ve been to The Man Event, The Trail, Theology on Tap, and I’ve hung out behind the guys’ resource table in the lobby on the weekend, and I’ve seen a vast number of men who are actually standing up to this challenge.
Like leaving home or beginning a committed relationship, it takes a brief, but seemingly insane amount of courage to face our own failures, let God break down our walls, and ask someone in the lobby, “How do I get more connected at Flatirons?” But like leaving home or beginning a committed relationship, that insane amount of courage can result in significant, wonderful changes further down the road. Likewise, we may feel excited and hopeful, but I also wonder if we’re not wholly unprepared for the amazing things God is about to accomplish through this church.
In short, the men of Flatirons were directly challenged to stand up and take responsibility for the maturity of this church. That was a challenge that created helpless momentum, but rather than letting that velocity destroy us, the men of Flatirons have controlled it and have taken responsibility for it, and I think we are going to see some incredible results because of our men’s responses. I feel honored and blessed to be a part of this movement, and I can’t wait to see where this momentum leads.
, man event
, reverse engineering
Recently, I had a conversation with our college pastor, Jordan Terrell, and our Executive Pastor, Paul Brunner, as we were driving through Boulder. Strangely enough, our conversation turned to the use of marijuana. I have no idea why driving through Boulder would prompt a conversation like that (if you missed the sarcasm, you’ve never been to Boulder). Jordan was telling us that many college students tend to lead off a conversation by asking a simple question: “Do you smoke?” When they ask this question, they aren’t referring to the use of tobacco products. Instead, they are referring to weed. Jordan also told us that many college students have medical cards so they can legally buy weed at dispensaries.
As these dispensaries have popped up everywhere and more and more people are being prescribed marijuana, the issue of its morality has become complicated. What I mean is this: when it was illegal, it was easier to answer the question, “Is it okay to smoke weed?” The answer was simply, “No,” because it was illegal. In the same way, I would say it’s wrong for a seventeen-year-old to drink alcohol in this country because it’s illegal. In the same way, I would say it’s wrong to rob a bank. The Bible commands us to obey the laws of our land (Romans 13:1-7).
However, now that marijuana has been legalized to the extent that a doctor can prescribe it, the issue is more complex. First of all, I think we have to be honest about two things. One is that many people are abusing this system to simply get high, and many others are making money off of this. To that extent, abusing marijuana that is prescribed to you would be no different than abusing any other drug that a doctor prescribes to you. This would also violate scripture: we are commanded to honor God with our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), which to be fair, calls into question constantly eating at any fast food joint, as well. I’m not going to spend a lot of time listing all the harmful effects of abusing marijuana, as those are well documented.
Secondly, we are commanded to be sober-minded (Titus 2:2), which refers to thinking clearly… which, in turn, means we are commanded to be SOBER. In other words, taking anything that alters your state of mind and leads to being intoxicated is sinful. So let’s be honest. Most of the people who have medical cards are taking advantage of a system that makes it easy to get high without the consequences of breaking the law. I realize that’s a broad statement, and it will probably anger a lot of people… the truth often has that effect.
There used to be a dispensary next door to one of my family member’s houses, and as we sat on the front porch, I got a front row seat to see what kind of “patients” this dispensary was serving. From a judgmental and stereotypical position, I have to admit that most of the people who walked in the door looked and acted like every other “stoner” I’ve known in my life. Likewise, the amount of customers who were obviously battling some sort of major injury or significant illness (such as cancer) paled in comparison to the young people with no apparent injury or illness. I recognize this is a very limited perspective. I’m just telling you that my gut says something is amiss.
At the same time, there are people who suffer legitimate medical conditions; conditions with symptoms that marijuana can help alleviate. There are people who legitimately use (not abuse) marijuana. These people don’t pursue an intoxicated state of mind, but rather a treatment for an injury or illness. It wouldn’t be sinful for a person who is prescribed marijuana by their doctor – for the sake of treating a legitimate medical issue – to use that prescription. It wouldn’t be any more sinful than taking any other drug prescribed by a doctor, whether it’s an anti-depressant, ADHD medication, or Advil.
I hope this gives a balanced and, most importantly, biblical perspective on the issue.
I’ve always considered myself a non-conformist. I’ve always considered many aspects of my life to be counter-cultural. I’ve always considered myself a Luddite, which is a fancy word for someone who is unnerved by new technology (he says as he types away on his MacBook). Honestly, I can tend to take unhealthy pride in the fact that I don’t have cable television, I don’t get on Facebook, I don’t care about your tweets, I don’t have a cell phone that can access the Internet, and I hate shopping. My car is uncool, my ratty clothes are uncool, and my weird music is uncool… which I think makes me pretty cool! Woo-hoo! I’m a non-conformist! This is perfect, right?
