Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blog Readers, Assemble!

Today is a special update! Still going to do the weekly nonsense, but while I'm at it, I thought I'd bring the full force of my 3 subscribers and dozens of half-interested family members to bear on Washington!

Enough writing about it, let's do something for Jesus.


There's this war that's been going on in Uganda for a long long time. However you feel about war in general, it's hard to feel good about this one. The rebels have been rounding up children, torturing them, then handing them guns and sending them out to fight.

I've called one congressman today, and I'm calling the other one tomorrow, simply because I believe in a risen savior who calls us to do everything we can to bring his kingdom about in our lives and in others' lives. Call a congressman, then do something that actually helps and say a prayer!



Thursday, April 22, 2010

Of Mouse Tails and Fences, or The Ballad of Desmond Tutu

I have an office. There are two couches. There are pictures of friends and family, probably a picture or two of you. There is a big desk that I sit at, and on this desk are a few more pictures. Most of my pictures hang loose and get stamped up on the wall, simply because I can't afford that many picture frames. But a few of them are especially special, and these ones get frames. One is a picture of me and my wife (I'm married now, heads up.) and the other is a picture of me and a couple of my best friends on what the legends of York College refer to as, "Fabolus Monday." Ask me about that one, seriously.

There is one other picture in a frame, it sits behind me on my bookshelf. It is a picture of one of my personal heroes, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I have a few personal heroes, CS Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., whoever will eventually replace Dayton Moore as Royals GM, but Desmond Tutu is the one we're talking about today. Without going into multiple paragraphs about why he is significant, I want to talk about a quote from him. (Don't worry, there's still a Bible verse. Just stick with me.)

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." - Dezzy T

I know. Bishop Tutu is a clever guy. But seriously, consider this. Consider the implications for your life. Are you neutral? Because the sad fact is, that there is no neutral. Cliche but true, Satan owns the fence.

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." - Revelation 3:15-16

The thing about teaching from the Bible is that it's not all going to make you happy. It will make you a better person, it will make you holier, more blessed, and ultimately someday happier, but at the moment you read it, it will not always make you happy. There's a good chance that today's blog is going to be kind of like that, so if you're the type who likes happiness more than you like truth, I suggest you spend some of your internet time somewhere else. I would suggest icanhascheezburger.com for the remainder of your time online.

Ask yourself something, and do it honestly, wherever you are. Are you really committed to Christ? I'm not asking if you believe, I'm not asking if you're perfect, I'm not asking if you've been overcoming sin in your life, those are all related but different issues. Are you really, truly, and honestly committed to seeking God, and to being a Christian? Are you making some sort of effort to figure out what it means to follow Jesus? If not, then I have bad news.

The way it looks to me, this verse in Revelation is pretty clear on something; God is more annoyed by neutral people than he is by his enemies. And why shouldn't he be? It's not just Jesus and Desmond Tutu; every great leader in history has been more frustrated with apathy than with animosity. Read Dr. King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail if you don't believe me.

Today, unfortunately, I have to call it for what it is. An epidemic of apathy has swept through our Churches. I'm not sure when it happened, if it was before my birth, if it's relatively new, or if it's always been going on, but there are people across the world showing up on Sunday morning, Sunday night, or whenever else your Church meets, and they're not letting a single bit of what happens there bleed into their daily life.

To my readers who are apathetic, please, hear me out. God will puke you up. It's going to be gross in a way that you cannot imagine. Not only that, it's going to be painful and embarrassing. My blog today is a plea for passion; give Jesus just a little bit more of your time. Let the things you learned on Sunday morning affect your week. Start with sermons! Just start by listening to the sermon at your Church, and just one day this week, try to live out whatever it is that the preacher is encouraging. Try it, and see if your life isn't completely different as a result!

Or don't. See if I care.

I do.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Christian Blog that WON'T Mention Glenn Beck

For the record, I like you guys. I appreciate you reading this madness, sticking with me when I disappear for a few months, and I hope that you get something out of it. If we're not already friends on Facebook, you need to add me. Unless you're that guy that bombs abortion clinics who commented one time. You should go to jail. You're a terrorist.

Switching gears completely, I think I may have found the single most incredible verse in all of scripture. It's in John 14:12 -
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

Okay for a few minutes drop all theology, scholarship, deep thinking and analytical thought and just read that for what it says. Don't over think it, don't start assuming it means something about Church or Holy Spirits, just read the dang thing. Because after 23 years I've finally started doing that. I seriously just read it last night, just really read it and really saw it for what it is, and I seriously nearly freaked out. We will do greater things than Jesus. Greater!

Let's bring everyone up to speed here; Jesus did some big big stuff. He fed thousands, walked on water, RAISED THE DEAD, turned water to wine, cured sickness, RAISED HIMSELF FROM THE DEAD, and preached some pretty killer sermons. Jesus was kind of a big deal. Still is.

