Stop Giving Me Things!

With it being the Christmas season, there is of course, is going to be a deluge of gift-giving. Of course, among all of the gift giving and receiving, we try hard to communicate the message that it is “more blessed to give than to receive.”
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As a child, I always thought of this as a nice saying, but of course, no one actually believed it, or could really experience this as being true. No, I really do like getting presents, thank you very much. You’ve probably seen those videos on youtube of little girls and boys screaming and jumping up and down over getting something they so desperately wanted. Yeah, that was me.

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But, somewhere along the way, I realized this was wrong. I should like to give more than I like to receive. So, my young-self theorized, I must not appear to enjoy receiving presents too much. And for my next birthday, I tried it out, appearing very apathetic over the gifts I received. This resulted in a rather unpleasant conversation with my mom, and I remember her explaining to me that I should be more grateful.

Yes, many times, receiving gifts has felt like a lose-lose situation for me. To this day, receiving gifts makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t think I am alone in this predicament. Also, I am not just talking about Christmas or birthdays, but receiving gifts in general. Why? Is it because I’m just so humble?
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“Oh, no. Please don’t give me anything. I don’t deserve it. Please let me be. I must go back to bemoaning my wretched self.” I don’t think so.
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Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

As it is for most kids, Christmas time was my favorite time of the year growing up. Everything changes. There are lights, Christmas songs, making gingerbread houses, fun Christmas movies, and best of all, lots of new toys!
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I was always the first one up Christmas morning, and always dazzled by the sight of our family-room filled with beautifully-wrapped presents, all filled with new and exciting things just waiting to be discovered. Yes, Christmas was the best time of the year.
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I never thought much about why we had Christmas, or what all of the traditions and practices meant. Everyone celebrated Christmas…or so I thought. 
Once while visiting a great Christian family, I was horrified to discover that they did not celebrate Christmas! WHAT? WHY? How sad their children don’t get presents Christmas morning! My parents explained later that they believe we should treat every day the same, and consider every day as holy, and seek to celebrate God every moment.
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Okay, that makes sense, I thought, but why not treat every day the same…but also get presents?
As I grew older, Christmas slowly began to lose its luster for me. More and more things began to bother me about the holiday, such as the hustle and bustle, the stress the season seemed to bring, and the over-commercialization.
Since then, I have also learned more sinister things about the origins of Christmas. Indeed, there are even some Christians who believe we should not participate at all in the celebration due to its pagan origins.

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I Have No Home

When my family moved, I went with them to help unpack, and then promptly flew back to Ohio to finish recording my music album. Album completed, I started the long, two-day drive back to my family, leaving behind the state where I was born and raised. I took a couple final pictures of our old house and then said goodbye to the streets, sights, and routines that had been constants in my life for the past 15 years.
On my own, with nothing but music and “The Future Of The Mind,” by Michio Kaku to keep me company, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t have a home anymore. Sure I was going to a new home, but it didn’t feel like home yet. That’s when I remembered that this Earth isn’t actually our real home anyway.
I think this fact can be easy to forget. It can be easy to despair when we see the way our country is progressing. As we watch society turn further away from God, and more and more freedoms taken away or infringed upon. It can easily feel like some intruder is barging into our home eating our food and leaving muddy footprints all over the carpet.
But America is not our home. This Earth is not our home. This life is not our home. We don’t have a home—yet—and that’s okay.
As Paul reminded the Philippians, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” – Philippians 3:20. This concept can sound rather disconcerting at first, but actually, it’s a very positive and encouraging reality.

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Woo! 21, Time To Drink!

