from sky to oceans deep

god being good and bad things happening are not mutually exclusive.

i first heard that line in november while talking to my friends matthew and wendi. they were telling me the story of how their four-year-old (now five) was diagnosed with cancer last summer. in the midst of the story and the struggles, wendi made it a point to say that statement when many of us, myself included, would have been questioning god’s goodness. throughout this entire process of being diagnosed, having surgery, going through chemo, and all of the day-to-day struggles of their firstborn having cancer, matthew and wendi have set out to find jesus in the middle of the entire situation.

their story (which i’d suggest you watch at that link), along with a line from a worship song, were the catalyst and idea behind a night of worship that we held this past weekend at my church. in december, when we met as a worship staff to plan and dream about this night, the phrase, “jesus in everything” kept ringing in my head over and over and over. i tossed it out to everyone and in that room, nearly three months before the actual event, it struck a chord with us all.

jesus in everything.

fast forward three months and we get to the actual night where we got the opportunity to lead our entire church into this concept that had been stirring inside of us. at one point in the night, in a moment that was completely unplanned and spontaneous, my friend stephen stepped up to the microphone before leading a song, ripped away every mask, and told us how, when he was going through radiation for his own battle with cancer, he remembered being in a room where no one else could be in. the doctors had left the room. they told his wife she had to leave. no one could be in the room with him. and then, to make him even more alone, they shut a giant lead door to seal the room off. he told us that, sitting alone in that room, he said a very simple prayer:

jesus, will you be with me?

after that, he said that he looked forward to going to radiation. it was a time that he knew, while he was completely and 100% alone, he wasn’t alone at all.

last night we asked the question: where have you found jesus? it’s a question that takes a minute to answer, but it’s one that’s greatly needed to be asked. i’ve spent the morning thinking about it and it’s amazing where we find jesus when we actually look for him.

i found jesus in my house. the day after we closed on our house, i brought our puppy over here to show her around. nicole was at work and it was me and the dog in an empty house that i now somehow owned. i remember sitting on the floor in the exact same spot i’m sitting now and praying, if only to say thank you. in that moment, it was as if he was next to me, i remember hearing jesus say, “this is your house. i picked it out and set it apart just for you.”

i found jesus in my marriage. marriage is hard. it’s not pretty sometimes. but it’s great. nicole and i are closing in on two years of being married and i wouldn’t trade it for the world. we’ve had our struggles like any couple would, but i see jesus in her and the way she loves me on an almost daily basis. i’ve learned more about how jesus views me as i’ve fallen more in love with her. as we’ve dreamed about our future and what it looks like, it’s been great to know that my teammate in life is guided by the same things that i am. left to my own devices, who knows what type of marriage i would be in. with jesus in the middle of it, i can honestly say that every hard moment is worth more than any great moment would be otherwise.

i found jesus in my mess. i’m a complete mess. the past year has been a quasi-quarter life crisis for me and i feel like i’m starting to come out on the other side. throughout the entire process, and that’s really what it’s been, jesus has been there the entire way. there have been times that i didn’t want him there or didn’t want to talk to him, and in a way that is beyond my understanding, he stood at arms length and simply waited on me. when i was ready to talk, he didn’t punish me for pulling away. he wrapped his arm around me and invited me back in.

i found jesus in my bosses. part of my quasi-quarter life crisis was trying to figure out who it was that god was shaping me to be and what he was calling me to become, both personally and professionally. as part of that, i started to question if he was moving me to somewhere new. imagine how my bosses felt when i brought that question to them. not only that, but there has been a number of things work wise that has made this a tough year for me. i’ve made mistakes and handled things the wrong way. i’ve gotten my feelings hurt over things that probably shouldn’t have bothered me as much as they did. but in the end, a simple text message two weeks ago sums up how i see jesus in the people i report to: i want to be in this with you.

i found jesus in my friends. i’m a weird bird. i know a ton of people but i’ve never had friends that i’ve been really close to. i wouldn’t even use an entire hand if i tried to count them. however, through this mess, i’ve learned that i actually can trust people and that they won’t think i’m anything less because of my mess. it’s funny how i’ve always told people that and didn’t necessarily believe it myself. a few weeks ago i was in my kitchen talking with a friend until past midnight. it started as venting and turned into dreaming and ended with him praying for me. i’ve gotten texts asking how i was doing from people who truly meant it. for the first time in a really long time, i can find jesus in the people around me.

