Articles written by PurposeCity which feature Christian insight framed within the popular culture.

Amelia Earhart

What The New Amelia Earhart Can Teach Us About Being A Christian

William Shakespeare posed an interesting question once when he wrote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” I have often wondered if a name truly speaks volumes about who a person is. Those of you who have kids, perhaps you remember picking out a specific name for your baby because of its meaning. Or, perhaps, you recall not choosing certain names because of who that name was associated with in your past. We place such importance on names in our society, but what role do they play in our day-to-day lives?

As we explore the topic, I wonder if you have heard of the rather fascinating story making it’s rounds amongst internet circles – it’s one that bridges history with the present and it all revolves around the story of a young fearless woman with the very unique name: Amelia Earhart. The historical Amelia Earhart was first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and, today, her name is remembered for the legacy that she left behind which inspires woman to achieve greatness – whatever that greatness may be. However in 1937, as Amelia was bravely attempting to fly around the globe, she never completed her mission as she disappeared,  never again to be found. In fact, that very tragedy is still considered a mystery to this very day. Now, over seventy-five years later, another woman wants to fly the same route and essentially finish Amelia’s original dream. The catch? This new young traveler is also named Amelia (Rose) Earhart… but shares no DNA relationship to the first pilot. Amelia Rose will be the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine aircraft if she completes the flight plan of her role-model’s quest. She explained, “By recreating and symbolically completing Amelia Mary Earhart’s flight around the world, I hope to develop an even deeper connection to my namesake and also encourage the world to pursue their own adventures. Amelia believed that, ‘adventure is worthwhile in itself’ and it is that type of attitude that spurs us to seek the unknown, push our limits and fly outside the lines.” Therefore, truly, a name contains within it the potential to evoke emotion or even inspire average people to do great things.

Amelia Rose was inspired to fly because of her name and I wonder that if as Christians, have we generically labeled ourselves without truly being inspired to  fly outside the lines for the name of Christ? The name Christian means to be ‘of Christ’ and this means that there  is much expected of us when we say we are a Christian. We are, in effect, telling those around us that we are not only connected to Christ, but that we are of the same nature. It should be no surprise to us then that we are often called hypocrites by people far from God as we continually fall short to very definition of our name. Yet, the truth is, we aren’t defining ourselves by one mere act of bravery, such as Amelia is by flying around the world. Rather, we are labeling ourselves after a perfect man, in all His characteristics. It’s no wonder we are called ‘flawed’ so often! Yet, this is no excuse to sour His precious name. Like Shakespeare concluded, a rose is sweet regardless of what you call it and a true Christ follower displays His character despite the label. So, the question begs to be asked, are we living up to the name God has given us as His children? Are we following in Jesus’ footsteps, continuing to pursue the metaphorical flight plans that He wants us to finish? Are we seeking out the adventure He has for us? Are we honoring His name when we tell others that we are a Christian?

I have come to find that there is a lot that goes into a name and while we do come up short, as Apostle Paul also concluded in scripture, this does not mean that we give up. We are carrying the torch, leaving a remarkable legacy as we join our dying flesh with God’s sovereignty. We become a new creature, given a spotless name and a new start. We are Christians, not because we are good, but because we are His. Therefore, we must begin to make a conscious effort to give Christ’s name the honor it deserves, representing it well at all times. Paul encourages the new Ephesian Christians, who were once Gentiles like us,

“to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

We must remember that our name is tied to a new person, no longer bound by our former sinful ways, but rather evolved from corruptness to holiness because of God’s righteousness. This is the beauty of a name and the legacy that goes with it. While we may never fly across the globe and proudly boast that we have a heritage of adventure embedded in our name like that of Amelia Earhart, I would argue that we have something far greater and extremely newsworthy. We are Christians. We date back to the most remarkable time in history, when a perfect man asked a few average men to follow Him. Through this lineage, we are made into true followers and “Christians” – being of the very nature of God. How fascinating of a story is that? We bridge the history of one spotless man with the present and it all revolves around the very unique name we all share: Christian.

Young Leader

How to be a Young Leader

Much has been said in recent years about the decline of potential young leaders in various organizational and ministerial bodies.  Current executives bemoan the seeming lack of maturity among young up-and-comers, while the up-and-comers argue that they aren’t getting a chance to prove themselves.  Having talked with people on both sides of that conversation in organizations big and small, I have heard the long-time higher-level managers claim that young people don’t respect them, while at the same time I hear the young people say that their managers just don’t listen.