Wooo! I am 21 now, and in America, that means I am the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol! If you are German, that probably seems incredibly odd, since the legal age in your country is 16. Regardless, 21 is the magical age here!
Lately, however, I have come across a number of people and articles making the case that alcohol is sinful, or at the very least, shouldn’t be consumed by Christians. Growing up, for the longest time, I didn’t even realize there were Christians who thought drinking alcohol was wrong. Labeling alcohol as sinful just  didn’t make any sense to me. After all, the Bible speaks very positively of alcohol.
Amos 9:14 offers a great promise, the restoration of Israel. Drinking wine is included, “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”
Ecclesiastes 9:7 instructs, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
The Psalms also speak favorably of wine:  “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” – Psalm 104:14-15
Paul even instructs Timothy to drink wine for his health: “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” – 1 Timothy 5:23
If the Bible speaks favorably of wine, why then do some Christians think it is wrong to drink it?
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My Most Embarrassing Moment

I have always hated embarrassment. For most of my life, if faced with the option of getting hit in the face with a brick, and getting massively embarrassed…I probably would have taken the brick. I’d like to think that now I don’t take myself so seriously…but I don’t know, I still might take that brick.
Because of this fear, I’ve always been careful to avoid situations in which I could potentially be embarrassed. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t stop from getting embarrassed on occasion. The time I am about to tell you about was especially bad.
I was in 7th grade, so 13-years-old. I went part time to the local middle school, and was a member of the school basketball team. Practice had just finished up, and I was waiting outside in the cold dark night. In front of the school was a large asphalt loop which allowed busses to easily drive up, drop kids off, and then drive off. This time, the parents of my teammates waited to pick-up their kids.
I was normally picked up by my dad, but this night, he couldn’t make it. My grandma was picking me up, and she drove a gold SUV. So when a gold SUV drove up, I walked toward it and opened the passenger-side door.
The problem is a lot of people drive gold SUVs, and at night, you can’t see who is in the vehicle.It turns out the driver was not my grandma, and the vehicle was not hers.
Yeah…

Thankfully, I did know the driver, a mom of one of my teammates, and she was very pleasant. I excused myself and eventually did find the right vehicle.
I was so embarrassed that I vowed that would never happen again. To make sure it didn’t happen, I memorized the license plates of all the vehicles in my family. This knowledge came in handy, as there were a couple times when getting picked up I would wonder if a vehicle belonged to the person who was picking me up from practice, only to see the license plate and realize, no, different person.
This situation is the perfect example of what it takes to accomplish, anything: Vision, intention, and means.
I had the vision of not repeating that mistake again. I really intended not to let it happen again, and I had the capability, or means, to ensure it would never happen again—memorizing license plates.
This makes me think about the topic of sin. Very often, I will hear Christians talk about how sin is impossible to overcome. “I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” they will say. I find this outlook incredibly depressing, and incompatible with scripture. As 1 John 3:5-6 states:

“But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”

This is a pretty convicting passage, but it makes sense.
If we are in Christ, we have the means to change: Holy Spirit. So if we do not change and become more like Christ, then we either don’t want to change, or we lack the Holy Spirit.
As Christians, I think we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that we do not possess the means of changing and of “going and sinning no more.” We have the means, but perhaps we’re not taking advantage of them. Instead, we should ask ourselves if we are instead lacking intention or vision.
Vision:
 
Do I have the vision to understand why I should not, say, sin in anger?  Do I not see how there is a better way? Maybe I enjoy the sense of control or power I gain from such anger. Maybe I can’t imagine giving that up. If so, then I need to work on that. I need to find the vision, and discover how sinning in anger is detrimental, and how there is a better. Very practical.
Intention:
 
However, wanting to be different is not enough, though it’s a good start. We actually need to intend to change. We need to actually take the time to engage with God, and then spend time speaking and listening to the Holy Spirit, which is our means. This is an area I particularly need to improve in. I think, for many things in my spiritual development, I have the vision and the means, but I often don’t actually have the intention. I need to do a better job of arranging my life to make space for a real connection that feeds the soul, and renovates my mind and heart.
Means:
 
As I said above, we have the Holy Spirit, this means we are certainly capable of  gaining spiritual ground to the point where we are sinning less and less over time. However, God is not our soul maid. He isn’t just going do all the cleaning up on His own while we sit back and do nothing. We have a part to play. God wants us to be active participants in spiritual transformation.
Perhaps this means engaging in spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, silence and solitude, or other practices that allow us to open up to the Holy Spirit.
Accomplishing real change, whether it be going from not being able to play the piano to being able to play the piano, or to go from struggling with worry to acquiring a spirit of peace and joy, is not a mysterious process, or at least not completely. All it takes is vision, intention, and means.

