Sorry, you’re not being persecuted.

It’s the Christmas season. Bells are ringing; it’s snowing (not where I live, but in some places); sleigh bells are ringing; children are laughing, probably at a fart joke, while others are crying because they’re selfish little bastards who aren’t getting what they want for Christmas; someone has a Rudolph nose on their car (how cute); someone else is putting up their tree and stringing lights; girls everywhere are taking their winter selfies, being sure to get their best angle and include the red Starbucks cup they’re holding, which undoubtedly includes their misspelled name, and they’ll be sure to add hashtag #stupidstarbucksspellsmynamewrong #haha #omgeverytime! #peppermintmocha #starbucks #hashtags. And while all of this is occurring, Christians everywhere are being persecuted for their beliefs this Christmas. However, the ones that you see complaining about it on Facebook are more than likely not within the ranks of Christians who are actually being persecuted. Chances are, if you understand the language that this post is written in and you’re looking at it right now through some type of screen, you do not live anywhere near ISIS, or anywhere near a government who wants to kill you for your beliefs, or anywhere near a totalitarian regime that’s out to get you and will kill you if you are found with even one page of the Bible in your home. For crying out loud, you’re using your computer that connects to the Internet, probably while sitting in a Starbucks or equivalent coffee shop (you little hipster, you). Your Christmas shopping is probably done, or it’s going to be soon, you’ve got a credit card in your wallet, a warm jacket, a hat and a scarf, and you’re probably absorbed in your smart phone (which may be the screen you’re reading this off of, congrats).

If you’re one of those people who’s complaining on Facebook, then you’re probably complaining about one thing. And that complaint manifests itself as a lament that “Christ has been taken out of Christmas.” (And you will no doubt emphasis the word “Christ” in “Christmas” like that. Don’t even say you didn’t. I know you did it.) So far today, every other post has been some meme about us being “forced” to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.” We’re clearly being persecuted, guys! That window painting has a snowman saying “happy holidays” and there’s  no reference to my religion!

That’s great. But here’s a question for you: Who the heck told you that everyone in the United States is being forced to say “happy holidays” or risk being publicly berated?

Here’s another question: Why is it so horrible and offensive that some people, mainly companies with a diverse base of customers, are using some non-holiday-specific greeting that is directed at people who maybe don’t believe in the same religion that you do?

And here’s yet another question: Why does it matter which greeting anyone uses at all? If someone said, “Happy Kwanzaa!” or, “Happy Hanukkah!” would you still be offended, because it’s not your holiday? How dare different people hold different traditions and beliefs. That’s outrageous and offensive.

And now here’s something to think about: I have heard the words “merry Christmas” come out of the mouths of nearly everybody who’s offered me a holiday greeting. If they said “happy holidays” instead, it was almost exclusively within their work environment, where, chances are, they were told to say that instead of something that was religiously affiliated, out of respect for their customers’ beliefs and preferences.

Now here’s another question: Why does “happy holidays” have to be referring to Christmas anyway? Are there not multiple holidays all within a matter of weeks? We go from Thanksgiving to Christmas to the New Year within two months. Actually less, considering Thanksgiving is at the end of November. So who’s to say that these people wishing you “happy holidays” aren’t referring to more than one of the holidays that falls between November 27 and January 1? The phrase “happy holidays” is actually used more in reference to a combination of Christmas and the New Year. Maybe this person is just thinking ahead. They know that you have not one, but two holidays coming up, and they won’t see you for the second, so they’re wishing it to be “happy” in advance.