It is no secret that we are facing a significant generational divide; the Baby Boomers running the show are at odds with the Millennials who, at some point, will have to take over.  As a younger person myself, only having worked in my field for seven years, I have faced the harsh reality that there is a generational barrier between where I am today and where I want to be several years from now.  How can the two sides break down the walls of bad communication in order that organizations (and especially churches, which aren’t immune to this leadership gap by any means) can thrive for generations to come?

In leadership, there is a principle young leaders must adopt, called “leading up.” Personally, it is something I have practiced from the time I began my ministry and it has served me well.  Leading up is the skill of guiding those above you, either in age or position, without being overly insistent or rude. And while it was outside of the context of Christianity that I first heard of this principle, I have come to find that leading up is a very Biblical practice.

Paul’s letters to Timothy in the New Testament are basically textbooks on how to lead up, so if you’re a young leader looking for some fresh insight into how to drive change in your organization or church, look no further.  Many of us are familiar with 1 Timothy 4:12, which states, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.  Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”  That verse remains for me, to this day, a terrific encouragement to keep on pushing forward in leadership, especially when I feel discouraged about my age. But, stopping with this verse misses out on how the author Paul expected his young leader Timothy to put this idea into practice. Let me explain:

1 Timothy 4:15 goes on to say “Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.”  As young leaders we must work harder than anyone else if we are to be taken seriously.

1 Timothy 4:16 says “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching.  Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.”  As young leaders, how we live speaks louder than whatever words we say, so we must endeavor to live lives above reproach so that those we lead can trust our judgment.

1 Timothy 5:1 tells us “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would your own father.”  Regardless of the situations we face, in order to lead up, we must maintain respect for those older than us.  Respect is mentioned in two ways: never speak harshly, and appeal, or ask the opinion and advice, of those older and wiser than yourself.

1 Timothy 5:2 says “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.”  As young leaders, especially young male leaders, respecting the women we lead is abundantly important.  Nothing will dissolve your credibility faster than inappropriate relationships with people of the opposite sex.

One of the most important things I have learned from leading up is that while I cannot control the actions and behaviors of other people, especially those older than me or higher up the organizational flow chart, I can control my actions and my behavior.  If it is your desire to develop as a leader so that the gifts God has given you might affect more and more people around you, don’t concern yourself with the behavior of others, work diligently on your own leadership abilities, and ask God to help and guide you.

Spiritual Conversations

3 Easy Ways to Have Spiritual Conversations

Do you know how people come to know Jesus? If you look at the modern landscape, you would probably assume that most meet Him in a rather emotional moment during a well-crafted sermon. If not, chances must be that it came from a time of fantastic worship from one of the more well-known songs being played in churches throughout the country. Yet, all the statistics tell us that most people come to know Jesus through spiritual conversations with those around them. You’ve likely already all but determined that having conversations with others about God is either something you feel comfortable with or not, but stick with me just for a moment. In fact, most of the nation has aligned with the latter option out of fear for how the conversation might go. Questions abound in our minds of whether we could answer the difficult questions or if we are even skilled enough to introduce someone organically to the loving embrace of our Savior. What I am here to share with you is that there is a way that anyone, anywhere, can engage someone a in spiritual conversation. In fact, often brand new Christians are the best at this method and see the greatest impact in the lives of their friends. Without further delay, I’ll introduce the easy-to-remember three step process. I promise, if you give it a shot, and allow yourself to be a bit vulnerable, you will see some incredible results as you minster to those around you.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #1: Questions

