In 2008, shortly before I moved to Colorado, Initiative 40 was passed into law. Initiative 40 provided for the legal use of marijuana as a medical treatment for people with “debilitating medical conditions.” So the nearly four years I have lived here in Colorado has been the age of “medical marijuana.” This decision has brought a lot of changes to my city and to our state. Those of us who live here know that the “medical” veneer of marijuana is thin (it’s amazing how many 20-somethings there are here suffering from chronic back pain). With laughingly little regulation over dispensaries or the process for obtaining a card to purchase medical marijuana, we have stood for four years on the precipice considering the implications of making marijuana legal for recreational use. This week we stepped off the cliff. Proposition 64, which proposed a constitutional amendment to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol in the state of Colorado, passed into law with 55% of the vote. An inevitable fight between state and local government certainly lies ahead. As Governor Hickenlooper said in a statement last night, “Federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.” Read more
Dan Snyder, my good friend and co-worker at New Denver Church, wrote a blog post this week entitled “Singleness.” It was an excellent post. Honest, vulnerable, hopeful – just like Dan himself. Like Dan, one of the things I love about working at New Denver is that I have many opportunities to spend time with young adults. Unlike Dan, I am no longer a young adult myself. Having crossed the big 4-0 line into mid life, when it comes to young adults I am no longer “us”; I am “them.” So it was with some perspective and nostalgia that I read Dan’s post and thought back on the single season of my own life. Read more
If you’d like to get the full update of our 2012 Guatemala trip click here to read the update. This is our trip in pictures…
On Friday June 15th around 10:30pm Ethan and Stephen arrived back in Denver, safe and sound after a long week of travel. Thanks to everyone who prayed for us and to those who contributed financially to this trip. We wanted to take a few minute to share some stories and pictures from our time in Guatemala. Read more
As many of you know, for the last two years New Denver Church has been developing a partnership with a church in the small Guatemalan village of San Pablo la Laguna (to read more about our decision to work in Guatemala check out the New Denver website). Our strategy is to establish a relationship with this church and their pastor, Antonio Moxnay, in order to contribute to lasting change over a long period of time. We are focusing all our efforts on this one village. Read more
Though it’s only May, it actually feels like spring has been here for a while as it decided to make an early appearance in Denver this year. While the warm beautiful weather is always welcome, we were sad to see winter come to an early end since it cut short an already poor ski season. Oh well, hopefully we’ll have better snow next year! Despite the lack of snow sports, the Redden family has had no lack of activity to keep us busy. Read more
Just shy of two weeks ago, the sports world watched as Peyton Manning said goodbye to Indianapolis after thirteen incredible seasons with the Colts. 11 Pro Bowls. Four-time league MVP. Two Super Bowl appearances, one Super Bowl victory and a game MVP to boot. His total career passing yards equal more than two trips around the earth. But after four neck surgeries and a looming $28 million contract payment looming, Jim Irsay decided it was time to say goodbye to one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history. When the news broke, experts quickly jumped in to provide an explanation of why Irsay made the decision. The consensus: just good business. It’s not personal, just business. Then I watched Peyton’s press conference. He never made it more than a few sentences without choking up and fighting back the tears. For something that was just business, it sure looked personal.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or perhaps gave up all media for Lent (if you did, stop reading this), then you know the sports news cycle has focused an inordinate amount of attention over the last two weeks to where Peyton would go next. All those questions were put to rest this week when it was announced that Peyton and I will soon be neighbors. Well, we’ll at least be living in the same metropolitan area – Denver, Colorado – as Peyton signed a 5-year contract that could be worth up to $96 million dollars. So everyone in Denver is thrilled, right? Well, not exactly.
You see, Denver already has a quarterback. And unless you spent the last six months under the aforementioned rock then you definitely know who he is. Tim Tebow set the sports world on fire last season with his last-minute comebacks and his unabashed commitment to a very public expression of his faith. He took a hapless and hopeless 1-4 Broncos team and by force of will, turned them into a playoff team. It wasn’t pretty, but he won. Moreover he won over the people of Denver, including me. Despite my admiration of his strong faith and character, I was a skeptic of Tebow early on. As one writer put it, “He throws like he’s chucking a ham and runs like he just stole a toaster!” It wasn’t always pretty, but as the season progressed you just couldn’t take your eyes off him. He won me over. He won this city over.
So when the news came that the Broncos were signing Peyton, I wasn’t shocked, but I was a little disappointed. For Tim, sure, but also for myself and other loyal Tebow fans here in Denver. He worked hard. He earned the love of (most of) the fans. He earned the right to lead this team. But when you have the chance to get a hall-of-fame quarterback, you jump on it. I get that. It’s just business, it’s not personal. So why do I feel disappointed? Why are people calling into the Broncos radio show blasting John Elway and the Broncos’ management? If it’s just business, why is everyone so upset? Why are so many people taking it so personally?