This is not persecution, nor is it removing “Christ” from “Christmas.” Social media has grossly aided in the perception of some kind of mass outrage over the phrase “happy holidays,” and in perpetuating the idea that thousands of people (only in the United States, mind you) are being chastised for saying “merry Christmas” because it’s “offensive.” I know very few people who would find a holiday greeting offensive, and all of them are the type of people who would also be offended by someone looking at them the wrong way or stepping onto the sidewalk in an awkward fashion. But when you get a couple of people who are outraged about something and stick them on Twitter or Facebook, suddenly it looks like everybody is outraged. In reality, it’s a few easily-outraged people who are making a mountain out of what wasn’t even a mole-hill. More like they made their own mole-hill and then proceeded to make it into a mountain. It’s ridiculous, and this is not persecution in any sense of the word. There are literally Christians being beheaded in the Middle East. Little Children. That is being persecuted. There are governments in the world that have outlawed Christianity. The fact that the police have never showed up and disbanded your church, or taken your Bible away and arrested you, is a testament to the freedom that you actually have. Nobody is telling you that you can’t say merry Christmas, and when you tell other people to stop saying “happy holidays” simply because it offends you, since it doesn’t refer to your own beliefs, then you’re doing to them exactly what you’ve falsely claimed is being done to you. Where this Christmas Greeting War idea came from, I have no clue. But let’s stop perpetuating it, shall we?

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Boxes, boxes, everywhere.

I’ve been looking into this Christianity versus atheism thing lately. It’s caught my attention for a few reasons. Mostly because I like listening to ideas and I like understanding things, but also because I see the way Christians and atheists tend to treat each other. We all act like the “other side” is a huge group of stupid people who have never researched anything a day in their lives, came to their conclusion for some over-simplified reason like, “Oh, your parents were Chrsitians/atheists and that’s why you have the beliefs you do,” instead of considering that maybe they put a lot of thought and time and emotion and brainpower into their decision. Maybe it was painstaking, and maybe it even caused issues in their lives, like alienation from family members who believe something different.

Maybe some people are just idiots who have put no thought into what they believe. But I don’t believe that that’s the case with everybody. In fact, I think that that’s an incredibly far cry from the truth.

And we need to stop acting like that is the case for everyone who doesn’t think the same thing that we do. I think that we sometimes do this consciously, but most of the time it’s unconscious. There’s an overwhelming reaction of, “You’re stupid and haven’t thought about this thoroughly enough if you didn’t come to the same conclusion that I did.”

Isn’t it possible that someone could be presented with exactly the same information as all the rest of us were and come to a different conclusion? Isn’t it possible that people can be intelligent and also disagree with other intelligent people? Isn’t it possible that they just people created by a God who loves them just as much as he loves you? Isn’t it possible that we’re all people and that, if you actually believe the scriptures, we’re all sinful, and maybe their sin is just expressed differently than your own? Isn’t it possible that we should be building relationships with people and befriending them, not just to convert them or to fulfill some unspoken super-Christian agenda, but just to be their friends? 

I’ve been watching videos from a popular atheist YouTuber, and he’s posted videos both about what Christians should not to say to atheists and what atheists need to not say to Christians. I’ll admit, when I saw that there was an atheist out there who was trying to get people to respect beliefs that contradict their own, I was a little shocked. But that just goes to show that I bought into the whole atheist stereotype that they’re all douche-bags who hate religious people myself.

I think that in this man’s videos, he says some things I would disagree with. He says some things that I think are a little off about the church and what Christians believe. But one of the things that I hear him say over and over is, “You don’t know me, stop acting like you do.” And this seems to be a common complaint among many non-Christians. I think it’s true. In an attempt to be relatable and to “reach everyone” we forget that people are just people. They’re not an idea. They’re not someone that we need to save. They are not a number. They are a person.

I think that too often, Christians want to put all non-Christians into a box labeled “Sinners” and we forget that we all are in that box too. We complain that “Not all Christians are that way!” when we see ourselves misrepresented, see ourselves put into a box, but we do the same thing to others quite often and think nothing of it. But I really don’t like box metaphors because I don’t believe you can put anybody into any box without reducing them down to this dehumanized idea that is not a person at all. And even if there were boxes, there would have to be 7 billion+ because there’d have to be one for each person on the planet.

