Category Archives: Everything Else

Firm Foundation week 5: The Global Mission of the Church

Introduction:

1) What’s been your experience with Global mission work?

The Global Mission of the church

2) Read Matthew 28:16-20. This bit of scripture is called the Great Commission, where Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. As we talked about last week the word for “make disciples” is a Greek word that takes the noun “disciple” and makes it a verb. It is different than the word for preach or teach. Why do you think Jesus commands specifically to make disciples instead of simply preaching or teaching?

3) Read Proverbs 25:25, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Today the global church is growing faster than ever before and soon there will be far more Christians in China and Africa than the US and Europe. Are we still called to go to these regions even if they already know Jesus? How else might we be called to support them?

4) Short term mission trips are sometimes criticized as less beneficial to the people overseas. What are some of the pitfalls of short-term missions? When do you think they are beneficial?

If you want to read more, here’s a good article on this discussion: https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2006/march-online-only/commonpitfallsstm.html

5) Read Luke 10:29-37. There is actually much more in scripture about simply loving foreigners and travelers in our presence than there is about going to far off lands, how does that inform the way we can help accomplish the mission of Christ here as well as overseas?

6) Read Exodus 23:9, Malachi 3:5, 1 Kings 8:41-44, how might these passages challenge our view of refugees and immigrants?

7) How are you actively helping accomplish God’s global mission now?

Wrap up:

8) We’ve covered several topics over the last few weeks; Discipleship, Evangelism, Holiness, Scripture, the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Global missions. Of these topics what is the area that you need to learn more about or what is your chief growth area?

9) What can you do to, or continue – to improve in this area? Do you need to read more scripture? Do you need to study a specific topic? Do you need to take a mission trip? Do you need to start to serve in an area of the church? Do you need to commit to attending worship more often? Do you need to commit to spend more time with God? What next step can you take and how can this group help you?

15 Steps to Navigate Conflict – Ice Cream For Breakfast Part 3

There are plenty of good blog entries, books, and sermons about a Biblical look at handling conflict, and there doesn’t need to be another. This instead is a collection of practical steps I’ve learned to take when walking through conflict to achieve minimum blood loss. Each of these steps represents a lesson that I’ve learned in my life, many of them very recently.

I’m terrible at dealing with conflict, at least my natural tendency is to be terrible at dealing with conflict. Though I’m still not great at it, I think that over the last ten years I’ve gotten much better at dealing with conflict largely due to the fact that I’ve listened to lots of good advice on the topic. There are several related books I would recommend. In college I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People which talks a lot about conflict, especially in habits 4,5,6. I also read The 5 Dysfunctions of at Team which outlines the way to diagnose conflict in its early stages. Pretty early on in my career, my boss recommended that I read Crucial Conversations and Leadership and Self-Deception. I also recently read Boundaries and Daring Greatly – which I’d recommend for everyone as well. All of these books have contributed to my understanding of conflict.

Before I jump in I do want to say that I’m not really addressing the issue of abuse in this entry. This list is about necessary conflict, not unnecessary rude and or hurtful behavior. So when I talk about staying and fighting it out, I’m not saying that a person should stay in an abusive situation. I’m saying that you shouldn’t give up on a necessary argument when it gets heated. the book Boundaries is probably the best book about dealing with emotionally abusive people and I recommend everyone read it. If you’re in a physically abusive relationship don’t bother with the book; find help and get out now.

The reality is that in adulthood you need to fight your own battles. If you call yourself and adult, never let a parent, a boss, a friend, a spouse, and definitely not a child fight a battle that only you should be fighting. Aside from the fact that getting more people involved in a conflict rarely makes it easier, if it is truly your battle then the easiest route to its resolution is going to be through your involvement – not through someone else’s.

I’m addressing conflict between coworkers and friends, but I believe most of these could apply to marriage as well. I just can’t speak to that from experience. I will say that a major difference in a relationship is that the relationship has to take precedence over who is “right” whereas in a work situation, you can’t have a productive environment if you can’t first agree on basic truths – and to do that you might have to have some conflict.

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[home_callout2_line]#1 CHOOSE[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]YOUR BATTLES[/home_callout2_line]
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This one is pretty cliche, and, at least in my experience, Christians are more likely to avoid conflict entirely than to be overly aggressive, but it is a challenge for some. One of the things that is important to realize when dealing with people is that everyone has an emotional bank account with you. Not that everyone keeps score, but everyone has a natural need for there be a balance of trust versus questions, of compliments and criticisms, of endorsements or arguments. Keep this in mind when choosing which conflicts to pursue. Just like with a fiscal bank account, you don’t want to spend all your equity on something and then realize later that you need it for something more important. Be sparing with your choice of what to challenge and how far to take it. Ask questions before you dive headlong into it. It’s never bad to respectfully ask a person why they’ve made a choice from a point of curiosity and then explain why you might’ve done something different, but recognize that if you go further you’re entering into a conflict. If you spend your emotional equity well then managing conflict can become very easy and over time heated conflicts will become very rare.

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[home_callout2_line]#2 ACCEPT THAT CONFLICT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]IS OFTEN NECESSARY[/home_callout2_line]
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I was in an argument with someone on a Christian facebook group. It was civil, but when I referred to our exchange as an argument, the other guy said that it wasn’t an argument, but rather a discussion. I told him that I was presenting an argument, that he was presenting an argument – so what do you call that? We’ve come to a place where the very word “argument” denotes something bad. In reality sometimes you have to make arguments to get to the truth. A court case is a slow, drawn out argument that is often totally necessary. At times people will refer to certain scriptures about unwholesome talk and say that it means we’re not supposed to get into arguments which is a flagrant misuse of scripture, and a spiritual manipulation tactic often used to squelch disagreements. At times the only way to get to where you need to go is to wade through some tough conflict.

No, not all conflict is necessary, but in the church there seems to be a really messed up idea that a lack of conflict is a measure of success. Conflict doesn’t have to be heated, it certainly doesn’t have to be unkind, it doesn’t have to be violent. But one of the ways God reveals his will is through the fellowship of believers. Part of that fellowship is going to include disagreements. And while not all conflict is necessary conflict itself is a given in life and a lack of conflict is NOT a sign of success.

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[home_callout2_line]#3 DO NOT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]Overreact[/home_callout2_line]
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If someone blindsides you with a passing challenge, or sudden bit of negative feedback it is tough not to jump into a heated conflict. It’s especially tough if the person was inconsiderate in the way they addressed it. Often times a poorly worded thought or thoughtless comment is just that – thoughtless – and because it hurt, your lizard brain wants to either run away or hurt them back. Take a deep breath and don’t create a conflict where there isn’t one yet. I’m terrible at this. If someone says something that bothers me I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut about it. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was how to recognize when I need to respond to something and when I can just let it pass. It was amazingly freeing in meetings when I realized that I don’t have to respond to every mild criticism or every sideways comment. If someone’s inconsiderate remark is really bothersome it’s probably better to address in private, after a meeting and do so in a way that doesn’t assume the person was trying to be hurtful. Plus, given some time you may realize that it’s not a battle worth choosing.

Not overreacting and addressing things in private is a great way to avoid unnecessary conflict and in many ways will help you choose only the important battles. This is often hard to keep in mind because we have a tenancy to only choose one of two options when we’re faced with conflict.

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[home_callout2_line]#4 CHOOSE THE [/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]THIRD OPTION[/home_callout2_line]
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In Crucial Conversations the larger part of the discussion is on the fact that our natural tendency is to either run from conflict or to dominate our way to the conflict’s conclusion. It’s animal instinct; fight or flight. Neither way will really get you what you need. Running away will just make the conflict worse in the long-run. Dominating things will make other people resent you and will make other conflicts worse. Notice I said “dominate” not “shout” that’s because you don’t have to be super aggressive to dominate an argument. Mentioning your position on the org chart might be enough to dominate a conversation in the work place. “Well, let me remind you I’m your supervisor…” That’ll end the conflict, but it won’t help you with the next one.

[pullquote animation=”fadeInUp” align=”left or right”]”When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth” – Patrick Lincioni[/pullquote]

The third option is simple, but often difficult – stay and reason it out. The process is long and it might get heated, but if you stick with it and don’t let them stop talking and don’t stop listening until they’re finished, you might find out that your position does actually need some alteration, and they might as well. It is much, much harder than the other ways of doing things, but once it’s done, it’s done for good and each conflict gets easier because as Patrick Lincioni says, once you’ve established trust, conflict is just getting to the truth.

Sometimes knowing there is a third option is the key to avoiding unnecessary conflict. I remember how huge this revelation was for me. After I read Crucial Conversations, I was in a meeting where I got some negative feedback. I felt my pulse quicken and blood rush to my face. I then remembered that I could choose not to react. I took a deep breath and listened. Basically what was said was fair, but I also knew the story behind the scenes justified why it all had happened, but I realized the people in the room didn’t need to know that, they just needed to know that I heard the feedback. I thanked the person for their feedback and the conversation moved on.

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[home_callout2_line]#5 LISTEN[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]AND VALIDATE[/home_callout2_line]
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The greatest and first thing you can always do to diffuse tension is to validate the other person’s feelings. You can validate them without agreeing with their reasoning. If someone says “I feel depressed because you don’t care about me.” and you immediately say “I don’t care about you? Of course I do! I bought you dinner just last night!” then you start arguing about whether or not you actually DO care then you’ve missed the most important part of that sentence. “I feel depressed” is what you must address first. Tell them that you don’t want them to be depressed, and that you understand how hard it is to feel that way. Try to ask them why they feel that they’re not cared for and then you might kindly remind them about last night’s dinner. If you validate a person’s feelings before disagreeing with them you’re more likely to get them to listen to you when you explain your feelings.

In Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the 5th habit is “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” He talks about how some psychologists believe that the most basic human emotional need is to be understood – not even agreed with, but understood. By listening, repeating their position back, agreeing where you can, empathizing where you can, and asking if they feel understood, you can often end the conflict outright. Covey also says that most conflicts in relationships come about because of unexpressed thought about roles and goals.

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[home_callout2_line]#6 FIGHT FAIR, KEEP YOUR COOL[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]AND APOLOGIZE[/home_callout2_line]
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There are whole books on how to argue in a fair way. Keeping to the matter at hand, not bringing up past arguments, being reasonable, and not interrupting are all important parts of this. When debating someone, getting heated isn’t always avoidable, but there’s no need to loose your cool completely. To avoid this, make sure that you’re only ever addressing the problem and you’re not attacking the person. “You always…” and “You never…” are generally untrue statements and they will not help the discussion. If you do loose your cool, apologize. Don’t say the word “But” after apology. Use statements of feeling and word pictures. “I’m sorry that I reacted. It was wrong of me. I think the reason why I got so upset is because when you’re late I feel like I’m just an extra in your movie.” Once again you have to listen and hear when you’ve hurt a person.

Some people think apologizing denotes a feeling. This is totally false. Some people think that apologizing for your actions means that you’re conceding the argument. Also false. Apologizing in the midst of conflict is primarily admitting that your actions (whether by intention or not) may have caused hurt and that you don’t want that hurt to get in the way of the discussion. You can apologize for hurting a person’s feelings and still discuss the truth. It is important that you clear the air before you get to the truth. Otherwise they’ll probably not come to you next time and they’ll just hold a grudge instead. I’ll say it again: Apologize if you caused hurt, otherwise you may totally win the argument and lose the person, in which case you have actually lost the conflict. “Winning” is more than demonstrating your right to the point that the other person doesn’t have a response. Oh, and “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology, and if it is said to a person attuned to that kind of manipulative language it will only make it worse.