i found jesus in this blog. i’ve only written two posts in the last month. one of them was the day after the super bowl and was the most read post i’ve ever written. the other was last week and it was the least read post i’ve ever written. talk about an ego hit. i was bummed and trying to decide if it was worth it to keep writing. as cheesy as it may sound (and i hate cheesy), i was reminded that i don’t write for hundreds of readers. i write because it’s a passion and gift that was given to me. even in my second guessing and doubting, jesus let me know that he was there. he let me know that he wants me to write and that he wants me to keep going. this post could only be read by my mom (site note: hey mom) and i’d be completely okay with it.

i could keep going and probably find even more places where i’ve found jesus in my life. that would get really, really boring to read though. instead, i want to know where you’ve found jesus. where has he shown up in your life? in what way has he appeared? were you expecting it? was it a surprise? leave a comment and let me know.

even more than that, my hope for you as you read this is a simple lyric from the song that inspired this entire thing:

ever our heart will seek jesus in everything.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

when you came around my world felt new

there are two things in this world that i hold very near and dear to my heart: spring time and pop punk music.

yesterday i was able to experience a little bit of both of them.

less than a week after getting the largest snowfall in ten years, we had weather near 60 degrees. add to that a storm system rolling into town and you had 60 degrees and a perfect breeze. i decided to take advantage of the weather, hooked the dog to a leash, grabbed my headphones, and set off on a walk around the neighborhood.

this is where the pop punk music came into play.

as i was walking, i turned on spotify, started my favorite playlist, and all was right in the world.

outside. in february. with my dog. perfect weather.

yes please.

in the middle of the walk, a song that i hadn’t heard in a while came on. as i was listening to it, i was immediately back in my car five and a half years ago when the album first came out.

a week and a half before it was released, i was dumped. every song on that album hit me at the core of where i was at that time. for years and years, anytime i’d hear a song from that album, i’d go back to the pain and the hurt and everything that went along with the fall of 2008.

this time was different.

this time i was back in that car again, but i wasn’t in the driver’s seat anymore. instead, i was in the backseat of the car watching that guy; watching me. i remembered his hurt and his pain and everything that was going on at that time.

but i didn’t feel it anymore.

instead, i felt pride.

i was proud of who i’ve become.

i was proud that i got through that time in my life.

i was proud that, because of those moments and that time, i fell in love with the church again and in turn, found a whole new level of relationship with jesus.

i saw the flip side of this feeling yesterday as well. a friend of mine had told me that someone at the church she’d been attending made her cry after church. i wanted to check in on her and see what happened, and through a series of texts, i got to the root of the issue.

in a conversation at a membership class, someone in leadership asked her to tell her story about how she became a christian. for those of you a little more traditional than me, they asked for her testimony. her story isn’t pretty. it involves a lot of mistakes, relationships that didn’t work, a family member tragically dying, and a multitude of other things. by all accounts, she hasn’t had an easy 27 years on this earth.

because of those mistakes, and because of those hurts, she was embarrassed to tell her story to this guy she didn’t know.

she thought that he’d look down on her, or that he would think she’s less of a person than he was, or that he would judge her.

in one day i got to experience two opposite sides of the same coin. my friend and i had both been through heartbreak. we’d both been through rejection. we’d both made mistakes.

and on top of that, we’d both found jesus in the mess of our lives.

there was one difference in the two stories: she was still looking at her story through the lenses of someone who was broken, messed up, and couldn’t get things right.

while i know all three of those things are true for me to this very day, i now know they don’t define me. while i am broken, and i am messed up, and while i do rarely get things right, i know that ultimately i’m forgiven, i’m set apart, and i’ve been given freedom from that hurt, that pain, and all of those things that were going on at that time.

those things, along with jesus being beside me the entire way, made me who i am today.

those things, along with jesus being beside you the entire way, made you into who you are today.

as you look back at the past year, or the past five years, or the past twenty years and you see that pain, that hurt, and all of those things that were going on during that time, are you embarrassed by what you were or are you proud of who you’ve become?

there’s a verse in the bible that says that if i’m going to be proud of anything, i’m going to be proud of the cross of jesus because it’s only through what he did there that i’m free to be anything today.

are you embarrassed by what you were or proud of who you’ve become?

i know you have scars, and i know that at one point in time your nose was bloodied by life kicking you in the face, but you aren’t that person anymore. you aren’t that mistake. you aren’t that hurt.

you, random person on the internet reading this, have been freed from all of that. the only catch is that you have to embrace that freedom.

when you look back on reading this post next week, will you be embarrassed by what you were or proud of who you’ve become?

