Evangelism in the Digital Age

Every day thousands of people around the world connect to the internet seeking answers to their questions. The internet has actually made it easier for spiritual seekers to seek out spiritual information because they can do it in relative anonymity, which turns out to be very beneficial, especially if you live in a country that is hostile to religion in general or Christianity specifically.

Cru has had a digital presence for many years with the creation of our everystudent.com and everyperson.com websites.

Using strategic google advertising and marketing, articles that appear on our sites are viewed by thousands of people from around the world each day, with millions coming to know Jesus as a result.

A few weeks ago, I contacted Marilyn Adamson, who directs our online evangelism efforts. I’ve known Marilyn since 1998, when she and her husband were on a summer missions project that Jen and I attended in Myrtle Beach. Her husband Mike was one of my trainers that summer as Jen and I were being trained to become new Cru directors at UC Davis.

I e-mailed Marilyn to let her know I was available to connect with Young Adults who might come to Christ through our websites and who continue engaging with us via one of our Follow-Up platforms, such as StartingWithGod.com.

Marilyn promptly e-mailed me back to tell me that the timing of my e-mail was “quite interesting.” We set up a phone conversation where she told me she had just been approached by someone who wanted to help Cru expand their online evangelism efforts by utilizing Facebook advertising.

Cru’s evangelism efforts had mostly been promoted through google advertising so Facebook would be a new avenue of engagement.

Marilyn was apprehensive about moving forward with Facebook advertising because she just didn’t have the capacity to monitor and manage our Facebook page (everystudent.com). But my “timely” e-mail made her think that it could work if I would be willing to manage and oversee the Facebook page. I agreed to help.

After a few days of nosing around the site, I noticed a lot of activity and interaction, mostly from people reacting to the articles and videos they had seen, or users posting positive comments of approval. But from my vantage point, it was hard to know whether the ads were really making an impact. I simply didn’t have access to the marketing data that would give an indication of the effectiveness of our campaigns.

I e-mailed Marilyn about a week later to share my insights. She quickly responded telling me how thankful she was that I was monitoring the page and weeding out spammers and scammers and interacting with people who were wanting to engage.

She then told me something that floored me. She said that in just the few weeks they had been promoting the site through targeted advertising, over 330 people had indicated decisions to place their faith in Christ!

A few days ago, I saw some “Insights” that Facebook sends their users regarding the amount of traffic and activity on their page.

I was amazed to see that in the 28 day period shown, our ads reached over 7 million people, with over a million people engaging in some way with the content being published (Likes, comments, sharing, etc.).

Social media is a mixed bag these days and I’ve written about the downsides of social media in previous posts here,  here and here. But there are positive aspects to it as well and it’s not likely to go away as it has been firmly planted within our culture.

One positive benefit of social media is it allows us to get the gospel to millions of spiritual seekers very quickly and we can reach people in locations that would be very difficult to get to personally.

If you would like to use everystudent.com or everyperson.com articles to reach people in your network of relationships, consider sharing an article to your Facebook feed or other social media platforms and invite your friends to read and discuss with you. It’s an easy way to share your faith with others!

A Divine Appointment in a Grocery Store Parking Lot

I pulled into the parking lot at Stater Bros., a Southern California grocery store near our house. I needed to pick up just a few items and though I had intended to swing by much earlier in the day to avoid the after-work crowds, I had been delayed for reasons I can’t even remember.

As I got out of the car, I heard someone address me with the question, “Dave Lowe?”

Michael Acuna is a former Cal Poly, Pomona student and current assistant basketball coach at Bethesda University.

I looked to see a guy standing in front of my car wearing a mask, glasses and a hat. I didn’t recognize him immediately with all of his facial features covered. He had recognized me though before I parked because I wasn’t wearing a mask or hat until I got out of the car.

He realized I didn’t recognize him so he re-introduced himself.

“Michael Acuna….from Cal Poly, Pomona Destino.”

Michael is a guy I had connected with a number of years ago when Jen and I were in our Regional positions with the Cru campus ministry.

Michael was a student involved in Destino, our Latino focused campus ministry.

I hadn’t seen Michael in several years but we were friends on Facebook and Instagram and I would occasionally see posts from him online. As Michael updated me on his life, I learned that we live very close to each other.

I gave Michael an update on us, including our transition a few years from ministering to college students to focusing on Young Professionals. As I shared about some of the resources we provide, such as Leadership Development Groups and coaching, Michael’s eyes lit up.

“I could really use some coaching”, he responded.

Michael and I were able to exchange contact information and we’ve connected virtually a few times now to talk about how we can move forward in a coaching relationship.

