Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Why I Love Springfield

parkcentralsquareIt’s no New York City. And yet, it’s no New York City. Heck, it’s not even Atlanta or Seattle, but you can actually afford to live here. You can get a great education that won’t take you decades or the life of your first born to pay back. Some of the best espresso drinks you’ve ever had will cost you less than $3. And though it’s a small, midwestern city, thanks to its several universities and colleges, there’s plenty of diversity to explore as well. There’s only a few spots in this great country of ours where you can find street preachers, massive belt buckles, boots, hipsters, skateboarders, folks of the more friendly variety holding hands, and topless women (no joke) all within steps of the same city square–Springfield is definitely a card carrying member of that very small, exclusive club.  It also won’t take you more than 20 minutes to get anywhere in town you may want to go, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised on how many even more intriguing finds you’ll pass on the way there.

Hammons_HallYeah, it’s no Los Angeles or Miami, and the closest swimmable beach may be more than 600 miles away, but you’ll find some of the nation’s finest lakes and fishing just minutes from town. It’s probably no surprise, then, that this “Queen City” is also home to Bass Pro Shops. But if you’re not the outdoorsy type–no worries, as there’s plenty to do inside as well. Hammons Hall serves as home to the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and an impressive selection of traveling Broadway theater presentations as well as community arts initiatives and performances featuring talent from Missouri State and the surrounding collegiate community. This small Bible Belt city is also home to a community theater and event center called The Shrine Mosque (though it’s history is tied to the Masonic lodge, not to Islam). Not to be forgotten is the 11,000 seat John Q. Hammons Arena that serves as a home to Missouri State athletics as well as a host of other entertainment events. The historic Gillioz Theater, restored in 2006, has become another magnet for great entertainment events and concerts. The new O’Reilly Family Events Center on the campus of Drury University serves as the home of the Drury Panthers and another venue for select events and concerts throughout the year. The 8,000 seat Hammons Field serves as the home of the Springfield Cardinals, the AA Texas League affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.   Evangel University is also home to a couple performance venues of note including the Ashcroft Activities Center and Evangel Chapel. And last, but not least, is the 3,500 seat (4,000+ for concerts) W. E. Dowell Fieldhouse on the campus of Baptist Bible College (also known to students as “Life Change U”) that serves as the home of BBC Patriot Athletics. It boasts a new state-of-the-art fitness facility and also serves as home to the annual “Fellowship Week” meeting of the Baptist Bible Fellowship. Needless to say, with all of the venues available (and I’m sure I missed a few), there is no shortage of events or entertainment in my new hometown.

IMG_8395Also serving as the headquarters of two significant Christian denominations (Assemblies of God & BBFI), there is no shortage of houses of worship. Here you’ll find everything from small, country-style churches that have been around for decades as well as large, flagship representatives of their denominations (High Street and James River are examples) and everything in between. The culture wars are also alive and well in Springfield. As home to a large state university (25,000+); a progressive, youthful population; and plenty of representation from that “old time religion”, my new hometown can be an interesting clash of cultures. If you’re looking for a good place to see where both extremes of the culture wars clash and, interestingly enough, seemingly coexist–Springfield is a great study (and example, perhaps) in many aspects of modern sociology.

Springfield boasts a strong economic engine with a diversity of employment opportunities in healthcare, education, transportation, manufacturing, telecommunication and finance. In addition to the sizable employment available through the Queen City’s multiple educational systems, it also serves as the headquarters for Prime Trucking, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Bass Pro Shops, the Cox and Mercy Health Systems as well as a number of call centers for the telecommunications and finance industry. With all that, the area also boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the region (currently 4.7%) and nearly one full percentage point lower than the current national average.

One of the most understated benefits to the region is a diverse and equally interesting topography. Being from New England (not known for its large, open spaces), I find the large open spaces to give a sense of unlimited potential in proportion to all that available sky. Being well situated in the Midwest, there’s no shortage of wide open plains, but yet, sitting on the northern foothills of the Ozarks, while they’re no Rockies, there’s plenty of vertical to climb and explore as well. You also have to love the 4 seasons weather. There’s a little something for everyone, and if the old saying is true, “if you don’t like the weather, just stick around a day or two, it will change”–Springfield embodies that old saying as well as anyplace I’ve ever lived.