 

No spiritual change is possible without God, but God typically doesn’t just zap us and make us perfect. In His wisdom, He wants us to participate as well. Let us not give into the thought or feeling that we can never change for the better.

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My Daily Walk In His Grace

Pizza Tastes Best In Your Parents’ Basement: Why I Haven’t Moved Out Yet

I will turn 21 pretty soon, and yet, I still live at home with my family. According to cultural expectations, I should have moved out three years ago. The punishment for not following the crowd and obligatorily moving out after completing 18 revolutions around the sun is you get labeled a “man-child” and it is generally assumed you do nothing but eat pizza in your parents’ basement. Failure to move out by a certain age automatically means “failure to launch” into mature adulthood.
Is this stereotype accurate?
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To some extent, I would say yes. As Emporweringparents.com says, “Are you one of the millions of frustrated, exhausted parents whose adult child is still living at home with you? Like many in this situation, you might be feeling resentful that your adult son seems to think he’s entitled to meals, laundry and gas money when he does nothing but sleep and party.”
If sleeping and partying is all you’re doing at home, then yes, there may be a problem here. In my case, I sleep, party, and write blog posts, so I clearly do not fit into that category.
Just kidding. I only party. All day and all night. But you probably already guessed that

There certainly is a dearth of mature young adults. Adolescence is perpetuating well into the late 20s for many individuals today; yet, this immaturity tends to take place on college campuses, or other venues away from parents. We are surely missing maturity today among young adults, but simply moving out rarely leads to miraculously discovering maturity and responsibility. Merely living at home with your parents into your 20s isn’t necessarily an indicator of immaturity. In fact, it may be just the opposite.

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Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