My encounter with Michael is just another example of how God is always working behind the scenes to orchestrate events and work out His divine plans and purposes.

Michael and I taking a selfie in the Stater Bros. parking lot.

A few days ago I was reading in Mark 1, which starts off with these words: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ.”

What’s interesting though is that Mark doesn’t really talk about Jesus for another 8 verses. If the gospel is about Jesus and Mark is going to talk about the beginning of the gospel, why does he delay mentioning Jesus and instead spend 8 verses talking about an obscure verse in Isaiah, followed by a description of John the Baptist preaching and baptizing out in the wilderness?

It’s true that Jesus is the central figure of the gospel, but the story of the good news incorporates so much more.

This passage is a reminder that even before Jesus arrives on the scene, God the Father is working behind the scenes preparing people for the arrival of the king.

Henry Blackaby said it well in his popular book and workbook “Experiencing God” when he said, “God is always at work around us…”

It’s true. God is ALWAYS working, often in ways I’m not aware of. He’s orchestrating events and arranging circumstances to accomplish his purposes and ultimate plans.

This is why I don’t believe my chance encounter with Michael was accidental or coincidental. It was providential.

How about you? Who are the people and what are the circumstances God arranged to prepare you for the arrival of Jesus in your life?

If God can arrange circumstances to help you encounter Jesus, how might he be using your current situation and circumstances to  prepare you for something greater that you might not even be able to imagine at the moment?

In Philippians 1:6, Paul said that, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Before Jesus ever arrived on the scene of your life, God was working to prepare you. And now that you know Jesus, God is still working in you to bring growth and development and perhaps opportunities that you never dreamed of!

You can read more of my thoughts on Mark 1 on my January 13th entry of my DailyDevo blog. 

Discipleship and Change Through Coaching

Eric, with now wife Suemi, as a student at San Jose State University

I first met Eric thirty-one years ago. I was a brand-spanking new staff member with Cru at San Jose State University. It was a Friday night and we were hosting a Prayer night at the Crusade house where I lived with 12 other guys.

Eric opened the front door and walked in, looking for a friend who lived at the house. He felt like a deer caught in the headlights as he realized there was a prayer meeting happening. To avoid embarrassment, Eric played coy, acting as if he had intended to join.

Later that next week I met Eric on campus and we got into a deep spiritual conversation. Though Eric had a Christian background, he had never placed his faith in Christ, until that day.

Eric, taking time to reflect on God’s Word. As a new Christian, Eric spent the summer of 1990 on a Cru missions project in Santa Cruz getting vital discipleship training.

Over the next four years, Eric and I developed a close friendship as I helped him grow in his newfound faith. Since that time, we’ve stayed connected and remained friends, occasionally connecting as families as the opportunity has presented itself.

Earlier this year, I contacted Eric about coaching. I was looking to gain experience in implementing the training Jen and I had received last fall and I needed people to help me get started.

Unbeknownst to me, Eric had specifically prayed last fall that the Lord would give him wisdom and help him make progress in an area of his life that he’s struggled with for a long time – his health…specifically, his weight.

For years, Eric has tried to gain control of his weight, with very mixed results. There was a certain sense of urgency this time though as Eric’s doctor presented certain health related realities that were a direct result of his weight.

Can you relate? Is there an issue you’ve struggled with for as long as you can remember? It may not be weight or health-related but we all have areas in our lives that seem to hold us back.

Eric in 2002, attending a Sacramento area Cru Vision Dinner.

Eric and I officially began our coaching relationship right before Covid hit and the primary issue we’ve been tackling is Eric’s goal to lose 90 pounds.

If that sounds like a big goal, it is. Coaching isn’t a panacea. It’s not the silver bullet that solves all issues or problems. Primarily, it’s an avenue for self-discovery that empowers those who want to see growth and change make progress in areas that matter most to them.

For Eric, the journey has been long and hard. There have been many ups and downs. But with setbacks, coaching provides a structure for support that makes it a bit easier to keep going instead of throwing in the towel.

Eric has now lost 45 pounds and is half-way to his goal. He feels better, has more energy and is starting to see improvement in some of his weight-related health concerns.

Recently, I asked Eric about the spiritual connections he’s made through his weight loss journey.

Eric and I using Google Meet for a virtual coaching call.

Eric said that he came to realize that losing weight was about more than just eating the right foods and exercising more, as important as those things are.

“There comes a point where you realize you can’t just will yourself to get the results you want to achieve. We lack discipline, focus and will power.” Eric went on to explain that we need help from others, whether that’s in the form of support and motivation or instruction and tools.