You can hardly mention Springfield without thinking about some of the most unique dining establishments you’ll find anywhere. Of course there’s the long standing Lambert’s (home of “throwed rolls”-literally, they throw them at you). Then there’s an instant classic that’s hit the city in the last couple years called Hurts Donuts. I can promise you, you’ve never seen a donut shop quite like this. Located in downtown Springfield, just one block from the square, you’ll find the most unique sugar saturated concoctions you’ve ever seen including a trademark bacon/maple donut (yes, you read that correctly–go ahead read it again and now confess that lustful fantasy). HurtsAnd if you’re looking for burger dives, Springfield has to be on the top of the list. With places like Grad School (yes, that’s the name of the joint) and its signature “Full Ride”, and Casper’s famous Chili Cheeseburger, you can’t go wrong (except for the screeching sound of your arteries slamming shut). If I’ve already made you hungry, check out 417 Magazine’s annual “best of” for more tantalizing tastes with some more upscale and healthier options including some leading “farm to table” features as well. With over 1,000 restaurants in the area, even the pickiest should be able to find something to purr about.

With all of that said, my favorite part of this surprising little city is its people. The people of Springfield come from a variety of backgrounds and in many ways embody the best of what the Midwest, the Southwest and the South have to offer. I’ve found the people here to be friendly without being syrupy (being from New England, syrupy is still hard to get used to), confident without being arrogant, as well as possessing a quiet contentment while being enterprising and innovative in creating better lives for themselves and their community.  I’m glad to call Springfield home, and if you could see what I see, I think you would too.

If you’ve lived or visited Springfield before, what are some of your favorite places and memories? What would you say is most attractive about your hometown?

For more detailed information on what this great city has to offer, visit http://www.liveinspringfieldmo.com/ and enjoy this short video.

 

 

 

Faith, Culture & Common Sense

culture_faith_sense_graphicIt’s difficult to hate up close.”

As I work to refocus my blog (thank you for your patience), and hopefully provoke us all to think more deeply and even laugh at ourselves more regularly, I may push a few proverbial buttons. While I’ll admit to being a sucker for shock value from time to time, I’ll try to at least be an equal opportunity offender. My main goal, however, is to present topics and questions that cause us to think and grow especially in matters of faith and culture. Unfortunately, too many of us spend little time thinking on and shaping the things that matter most in life–mainly, the beliefs that are rooted within us and the context in which those beliefs are lived out.

Irene Butter said, “An enemy is someone whose story you haven’t heard or who’s face you’ve not seen.” I’m not so naive as to set out for some Kum-ba-ya utopia, but I am convinced that we miss out on a lot of growth largely because we haven’t heard the stories of those with whom we may disagree OR we misrepresent their stories based on our own biases. When we learn to listen we often earn the freedom to speak. You can win an argument or you can win someone’s heart, but rarely will you do both.

So with that said, I would like to create an environment that makes discussing these differences both safe and civil where we can share our stories and learn from one another. Whether you consider yourself a person of great faith, little faith or no faith at all, I want to hear from you. We all NEED to hear from you. We will create a richer culture and deepen our faith when we learn to both live and tell a better story.

What do you think are some of the least discussed ideas in faith and culture and why?