On keeping your cool: Just because you don’t raise your voice doesn’t mean you’re keeping your cool. If you interrupt, take a condescending tone, or make sideways comments about the other person’s opinions being less valid, then you’re not keeping your cool. Also smiling and/or laughing during a serious conflict DEFINITELY does not mean keeping your cool. It communicates to the other person that you’re scoffing at them or you’re not taking the discussion seriously. Keeping your cool means being totally in the moment, being serious without being angry, and being respectful and sympathetic to the person.

The easiest way to maintain your cool is to make sure you don’t demonize the person or over-simplify their argument. You really need to try to understand what they’re disagreeing with you on before you can find a resolution. Which leads us to the next item…

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[home_callout2_line]#7 TRY TO[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]GET TO THE ROOT[/home_callout2_line]
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Try to figure out what the real cause of the conflict is. If someone is getting heated there is often some emotion involved and usually what you end up arguing about is only peripherally related to the actual issue at hand. You might ask: are they afraid of something? ashamed of something? In Daring Greatly Brené brown talks about how being vulnerable is one of the best ways to avoid conflict, and the thing that keeps us from being vulnerable is feeling ashamed about something in our lives.

Sometimes people don’t want to admit what is causing them to get emotional because they’re afraid of how they’ll be perceived. This is why it’s so important to keep your cool and establish trust. If someone feels like they can’t speak their mind around you, they’re not going to say what they’re really going through. To get to the root you have to have already established trust so that people can voice their thoughts on things.

Often times people have their own pictures of what is happening in an argument that may or may not be accurate. So often times to get to the root you first have to determine what those narratives are and whether they’re accurate.

This one is tricky, because if you’re dealing with a mature person it is a very effective way to diffuse an argument. But in real world application you’ll find some folks who are dealing with their own insecurities, being vulnerable could shock them into overreacting, or they may just be flippant in response to your vulnerability and basically give you a “that’s stupid that you feel that way.” If you find that people don’t respond to vulnerability in a mature way, you aren’t likely to find a quick or easy end to the conflict and you need to be careful that you don’t start arguing with them about their reaction to your vulnerability. Just back away, try not to feel to hurt and reengage through another path.

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[home_callout2_line]#8 WEED OUT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]FALSE NARRATIVES[/home_callout2_line]
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One of the greatest problems that we have with people is getting in a state where we have contempt for them – and usually to get to that place you have to build a network of false narratives. In Leadership and Self Deception a great deal of the book addresses what happens after we do something that we know we shouldn’t – something the book calls a “self betrayal” and how after a self betrayal our mind goes into over drive to justify that behavior, to do this, we often have to make up a series of false narratives. “Well sure I didn’t do what I said I would, but she didn’t listen to me when I was trying to tell her my opinion on the next project the other day and so she doesn’t really care about me and probably wants me to die anyway.”

Catch yourself when you start to make up these false narratives. Stop them at their root and realize that they’re often the cause of unnecessary conflict. Again, apologize for when you’ve behaved poorly. It is amazing how often conflict just ends when you apologize.

Brené Brown talks about this and says the best way to address it is often to tell the other person the story that you’re making up in your head. “Hey, yesterday when you rolled your eyes in the meeting it seemed really dismissive, and the story I’m making up in my head is that you don’t think I’m qualified to be here.” Sure, they might confirm that they don’t think you should work there, but more than likely they’ll respond with something more like “Oh gee, no I wasn’t even thinking about you at the time. I was responding to a lame joke someone on my side of the table had told earlier.” Conflict ended.

Similarly . . .

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[home_callout2_line]#9 DON’T ASSUME[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]YOU UNDERSTAND[/home_callout2_line]
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Sometimes the thing that keeps a person from entering into a conflict is because they think they know what the other person will say, or they think they understand what the other person’s reasoning is. These are often false narratives that are keeping a necessary conflict from taking place. And even if they’re not false narratives, at the very least you can’t fault a person for something they haven’t said yet.

I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of a needless grudge and in pretty much every case the reason why the offended person doesn’t bring it up with the offender is because they think they know what the other person will say. If you are arguing with that person in your head then you’re probably making it into something worse than it is and you are already making up false narratives to support your claim. There might be a conflict there that needs to happen to get something sorted out, but you’re keeping it from happening because of your assumptions.

It’s also possible that, if addressed in the right way, the person will simply agree with you and you’ll find out that you had no clue what was in their head all along. If you’re so sure that you know what the person will say, here’s an exercise, write it down before hand and then go talk to them. Go back and see how different it was afterwards. Unlike the characters on TV shows you can’t really predict exactly what people will say.

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[home_callout2_line]#10 DON’T MAKE IT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]ABOUT YOU[/home_callout2_line]
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Before proceeding into any conflict ask, “Is this just about my pride, my way, my wants, and my expectations?” If yes, then you’re only arguing about you and you’re being selfish. It’s not wrong to say you’re not getting needs fulfilled; that’s different, but if this argument is taking place with a coworker or boss keep in mind they’re not there to fulfill your needs. Arguments about needs are reserved for spouses and friends.

If you’re working toward a common goal with a group and you don’t get what you want, I think you have to ask the question; can I truly make the argument that what I want is really what we need as a group? If not, then you’re making it about you. If so, then argue for that, not because you want it, but because you believe it’s what’s best for everyone – and explain why you believe it’s what’s best. Simply saying “I’m not getting what I was promised,” is an argument for something being unfair to you, but the sad truth is sometimes what’s best for everyone might actually be unfair for you. Again – go talk it out with your family, don’t expect your coworkers to be sympathetic when your reasoning is “I’m not getting what I want.” Does something being unfair factor in? For certain, but it shouldn’t outweigh everything else. If you feel that it’s unfair you can express it (I encourage you to), but not in such a way that shows you believe fairness toward you is a greater need than the ultimate goal of the group. Do so in a way that shows you recognize that it’s all for the greater good, even if you don’t get what you want. Example: “I don’t want this to be a determining factor, but I do think we need to recognize that this was not what was originally discussed and I feel that it is unfair. However, as long as we agree that this is what’s best, I can accept it, at the same time I hope we can all work together to be consistent with plans in the future.” Done right it could earn you respect.

One of the simple truths about Christianity is that we have to become more concerned with God’s kingdom than the little injustices in our lives. If you find yourself at the center of the conflict then you’re probably doing it wrong. If someone attacks you, try to look where you can apologize and focus on steps 6,7,& 8. Once you’ve rooted it out and thoroughly understood each other you should both have the maturity to admit if you’ve made it about your own wants.

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[home_callout2_line]#11 SOLVE IT[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]FOR GOOD[/home_callout2_line]
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Don’t leave anything unsolved – if you have lingering feelings say them and get them out there – and make sure they do too. Not choosing to share something now doesn’t give you license to dredge up old conflicts back up. Let me say it again: If you don’t bring it up during that conflict you either forfeit your right to be angry about it or you cannot call yourself a mature adult.

I was in a conflict with someone I was close with not long ago. We talked about it off and on for the better part of a day. The great thing was when it was over it was totally over. If you leave something unexpressed there is a tenancy to also assume that they left things unexpressed and that will give way to false narratives. You don’t need to belabor the argument unnecessarily, but until you get to the place where you feel like you have resolved it don’t stop fighting.

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[home_callout2_line]#12 don’t hold on to the past[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”] LET IT GO[/home_callout2_line]
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Sorry. Now it’s stuck in your head.

Once you’ve solved it resolve to forgive. The phrase “let it go” often denotes a dismissive tone, but you must recognize that when someone has hurt you during a conflict that got heated, letting it go is often a multi-part process. You have to choose to not dwell on it, to stop writing more false narratives, and to give up your right to be judgemental. This doesn’t mean you have to forget and not learn from it, but it does mean that you must move past it if you’re going to be successful in navigating future conflict. Not dealing with the problems you have in your past allows you to smuggle past baggage into future conflicts where you will have no hope of getting through it clean.

[pullquote animation=”fadeInUp” align=”left or right”]It is the height of immaturity to hold a grudge against someone for something you refuse to discuss with them.[/pullquote]

If you have reasoned that something is not worth bringing up then you MUST let it go. It is the height of immaturity to hold a grudge against someone for something you refuse to discuss with them. You give up your right to be angry if you don’t discuss it with them. If it is truly not worth bringing up, then you must forgive and move on. If it is worth discussing then discuss it, even if you think you know what they’re going to say; remember #9.

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[home_callout2_line]#13 be sure to[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”] Follow UP[/home_callout2_line]
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If there is amends to be made after the fact, make that amends. If there is other action to be taken, take that action. If you decide to go in a specific direction with a plan go into that with gusto, especially if it wasn’t your plan. If you argue about it and come to a conclusion but nothing happens then all you’ve done is throw gasoline on some wood because the next time a match gets lit that thing is going up in flames instantly. If you don’t take the steps you agree to take then no matter how the argument ended you didn’t actually solve the issue and you’re setting yourself up for a much worse one next time.

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[home_callout2_line]#14 Thank them[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]for working it out[/home_callout2_line]
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this is so, so, so important, especially if the other person came to you to discuss a conflict. You MUST thank them for working through it. The more difficult and long the conflict, the more you have to acknowledge that it was hard for them to work through it with you. You have to acknowledge that they were taking a risk by coming to you. You have to say that you’re grateful that they were willing to discuss it to your face rather than letting it fester behind your back. Hopefully you haven’t reacted, or tried to dominate the discussion, and hopefully you’ve apologized where you needed to, so they shouldn’t feel like it was an awful experience. To reinforce that this was a good thing for both of you, you have to give a sincere “thank you” to them for being willing to duke it out.

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[home_callout2_line]#15 learn from[/home_callout2_line]
[home_callout2_line bg_highlight=”true”]your mistakes[/home_callout2_line]
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There was definitely something in that conflict that you could’ve handled better. If you got heated ask why, and ask yourself how you can respond better to that trigger in the future. If they got heated think about how you might’ve triggered that and how you can be more sensitive – were you being condescending or scoffing? Were you actually listening? Did you interrupt?

As long as you think you handled it perfectly every time then you miss out on the reality that the only mediator who is capable of handling conflict perfectly is the Holy Spirit. The more you are willing to let Him influence your life the better you’ll get at this, but if you’re not willing to let Him do the work of transforming the way your view others, then you’ll always be stuck in cycles of unhealthy relationships at work and at home because of your inability to grow.

That’s it.

There are probably more that need to be added to this list. There are definitely more lessons I need to learn in this area. Handling conflict at work and in our major relationships is a major step toward health in every sphere of our life. Embracing necessary conflict is the sign of a mature person and handling it in a loving, unselfish way, is the sign of a good leader, which is a role that every adult must embrace: our place as a leader, a leader of self, in our family, of friends, and in our churches.

Cutting the Cord in 2017

Back in 2010 I wrote a blog entry about what TV would look like in ten years – we’re seven years later and pretty close to my predictions, but things are still pretty scattered. To get there, you’ll have to do lots of configuring and there are no truly “cheap” options. So let’s have a look at what you can do about cutting the cord (or satellite) in 2017.

THE BOX

You will need a set-top-box. This is something that I had hoped would fade out by now, but unfortunately the “smart” part of smart TVs still suuuucks. You will need to purchase either an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, or Roku. All of these boxes have their pluses and minuses so let me run through them quickly:

First: All of them have voice commands now, and most of them do it pretty well and they all basically work the same way. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Amazon calls their voice command function “Alexa” and Apple calls theirs “Siri” these actually don’t play into your existing amazon Echo or Apple devices. All of them can be configured to work with universal remotes like harmony and in most cases (depending upon the model) they can be controlled using apps from your phone.