Scott said it best over the weekend (Dec. 17-18): “The kids that thought they were the biggest non-conformists always looked alike. The all looked the same, dressed the same, and acted the same. They were like a herd – they all traveled together.” Ouch. That statement hit close to home, but its corresponding verse wrecked the living room: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2a)
If I perform an honest evaluation of my ‘counter-cultural’ tendencies, then I have to humbly admit that I’ve done plenty of conforming. Sure… I haven’t conformed to iPhones or social networking. Instead, I’ve conformed to the world of scholastic endeavors and ‘book-smarts’ – a world where we use annoying words like ’scholastic’, ‘endeavor’, and ‘Luddite’. Sure… I haven’t conformed to Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Instead, I’ve conformed to the world of ‘interesting’ music – a world where we worship the 22-minute-long song, vinyl records, and impossible to pronounce band names. Sure… I haven’t conformed to the world of shiny cars, brand-new clothes, 700-channel television, and fantasy football. Instead, I’ve conformed to the world of ‘first edition’ literature, frugal penny-pinching, and philosophical introspection – a world filled with debilitating pride and cynicism.
Here’s the saddest part: I’ve regularly resisted compliance to the rules, standards, and laws that God has drawn out for me in Scripture, displayed to me in the life of Jesus, and whispered to me through the Holy Spirit. Ironically, ‘compliance’ is synonymous with ‘conformity’, which makes my spirituality the only slice of my life in which I’ve been a consistent non-conformist.
How is this possible? Seriously! I’m chuckling aloud as I write this because I’m shocked with myself. Anytime I’ve considered myself a ‘non-conformist’, I’ve only been conforming to subtler idols, and the only part of my life that I truly wish was conformed – my will conformed to God’s will – is the only part of my life in which I’ve displayed heroic feats of non-conformity! This is sounding strangely familiar: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)
How do I possibly fix this problem?
Thankfully, Romans 12:2 doesn’t say, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but transform yourself by the renewing of your mind.” Instead, Romans says to “be transformed,” and thankfully Jesus is doing this for me – slowly, but surely. Hopefully, with a little persistence and a ton of prayer, Jesus will continue to transform me by renewing my mind because there’s no way I can do this by myself.
Tags: Christmas Presence
I don’t understand why God sometimes chooses to be silent. In fact, I wonder if anyone truly understands God’s silence. I mean, sure… when life is peachy, I can sit around and annoyingly pontificate about ‘God’s perfect timing’. ‘God’s perfect timing’ is an idea that I believe in and claim to understand on a conceptual level, but wrapping my heart around God’s timing is something else entirely. When I feel lost, lonely, and separated from God, I struggle with his silence. His ‘perfect’ timing seems more like ‘non-existent’ timing.
To my relief, I’m not the only person who has struggled with this. Throughout history, many godly people misunderstood God’s timing:
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
“Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.” (Isaiah 45:15)
Even Jesus uttered this cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Last weekend (“Adopted” Nov. 26-27), a video interview was conducted with the Leach family. Ron and Ashley’s daughter, Katie, battled cancer at the young age of seven. Upon reflecting on that time of their lives, Ron and Ashley admitted to being confused and angry with God, but something Ashley said stood out to me: “A lot of times, I just thank God for never leaving. He was always there, even though he was quiet sometimes. There were moments when I knew God was there, and he was crying with us.”
Sometimes, God remains silent, and I’m rarely happy with that decision. But I am called to remember the promise that he also remains good, even amidst an existence plagued with cancer, suicide, divorce, abuse, and aching loneliness (to name a few). I have to remember that when I don’t have all of the answers, it doesn’t mean that all of the answers don’t exist. I have to put my faith in the mysterious paradox that claims, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Like Ashley, I need to remember that God cries with me just as hard as he laughs with me, and when I’m too crushed by God’s seemingly devastating silence to utter a single prayer, it is then that God always decides to speak up: “…the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)
How are you today, Flatirons Blog People? My name is Ben Foote, and Scott has asked me to begin contributing to the Flatirons blog. Don’t worry, after this first one, my posts won’t be so long. But I feel that I should let you into my life before I begin regularly posting, so here we go…
Who is Ben Foote?