What I’m Learning About Sharing My Story

109452829_e4288fa899_oYesterday, I posted about my journey through this last year. I told the story that had led to a crisis of faith for me and my journey back (I have by no means “arrived”). The response toward it was overwhelming. I’ve been thinking about if, how, or when I would share my story for a while, but the timing never seemed right and I wasn’t convinced it was anything anyone wanted to hear it. For a long time for me, when I would write, I would mostly share what I thought people wanted to hear and that often would lead to the typical “Sunday School” answers you would expect from a ministry leader. Yesterday, I said to h*^% with it and shared my heart. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot right about “Sunday School” answers and if I would have paid better attention in Sunday School (or actually acted upon what I already knew), maybe my story would look different. The problem with “Sunday School” answers is not so much with the answers themselves but in their timing and how they are delivered from other “class mates”. If there is any bitterness I may still harbor about this last year, it’s probably in that. For example, when a 15 year old girl is mourning over her mother’s tragic and untimely death, it’s not the time to tell her that “heaven has received another angel” (which really shouldn’t be a Sunday School answer either, but I digress). Or when you’ve lost everything and have nothing, it’s not the time to hear “Oh, you’ll bounce back” when you don’t even know how you’re going to pay for your next meal. I’ve received lots of “advice” over the past several months, but the best “advice” I received was from a former pastor’s wife who really offered no advice at all, but simply shared her own story. She said,

I can’t imagine what you are going through because my pain is very different from yours, but I do understand pain (and she does). All I can tell you is that there will come a day when you are tired of being hurt and you will pick yourself up and move on. I can’t tell you when that will be or what your process will be for getting there, but if you’ll hold on, that time will come.

I listened to her because I knew enough about her story to know she was speaking from experience and if she could do it, maybe I could too. So I just want to share a few brief thoughts about what I’m learning about having shared my own story and hopefully, it will encourage you to share yours, no matter how ugly you might think it is.

People are more gracious than you might think.

That’s probably the biggest fear I had about sharing my story–“what will people think?”.  That fear alone has probably hindered more love, innovation and progress than any other fear on the planet. Will Smith (that great theologian and rap recording artist) has said “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.”  He also said “We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.” For most church people, our currency is not money but pride, but it works the same way. Sure, even yesterday I had a few “unfriend” me on Facebook or change my status, but that pales in comparison to the overwhelming amount of people who actually resonated with my story. Your story is different, but needs to be told just the same. Don’t worry about what people think and just be yourself, because everyone else is already taken. Which leads me to my next thought:

No one else can tell your story for you.

Your story is unique. So are you. No one else can tell your story for you, especially if you’ve never shared it. One day you might be quoted in books or blogs, or maybe you’ll just help your child see you’re human after all and help them through a difficult time. Either way, your story is worth sharing and someone, somewhere needs to hear it. Can you imagine where we would be if we never knew the whole story of Peter or David from the Bible? (That may be a bit unfair, because most of the “bad” stuff was written by someone else, but that’s what you get for having it recorded FOREVER in the Bible). Why do their stories inspire us so? Because more of us identify with them than we often care to admit. Failure is part of life. We all have failed or will fail (most of us in big ways at some point). Don’t rob your world of a story that could make sure someone else’s continues (suicide and complacency are all too common in our culture–both are nearly as tragic). I’ve been too close to both myself, and it’s the stories I’ve heard from those not afraid to share it that have literally kept me alive.

Telling your story helps reinforce your own values.

By telling my story out loud (and on the intrawebs), I help to solidify those things that I truly hold dear. As much as I wanted to run both from my story and my values, my values kept coming to the surface. Not the exterior ones that can shape and change with time, but the ones you know deep down inside are really you. The non-negotiables. For me, as much as I wanted to give up on God and run and see “how the other half lives”, I couldn’t–well, not for long. The whole time I was running, I knew I wasn’t being true to myself and who God created me to be. BUT, I also found that for too long, I had confused my values with those things that I thought others also wanted to see. Tragedy and trauma have a way of stripping you down to nothing but who you really are. Regardless of how successful or tragic your life has been, you are not your job, your title, your knowledge, your bank account, or even your relationships (or the lack of any of those things). You are you. Nothing more, nothing less. And believe it or not, it’s actually you that people want to know. Regardless of your position in life (or lack thereof), that’s what people really want and need. They really don’t care about your image–really. But you’ll have to find that out for yourself.

Your story can be more helpful than you realize.

