Random Notes From What I’m Reading

The story of my life is the story of my faith…

Archive for the ‘Relevant Magazine Articles’ Category

Avoiding Hollywood’s Lure

leave a comment »

Me. You. The World. Stop it. Stop.

Stop what, you ask?

Stop believing you can do it on you own. Stop thinking fame is there for the taking. Stop hoping that obtaining a measure of wealth will buy your way out of your situation, whether it is small-town poverty or another arrest in Hollywood.

As I sit to write these words, the world seems to have gone crazy–and I feel as if I am caught up in the whirlwind of a generation gone mad.

Allen Ginsberg’s voice is echoing in my soul, a voice from the past speaking to the confusion of the present day:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix; Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”

The best minds of my generation. Destroyed by madness. Madness we have created in our cultural insistence on (groupthink) individualism and (false) freedom.

And like those few honest voices around me today in the culture–whether it be Craig Ferguson recently on television or “The Jay” in the blog world–the time is primed for a generation to press the stop button on the insanity of shame-filled images of debaucheurous lifestyles. Stories that end in nothing but cycles of pregnancy, addiction, emotional abuse and mountains of debt.

We are making and spending our money on the brokenness of lost people. We are bartering with the glossy side of sin.

I buy into the allure of famous, emotional train wrecks. You buy into the ease of bashing your more famous peers on the edge of spiritual collapse. A collapse that cannot be avoided with a big enough donation to the Church of Scientology, a retreat of Kaballah wrist cords and water, a single night of tears in an arena revival/show or a repentant public statement issued through a “friend of the family.”

And what do we turn around and do as a generation of gawkers–both Christian or otherwise? We dress just like the famous targets of our scorn, and we go to the bar/club for a drink, and end up nursing a hangover the next morning as we stand in line for an espresso at Starbucks. The details of the night before usually are slightly fuzzy, or all too painfully shameful. And all too often, this is the story of young Christians like you and me–where we justify our copycat lifestyle on the terms “being real” and “accepting” of culture.

We have to stop it. We have to start living like we believe there is a better way. The way of Jesus in our context as Generations X, Y and Z is not an excuse to continue to live our lives as we once did before we met him.

God didn’t send his only Son so I can party like a rock star.

Last evening, a friend of mine made a powerful statement. He said, “We are the most narcissistic generation in Western history. Our parents were the most affluent generation, and yet we are spending our lives trying to live like them without putting in the work.”

For once, we have to start admitting that the Jesus we say we love is devastated by the cycle of destruction we see magnified in the tabloids and replicated by our friends in towns and cities across America. God is near, and is very much wanting to grab us by the face, look us in the eyes, and say to all of us: “I love you, now stop.”

If you think I am angry or upset, realize that we are swimming in a cultural wasteland of wrecked lives. And to prop celebrities up, while mocking them simultaneously, is to whitewash our own bad deeds done. And I think God is tired of a cultural system of, well, disposability. Waste. Of needless gossip and reports of famous girls and boys “gone wild.”

Where is love in this cycle of misery among our peers–whether be addiction, depression, harmful sexual escapades, gluttony or materialism? Are we loving our neighbor in the way Jesus would? Are we living lives of examples worthy of our King?

It is time we stop. Stop and think of what lengths our God has gone to redeem all of creation. It is time we start embracing the redemption won and proven through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the words of friends at To Write Love On Her Arms, it’s time to scream, “Love is the movement.” We can and must stand up as a generation of young Christians and say we refuse to allow the destruction of sin and its equally dangerous polar opposite, religious fundamentalism, to dominate the headlines, while the message of our Messiah is continually watered down across television pulpits and coffeehouse conversation.

We are supposed to live as cultural and spiritual revolutionaries.

We have to start living lives that illustrate the power of redemption. A place where love overcomes addiction. A place where salvation is something that is continually occurring. A place where you and I begin to subvert the powers and principalities that are destroying our brothers and sisters.

For hope can only be obtained when people can feel it lived out by those who have faith that it exists.

There is a better way than the mess we are in.


Written by Ryan

February 16, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Worship at 65 MPH

leave a comment »

The most honest moment of worship I have ever experienced occurred at 65mph.

It was just after midnight, and tears were building up in my eyes. I was alone, and even the roads were lonely under the dark sky. Everything seemed so broken, so devastated and hopeless. I don’t remember where I was coming from or where I was going exactly, but I remember that I was trying to escape all the weight and pain I felt upon myself, and I didn’t know how. So I drove.

It was one of those moments when you feel absolutely everything all at once, and it was so overwhelming that I found myself collapsing and surrendering any entitlement to peace or understanding that I had previously claimed. I felt the brokenness of my life and my nature, but after only a moment He spoke.

