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Author Archives: Cory

As Christians, How Do We Justify the Evil in This World?

Morbid catastrophe brings out lots of questions about being a Christian, and there’s been a lot of it lately: bombings around the world, deadly hurricanes, campus and public shootings, and the Las Vegas massacre. After incomprehensible tragedy comes into our lives like this, we’re left with a big question: If God can stop it, why doesn’t he?
That’s the question my fiancé posed to me as we mulled over the worldly sufferings that have been seemingly non-stop the past year. I didn’t have a good answer for her, and that bothered me.
As Christians, answering big questions like this is troubling. It seems to contradict our faith at times, make us question if what we believe is even real, if we really need to answer it or let it slide. As difficult as it is, we need to try.

Ignoring the big questions of our faith damages our ownership and gives reason for unbelievers to stay unbelievers.

I started researching this big question, and only found myself dizzy at the opinions and justifications being offered from multiple perspectives.
Kai Nielsen, an atheist philosopher and professor, makes a point in his Ethics Without Religion that “neither the religious man nor the secularist can explain, that is justify, such suffering and find some overall “scheme of life” in which it has some place, but only the religious man needs to do so.”
This statement sticks out to me as a Christian. People of faith have a need to find a reason for the suffering, but people who don’t believe see it as another instance where grit and courage is to be used.

Finding a reason why we’re suffering is exhausting, especially when God and our Christian answers don’t make sense.

I can’t explain why God will display a miracle in one moment and keep it from another,
and I can’t explain why one person survives a massacre and another dies.
God and fate is a mystery, and if any of us could understand these, God wouldn’t be God.
That’s a “churchy” answer I tell my students, but it holds truth.
What I can begin to explain in the Christian thought is how moral evil exists because of free will. And if we have the right to choose good or evil, evil things are going to happen to the good people. That’s why bombings, shootings, and terrible human decisions of terror happen.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters taking lives seems harder to explain. That’s not a moral evil, it’s nature groaning. Perhaps it’s because we live in an inherently evil world, or we deserve the sting of death, or because God allowed it or willed it. Even so, this still doesn’t make tragedy easy to comprehend.

What I do understand is how evil influences people’s faith–and not always in a good way.

Sometimes, because God doesn’t “show up” in one moment, we don’t believe he’ll show up in another.
And when we can’t comprehend why God does or doesn’t do something for our good, I think we find a small inkling in ourselves that doesn’t trust him as much as before.
It’s moments of suffering and evil and terror that make or break a faith. Take the Las Vegas massacre for example–one agnostic was reported coming to faith because of the surviving the shooting. But I have no doubt there are Christians who died and their family members are asking how a God they believe in would allow such a catastrophe to occur–perhaps they even let go of their faith because of it.

It’s human to struggle with “why”.

It’s all over the Bible too. It’s a part of our human existence to not understand why and question the qualities of God. The Apostle Paul wrestled with why God allowed suffering in his own body, Jesus asked why God had forgotten him on the cross, Elijah complained of his daunting situation and asked to die–we will always wonder why or how evil is affecting our lives.
Everyone, Christians and non-Christians, will ask why evil has so much power and brings so much pain in this world.
Even though our faith can seem weak or confusing or cowardly in times of peril, it offers hope, it offers promise, it offers a future without terror.
Be the hope in someone’s life today. Be the light in a world of darkness. Be the reason someone chooses love over hate.

I Wish Hard Times Upon You

I don’t know anyone who runs at life’s struggles with excited celebration. Rather, we all try to run away from them. The reason we run away is because we don’t see the value in the hard times, we only see the pain that is headed our way–and of course, we don’t want that in our lives if we don’t have to have it.

What if struggles didn’t have to be all about misery?

Photo by Paolo De Angelis (Creative Commons)

Inevitably, your life will be full of hard times. Pain, misery, and trauma is headed your way and always will be attacking you from directions you didn’t know existed. If that’s true, then we need to find a better way to handle the ever approaching struggles that are drawing near.
What if we embraced them instead of cast them away?
I don’t wish misery on anyone–don’t let the title mislead you. Death, breakups, depression, and more crappy experiences like them are terrible. I do, however, hope you see something beautiful in the ashes of despair, something worthy of naming; hope.
I love the celebration of struggles in Romans 5:3-4:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
There is hope in the hard times, and there is a reason we have them.
This verse illuminates struggles as an enlightening experience if you read it backwards:
a) in order to have hope, we have to have something better to hope for
b) character comes from the battle to persevere
c) we wouldn’t have to persevere unless we first were in a state of suffering

We need hard times to grow us, not ruin us.