But here he is speaking to his disciples, and saying some pretty bold stuff. To think that they would do greater things than Jesus must have been completely thrilling to them! But let's not miss the most significant thing here; Jesus didn't just say this to the people in attendance, he says that anyone who believes in him is going to do even greater things than he did! That means me, you, anyone in the year 2010 AD who believes in Jesus is capable of doing even greater things than Jesus did!

So that brings up the big question; why not? Why aren't we? Why are so many Christians struggling to live up to this promise?

Let me share with you a youth minister secret, the kind of thing that we talk about in upper-division classes, right in between the unit on beards and before the one on how to attract a hot wife. (Yes, it's really covered in class)

The secret is, people will generally give you what you expect of them. (Secretive italics!) In youth ministry what this means is that we shouldn't be afraid to ask a lot of the teens. Most of these guys are taking advanced calculus classes that only 1 in every 100 youth ministers could even sit through, let alone pass. And yet we give them watered down, simple Bible lessons? No no. Not right.

But what this secret means for us as people is that we have to start expecting more of ourselves. We are a culture that is driven by a desire to accomplish things, wanting so desperately to have something that we can say we did, wanting to always find the next big thing to do, and yet in our faith we are content to simply fill a pew once a week?

Or maybe your problem is a low self-esteem? Maybe you, like so many others are afraid of failure, maybe you don't expect much of yourself because you don't think much of yourself. The same Jesus that said that you would do great things also died for you; whether you believe in your own potential or not, Jesus Christ does.

Whether your great deed is to share the gospel with a co-worker, or if God has called you to something more public, like mission work, whatever it is, stop living like you're not called to something better. Realize your own potential, and live like it.


PS - I know, it's been a while. But I have office hours now, and I am way more available to write this nonsense. Tell your friends about this blog. Better yet, tell your enemies, it's a great way to settle an old score.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bad Dates

Hey guys. Sorry I've been AWOL. I've got most of a devo finished, I've just been super sick for the last few days. I'll get the new one up soon, I promise.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You Don't Know Jake

I have 3 followers! This post is hereby dedicated to Ric McBath, Aaron Nelson, and Shane Latham. Thanks for humoring me, Jesus will reward you heavily one day.

So let's jump back to my education. Yes, I know, still in school. 5.5 years now. This is in fact my 11th semester of undergraduate work. Just to give a little perspective, my friend Sheila Smesrud and I started college the exact same semester...she'll be getting a doctorate in May, just a few months after I pick up my first Bachelor's. It's okay to laugh, really.

Anyway, I'm in a psychology class right now. On the off chance that anyone from that class ever reads this, understand that I have the utmost respect for the field of psychology and am actually enjoying the class a lot. That being said, I often find myself in an interesting predicament in my psychology class. I get annoyed with the theories being presented. No joke, it has actually been proposed by "experts" that people are genetically programmed to cheat on their spouses because they have an instinct to spread their genes as much as possible.

What I've learned in this class more than anything is that I do not like people trying to, "figure me out." I don't like being reduced to a theory, or being defined by a series of behaviors. Call me romantic, but I just prefer to believe that there's more to people than patterns.

Of course being a fairly hypocritical person, it wasn't too long before I realized that I do the very same thing all the time! As I've shifted my education more and more to Biblical Studies, I've slowly begun to view God as something to figure out. Rather than being the infinite creator of my world, he's the theory that keeps me motivated, and he's the force that I might just figure out if I tweak my theology enough. I've got to wonder, if I get annoyed at people trying to decipher me and reduce me to a theory, how must God feel being constantly debated and reduced to theology?

There is this beautiful and epic scene in the Old Testament. It's at the end of a book called Job, a book that is actually one long epic poem in the original Hebrew language. There's a lot to it, but I'll just give you the broad strokes; Job has had a really bad day. Really bad. And he's been trying to figure it out, trying to figure out why God would let that happen. He's actually gone so far as to demand that someone explain it to him, and amazingly enough, God shows up! Trust me, I read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies, and I'm telling you, there are very few scenes in all of literature as beautiful or epic as this. God confronts Job, and tells it like it is.

The incredible thing about all of this scene is that God never gives Job the explanation he's been waiting for! He never once bothers to say, "Job, funny thing, this was all Satan, and I'm here to fix it!" He never says, "Job, everything gets better after you suffer, this was making you a better person!" He just shows himself to Job, and says, "I'm God. You're not. Trust me."

