Asking bold questions leads to stronger faith
So I began to have fun in the rediscovery of Buddhism. I’d taken a world religions class in college, so I had a few books on the shelf — of course, there is so much information online, and I had some background knowledge I’d forgotten that returned to me.
Questions arose within me, such as What is this system? Is it a good thing for people? How do people live it out? What size is this lifestyle? Who is the founder and how did his teachings develop? Where do people practice these beliefs? What are the beliefs and how are they acted or not acted upon?
I absolutely love knowledge — whatever it may be. In this quest, I began to reflect on my zig-zags, getting the big picture and I realized and pondered, as a Christian, that this may be what it is like for people who are learning about Jesus. To many here and across the globe, Jesus is an unknown entity. When I tell people “Jesus loves you” or “God is with you” at Christmastime, a large portion of people are confronted with an unknown set of characters, beliefs, practices and even misconceptions.
To those who have grown up in a culture that is predominantly Christian, this might come as a surprise, but I find it to be more and more true. Those I care about and minister to here in the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton areas often are discovering Jesus for the first time. I mention Abraham, King David or Matthew, Mark and Luke and in return I receive blank stares. It is then I know that I am living among the questions rather than the knowns.
I find this exciting because I know that I will be able to rediscover what I believe with new groups with fresh perspectives.
As you journey, remember to grow in knowledge and goodness. Accept that we will have questions, because discovery always opens up new frontiers. As one who follows in the footsteps of Jesus, I try to remember this passage from the second book of Peter: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In a world full of people asking questions, my prayer for you is that your journey will never end, that you will continue to meet new and interesting people, that you will discover the hidden angels (messengers) across our universe, that God’s love and wisdom will shine brightly and that love and goodness will increase in our world.
Let’s make it so.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.
Be an ambassador of God during election time
Politics and faith are not often good friends — especially in polite company. It seems that oftentimes we lack a generous or cordial language, especially when convictions are deeply held. I’ve seen red faces and quiet tempers come like waves on the ocean in conversations of this nature. A conversation we had with a philosophy professor in a class I took, The Philosophy of Religion, comes to mind each time I try to engage this odd arena. In this class, we each were to present a topic. One young woman chose to speak on the pluralism of religions, and how all ought to be accepting of all faiths. It was clear that she leaned toward total acceptance, including the suspension of the concept that there is one “Truth” with a capital T. She posited that there are many roads, and we need to respect all roads regardless of the particular path. Our professor asked, “What about those who believe that one’s religion is the only way?” She thought for a minute, but really didn’t think that believing in an exclusive faith was acceptable.
It was then that our professor opened us up a bit. This pluralism and total acceptance includes everyone except those who cannot say, “All paths are right.” So it is not all-inclusive. Then there are those who believe exclusively that what has been revealed to them is the only way, but they may welcome all people universally. So you have an odd construct — people who claim to include all, but who exclude those who are not like them. Then there are those who claim one way and seemingly exclude everyone else, but who are charitable and often extremely loving to those who have not decided to come into unity with them.
When God gave Abraham a special promise that his descendants would be a light in the world, he also said that all people would be blessed “through you.” Much later, when Paul was reflecting on the implications of the work of Christ in the world, he called us to fulfill the law of Moses by living with one debt, “to love one another.”
In this political climate, even as we sit at dinner tables talking about our future leadership, let us remember to bless one another because God has already given each of us so much — especially to those of us who hold to a faith rooted in the depth of several thousand years.
We can be ambassadors of our God, giving light when many expect only darkness.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.
Olympic glory goes to athletes … and to God
It would be difficult to separate her faith from that passion and, like many athletes who have accomplished great feats, Gabby took a moment to thank God: “It is everything I thought it would be; being the Olympic champion, it definitely is an amazing feeling. And I give all the glory to God. It’s kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him, and the blessings fall down on me.”