And we need to stop putting people who don’t believe what we believe into those boxes. Humans are so much more complex than we like to admit. They have struggles and emotions and thoughts that are worth hearing and they love other people and they have friends and family and kids and pets. They have lives. They have truth to share that’s extra-biblical, but still true, nonetheless. And it is one thing to live out a life that is in Jesus’ footsteps (which I think we should all be striving after because your life might be the only proof they ever see of God) but it is quite different to run around telling people who don’t believe in God that everything about their life is wrong, that their life is empty, and that they should be depressed all the time because they don’t believe in God.

Not only is that insulting to non-Christians, I think it’s kind of insulting to Christians too, and quite possibly to God. God is not some means to an end. He is the end-all be-all of all things. He is everything. So to reduce him down to something as trivial, as nonessential, and as fleeting as an emotion that you feel in a certain building on Sunday, to say that he is a feeling you couldn’t feel simply by having a loving circle of family and friends, or a pet that you love, or seeing a good movie, is wrong. That’s not what God is, and that’s not what we should be telling people that he is. He exists by himself and for himself. Nothing else. And we are saved out of the very same rebellion that we call others out on by him, and for him because he loves us.

Instead of looking at people as people, we reduce them to this two-dimensional idea that really doesn’t reflect much of anything that’s human. That’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to see a person as something other than a person. We forget that we were allowed to “come as we are” and that they can do the same. And I guarantee you that whatever led you to Jesus wasn’t someone thumping a Bible.

It was most likely a friend.

Some thoughts on marriage:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

2Timothy 2:22

When he first pops the question and you get your ring, everything is all about that white dress and what shoes you’ll wear, and should you get a tiara or a veil, or just do your hair, and nothing seems more exciting than marrying that special man in your life. Absolutely nothing. You will get to spend the rest of your life with someone you love, who loves you, and everything is fairy-tale perfect. You get to be a princess for a day, and its like the Cinderella story, but skip over the step-sisters and losing the Prince, and go straight to the Happily Ever After from the ball.

It’s magical, and wonderful, and glorious, and other than losing tons of weight right before the wedding due to stress, which causes your perfectly fitted dress to be not-so-perfectly fitted (ahem, this isn’t personal experience or anything), you’re perfectly overjoyed to get in the getaway car and drive away with your new hubby.

And then you get home. It’s been about a week, and the honeymoon is done. And you quickly realize that he’s not that list of all the things you love about him. The man you married is, gasp, a human being. He has flaws and he doesn’t always love you the right way. He doesn’t communicate emotions well (and neither do you). He’s a man with a man’s desires and outlook on the world, but also desires and an outlook that’s unique to him, so you can’t just put him in a box labelled “The Mind of Men” and call it good. And you’re a woman with a woman’s outlook and desires, and you want different things than he does, but neither of you knows how to say it because you haven’t learned to yet. And just as he doesn’t always love you perfectly, you struggle to respect him perfectly.

Marriage is hard.

And suddenly you realize what everyone really meant when they told you, “He’ll do things you don’t like.” “He’ll irritate you.” “You will fight.” “You won’t always get along.” “Marriage is sanctifying for both of you.” And your response in your head was something like: “Yeah, but it can’t be that hard.”

And you realize that you both married strangersNo matter how long you’ve known each other, how long you’ve dated, there will always be things about your new spouse that you didn’t know. Things that irk you, rub you the wrong way, or hurt you because you both have different brains that work beautifully and uniquely and are different.

And you wonder, how do I do this thing?

Marriage really is sanctifying. Learning how to be a husband or wife is hard. Because it requires you to take a look at yourself and realize how sinful you are. Marriage brings out sin you didn’t even know you had, and sin that you may not have known that your spouse has. Marriage is hard, particularly in a culture that tells you that when you’re not happy you should just give up; a culture that tells young people to stay kids as long as possible, resulting in this generation’s problem of “kidults,” fully mature human beings who still act like they are 16 at age 26, 27, 30; a culture that tells you not to do anything that makes you unhappy, and do anything that makes you even remotely feel good; that tells you not to do anything that might cause you to have to sacrifice your own needs, wants, and desires unless you get something better out of it; a culture that says you don’t need to make anybody feel good except yourself. And then this same culture wonders why its adults can’t grow up, why they are selfish, and why they feel so entitled, why they suck as parents.