Netflix and Hulu pretty much run equally well on all of them (at least on the higher end versions of Roku and Amazon fire TV.)

Apple TV – $150

(we’re talking about the 4th generation): Best all around, but most expensive. Uses airplay, so if you have iPhones, iPads, or Mac computers you can stream anything; audio, video, or mirrored displays – directly from those devices to your TV without any extra wires or configuration. It just works. It’s also the only device that will work natively with your iTunes account, so if you have lots of movies or TV shows purchased through iTunes this is the way you’ll want to go. Also the Apple TV has a native app called TV that works with other TV apps to make it easier to search for content across several different sources – this works similar to the amazon fire TV, though I prefer the Apple TV interface; it’s smoother and integrates with your iPhone to allow you to input text instead of having to scroll through the alphabet. The remote is the best of any set-top-box. It comes with a lightning charging cable and the top half is a track pad that allows for quick, precise movement across the screen. Netflix, Hulu, and apps for most major broadcast networks are all available here and more and more subscription content is available all the time, especially for sports fans.

Perhaps the biggest downside to the Apple TV (besides the higher price point) is the fact that there is currently no native Amazon Prime video app. Though, I’d imagine this would come eventually, there’s been no announcements of plans to make one. However, because of airplay you can always just open the amazon prime video app on your phone, iPad or Macbook and stream it from there, making it a minor problem in the end.

Over all I recommend the Apple TV because its from the most time-tested brand and even though it’s a little bit more of an investment, think of it as being 1-2 payments of your cable bill and you realize, it’s still pretty inexpensive.

Roku – $50-$130

The Roku really was the first Set-Top-Box to really succeed and the fact that it’s become its own brand and still competes with the likes of Amazon and Apple shows that they’re making a quality product. There are currently five different Roku products, which is confusing because there really only needs to be two. The Roku “Stick” is only $50 and is a great device, but its older brother the Roku “Ultra” has voice commands, 4K, HDR streaming (making it the highest picture quality set-top-box), and the remote can be used as a wireless audio controller so you can watch TV with your earbuds in and not disturb your baby (or husband) napping in the other room.

All the apps are here; Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and most others. Roku is a great device, and if I were writing this a year ago I would say that it was a good deal, but today Roku is probably the least impressive device when it comes to control and interface and it’s no longer the best quality or the least expensive. It all looks good, but it’s just not as smooth as the other two and as Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV have become more popular it seems like Roku doesn’t offer many advantages; Amazon fire TV is cheaper and works well with Amazon prime, Apple TV offers a better interface and works well with the Apple ecosystem. Unless you get a really good deal on it, I wouldn’t recommend the Roku at this point.

Amazon Fire TV – $40-$90

The Amazon fire TV is without a doubt the best over all value; for $90 you get a player capable of 4K video with voice control. The Amazon fire stick is the cheapest player and, having used it myself, I couldn’t tell a big difference in the speed of the interface between the Fire Stick and the Fire TV. While it’s not as smooth or slick as the Apple TV, it’s still very stylish and easy to use. It doesn’t have airplay, or iPhone integration, but if you just want something inexpensive this is the best way to go. The Amazon Fire TV box’s image is actually 4K, though I haven’t seen the 4K quality version in action – I’d suspect it’s solid. If you need 4K then this is the best way to get it. Also if Amazon Prime is the main source of online content for you, you’ll want to get this box as that’s what it is built for.

One last thing to keep in mind with all of these: They all run great over wifi if you have a a good strong signal, but you’ll get a better connection over hard-line ethernet and the stick versions only run on wifi. If you have a hard line near your TV I’d go with one of the boxes and hook it to your network that way. If you don’t get good wifi in your TV room and you don’t have a hard line, you’ll want to get something to boost your wifi signal or run a hard line before proceeding.

Internet-delivered TV options

Netflix $8-$12

You already have Netflix. I don’t need to tell you that it’s really the best streaming service out there for original content as well as syndicated classic TV. Yes the price has gone up consistently over the years, but so has the quantity and quality of content. For $8 you can go with one screen SD service, but you’ll probably at least want the $10 HD 2-screen service. Netflix is offering almost all new content in 4k via the new $12 premium service. The service also has an exclusive deal with Disney where they will get all new Disney films streaming before any other service does; that includes Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars films. A few shows you might want to check out that are only available on Netflix: Travelers, The Crown, Fuller House, Arrested Development, Daredevil, Voltron, Danger Mouse, and Stranger Things. Plus they have Friends, Frasier, and Cheers.

Hulu $8-$12

If you don’t want to bother with getting an antenna to enjoy most of the content available on three of the five of the major broadcast stations (ABC, NBC, FOX) then you’ll want to go with Hulu. It’s not the best deal, but they’re working on getting more exclusive content. Shows to check out on Hulu: Brooklyn 99, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Emerald City, Agents of Shield, Smallville (complete series available), Blindspot, the Good Place, Drunk History, and tons of reality shows that I don’t care about, but you may. If you want current TV shortly after it airs and you don’t want to bother with an antenna, this is the simplest/cheapest way to do that. The downside is that while $8 gets you HD, it does have commercials that you cannot skip. For $12 you can skip the commercials. There is no 4K option. Little tip: don’t subscribe through your Apple TV, iPad or iPhone as it can add a $1 monthly “convenience fee,” instead log on using a computer.

Amazon Prime $99/year or $11/month

Of these “big three” Amazon prime offers the smallest exclusive library of shows, and really if you like movies at all you probably own all the movies they offer by the time they offer them. There are a few original series that are ok, but none at the level of Netflix. The only reason I have prime is for the two-day shipping and I think I’ve actually watched two movies and a couple episodes of their original shows, but I have every reason to expect that their library will improve as time goes on. As the service also includes the shipping perks, a small library of free ebooks, and amazon music (Hamilton sound track!), this one really does give you the most ROI, even if not in the area of video content.

Sling $20-$40

Sling is a different animal. It is not an on-demand service like the others, but rather basically an internet-based cable TV service. As of the publication of the post It offers no options to pause or re-watch content, this is totally just for live TV – especially for cable channels, the content for which you can’t get over air or through other services. There are three different tiers. Basically the first tier, “Orange” has all of the Disney-owned stations (Including ESPN) plus a smattering of others for $20. The second tier “Blue” has Fox and NBC’s related networks (Including Fox Sports and the NFL network) plus the same smattering of others for $25. For nerds, Orange has BBC America and Blue has Syfy. The upper tier is all of Sling’s available channels for $40, though at that point you could get the lower end Direct TV with DVR for about that much. The main advantage of sling over cable or satellite is they don’t do the rate hike after a year of service, though there is no realistic guarantee their rates will never go up in the future, this is pretty nice. If you don’t mind calling the cable company every year though, you can keep your rate at about this level and have more channels plus DVR.

Antenna Options

You’ve probably seen the set top antennas bragging about how they can get you dozens of free channels at higher quality than cable. While over the air (OTA) options are generally higher quality than most cable options, you’re never going to get “dozens” of channels with an indoor antenna. If you’re really looking to cut the chord and want something reliable, I don’t recommend getting an indoor antenna at all for a few reasons: First you have to buy one for every TV: to get a good one for every TV means that you’ll need to spend $15-$30 per set. Second, reception is going to be limited due to their location and it will vary greatly depending upon the weather. And finally they’re obtrusive and the most effective ones tend to be ugly. Yes, you can usually get 1-5 local stations with a nice, flat window antenna, but if you want to get all the stations in your area clear and reliably there are few better options. And these do require some significant set up, but once you’re finished then you’ll have free and very good TV for a long time.

First with either of these options I recommend visiting TVfool.com and using their TV signal tool. It will generate a PDF telling you what direction you need to face your antenna to get what channels. It will also tell you how strong the signal is for each station so you know what to expect and what kind of antenna you’ll need to get each channel.

Outdoor antenna – Best signal

If you already have a satellite on your house this is a super easy option because it is taking advantage of your existing wiring. Buy the best outdoor antenna you can afford and a mast. I recommend getting at least a double bowtie antenna as you can use the info you got from the TVfool signal report to face it at two different directions and receive signals from multiple places. Remove your satellite and put the antenna on the mast in its place. If you have a small house and only 1-2 TVs you might be able to get by with just taking the signal strait in off the antenna using a simple coax splitter, but if you’re looking to supply TV to a medium-sized house or to three or more TVs you’ll want to get an RF amplifier to split the signal and make it stronger. You may already have one in place, if not they’re $40-$80 depending upon how many sets you have. Wherever your satellite cable is fed to into your house (usually its your attic) you’ll want to place the amplifier there and use it to send the cable elsewhere. Look, I can explain this all to you, but I’ll probably make it sounds more complicated than it is. Just find where the existing wiring is and use it. Google it if you need more info.

Attic antenna – Most aesthetically pleasing/easiest to set up

If you don’t have a satellite or ladder – or if your HOA forbids you from putting a big antenna on your house, an attic antenna is usually a pretty easy option that won’t lower the curb appeal. Most outdoor antennas can be used as attic antennas, so my recommendation stays the same: a double bow-tie antenna is your best bet for capturing more signals, but since your attic probably isn’t big enough to accommodate the double bowtie, you could either settle for two singles and a combiner or one single. By the way, you might want to make sure you have a good place to mount it in your attic before purchasing. The one pictured is nearly 4 feet long – you may also want to buy a small mast to get it clear of your roof and rafters and as high as possible. Face the elements based on the report you got from TVfool.com. Then use your existing cable wiring to hook into the rest of your house. There is almost always an access in your attic to your cabling. Again you may want to buy an amplifier if you have a medium sized house or if you’re distributing to three or more TVs. Be sure to experiment with different locations before you drill holes. Get someone to stand up stairs with it and try a few different locations with the element facing the directions recommended by your TVfool report. and scan for channels. This is a hassle, but it will be worth it when you get a better signal.

Combine antennas – get all the channels

If you live in the middle of nowhere you might want to use the TVFool.com report to guide you as to where to place multiple powered single-direction antennas and combine those signals using a UHF/VHF combiner. This is a pretty advanced option but can result in getting lots of channels from over a hundred miles away. A less expensive, but more complicated option along these same lines is to get a single high-gain antenna with a rotor that moves the antenna from indoors so you can re-position it as needed. Again, this is really only if you live in the middle of no where, or if you just like getting channels from neighboring states.

OTA DVR

Look, lots of people have talked about all the great options for Over-the-Air DVRs so I’m just going to tell you what the guys at makehardware.com say. You can read their whole article on it here.  The following is from that page:

Tivo Roamio: Best All around & best value

If you do this, you should probably get the lifetime subscription deal that Tivo offers. Plug the antenna into the Tivo, and you’re done! TiVo also has the best interface for a DVR. It does have the ability to access Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon prime, but these apps are not going to run as smoothly on TiVo’s box as they would on an Apple TV, so bear that in mind. As an added bonus, the Roamio can be controlled with your smartphone.

To expand to other rooms you have to buy a TiVo Stream ($150.) There is an app where the Tivo can be streamed via Airplay to an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV however a TiVo stream is still required.So you need at least one of them to do TV on multiple place and you might need more than that depending on how you want to scale your system, if you have three TVs.

Really this is the best option all around for an OTA DVR right now, for $400 you get a 1TB DVR with no added monthly fee.

Tablo 4: Good for gearheads and owners of multiple Set-top-devices.