I let that soak in a bit, thinking of the context. This young lady, who has dedicated her life to a singular driving passion and profession; who has just shown audiences that her talents are the best in the world; who has pushed through the pain of practice after practice, pushed past any humiliations or failures; and who is now about to mount a podium, does not think to herself, “This was all me.”
Instead she points to her faith in a glorious God.
My small way of relating to the Olympic athletes is through my love-hate relationship with running. The more I run, the better I feel, but simultaneously, the more I run the more I ache — temporarily. And when I get good at running I go out more and I run harder and longer over time. Then, in times of busyness, I fall into a state of disrepair, and my wife eventually informs me that I need to exercise. I do not want to, but I am prodded by a higher power (in this case the love of my life) to do better and keep moving. She gets me out with her, and we begin anew a process of growth, pain and betterment.
Now I imagine myself in Gabby’s place, though this is merely conjecture: I’ve achieved a level of excellence so far above what normal athleticism requires that there are only a handful of people in the world who are capable of matching what I am capable of doing. In that sphere, we are in competition every time we see each other, and while we want to cheer each other on, we are always jockeying for our place in the hierarchy.
From where do I receive true affirmation? Where can I find and unconditional love? Who can understand the separation (or holiness) that reaching this platform achieves? Who is even greater than myself? Who looks at me and sees who I truly am? Who created me and gave me the ability to grow so greatly?
Gabby let us all know that she has been blessed and that truly, in all good things, God is there and shines in glory.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church.
Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.
I have a confession to make, and it delves into my former self. When I first became a Christian (a personal decision at age 15), my understandings of God were primordial. If theology is the study of God, I did not have any, at least not intentionally. Despite the prodding of my parents, Sunday School teachers, when I became a teen, the only book of the Bible I had read was “Daniel” – because that is my name. I read it a few times actually, but I’d never read through a Gospel.
Why didn’t I have a theology, or even conceive of a need for God in my life at that time? To answer that you really need to look at what was important to me around the time I was going from childhood to the teen years.
I was primarily concerned with (1) Making a few good friends, (2) becoming an artist/graphic designer/cartoonist, and (3) finding some good music that I could listen to that expressed how I felt (usually punk and various forms of rock ranging from hardcore to classic).
It is interesting too, how my goals intertwined. Music helped me find friends. Art was usually accompanied by good music. Friends introduced me to new music.
It was also my desire to make new friends (and peer pressure) that got me involved in our church’s youth group. I remember the worship, I remember standing on the edge of pre-made friend circles hoping stand side by side in the circle rather than squeezing a small spot to listen to the conversation. It was through some of my new youth group friends that I ended up going to a huge youth conference in MA (Acquire the Fire), that I saw Christian music that appealed to me for the first time in music video form. It was POD, SuperChick and a few others. I was soon led to the local Christian bookstore, where I began listening to the hundreds of cd’s there in a database and deciding that there were Christians who made amazing music…music I could share with my friends in youth group and at school.
It was at that point that my adolescent theology actually began to develop. In the music, they often pulled from the words of scripture. At youth group I was hearing scripture, but didn’t have enough unction to actually look them up. With the music in my head, I suddenly felt the desire to fill in gaps. Because of bands like DC Talk, Newsboys, and Audio Adrenaline – I was trying to understand God. A general awaken in my heart simultaneously occurred at a Youth Retreat at a small chapel in New Hampshire and I accepted Christ as Lord. That blew me away. I still remember the congratulations afterward from some of the older kids in youth group. Things were rolling in my faith, and the music drove me on the highway of faith, and I began to see Christ through the art, the words, the people who made the music as they gave testimonies.
A big boon to my early theology was the “Inside Out Soul” Festival in New Hampshire, where I went with my good friends from youth group and we had free reign to listen to about 100 Christian bands who came to play. We started going to concerts and our youth leaders seemed to be excited that we wanted to do these events (though they often didn’t like getting anywhere near the stage – or mosh pit).