I had no idea what kind of response I would get from telling my story (and for the first time in my life, I really didn’t care). You see, at the time, it was more of a selfish endeavor. I shared it more for me than for anyone else–or so I thought. While I have a very small platform, relatively speaking, the response that I have received has been more encouraging than I could have ever dreamed. I mean, who is really going to find inspiration from a self-avowed hypocrite who has turned his back on all he claimed to believe and still is not completely sure of where he is now? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. I guess we all identify with failure, though, but we don’t really like to think about it (and definitely not write about it!). All I can hope is that in sharing my story, I have encouraged others to share their story too. Go ahead and put it out there. Whether it’s a casual conversation with a friend or a spouse, or published for the world to see, somebody, somewhere needs to hear it, and even if not–you need to tell it. Telling my story has probably been more helpful for me than for anyone else. Go ahead–the people you’re trying to impress by keeping it to yourself don’t really care anyway, but if you tell it, you may be surprised by the audience.

What scares you most about your own story? What do you think it would take for you to share it?

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling

When I Lost My Faith

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“Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)…”. You may have heard this before. I’ve recently been soberly contemplating this verse as it seems my faith has largely vanished. Being brought face to face with the ugliness of this life and seeing the general condition of the world around us, I’ve found myself where many others have been: “How can a good God allow these things?”.

For some perspective, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a worship leader in local churches (the last several of which at what many would refer to as “mega” churches). But this past year I’ve seen the disintegration of my family as I have known it through a divorce. I experienced the loss of my father and caring for a mother whose health is deteriorating. I have mourned the untimely and tragic death of a new found love and witnessed the tidal wave of sorrow and confusion for those left behind. I have seen the resulting poor decisions, loss of career, finances and the broken hearts that I have hurt while trying to pick up the pieces. I don’t say this to garner pity or justify any of my poor decisions but to give some perspective of where this comes from. This is not the story I wanted to write.

My faith has been shaken to the core. I have honestly and intently looked elsewhere for meaning, fulfillment and some sense of purpose in the wake of it all. I have perused, pursued and participated in (too) many “alternatives” and have come up just as empty as I went in. Nothing brought relief and nothing seemed to satisfy. Have you ever stood before a congregation leading them in songs that you aren’t sure you even believed yourself? I have. Have you posted inspirational scriptures to social media hoping to find the faith to one day believe them? I have. Have you ever led “worship” while living completely opposed to the values that you claim to share? I have. Have you ever used others that you claimed to love in an attempt to drown out your own pain? Yep, that too. What I have found, though, is my story is not all that rare. Through my trials and poor decisions, I have found far more people that identify with the story I never intended to write. If there ever was an ivory tower, it has been torn down to its foundation. For too long, all I could see was the rubble, but now I’m beginning to see how those pieces could be used to build something of even greater significance (who actually lives in an ivory tower, anyway?), and someplace I hope to one day call “home”–a place that’s honest, and yes, at times uncomfortable, but always real and relevant to me, my family and to anyone who cares to share in the journey.

So why do I write today? Obviously, my audience (both of you), may have changed. I used to write mostly about issues in the “church world” from the perspective of a pastor engulfed in worship and the arts. While those are still of high interest to me, I doubt my current job in sales gives me much credibility in the “arts” world and my past year has pretty much determined that the word “pastor” not be used as a title in my name at least for some time. So, with that in mind, I write here today as simply someone learning how to be a child of God–a beloved child of God. It’s not easy. It feels like it should be. But it’s not. I don’t write as someone who has the answers and I don’t write from a place of healing and victory (yet). I do write from a changing perspective that though I may not have the answers, there are questions still worth pursuing.  It’s these questions that I hope to ask and share with you as I journey on this path of being “beloved” of God and rediscover with my heart some really important things I’ve known in my head for a long time.  Some will think less of me (yes, I am a hypocrite and a pretty big one at that), but maybe some may find my story redemptive enough to join me on the journey. I still have doubts. Many. BUT I am also finding that if you’ve never doubted, I doubt that you’ve ever truly believed.

So, what has brought me to this place?

I cannot ignore the rational evidence of God.