Job's response is equally epic. He says, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand; things too wonderful for me to know!" - Job 42:3

There's a point where I really just wish that all the psychologists and theorists in the world would just let Jake be Jake. I wish they'd just accept that maybe there's no deeper reason for my behavior than, "It seemed like a good idea," or, "I like comic books." (Two really big reasons why I do everything.) I get the feeling that God feels the same way. I'm paying a lot to learn about him, I'm not saying we shouldn't learn everything we can, but there's a point where we have to accept that God is beyond our understanding. He's just too big!

Eternity; think it over. Go on, try it. I'll be here when you come back.

Scary, huh? That's God. That's all you need to know. That's all we get. And you know what? I've begun to accept that. I didn't always; I still don't always. I have trouble with it. I want to understand, and I want to get my ministry down to a science. I want to be able to tell people that there are certain things that always work, and that no matter what the following 3 points will always be right. (Church of Christ joke.) But that's not how it is. God is just too big and too hard to figure out. But what that does mean is that even though everything else seems shaky, even though it's nearly impossible to find any solid truth in this world, one thing will always be true; God is big, God is strong, and God loves us.

Chill out. Take it from someone who's learning this the hard way. Life is way too short to try and understand. Just do your best, follow God, and trust me when I say that he's got it figured out.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Middle Drawer Faith

"Unless you change and become like one of these children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven." - Matthew 18:3

Interesting verse. Lock it down in your brains, we'll come back to it in a bit.

Remember 1997? It was a really good year. Tiger Woods won his first Masters, Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear, and a giant Tonka Truck was sent to Mars, where it eventually ran into a rock and stopped talking to us. A little band called dcTalk was proving the Christian music wasn't always corny, and ska music was reaching its peak. It was in this specific year that a young Jake Owens was introduced to a then-rapidly-growing fad. I'm speaking of course about the WWJD bracelet. They came in an assortment of colors, red, blue, purple, teal, etc. Mine was green. Not a bright green, but a dark, strong, forest green. The color of a person's WWJD bracelet said a lot about them and how they served God. The green bracelet just happened to scream, "Will lose his hair by the time he's 20 and eventually surrender to the fact that he's not good at anything other than teaching Sunday School and playing video games." Don't even ask me what a yellow bracelet said about someone.

For my readers who are either older than 30 or younger than 20, you have to understand what these bracelets were all about. See, in ancient times, Christians were persecuted, so they had to come up with clever ways of identifying one another as Christians. In 1997, the true believers identified themselves with a colorful bracelet on the wrist. It meant you got it. It was a sign that you were not just a "christian," but that you were a, "CHRISTIAN." (The difference is subtle, but I'm relatively certain it has something to do with whether you can sing harmony on Light the Fire or not.)

So for a while, things were wonderful. But then that terrible, horrible, dark year of 1998 approached, and the inevitable happened. The fad. WWJD was no longer something secret and sacred, suddenly it was something cheerleaders wore! Suddenly it was a way of identifying who was cool! Suddenly the beautiful people wanted to know me, because I was wearing the same bracelet as them! I remember sitting in the cafeteria with my friends and wanting to scream, "NO! This isn't right! You're not supposed to match your bracelet with your shoes! You're supposed to let it scream something about your faith!" We all fought that long culture war, but in the end, as they always do, the trendsetters won out, and the bracelet became just another accessory. Sometime around 1999, I sadly put my green WWJD bracelet away in the middle drawer for good, to be lost amongst so many back-issues of Nintendo Power.

Now look; I've spent a lot of the last couple of years trying to rediscover my 6th grade faith. Somewhere along the line between 12 and 23, I let my faith become less...potent. It's not that I love God less, it just feels like for some reason I don't rely on him as much. Maybe I grew up and started thinking I was able to take care of myself, maybe I just grew up. Who knows. The point is, 12 year old Jake was a titan of faith. That kid would stand on a bus stop with drug dealers and chain smokers and not bat an eye, because he knew that Jesus protected him. He used to stay awake late at night to pray longer, because he knew it would make tomorrow better. 23 year old Jake? He's having trouble waking up 20 minutes before class to say a prayer.

I'm not about to say that that bracelet was directly tied to my faith, but what I did notice is that the bracelet left about the time I started to develop a healthy dose of cynicism in my attitude. Suddenly, just because other people had diluted the importance of WWJD, I didn't want anything to do with it. The bracelet was just a symptom of something deeper; my faith had become jaded. I was suddenly analyzing others' faith, trying to pinpoint what they were doing wrong so I could "fix" it. I put that bracelet in the drawer about the same time that I started complaining that no one was as enlightened as I was, whining about how youth events could have been done better, trying to identify what others should be doing for me.

Lately my prayers have been a little different. Rather than praying to God for a deeper understanding of him, or praying that he fixes everyone else's attitude, I've started praying that God restores the faith of my youth. It was a selfless faith, one that didn't critique and judge others' performance, the kind of faith that just loved to be among Christians and to worship with them.