As I continue to grow in faith today, there is often a song or a band that is in accompaniment. I’ve continued through college and seminary, and now through the ordination process, and having good music playing that speaks theology (though often simple) is important to me. In fact, when I hear a song on Christian radio (here in the South) that has theology that doesn’t make sense, I get angry – because the words on the medium of music have power. Music is important to faith development. That is why we sing.
To conclude, here is a list of some of the most influential bands in my early theological development that I felt helped grow me as a disciple. Perhaps you are looking for some good music yourself, or are just starting out on a quest, or want to share some good music with someone who is searching. I hope this helps.
DC TALK – Their albums Supernatural and Jesus Freak instilled a passion for Christ while dealing with the issues of the world/culture boldly. Great writing, and three voices that melded well. All three are now in other bands. Toby Mac (rapper), Kevin Max (poetry/art rock), Micheal Tate (now lead singer for Newsboys).
NEWSBOYS – Step Up to The Microphone and Take Me To Your Leader are some of the best albums I’ve heard. Entertaining Angels was absolutely beautiful, and the australian sound got me thinking differently. They’re still releasing great music today.
JARS OF CLAY – Much Afraid is so beautifully written it is almost like poetry. The music (and the concerts) are heart wrenching and so well done, it is hard not to enjoy and be transported. ”Crazy Times” music video was probably one of the first Christian music videos I ever related to.
THIRD DAY – All these southern rockers make is good. Their worship albums are some of the only ones I can listen to and actually worship. The rock albums are challenging and light a fire of faith in the heart, and the concerts are so tight. Great band.
AUDIO ADRENALINE – These guys were fun, and had lots of energy. I had all their albums, and each one was different to me. Bloom helped me appreciate clean rock. Some Kind of Zombie was more electric and twinged the ear and talked about eternal life. Underdog seemed more evangelistic and missions oriented. They’re still around today, though much of the band has changed up.
P.O.D. “Payable on Death” – When I heard POD for the first time, I felt something inside me (perhaps some holy anger) come forward, and I felt a different element of God. It was about survival and thankfulness to God for life every day you are alive. ”SouthTown” is still one of the best albums I have ever heard, and their newer album “Testify” is well crafted. These guys are solid and their concerts (though I can’t keep up in the mosh pit anymore) are some of the best experiences of my youth.
PROJECT 86 – These guys know how to rock, and their lead singer has the heaviest most constant vocals I’ve ever heard. Those who like battle music would do well with Project. Their heavy sound blows you away, and their main themes seem to be about Angst and fighting deception. Definitely good for those teens who are struggling and want to get pumped up.
SPOKEN – The Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell is an album with both reverence and awe for God, written with the sounds and stories of Scripture, and had some of the best screams/heavy sound that I was looking for while I was continuing to grow as a young Christian. Their new self-titled album has matured them quite a bit, and I highly recommend to those who like Screamo, though it is more than that. Their concerts are amazing and they have a good fanbase. I hope they don’t go away. This is a favorite of mine right now.
SKILLET – This band started as a four piece standard rock set, and now they are one of the primiere power bands, with hits like “Hero” being used by the NFL, and having album after album of heavy hitting electro-rock. The lead singer is also a pastor, and they have never compromised their message. Well worth the listen.
SWITCHFOOT – This California band isn’t as heavy as the others, but their impact is. Their song “Meant to Live” is one I show at youth group from time to time because it is a reminder that we are meant to live far beyond how we are currently living. Their music is sonically pleasing, but challenges your heart and mind. The lead vocal is unique and they are still touring popularly. Great music.
THRICE – This band has a song, “Image of the Invisible” which blew my mind in college. It is on the Imago Dei, or image of God, and reminded me of the impetus of Social Justice in the Bible. God’s saving grace that leads towards a revolution of dignity for captives, prisoners, and those in darkness. The struggle comes through the heavy sound in this very tight band.