If you want to access your Over-the-air DVR recording from multiple TVs, or from you tablet or phone, then the Tablo 2 ($190) or Tablo 4 ($300) systems are a great choice. The 2 has two tuners, meaning that you can watch one thing and DVR another or have two people watching two different things off of one Tablo. The Tablo four has four tuners so if you’re planning on accessing your Tablo on more than one device you might want to go with the 4. This type of system scales cheaply – to add another TV you just buy a FireTV stick. You can also do some of this with a Tivo by buying Tivo Mini’s, but it will end up costing more. The number of tuners determines how many programs total you can have being DVR’d/watched live at the same time. What’s also cool is that as long as you’re in range of your house’s wifi, you can actually watch your over-the-air TV on your phone(s).

A small, but substantial advantage to accessing Tablo through your Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire TV is that you don’t ever have to change inputs on your TV – you select the Tablo app when you want to access Live over-the-air TV or your DVR, then hit back on your remote and your on to netflix without having to swap to a different input.

The less than awesome thing about Tablo is that while it works great once it’s up and running it can be a bit trickier to get set up and requires you to purchase an external hard drive.(I had one laying around so I didn’t need to spend the extra cash) And while you can use the DVR system without subscribing, to be able to see more than a day in advance and get programming descriptions you need to pay either subscribe to a $5 monthly fee or purchase a lifetime membership for $150. That plus a hard drive, and a streaming device (if you don’t have one already) and you could easily spend $550+ getting what you basically get for $400 with TiVo – again, UNLESS you’re planning on doing this on two ore more TVs as TiVo requires you to buy a TiVo stream ($150) to scale this to other rooms.

So what does Will Adams think?

Well if you already are getting a set-top-box like a Roku, Amazon, or a Apple TV then Tablo 2 can be an inexpensive option if you don’t mind the configuration, especially if you’re wanting to access multiple TVs. TiVo is the cheapest if either you’re not going to buy a set-top-box device, or if you’re only going to need it for one TV. And really it’s the best all around.

I have a Tablo 4, and while I would’ve gotten a Roamio (had they been out at the time I purchased my Tablo) after I got it configured I really found that I liked the interface and the convenience of being able to watch on any device without buying anything extra. In short TiVo is for most folks, Tablo is for gearheads outfitting more devices.

So that’s it.

Go fourth and configure your system and let me know how it works for you so I can update this post with more info!

We’re slowly bringing about the Zombie Apocalypse

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not Christians should smoke Weed.

There are already several great articles on what the Christian position on Pot should be. Mark Driscoll wrote one here. Here’s another one from Relevant Magazine. And here’s my personal favorite from Christianity today, which unfortunately requires a subscription to read the whole thing. But that’s not what I’m here to do. I just want to approach this purely from a logical standpoint.

After the first few months of legalized recreational use of marijuana in colorado there was a series of articles explaining all the great things about pot. There were articles explaining that it’s not so bad, because the crime rate hasn’t gone up, but in fact it’s technically gone down because all the people smoking illegally before are smoking legally now. And there wasn’t an increase in violent crime, robberies, or any other type of crime related to smoking the doob. Then of course there’s the article that tells us that weed has brought in over $25 Million in tax revenue to date. Then there was the study that told us that cannabis consumption hasn’t increased significantly since the legalization. So again, it’s not that bad.

This is all supposed to lull us into feeling ok about the fact that people are toking up and it is now legal and increasingly socially acceptable. All the while more and more people seem to be saying that it’s better than other drugs used and circulated legally. After all, there have been studies that show weed to be less damaging to the lungs than cigarettes. It’s predicted to be less addictive than alcohol. Though in that same article, they mention that it has also been shown to create intense withdrawal symptoms “including insomnia, nausea, and anxiety.” Despite all this, many of these articles spend more time telling us about how “ok” smoking juju really is.

Very few of these articles ever talk about the effects THC has on the brain. This is partially because only now are the studies really starting to come out. Let’s think about that for a moment. It can take decades of research for a new medicinal drug to go from tests, to trials, to prescription only, before it can finally land at the easy-access of  being over the counter where any adult can buy it. By that time the drug has been taken my millions of people under the watch of a doctor who is obliged to report any unusual reactions. But Colorado just legalized a drug for recreational use by anyone that we’re only now just beginning to research thoroughly.

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I think this is the way most people who are against Marijuana sound to pro-pot enthusiasts

The best thing that can be said in an article from the National Institute of Drug Abuse is “Our understanding of marijuana’s long-term brain effects is limited.” though later on the article admits, “a person’s risk of heart attack during the first hour after smoking marijuana is four times his or her usual risk” and listed in the persistent and long-term effects of Marijuana are learning impairment, schizophrenia, and increased risk of something called amotivational syndrome, which is exactly what it sounds like.

This is what really concerns me and very few people are paying attention. In a 2014 study, Harvard scientists found that even a small amount of pot on a weekly basis has a significant impact on the smoker’s brain. From this article:

The 20 people in the “marijuana group” of the study smoked four times a week on average; seven only smoked once a week. Those in the control group did not smoke at all.

“We looked specifically at people who have no adverse impacts from marijuana — no problems with work, school, the law, relationships, no addiction issues,” said Hans Breiter, another co-author of the study.

Using three different neuroimaging techniques, researchers then looked at the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala of the participants. These areas are responsible for gauging the benefit or loss of doing certain things, and providing feelings of reward for pleasurable activities such as food, sex and social interactions.

“This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch,” said Breiter. “I don’t want to say that these are magical parts of the brain — they are all important. But these are fundamental in terms of what people find pleasurable in the world and assessing that against the bad things.”

Shockingly, every single person in the marijuana group, including those who only smoked once a week, had noticeable abnormalities, with the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala showing changes in density, volume and shape. Those who smoked more had more significant variations.

Critics will say that their sample size is very small, which would be a more valid argument if it weren’t for the fact that ALL of the weed smokers had significant changes in their brain no matter the amount they smokes. The researchers have said that they intend to repeat the study with a larger sample size, focusing on the behavioral changes that can be expected based on these physical effects.

So when people say that crime hasn’t really gone up, that the addiction rate is lower than alcohol, that there’s less of risk for cancer and other diseases common with cigarettes – they’re missing the issue. Because the truth about marijuana is much scarier. My concern isn’t that people are getting high and may do something foolish, or even that they’re harming their lungs. Emerging research suggests that  by smoking marijuana people are willingly eroding their own brain tissue. And there is an increasing number of people and leaders who are endorsing the legalization of a drug that relaxes, giving a pleasant high feeling, but literally reduces your brain power every time you smoke it.

marijuana-zombie

This funny thing is that we’re basically bringing about the Zombie apocalypse voluntarily. And these are people who can vote. That’s what terrifies me.

I’m not worried that we’re going to have an increased amount of THC related DUIs or crimes. I’m more concerned that we’re going to have a decreased amount of motivation and brain power in regards to the big issues that plague our country and that we the people, who are supposed to be stewards of our freedom, are going to use that freedom to get baked and slowly lose our freedom to voluntary brain damage.

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Here’s the kicker: because I haven’t tried it, I’m often told that I don’t have a right to comment on it. It’s true that I haven’t tried it. I also haven’t tried hemlock, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, most kinds of molds, or arsenic. If any politician took a platform encouraging people to ingest any of those very legal substances, everyone would know that he was an idiot. But an endorsement of THC, a largely untested drug, (that when tested has been shown to destroy part of the brain) is a desirable platform for politician today. In fact, if a late night comedian were to summarize my position on pot as a part of a set-up to a joke it would elicit boo’s from the audience while the opposing view would garner cheers.

Why are people so happy to give away part of their brain? The late David Foster Wallace, author and thinker, said

“Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master. This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.”

When YOU are the greatest thing in your world, when your mind is the height of your own existence, then your existence is bound to be a sad, angry, frustrated one. We’re unhappy with our lives and are looking for the spiritual fulfillment from something. Getting high and destroying part of our brain is the ultimate way most of us can escape the reminder that we’re not fulfilled. If we kill enough brain cells maybe we’ll stop having to think about our unhappiness at all.

But it doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what worldview I subscribe to. As a voter, as a human, as a part of this planet earth, you should be concerned about this. Unless you just like the idea of our world being lured into an increasingly illogical state, fueled by our desire for a series of temporary highs. Sedated into weary nothingness.

“So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over–a weary, battered old brontosaurus–and became extinct.” – Malcolm Muggeridge

We have to fight this. One of the most common questions I’ve seen people ask those of us who uphold to a moral standard is this: Why do you care? Why do you care what I do? It’s not harming you. There are other sins you could be worrying about that are worse. Why care? . . . I confess it would be easier to simply ignore this. Let people just smoke themselves into oblivion. But we’re not called to that. We’re called to serve, we’re called to bring the truth of Christ into a dark world. We care because Christ cares. We care because he died for all of humanity.

Consider all this in your discussions about the topic.

Food, Obesity, Weight loss and Apparent Irresponsibility. Ice Cream For Breakfast Part 2

I chose the name “Ice Cream For Breakfast” because it’s both a metaphor and an example of the struggle of adulthood.I lost a lot of weight recently and I want to talk about how I did it, but first I want to talk about my weight and what being overweight was like. But if you want to just skip to the end and read my conclusion – the real meat of this thing – just skip to the last paragraph.

On being fat:

Several years ago I was walking through Publix one day, I think I was on the cereal aisle – I was probably picking out something sugary – when one of my sisters called me to talk to my then-four-year-old nephew. His mom was talking to him about college and he was intrigued at the thought of living someplace without any “mommies or daddies.” So she called her little brother who was only a few years out of college to talk to him. He excitedly asked me if it was possible to eat pop-tarts and Doritos whenever you wanted. I laughed and confirmed this for him.

I grew up in a home where we didn’t often have pop-tarts or Doritos – at least not the real, full-fat kind. If we ever had anything it was probably both the generic brand and the low-fat version my dad was looking to save money and mom was looking to save calories – both, by the way, are good traits and somehow, I survived. I did get enough of that concern for calories instilled in me to be concerned when I saw a picture of myself after my junior year of college, which caused me to work to lose 20 pounds over the summer. Losing weight as a 21 year old is easy. You eat salad for one meal instead of a burger and fries and go jogging a couple of times a week and you’re good. This tactic doesn’t work once you get past 27.

you know those little subtle hints life gives you that all say “might lose a few pounds, buddy?”

Last fall I was at my heaviest – at 237, I wasn’t absurdly over weight by most standards, but I’m only 5’7″ so that puts me in the “obese” category easily. By the way, the word “obese” often gets used when people mean “morbidly obese.” I once referred to myself as obese and was chastised for being self-deprecating. I then explained that I wasn’t being figurative, that I knew what my BMI was and I was actually well into the “Obese” range for my height. The person, who thought they were being kind, then argued that those scales don’t take body type into account. She’s right; they don’t – but considering I was more than 30 pounds into the “obese” category – I knew that the categorization was accurate. Something had to change.

I didn’t have any discipline in my life as of last fall. For no good reason I’d fallen out of lots of habits of personal maintenance in most areas of my life and I felt it. The weight was one small part – it just happened to be obvious to everyone around me.

Deciding to Lose the Weight

In the past six months I’ve lost almost 40 pounds. And I feel . . . a bit better. I won’t lie I’m happier with my appearance, but when skinny people ask me “but how do you FEEL?” They say it like they expect me to say “Well, most of my life’s problems are solved and now I can’t be harmed by conventional weapons.” I don’t feel any more energetic, my mood hasn’t altered – I’m actually more apt to be cranky because I’m hungrier most of the time and I’m more aware of how I was dealt a bad hand with my metabolism in comparison to some of the people around me. At the same time I’ve learned more about the amount of calories that are in the foods I’m eating – which has changed my eating habits. And my body has adjusted to eating fewer calories.