The fact is, it is personal. Life is personal. When we say things like “It’s just business” we’re often just trying to make ourselves feel better by justifying a decision that hurts others. Every day people have to make difficult decisions that impact the lives of others, often in very negative ways. These decisions are part of life, and yes they are part of business (and ministry). They cannot be avoided. But let’s not kid ourselves by saying that they’re not personal.
In a conversation with his disciples about the cost of following him, Jesus once asked rhetorically:
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Matthew 16:26)
It’s probably a good question to ask in situations where we feel tempted to tell ourselves “it’s not personal, it’s just business.” Because from the lens of eternity, it seems more likely that we’ll all look back and say “It’s not business, it’s just personal.”
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or shun absolutely all sports news, then you’ve probably heard of Jeremy Lin by now. The New York Knicks point guard has come out of nowhere to take the sports world by storm. Lin was an undrafted free agent coming out of Harvard, and after being picked up by Golden State he played sparingly and was eventually dropped. He landed briefly in Houston before being cut again. He was then picked up by the Knicks but sat at the end of the bench until injuries to superstars Carmelo Anthony and Arare Stoudamire forced him into action. He made the most of his opportunity, scoring more points in his first five starts than anyone in NBA history.
Now I have to admit, I hate the NBA. Ever since the league went from being a team game that highlighted great rivalries between cities to promoting individual players and often glorifying thugs who happened to be good at basketball, I lost interest (somewhere back in the ’90s). But Jeremy Lin quickly caught my interest, not only because he is an incredible Cinderella story, but also because of his outspoken Christian faith. The inevitable comparisons were made to Tim Tebow, but it quickly became apparent that Jeremy Lin is his own person and represents a different perspective on Christianity.
This became apparent to me after reading Michael Luo’s great piece in the NY Times, ‘Lin’s Appeal: Faith, Pride and Points.’ The article is Luo’s intensely personal reflection on how Lin’s success is about so much more than basketball. Luo was the first to open my eyes to how Lin is beautifully representing his faith in a way that is true to his culture and heritage. His success has made Lin the very public face for a vibrant but often overlooked segment of American Christianity, and Keith Bradsher’s piece in the NY Times pointed out, he’s also making waves in China where Christians are still persecuted for their faith.
Then this week I read a great post by Carl Park over on the Gospel Coalition’s blog where he builds on Luo’s reflections on why Asian American Christians are connecting to Lin differently than they have to Tebow. Park does a great job of pointing out that the experience of being an Asian-American Christian is quite different from that of Anglo-American Christians, though that experience is not as widely known. The controversies of the Anglo-American church have not been their controversies. They aren’t experiencing the decline of the broader American church but are actually experiencing vibrant growth. The Asian-American church has an important voice in the conversation about Christianity in America that has been largely unheard. Park’s hope is that Lin-sanity is changing that:
Linsanity, for Asian Americans, is only partly about basketball. More significantly, it’s about that outside experience being recognized by others and, even further, evolving into inclusion. Can what happened to Lin in the NBA happen to him and other Asian American Christians in the broader American church? Can it encourage Asian American Christians to give more of their gifts and leadership to the community—and Community—at large? It sounds grandiose, insane. But, as we’ve seen the last two weeks, insanity happens.
After living in central Asia and eastern Europe for an extended period of time and traveling regularly throughout my life to serve churches around the world, you’d think I would be more consciously aware of the importance of learning about faith from other cultures. But it’s so easy to become ethno-centric – to spend time primarily with people who look and think similarly to you. It’s easy to only hear the loudest voices and assume they represent the whole picture of what God is doing in the American church. But Jeremy Lin has reminded me that even though we share the same citizenship – both on earth and in heaven – we have very different experiences of life and faith. There is much to learn from those who are different from me, but it is easy to forget that. Thanks for the reminder Jeremy Lin.
**Image from Flickr user nikk_la, used under Creative Commons license .
At a recent New Denver Church staff meeting we were discussing the Outside magazine article by Bill Gifford about Lance Armstrong and his LiveStrong foundation. It’s an excellent article, and I’d recommend you click the link and at least skim it before reading this post. If you don’t have time, here’s the teaser from the beginning of the article:
It’s Not About the Lab Rats
If Lance Armstrong went to jail and Livestrong went away, that would be a huge setback in our war against cancer, right? Not exactly, because the famous nonprofit donates almost nothing to scientific research. BILL GIFFORD looks at where the money goes and finds a mix of fine ideas, millions of dollars aimed at “awareness,” and a few very blurry lines.