What Eric described to me is a picture of grace. Grace is applied when we can’t reach a standard we’ve set on our own and we need help to reach the goal.

Jesus is the ultimate grace-giver. He came to die for us, achieving the standard of righteousness required to experience a relationship with God that we couldn’t meet via our own efforts.

God answered Eric’s initial request from last fall by bringing others into his life to support him in his journey. I’ve been blessed to play a part in helping him hear the Lord’s voice through our coaching relationship.

How about you? What are the areas where you need the Lord to give you wisdom and grace to move forward to see significant life change? Who can you invite into your process to provide support and encouragement?

Coaching is an avenue that can help you gain greater awareness of your situation and provide support and encouragement to help you achieve goals that may have seemed out of reach.

Faulty Earbuds?

My typical running gear includes dri-fit shirt, sunglasses, running hat and earbuds to listen to audiobooks or music.
Photo by Dave Lowe

A few weeks ago, I left the house for my daily run. I had my phone to track my route and also provide the tunes to keep me moving during the 6 mile trek.

As I was nearing the end of my run, I noticed I was not getting any sound out of my left earbud.

I tried pushing the earpiece harder into my ear, but that didn’t work. I wondered if maybe the earphone jack was not in all the way. No, that wasn’t the problem.

I jiggled the wire, thinking maybe there was a short. That didn’t work either. I started thinking maybe these earbuds had reached the end of their lifespan and I was bummed at the thought of having to buy new ones. I’ve been told I’m cheap that way!

When I finally got home, I thought I’d try one more thing. Perhaps it was a software issue. I figured a reboot of my phone would solve it if that was the issue. But that didn’t work either.

I had one more idea to determine if it was a problem with my phone or the earbuds. I decided to plug the earbuds into my computer and listen to some music. If the earbuds still only gave sound out of only one ear, then I would know it’s the earbuds and not the phone.

However, as I was getting ready to plug the earbuds into my computer, I looked more closely at the earpiece that wasn’t producing sound and I quickly realized the issue. There, in the small opening where the sound was supposed to come out, was a small glob of ear wax that was fully covering the opening.

The opening on these earbuds is small. It doesn’t take much to clog the opening, making it harder for sound to come through.
Photo by Dave Lowe

Yes, I know it’s kind of gross, but we all produce the stuff, and to be honest, I really can’t tell you the purpose. I just know that when I removed the small piece plugging the hole, I was suddenly able to hear perfectly again out of both earbuds.

I had a problem hearing and all of my initial thoughts were that it was a problem with something else – my phone, the earbuds, the jack, the wire, etc. The reality is that I was having issues hearing clearly because of me – something I produced and wasn’t even aware of.

I think there’s a spiritual illustration here. Often I’m wanting to hear from the Lord and He’s not responding, at least not the way I want. I wonder why He’s not answering my prayers or responding clearly to my requests.

Sometimes, the reason I’m not hearing from God is because of me. Sometimes the Lord IS wanting to speak to me but my attitude, or my heart blocks my spirit from hearing the Lord.

I’ve found that there are often several reasons why I’m not hearing from the Lord.

A primary way the Lord speaks to us is through His Word. Yet, it’s easy to get distracted by other things.
Photo by Nick Bondarev from Pexels

One reason I sometimes don’t hear from God is because of unconfessed sin in my heart. Psalm 66:18 says “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.”

Sometimes, I’m not even fully aware of my own sin, such as unresolved conflict or anger. This is why it’s so important to invite the Lord to examine our hearts and reveal to us any areas in our lives and hearts that may be keeping us from experiencing His presence (See Psalm 139:23, 24).

A second reason I may not be hearing from the Lord is distractions. Sometimes Jen will be telling me something important but my focus is on something else, like my computer screen or the TV. I find that when I’m not fully engaged in what she’s saying I often have to ask her to repeat what she’s just said.

I often do the same thing with the Lord. I read my Bible but my mind is thinking about something else. I’m spending time in prayer but distracted by notifications that are popping up on my phone.

I cannot always expect to hear directly from the Lord when I want. But as a follower of Christ, I can make sure that the airways are clear and that there are no impediments that would keep me from hearing His voice when He does speak to me.

What keeps you from hearing clearly from the Lord?

What have you found to be helpful in keeping you focused and tuned in to hearing the Lord’s voice?

We appreciate your continued prayers for us as we continue to wait on the Lord during this challenging season!

If you’d like us to pray for you, click on the Prayer tab and send us your request!

Developing Resilience

What is resilience? Is it a skill? Is it an ingrained character quality?