The promise of Romans 8:28 ran through my mind, and my soul heard sincere promises being whispered to my heart. I tried to fight it, clinging to my own devastation. But God said, “I never let go of you. I never lose control. I never lose sight of what I want for you. This is not the end. This is not devastation. This is just a part of the journey,” and I was too weak to fight His words.

I turned the music off and found myself in the midst of an uncomfortable and holy silence. I felt a lump of emotion begin to painfully swell at the bottom of my throat, and I changed lanes without using my blinker. In the next moments, my life was changed. God became more personal than He had ever been before. My flesh wanted to fight it–to stay angry and bitter and hurt and hard, but instead I found myself yelling into the air the most honest words my lips have ever spoken.

Through the pain in my throat I cried, “God, I don’t believe you! I don’t feel that you are sufficient and gracious and always directing me to a life of fullness. I don’t believe that all of this will work to my benefit. But I want to believe.” And only a moment later I did believe, because there started a wonderful correspondence that gracefully demanded vulnerability and hopeless surrender to purposes greater than my own happiness and comfort.

Driving alone at night seemed to do wonderful things inside my heart at this point in my life, especially when that drive involved pulsing music and cool winds through lowered windows. It just did something for me, as it does for many young people. There is some kind of redemption in being dramatic and free in front of absolutely no one, I am convinced. But that’s not quite the point.

That night didn’t change the circumstances of my life. I still had frustrating circumstances all around me–my parents were getting divorced, my closest friend had been taken from me in a single unexpecting moment, and I was broken-hearted from a betrayal that ended the richest relationship I had ever known. It’s not like my circumstances were restored and everyone lived happily ever after. But that night began an incredible journey to understanding that even in a broken life, God is still God. He is still sovereign, and His plans for His children of good and of purpose are not complicated, even by our own mistakes.

It’s hard to accept that the burdens of life are simply steps to a life richly satisfied and full. It doesn’t make sense to me. But I know in my heart that it is true, and even though I am still blind to so many of God’s purposes for my life, I have seen some amazing things birthed from pain and loss. God doesn’t waste any chance to receive glory and to bring His children closer to His love and will. Really, that’s better than anything else, anyway.

Over the years, God has shown me that it is in my broken moments that I most sincerely grow closer to Him. It’s easy to “trust God” when life is easy, but what about when uncertainty and fear are all you see? It is trust in the darkness, faith in hopelessness, surrender when directionless, and praise in devastation that strengthens my love for Him the most. And in return, I feel His love consume and direct me, and it is so unlike anything else I have ever know.

We all know pain. Some of us know it very well. But not all pain has to be a devastation to our lives. It is never meant to be. God is within even the darkest moments of our days, and choosing to search for him and wait upon him through the struggles of each day will, without fail, shed light unto our hearts. And in the moments where God speaks to us in speeding cars, healing and purpose gain a new strength. And even the dead can find life.

God is still God in the bankruptcy, in the cancer, in the divorce, in the death, in the fire. God is still God when people walk away and when the addictions don’t break. God is still God when insurance doesn’t cover the damage or the loans aren’t granted. God is still God in our broken circumstances, just as He was God when He hung on the cross to redeem the world.

All things. Even these broken days.

Written by Ryan

February 7, 2008 at 12:35 am

Faith or Manipulation?

leave a comment »

By Summer Lee Carlson for Relevant Magazine

I once heard a report about an explorer who advertised for his trip through a poster listing several reasons why people shouldn’t want to join him. Among them was the key point that they would most likely die. His method of advertising was rooted in a belief that at the very core of humanity is the desire to be challenged to live beyond mediocrity and comfort. And he was right. He was overwhelmed with people wanting to join his team.

I look at the Church in America in general and wonder if we have adopted the opposite of the stance this explorer took. I worry that we have swallowed the mindset of this culture, telling us to live as securely and comfortably, to never sacrifice and to live above our means. I have heard discussions on reaching a “postmodern” generation numerous times, and I have watched many of the methods designed with a cringing alarm.

I would love nothing more than to sit down with a few church leaders and have a heartfelt discussion concerning these methods. I don’t want to convey hatred for church, or even for structure. I realize the hearts of many of these individuals are genuine and I have no desire to overthrow the system like a rabid youth.

What I would like to say is that I wish they made it harder for me to claim the title, “follower of Christ”. I wish I heard more about sacrifice and saw less video clips and power point presentations. I wish I heard more sermons with actual scripture as the basis for the message, rather than a book, sitcom, cartoon or idea that has spawned from the latest movie trilogy. I wish we sang more songs that require my brain to become engaged in viewpoints of God and faith that go beyond the general concepts of passive acceptance.

