Sports Theology

Saturday was another hard day. Tennessee lost another game in the 4th quarter after leading by more than two scores. That tune seems to be competing with Rocky Top for Tennessee’s anthem these days.

I don’t handle losing well. I never have. My day will be worse after a loss than a win, almost regardless of the competition.

I’ve often wondered if I need to grow up. If my desire to win and my emotional response to losing are both just immature, worldly passions. I’ve even had people (and pastors) indicate this in their comments to me while I’m celebrating a win or recovering from a loss.

While I don’t believe these feelings should be allowed to linger or ever be justification for other sins, I do think that they are actually healthy if thought about rightly.

Let me explain.

I think sports are sacramental. They’re God’s way of reminding our hearts that we were designed for victory, not defeat. The thrill you experience when your team comes from behind, overcomes the odds, and comes out on top is a glimpse at what you were created for. You were created to win.

The story of the gospel is that we were down in the first half. We called the wrong plays, we turned the ball over, we missed tackles and gave up explosive plays. Then Jesus steps in for us, drives the ball down the field flawlessly, and orchestrates the comeback of all comebacks. It was truly a miracle. The crowd went crazy. The goal posts came down. And the celebration continues for all of eternity.

Is it sinful to base your happiness on whether or not Tennessee wins each Saturday? Of course.

But is it sinful to long for a win each Saturday? To celebrate when it happens? To feel defeated at a loss? Not at all. In fact, it’s one of the ways God points us back to our ultimate reality in Christ.

Praise God that in Christ, we win. It’s a come-from-behind-blowout. And the celebration never ends.

There isn’t a way for churches to reach millennials

My name is Nate, and I’m a millennial. That means I must love liturgy, hate big production in church, want to ask really hard questions about faith all the time, go do organized “social justice” every Saturday, am nowhere near shallow enough (or I’m just far too clever) to attend a church with a hashtag campaign, want a pastor who preaches messages that are “on point” and filled with “authentic, hard truth”, think that the majority of Christians I grew up with were hypocritical bigots who suppressed all of my doubts, love Jesus but question institutionalized Christianity, yet simultaneously desperately desire a church that will help me get back in touch with the “historic roots” of the Christian faith.

So, church leaders… if you want to reach me and all my millennial friends, decipher how all of that fits together, then get busy changing to become exactly like me so that I can have a church that’s perfect for me. But make sure you stay “authentic” along the way, otherwise we will see straight through you and discount you completely.

Heew. What a difficult task you have. Unless, of course, that’s not true for all (I might even argue, most) millennials.

The last couple weeks, there have been several articles posted about how the church can reach millennials. Below are just two examples.

Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’

Dear church: An open letter from one of those millennials you can’t figure out

These kinds of posts have been rolling out for a few years now. The reason I’ve decided to write this post is because several older believers and pastors I deeply respect have been sharing the articles, almost as if their ministries are completely irrelevant and headed toward extinction.

I simply don’t believe that’s true.

See, there are two primary problems with these articles. First, the authors write as if their preferences are the preferences of all millennials. Second, they dismiss churches for a supposed flaw in philosophy of ministry, yet adhere to the same philosophy in a different form. Let me explain.

PROBLEM 1: Not all millennials are the same.

First, not all millennials are on a never-ending quest to find the truest, most authentic, historically-rooted expression of Christianity and “participate in an ancient-future community.” If that’s your story, that’s awesome. Sincerely! But that’s not for most people.

On Christmas Eve, it’s my tradition to attend a liturgical candlelight service. I find it’s one of the richest experiences of my year. I have truly come to love and appreciate Jesus for the Incarnation so much through these services the last seven or eight years.

But this year something interesting happened. As I was sitting there, having a spiritual moment, in tears thinking about how much love Christ demonstrated by becoming a man, I thought to myself, “See, this is what churches need more of. No fluff. No lights. No fog machines. Just liturgy! Sermons! Sacraments! Simple! How could you miss the beauty of Christmas in such an elegant service?”

Right at that moment, I looked across the aisle, and on the back row there were four young guys about my age. One was completely asleep with his head down in a pseudo-praying posture. The other two were laughing back and forth like some of the middle school students I have in my student ministry. The other guy was on his iPad.

They were in the same service I was, and they were having a completely different experience. That’s really weird though, because the key to reaching millennials is getting them into those kinds of churches, right?

Absolutely not. The key to reaching millennials is getting in touch with the historic roots of the Christian faith, where Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I might save some.” 

I honestly believe the most helpful thing for those four guys on the back row would be to see church in the way that so many of these millennial authors belittle. A church where the pastor looks like a normal guy. The worship leader has a “beard and skinny jeans” like a typical musician would have. An environment that looks like any other event venue they’d go to for a show on Thursday or Friday night. And most importantly, a presentation that’s clear, practical, and gospel-centered.

See, “relevant” and “authentic” are relative. That’s why these authors misrepresent millennials. They talk about authenticity, but what they really mean by “authentic” is “doing things the way I want them to be done.”