Marriage is counter-cultural. It is counter-cultural first and foremost because it is a picture of the Gospel, and the Gospel is as counter-cultural as you can get. But also, because it forces you to be the opposite of all of the aforementioned things if you want it to work. It makes you grow up, it makes you selfless, and it teaches you that other people will not always make you happy, but loving them anyway is worth it. A long-lasting marriage that defies all odds and stays together due to Christ-centeredness is something rarely seen or heard of anymore. So, know that when you get married, as a Christian, you will be going against the grain. You will be different. People will tell you so, they will talk about you, they will think you’re weird. They will act like your lifestyle is somehow inferior because you chose to sacrifice your independence and  on the altar of love, to become dependent, to become one with someone else, fusing two souls. Marriage is one person laying down their life for another.

But isn’t that just the picture of the Gospel that marriage is supposed to portray?

Psalm 73:26

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Pslam 73:26

Even if my heart and flesh fail, God is always God.

This song by KB is incredibly encouraging. I love it. It’s simple and well-said.

When tragedy strikes.

“With every life taken, we’re all diminished. That’s something too many people don’t get. Yeah, we gotta stop violence and killing — but you’re only adding to the problem when the way you solve it is by more of the same.” -Joe, in The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint.

When I first heard about the shooting in Newton, CN, I was devastated. All I could think was, “What if that had been my child?” But the very first thought to enter my mind was why? I learned about the event as I was going through my Facebook news feed and saw post after post, people saying, first, that a man had entered an elementary school with a gun. Then I saw the updates: 18 children dead, and 8 teachers. Then they said 20 students. My heart cracked in two. I cried. I didn’t know how to handle the news that an entire kindergarten class had been killed by a man walking into a school with a semi-automatic rifle.

However, I soon got sick of the Facebook status updates that I was seeing. They had gone from prayers for the victims and updates about the accident to the age-old debate about gun control. I couldn’t believe it. People (from both sides of this argument, mind you) had the nerve to sit there and say, “Ha! I told you so!” I wanted to scream, “There are children dead and all you can think of to do is yell about banning all guns or arming every citizen overnight?”

I am still upset over this, and I actually deactivated my Facebook account temporarily. In my eyes, the issue is not guns or lack thereof. The issue is Jesus or lack thereof. We live in a broken world full of broken people, and nothing is going to stop that brokenness. I don’t care about gun control. I honestly don’t. Not right now, at least. However, I do care about the fact that there are families who have lost loved ones in a horrific manner. I can’t help but wonder what their view of God is now. I can’t help but wonder if these little ones ever had the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am praying continuously for the Christian community in Newton to reach out and come alongside these hurting families and share the gospel with them in a very practical way: comfort and support in times of need. I pray that Christians everywhere would come together and do whatever they can to help and be a light in a dark world.

I can tell you right now, this little boy was not worried about gun control or political parties. Neither was the girl who is holding him.This is the universal expression of horror and pain. Hands covering his face as he watches something horrific. This is not an expression of outrage. It’s simply fear, shock, and sadness.

We like to politicize everything, here in America. We want to assign blame. By jumping straight to the conclusion that guns or lack of guns could have prevented this tragedy, we are saying, “It was not the fault of a man, but of his weapon.” We are blaming objects, because objects are something we can control. We will march in the streets wearing special colors of ailments of the body, because we can potentially control those, but when it comes to the mind, we don’t want to deal with it, because it shows us how out of control we really are.

If you want to help, start with yourself. You could start by donating, supporting these people financially. There are plenty of ways to do that. One organization that I personally recommend is CLARO. Loosening or tightening of gun laws will not prevent another tragedy such as this any more than laws against drunk driving stop people from getting behind the wheel after their trip to a bar, or laws against drugs will keep people from using and selling them (not that I think those laws should not be in place, please understand).