This debate seems to come up every year, and some seem to be very passionate about it. Should Christians participate in Halloween?
Abolitionists cite Halloween’s pagan origins, and its preoccupation with witchcraft as reasons why Christians should not participate.
Advocates of the holiday claim that whatever Halloween’s origins were, they are irrelevant (or aren’t as bad as people say). How could a kid dressing up as Superman and receiving candy be wrong? What is so satanic about a child putting on a costume and receiving a Baby Ruth candy bar, or perhaps some Starbursts, or maybe—if you’re lucky—one of those coconut-filled Almond Joy bars which make your mouth want shrivel up and die the moment you take a bite? This is all just innocent fun.
Personally, I have never liked Halloween. I have never been a fan of dressing up. I remember in public school, we would have a Halloween party/parade where we would all walk around the school in our costumes for all of the parents to see us. In fourth grade, I had made up my mind not to go Trick-Or-Treating, and so had no costume.
It was rather awkward walking around, single-file, the only non-costumed-kid among a crowd of princesses and Grim Reapers. Peer pressure working it’s unholy magic, I was beginning to doubt whether or not I had made the right choice when one of my classmates asked me if my costume was meant to be the “Kid-Next-Door”. “Yeah, that’s what it is,” I agreed, feeling a bit better about my decision not to wear a costume. People will just think I’m the kid next door! Whatever that means…
Speaking of awkward, I can only think of few more awkward things I’ve experienced than being an Elementary school kid and having to hand-out candy to high schoolers. They were always the loudest ones coming up to the door, traveling in their packs, but they would always get quiet for some reason when I handed them the candy. Perhaps they sensed the awkwardness too.
I don’t know what it was. The whole Halloween thing always seemed bizarre to me, even from a young age.
Asking strangers for candy? I thought taking candy from strangers was bad? But it’s not if you have a costume on? On top of that, I wasn’t a candy-obsessed kid. Halloween seemed like too much of a hassle for my introverted self just to get some candy that may or may not be any good. Plus, we always had candy left over from what we handed out, and it was always better than any of the candy I got from strangers. Why not just sit at home and munch on the good stuff while everyone else runs around in silly costumes just to end up with disgusting Almond Joys? My young peers thought I was missing out when I thought I was capitalizing. 
But that was just me. Perhaps you have fond memories of Halloween (or maybe you still Trick-Or-Treat?). My younger siblings don’t seem to share my outlook on Halloween.
Every year, I propose we start a new tradition. I have come up with several very good ideas (in my opinion) but I’m always outvoted.   I think my best proposal was a tradition which started with the placing of an empty bowl out on the front step, along with a sign that says, “take one.”
Perhaps this was my emotionally scarred Halloween childhood coming out. I remember several times trudging up to a house as a boy, carrying the weight of my costume and Almond-Joy-laden, pumpkin-shaped bucket of candy, only to find an empty candy bowl with a sign stating “take one.” Obviously, somebody had taken more than one. At that age, it was hard for me to imagine such fiends existed. What kind of kid would take all the candy when the sign clearly said take one? ONE!
Well, in my proposal, this new generation was going to have to pay for the sins of their older siblings.
But, this is Halloween after all. What is more frightening to a kid on Halloween than an empty bowl of candy? Don’t judge me. I think I was being very loyal to the Halloween theme with my proposal.
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In addition to this empty bowl with a sign politely instructing to only take one piece, we would turn all of the lights off in our house, and play hide-and-seek in the dark, with flashlights. To the outside world, they would just see a dark house with spooky beams of light flashing this way and that way. Very festive I thought.
Alas, it seems SOME people (whom I love) are stuck in their ways and prefer to stick to tradition. We never got to try out my amendment to the Halloween holiday.
My sentiments aside, is Halloween something Christians should participate in?
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Why I Listen To Secular Music

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To say I love music would be like saying I love breathing. I’m pretty sure I would shrivel up and die without music. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Being a writer, I spend a lot of time at the computer, and Spotify is my faithful companion. According to my Last.fm account, I’ve listened to over 5,000 songs by 532 different music artists in the last 6 months on Spotify alone. As I look at the top 15 artists I’ve listened to, none of them are “Christian” music artists (though I know at least one is a Christian). One of the bands is named “Chvrches” though, so maybe that counts as Christian?
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Confession: I don’t like Christian music. Nearly all the music I listen to is secular.
Some won’t bat an eye at this confession, but I have encountered others who believe “Christian” music is the only acceptable music to listen to. I’ve walked into church youth group rooms and seen that Christian-music-substitution poster which never fails to disturb me. You like the band “Satan Is My Buddy”?  Here, listen to this Christian group, “God Is Awesome,” which sounds, looks and feels just like “Satan Is My Buddy”, but they’re Christian.