A wonderful question. Thank you for asking. Some of you may know me from the Info desk. Some of you may know me personally. Some of you may have no idea who I am. Unfortunately, most of you probably know me as “Tad” – the squeamish, socially inept, uneducated fitness instructor from the Running series we did back in June (if you began attending Flatirons after the Running series, or if you were simply on a month-and-a-half long vacation and missed the entire thing, then completely ignore this “Tad” comment, and picture me as a towering giant of physical power and commanding intellect).
Why in the world did Scott ask the ‘Tad guy’ to write for the Flatirons blog – is Scott feeling well?
Another legitimate question. Once again, thank you for asking. In fact, I have posed this exact question to Scott himself. He simply shrugged and replied, “It felt like an okay idea” – it was early in the morning. But hey… maybe it is an okay idea, so let’s give it a shot. In this post, we will work as a team to figure out why I am writing for the Flatirons blog (because it might be nice for me to figure it out for myself).
Let’s start with the basic ‘Ben-facts’. I am twenty-six years old, and I am happily married to my wife, Alison. We have a one-year-old Lab named Ruby – a boisterous, destructive ball of energy who trashes our house, profusely sheds, and yet, somehow manages to consistently trick us into enjoying her company. I essentially spent the first twenty years of my life in Dallas, Texas. I moved to Tennessee for four years of school, and then recently settled down in Colorado in May of 2010. I enjoy reading, hiking, rock climbing, and playing guitar. So far, none of these pieces of my life qualify me for writing on the Flatirons blog, so let’s move on.
Next, let’s hit the common, workplace credentials. I attended Milligan College, receiving my degree in English. Since age twelve, I’ve had an assortment of odd jobs, including mowing lawns, fast food, audio recording, computer animation, and working for a magazine. I now work for Flatirons. I am in charge of writing, editing, formatting, and publishing the Flatirons Sermon Series Collection. You may have seen them – we have currently published PB&J and All My Life, and Grow A Pair and Flatirons Ink: Marked are on their way; they hang out behind the Info desk.
Sure… I have a degree in English, I like to write, and I’ve been working on the books for Flatirons – but these credentials don’t convince me. I don’t think my degree or my position at Flatirons qualify me to write for this blog. Here’s what I think qualifies me: Me Too. We are all familiar with this concept, and it is the Me Too concept that God has used to refocus my life, so let me briefly explain:
I grew up in the church. I was steeped in a Sunday school culture. I can still sing “I’m In The Lord’s Army”, “The B.I.B.L.E.”, and “Father Abraham Had Many Sons”. The diluted, sanitized, Sunday school editions of stories like David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, and Samson were my ‘Pixar’ – I loved everything about church. I was baptized at age ten on Christmas Day (primarily because I was eager to have a bread and grape juice snack every Sunday). By the time I could speak, I knew that Jesus loved me. I never wondered whether or not God existed – he was all I ever knew.
Then, I grew up.
I went to a private, Christian high school, and it was there that my concept of God began to crumble. I was surrounded by adults who claimed that Jesus was the foundation of their lives, but lived an opposing lifestyle. Our very married principal decided to rock it with one of the secretaries in the broom closet. My speech teacher drooled over the high school girls more than I did. The football coach personally told me that, if I didn’t play ball, I would “never become a man.”
But I’ll be honest… those things weren’t responsible for shattering my concept of God. Instead, it was the way the members of my school (faculty, administration, and students) hated nearly everyone. They exhausted themselves with trash-talking anyone and everyone. If you weren’t a perfect, shiny Christian, then you were a target for criticism: You have a tattoo? You’re going to hell. You fooled around with your girlfriend? You’re going to hell. You said, “S#&!” instead of “Pooey” when you stubbed your toe? You’re going to hell. You can’t recite the Bible in its entirety? You’re going to hell.
I couldn’t believe it. Worst of all, I watched myself gravitate toward their behavior. It was sickly satisfying to sit around and bash people – it made me feel justified and worthy of my free pass to heaven.
Sadly, I made the assumption that if Christians acted this way, it must be because Jesus told them to, so I bailed on God. My parents were always Christians without being jerks, but I figured they had been fooled, and I considered myself too smart to get tricked into Christianity. Throughout high school, I played in bands and had a lot of zonked, pothead, musician friends who were more accepting, gentle, and fun than my Christian friends, so I deduced that Christianity equaled being a tool, and ‘not being a Christian’ equaled being a loving, accepting human being. However, I was always too scared to totally leave religion behind. I still went to church with my family, I still went to Youth Group on Wednesdays, and I still went on mission trips. But my heart was elsewhere. I keenly observed the Christians around me, and I didn’t like what I saw.