Can you ask somebody a question? Sure you can. I’ve learned that often the things we first speak about when we are sharing our lives aren’t really what we wish we could share if we knew we could truly be vulnerable with the person sitting across from us. You see, back in the day I had the opportunity to work with people dramatically reaching out for help – they would hear a phone number on the radio and would call in to talk to someone about their issues. Wouldn’t you know that almost every single time the first ‘issue’ they brought up wasn’t really the issue at all? Trust me, when I would get calls from 14 year olds dealing with unplanned pregnancy I couldn’t imagine there was a deeper layer – but there always was. I heard stories about how the child was the result of rape, abuse, and on more than one occasion it was actually their own fathers child. Sure, they wanted help with the immediate issue of being pregnant, but the person couldn’t actually be healed until we dealt with the deeper issues and we could only get to those issues if I was willing to ask more questions about their lives. They didn’t have to be hard questions either. Things like “how did that make you feel?” or “what pains you the most about that?” were pathways to hidden alcoves I could have never imagined existed. The most difficult thing, however, is restraint. As humans, we have been trained to immediately comfort or offer advice. It would be easy for me to sympathize with the young girl, alone and pregnant, hiding in her Dad’s woodshed just to make the phone call – but would that have really helped her long-term? Or, I could have immediately started going down the list of healthy options for her – but we were only on the surface and really meeting people where they are demands we dig deeper. So, as you are talking with people, always keep in mind that there are likely more questions you can ask. If you have genuine interest in a person, the questions won’t be hard to find either. As you start to ask the questions, you will begin to realize that we, as people, are more than willing to share our hurts and pains… we actually desperately want someone to talk to about them with, we just haven’t found the right person yet.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #2: Life Stories

When dealing with spiritual things, we often like to simply give people the answers. For instance, when someone asks you “what about baptism…” how do you respond? Do you give what you know as the traditional Church answers to baptism-based questions? Probably. When people ask us about our faith, we inherently feel the burden to answer the person’s question directly. While that may seem harmless, it actually produces an unhealthy bond between you and that person. The person you have the conversation with, knowing you always have the answers, cleaves to you instead of Jesus. So, how can we still be sympathetic to the question without creating utter spiritual dependence? Tell people about your life. This is beneficial for a bunch of different reasons: First, this should produce a feeling of ease within you as you no longer have to be a subject expert on every matter of the Bible. No one can tell you your life experience is wrong, therefore whatever you share can’t be the wrong answer to the question being asked. Then, for instance, when someone asks you about baptism, you can always tell them your experience with it – whether you have been baptized or not. Even if the person isn’t asking a direct question, there are few things more powerful that a personal testimony. Sharing your walk to faith and being vulnerable about the ups and downs of life go miles in helping someone to see God in you and how God might want to be a part of their life too.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #3: Scripture

But, what about those times where there is a direct question you simply can’t answer with anything but the facts? The answer here is scripture. Remember, we need to be trying to help people cleave to Jesus, not to us. Would you rather, whenever they had a question about their faith, they call you up, wanting a spoon-fed answer? Or, would you rather they pick up the scriptures and find the answer themselves? Or, even better yet, they call you up and ask to take a look at the scriptures together? When a topic comes up, or maybe even a direct question from the Bible makes it way into the conversation, feel free to rely on scripture. So, when someone asks how God can be a good God, but still just – find a Bible nearby (there are likely 3-4 in almost every home that haven’t been opened in years). In a couple different versions of the Bible, there are actually topic-based indexes in the back that you can browse to find the topic you are dealing with. So, in this case, you could flip through the back of Scripture to find the topic “judgment” and together you could explore what the Bible has to say on the topic. Remember, you don’t have to be the expert – let Jesus do the work.

 

So, now, the hardest part actually is having the willingness to engage others in spiritual conversations. Our new reality is that just about anyone can ask a question, tell a story from their past, or open up the Bible – none of this requires any level of in-depth knowledge – it just requires a willingness to be vulnerable.

One final word before we conclude… you are not the Holy Spirit. You see, we have a tendency to get frustrated if every conversation doesn’t produce ripe fruit or go ‘our way.’ But the reality is, we have to let God work in God’s timing. You might simply be the first seed that gets planted in years of spiritual tilling, or you might be the final person to harvest years of spiritual seeds planted by others. So, whatever you do, don’t judge the conversation based upon how you think it went – we have to leave the work up to God. The important thing to remember is that God can use our willingness to transform lives and I promise, if you are willing to have spiritual conversations with people and follow these three simple principles, in no time you will be making a big impact in the lives those you engage.

Porn

Porn

Porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about how God has brought me healing and restoration in ways I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about the notion from 1 Corinthians 12, that God’s power is perfected in my weakness and how His grace is sufficient for me, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about how I’ve been able to help others through this affliction because of my own experiences, but at the end of the day… porn ruined five years of my life.

Sure, I can talk about the eight years and counting of freedom I have enjoyed from this sin, but that doesn’t give me back the five years I lost before that.