Just having an idea of the foods I was eating that were higher in calories than I realized, gave me the ability to keep better track of what I was eating

But to me it’s more about the discipline. Being a little overweight isn’t a huge deal to me, but to some people it’s a big indicator of your whole life – people might even subconsciously extrapolate that an apparent lack of discipline in your diet means you have no discipline anywhere. They might think that if you’re over weight then you likely have no discipline, no self control, or you’re just plain lazy. In my case they’d basically be right, but still, these are superficial assumptions. Regardless, to some people fitness is next to godliness. Don’t be that guy. Don’t tell people they need to lose weight. Overweight people KNOW they’re overweight. They feel it with every step. They see it every time they look in the mirror. Being overweight is it’s own punishment – no need to be mean to these people.

BUT if you’re a Christian, then weight is a bigger issue than something superficial. And I’m not just talking about the sin of gluttony, though that is definitely an issue that the western church doesn’t address often enough. I’m also talking about the fact that your body is a temple. Yes, it’s Christian a cliche, but it’s also scriptural. Even if you have moments where you don’t respect yourself enough to put the ice cream back in the freezer and have kale and eggs for breakfast instead, you need to start with at least enough respect for your savior to want to keep his temple in some kind of shape. Not out of guilt, but out of love for him. Not out of shame for your appearance, but out of a desire to be a good witness.

Remember what happened last time Jesus showed up to a temple and didn’t like what he found? He went first century on their tails.

How I lost the weight:

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In February of this year I bought a refurbished fitbit from Groupon goods.

It would be kind of funny to just end the entry there. Really that was basically it. I started keeping note of my steps and taking challenges with friends and family. I kept track of my calorie intake and while I’d tried this before – the difference with fitbit that it kept track of my calorie output. So if I wanted ice cream for breakfast I knew that I would have to walk an extra mile or two to burn off those calories (I eat low fat fro-yo anyway.)

I then started finding time in my day to get in steps, climb stairs, and to just stay active. I found meals that I enjoyed that were reasonably low-calorie and when I knew I wanted to have a bigger meal I’d budget my day around it. Since my small group fasts on Mondays anyway, I don’t have to worry as much about the calorie in take that day.

I started having sautéed kale, scrambled eggs and coffee every morning. I keep grilled chicken strips in my freezer all the time and throw them on a salad with a light dressing for a low calorie meal at home. Or I make my own chili. I still eat everything that I love, just a little less often and in smaller portions. I certainly don’t force myself to eat foods I hate.

I once had a doctor ask me about my diet – I thought he was going to get onto me and say I needed to lose weight. Instead he proceeded to say that I shouldn’t be on any of those “weird diets” that cut out whole categories of food. I say this to say that shock diets may help you lose weight, but most doctors don’t endorse them because they’re not healthy for your body in the long-term. There was never any danger of me trying one of these. The issue with most popular diets for me is that they’re more about what you can’t eat than what you can. I would hear about someone losing lots of weight on the slow-carb diet and think “well I’d never be able to do that.” and just say that I guess I can’t lose weight. Or I’d have a friend hang out with me and I’d fix dinner – he’d then tell me that he couldn’t have normal human food because he’s on the (fill-in-the-blank) diet. This bothered me as a good, southern boy, who was taught that it is rude to turn down food you’re not allergic to, so it further turned me off to fad diets.

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I actually haven’t cut much out of my diet entirely, partially because I had a pretty nutritious diet – I was just eating too much. I’ve always avoided foods with lots of preservatives and other chemicals that make food harder to digest. I do avoid foods sweetened with high fructose corn syrup as studies indicate that it increases cravings and may contribute to several diseases. I’ve found that removing HFCS has helped  curb my cravings for sweet foods. I keep apples around and just decide to eat those any time I’m hungry.

I stayed active on a daily basis; this was the biggest change. My goal is 12,000 steps per day. When I started my diet I was very strict about getting it every day. Now, six months in, if I have a day where I don’t get it once or twice a week I don’t worry too much as long as I’m careful with my calories. I work in a large building, so 1-2 times a day I take 10-15 minutes and get up and walk around the building. I’ll also take 10-15 minutes around lunch to run the stairs in our worship center; I do enough to get 25 floors. When I get home I’ll walk my dog. Between all this it’s easy to get in 12-20,000 steps in a day. Obviously, I don’t have time to do this every day, but if I can make time to at least run the stairs and walk Zeus when I get home – that usually does the trick. I found it was less about getting “cardio” every day and more about just staying active – getting up and dancing alone in my office is not out of the question.

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One of the unexpected things was I found myself being more productive; even though I was taking time out of my day to walk or run stairs, the rest of the time I was more motivated, and because I took some time away to think about ideas I found my head was clearer.

What I learned

  1. Anyone can lose weight – If I can do it, you can do it. I’m not an athlete and I love sugar more than anyone I know. If I can learn to curb my cravings, and can add a little more activity to my day, then you can do it. If this is a spiritual struggle, I’ll add that you and the Holy Spirit can do it, even if you can’t. I know I’m not a parent, nor am I married – but if you’re not healthy, you’re not doing your family any favors. If your job is keeping you from being healthy, you need to be working toward getting out of that situation. Nothing is worth your own health – not your job, your friends, you family, or bae – especially not bae.
  2. You don’t have to be a jerk to be healthy – Honestly one of the things that made me not want to work on my own health was the people I met who talked about their diet or exercise plan. Either they complained about their weird diet or they turned down the perfectly healthy food I’d made for them. For people who really struggle with their weight, you might have to be more regimented at first, but once you get in the swing of things you should be able to function normally without complaining about/criticizing  the food you’re offered at a friends house. And you shouldn’t be eyeing your friend’s plate at a restaurant, either judgmentally, or because you can’t stop complaining about what you’re having to eat because of your diet.
  3. But you will have to make sacrifices – If you want to have a doughnut, you can have a doughnut, but you might not get to have much of anything else if you want to have a calorie deficit for the day. The first few weeks were the hardest for me, but they were also the ones wherein I lost the most weight. You may have to be a little hungry some times until your body gets used to fewer calories. At first you may only get one meal a day where you really love what you’re eating. You may not get to eat everything you love every time you want to. If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right, but it gets easier.
  4. It’s not fat shaming – I believed this before, but I feel I need to say it now more than ever. People who are overweight need to lose weight. I still need to lose weight. There’s been a recent movement against encouraging weight-loss that claims you can be “healthy at every size.” This is a lie. While you can be healthy with any body type, and you certainly don’t have to be rail-thin to be healthy, being overweight puts you at risk for tons of diseases and puts pressure on all your various body-systems. You don’t have to tell everyone they need to lose weight, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by telling them they’re perfect.If a friend says they need to lose weight you don’t have to say “HECK YES YOU DO.” But you don’t have to say “no! you look great.” You could invite them to go walking with you a few times a week, or suggest some healthy meals.

    I saw this image of two different women’s MRI and it showed me the severity of things – look at the fat around the organs, imagine what that does to a person’s body.

  5. You know when you’re healthy – If you’re honest with yourself, you know when you need to lose weight. You also know what weight is the happiest medium for your lifestyle, confidence, and physical health. You might not be “perfect,” but you’re healthy and that’s more important. Don’t get overly obsessed with hitting a “target weight.” It’s good to have goals, but your main goal should be to be healthy and find something manageable.
  6. Being just a little more fit gives you more credibility – We’re superficial people, and when I was over weight I knew it made no sense for me to be talking about discipline, scriptural truths, or advice on how to order other people’s lives, when I so clearly didn’t have my own personal life under control. Who am I to talk about sin when it appears that I give in to gluttony constantly?
  7. Its on going – it never really ends, I currently am almost 40 lbs down from where I was six months ago, but I’d love to lose ten more pounds. At this point, though I feel pretty good and I think I’ve found a balance that works for me. It’s a constant climb, but it’s well worth it. As I said in the blog entry last week, there are no after photos in the christian walk. And really that’s the case in all life-long pursuits; it may get easier, but you don’t reach a point where you’re totally done. That may be discouraging to some, but when you realize that the alternative is to deal with heart disease, diabetes, joint pain, low energy, and numerous other health risks – you begin to realize that you’re choosing between applying some will power on a daily basis or shortening your life and being uncomfortable in your own skin.

On Health and Adulthood…

So the bottom line is that adulthood is about taking responsibility for yourself and being disciplined. Kids don’t have to think about their diet- they have a mom that’s keeping them from over-sugaring themselves. Children don’t have the authority or ability to control their own diet. When you as an adult don’t choose to take care of yourself, you’re essentially saying to yourself that you don’t have the ability to control your own diet, even though you have the authority. Regardless of your age, embracing the best for your adulthood is taking control of the things in your life that you can control and – unless you’re in prison – you can control what you put into your body. As with all acts of discipline it just starts with deciding to do it, and then having faith that the Holy Spirit is going to be available to help you with the follow through.

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It’s not an after photo, but it’s a during photo that I’m kinda proud of

 

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

There are no after photos in the Christian Faith

You ever see those commercials for workout programs and equipment? I always find it so amazing to look at the before and after photos on these things. Men and women, many of whom are my age, who may have struggled with their weight for years and just decided that they were tired of it. They then worked hard for months, sometimes years to develop healthier habits. They asked for help from friends and family and made alterations to their lifestyle to reinforce these changes and after lots of hard work they finally arrived at their goal weight and were able to take the victory lap of weight loss: the “after” photo.

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Some of these transformations are pretty extreme…

Before and after photos are often really cool to see – the first image looks like a totally different, but similar person from the second, as if they might’ve been related – perhaps siblings. I like seeing these because they’re a physical and visible example of life transformation. The problem is that they don’t tell the whole story. Not only do they not tell you about the struggle in-between the “before” and the “after” even more importantly they don’t tell you the story of what happened after the “after” photo was taken. Did they stay on track? Did they backslide a little? Were they carried into heaven by a flaming chariot now that they reached physical perfection?

I think that because the church is so aware of how much everyone needs Jesus and the dramatic transformation he brings about in peoples lives we tend to think of people in one of two ways: they’re either a before or an after; meaning that either they haven’t surrendered their life to Christ (and therefore are a terrible mess) or they have surrendered their life to Christ (and therefore have things totally figured out.) But we know that there are usually many more steps in Christian maturity and growth beyond salvation.

Obviously the importance of the first step of accepting Christ cannot be overvalued, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only step. Yet the church often seems to believe that the people outside of the church are the only ones who need the church. As if to say that once you’re in the church you no longer need teaching, guidance, financial assistance, community, or counseling. That’s what everyone outside the church needs, but now that you’re in the church you no longer need it. This breeds the idea that when we, as Christians, do have issues, we’re the only ones. If you struggle with depression, marital issues, addictions, or meeting your family’s basic needs – it can seem like the church isn’t the place for you, because the people of the Christian church have it all figured out, right? The resulting effect is either that people either try to hide those issues or they don’t engage with the church because they feel like they don’t belong. Either way the very thing they need; the church isn’t able to help them.

Meanwhile, the truth is that there are no “after” photos in the Christian faith. There are only “during” photos. The Christian life doesn’t end with Jesus, it begins with it. We don’t believe that Salvation is the only work of grace. There’s sanctifying grace that continues to work in a person’s life until they go to be with Jesus at which point I fully expect they’ll take an “after” photo of you upon your arrival in paradise.