FIVE IRON FRENZY – My friend Mark loved FIF and I held off for a while, but slowly warmed to them as extremely talented musicians. Their sense of humor is something that lightens the load of the listener, but the Christian message of growth through struggle, resonated, especially in the post-Columbine age. They broke up for a time but have reunited and will start touring soon. They are primarily a ska band with lots of brass, but stand on their own on rock tours.
SUPERTONES – These guys wrote ska that we could dance to and listen to to grow as disciples. Their writing was almost rapping, and their themes were about Orange Country discipleship. Having no exposure to California culture, these guys made us move and they were like sunshine in a dark arena. Uplifting and unique through and through. They aren’t together, but their albums are solid.
RELIENT K – These guys are still very popular, and had a silly sense of humor, but could get serious as well. I find that they talk about relationships more than faith much of the time, but I found that ok. Their stories were about just trying to make it through teen life despite the embarrassments, and to do it with a good laugh. Their music was tight, and their irony often taught me about the Christian life and pop culture as well. I recommend their first album highly.
THE DINGEES – This punk/ska band had an album “The Crucial Conspiracy”, that turned me upside down. Their music was different, but had a way of lifting the spiritual world to your eyes, sometimes without even saying a word. Their songs about “Latchkey kids” and about the end of things unnerved me, but I found myself soothed as well. Hard to explain these guys, because they went from Punk to Ska to Reggae pretty fast. Check it out.
KEITH GREEN – I read Keith’s wife’s Biography of his life “No Compromise” and my life was changed forever. His call to go and do the work of God without wasting a moment of life or a moment of your capacity to give to others inspired me and my ministry. I doubt that he would be seen as current or cool these days, and I actually resisted my mom who gave me his albums, but after reading that book, I cannot get enough of his music. His work is pure scripture, and he hung out with Bob Dylan, c’mon. Well worth a try, even if just to listen to spirit of God in the music.
That’s a start, perhaps I’ll return again with some more. This is just the tip of the iceberg. By the time I left college I had 300 cds. Funny, since I now have most of it on my iphone now. So glad we don’t have to carry around our media like that. What is nice, is that we can worship through music and appreciate the art of music and theology anytime. I appreciate that, and I hope folks take advantage of it. Peace.
Christian? – “Y You No Meme?” Translation – I’ve Been Searching For Wholesome Christian Memes – Found Some
I don’t know if Christians are aware of a conversation taking place on the internet. The conversation is primarily visual, involves lots of laughter, is challenging and often evokes gut reactions, and is often denigrating to believers of Christ. I did notice, however that these conversations are full of misunderstandings and misconceptions, and if there are no Christians involved in the conversation, and providing a voice of love and compassion in this world, there will be no gains or healing. This conversation is done in the form of MEMES.
Memes are humor based one or two liners that are associated with an image that grabs attention. Our culture is becoming incredibly visual in the internet age. The person who said an image is worth a thousand words is probably understating their importance today. The visual is the message in these cases. They evoke an emotion or a feeling or a familiarity associated with pop culture. The consumer reads the image and wants to learn more, so they read the words – placed in often unattractive yet attention grabbing white fonts.
If you still don’t know what a meme is, check out the lolcat memes at http://icanhascheezburger.com/. That is a generally inoffensive meme place, where people share funny photos of cats saying funny things. There really is no point but entertainment there.
My point comes into play at the philosophical level, where young people, adept at using computers, are using their time to make arguments using memes – and these memes spread on social media sites, or are googled, etc. They go viral, and people nod their heads in laugh, but they’re only seeing one side of the argument. In fact, I’ve found that in their mini-debates, fallacy in argument seems to be the rule. If you build up a “straw man” enemy (the weakest argument by your weakest opponent), and tear it down easily, you win.