Well, if everything is practically the same…why is one wrong and the other good?  Sure, if the secular has copious amounts of foul language or perverted themes this would make some sense, but what if it doesn’t have such filth, and it’s otherwise just the same as the Christian band? How is the Christian band really any better for copying the secular band? This copycatting is major reason why I don’t like a lot of Christian music today.
Of course, there are a few exceptions. I like Mat Kearney and Relient K (though RK’s latest album can hardly be considered Christian). There are a few songs here and there by other Christian artists that I like, but by and large, I do not like Christian music.
In fact, I am in the middle of making a music album myself, but I don’t think it would be considered “Christian.” I don’t mention God by name, and you won’t find the words “grace, faith, or cross” in any of my songs (although I do say “heaven” and “creation,” if that counts).
That being said, all my songs are about God (to me at least). This might sound odd, but to me, a lot of the secular songs I listen to are about God, too.
What?
One of the things I like about music is that it can have a lot of different meanings to different people. This is one reason I generally prefer more vague lyrics to in-your-face-let-me-shove-my-worldview-on-you lyrics (which a lot of Christian music seems to be). Even if I agree with the worldview, I prefer a more poetic approach.
Now before you call me a universalist, I will be clear and state I am not a universalist. I don’t believe the truth is whatever you make it. However, music creates emotions. Sound creates emotions. That’s why music is vital to film. Music is used to create suspense, fear, dread, happiness, joy, mirth, and even tears. Music creates moods and feelings, and these moods and feelings can vary slightly (or a lot) from one person to another depending on the sound and lyrics.
That issue addressed, here are a few quick reasons why I listen to secular music:
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3 Ways To Help People Remain Insecure

This might be hard to believe considering the content of my blog, but I used to be insecure. I didn’t know I was insecure at the time, but I was.

My insecurity began when I started to attend public school. No longer surrounded by a supportive family, I began to encounter people who didn’t like me very much, or who excluded me. I know what it’s like to be picked last for a pick-up football or soccer game at recess. In public school, there was always the subtle desire and fabricated need to try and be like the “cool kids.” In the words of Echosmith, “I wish that I could be like the cool kids, ‘cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in.”

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Unconsciously, I strove to be “cool” and to be liked by my peers. Being good at sports helped. Eventually, I went from being the last one picked during recess to the first one. I played football and basketball and soccer and lacrosse. I mingled with all the “cool kids”, and I was respected for what I could do on the football field, or the basketball court. But I still never really “fit in.”
Academics weren’t much different. While I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, what drove me to do well in academics was to be respected by my peers. It felt good when everyone came to me when they needed help with their history homework. When I did well on a test, I would sometimes ask the person sitting next to me how they did, just waiting for them to ask me the same question back so I could tell them without appearing to brag. When I did bad on a test, I was silent. Yes, pride and insecurity are very much connected.
I had been struggling with Geometry my freshman year of high school, but happened to get 100% on one test. One of my football teammates saw my score and remarked that I was a “beast at life” since I was good at sports and school.
How could someone who was “a beast at life” (like being good at sports and academics says anything about how well your life is going) possibly be insecure?
I was insecure because I had become accustomed to such compliments. I began to expect them. I needed them.

Things took a turn for the worse my sophomore and Junior years of high school. Being good on the Freshman team was one thing, but when I joined the varsity, I was just another bench-warmer. But that was normal. My high school was so big that sophomores almost never played on the varsity team. Junior year, I expected to start. When that didn’t happen and I remained a back-up, I lost a lot of confidence in myself. I began to regress. Suddenly, I couldn’t make plays that I used to be able to make. Anxiety and depression set in. My teammates and coaches no longer saw me as one of the best players. I felt ashamed to be on the sideline, and I couldn’t handle that very well.

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Are Catholics Christians?

This past weekend, I visited a small conservative Catholic university, which is basically the opposite of Ohio State in every single way. I really enjoyed my visit, and felt right at home, which is perhaps why just about everyone I interacted with thought I already attended. At the same time, I also witnessed quite a few things which were very alien to me, having had very little exposure to Catholic culture. Overall, it was a very good experience, and I think it would be fascinating to attend a Christian college.
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“Not so fast,” some Protestants might be saying. “Catholics are not Christians. They believe in salvation through works (sacraments), and that’s not what Jesus taught.”

If someone actually believes salvation comes through works (which not all Catholics believe) then I would agree they are incorrect. It does not mean, however, that they are not a Christian, and the reason why is pretty simple.

The reason why Catholics can still be Christians and have salvation is precisely because salvation comes through faith. We are incapable of saving ourselves through works or sacraments. We gain eternal life by faith alone (John 3:16).
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