A Picture of resilience – a lone tree somehow thrives in a harsh environment where plant life is sparse
Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Marcus Buckingham, researcher and developer of the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment addressed this question last month at the 2020 Global Leadership Summit, which Jen and I had the opportunity to attend virtually.

Buckingham and his team of researchers were interested in understanding this quality of resilience that some people seem to have, which gives them the ability to face incredible challenges without breaking or buckling.

Buckingham’s research determined that resilience isn’t a skill but a quality that can be developed. His talk focused on how to build resilience in others and in ourselves. Specifically, he shared 3 different ways we can build resilience in ourselves.

Resilient people have learned the importance of rest and recovery
Photo by Shane on Unsplash

First, Buckingham talked about a concept he called Agency, which simply refers to items we can control. One of the things we can control is the rhythms in our lives. Remember the morning and evening commute? As much as you might have hated that time in the car, it created an obvious separation between home life and work life. For many, that natural break is gone, disrupting the natural rhythm that existed.

The research on resilience, according to Buckingham, suggests that resilient people work hard and then take a break – they recognize the value of recovery. This sounds a lot like the idea of sabbath (rest), doesn’t it?

What are some ways you can create natural breaks in your schedule that would lead to rest, recovery and resilience?

Secondly, Buckingham elaborated on the idea of Compartmentalization, which means that different parts of our lives have different feelings and different outcomes. The most resilient people seem to understand that we have many different lanes in our lives and if we’re not doing well in one lane, there are other lanes. This doesn’t mean we deny the things that are going bad in that one area of life, but it’s a realization that there are other areas where I can see success and progress.

We all have different areas or lanes in our lives. If we’re struggling in one area, we can still succeed and see progress in other lanes.
Photo by Andrew McElroy on Unsplash

Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Changes that Heal calls this the Good/Bad split, referring to our tendency to look at life as either “all good” if everything is going well, or “all bad” if something unexpected or undesirable happens.

The truth is, life is a mixture of good and bad. Resilient people are able to separate the good and bad and recognize that even when things happen that we wouldn’t prefer, there are often many other things that are going well which we can celebrate and for which we can be grateful.

What are the different lanes in your life where you’re seeing success? How can you leverage your experience in those areas to help you in the areas where you’re struggling?

According to Buckingham, the third way to develop resilience in ourselves is through our Strengths in Work. Resilient people have figured out how to utilize their strengths to derive meaning, purpose and joy from the circumstances they’re in.

Interestingly, Mayo Clinic research indicates that you don’t need to fill up your whole week with those invigorating activities in order to create resilience. If we can fill up just 20% of our schedules with the kinds of activities that bring life to our souls, we can develop resiliency that enables us to withstand the more difficult life circumstances which we may encounter.

What are the things that bring life to you? How can you inject a few of these joy-producing activities into your schedule to help build resilience?

Young Professionals face unique challenges, even apart from Covid, that makes resilience an important quality to develop. Many are struggling to find a supportive community while dealing with extreme financial issues and an uncertain job market.

We’re privileged to be able to help Young Professionals develop resiliency through coaching, Strengths assessments and awareness and Leadership Development.

If you’d like to learn more about resources and opportunities we provide to help people grow in their resilience, please contact us!

Hope and The Shawshank Redemption

Here’s a simple litmus test to tell if a movie deserves to be in your Top 10 list of favorites.

Imagine you’re channel surfing and you see a movie playing that you have to watch, even though you’ve seen it dozens of times before. That movie, which you find yourself tuning into any time you see it on the TV is likely one of your favorites.

I have several movies that fit that category for me, including Braveheart, Tommy Boy and The Shawshank Redemption.

“The Shawshank Redemption” is one of those movies I find myself watching any time I see it playing on broadcast TV.

Recently, Pastor Rick Warren gave a sermon on “Experiencing Hope During Difficult Times.” I was reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, since one of the main themes in that movie is “hope”.

The Shawshank Redemption is based on a short story by Steven King (yes, that Steven King), but it’s not a horror movie. It’s a movie about prison. Some have dubbed it the greatest prison movie of all time.

The story centers around Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of double murder and sent to the notorious Shawshank prison to serve back to back life sentences.

Dufresne quickly befriends Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, a murderer who has already served 20 years of a life sentence, and though he sees the error of his foolish teenage act, nevertheless, sees no hope of ever being paroled.

There’s a critical scene about midway through the movie. Andy receives an unexpected shipment of books and vinyl records for the prison library and decides to blare music from an opera record to the entire prison population via the prison loudspeaker system.