What will prevent this from happening again is taking time to teach our children and ourselves how to apologize, how to be good people, how to respect others, how to respect ourselves, how to be responsible for our own actions. Teach the children around you that it is OK to recognize when you feel out of control and that there is no shame in telling someone you feel that way and need help. Show that you can admit when you are wrong and be examples of picking yourself up after someone knocks you down. Teach them pride in themselves and that, while you can not control the actions of others you can control your reaction to them. And it’s not just children who need this, some adults have never been taught how to deal with reality without lashing out violently or speaking out in ignorance and hate. For all ages we must be examples of what is good and teach how to recognize what is wrong and how to correct it with love and not with violence. Only instilling the principle of “do no harm” will prevent future acts of senseless violence like that seen today in Newton, CT. Reflect on yourselves, on your relationships and your actions and stop blaming politics, religion, class structure, economics. Be the light instead of pointing out the dark.

-Alicia Vélez Stewart

I think that Alicia about sums it up, and I applaud her. Ultimately, the thing that’s going to fix our world and be a light in a dark place is Jesus Christ. Want to change the world? Share the gospel. You’ll change the world for someone, somewhere.

I’d also like to take a moment and thank God for this young woman, Victoria Soto. She sacrificed her life to save the lives of her students. Before the shooter came into the classroom, she put her entire class into cabinets, or anywhere else that they would fit, to hide them. But when the shooter came into her classroom, there was nowhere for her to hide and she was killed. Thank you, Victoria, for your loving sacrifice.

Victoria Soto, age 27. Hero.

I’d also like to find names of other heroic teachers to honor them and thank them. If you have any information (pictures, ages, stories, etc) please feel free to share them in the comments.

My thoughts on marriage and what I’ve learned about it.

First, I’d like to say: please don’t think you can’t read this if you’re single or something. I love you, too! That said, recently, I’ve been binging (bingeing? Oh, well) on marriage stuff, ever since Revolution Church kicked off our relatively short marriage series, Man vs. Wife. You can listen to what a woman is called to be here, and what a man is called to be here.

Not only am I listening to the sermons at my own church, but I am also listening to Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage series. As with 60% of the population, I come from a broken home, because my parents had a broken marriage. Literally, it split them up. So, suffice to say that I have never really had biblical roles in marriage played out for me. I never realized how much that affected my view of God until my pastor, Josh, began preaching about what we are called to be as men and women who are following Christ. And then it was this amazing, “Aha!” moment of, “That’s what that is supposed to look like! That’s what God’s love for me looks like! That’s what I’m supposed to be! That’s who I am in Jesus!” and much more.

So here goes a bullet list of my thoughts and what I’ve learned from all of this (some of it will be my notes on it):

  • First of all, married people are broken people. They are not sinless. Marriage does not fix all of your problems. In fact, it may (actually it will) make them worse. When two broken people enter into a marriage covenant, their brokenness is infinitely multiplied. A marriage is made up of two really good  forgivers. Not two people who always get it right and “just go together.”
  • Something that I did not realize until recently (and even once I did realize it, I had no clue what it looked like) is that marriage is a picture of the gospel.
  • This is why Satan attacks marriages. He does not want to the world to see Christ through us, he wants the world to see a broken image of broken homes and broken people, and never get to seeing the redemptive power of Jesus through that brokenness. Because when people see Jesus’ redemptive power, they get saved.
  • Satan knows that if he can destroy a marriage, especially a Christian marriage, he can affect entire generations. He can have your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.
  • Most of us have personal pain caused by a broken marriage. Either our own marriage, or our parents’ marriage, maybe even our grandparents’ marriage, or someone else who’s close to us.
  • Satan is going to attack your marriage. We need to be prepared, not just theologically or biblically, but practically. We can have the best theological knowledge about marriage in the entire world, but if we never prepare practically, we are doomed to fall.
  • “The deepest intimacy of all is spiritual intimacy. And if you don’t build your relationship on spiritual intimacy, invariably, it will fail.” -Mark Driscoll
  • Something else I didn’t fully realize until recently: leaving your father and mother when you get married means leave your father and mother. You detach. You’re on your own. Do not involve your extended family in the issues of your immediate family (i.e. your spouse and children). Their schedule, their finances, do not become entangled in yours.
  • The order of these four things will make or break your marriage. The order is: 1) Your friendship with Jesus Christ, 2) your friendship with your spouse, 3) your friendship with your kids, and 4) your job (both as a provider and as a father, or your job as a mother to your children). When you get an inversion in these things, you will fall, or already have fallen.
  • Want to defeat Satan in your marriage? You do it with the blood of the Lamb.
  • There is a difference between a testimony and a biography. In a biography, we’re the hero. It’s all about, “I did this and this, and now I’m happy.” A testimony means that Jesus Christ is the hero. It’s all about, “I was lost, but now I’m found, and Jesus is amazing for redeeming me, regardless of whether or not I’m happier now than I was before.”
  • Our marriage should be a testimony, not a biography.
  • Our testimonies can never be, “Jesus went to the cross and died for sinners.”
  • Our testimony has to be: “Jesus went to the cross and died for my sins, and here they are, and the blood of the Lamb was literally shed in my place, for my transgressions, to remove my shame, to cleanse my sin, and remove my filth, so that I would have a testimony.”
  • This is because if we say that Jesus died for sins, but we never talk about our sin, then it’s because, deep down, we don’t believe Jesus died for US. And we don’t really believe that his resurrection is the hope for our life (either our own, or our life with our spouse).
  • If Jesus changes you, and Jesus changes your spouse, you can  have a new marriage with the old spouse. You do not need a new spouse, you need to be a new spouse. Judge yourself first, not just your spouse.