Again, I can't be sure that this applies to you. But be honest; do you complain a lot? Do you lean over to the person beside you and complain about how much you hate when Song Leader A leads this song, or how you wish we hadn't moved to the gym, or how much assigned seating bugs you, or what speaker you wish they had instead. Is your faith conditional? Are you only joyful when things go a certain way? Or do you rejoice that God has called you? Do you spend your time being joyful because God is joyful, praising because he deserves it, and loving others because they're God's children too?

It occurs to me that having the faith of a child isn't about anything more than being content, being happy, and being joyful simply that God has called you to be his child. The faith of a child isn't a silly faith or an oversimplified one, it's a faith that lacks cynicism.

The other day, while deep cleaning The 305, I found a WWJD bracelet under my desk. I'm not sure where it came from, but it was in pristine condition. I turned it over backwards, strapped it on, then flipped it, so that it wouldn't come loose. My new bracelet is red. Red seems to be the color that says, "Nothing good is ever truly lost."


Friday, October 23, 2009

God's Insanity is Greater than man's Sanity

You knew this was coming. Maybe you dreaded it, maybe you were hoping for it, but one way or another, you knew I'd be back. How am I? Well I'm getting married now. That's pretty exciting. I also now fit into size 38 pants, which hasn't happened for a long long time. They're lime green corduroy pants to boot. I know, you missed me.

Let me give you a look into my life currently. At age 23, I am just a few short months away from marriage and graduation. (Not in that order) I am currently involved in trying to find a job, and while some prospects are beginning to look promising, I wanted to share a little insight, let you see what's going on in this twisted mind of mine.

As I've been searching for a job, I've had this constant temptation. Namely, the temptation to settle for less. Now mind you, I'm not trying to make a statement about what makes a good Church or a bad Church. But you know me, and if you've read even a few of the things I've written on here you know that I'm not going to be able to work at just any Church. That's okay; lots of Churches won't work for a lot of people. It's not about right or wrong, it's about finding the right fit.

The temptation however comes in when a Church that isn't a good fit looks like it would have good money, or at least secure money. Look, it's hard to admit. I'm not getting into ministry for the money, but when you're staring down the barrel of a gun called "responsibility" it's hard to not stop and consider the best financial option. Ministry isn't about money, but that doesn't change the fact that everyone has to eat. Everyone also has to pay of 5 years worth of student loans. Everyone also has to get married. Everyone also has to pay ridiculous gas prices (I refuse to accept $2.75 as okay) and everyone also has to find health insurance and still hopefully have enough money to go out with the new wife once in a while and possibly even revive a long-lost video game hobby. Everyone has a lot on everyone's mind.

So the other day, no joke, I sat down and looked at several job opportunities. There was the temptation to leap in headfirst, and to just start dishing out resumes like so much Halloween candy corn. But my mind keeps drifting back to one of my favorite parts of scripture, the Corinthian Epistles. This is the part where I start talking Bible!

Paul started this Church in Corinth. Then he left. While he was gone, people started looking around at how the local bigwigs ran things. They saw this group called the Sophists, who were (I'm not making this up) fond of teaching people by screaming at each other, and having their students pull pranks on one another. The Corinthian Church saw all of this and thought, "Whoa, those guys are awesome. People would want to be a part of our Church if we were more like that!" The end result? Well of course the Church all turned on one another and began having shouting matches and trying to sabotage one another.

So Paul gets wind of this from someone who works for Phoebe, the lady who helped run the Church in Corinth. He's obviously not pleased, so he writes them a letter, and one of the first (and best) lines in the whole thing goes like this: "The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." -1 Corinthians 1:25

You should seriously read the book yourself, but let me sum it up. Paul is explaining to the Corinthians that God's way is always best, even when it looks like the least intelligent way of doing things. Maybe it doesn't look that smart to forgive that person that hurt you so bad; doesn't matter. God knows better than you. Maybe it seems like a dumb idea to give any of your money to other people right now, what with the economy down so much. Do it anyway. Even at his weakest, God is stronger than us or any financial market.

For me, what this reminded me is that God's will for me is best. I might want to seek out the first and most secure thing that comes my way, but God has something better. God will take care of my money, and he will lead me to a Church where I fit, and where I can maximize my affect on the Kingdom. On a side note, shortly after reading this and making the decision to stop pursuing a few specific job opportunities, I was given a promotion at work and am getting paid basically double what I was. God's already got my back.

You? I don't know if this applies to you. Sadly the best I can do is write what God puts on my heart and hope that it connects with you. But know that I love you, and that I have already prayed that God will clear your mind, and show you his will. It will probably look insane. Turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and trusting an unseen God with your financial security all looks insane. But from one insane person to another, it's a pretty darn good way to live.