This infuriates the warden, who punishes Andy with two weeks in “the hole” – solitary confinement in a room with no light source.

When Andy emerges from confinement his inmate friends are amazed to see him so upbeat after such a harsh punishment.

“Easiest time I ever did” is Andy’s response. “I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company.”

Fear Can Hold You Prisoner.
Hope Can Set You Free.

Andy’s prison-mates are understandably confused. Andy explains that Mozart is inside…in his mind and in his soul and then he declares, “there are places internally that they can’t touch.”

Andy’s friend Red asks, “What are you talking about?”

“Hope”, Andy replies.

Red gets a stern look on his face and says, “Listen here friend. Let me tell you something about hope. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.”

Pastor Rick, in his sermon, stated that we can have hope because we know that the situation we’re in is temporary….it will pass. He encouraged us to focus on that which is eternal instead of things that are temporary.

This is certainly good advice, but sometimes hard to implement. It’s difficult to focus on “eternal” things when there are so many immediate needs staring at you in the face, and often screaming for your attention.

We personally know people who have lost their jobs, are struggling financially, have lost their housing, have lost loved ones, are scrambling to figure out childcare and schooling options for the fall, are dealing with major health concerns with limited access to doctors, and many more issues that are magnified and amplified in this current Covid environment.

How exactly do we experience hope when there is so much pain and struggle in our lives?

I think Andy Dufresne provides a clue. Hope is something internal, rather than external.

Hebrews 6:19, speaking of Jesus, says,

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (emphasis mine)

The context of this passage is that Jesus is our High Priest. Through His death, He provided atonement for sinful humanity, making it possible for us to experience a relationship with Him.

For the Christian, Jesus is our anchor. He alone provides hope and meaning because He alone can provide ultimate fulfillment and purpose in life.

Where is your hope anchored?
Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

But what about all of the tremendous struggles we are facing? They seem overwhelming!

As we navigate life’s current realities, I realize how important the body of Christ is. We need others who can come alongside us when we’re struggling and offer real, tangible, material help, while reminding us of God’s goodness and pointing us to the hope that only Jesus can provide.

At the end of The Shawshank Redemption, Andy writes these fitting words to Red – “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

How are you doing in this current crisis? Are you more like Red – tired, disillusioned and lacking hope?

Or are you more like Andy, with a hope anchored to an internal, immovable source (Jesus).

Whatever your situation, let us know how we can pray for you! (Just click the Prayer tab at the top of the page)

Personally, we are grateful to our family and many friends who have been a source of encouragement and hope to us through the many struggles and trials we’ve faced over the past few months and years. You have helped us to continue to keep our hope anchored in Jesus!

The Struggle for Change

I’ve been on a diet since 2005.

At the time, I realized I had gained over 30 pounds since college and I decided I needed to be more proactive about my weight and overall health. You can read about my initial weight loss journey here. (https://bit.ly/Mar05-LD)

Photo by Jamie Matocinos on Unsplash

Since losing those 30 pounds fifteen years ago, I have found that keeping the weight off isn’t easy.

There are so many forces working against us, including, but not limited to donuts, chocolate, french fries, chips, cookies, ice cream, pizza and cheesecake.

Donuts and junk food are just a few of the challenges that face those who desire to get fit!
Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash

There are other non-food forces working against us as well, including lower metabolism and energy levels, slower recovery rates, and of course, Netflix.

The truth is that losing weight and maintaining fitness requires a certain level of surrender. I’m free to eat whatever I want and exercise as little as I want (or not at all), but every choice has its consequences. If I want to maintain a certain weight and fitness level, it will require some sacrifices and some intentionality.

With my 55th birthday approaching, I decided to once again embark on the fitness roller coaster in my attempt to lose 10 pounds. If I’m being honest though, my interest is not just in losing 10 pounds. What I’d really like is to get rid of this spare tire around my waist. I’d like to look different!

I’m doing the work, but so far, I look more like the guy on the left than the guy on the right!
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

I’m four weeks into this current program and every day I’m reminded why so many people give up. It’s HARD work. And while I’ve made some progress on the weight loss portion of the goal, I’m not sure I’ve made any changes to my waistline as my desired 6-pack still looks more like a keg!

I’m reminded that transformation isn’t immediate. Change takes time.

I think that’s true in our spiritual lives as well.

Years ago, I heard a speaker ask this question: “What do you want to become?”

He said that the choices we make today shape the person we will become in the future. I remember him saying these memorable words, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Many people become Christians because they want forgiveness and eternity in heaven. They want the eternal benefits that come after they die. This isn’t bad or wrong, but Scripture is clear that Jesus has a different purpose for those who follow Him – TRANSFORMATION.