Eventually, the church that I had spent my entire life in burnt my dad. He was an elder, and the church unfairly heaped a bunch of blame and guilt on his head. I was done. How could a ‘family’ of nearly fifteen years suddenly begin to attack one of their own? I didn’t understand.
Insert a dark, lonely gap of about five years into my life. I never went off the deep end. I didn’t become an alcoholic. I didn’t sleep with every girl who was interested. I didn’t shoot heroin in any alleyways. In fact, during this lonely period of my life, I moved away from home, worked hard, received a degree in English, met the woman I couldn’t live without, and moved to beautiful, snowy Colorado. From the outside, my life looked nearly perfect, but inside, I was lost. I wanted so desperately to trust in God, but I looked at his people – I looked at myself – and I just couldn’t do it.
My wife, Alison, is Jim Burgen’s daughter. When we first started dating she told me, “My dad is the pastor of a big church in Colorado.” At the base of my conscious activity, that was nearly a deal breaker – you probably think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I pictured a massive church filled with sick, sneaky people hiding behind sparkly, toothy smiles, being led by a button-down pastor who talked about how he prays to get better parking spaces when he drives his BMW to Sam’s Club.
But Ali was cute and fun, so I let it slide. Fast-forward three-years, I’ve married her, and I’m planning to move to Colorado. I had no choice but to go to Flatirons. I hated church, and if I hadn’t married a pastor’s daughter, I honestly think I wouldn’t have stepped foot in a church ever again – at least, not with any intention of commitment. But I couldn’t not go. Ali wanted to go to church, and her dad was the pastor. If I was going to be a good husband, I was going to have to go to Flatirons.
Slowly, surely, and anticlimactically, I began to see that Flatirons was an okay place. Ali’s dad wasn’t a jerk, the community was totally open and honest about their brokenness, and the weekends just rocked. I began to realize that going to church wasn’t going to be like pulling teeth. However, I amazingly kept Jesus at a distance. I wanted to go to church, be a ‘good person’, but keep Jesus in the periphery – I was incredibly successful.
In early 2011, I was contracted by Flatirons to work on the books. I took the job in an instant because I loved the staff, I loved writing, and I hated the job I had been working. But because of this job, my eyes were opened. For the first time, I watched the PB&J series. In the fourth week of the series (entitled “One”, if you’re curious), Jim shares his story. I was floored. It was my story – almost identically. He grew up in church, watched his dad get burned by it, ran away from God, went to college (ironically, the same school I attended), met a girl he fell in love with (ironically, my wife’s mom), began going to church again because of her, and gradually began realigning his life back with God.
I watched that sermon, and my life changed. There were no singing angels, no bright, heavenly lights, and no thundering voice of God, but I changed. I had tricked myself into thinking that, because I hadn’t become addicted to any substances, slept around with the phone book, or become a Nazi, I was exactly where I needed to be. But I was so unhappy. I was so spiritually lonely. I was so viciously, scathingly critical and cynical of the church and its people. Yet, through that old PB&J sermon, Jim (without even knowing it) looked me in the eyes through my laptop screen and said, “Me too.” In that moment, more importantly than his role as my father-in-law, he took on the role of my pastor – a pastor who was honestly screwed up, but mercifully forgiven… a pastor I could trust.
Since then, I have been re-embracing our God, and it’s been hard, but wonderful. I have had to deal with the fact that I have always believed in God, but only recently put my faith in him. Not a day goes by that I don’t have to fight back my harsh, deteriorating cynicism of Christianity. Not a day goes by that I don’t have to remind myself that Jesus doesn’t hate people, doesn’t use his perfection as a weapon, and doesn’t sleep with the secretary in the broom closet. In the last year, I have finally been able to trust in God’s goodness, even when I don’t understand him at all.
So… if there is any legitimate reason for my contribution to this blog, it is simply so you understand that everyone on the Flatirons staff is in the same position you are. I know I can vouch for the people who spend Monday-thru-Friday in the Flatirons’ offices: In our own individual ways, God is blowing our lives apart and stitching them back together. We all carry the baggage of past mistakes, and many of us will drag that weight around for the rest of our lives, but graciously, God has offered to help us carry it, and we have taken up the offer. Just like you guys, we walk through these old Albertsons’ doors every weekend joyfully, hopefully, and sometimes nervously, listening for God.
In short… Us Too.
When I post, don’t look for nuggets of wisdom or mind-blowing teaching. Just read it and take comfort in the fact that I speak for the staff of this wonderful church when I say, “Us Too.”
I promise these will be shorter from here on out. If anyone actually reads these anymore and you feel like chatting, then come find me on the weekends – I’m usually hanging out at the Info desk.