I have spent the majority of my life accosted by society’s attempts to manipulate me. I can see through light shows, flashy presentations and sales pitches with ease, and my cynicism abounds. Which is why cheesy graphics on a screen create an automatic distaste and the immediate reaction to shut off whatever is about to be presented to me. I am desperate to hear those who tell me that to live out the faith of Christ will require my death. Those who will say “many are called but few are chosen,” unaccompanied by lights and laser shows. Those who believe that the clear and concise truth of a gospel, that was and still is offensive to many, can stand on its own.

I believe I am part of a generation that is becoming increasingly aware of what we are inheriting and that we are destined to play a larger part than we have in the past. I see a generation slowly beginning to respond to the call of social justice. We are noticing the articles calling our attention to places as far as the Sudan, or the struggle of the AIDS crisis and are also becoming increasingly aware of the poverty and debt that has laced its way across our own nation.

And I believe I am a part of a generation that experiences great confusion over why a church would decide to spend 10,000 dollars on a new spotlight for the sanctuary, when there are hundreds of needs that seem more important right outside the door. I am desperate to be a part of body that will hardly notice if we meet in a shack as long as we are challenged with the words of Christ urging us to “gain what we cannot lose” and to look after the poor, the orphaned and the widowed. I am desperate to engage in tangible warfare as much as spiritual warfare against the evil that is crippling this world, by acknowledging that the truth of Christ and a cup of cold water are stronger tools than any methods I can devise.

I am not declaring methods to be wrong, nor am I attacking the leaders who utilize them. I am simply wondering if we believe our faith can stand without the use of these methods. I am intrigued, astounded and inspired by the life of a man who only had to say two words, “follow me,” with the result of twelve men giving up everything to do so. And they dropped it all without being given an explanation, promise, or security.

His power went deeper than presentation or even words, and I have to ponder the idea that truth without fanfare is the only thing capable of commanding the attention of a world saturated in manipulation and commercialism. And with that I realize the explorer I heard about wasn’t the first to understand the depth of man’s cry to truly live, even at the risk of death and the loss of all security. It was and is the message of Christ, and it is still commanding the attention of men today.

Written by Ryan

January 27, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Re-Shaping The Christian Bubble

with 2 comments

By Hannah Proudler for Relevant Magazine

I grew up in a Christian bubble. As the daughter of conservative-schooled seminary graduates, I experienced Christian summer camps, hand-made coolots, traditional hymns and at least 18 summers of one-piece swimsuits.

I could not imagine a world where notes could be written on notepads printed without a bible verse, or where a refrigerator magnet did not say “Bless this Home.” Christian stores, Christian school, Christian bracelets, Christian music, Christian books; everything in my world was “Christian.”

At the age of 18, I took my dad’s adage of “when you’re in my house, you play by my rules,” to the next level, and decided to experience the life that everyone around me seemed to be experiencing. Starting fresh in my own place, I started giving in to temptations that my only weapon over was so-called wisdom suggesting “the Bible says not to do that.” For me, God’s word was a rule book, and as far as I was concerned, I had already played by the rules and I still felt empty.

I began accepting invitations to stay after hours at the restaurant where I worked to drink. I wanted my identity to be in a society of acceptance, and I certainly wasn’t finding acceptance in Christianity. Instead I only found a set of rules, a formula telling me what not to do.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ryan

December 3, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Fighting With Swords

with 2 comments

By Brandon Andress for Relevant Magazine

How can Jesus, in one breath, say that a characteristic of his discipleship is that of peacemaker (Matthew 5:9), but then in another breath say that, “[he] did not come to bring peace, but a sword”?

This seeming contradiction has caused great confusion. This scripture has been used and abused by Christian religious zealots and fanatics as evidence that Jesus condones violence. I’ve often wondered if it’s possible that this line has been misunderstood and taken out of context when measured against the language of the old testament prophets in their understanding that God is working for shalom (oneness and wholeness).

Jesus had every opportunity to wield the sword, but never did. It’s odd. Why did Jesus tell his followers to “never resist an evil person,” and further, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? Who would he use the sword on? Who would his disciples use the sword on? The answer is no one, except Peter, once.