it’s your choice.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

it burns brighter than the sun

russell wilson is a better christian than i am.

you read that and thought one of two things:

1) no he’s not. it’s not a competition.
2) of course he is. you’re a horrible person. have you met you?

in all seriousness, i see a dude like russell wilson and realize that he’s a guy that simply gets it. he understands what this whole christianity thing is about and he lives it to the best of his ability. this week i read a story about blue tuesday where he goes around seeing kids at a seattle hospital. he’s even invited other seattle celebrities like macklemore (yes, the dude who did same love and thrift shop) to join him. i saw a video of him and a few teammates and coaches being interviewed by pastor/author mark driscoll. where most christian celebrities would give canned answers, wilson and his teammates were quoting scripture and giving real, honest answers.

the dude loves jesus and he doesn’t hide it.

i’d like to think that, if the roles were reversed and i were in his shoes, i would do those same things. i would like to think i’d visit the kids, or be honest in interviews, or reach out to other people of influence to try to make my town better.

while i’d like to think i’d do those things, i can almost guarantee you that i wouldn’t have done what he did while in college.

the day was march 25, 2009. wilson was a 20-year-old sophomore at nc state. a few months earlier he’d made history on the football field becoming the first (redshirt) freshman to be named first-team all acc quarterback. on this day, however, he didn’t have pads on. instead, he was the starting second baseman for state’s baseball team.

it’s well-known that wilson was a two sport athlete. he got drafted in baseball out of high school and after his junior year in college. his sophomore year was less than spectacular. he played in 27 games, starting 22 of them. he batted .236 with no home runs and only ten runs batted in.

this story has nothing to do with how he played between the lines.

on march 25, 2009, nc state hosted liberty university for a mid-week game in raleigh. these mid-week games are where the bigger schools (nc state) are supposed to beat the smaller school (liberty) while playing some of their reserves and going through the motions. wilson started that game, played 2.5 innings, and then sat the rest of the game as liberty ran away with a 17-5 win.

needless to say, things didn’t go as planned for nc state.

liberty is a christian college in virginia. one of their post-game traditions is to invite the opposing team to gather around after the game to say a quick prayer. they do this regardless of if they win or lose.

on that day, after being embarrassed by this loss, nc state’s coach decided that his team wasn’t going to join liberty around home plate for that prayer.

russell wilson decided that his faith was more important than what happened on the baseball field and joined the liberty players.

if the story stopped there, wilson would already be someone to look up to for standing up for his faith.

but there’s more.

after the prayer was over, wilson and a few of his teammates shook hands with some of the liberty players and then went back to the nc state locker room. when they got there, what happened was surprising. the way the story goes is that nc state’s coach began to unleash all of his frustrations on wilson. the way the story was told to me is that the coach gave wilson hell for staying after the game and praying with the liberty players.

that’s when wilson stood up and, in front of his entire team and all of the coaches, claimed the no one would tell him where and when he was allowed to pray.

i don’t know about you, but i don’t think i would’ve had the guts to do that. i probably would’ve taken the yelling, said nothing, and moved on. instead, russell wilson set an example for his teammates and for all of us who claim to be christians:

we don’t have to flaunt our faith, but we must stand up for it.

we don’t have to bring attention to ourselves, but we must be set apart.

we don’t have to be super christians, but we must pray.

this week, how can you follow in the footsteps of russell wilson? what can you do to be set apart? is there someone that needs you to stand up and say, “yeah, i’ll pray with you.” is there a step that you need to take that’s out of your comfort zone but is where you know you need to be?

here’s the catch: that thing that you’re supposed to do may never be known. the story i’m telling you today happened nearly five years ago and has likely never been told publicly. the only reason i’m able to tell it to you is because i had friends on that liberty team who were there and experienced it. chances are whatever you do will go unnoticed by the people around you.

and that’s okay.

we don’t do it for them.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

let your love be my companion in the war against my pride

last week i felt like i was in high school all over again.

i was younger than everyone all through school. having a mid-october birthday meant that i beat the deadline for my grade by two days. if i was born two days later, i would’ve went from the youngest in my grade to the oldest. because of that, i didn’t get my driver’s license until october 25 of my junior year.

and because of that, i had to rely on my friends for a ride to pretty much everything.

in the beginning of that junior year, some friends of mine were in a band and were playing a house show across town. two of my friends told me that they were going to go over to the house, help the guys get set up and do a sound check, and then they’d come pick me up before the show.

it was literally a seven minute drive from my house to the house they were playing at.