Yes there is a definite before and after in the Christian faith. Jesus’ impact on a person’s life should create a transformation that may be dramatic. This can be a very clear “before” and “after,” but the reality is there is more to it. To be accurate the after photo would have to be a video time lapse of a person as they continue to live their life. The time-lapse might have moments of pure happiness; where joy seems obvious on their face. Then they might have moments of frustration and doubt, where they’re angry with God. There might be moments of obedience where they trusted and God were faithful, despite their feelings. Then they might have moments where they feel like they’ve messed up again and aren’t deserving of forgiveness. They’ll have moments of assurance, and moments of despair. Hopefully they have moments where they grow closer to God and find that it’s easier to resist temptation as they know him more. That would be quite a long “after photo,”  but it would be more accurate then a single-frame snapshot of a person’s life depicting them at one high moment.

it might look kinda like this.

I think I too often appear to people who see me from afar as an “after” photo when I’m really a “during.” While I don’t think it’s wise to broadcast every struggle – after all it’s not about me – I do think there is some merit to admitting that we all have them and that I am a part of “we all.” So let me proclaim: any snapshot you see of my life is a “during” photo. I have moments of joy, moments of obedience, and moments of growth, but I also have moments of despair and moments of embarrassment. While I’m growing closer to God and learning to follow him better, it is an ongoing process. I do not say this to excuse my shortcomings, I say this to acknowledge them and declare that my hope and righteousness is in Christ.

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This is especially tough to keep in mind in today’s social media- driven world. You see a friend post about their marriage, or the birth of a child, or the fact that they just got another degree, bought a house, got a promotion, or are on an expensive vacation. Or maybe it’s not material success; they post photos of their family in worship, or the scripture they read this morning, or the theologian they’re reading. You look at this and think they have it all together; that they’ve arrived. In reality, they don’t post about the fight they had with their kids before getting to worship. They don’t tell about the fact that they lost their temper with a co-worker and they got reprimanded at work. They don’t explain that they’re struggling financially because they’re in a huge amount of debt due to the new house, expensive degree, and crazy vacations they’re taking. Those “after” pictures, don’t show the whole picture.

Also – don’t be afraid to unfollow those people that are only posting things that make you jealous or angry. You’re not obligated to keep up with them. I’m sure you realize all of this, because you’re smart, but I’m amazed at the number of people who complain about the kind of things they see on social media – which is a totally customizable medium; tailored to the way you make it. You don’t have to unfriend those people, but you don’t have to follow them either. If seeing those things aren’t edifying to you, then why choose to continue to see them? And while we’re on the topic – don’t contribute to the noise by being dishonest about your situation. You don’t have to broadcast every high and don’t be afraid to ask for prayer as a way of letting your friends know that you’re human. Otherwise your highlights might be someone else’s struggle.

 

To sum it up simply: The Christian walk isn’t a sprint wherein you might run hard for a few hundred feet, but then once you reach the end you get to soak in the hot tub for the rest of your life. It’s an ultra marathon that lasts for days and nights and is longer than anything else you encounter. Some days it’s uphill. Some day’s it’s flat and boring, if you’re fortunate, you’ll have a few days wherein you’ll run through a stretch where the crowds are lining the road, cheering you on. There are no “after” photos in the Christian life, so enjoy the during – it’s the during, the journey wherein we grow closer to Christ as we constantly rely on him in our struggles.

 

What is Adulthood anyway? Ice Cream For Breakfast Part 1

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

Welcome to adulthood. Yes, I know you might be in your late 20s to late 60s as you’re reading this, but regardless of how old you are you probably haven’t had anyone actually welcome you to adulthood. Unless you grew up in an African tribe or you’re Jewish, there was no ceremony. If you’re like me, you subconsciously expected to gain some measure of knowledge and confidence between the ages of 17 and 22. That it would just fall on you one day in a burst of sudden enlightenment. Maybe it would be a bit like that scene in Dragon Ball Z where the Eldest Namek puts his big green hand on Krillin and suddenly he’s better at fighting?

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and then Krillin dies because that’s what Krillin does.

Or maybe it would happen like fraternity initiation, after the “hell week” that is being a teenager you get abducted and pulled into a group of other adults wearing robes and all the guys get hip holsters for their phones & a book of dad jokes while all the women get short, layered haircuts and mom jeans.

I hear they're back in style!

I hear they’re back in style!

Hey, apropos to nothing – don’t you think it’s super lame when someone starts a speech on a topic by giving you the Websters definition of the topic? I mean how lazy and boring a way to start a topic right?

Full Definition of adult

  1.  fully developed and mature :  grown-up

  2. of, relating to, intended for, or befitting adults <an adult approach to a problem>

  3. dealing in or with explicitly sexual material <adult bookstores> <adult movies>

 

That third one gets me – and I have to say, when I hear the world “Adult” to describe anything that’s where my mind goes. I was outside of a Supercuts the other day (insert bald joke here) and I saw a big sign that said “Adult Haircut $9” I found myself thinking amusedly -“Wow, what does that entail?”

Anyway – back to the topic at hand, you’ll notice that among the definitions there isn’t anything about being prepared for life, contributing to society, or not being a jerk. The closest we get is the word “mature” though given the context I’d suspect that Mr. Webster probably meant biologically rather than emotionally. No, there is no part of adulthood that includes the preparedness for what is to come. No one comes to your door to make sure you’re not having ice cream for breakfast. Nor does adulthood come when you are prepared. Adulthood sneaks up on you . . . you don’t even see it coming . . . and then one day . . . you find yourself  . . .

reading the home depot circulars like its your new Toys R’ Us. Or the first time you get a “late on your rent” notice. Or when you’re in a room full of teenagers who are laughing at a fart joke and you’re just angry at them all for not appreciating what you’re trying to teach them. Or you make your first payment on a retirement plan. Or maybe its when you turn 25, or 30, or 35 (because then you start checking a new box on forms and that’s crazy.) Or maybe it’s the first time you notice that you feel sore after a day of moderate activity or you start feeling tired around 10pm instead of 2am.

Did you pause and read it? Congrats you're an adult now.

Did you pause and read it? Congrats you’re an adult now.

Whatever it is – you’ll have that moment – and that’s when you have to admit, that childhood is over.

So are your best years behind you?

Maybe.

I want to be honest with you. It is quite possible that you have peaked already. Some of you might read this and say “i knew it!” Others will defiantly say “not me!” Or “That’s never true!” But we all know people who peaked in high school – they were big fish in little ponds – usually they were well-liked decently successful people by high school standards – but they just haven’t realized their potential.

But the good news? You don’t have to peak in high school or college. You can move on and keep growing, but you also need to accept that the growth is going to look different – slower, even imperceptible. This is tough, because for most of us up until around age 17 or 18 you were having to buy different size clothes because you were actually growing up so it was easy to measure your growth visually. Plus your environment changed every year. You “Leveled up” and got a new set of teachers every year and a new school every few years. Your daily activities were varied, because once you learned one thing you eventually moved on to something new.

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Now life looks wildly different. You’re going to look about the same for 10-20 years, but somewhere in there your body will start to work against you. In my case I went bald by age 29. I think I might accept it by age 32. Your metabolism slows, and unless you have a good work-out ethic you’ll probably gain some weight. Your schedule will become mind-numbingly repetitive. You’ll wake up the same time every day, go to work, leave around the same time, come home, once you set your mind to being healthier you’ll eat a lot of the same things over and over again. You’ll shop at the same places – and for the first time your atmosphere won’t change unless you choose for it to, and make a major life change.

Now, some people will get more interesting jobs that let them travel and do cool stuff – but probably not you. You’ll see them post about their travels on facebook and you’ll think that you made the wrong choice settling into a career like the one you’ve chosen – you should’ve done something more interesting riskier. Or perhaps you like the regiment – the same-ness is comforting. You feel content with life – you don’t need all that adventure. You’re happy to view the photos on facebook.

It’s no wonder some people peak in high school – this adulthood thing is pretty boring most of the time.  I mean no one opens a fortune cookie expecting to find a message that says “Things are basically going to stay about the same – and that’s really ok” but that is often the case with adulthood. It goes on with only incremental change and while you may not accomplish your dreams you’re still alive and contributing to society, and that’s something right? Right?

Well, not really. Most of us want something more, but the trouble is that we don’t know how to get there. We’re so busy rolling the boulder up the hill every day that we never stop to ask what the end goal is, or evaluate how close we are to actually accomplishing what we set out to do. And yet we do it, over and over again. And we call it being a responsible adult. If we see someone who isn’t rolling their rock up the hill every day we tend to get incredulous. And often for good reason – many of them are just saying at home on the couch, rolling a virtual rock up a cyber-hill, claiming it makes them happy. These folks are often avoiding adulthood, and who can blame them? Adulthood looks boring and pointless from the outside, especially if you’ve only ever been around people who’ve been doing it wrong their whole life. Maybe people who are rolling the “real” boulders up the hill are on a metaphorical couch; sitting comfortably in their own mediocrity, doing the same tasks without thinking of what’s coming next. Shhh; don’t ask me about next year, I want to watch the latest season of Game of Thrones this weekend, not plan for the future. (Ok sure you can still binge watch something once in a while and still be productive, but at the very least the two are diametrically opposed unless your job is to review Television)

These days all of society is avoiding adulthood in many different ways. Some people avoid adulthood by embracing something adjacent to adulthood apart from actual maturity; employment, parenthood, or simply having a few glasses of wine in the evening, you know, for your heart. None of these things are bad, but chasing after any of them alone will not guarantee you’re being a responsible adult.

Trouble is you can’t get the freedom to eat your ice cream for breakfast without reaping the results. So when someone is sitting on their couch late in the evening re watching the same show in netflix for the 100th time, overweight, bored, and yet somehow content in their unhappiness, wondering why their best years are behind them; I have hope and a challenge.

Are you best years behind you? Only if you let them be. If you spend your years living in the “glory days” of high school or college then you’ll never move on. You’re so busy wishing life had turned out differently that you don’t stop to think about what you could to make it turn out differently for you in the next stage. If you play your cards right you’ll get to have an important role no matter watch age you are. For the first 20 years you’re a student. For the next 20 years you’re a worker. For the next 20 years you’re a leader and for the last 20 years you’re a mentor. Some people only like one stage. Some people want to skip stages. Others have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from one stage to the next.

If you decide that your best years are behind you, then there are and there is nothing anyone can do about it. If you want the best to be ahead of you, you need to get off the couch and go be (choose your inspirational closing line from below)

A. the change you want to see in the world

B. the magic that makes dragons take flight in the mind of a child

C. the hero we don’t deserve, but the one we need

D. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria

(PS. Don’t be D, cause all you’ll do is get assassinated and start WWI and no one else will remember you for anything else)

We need a New Definition of Adulthood

The New Adulthood is taking responsibility, but isn’t just taking responsibility, it’s also adding value to the world by being a good friend, and informed citizen, and an over all wise person. Having children doesn’t make you an adult, thinking about the entire next generation and how you can leave a legacy for any and all of them to benefit from your life – that’s real adulthood. Having a job, even a well-paying one, doesn’t automatically give you passage into true adulthood. Being someone who is pursing a calling that makes you come alive, that will awaken the fire and passion that drives you to seek out wisdom and maturity and contribute more than the minimum. Truly realized adulthood, is as NT Wright talks about truly realized humanity; It’s when we’re fully alive in Christ as we’re meant to be.

So over the next several entries I will be discussing from the view of a Christian Millennial, how I believe we all can take responsibility for our lives, how we can pursue our calling and contribute to society, and how we can interact with each other in this postmodern, social-media, over-connected, information-addicted, frustrated, confused, and divided world.

This is part of a series called Ice Cream for Breakfast. To see more, click here.

Ice Cream For Breakfast: An Introduction – Part 0

I’m starting a new 17+part project entitled “Ice Cream For Breakfast: musings on so-called ‘adulthood’ by another white, middle class, male, millennial.”