I do wonder, if there were more intelligent (yet humorous) Christian memes out there, speaking truth in clever ways, would the dialogue change towards (1) Honest Dialogue (2) More Truth Seeking (3) A Spirit of Charity (4) Less Vulgarity on the interwebs? I wonder. Though I’m not holding my breath, and I have found it hard to sit down myself and think through appropriate yet insightful memes, I have found some interesting ones that talk to the Christian Experience, or communicate old messages in new ways (in the gallery below – feel free to click through). I have found them all through the net and many of them have no attributions, so I apologize for not linking. They have been passed around quite a bit.
In my thoughts I have struggled with the question, “Why don’t Christian’s Laugh?” - as much, especially when it comes to our own failures in faith. I understand that our walks are serious, and as Christians we have a huge amount of responsibility (in which we have often failed), but in all honesty, God made us as humans ‘like’ God, not as gods. We err, and for some reason, laughter is a form of healing which we need, and often breaks the ice for more serious discussion and growth.
It is a hard subject though, because pop images and modern assumptions are not evenly spread in the minds of people. Not everyone gets a reference to emo glasses used in images, or of Indiana Jones or Chuck Norris quotes being used as propellants for a hidden truth. There is the possibility of offense, so I do walk lightly here. The intention of all this is not to offend, but to get people thinking about what is already going on.
I do not recommend just googling “Christian Meme” without you realizing that most memes out there are people who have obviously taken a strong anti-Christian stance and often communicate it in vile and venomous ways. It is a wild west kind of culture, and there are literally no rules right now. That is because it comes out of the “trolling” anonymity of the internet.
But that is why I believe that good, well written and made Christian memes could add a new dimension, and perhaps one day eclipse the ridiculousness of the culture. Speak truth in love, in a way that others will understand, and perhaps you will see God move in the hearts of people. And you may see discipleship start with a few chuckles, as long as we point to the depth of understanding and wisdom that a life devoted truly to Christ can offer.
Here are some that I’ve found. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
I have been taking a Methodist History class online through Asbury Theological Seminary. As I read about the Wesley’s, Whitfield, the Oxford Club, and the people of the movement within Anglicanism, I’m realizing two congruent trends that made them successful.
Trend 1: They were passionate about their faith. They fully believed in Christ as their saviors and in the Bible as their word of Truth. Within the scriptures they learned about compassion and action – moving out to help those in need, and doing so as often and as much as possible. They preached the Good News from owned cemetery plots when towns said they could not speak on their soil, and the word got out. These Methodists believed what they preached, they lived it out, and they had a passion to live out the discipline to make it real.
Trend 2: They were rational and disciplined in their lives. The amount of responsibility each Methodist man and woman would have, astounds me. Especially those who would become the ministerial wing – they lived and breathed the study of life, of God, of the natural sciences, of everything. They were people of learning and would never have rejected progress of thought and the goodness that free will has in potential. They woke early, prayed and studied, they ministered and worshipped every day, they fasted, they fed the hungry, developed medicines to heal the sick poor, they visited prisons and started schools for orphans, then they would do watch night services and worship in covenant into the night.
Take Away – I’m ashamed of my own discipline. I feel that I work hard, but the more I hear of these men and women of early Methodism (who were modeling their lives after the early church’s apostles and ministers), I realize that my work is a drop in a bucket. Their zeal for personal holiness is something to venerate.
In books, I often wonder how much of the human side we are missing. John Wesley struggled with something that kept him from feeling completely assured of God’s salvation in his life. Much like Paul talked about a thorn in his side. I wonder at that, and perhaps on the facade he was a powerhouse, but on the inside, he was the same as any of us – working out the details of a relationship with God and sometimes the doubts of that same faith. But as a whole, this movement reinvigorated England, almost directly led to the end of the Slave Trade on the English side, reformed the practice of Christianity, and showed that despite the decline of the Anglican church of the time, there were plenty of people who wished to live out serious faith.