the show started at seven so i was told they’d pick me up sometime between 6 and 6:30. i showered and got ready and waited. 6:00 rolled around and i waited. 6:15 rolled around and i still waited. 6:30 rolled around and i kept waiting. then 7. then 7:30.

i ended up waiting the entire night because they forgot about me and never showed up.

my friends forgot about me. they were too busy having fun together to remember to bring me along. they didn’t seek out to say, “screw jonathan” or anything like that, but they ended up doing just that.

and last week, all of those feelings came rushing back.

i walked outside to my car around lunchtime to see all of my friends’ cars lined up but none of them were in the building. in my mind, the first thought that hit me was, “they all went to lunch without me.”

every thought from high school filled my head.

every piece of hurt and neglect started jumping on my back.

every emotion that i haven’t felt in years suddenly took over my every thought.

i got upset. i never once stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as bad as i was thinking. i immediately let the past thoughts win the battle in my mind.

i never confronted any of my friends once they got back to work. i didn’t want to be “that guy.” instead, i listened. come to find out, i jumped the gun in my brain. they didn’t all go to lunch without me. in fact, they didn’t all even go to lunch together. one guy went to lunch with a family member. one guy had a doctor’s appointment. a couple of them had to run buy something and picked up lunch while they were all out.

they didn’t forget about me.

they didn’t go without me.

they didn’t say, “screw jonathan.”

in that moment, i realized that i wasn’t in high school anymore. i remembered that my friends are better than that now. i was reminded that every single minute of every single day is a battle for my mind.

you have a past. you’ve been hurt. you’ve been picked over. you’ve been taken advantage of. you’ve been any number of things.

you are not a victim. you are not a slave to the past actions. you are not bound to those hurts and feelings.

today may be a good day. it may be a rough day. regardless of how it’s going, you need to be ready for a fight. you need to be ready to fight for your thoughts. you’ve got to go to war over your mind. if you don’t, you’ll find yourself questioning every single thing that every single person does.

you are more than your past hurt.

you are greater than your past disappointments.

you are stronger than your mind realizes.

fight for your thoughts. fight for your feelings. and fight for your encouragement.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

if it’s not too late for coffee, i’ll be at your place in ten

sometimes i wear sweatpants to the grocery store.

i know that, culturally, wearing sweat pants is a sign of uncleanliness. it means that i truly don’t care what people think. it means that i’m sloppy. it shows that i’ve given up.

in reality, it just means that i got tired of trying to hide all of my messiness.

hiding all of the messiness gets exhausting. you go to work and you hide the messiness at home from your coworkers. you leave there and go home and you hide the messiness at work from your family. you go to bed and try to hide the messiness from your dreams only to wake up and do the entire process all over again.

and sometimes sweatpants are your reminder that it’s okay to stop hiding the mess and bring it into the public.

this past sunday reminded me that sometimes acknowledging the mess is what’s needed.

we opened a new venue at our church back in september. this past weekend we had the biggest crowd we’d ever had in there. as we started the service, everything seemed to be going great. people were engaged in worship. the announcements were funny and welcoming to people. as we did our normal break before the sermon for everyone to get some coffee and say hey to those around them, we all felt good. we’d gotten through the tricky parts of the service. it was smooth sailing from here.

then we pressed play on the sermon video.

then we noticed the video felt like we were watching youtube on a dial up connection.

thinking it was just a one-time thing, we quickly hit pause and restarted the video.

it messed up again.

third time’s a charm, right?

nope.

by that point i realized we had a problem. i ran out into the lobby and literally yelled to our tech director who was across the building that we needed to get the backup drive from another venue. then i walked to the front of the venue to tell the host that we needed to switch drives and that we needed him to stall for us.

we needed him to get up in front of everyone and tell them we messed up.

we stopped the video, the host jumped on stage, and then he told people that we were having some issues and that we were working on fixing them.

then people laughed.

they understood.

they could relate.

i was reminded in that moment that sometimes all we need to do is acknowledge our issues. we don’t have to try to cover things up and look like we have it all together. the people that we’re trying to impress look at us and know that we have issues because they know that they do too.

on sunday morning, every person in the room could see that the video was messing up. they all knew something was wrong. once someone acknowledged it and said we were fixing it, people immediately moved past it. by the end of the service, no one was talking about the mess up. instead, they were all talking about the good parts of the service.

in case no one else has told you, let me be the first: sometimes it’s okay to wear sweatpants to the grocery store.