Just as it sounds it’s a dystopian futuristic teen thriller starring a plucky female lead. . . Actually, I wish I could pull that off because apparently that gets you a four movie deal faster than you can say “abnegation.” On the reals, this will be a look at the modern state of young adulthood. While I make no promises as to how this experiment will turn out, I hope that it will be a fun exercise for me as a write, a letter of encouragement to other young adults who feel a little disillusioned with world, and only at rare moments, totally self-indulgent pontification.

It will be a collection of essays in which I’ll discuss various struggles that I’ve encountered over the last 12+ years as an “adult.” I want to explore what adulthood is, what is was meant to be and why is it something that my generation has avoided. As always I’ll be looking at scripture, current events, modern research, maybe some science, maybe some fiction, maybe some science fiction – all of which will be partly of me just organizing my own thoughts on life as I’ve discovered (for myself, not for humanity) some hard truths. What remains I hope will be thoughtful and encouraging, and even helpful. In this day and age where cynicism and self deceit are so often is the common tongues, I would like to speak encouragement and truthful introspection.

Blah blah blah, I hope it’s funny too. Sometimes. I make no guarantees. Wow, I hope this doesn’t suck. Well here goes nothing. (click to see it all so far)

Stop being crazy about mental illness

It might start with an elevated heart rate. Then you can’t catch your breath. It feels like you’re looking at your life through thick, foggy lenses. You can’t stop the wave of panic. Then it subsides and you wonder when it will return. You start waiting for the other shoe to drop. You don’t want to do anything for fear of triggering those feelings again and you think you might never return to a normal life. At the prospect of never feeling just “ok” you start to feel low. You disconnect from family and friends and you can’t get motivated to do anything. This is the cycle and anxiety and depression and I’m far more familiar with it than I’d like. If you’re one of several million Americans who suffer from these symptoms you’re not alone and you need to speak out and seek healing.

When people talk about physical disease, there’s an understanding that it’s a normal part of life. People get sick, and many people have chronic diseases that limit their diet, or may occasionally cause them to stay home when they have a flare up. But thanks to Hollywood when people hear the words ‘mentally ill’ they often picture a deranged psychopath or some dangerous doctor Jekyll/Mr Hyde type. In reality mental illness is a relatively normal part of life, just like physical illnesses. And, just like physical illnesses, mental illness can have a variety of causes. Some people think mental health is only determined by life experience and genetics, when in reality, your mental health can be hugely influenced by diet and exercise, viral diseases and even bacterial infections.

It’s a bigger problem than the Flu

[milestone_box animation=”fadeInUp” count=”26″ title=”Percent of Americans with anxiety or depression”] [milestone_box animation=”fadeInUp” count=”20″ title=”Percent of Americans who will get the flu”]

26% of Americans are dealing with some kind of mental illness right now. I say ‘right now’ because not all mental illnesses are life-long, many last a few years and some last shorter than that. In 2013 there were over 41,000 suicides in the US making it the 10th most common cause of death in the US. 20% of Americans will get the Flu this year and on average it causes fewer annual deaths than suicide (36,000 compared to 40,000), and yet we spend more time talking about, avoiding, and treating the Flu. We need to think of it like a physical disease – like asthma or bad allergies.

We need to treat it like a physical disease

Because it is; mental disorders are combination of factors, but persistent anxiety and depression disorders have many causes that are more closely linked to physical health. As long as we’re seeing depression as a mysterious ‘boogy-man’ disease we can’t treat it. Just like a cold, allergies, asthma, or the flu, a person suffering from an anxiety or depression disorder can’t help it. They don’t always know what’s causing it, they can’t choose when it happens and they can’t just “snap out of it.” The worst forms of anxiety and depression don’t have any obvious triggers. No reasonable person would tell a diabetic (a condition that can be caused by diet or by genetics) to not take their medication. Nor would anyone say that by taking medication an asthmatic not following God’s will. The medication used by anxiety and depression sufferers has saved many lives, and while it’s not always a long-term solution, it gets people to a place where they can think clearly enough to address their issues.

Treating it like a physical disease doesn’t de-spiritualize it, nor should it remove all responsibility from the sufferer. I think people in the church believe that if we call someone’s struggle with depression an “illness” that we’re somehow excusing it, or we’re saying that the person cannot do anything about it and therefore is absolved of responsibility. If a person has the flu, do we still not pray for God’s healing? We still treat physical diseases as if they had a spiritual element. By the same token, if someone doesn’t get a flu shot, doesn’t take care of themselves, doesn’t wear a jacket in the cold, misses sleep, and doesn’t eat healthy – would we be surprised if they got the flu? Their immune system in compromised and it was their fault. In the same way people can do things that put themselves in an unhealthy mental state, and yes it is their fault and they need to realize that. Once someone has the flu, do we say it’ll just pass and tell them to get back to work? No, they need to go see the doctor, rest, and take meds. Visiting a doctor, seeking treatment, taking medication – these don’t remove the spiritual element from illness.

Causes of mental illness

The first step in dealing with depression or anxiety is understanding where it comes from. If you can determine a likely cause then you’re more likely to be able to find an effective treatment. Having said this, most will have an issue caused by one factor and exacerbated by other factors, as such it is good to examine each area and consider lifestyle changes that will put you on a track toward spiritual, emotional, and physical health all at once as it can’t hurt anything to get better.

Spiritual

In the midst of explaining the physical aspects of mental illness we don’t want to lose sight of the spiritual aspects. After all it’s like Paul says,

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”Ephesians 6:12″]“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”[/parallax_quote]

In Matthew 8, Luke 8, and Mark 5 we have an example of one of the few passages to occur in all three of the synoptic Gospels; Jesus casting the demons out of the man called “legion.” Obviously this is a dramatic example, but the fact that all three Gospel writers wanted to include it goes toward the fact that they saw the need for hope and healing in a world where many people were probably struggling with lesser demons. Note that according to scripture demons can cause physical illness as well – so if you want to victim blame Christians for being mentally ill because it “must be” caused by demons, you have to apply the same logic for anyone suffering from a physical illness as well.

The good news is that Christians have authority to cast demons out. Sounds crazy but its true. Luke talks about this a lot in his gospel, which is interesting because he was a physician, and likely saw the link between the spiritual and the physical.

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”Luke 9:1″]“Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.”[/parallax_quote]

Later on in Luke talks about how the very name of Jesus casts out demons

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”Luke 10:17-19″]“And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name, And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”[/parallax_quote]

Being far from God is another cause of depression and anxiety. I hesitate to say this one because this is the most misused cause, but it is a cause. For some reason, with all the many different potential causes this is the only one some Christians pick out. While being far from God is a cause of depression, I haven’t met many Christians for whom this was the cause. Many Christians struggle with anxiety and depression despite being active in a church, engaged in prayer, plugged into a small group, and reading scripture. If you haven’t ever struggled with a mental illness be careful about the way you assume it works.

Emotional

This is the most obvious one to most people, but also the one that can take the longest to untangle if left untreated. It’s normal to experience depression and anxiety if something happens in your life that makes you depressed or anxious, but if you don’t deal with those normal emotions in a healthy way, you may be setting yourself up for more depression and anxiety later on. Most of us are terrible at being honest with ourselves about what is causing our depression and anxiety and yes, there are often deep-seeded causes from our childhood that may need to be discussed.

It is also normal to feel depressed or anxious if you’re not living in community with people, or if you’re having trouble connecting with friends, or family. Sometimes the emotional cause has to do with personal goals and life focus, and while it isn’t the only cause, being exclusively focused on yourself is almost a guaranteed recipe for depression and anxiety, this can lead to a frustrating spiral effect; you think about yourself and you get depressed, you think about your depression and wonder if things will ever change and you get more depressed and anxious. Throw in a little guilt for feeling so self-focused and you’re a prefect, self-sustaining storm of angst.

I want to emphasize that I’m not talking about normal emotions that occur in the immediate wake of tragedy, or because of a specific circumstance to which the normal response would be depression. Getting upset about bad things is a healthy emotional response. However, if after the upsetting circumstance has passed, or if you are still finding yourself having trouble coping with a loss even years later, that is likely a sign that you need to treat it as an illness.

Genetic

We now know better than ever that many common mental illnesses can be glitches be in our DNA passed from parent to child. This isn’t any different from genetic causes for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and auto-immune diseases. But just like with those diseases there are ways to curb risks and be proactive about dealing with your predisposition. This also does not mean that sufferers have to be victimized by their biology. “I was born this way” has never been ok with God because thanks to Adam, we’re born sinful, and God has given you the power to over come your flesh through the Holy spirit.

Physical

There are many different physical causes of mental illness that doctors are only just now beginning to understand. Really anything that can cause you physical illness can cause or contribute to mental illness. Viruses, Bacteria, Physical trauma, Diet & gut flora, (lots of research supporting this now) and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to your mental state. Too often we don’t account for the fact that being obese, being sedentary, eating unhealthy foods, and even just getting sick can have a profound impact on the way your brain is functioning and lead to systemic problems in our regular thought patterns that, if unaddressed, lead to worse and worse things.

Treatment for Mental illness

It should be liberating, and very encouraging to know that there are many effective ways to treat mental illness. And while most treatment takes time, making a plan to fight back can be in and of itself a therapeutic act. While most mental illnesses have a variety of factors, its important to understand how to treat them based on their cause that way you can form a plan of attack and begin to be proactive. Think of it like the the fable of the bird that chipped away at the mountain by pecking his beak at it, only each time you return the bird gets a little bigger and a little stronger.

Spiritual

Prayer – you’re thinking ‘of course you’d say prayer, you work at a church’ we’re not the only ones: “The findings add to the growing body of research confirming a connection between a person’s perceived relationship with God and mental and physical health. In fact, a recent study by Oregon State University found that religion and spirituality result in two distinct but complementary health benefits. Religion (religious affiliation and service attendance) is linked to better health habits, including less smoking and alcohol consumption, while spirituality (prayer, meditation) helps regulate emotions. Another recent study by Columbia University found that participating in regular meditation or other spiritual practice actually thickens parts of the brain’s cortex, and this could be the reason those activities tend to guard against depression — especially in those at risk for the disease.” (source here)

Reading scripture – Today in Frazer’s contemporary worship service Emily Roach talked about a doctor who encouraged her to read scripture as a part of her mental health regimen. Reading a Psalm a day is an example of a simple prescription for spiritual peace. And having a readular scripture and prayer quiet time will help you be sure that you’re not feeling depressed simply because you’re far from God.

Attending church & Going to a small group – according to a study by the university of Maryland found that people who are happier engage in a few common activities “We looked at 8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more — visiting others, going to church, all those things — were more happy,” Dr. [John] Robinson said. (source here)

Serving others – even secular psychologists are seeing this “People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness” – Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota (source here) Think about the dead sea versus the sea of Galilee. The dead sea only ever receives, yet nothing can live in it. What’s more is despite the fact that it only has water flowing into it, it’s water level is receding and we can’t figure out why. The sea of Galilee has water flowing in and and flowing out. Not only is the water level staying healthy, it has a whole resort-like atmosphere and fishing economy built all around it. It is what Jesus commands us to do:

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”John 13:34″]“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”[/parallax_quote]

So if you’re not serving you’re actually being disobedient. Matthew five has Jesus’ sermon on the mount, probably the most well-known part of this is the beatitudes. They’re the ones that all start with “blessed are the…” which is another way of saying “happy are the…” Just read those and do them – I don’t want to copy and paste them all here and make this entry even longer – so I’m going to ask you to just go and read your Bible.