Jesus’ desire is that we would become more like him – that we would be a reflection of His character to those around us. The theological word for this is sanctification, which simply means that over time, my life becomes more and more like the life of Jesus.

Sanctification isn’t easy though, because it requires surrender, discipline and intentionality, just like dieting. This is why Jesus said that those who would follow Him must DENY themselves.  If we want to change spiritually (and physically), we have to deny that part of us that just wants to sit on the couch eating donuts and binge-watching Netflix!

Spiritual fitness. like physical fitness, requires sacrifice, intentionality and training
Photo by Tomasz Wozniak on Unsplash

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compares the Christian life to a race. In order to win, strict training is required. Paul says that he beats his body and makes it his slave so that he might run the race and win!

Paul’s language shows the reality that our bodies don’t necessarily want to comply with our demands for discipline and training. We know this intuitively when it comes to fitness training or other skills like musical talent, but we don’t always think of our spiritual growth in the same way.

As Jen and I continue to minister to Young Professionals, we’re asking them this question, “What do you want to become?”

As they wrestle with the challenges of becoming the Christ-followers they desire, our job is to come along-side them, as coaches, and provide encouragement and support to help them “win the race.”

How about you?

What do you want to become?

How are you doing in this race Paul described? Are you winning or are you finding it to be a struggle?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, concerns or prayer requests, you can reach out to us through the Prayer Tab!

 

Butterfly Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Dealing With Doubts about God

While scrolling through my Twitter feed recently I saw a post from Sean McDowell with the title “Hawk Nelson’s Lead Singer Shares He Has Lost His Faith in God.”

My heart sank as I thought, “Not again.”

If you’re not familiar with Hawk Nelson, they are a Christian pop/rock band that has produced a number of top songs, including the enormously popular “Drops in the Ocean” and “Diamonds” from their 2015 mega-hit album “Diamonds”.

Jon Steingard, front-man for the Christian pop/rock band Hawk Nelson, recently announced via Instagram that he no longer believes in God.
Photo by Dave Lowe

I clicked on the link and read the article, as well as the 2200 word Instagram post from the lead singer, Jon Steingard, where he declared to his fans and to the world that he no longer believed in God.

What happened?

Steingard grew up as a pastor’s kid in a loving Christian home. Church was a way of life and since everyone he knew was a believer, he naturally became a believer. It was all he knew. He discovered his musical talents early on, participating in church worship and ultimately joining the Christian band, Hawk Nelson.

Steingard described his slow deconstruction of faith like wearing a sweater with a loose thread. As he pulled on the thread of doubt, the sweater of faith slowly began to unravel. Eventually, there was no sweater left.

What are the doubts that caused Jon Steingard’s sweater to unravel? The doubts mostly seem to stem from unanswered questions about the nature and character of God and the veracity of the Bible.

Steingard compared his faith deconstruction like a sweater with loose threads that began to unravel
Photo by rocknwool on Unsplash

For example, Steingard began to question the evil in the world. If God is loving, why wouldn’t he stop it? And what about natural disasters? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Steingard wondered why God seems so angry in the Old Testament and yet so loving in the New Testament.

Steingard also questioned various Biblical contradictions he saw and wondered how these inconsistencies could occur if God was really the author. He finally concluded that the texts were not authored by a perfect God but were the product of fallen, imperfect people like himself. It was at that point that Steingard realized there were no more threads to pull.

It’s a sad reality that more and more young adults like Jon Steingard are abandoning the church and the faith with which they grew up. There are a myriad of reasons for this but doubt and uncertainty about the truthfulness of the Bible and the Christian worldview is a common “thread” (pun intended) in the stories of many prodigals. The truth is, doubts are common. But they don’t have to be an onramp that leads to the deconstruction of your faith.

How should we handle doubts?

First, I think we need to acknowledge doubt and do our best to give space to those who have real questions without making them feel like 2nd-class Christians. Highlighting those who have struggled with doubts and allowing them to share their stories could go a long way to helping de-normalize the phantom-Christian caricature (who never doubts) that many hold.

Doubts and questions, while common among Christians, don’t have to be an onramp to deconstruction of our faith.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Secondly, while we acknowledge that doubt is real and common, we also can affirm that being a Christian does not mean being anti-intellectual. It’s popular in our culture for people to promote the idea that faith is anti-science (whatever that means). The reality is that faith and science aren’t in opposition to one another and Christianity is and always has been based on truth.

Third, we need to help those with doubts to reinforce the loose threads on their sweaters instead of pulling them and unraveling their faith altogether. We do this by helping them to see the truth in the foundations of the Christian faith. This is a primary role of apologetics.