In an age of endless excuses and increased syncretism, where almost any form of sexual behavior has become permissible, honestly dealing with the ruinous effects of sexual sin has never been more important. As a pastor (a vocation I took up several years after having been set free from my own struggles with pornography), I have counseled dozens of people out of addiction to pornographic content and have experienced first-hand the damage that is done to marriages, relationships, and even personal emotional health as a result.  There is real danger and there are serious consequences to being involved with pornography, and pretending otherwise only leads to misery or worse. Matthew 6:22-23 of the New Living Translation says this:

“Your eye is the lamp that provides light for your body.  When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light.  But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness.  And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

Thankfully, it seems some small parts of the world are starting to catch on to this as well.  In an announcement made by Google two weeks ago, the internet giant will take significant steps in limiting the advertising of pornographic content on its search engine.  Changes that have been in the works since March of this year, and thus, Google ads will no longer be accepted that are sexually explicit, nor will ads be able to link to pornographic websites.

This is an amazing leap forward for a company that has been setting the standard for internet practices for years, and it is particularly important considering the number of lives negatively impacted by the porn industry.  For more on this significant change, you can see Google’s letter to its account holders here.

While limiting access is a good start, more must be done if porn is an area you personally struggle with.  And, if porn is currently ruining your life, here are the things I did, and that you must do, to get free:

Recognize the severity of the porn addiction.

My captivity to internet pornography was extended, in large part, because I fed myself the lie that since “everybody did it,” it must not be that bad.  Believe me, whether you realize it today or ten years from now, it is that bad.  It will destroy your relationships, it will destroy your self-image, and porn will keep you from having a fulfilled life.

Repent and ask for God’s help.

Sexuality is a deeply internal issue for every person, therefore it can only really be dealt with at an internal level through the healing and restoration of the Holy Spirit.  Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.  Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.”  Get God involved right now by asking for His forgiveness, healing, and guidance.

Recruit an accountability partner.

The journey to freedom is long and difficult – you cannot do it alone.  In my personal recovery from pornography, God brought specific people into my life with whom I was able to be completely honest regarding my sins and struggles.  They allowed to ask me the tough questions that kept me moving in the right direction.  Ecclesiastes 4:10 tells us, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”

Recover intentionally.

You will need a guide and some tools to help you on your way, and one of the best resources out there for working through these issues is the free 60-day online recovery class found at settingcaptivesfree.com.  It’s the course I used eight years ago, and it’s the course I still use today when coaching others to find health and healing from the ruin of pornography and sexual sin.  If you need some additional tools, XXXChurch has some wonderful resources as well.

Porn addiction is something many put off until tomorrow. However, it’s something where you need to put a line in the sand and begin your recovery today. I hope you might consider using some of the tools mentioned here and even consider signing up this very minute on either of the sites mentioned, starting your journey to freedom from porn here and now.

China

Why it’s Easier to Follow Jesus in China than it is in the United States

When Christians in America talk about China it usually is a conversation filled with a focus on how hard it must be to follow Jesus in a country that has not historically been seen as friendly to Christians. What I found on my recent trip was that it is very possible that Christians in the west are the ones who are really at a disadvantage. Why? In many ways it is just too easy to be a Christian in America and other western countries where Christianity has historically been strong.

Consider this: On Sunday morning we went to Church in Beijing. This Church has 5 services each Sunday. Eight hundred in the main auditorium and 500 in an overflow. It is packed for all five services. What was really incredible was that people stood in a line for half and hour before each service just to get a seat. It was near 90 degrees outside, yet they waited patiently. Twenty minutes before the service the place was packed, while in most churches in America people regularly come in late and leave early.

When the worship team started singing  the congregation was inspiring. They nearly took the roof of the place. Everyone was engaged and seemed to want to make sure that Jesus knew they were praising Him. There were no casual folks looking to be entertained. The people there were either legitimate seekers, deeply interested in finding out about Jesus, or in most cases, already following Him and glad to let the nations know that their Lord is King.

I then had the opportunity to speak with the pastor and received an even clearer picture of what it is like for people to follow Jesus in China. There is very little in the way of programs that the Church can do to impact the community. Organized church evangelism projects, or even programs intended to serve the needy, are frowned upon by the government. To actively evangelize is viewed as disturbing the balance and harmony of society. So the Church can’t do that. Organized programs to meet the basic needs of people is the role of government. So no Church food banks, or clothing drives, or other common ministries that Churches carry out in the west.