The article raised an interesting question that we discussed as a staff: Does contributing to awareness about a need or cause make you feel like you’re helping without actually helping? The article raises disturbing questions of whether we really know where our money goes when we contribute to organizations. Gifford makes the point that most people who buy the little yellow “LiveStrong” bracelets believe that by doing so they are contributing to cancer research and helping to fight cancer. The truth is that none of that money goes to research. While the value of the LiveStrong programs that the money is used for is debatable, the point is that whether or not buying one of those little yellow bracelets actually helps in the fight against cancer is questionable. Yet everyone who has bought one or contributed to LiveStrong did so, because they thought they were helping the cause. And after they had done so they felt like they had helped. So did giving in this way effectively anesthetize them from feeling the need to continue contributing to this need?
These days there are hundreds, probably thousands, of organizations that claim to be working for the common good by addressing the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our world. The question is, how much of that work is engaging those needs through action and how many are just raising awareness? And at what point does contributing to awareness about an issue make us feel like we’re helping when we really aren’t? Where has our awareness anesthetized us from actively engaging? This conversation helped reinforce our desire at New Denver to develop strong relationships with the people and organizations with whom we partner to contribute to the common good of our community, our city, our country, and the world. We need to make good choices about where we invest our time and resources and ensure that we aren’t just raising awareness about issues but also actively engaging the issues. Awareness is a good thing – a necessary step before engagement. But it’s not the final step.
To close this post I’ll throw out some deeper and more personal questions that this raised for me, and I’ll come back in a later post (more likely a series of posts) to address them. Has the way we’ve presented Jesus and the gospel effectively anesthetized people from discipleship (the process of actively following him with their lives)? By focusing on gathering large crowds to church on Sunday and teaching about Jesus have we raised awareness about him and given people the feeling that they’re following him when they really aren’t? Have we truncated the full message of the gospel into the plan of salvation (read Scot McKnight’s book King Jesus Gospel to understand what I mean by that) and called people to a decision instead of discipleship? Has doing so given them the impression that their journey of faith is complete when in fact they have only taken a first critical step?
Awareness is an important and necessary first step, but it cannot be our last step.
In my last post I explored Jesus’ call to follow him – to live life as he did, connected to the Father by him, the Son, and through the Spirit, calling others to do the same. In this post I’d like to share some thoughts on what I think it means to try and do that in the context of everyday life.
When I look back on my life and journey of faith thus far, it is divided into two parts. In the first half, faith for me was mostly about a decision. The decision was to accept that Jesus’ death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection accomplished something for me. It was about deciding that I believed who Jesus claimed to be and that his sacrifice accomplished something on my behalf that I could not accomplish for myself. I was accepted, loved, and redeemed by God based on what Jesus did. The problem is that for too long, this is where faith ended for me. What I didn’t realize for many years was that the decision I made was a first step not a final step.
When my two boys first learned to walk, they both had a similar experience. Both stood and took faltering first steps before deciding that crawling was way more familiar and comfortable to them. Walking was scary, uneasy and unpredictable. They couldn’t get very far crawling, but they also couldn’t fall down. Crawling was safe and predictable. But you can’t really grow and mature as a human being and insist on continuing to crawl.
In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul addresses a somewhat similar situation. Having taken their first steps of faith, some were actually going back to crawling:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Paul sees these new followers of Jesus who have taken their first steps of freedom. They have made a decision to believe in Jesus and to follow him. But Paul also sees that these followers want to stop and rest after taking their first few steps of faith. But he pushes them to keep moving forward:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
So Paul has now contrasted two different ways of life – “indulging the flesh” and “walking by the Spirit.“ Paul goes on in Galatians 5:19-26 to explain more what each of these ways of life look like. To continue my metaphor, indulging the flesh is about continuing to crawl in your familiar habits and ways even after you’ve taken your first steps of faith into a new way of life. Walking by the Spirit, in contrast, is the awkward stumbling-forward process of learning to walk, in the way of Jesus.
But the question still remains – how do you do this? Unfortunately I can’t give you the process or formula (did you read the title of this series?!). What I can give you are the words of Jesus. These words have been immensely helpful for me on many occasions:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
While there are no formulas, Jesus does give us a process that is helpful in understanding how we can continue taking steps forward, learning to walk in step with the Spirit:
- Ask – God invites us to come to him with our cares, concerns and questions. So take him up on it. Go to God in prayer, ask him for wisdom, for guidance, for strength, for courage, for support. We ask, he gives.
- Seek – This is an invitation to action. Seek people who can guide you in the process. Seek books and resources that provide insight and wisdom. Seek truth, beauty, and justice, knowing that these come from God.
- Knock – Try things, and be willing to fail. The invitation to follow where Jesus leads is an invitation to learn from him. This will not be a perfect process. You will stumble. You will fall. But you never learn if you never try.
I can’t give you a formula or tell you what your journey of walking with God will look like. But I can tell you that God is found by those who seek him, and there is more joy and life in stumbling forward, learning to walk, than there is in going back to crawling. Who knows, we might even move beyond walking one day and actually get the chance to run. That’s something to look forward to.
**Photo from Flickr user cc511, used under Commercial Commons license