The more we ignore our struggles by putting them in the back closet, the more we fear failure and play it safe, the more we run from our problems, the more we soak in our misery and play the victim, the more we are missing out on the hope that exists right around the corner.
I’ve lost family to cancer, been emotionally crippled by depression, failed relationships time and time again, yet, I look back at them now and praise the Lord. Without them, I would be so much less of a man, of a Christ follower, of a friend, of a future husband and father.

I need hard times, and although my heart will ache when the next one comes, I will see the light of hope that still exists.

In every gloomy storm, where darkness takes over with the roar of thunder and stabs of lightening, the sun is still there. We often forget that fact because the terror happening right in front of us is so real. Even so, the clouds will pass, the storm will end, and the sun will appear again.
My hope is that you don’t squeak by the moments you have to stare hard times in the face. I don’t wish you misery, but I do wish that those hard times are the reminders of growth and hope that are coming your way.

You’re Too Busy to Read This Blog About Busyness

I have a hard time being present. I like to think that my active mind is like that of a master chess player, always thinking 20-some moves ahead, but in reality, I’m not a genius, I’m distracted.
I’m distracted because I’ve plagued my life with busyness, and unfortunately, our culture hasn’t deemed this as a problem, but rather praised it as an effective lifestyle.
A busy mind hinders our ability to be available when we’re needed the most.

Photo by: Fouquier (Creative Commons)

It bewilders me how easily I can tinker on my phone while my fiancé is explaining table arrangements and flower decorations, or how my junior high students beg to be on their phones to Snapchat all their buddies that aren’t in class with them. We think we can do more than one activity with efficiency, and yes–some of us can multi-task, but one thing will always suffer when we try to spread our attention over multiple items, and that is what is happening right in front of you.

We need to be present because life is happening now.

Where our attention is fixed is a clear sign of what matters most to us in the moment. Your attention is gauged by what your eyes, ears, and mind are doing. Although you might be looking at someone, your mind could be lost to other worries. Even if you’re listening, your eyes could be watching another event. Even though we think we’re being present because one function of our attention is tuned-in, we are far removed from being available the way we should be.

Because now matters more than later.

But there’s so much to do later that I just don’t have the time right now…
Busyness is an excuse we like to use and too readily accept. Somehow we’ve allowed it to ruin the present moment, like it’s understandable to not be paying attention because “I have a lot on my mind” or “I’ve just been so busy I’m too tired to do this right now.”
Right now is a guarantee, but later, well, all those worries and concerns may never happen. We live so intently on the future that our present moment is barely recognizable.

What’s going on in front of you that you’ve been missing because you’ve been too busy?

In order to make now more important, we need to cut out stuff that distracts us from being available. Here’s some ideas I’ve adapted to help me stay in the moment:

1) Turn off all social media notificationsif no red bubble pops up on my iPhone, I never feel the need to check it rather than check out the world right in front me. Who made the rule we have to respond instantly anyway?

2) Leave the phone behindI intentionally leave my phone in the car or at home so that when I’m at Target or on a run or at a show, my attention isn’t distracted and purposely set on the people and sights around me.

3) Zone out timeI try to get to work 15 minutes early every day so I can sit in my chair and let my mind filter through all the stuff that would normally distract me during the day. I then try to take 10 minutes after work to re-filter the worries and to-do list so I can be more mindful of what’s going on around me when I leave work and go home.

4) Make it face to face–I’m trying to do a better job at not texting or calling, but doing a FaceTime or Google Hangout or Zoom Meeting in order to be united in the moment together with who I’m talking to, rather than try to multi-task while communicating with others. You actually save a lot of time this way too–it’s great.

5) Notice something new every dayhumans tend to have the same routines, and after doing the same stuff over and over again it can lead us into becoming mindless. Every day I try to notice one new thing within my day. It forces me to put away distractions and be present. It takes a lot of attention to find something new. 

What about you? What are you doing to keep your mind present, your life decluttered, and to live in the now?

Why Are You A Christian?

Lost within depression, soaking in struggles, facing sexual temptation, choosing right or wrong, “why are you a Christian?” has been a question that meets me time and time again in these moments and many more. I used to ignore its prompt, answer it with an, “I dunno.” But the more I’ve lived and wrestled with my faith, this question has become more relevant, more necessary to answer every day.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Gosset (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Benjamin Gossett (Creative Commons)