Emotional

Counseling – Counseling isn’t for ‘crazy people’ any more than marriage counseling is for bad marriages, or going to the doctor is for people who don’t take care of themselves. Anyone can benefit from going to a counselor. And just like physical therapy, it can take several sessions to feel the benefits. The greatest benefit of a counselor (and the reason that counseling is the best treatment in all circumstances) is the fact that they’re an objective observer who can help you develop a plan for fighting your depression. Keep in mind that finding a good counselor can take time, don’t give up if you don’t click with the first one you visit. This might be the most important step you can take, so take the time to make it happen. Counseling isn’t free, but it’s worth it.

Expressing it to close friends and family who know you well – try to explain your feelings to your family, guys this is especially difficult and you don’t have to take forever and draw it out. It might just be as simple as saying to your wife “I really miss my dad tonight” or calling a friend up and saying “I saw something that happened on TV that reminded me of the car crash.” Or simply admitting  “Work really has me feeling down today” You don’t have to analyze it; you don’t have to draw it out, just talk about it. The more you talk about it the easier it is to deal with it. And you also gain allies who can help you through things. If you currently don’t have any friends then visit a few churches in your area until you find some. Also, try not to dump your issues out on the table the first time you meet them – wade in slowly.

Exposure therapy – when trauma happens in our life the natural tendency is to shield ourselves from anything that reminds us of it. This often makes things worse as it can eventually cause a person to withdraw from everything: work, relationships, and church. As hard as it is, it is just common wisdom that little by little you have to be willing to expose yourself more and more to things that may trigger depression or anxiety. This, coupled with counseling and the support of allies who know your struggles, is an important part of overcoming trauma. You may even consider working up to sharing your own story as a goal in this.

Genetic

Parents who have dealt with anxiety or depression can be proactive about seeing the signs of it in their children and teaching them early on about how to manage it so they might be able to overcome it in adulthood.

Don’t be afraid of medication or counseling – both can be helpful, especially when you’re being overseen by a Christian doctor. Counseling is always helpful for someone who wants to get better. At the risk of sounding like a drug commercial – talk to you doctor. Seriously. If someone in your family suffers from depression and you have symptoms of it too, it might be something to talk about with a physician or a counselor.

There are counseling therapies to help change your thought patterns, just because your parents struggled with this doesn’t mean you have to also.

Physical

Physical causes can be cumulative and the only way to be sure that none of them are the cause is to see to all of them; a healthy life style goes a long way to dealing with depression and anxiety.

Frazer has an activities center, they’d love to help you make a lifestyle change that might help assuage symptoms.

Lots of simple diet changes can contribute to a healthier mental state Google “depression/anxiety diet” to read more about it.

Stay healthy – simple things that we all know to do, like avoiding disease, getting enough sleep, and not overexerting ourselves all make huge strides to reducing symptoms of mental illness

You’re not Alone

In addition to the millions of people out there who struggle with mental illness today, many of our church leaders both past and present suffered from some form of mental illness at some point in their life.

David’s psalms indicate many times that he dealt with both anxiety and depression and called out to God over it.

Some believe Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2nd Cor 12:7 could’ve been related to anxiety or depression – it may have even been panic attacks.

Martin Luther may have struggled with depression when he was young, and wrote much about how to address depression in the church.

John Wesley was very depressed in the wake of his failed missionary journey to the US and some believe he may have had some obsessive compulsive tendencies.

Modern church leaders like Erwin McManus, Louie Giglio, and Carlos Whittaker have all been honest about their very real, very had struggles with mental health. Giglio was almost bed-ridden for three months due to what’s called “fear of death syndrome” about eight years ago. McManus has always been very honest about his life-long struggle with anxiety. Carlos Whitaker has a brief, honest blog entry where he confesses his own anxiety struggle.

Things to keep in mind

It isn’t (always) self centered – often times people assume that those who deal with anxiety and depression are simply too self focused. Certainly self centeredness can cause depression, but not all people who struggle with anxiety or depression do so because of self centeredness. Also, for a person who is struggling in the midst of also being self focused, it isn’t helpful to tell them that they’re too self-focused. They need to arrive that on their own. It’s better to assume there are other causes and focus on those to help them get to a healthy enough place to be able to see themselves.

Mental illness is temporary – even for chronic mental illness sufferers, with the proper help, you can work toward a life that overcomes your illness such that when it does rear its ugly head, it doesn’t have to take over your life and withproper treatment you spend less time dealing with it and more time living your life. There is hope for healing and it can come in many forms. Never get tricked into believing that your illness will last forever. It can get better if you seek help

You may need to deal with the physical and emotional causes before you can effectively deal with the spiritual causes; James talks about this when he says

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”James 2:16″]“If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”[/parallax_quote]

Or consider the fact that when Jesus talks about doing for the “least of these” in Matthew 25 he talks about meeting physical and emotional needs.

Total rabbit trail here: Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified this in 1943 when he developed what we now call “Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs” Basically it works like this: If you’re about to die because you’re sick or starving, you don’t care about your safety. If you’re worried for your safety, you’re not as concerned about your emotional needs, if you’re emotionally compromised at a deep level you’re not as concerned with being productive or being respected by your peers, if you’re not being productive or respected, you’re not going to be able to do all those wonderful things that us humans do best like think critically, be creative, overcome prejudices and accept difficult facts. – while spiritual needs exist at every level of the hierarchy of needs, we can be of more use to God the more our physical and emotional needs are taken care of.

Maslow-hierarchy-1024x761

You have to decide that suicide is not an option. If you are reading this and you are and have recently found yourself considering suicide, please know that it is not the answer and my home church and I so much want to help your realize that. Do not be embarrassed; millions of people deal with suicidal thoughts. Whatever lies you may be telling yourself, know that the truth is this: The creator of the universe loves you and we here at the church want to help get you to a place where you can experience that love fully, so please let someone know if you’re struggling.

Why is it so prevalent in the US? Some people point to the statistics that say that US has higher occurrence of anxiety and depression than other developed countries because of our affluence, that may be true. Keep in mind it also might be true that we are better at diagnosing it, and in some cases we may over-diagnose it. (We’re keeping children’s ADD diagnoses out of this discussion for now) Well first I would point you back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, which does show us that as more of are needs are met that new needs arise. Next I would also point to the obesity epidemic and repeat; physical health is inextricably linked to mental health. And finally consider this: if Satan sees that in the US we have the most advanced medical tech and we’ve conquered most major diseases, how would he choose to attack us next? He’d attack in a way that would go unnoticed until it was too late.

To those who have friends who deal with this:

First off, you need to understand that if you’ve never dealt with clinical anxiety or depression you cannot understand how it feels, and knowing that will be the most helpful thing in helping us. You will need to be patient and you cannot be bothered by repetition as you may hear the same thing thousands of times and you may have to repeat the same comforting words thousands of times. “This will pass” and “this is temporary” and “you’re going to make it through this” are usually helpful if said in a loving spirit.

Being told to ‘snap out of it’ isn’t as helpful as you might think. Similarly telling someone who struggles with anxiety that the object of their anxiety isn’t really an issue will only ever make things worse. Imagine if you knew that aliens were coming to kill us all, being told that it was crazy wouldn’t make you calm down either would it? You don’t have to agree with the cause of the anxiety to recognize the reality of the anxiety itself. The same goes for depression. The quicker you acknowledge the legitimacy of a person’s pain the sooner they can start on a path to healing.

To those who suffer from anxiety and depression:

We, the church, want to be part of your healing. We believe that depression is a spiritual struggle and we’d to talk with you and offer counseling. We do offer counseling in our chruches, but we know that because of the stigma of mental illness for some it’s a struggle to come to a church. If you’re from Montgomery, AL where I live, I highly recommend the Samaritan counseling center here in town. I’ve enlisted their services for my own struggles. Focus on the family offers a great counselor locator to tell you where to find Christian counselors. If you don’t jive with your first counselor, don’t’ give up. It may take a few tries to find a good fit.

I’d believe that I speak for all of the evangelical Christian church when I say that we all want to be a community of people who can be there for you in these times. Which is why at Frazer, the church where I work, we believe one of the greatest steps you can take for your own mental health is to join a small group. This isn’t group therapy, but it is community and having a support network is one of the best steps you can take for your emotional and spiritual health. You can find out details about small groups at Frazer here. But if you don’t live in Montgomery, I still really encourage you to seek out a church where you can be yourself and speak honestly about what’s happening in your life.

It’s all connected, the physical, the mental, emotional, and the spiritual. Getting healthy in one will help you with the others. So spend time with friends, make time for cardio, meditate, eat healthy, and if you don’t know Christ as your savior I’d like to introduce you. Meet me at church this Sunday.

I hope you find this helpful

No, droves of Christians are not actually freaking out about the Starbucks Cups

Now, can we quit talking about it?

If you’re like me, your news feed has been lit up in the past 48 hours about this issue. I will be brief.

Through the various pages and accounts I manage, I have access to about 20,000 friends/fans/followers online. Most of the people in that group are Christians, and while that is a relatively small number in comparison to the whole internet, I would argue that it still represents an accurate sampling of the evangelical church and it is far more than required for a scientific study. In this crowd I have not seen a single person – not one – actually say that they are upset about the Starbucks cup.

But, oh boy, I’ve heard about the cup. Everyone, christian and non-Christian, is outraged over the total idiocy/hypocrisy/Pharisaical nature of these hoards of “Christian” fools who are supposedly saying that Starbucks’ removal of snowflakes and ice skates from their red cup is somehow getting away from the true meaning of Christmas. (Which is snowflakes apparently, who knew?)

So where did it come from then?

It started last week when a conservative news site (I’m choosing not to post the link on purpose to not give them any more traffic) known for its huge sweeping over-statements posted something about how the move to a solid red cup away from last year’s snow flake design is some how a sign of impending doom for Bible-believing Christians who want to say “Merry Christmas” without getting pepper sprayed in the face.

This article would’ve gone on without any notice except a few news sites got hold of it and turned it into a story about how Christians are upset about something stupid again! It’s almost like the whole internet makes money based off of how many clicks it can get on crazy, inflammatory headlines…

The source most of the internet probably heard it from was Buzzfeed, that bastion of journalistic accuracy. Buzzfeed posted a link to the original article and five tweets – FIVE TWEETS – by angry Christians some of whom clearly had little understanding of what was happening as it seemed like they may have thought Starbucks was a former Christian denomination that had fallen from grace, based off these tweets.

[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”seriously”]IT WAS FIVE TWEETS [/parallax_quote]

 

Yes I’m sure there were many more than five to be found elsewhere and yes there are many more now, but I was amazed when I found the buzzfeed article. I was sure there would be HUNDREDS of angry tweets about the red cup based on the backlash. But no, turns out this “controversy” didn’t have much of a movement behind it at that point. This article only served as fuel for the fire and anything else – on either side – has grown from there.

You hadn’t heard about this last Thursday had you? No? Because the initial article had been up since early Wednesday morning. No one cared before this whole thing turned into clickbait. (Update: Some have said that it started with the youtube video of the guy talking about it, or by Donald trump. Both of those were responses to the original article, as they were posted 4 days later, the day after the buzzfeed article.)

It Breaks Science

This disproves Newton’s third law, you know, that says every action will have an opposite but equal reaction, because the initial action was some yellow journalism on an obscure, foreign site. The reaction has been to fill my feed with pictures of the red cups that could stretch around the planet twice.

So what I’m saying is this: we need to get NASA involved because this kind of controversy could be the breakthrough we need to get to Mars! It only takes a tiny little bit of “controversy” to fuel an enormous reaction.

So let’s quit calling this vast minority of people idiots and get back to what we should really celebrate this December – the new Star Wars movie.