When I had no faith, I was forced to look at alternatives. I also realized that all self-conscious creatures have to exercise “faith” in something. If there was truly no God, then where did everything come from? I am familiar with many of the alternatives, but honestly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in those either. I’ve always known this intellectually, but now I know this from experience. You see, either way, daily life is a matter of faith or willing ignorance. I’ve never been a fan of willing ignorance (it’s just the way I’m wired), though I’ve participated in it plenty. So, that left me with either putting my “faith” in some form of chance or in an intelligent designer. Personally, I have to choose design. I cannot “prove” God but I also cannot deny the evidence.

I cannot ignore my past experiences with God

If we’re honest, many of us church folks have had “questionable” religious experiences–you know that time the hair on your arms stood up during the key change of your favorite worship song that “spoke” to you during that horrible time in your life only to find out it happened again at the Journey concert with your girlfriend while listening to the intro of “Faithfully” (which is also, no doubt, goosebump worthy–thank you Jonathan Cain). BUT, also if I’m honest, I cannot deny several times that were undeniably “God moments”.  It was those moments (mostly during quiet prayer or passionate private worship) that kept coming back to me. Sure, some may explain them away as internally constructed “promptings” of my own creation, but my experience tells me different. Again, I cannot prove them to you, but I also can’t deny them.

I cannot ignore what I know about the Bible

The Bible is an incredibly complex collection of “books” written by over 40 authors over more than 1,500 years amid varying cultural contexts. Most reasonable people (based on many years of archaeological research) won’t deny that. It’s what you believe following these facts that dictates how you respond. I will also be the first to tell you that anyone who tells you they have ALL the answers to the difficult parts of the Bible–you need to be the first to run like the wind. No one does, no matter what they say. There are difficult parts of the Bible–there is no doubt about that. Some appear at a surface glance as a result of differing cultural and religious contexts (should we really stone disobedient children? should women really be silent in church?), and some from seeing what seems to be competing ideas about who God is (like God’s judgment vs. His love, or how can a loving God allow such evil in the world, or what is the Trinity, really?). There are many who have written much about these difficult topics with varying levels of success, but if most of us are honest, we probably identify more with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” What I have found about the Bible can probably be summed up in the answers to 2 questions–and herein lies the difficulty:

1) Am I really as bad as the Bible says that I am? Yes.

2) Am I really as loved by God as the Bible says that I am? Yes.

Religion (based on my performance) can’t fix that.

I can’t ignore what I know about Jesus

In John chapter 5 in the New Testament, Jesus sees a crippled man and asks a question we all need to answer: “Do you want to be made well?”  If you are a human being and have lived any length of time on this earth and believe that you have absolutely no need of being made well, you can feel free to move along and stop reading now. I can’t help you. You don’t need it. BUT, if we’re truly honest, we know we’re all broken to some degree or another. Most of us deep down inside know we need to be fixed and we all want to be loved unconditionally. But I’ve discovered religion can’t fix me. Turning a new leaf can’t fix me. Living by a set of “theories” about love or anything else can’t fix me either (regardless of what a well-meaning, charming, yet ridiculously moralistic “Christian” movie may say–sorry “Old Fashioned”). But being transformed by a living relationship with God made possible by Jesus can. I need to be reminded of this.

If you want to know what God is like–look at Jesus (John 14:9 – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…). Study the gospels, look at the life of Jesus and see the passion (and the failures) of His followers and His beloved in the days following his resurrection. We are not all that different. I resonate with C. S. Lewis (once an agnostic) who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”²  It’s the only “filter” that really works for me. Are you free to reject Christ’s claims and go wherever you want? Sure you are. I have. But I had to stumble over a Savior with out-stretched hands on a cross to get there and you will too.  At the end of the day, the Bible isn’t about rules, but about revealing a relationship with God. In nearly every belief system and civilization in history, citizens died to make someone king, but in Christianity, a King died so we could be citizens. I’m finding a love like that to be more and more undeniable even despite my many doubts.