The questions Jon Steingard wrestled with are not new. They are the same questions Christians have been wrestling with for two thousand years. The good news is that there is a lot of scholarship that affirms the Christian position and provides reasonable responses to many long-standing doubts and questions.

How is your sweater of faith? Are there loose threads of doubt? If so, reach out to someone who can help show you appropriate ways to reinforce your faith with a foundation of truth.

Nobody, whether Christian or non-Christian has all the answers. Life is complex and chaotic. But we believe God has revealed himself to us clearly through the Scriptures and through the person of Jesus Christ. This isn’t just some Sunday school fairy tale but is based on solid evidence.

If you’re struggling with doubts, let us know. We don’t have all the answers but we can point you to resources that you may find helpful.

 

Covid-19 Photo Gallery

Two weeks ago, I attended the Q Virtual conference (qideas.org). Q is an organization started a few years ago by Gabe Lyons that seeks to “equip strategically positioned Christian influencers to renew the way they believe, think and act in regard to culture.”

Jen and I attended a live Q conference in Nashville 6 years ago and it was there that Jen first experienced issues that initially led to an overnight stay in the local ER, followed by an eventual diagnosis of vasculitis, a rare auto-immune disorder. We missed most of that conference and have not had an opportunity to return, until this year.

This was my view for two days attending the Q Virtual Conference

The speaker lineup this year was packed with a range of cultural and theological leaders, including Tim Keller, Andy Crouch and Francis Chan.

However, one presenter, Sissy Goff, a mental health professional, spoke about “The Psychological Impact of Social Distancing”.

One of the many salient points Goff made regarding our emotional well-being was that in this time of sheltering in place and social distancing, we need to do one brave thing each day. She then asked, “what is one thing you’ve done in COVID that has required bravery?”

For me, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about slowing down, reflecting, and noticing things around me and capturing those moments with my camera. I’ve taken some steps to stretch myself and grow in my photography skills, including taking an online course and submitting some of my photos on unsplash.com. What follows are a number of images that give a glimpse into what we’ve been experiencing these past 7 weeks of the Covid-19 crisis…

When the shutdown first occurred, I was surprised to show up at our local Wal-mart just after 6:00 in the morning, only to be greeted by a long line of people ahead of me, waiting to get in.

The first time I went shopping during the Covid-19 crisis, I thought I would outsmart everyone by getting up early and getting in and out before the rush. Turns out, everyone else had the same idea and I was greeted to a long line just to get into the store.

In addition to long lines, I found the store to be quite barren of products. Most of the fruits and vegetable bins were completely empty as well as pretty much all dried goods (beans, pasta, rice, etc.) as well as meats, bread and dairy products. I found myself grabbing the most random items as substitutes for the items we really needed. In the end, I had to go to three stores just to get some semblance of groceries for the week.

Training never stops for those in the military!

Did I mention that our boys are home? They are still training and they are still eating…A LOT. That has magnified the grocery issues. After the Wal-Mart incident, Jen decided to start ordering stuff online, but that was hit and miss. Then she started using a grocery service, which worked well for about a week, maybe two, at which point, it became harder and harder to find time slots to get groceries delivered.

We finally got a grocery slot one week but we were told that groceries could be delivered any day between Tuesday and Sunday (which was Easter). No groceries came on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Finally, on Easter Sunday we were expecting our food to be delivered and boy did we need it. We had gone nearly 2 weeks without shopping.

Have I mentioned that my boys are home during this crisis? Have I mentioned how much they eat?

About mid-day, we got a message from the shopper saying that the store we had ordered food from was closed. They canceled our order and we were left with nothing substantial in the house for Easter dinner. It felt a lot like one of those cooking shows where they give each chef 6 random food items and ask them to make a gourmet meal out of it. Hmmm…what can we make with a can of sardines, a box of gluten-free spaghetti, a lemon from the tree outside, two eggs, a box of granola and a jar of salsa? GO!

This dirt track has been the only place locally that works for a timed workout. Hopefully, high school tracks will open soon!

Speaking of training, Jacob is a member of the Naval Academy Cross Country and Track teams. Though the season has been canceled, the athletes are all expected to keep working out in order to maintain their conditioning and long-term training cycle. There really is no break for distance runners.

It has been increasingly harder for Jacob to find places to do his workouts. He needs a track about once or twice a week in order to time his workouts. Other days are casual runs anywhere. Most local high schools are shut down with security keeping people from using the facilities. We were fortunate to find this dirt track locally that is not too crowded and has enabled Jacob to continue his training.