sometimes it’s okay to admit that you don’t have it all together.

sometimes it’s okay to show people the mess.

when we keep the messiness hidden, we ensure that we’ll go through it alone.

when we open up and bring others into the messiness that is our life, we open up the chance for others to join us in getting through it.

don’t be a hero. don’t try to do this on your own. this week, acknowledge the messes that are in your life. bring them to the forefront and let people know you’re working to fix them. invite others to come alongside you as you go through it.

dressing up is nice occasionally, but sometimes you just need to wear a pair of sweatpants.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

don’t once think that this madness is my fault alone

we’re three days into 2014 and i can already point out something that will be a huge trend this year: criticizing dating.

i’ve seen buzzfeed posts about how maybe dating isn’t right for you. i’ve seen people make resolutions that they weren’t going to date for x amount of months. there have been tweets saying you shouldn’t date until you find this person or until you are in this place in life.

that’s stupid.

i’m serious. i think that’s stupid.

while it’s popular to say that people should be dating less, i think it’s important for 2014 to be the year that dating makes its return.

i had a professor in seminary who told one of his classes that he encouraged his daughter to date as many guys as possible. for a conservative pastor, that seemed a little odd. when we asked him to explain what he meant, he told us that it was two fold:

the only way to really learn what you want in a spouse is to find out what don’t want.

the only way to be the spouse you want to one day become is to find out where your flaws are.

he didn’t encourage his daughter to get into serious relationships with guys, and he totally discouraged any form of physical relationship, but he did encourage her to go on as many dates as possible.

a date is simply an appointment for a particular time. it doesn’t have strings attached to it. it doesn’t come with physical expectations. it’s simply an appointment for a particular time.

dating has gotten a negative connotation. somehow going on a date with someone has turned into being in a serious relationship with them. it’s impossible for two people who are of the opposite sex to hang out without having to answer the question, “are you two dating?” two friends grabbing dinner has turned into the social equivalent of a serious relationship. we’ve entered into a world where it’s impossible to go on a casual date.

if it weren’t for the casual dates that i went on before getting married, there’s no way that nicole would’ve married me.

in my natural state, i’m a self-centered jerk who is rude, crass, and has absolutely no tact. that’s who i am. in fact, that’s who i was when nicole and i went on our first date three years before we actually started dating. in the three years between that first date and when we started dating, i went on dates where i walked away thinking, “yep, i definitely don’t want that in a girlfriend.” there were others where i thought, “there’s no way anyone would ever date me if i’m like that.”

by going to dinner with a girl, i learned how i was supposed to treat my future spouse.

by playing putt putt on a summer night, i learned what i liked and what i didn’t like in my future spouse.

by having real, one-on-one, in person conversations, i learned how to communicate with the opposite sex.

none of these dates turned into dating relationships. they were never physical and most of them helped strengthen the friendships involved. all of them, in one way or another, helped form me into the husband i am today.

don’t spend 2014 sitting around waiting for the perfect guy or perfect girl to come around. go on the offensive. date your friends. find out what you want and what you don’t want. find out what you like about yourself and what you don’t like about yourself and then work to become the spouse that you one day hope to become.

guard your heart, but let people in.

protect yourself, but find out what you like.

take chances, but learn from the mistakes.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

you were born so i might live

if it were me, i would’ve said screw it and started over.

if it were me, i would’ve broken my promise.

if it were me, there’s no way i would’ve done what he did.

god, the creator of everything who could destroy and recreate the human race with one sentence, had every right to do just that. if it were me, that’s what would’ve happened.

but god had such a desire to be with his creation that he sent his son to be with them with the sole intent of dying the most embarrassing, humiliating, and painful death known to man. and he did all of that just so that he could hang out with us and we could hang out with him.

instead of destroying us, he redeemed us.

instead of starting over, he kept going.

instead of no hope, he gave us the hope of the world.

that’s christmas.

that’s today.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a merry christmas.