I can’t ignore the power of genuine community

When my faith has been at it’s lowest points, it seems that often at just the “right” times, God sends the “right” people into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with those times where I felt completely isolated and alone and those times still come. Bot too often to deny, my faith has been strengthened by someone or a group of “someones” who were there for me. It takes some brutal honesty to get the greatest benefit (at great vulnerability and risk–they might really judge you despite what they tell you), but when you’ve hit rock bottom, what do you have to lose?  Over 15 years of “making church people happy” (the unwritten job description most pastors have of their worship and music leaders but will deny to their grave) can wear on you. BUT with all that said, while many churches don’t “get it”, many Christians do and churches everywhere are full of people who do actually “get it”. You just have to work a little to find them sometimes, but they’re there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (look it up if you’re under 30). If you’ve been burned by a church before, I challenge you to give it another shot. Just quit looking for the perfect church, because they’re filled with people like me. But if you find the right one, they just might point you to Jesus.

Have you ever been in a place where you doubted your faith? What brought you to that place? How did you get back or have you?  I’d love to hear your story and I think others would too. 

“The story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – Donald Miller from Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.

 

 

Welcome to the new jasoncrosslive.com

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photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/barnett/ ©Creative Commons

Well, I finally got around to a blog overhaul. I haven’t done that in over 4 years and there has been a LOT that has happened since then. We are enjoying a new season of ministry here at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in Johns Creek, GA. We have made a new home in Roswell, GA and have met many new friends!  I’ve been waiting for a more convenient time and realized that that wasn’t going to happen. So in typical fashion, I laser focused on it (that sounds better than “obsessed”, but that is usually what I do with creative projects) and just got it done. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s my little corner of the “intranets” and I trust that if you know me, you’ll at least appreciate my efforts, and if you don’t, well, I trust you find something helpful or useful to your life or ministry. If you’re wondering about the name, well, it’s as simple as “jasoncross.com” was taken (evidently by someone even more “geeky” than myself), the suffix “music” just seamed a little too narrow and, well, “live” was a whole lot better than “dead’, I guess. So there you have it.

I’m always learning and have a strong desire for growth in my life. Most of what you find here will just be things that I’ve found out, stolen, borrowed or begged from someone else (with proper credit of course!) and a few random (none dare call them ‘original’) musings of my own. Some that are way smarter than myself claim that everyone is an “expert” at something. If I am, I’m not sure I have figured that out yet. I have been doing the church music thing for a while, though, and have “discovered” (fancy word for a lot of ignorance and trial and error) some things along the way that I’ll share here. I have had the privilege of studying with some of the best there are in church music and my desire is to simply be a conduit of all that has been poured into me while adding any value that I can to it along the way.

Most of my ministry has been leading multi-generational congregations and helping them transition into a worship environment that attempts to encourage the church as well as be sensitive to the presence of those who may be far from God. Some may call this “blended”, but I just prefer to pursue relevant (contextual), multigenerational worship, whatever that may look like. So with that, most of my “professional” posts will revolve around that topic as well as the fact that I’m a “gadget guy”, a music gear aficionado and producer. I’m also a proud dad and husband of the best girls in the whole world  (btw…WAY too much estrogen in my house–anybody got a mountain cabin I could borrow from time to time?) and they might make their way here every so often too.

Thanks for partnering with me in growth and I hope that we can ask good questions together and encourage each other along the way even if we disagree on the answers. I hope you will leave a comment or fill out the poll below and let me know what you would like to see here. Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a comment by clicking “Read More” below.

Random “Linsanity”: What we can learn from Jeremy Lin’s recent media frenzy

photo © 2012 Some rights reserved by DvYang CC-NC_SA on Flickr

Ok. Yeah, I’ve caught the fever. Well, almost. As a natural contrarian, I’m typically not quick to jump on anybody’s bandwagon. But I’ve had a couple thoughts lately about Jeremy Lin and his sudden rise to the media spotlight. Just consider this my small contribution to the tidal wave of media that has fixated on this young athlete. While the future of his basketball career is still up in the air (7 wins a hall-of-famer does not make), I think his sudden rise in media attention can teach all of us something.