So how is it that the Church is packed and growing if it can’t setup programs or ministries for the needs of people? Simple, the church can’t organize these things but individual Christians can do these things themselves. And guess what? They are doing it. Without fancy programs, events and staff organizing things, these followers of Jesus are living out their faith, everywhere, everyday. As a result people ask them about Jesus. When that happens, you are free to share the Gospel. If you see a person in need, you are free to meet that need, just like the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught about in Luke 15. They are being living witnesses and doing what the Bible tells them to do. As a result Christianity in China is alive and well.

Is it hard to follow Jesus in China? Sure it is. But not for the reasons we usually think. It is harder to do Church there, but it is too easy to follow him here. In reality I am not sure what many of us Christians in the west are doing that can really be called following Jesus. It is far too easy. There is no cost to it, no deep personal investment. We look to Jesus to be our spiritual and emotional fix-it guy. If suddenly there were no Church programs to do ministry, I fear that Christian activity in the west would slow to a crawl. In China the opposite is true. They are not handicapped by our expectation that the Church does everything. They are instead living for Him no matter what. Their lack of programs has meant that as individuals they own their faith deeply and follow Jesus gladly with a passion. Maybe for them it really is easier to truly follow Jesus. It is harder for them to do Church than it is for us, but that is not exactly the same thing as following Jesus.

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

“I am not religious, but I am spiritual.” If only I had a dollar for every time I have heard that phrase. It has become the new mantra. People who have, or want, no affiliation with any organized religious group or tradition but still want to be identified as having some commitment to religious/spiritual beliefs and practices. Being spiritual is worn as a something of a badge of honor. Being religious is seen as archaic, cold, legalistic, and often arrogant. Being spiritual is seen as being free, enlightened, on a path to something higher and more noble. Oddly enough I am convinced that the statement of being spiritual is at its heart a prideful thing.

In the first of Jesus’ famous statements that we now call The Beatitudes, Jesus did not say, “Blessed are the spiritual.” In fact, He said the exact opposite. He literally said, “Blessed are those who recognize that they are spiritually bankrupt.” That is what is at heart of what Jesus is saying. It is extremely significant that Jesus says this as the first of the “blessed are you” statements. Before you can ever really experience blessing from God, you absolutely must recognize how spiritually bankrupt you are. If you are ever going to recognize that you need God, you have to recognize at the core of your being that you are bankrupt without Him.

Going all the way back in the history of human beings our biggest problem is that we have been trying to live as if we did not need God. Saying “I am spiritual” is more about me than it is about God. In fact, it is one more step in the process of trying to be our own gods in charge of our own lives. We have tried to deny our own need for God. Being “spiritual” is about my effort to get in touch with and become something other than what I am. It is about be being good enough to reach a higher spiritual plane. All of that sounds wonderful but it is dependent on me, my effort, my storehouse of personal resources and ability to become something more, something good, or holy, or enlightened.

The problem is we are spiritually bankrupt without Jesus Christ. We just don’t want to admit it. It is said that the first step of recovery is admitting your need. Our first step in spiritual recovery is admitting that we have nothing in ourselves that has any spiritual value. We are totally and utterly dependent on God for our spiritual existence. Paul makes it clear in Colossians 2:13-14 that before we come to faith in Christ, we are spiritually dead. That is just another way of saying spiritually bankrupt. We will never be able to get close to God until we can admit how far from Him we really are and how dependent we are on Him for any spiritual life we might have.

The hurdle that we need to overcome is our pride. We are afraid that if we admit that we have nothing to offer spiritually then we are somehow admitting we are losers and we will be stuck there. What Jesus says is that we are spiritually empty, but that He values us far more than we could ever imagine. In spite of the fact that we are spiritually bankrupt, actually because we are spiritually bankrupt and can do nothing for ourselves, Jesus came and died on a cross to open a treasure-house of spiritual life. We will not tap into that storehouse unless we are willing to admit that we are in desperate need of what Jesus offers. When you come to that place in your life you will be blessed beyond measure. Don’t be afraid to admit on a daily basis that you are a sinner saved by grace and totally bankrupt in yourself. Yet, because of what Jesus has done, you are filled spiritually everyday by one who loves you more than you can imagine.