The fact is, churches like Hillsong, Cross Point, City Church, Buckhead, Passion City, Soul City, etc. are reaching just as many millennials as anybody. They have cool lights, modern music, put a lot of energy into creating the right vibe, have great coffee and lobby space, dress like hipsters, and utilize technology and social media. According to the articles above, these are things that automatically scream “FAKE!” to millennials.

On the other hand, there are people like Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, Matt Chandler, and Tim Keller. Each reaches millennials at his church. Yet, they are all different from each other, and most certainly different from the churches mentioned above.

PROBLEM 2: Everybody wants to attend a ‘cool’ church.

The second problem is this— those who are advocating that the church doesn’t need to try being so “cool”, “relevant” and “consumer-driven” are treating those terms as if they only apply to churches utilizing lights, modern music, technology, etc. The reality is… they wouldn’t be going to the churches they are going to if they didn’t think they were cool, relevant, and didn’t meet their needs.

Nobody ever really escapes consumerism in our culture. These authors are just as consumeristic as anybody, it’s just that for them what they believe to be cool, relevant, and desirable are liturgy, simplicity, tradition, and more intellectually stimulating dialogue. An argument could be made that those things need to be present in all churches to some degree or another, but that’s not actually the issue at stake when they talk about it. The real issue is that they find these things to be ‘cool’. Thus, their churches are driven just as much by consumerism, because they chose to attend their church because it met certain criteria.

But even most of these people want things to seem “cool” in a mainstream sense as well. For most millennials attending more traditional, liturgical churches, if the church had an ugly, out of date website, and the pastor didn’t look educated or talk eloquently, they wouldn’t go and it wouldn’t grow. Period. You know how I know? Small, liturgical churches have been around forever, but they didn’t become the millennial buzz until “cool” people started representing them.

So, how do we reach millennials? That’s just it. There isn’t a way to reach millennials. There are many ways, because the real truth about millennials is they are people just like every other age group of people. Just like in every other generation, some things will work for some and not for others.

For me, I’d be frustrated out of my mind if I had to go to a traditional church every Sunday. My best friend from high school joined an Anglican church. We both trust and follow Jesus.

The real question for me is— Would I be willing to lay down my preferences and embrace someone else’s if it meant they might meet Jesus? My hope is that the answer to that question will always be yes. My hope for local churches all over the world is that the answer would always be yes. That we would be willing to do whatever it takes to introduce people to Jesus.

5 tips to winning a high school election

Many of our students at Relevant run for high school elections. Occasionally they will ask for help campaigning or writing their speech. Believe it or not, I haven’t seen that many helpful articles on google for this subject. I thought I’d share my opinion on it all here.

I was Student Body President at Rossview High School and have run many many times for student council elections. My overall record in school elections is 5-1.

Let me clarify very quickly for our cynical readers that I in no way claim to be an expert on this subject, I do, however, have some experience.

Here are 5 tips on winning a high school election

1. Give a good speech.
There are a few keys to a good election speech. First, your speech needs to be short (like 1-1.5 minutes max). Honestly, how many high schoolers do you know that like to listen to speeches? Keep it very short and simple. If you’re not funny, don’t try to be. The worst thing you can do is try to be funny and not be. You’ll stick out to people more if you’re up there less. Just be succinct. Second, make your speech about the future, not the past. So many people try to load their speeches with their own “responsibility testimony” or something. The entire speech is them listing reasons why they’re qualified to be elected. “As a member of the Junior Civitan club…” Stop. We don’t need to know every club and activity you’ve been involved in. People don’t care what you’ve done, they care about what you’re going to do. Instead of that approach, cast vision for the future. Casting vision is simple: 1) Define a problem. What’s a problem everybody at your school agrees is a problem? 2) Offer a solution. Explain (succinctly) what you will do when you’re elected. Don’t promise things you know your principal will never do. This is not about having a detailed plan for how you’re going to fix everything. This is just about painting a picture for people of what the school could and should be like. Say things like, “Wouldn’t it be great if…” or “Imagine how much better this place would be if…” This will inspire people and motivate people. Third, say your name… a lot.  Say your name at the beginning. Say your name at the end. Then say it again at the end. Say it again if you have to. The most important thing people need to remember from your speech is your name. It’s your name they have to vote for. I have heard several times, “I really loved your speech but I couldn’t remember your name!”  Finally, don’t be glued to your notes. If you write a short, simple speech, you should be able to remember it very easily. Even if you’re not a great public speaker, you can practice enough that you won’t have to read your speech straight from the paper.

2. Campaign during lunch.
Lunch is the one time during the day when all genres of kids show up together. Use that time to spread the word that you’re running and gain momentum for your campaign. I’ve only lost one election in my school days, and I think it’s because I didn’t do this one principle. If you’re a little nervous, get over it and do it. You’ll be glad you did in the long run. People don’t mind as much as it seems if you walk up and say, “Hey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but my name is ______ and I’m running for _____. Would you guys vote for me?” Go for it.