God is Sovereign

The past couple of years our family has had the privilege of hosting a couple of exchange students from mainland China. This has been an enriching experience for our family and has given me a sort of “insiders” view to the far east that I probably would not have had otherwise. While there have been many advances to the gospel in this region, the vast majority of the people have never heard the gospel message nor are they familiar with basic Christian doctrine. Jeremy Lin is helping to change much of that.

This past week he is reported to have been the number one search on Baidu, the Chinese (and highly censored) equivalent of Google. His profile lists his religion as “Christian” with a link to a common article on “Christianity”(a Chinese Wikipedia-type source), which based on my poor Google translation, seems to be a fair representation of the historical claims of Christianity (and its various strains–mainly, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox).

There are enough articles out there describing Lin’s background, so I won’t retell that here, but the point is this: If God wants to take an American born man of Taiwanese immigrants and make him 6’3″ tall (much taller than his parents), allow him to be Harvard educated, have him go predominantly unnoticed by NBA scouts, and then send him to the peak of media attention in the world’s largest media market in a couple short weeks, then God can do just that. And if all that comes of Lin’s career, whether it be long lived or short, is being a high-profile light of the gospel for almost 1.5 billion people that otherwise may not even consider the claims of Christ, then I believe he is hall-of-fame caliber in a different book, regardless of his long-term basketball statistics. But that’s the cool thing about this hall of fame–there is only one Member (hint: it’s not Lin), and from what I can tell at this point, Jeremy seems just fine with that.

The Gospel is for everyone

Part of what makes this story so unique is the stereotype killing that is happening as a result of the media hype. He is the first Asian-American to play in the NBA. He is Harvard educated (I guess not ALL Christians are uneducated and ignorant [smile]). AND he has “unified” China/Taiwanese relations in that they both claim him as their own. (I say this somewhat tongue in cheek and you only have to do a little historical research to know the tensions that have existed between these two countries).

If you would have asked any sports analyst half worth his salt 10 years ago if he/she thought the most talked about player in the NBA would be an Asian-American, most probably would have laughed at you in the face. So, before you laugh too hard at your prospects of considering the claims of Christ as true for yourself–don’t laugh so fast, the gospel is for you as well. [For a short explanation of what I mean by “the gospel” click here].

Every Christian has a responsibility to live “the gospel”

In a recent interview, Lin was asked about how his outlook has changed with all of this new-found fame and he said “I’m thinking…how can I bring God more glory?”. This is much different than how most of us would respond. Many at this point would be thinking “how can I cash in on my new found fame?”, or “Yeah, it’s about time everyone sees how great I really am”. But seeking God and His glory first, gives Lin a unique perspective that, though counterintuitive, actually will make him more successful–more successful in the things that really matter, anyway. Will Lin score some big endorsement deals? Probably. If people dig deep enough, will they find “dirt” on this young athlete? Probably. I don’t mean this as derogatory to Lin’s testimony, however, the beauty of the gospel is that we’re all fallen and broken in some way, and that’s why we need redemption. However, the power of the gospel makes our shortcomings and failures as blood-stained patchwork on a quilt that is infinitely valuable and already purchased by God.

Regardless of who you are or what pinnacle of “success” you may or may not have achieved at this point, we all have a responsibility to bring God glory from our lives. In his book Soulprint, Mark Batterson states “…You were created to worship God in a way that no one else can. How? By living a life no one else can—your life. You have a unique destiny to fulfill, and no one can take your place.” Ephesians 2:10 states that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus”. We are all unique and infinitely valuable to God and to the “worlds” we live in. While my fame may never reach “Linsanity” status, I have a responsibility to live the gospel in my “world”, and in doing so, I can have eternal significance by loving those in my world, because I am loved by a King with an eternal Kingdom.

You are exceptional too

I wish the best for Lin and his basketball career. I hope he breaks all sorts of records and goes down in history as one of the best ever. But even more than that, I’m thankful that, regardless of his basketball success, he is exceptional in that he is “finding greater ways to give God glory”. I’m glad for the reminder that I am exceptional as well, because when God made me he broke the mold. He broke the mold when he made you, too. If we can find our identity in that fact and live in constant pursuit of knowing God and allowing the gospel to redeem our lives daily, we too can experience a kind of success that is unexplainable.