There’s a lot more I’ve learned, and I may post more later. But that pretty much sums up what I think are some of the major points.

Acts chapter 8.

I was reading through the book of Acts today. Quite honestly, I found it boring the first couple times I tried to read it. I would get three chapters in, then stop. I’d pick it up again and start all over, only to do the same thing again. But after coming back to it again and again, I finally got to a point where I couldn’t put it down. Suddenly, I am completely enthralled by this book of the Bible. God does that sometimes. Funny, isn’t it?

I just wanted to share some of my favorite parts.

“11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” -Acts 8:11-12

I will just stop there for a minute. To give some background, the apostles were facing huge persecution during this time. Stephen had just been stoned to death for preaching in the name of Jesus after being told by the Sadducees that he needed to stop. Christians were being thrown in prison by Saul. Every single one of the disciples had been told to stop teaching about Jesus, and the church was scattered. This stuns me, personally, because I really don’t know if I could go on that way. These were some incredible men of faith. In this passage, Philip is in Samaria. He is baptizing and teaching Samaritans. Even with all of the persecution that the church is facing, he’s continuing to teach, and the Samaritans love him. They are being baptized, they are being saved. Is God fantastic or what? He is faithful, even when things are looking absolutely bleak for His church. He takes care of His children.

I am going to skip ahead a bit to my other favorite part in chapter 8. Trust me, it’s awesome. Peter and John are sent down to Samaria when they hear about Philip, and they begin praying over the newly baptized Christians to receive the Holy Spirit.

“18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Look at what Peter’s response is:

“20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.

Talk about a burn. Dang. Peter is angry with Simon, but notice that he tells Simon to repent of his wickedness and pray. His reaction is a godly one. He is discipling his brother in Christ with scriptural truth. We all need people like this, but most of us don’t want someone to tell us these things. Guess what? That’s sin. What would we do if someone responded to our sin this way, and told us straight up that we’re being sinners, that we’re wicked, that our heart isn’t right before God, and that we need to repent, like, right now? We’d probably flip out and tell them to shove it, right? Well look at Simon’s response:

“24 And Simon answered, ‘PRAY FOR ME TO THE LORD, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

Simon’s response is, “Hey, man, you’re right. Pray for me. I need it.” Simon is much more humble than I am. I know that if someone had responded to me that way, I would probably just stop talking to them. (At least for a while, you know, until God said, “Hey, they were right. I need to work on your heart.”)

I just find this incredible, and I’d strongly recommend the book of Acts if you’re looking for something to read. Read slowly, read carefully, and pray before opening your Bible.