After Judas kissed Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the guards stepped forward to arrest Jesus and Peter cut the guard’s ear off by sword. Jesus said, “put your sword back in its place.” and, “do you not think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Jesus made a military statement to describe how he could respond then says, “but how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must not happen this way?” The way of Jesus was not the way of the sword it was the way of the towel (of self-sacrificial love). Always loving, always pouring himself out, always giving self-sacrificially and without responding the way the Kingdom of the world responds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ryan

December 1, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Where is the Love?

leave a comment »

By Sierra McConnell

A favorite pastime between my best friend and I is to compare the culture we were brought up in with that of the one we are currently living in. We both come from fairly liberal societies in the north and, for the time being, are stuck in an ultra-conservative society in the south. We have both grown up learning to love everyone, regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they believe or what they look like. Neither of us were brought up by atheists, Satanists or any other “heathens” most people think our parents must have been. We were both taught that God’s Word is Truth and that the Father loves the entire world enough to send His only Son so that people could believe in Him. We both have left the church in pursuits of other things at one point or another in our lives, but we both still held these things we were taught throughout our wanderings off of the path. We were both very aware that when we arrived to our school in the south that people were going to be more conservative and we would meet a considerable amount of other Christians.

We never thought we would associate Christianity with unloving.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ryan

November 19, 2007 at 6:01 pm


leave a comment »

By Emma Sciantarelli for Relevant Magazine

The best way to truly understand the miraculous nature of the love of God is to find one person with a heart harder than stone and love that person with all your strength. Only when love is completely one-sided—lavished abundantly yet refused immensely—will one begin to understand the heart of a God who loved us while we were still sinners.In recent times I have become involved in the lives of seven Nepali boys, ages six to 14, formerly residents of the street. A product of all things that are street life, my kids use drugs, lie, steal, cheat and fight on a regular basis. Most street kids become beggars before the age of six, marijuana smokers before the age of eight and users of heavier drugs—mainly smack—before the age of 10. Through the process of pulling my boys off the streets, enrolling them in school and giving them another chance, I have had my doubts. Will the boys ever be able to really change?True love is not motivated by potential results. Love does not choose to act when the risks are low and the benefits are high. Love loves because it cannot help itself—it has no choice but to give anything despite everything.

Although love has the power to foster change within the loved, it is not dependent upon this change. Love unceasingly thrives upon itself—no matter what reaction its presence warrants.

Opposition does not encumber true love. The defining character of true love is its ability to stand alone and unhindered, steadfast and resolute. Love remains constant in the moment of trial and unchanged amidst resistance. Although the object of love’s affection may push away, true love does not retreat.

There is a war within 12-year-old Rashon unlike anything I have ever seen in an individual. In a good moment, he is the most loving, considerate boy of them all. He works diligently in school, and his eyes shine with the goodness of a child. Yet, within a split second, the swelling rage of a vicious heart overpowers his goodness

“I no love you—I hate you!!! You no good guys. You no giving me smoking! I no like reading school; I want sleeping street every night! My life no good; I no care,” Rashon screams at me on the bad end of one of his many pendulum swinging emotional lows, “I want every day smoking! I sleep street and every day coming crazy and using.”

Rashon cups his hands around his mouth pantomiming the way street kids inhale glue before he bends down and lifts up a corner of the linoleum flooring of his room. In defiance, Rashon takes out a small bag of marijuana he has been hiding and smirks as he holds it before me. Almost as a challenge, he begins to roll.

My flesh wants to cry out, “After I have sacrificed so much of my life for you? After all I have done for you? After I’ve taken you in, built you a home, made you a bed, given you a life—this? This is how you repay me?”

God quiets my head and love forces me to look deep.

Did you become involved in the lives of these boys for repayment from them or out of obedience to Me? What is not clear about love’s unconditional nature? Before you cared for Me, I loved you. Even still you defy Me—you turn your back on My love—but My love for you remains steadfast. If My love for you had been contingent upon your response, surely I would have left you long ago.

Before me stands the same rage-filled child, yet seen by God’s eyes. I now see a little boy fully aware of the evilness of man but has experienced nothing of the goodness of God.

Suddenly my anger is replaced by a love not my own, and, despite that only moments earlier I wanted nothing more than to scold my rebellious kid, the only words that come out are, “I love you, Rashon.”

“I no love you,” Rashon continuing to smoke, throws his metal chest across the room. His clothes and books spill out as the box hits the wall. “I love you. If you smoke everyday, I will love you.”

Rashon runs at me and begins beating me with his fists in attempts to rid himself of this foreign thing called love. “I no love you. I no want you love me.” “Rashon, no matter what, I am going to love you. Break everything in this room, and I will still love you. If you don’t love me, that’s fine. I still will always love you. If you run away, I will love you. If you stop going to school, I will love you. Nothing you can do will stop me from loving you.”

“You talking, I no listening. You love me; I no care. I no love you,” shoes begin flying and posters torn from the walls. Before I knew God’s love, I wonder how many times my actions said the very same thing to Him.

And yet … “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, TNIV).

Written by Ryan

November 12, 2007 at 12:50 pm