-jonathan

i’m sorry it took me so long to come around

i was a scene kid growing up. i spent most friday and saturday nights at shows from local bands that most of you have never heard of. bands like mercy mercedes, or monday in london, or brentwood, or osf, or three stars left, or one of a hundred other bands that only lasted for two months. in my little area of redneck north carolina there weren’t many true venues so we’d have shows at churches, basements, and even next to a guy’s pool one time. i was introduced to the scene my freshman year of high school and was hooked.

music became my thing. i stopped playing sports and started focusing all of my attention on playing, listening to, and being around music. i was in the marching band, concert band, jazz band, pep band, and a terrible ska band. i even did an internship for a couple of months teaching middle school band.

i was a music geek.

i mentioned in part one of this series that i stopped going to church around the time that i was 16 or so. i still called myself a christian but i never read my bible and i wasn’t around other christians very much. i prayed though. i prayed a lot. i prayed for god to give me a group of friends. i prayed for him to make my life less miserable. i prayed for a girlfriend.

i prayed for me.

i spent all of this time praying and hearing nothing back. this is when i started feeling like if god was out there he must’ve been dealing with other people’s problems like geo said in “church.” if god had heard my prayer, surely he would say something, right?

this is a common feeling. i know a ton of people who would claim that they’d never heard from god. macklemore is actually one of those people. in this song that we’ve been looking at, “church,” he writes:

the only time i felt like i was talking to god
was in my walkman walking with nas

that statement sums up my relationship with god from the time i was a kid up until the time i was about to graduate from seminary. he didn’t talk. the only thing that made any sense to me was the lyrics from my favorite bands. none of the church stuff or the god stuff ever sank in.

the thing that i didn’t realize, and i bet it’s the same thing that macklemore didn’t realize, was that god uses a lot of different things to get our attention and speak to us.

the first semester of my sophomore year of college was one of the loneliest times of my life. i was in school nine miles from myrtle beach and should’ve been having the time of my life. but i wasn’t. i remember being on my couch with all of the lights off, physically crying and asking god why i was so unhappy. it was that moment that i heard god talk back for the first time: he told me it was because i wasn’t where i was supposed to be and he had something different for me.

in the weeks after that, there was a line from a song that got stuck in my head and wouldn’t leave. the line was simple and all it said was, “jesus, i’m ready to come home.” fast forward a few more weeks to november and i left the beach to visit some friends at another school. while i was there, i happened to go to church with them. right in the middle of the service i remember thinking, “this is home, isn’t it?”

what i didn’t realize was that the line that was stuck in my head for weeks wasn’t just a line of a song. it was a prayer. it was the deepest desire within me. i wanted to go home, wherever that may be. not only did god know that was my desire, and not only did he provide fulfillment for that desire, he knew my heart so well that he gave me the words to pray, even when i didn’t realize i was praying it.

it’s amazing how close we can be to god without even realizing it. i don’t know what macklemore was listening to and i don’t know how much the lyrics spoke to him, but i do know the lyrics that stuck out to me as a kid growing up. i look back to some of those lyrics now knowing that god does speak and he is active and i realize that he was trying so hard to get my attention.

we serve a god that, while knowing everything about everyone and able to do anything that he wants, refuses to over take us. he’s not going to beat down the door and push his way in. he’s going to try to get your attention through whatever it takes. it could be pop culture. it could be nature. it could be one of a million things.

here’s my challenge for you this weekend. it’s a simple one, but it’s one that could be hugely impactful. be attentive to the things that catch your attention. when something piques your interest, or when something gets stuck in your head, don’t be so quick to shake it off or throw it away. many times this is how god is trying to get our attention so that he can invite us to join him in something that he’s doing.

where’s he getting your attention?

how’s he talking to you?

are you willing to listen?

if you are, it’ll change your life.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

guess it’s just the way that i’m dressed

before i get started today, i want to take a second and thank all of you who read monday’s post. i’m super thankful for all of you and appreciate you taking the time to read. if you missed monday’s post, i started a multi-day look at the song “church” by macklemore where i’ll be looking at different sections of the song and talking about where he and geo (aka prometheus brown) hit the nail on the head and also where they were a little wrong. if you’d like to read monday’s post, you can read it here.

i had some friends in college who, if you were to say the word “catholic” around them, would go on long-winded diatribes about how the catholic church was so wrong and how they weren’t really christians. i guess that would be par for the course at any conservative christian college but it was especially true at liberty university. those soapbox speeches always seemed to confuse me because, while i don’t think the catholic faith is without fault – no denomination or sect of christianity is – i grew up in an italian family where many people had catholic roots.

one of my earliest memories of the catholic church was at my great-grandma’s funeral. i was 7 years old and had never been around the catholic faith at all. i showed up and tried to keep up with the stand up, sit down, cross here, do this, do that liturgy of the service but i had absolutely no clue what was going on. then the priest said something in latin and, well, i barely understood english at that point in my life.

i think it goes without saying that i left that service with more questions than answers.

and that was just a funeral.