I was cultivated in a Christian system. My parents, my school, my friends—everything and everyone were Christian. Because of this, I never deeply examined why I too identified myself as a Christian. I just was.
There were pricks and prods from youth group and sermons that made me think a bit, but it wasn’t until my Christian high school struggled with students who identified themselves as homosexual that I actually asked myself, “Why are you a Christian?”
What ensued in my school was hate and confusion. Administration didn’t know how to handle it, students didn’t know how to act—until that moment many of us didn’t know anyone who was gay and all we had been told about being gay was that it was a horrible sin.
Bullying and discrimination and manipulation took over. I made a lot of mistakes within those actions, and when I saw the hurt that was being caused, I remember crying into my pillow asking Jesus, “Why are we even Christians if we can’t love like you told us to love?”
Today we are surrounded by the bullying, discrimination, and manipulation of ISIS, international massacres, cop shootings, violent riots, school shootings, race, gender…
If you’re a Christian, are you not crying into your pillow asking a something similar?
I found a piece of my answer that night of why I’m a Christian. Even so, the road to continue finding answers has been long, confusing, and painful.

I think that’s the reason many of us don’t like to ask this big question—we aren’t sure of the answer and it seems too difficult to find.

If we don’t know the answer, then what the heck have we been doing with our life for how many-ever-years we’ve labeled ourselves “Christian”? Without asking ourselves this question, we are living a life we aren’t owning.
Perhaps that’s the flaw of the face of American Christianity today. No one knows why they believe what they do, they’re just a Christian because it’s what they’ve been told to be or have always been. And because there are no truths rooted in real answers, people operate an inactive faith of faulty choices.
The fundamental key to answering a question is to provide facts. In order to answer “Why are you a Christian,” you must first know who you are and then you must know the truth about what you believe, but both of these are facts that most Christians have trouble providing.

Why is that? Shouldn’t they be the most important answers to have?

I preach to churches that won’t change and won’t take action for Jesus because they don’t know these answers.
I talk to Millennials who have no problem choosing a sinful lifestyle over a holy one because they don’t have these answers.
We are a part of a world that obsesses over Christianity, yet seemingly no one has the answers to the most important question.
Why are you a Christian?

Why We Need Disciples Now More Than Ever

I think we get confused about what discipleship really is and because of it, we tend to leave it in the dusty corner of our spiritual lives. As a kid, I thought only the 12 compadres of Jesus could be disciples. In time, I found that anyone could be a disciple or make disciples, but I guess I’m confused because, where are the disciples today?
There is an association with discipleship in the church as being the job to convert non-believers. And since it tends to be associated with a job, lots of people don’t like doing it.
But what if discipleship didn’t have to be a job or command, didn’t have to be a dusty, unwanted tool in the corner?

What if discipleship is simply intentional relationship?

Jesus gives lots of job descriptions of being a disciple, but one of my favorite comes from John 13: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Discipleship is that easy. Love one another.
The area where making disciples can go wrong is when there is a strict agenda attached to it. Unfortunately, I see a lot of this today. Disciple makers lasso targeted homosexuals and try to force them to be straight. They condemn souls who have struggles with sex and alcohol. They wipe out the wanderlust in dreamers’ eyes. They live by their own agenda of what they think their discipleship should be and because of it, they forget to love.
I’m for tough love, corrective love, perspective-giving love—but love has to be the theme, not control.
Photo Credit: Bent Inge Ask (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Bent Inge Ask (Creative Commons)

The biggest gap we’re missing in the church and in our spiritual lives is discipleship—the ability to form a relationship for the intention of loving on someone through their good and bad times in order to show them how Christ works in your own life.
That’s what Jesus did. He gathered fishermen and tax collectors and all the untouchables and he showed them the kingdom of God by loving on them with no agenda–and they bought in. 

Disciples know God and make him known through love.

I recently returned from a trip to Israel with 25 other people and the intention of the trip was not just to see how alive God is in the stories of the land, but more so, it was about making disciples. This happened through the intentional pairs of mentors and mentees who would spend time dissecting the content from the day while loving on each other and seeking Jesus together. 
The neat part was that the discipleship didn’t stay in pairs, it spread like wildfire throughout the group. By the second week everyone was pouring into everyone and the kindling of it all was love.
The world needs disciple makers right now because it’s most often met with agenda makers. It’s happening in Palestine and Israel just as much as it is happening between cops, blacks, and whites in America. Everyone wants change to go their way, too many are forgetting to love.
The art of true discipleship is dusty and unused because it’s turned into something different, something controlling. At its roots though, it’s all about love.
We need more people who want to start intentional relationships to freely give Jesus’ love. You don’t have to be good at it, you don’t have to be 40-60 years old to qualify for it, you just have to want to love on someone because they need lovin’.
Disciple makers guide and care, they show up when times are tough and hang-out when they’re easy, they invest without the desire of a return.
Through the process, the people you’re loving on will start to ask questions about your love and where it comes from. That’s what John 13 is talking about, that’s how disciples stir hearts, that “they’ll know we are [disciples] by our love, by our love…”

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