3. Intentionally pick a few campaigners.

Find a few people who are well-liked and in different circles and specifically ask them to help you campaign. Tell them, “I really need your help if I’m gonna win this thing.” If they get on your team, you’ll gain credibility with the masses and get your name out there a lot faster.

4. Ask people to vote for you.

It sounds obvious, but so many fail to do it. If you’re walking down the hallway, ask as many people as you can. If you’re sitting next to people in class, ask as many as you can. It’ll seem forward and awkward at times, but it’s important to get people to say, “Yea, I’ll vote for you!” I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “Sorry, I wanted to vote for you but so-and-so already asked.” Ask people, and then follow up with them on the day(s) of the election.

5. Be nice the other 180 days of the school year.
In all honesty you could give Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech and be a jerk to everyone the rest of the school year and you’d lose the election. Don’t be fake, be nice the whole year… not just at election time. Campaigning starts the first week of school, not the week before the election.

The birth of sacrifice

Sacrifice. It’s one of the best words to describe our God.

It’s when you put others before yourself. It’s when you pour out rather than fill up. It’s giving instead of getting.

Sacrifice is generally associated with death. One person dies, or gives up something, so another person can live, or have something.

As an evangelical, I have a tendency to rush Jesus to the cross. I’ve always heard people say—Jesus was born to die.

But think about this.

Jesus’ birth was a sacrifice. Jesus’ entire earthly existence was a way of giving up something so that we could get something.

At Christmas, the infinite God, completely unrestrained by space, finds Himself constrained to a 6-10 pound little body. The glorious God, accustomed to Heaven, ends up in a manger from which animals eat. The light of the world suddenly knew what it was like to feel cold. Our present help became helpless.

But think about even before Christmas. Jesus was an embryo. He lived for 9 months in a womb. John could not have been more literal when he wrote, “He became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or even literally… in us.

I think the hymn writer says it best. Jesus wasn’t born to die. He was born that men no more may die.

His whole life was a sacrifice, because His whole life was lived to give us life.

When you think about it like that, it makes Paul’s words in Romans 12 even more powerful. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices,” he says.

You know why? Because that’s what Jesus did.

When Jesus…

  • Learned in the temple as a middle schooler…
  • Was baptized…
  • Went without food and water in the desert and overcame temptation…
  • Obeyed His mother’s orders at a wedding party…
  • Walked hundreds of miles from town to town to preach and heal…
  • Sat with little children…
  • Washed His friends’ feet…

… He was sacrificing. He was living so we could live.

Even His literal death on the cross was just a chapter in His life, not the end of it. Jesus’ death was a comma that occurred over and over throughout His life. He had taken up countless figurative crosses before He took the literal cross.

“Jesus was born to die.” Really? Or was Jesus’ living just so marked by sacrifice that it seemed like that?

He was living… so that we could live. So that men no more may die.

Imagine a life like that. A life so marked by sacrifice, that people confused your living as dying.

Christmas is where God’s sacrificial love shows up more clearly than it ever had before at that point in history.

When Jesus laid down in the manger he was picking up a cross.

What if we let that sink in?

Let’s worship Christ this Christmas by remembering and celebrating the sacrifice He made at His birth, and by becoming living sacrifices ourselves. This is your spiritual act of worship.

What to learn about learning

I’ve taken a couple weeks off from the blogging world. I left South Carolina and headed to Lexington, Kentucky where my family moved this summer, and have been going back and forth between Lexington and Clarksville where I’m from. I plan to be blogging regularly from here on out.

Since I’ve been back home, the question I’ve heard over and over is this: what did you learn this summer?

That’s a pretty big question. I learned a TON this summer about a bunch of different things. The posts for the next few weeks will probably all be things I learned or processed while in Charleston, but here’s what I learned about learning this summer:

The key to learning… is to develop a posture of learning. In every situation, conversation, lunch meeting, or coffee date you go to… be open to what you might learn… then, write it down.

So many people walk around thinking they’re teachers instead of learners. They might not think about it in those terms, but that’s essentially what they’re doing. They’re so convinced that they already have the right answers that they leave no room for potential learning opportunities.

I think the most ironic place this plays out is at college. College is a place where thousands of students pay money to go learn… but so many act like they’re already qualified to teach.

Here are 2 cool principles about learning:

  • The opportunity to learn comes from the humility to admit that you have something to learn. That’s hard, because when you talk to yourself you make the best arguments in the world and know everything there is to know.
  • True wisdom requires learning. Not just because wisdom is gained through learning, but because true wisdom begins with the acknowledgement that I still have so much to learn. Isn’t it cool how that works?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and so my new goal for this school year is to write down at least one thing I’ve learned each day. I think it’ll be a discipline that will keep me in a posture of learning, which will hopefully help me grow in wisdom.

What do you think? Want to join me? Write down one thing you learn each day. Maybe the most important thing you can learn is to learn.