macklemore and geo both grew up catholic. if you listen to more of macklemore’s songs that have to do with religion, it’s pretty easy to see the catholic roots coming into the lyrics that he writes. wikipedia also says he was catholic and wikipedia is always a good source, right?

in the song “church,” both macklemore and geo have lines that illustrate a common thought among many about the church. first, geo writes:

i could never get past the s— that was spit out the pastor’s lips
and the rappers started making more sense.

later in the song, macklemore says:

in the back trying to read but see that something was off
maybe it was cause i was trying to huddle in the yard
preacher didn’t connect when he would mumble the psalms

what i believe geo and macklemore were both saying was that they went to church but didn’t understand or connect to what was being taught. when that happened, they turned to something else: rap music. the way that the bible was presented to them was boring, or it was confusing, or, at the very least, it simply wasn’t as engaging as the music they turned to.

one of my favorite things to do is teach people about the bible. i absolutely love doing it. i quickly learned that no matter how interesting i think something is, if i don’t have a way to draw people in and make things relevant to their life, they’ll never find it anywhere near as interesting as i do.

at the end of the day, i believe that’s the reason that rap won out over the bible for guys like macklemore.

for decades, the automatic christian response to questions about life has been, “because the bible says so.”

why shouldn’t we have sex outside of marriage? because the bible says so.

why can’t i go out and get drunk? because the bible says so.

why can’t gay people get married? because the bible says so.

for those of us who have studied the bible and know what it says, “because the bible says so” is an answer that we understand and comprehend. for an unbelieving world who simply wants to have fun, saying “because the bible says so” does absolutely nothing for them.

everything about the christian faith goes against what our bodies and minds naturally want to do. from the day that we were born, we wanted to do what felt best for us, whether that be stealing a cookie from the jar on the counter, lying so that our little brother took the blame instead of us, or one of thousands of other things. we lied, cheated, stole, and hurt without ever being taught how to. it’s what comes naturally.

the bible tells us to be truthful.

the bible tells us to be honest.

the bible tells us to give instead of take.

all of those things are totally and completely unnatural. they don’t make sense when in the context solely of “because the bible says so.” as christians, we must be able to take “because the bible says so” and explain it to others in a way that shows god’s heart for us. we have to be able to show that the “rules” set in front of us are not by some angry god who hates us but rather from a god who loves us more than we can imagine and wants to protect us.

when taken at face value, the bible can be a book that is all about dos and don’ts that overtake your life and cause you to be miserable.

when studied and understood, the bible is a book that is full of guardrails to ensure that you live a life full of freedom and joy.

pop culture is always going to make more sense than the bible on the surface. it’s easier to kick your shoes off, let your hair down, and go berserk all night long than it is to understand why god’s plan that’s laid out in the bible is actually better for you. instead of mumbling the psalms, or tweeting the verse that we read this morning, we’ve got to learn how to communicate a god who is very living and active to people who think he’s dead and boring.

the truth is the bible is the most epic story book in the history of the world. it’s filled with war, sex, drama, and any other thing that would make up a blockbuster movie. and it has zombies. i’m not even kidding. the bible has zombies. if you don’t believe me, go look up matthew 27:50-53. freaking zombies.

there are parts of the bible that i still don’t understand to this day. the thing that has changed my life the most from the bible is learning who god is and what he thinks about me. when those two things are understood, the rules and religion of the bible take on a whole different meaning.

are you teaching people rules and religion or are you introducing a person?

are you claiming because the bible says so or are you explaining god’s heart?

are you mumbling the psalms or are you sharing a life?

we can’t let the rappers make more sense than we do. the only way to change that is to start engaging people where they are and in ways they can connect with.

if we can do that, we can begin to turn an entire generation onto the freedom that we experience on an every day basis.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan

the history lives through us

i have a confession to make that may surprise you: i like hip hop. i’m not talking about the junk that took over in the early part of the century or anything that can be labeled with the word crunk. (side note: punk goes crunk on the other hand was actually pretty entertaining.) true hip hop, in the opinion of an overweight 26-year-old white kid from a redneck suburb who is currently listening to a city and colour radio station on spotify, is a story set to a beat. it’s true poetry. when done well, hip hop can tell a story better than any novel could ever dream of.

a few months ago a friend of mine told me i should listen to macklemore. they said he was a great writer and was putting out really good music. my reaction was quick and simple: you mean that dude that wrote thrift shop? he writes good stuff? my friend assured me that thrift shop was nowhere near his best stuff so i checked him out.

to my surprise, macklemore was really, really good.