I think that we are in a similar time. People who want to be serious in their faith often wonder where they will belong, and perhaps are in a wandering experience. I have had that experience going from Nazarene to Pentecostal to Baptist to Non-Denominational churches and finally I find myself at home in the Methodist church.
I think that is because the historical Methodist faith is the faith of Christ in its simplest form, rationally though passionately experienced, with a well thought out action plan and Methodologically carried out. Reading the Social Principles of the Methodist church alone gives me the chills. If you’re looking for a church that is about action, read up on the Methodists. It is a living faith that continues to inspire millions around the globe today.
This is a great video (1) Because it is funny (2) Because it is true (3) Because it is smart and produced well. The point of the video is simple: There is the youth minister you wish or think that you should be, and then there is the Youth Minister that your youth need – Which is What You Are. Enjoy this hilarious, yet encouraging film about doing Youth Ministry. I’m going to share this with my team ;D
Growing up I didn’t even know about Lent. The pentecostal congregational style of discipleship was based on two things. Reading the Bible, Prayers (public and private), and the work of the Holy Spirit (healings, prophecy, fillings, etc.). There was a lot of activity but there wasn’t a lectionary based movement from year to year. The main holidays that ordered the year were Christmas and Easter, but seasons like Lent or Advent were largely lost on us. I remember times of fasting, but they were not in the context of traditional seasons – they just happened as the pastor or the leadership team called for times of spiritual growth and maturity.
Then I ended up at a traditional Methodist church as a youth director. I’ve had the time to slowly acclimate to the traditional forms, and I’ve found that they are handy. (1) They remind us each year of some of the most important themes of Christianity. (2) I also like it that the reading of the whole Bible is possibly if one follows the lectionary for two years. (3) Repetition is the Mother of All Learning (as the Russians say), and the repetition each year helps me to try to get things right that I did wrong. Well, there is more, but my point is that I have grown to love the seasons of the lectionary.
Last year is the first year that I participated in Lent. Everyone immediately starts talking about what they are going to give up for the year. I figured that it should not be something easily given, so I picked television. At the time I was watching a lot of comedy programming in the evenings, and I felt it would be hard to do. So I did it. My wife decided that she would give up cheese (which turned out to be the hardest fast of all – cheese is on EVERYTHING). I read more than I have ever read in that time period. I felt more evenly balanced and had time to do other things. I saw movies, but that was only every once in a while at the theater and I felt that they were rewards for the time I was giving up elsewhere. It was a good time and I felt my spirit lifting a bit.
Then, I found myself a year later. Lent is upon me again in 2012 as it was in 2011. I asked my wife what we would be doing this year. She instantly mentioned that I should try giving up Video Gaming. She would give up deserts. I noticed that her options always have a health kick in them – which isn’t bad, God calls us to take care of our bodies (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19), so it works. I felt that I needed something different his year, however, and I noticed a different nuance of Lent that appealed to me. Rather than merely stripping something away, I could add some small things that would bring me closer to God. I thought about it a while and asked myself what I lacked spiritually and it came quickly.
Every week at youth group I encourage young people to read their Bibles regularly, pray regularly and spend time with God. I find that in the midst of working the ministry, I often find myself paddling the boat myself, never asking God to row a few. I end up struggling quite a bit and then I remember that I need to get back into the habit of regular Bible Study and prayer. I’m not talking about what I do for youth group devotions or studying for the Confirmation class I teach. I’m not even talking about the scripture I read as I write my articles for the local newspaper. I need to spend some time reading scripture that will speak to my soul. It is for me alone, from God, to my spirit. All the other work I do, I ask God to speak through me – in this, I realize I need God to speak to me.
So I started today. I am reading a Youth Devotional (I like Youth Devos because they are two the point and contain a lot of scripture) done by Josh McDowell, and it is on my phone. I always have my phone so I never have an excuse not to read, and the devotional includes a basic prayer that I may read and make my own. I like that.
So this Lent I have decided to add rather than subtract. I feel good about this and I’m excited where it will take me this year.