The Holy Spirit and the Federal Reserve

What we believe is fundamental to and acts as the primary influence on our behavior. As I contemplate on my own life and the lives of those that I lead (family, church, and other influences), I can’t help but observe behavior that I find contrary to what I/we say that we believe. Why is that?

I now turn to the current state of the economy to help us flesh this out. I am not an economist (nor am I the son of an economist), however, there are some basic principles of our current financial system that most of us understand (I often wonder about our politicians, however).

Until the U.S. effectively went off of the Gold Standard in 1933, any printed money was simply a “promise to pay”, or promissory note. That meant that you could exchange that printed money for a predetermined amount of gold or “real money”. Prior to 1933, if someone were to hand you a $100 bill, you might say it was “good as gold”. Possessing that $100 bill (especially prior to 1933), could effectively cause your behavior to change, and rightfully so, even though you have never, and probably never planned on seeing any gold. Today, it is significantly more complicated and much more “hi-tech”, but I still dare to say that possession of a $100 bill could still substantially change your behavior.

You see, a true promissory note differs from an IOU in that the lender can effectively call the “note” due at any time and it has no maturity period. It is not necessarily an acknowledgment of a debt but in fact a true promise to pay at any time (at the choosing of the one who holds the “note” or promise). You see, God does not “owe” us anything, but in fact has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through His Spirit (2 Peter 1:3). His promises to us are spiritual certainties (2 Cor. 1:20), though in our flesh we may not have full understanding or “sight” right now (Heb. 11). He is simply waiting for us in faith to “cash in” on what He has already promised.

I say all this to make a point. Of course any promise of God is far more trustworthy than any denomination of money. However, often we don’t behave that way. The Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, and that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If we truly believed this, our lives would be much more extraordinary. We would exhibit a freedom and power that this world would find contagious. All that is required is that we have faith enough to “cash in” on God’s promises and put a little more faith in the Scripture than we do in good ‘ole “Uncle Sam”. Our lives and the lives of those around us will be radically changed if we do.

Rescued People Sing Better

We (Trinity Baptist Church) are preparing for our Tuesday Thanksgiving service which has typically highlighted the ministry of the Trinity Rescue Mission and Rehabilitation Farm. This afforded me the opportunity to go down to “the farm”, as it is so affectionately called, and “lead” my brothers there in worship. However, what I received was far more than I could have ever given. My soul was refreshed from the authentic worship that flowed out of these men (though my body is exhausted from constant Christmas preparations, oh and did I mention their chapel is at 7am!).

I’ve made an observation before, having worked with other urban and rescue ministries in the past, that rescued people simply sing better. Of course, it’s not necessarily about the singing (and I didn’t even say they sound better), but it is about their worship. What most of us often fail to realize is that we have all been rescued. No matter what your background may have been before you met Christ, you have been rescued (Ps 40:2; Titus 3:5).

You see, this morning, the style of the music wasn’t an issue at all. We poured our hearts out to God together singing everything from “old” camp-meeting style songs to what many would consider a more “cutting edge” styling. All that mattered to these men was singing, speaking, and listening to the “Voice of Truth” that would keep them on solid ground so that they might live in obedience today. All was sung with the same conviction and strength.

Much like when a fireman is on the ladder and in the fire pulling people from the flames, it is not the time to debate on whether or not the ladder being used was a good choice. All that matters is that the people are rescued. When the debate does come, it is usually from those standing in safety and comfort, far from the front lines, who take the time to criticize those that care enough to take the risks–to get their hands a little dirty (Mark 7:1-15).

As you go about this day, take the time to remember how Jesus has rescued you and remember the “risks” that He has taken to call you His own. I don’t know about you, but I often remember the times that I have failed, and how that God, even knowing this, chose to rescue me anyway. When I take the time to listen to “the Voice of Truth” and remember where and how God rescued me…I sing better, too.

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