after a few listens through his newest album, i decided to look up some of his previous music that isn’t on the radio. i found a mix tape called, “the unplanned mix tape” and immediately fell in love with it. the way that macklemore, real name ben haggerty, tells a story through music is incredible. the track entitled “the town” was a song that instantly sent me back to high school and college when i would drive to random clubs, churches, and basements listening to my friends play music that only we cared about.

i kept listening and really enjoyed what i was hearing. then i got to a song called “church.” i listened to it once. and then i listened to it again. and then i listened to it with the lyrics in front of me. and that’s when i had an idea:

the gospel according to…

it was that song that inspired this entire writing series/project. as i listened to it and really started diving in, i realized that this was a dude that was nailing the voice of my generation when it came to the church. there were some things that he was spot on about but there were others where he missed the mark a little bit.

over the next few days, maybe even a week (there’s no telling how long this could get), i want to look at the good and the bad from this song. i want to point out the places where macklemore nails down the truth but i also want to expose the places that are just a little off.

to be fair, before i break down the good and the bad in this song, i’ve got to give credit where it’s due. the first verse of this song was from geo, better known now as prometheus brown. he wrote the parts that i’m going to look at today and over the next day or do. with that said, let’s jump in with the first four lines of the song:

stand up, sit down, stand up again
morse code sent to god, are you listening?
he must have been too busy fixing other s—
no call, no response shows the opposite

unfortunately, i think this is the opinion of the majority of my generation. they went to church as a kid but now that they’re on their own, they think church is nothing short of boring and pointless. every sunday they woke up, got dressed in clothes that were uncomfortable and went to sit in hard pews listening to old men in suits yelling about how the world was going to hell and they were too if they didn’t quit doing bad things.

that’s my story. by the time i was 16 i was done with church. i liked jesus but i couldn’t stand church and liked christians even less. every week was the same thing: the music would play. the choir would walk in. we’d all start singing songs that i didn’t understand. we’d sit down and the choir of twenty would do their best to replicate a song originally sung by a choir of hundreds. that’d be followed by an old guy in a suit making a really awkward transition to the offering and then someone would sing a “special” song while the rest of us sat there and stared at them. then another old guy would preach for an hour followed by an altar call that could last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. when that was over we’d go eat at a buffet or mexican restaurant and then we’d do it all over again the next week.

it was the same thing every week and yet i never saw people change. i heard all about this life changing god but never saw actual life change. this jesus dude must’ve been too busy fixing things at another church because, from my spot in the back row on the left side in front of the sound booth, there wasn’t much being changed.

the difference in my story and the story of so many my age is that in the midst of the darkest time of my life, i found a church that was what church was actually supposed to be.

they cared about me from day one.

they looked and sounded like normal people and not people stuck in the world of 100 years ago speaking a language that made no sense to me.

they were actually real.

i’m just guessing here, but i’d bet that the church that geo went to as a kid was a lot like the one that i went to. the music may have been different and i’m sure the skin color of the people was different, but at the end of the day it was gibberish that made absolutely no sense to him.

if we want to have any chance of showing how amazingly awesome jesus is to people who don’t know him, we have to break free from our routine. we have to stop speaking in secret codes where we “fellowship” with each other and are “covered by the blood of jesus.” those things freak people out.

those things freak me out.

what would our world look like if we were real, if only for a week? what would it look like if we pulled the veil back and let people in to see the real us? the us that doesn’t feel “blessed” every time we tweet. the us that is scared because our kid is sick and we don’t know how to fix it. the us that is barely holding it together because our marriage is a wreck and we are tired of fighting for it.

i get why we don’t do that. i understand that we want to focus on the positive. i realize that, even though everything around us is going wrong, we still must choose to worship god. i get that and i know that. i’m not advocating that we all air our dirty laundry, but i also don’t think we need to be putting lipstick on a pig.

geo’s point was that god must have been busy fixing things somewhere else because he never saw things change where he was. if we refuse to pull back the veil and be real, no one will ever be able to see the change that god is doing in our lives.

the truth is life is hard.

jesus, while amazing, never promised that life wouldn’t be messy.

we have to be a people that show others that the only way through the mess is with jesus leading the way.

we can’t do that without first acknowledging the mess.

this week, acknowledge the mess. don’t neglect what god’s cleaning up and the work that he’s already done, but let someone in on the part that’s still messy; that’s still getting cleaned up.

there’s an entire generation of people who are willing to listen if we’d just bring them into the conversation.

say your prayers and take your vitamins.

have a nice day.

-jonathan