Local park playground structures have been closed off with this caution tape, even though parks in general are open

Initially we thought the lockdown might last just a few weeks or maybe a month. Our boys’ return to their academies was delayed by two weeks but then became indefinite.

As things progressed, businesses began to close and park playgrounds were shut down. We were told masks didn’t work and then a few weeks later, we were told we should wear masks. At first, we were told that social distancing was the primary step to curb the virus, but then the lockdown came and people whose jobs were not considered “essential” were urged to stay at home.

One day, while outside getting exercise, I found this sign laying on the ground in our neighborhood. Im not sure if it fell over on its own or if it was removed by someone protesting the lockdown.
One day while walking the dog, I spotted this small action figure lying on the sidewalk. It turns out that during Covid-19, even Action figures are wearing masks!

One of the things we have tried to do regularly to maintain some kind of routine is walk the dog. Most every day, Jen and I will try to get out in the afternoon to take the dog out. We pretty much walk the same route every day. One day while walking the dog, I spotted this small action figure lying on the sidewalk. It turns out that during Covid-19, even action figures are wearing masks!

It’s been interesting to slow down and try to notice things that I never noticed before. It’s amazing how much beauty and creativity is around us that we don’t pay attention to.  Now that it’s spring time, we’re starting to see flowers blooming and plants coming alive.

As I’ve ventured out daily with the dog and my camera, I’m trying to notice the things around me that demonstrate life and bring hope during this challenging season.

Flowers are in bloom, the air is clear and the mountains are majestic.

A few weeks ago, in order to avoid an oncoming dog walker and maintain our distance, we darted to the other side of the street. I was walking down the same street but on the other side, and this gave me a slightly different perspective. Had I not gone to the other side, I would have missed the sidewalk chalk message – “Always Stop and smell the Flowers.” Our dog Scout decided to take the advice!

The chalk message says “Always Stop and smell the Flowers.” Our dog is so smart, he complied with the message!

Attending church activities has been different. We are still able to attend our home group and men’s and women’s groups but everything is online now through Zoom and other video platforms.

All small groups and the weekly worship service are all meeting online for the forseeable future

We’re able to worship as a family by watching the sermon online every Saturday beginning at 4:00 p.m. at Saddleback.org. The worship team records all of their parts separately and the worship is edited and spliced together to give the feeling of a full live worship set. It’s pretty amazing what technology is enabling us to do. Pastor Rick Warren then gives his sermon online as well.

Signs like this, commemorating major milestones, can be found throughout our neighborhood.

There is so much loss during this crisis. I think about all the high school seniors who have missed out on prom as well as all their other senior traditions, including commencement.

College seniors are also missing one of the biggest days in their lives. We know of weddings that have been postponed or canceled, vacation trips that have been delayed or lost altogether.

In addition, I think about all of the spring sports that have been canceled and all of the athletes who had no idea that their seasons were going to be cut short.

What have you lost as a result of this crisis? What are you grieving?

I think about my friends Jim and Charlotte Van Steenbergen, whom I’ve known for many years. Jim has been in declining health in recent months and I just learned that he passed away peacefully on Cinco de Mayo. Normally, I would have loved to visit and honor my friend in his last days. Unfortunately, that was not possible in this current environment. I grieve that lost opportunity to say goodbye and to thank him for the ministry he’s had in my life over the years.

What have you learned from this crisis? What have you found?

Being forced to slow down has its advantages. All those things you wished for in the past that you never had time for are suddenly available. And yet, I’ve learned that I am not always taking advantage of the extra time to do the things I’ve said I would do IF there was more time. I’ve learned that my heart is not always intentional and honest about my true desires and motivations.

While cleaning out our office closet, I found this box that was the container for my Samsung watch.

I’ve learned to see more of the hidden treasures in life.

Recently, Jen undertook the long desired task of cleaning out the office. There’s a lot of stuff that we don’t use but is taking up space. Interestingly, as we’ve cleared out cabinets and purged the overstocked closet, we’ve actually “found” things we didn’t remember we had.

One of the things I “found” was the box to my Samsung smartwatch that I bought a few years ago. About 6 months ago, the band on the watch broke and I had to buy a new one online. I was planning to throw the box away, thinking I really didn’t need it anymore. But I decided to open it to see if there was anything inside. Low and behold, there was a spare watch band. I had the spare watch band all along but I didn’t realize it was there, so I needlessly bought a new band from an online seller.

I had completely forgotten that when I purchased my watch it came with a replacement band. It was a hidden treasure in my closet

We found many more of these kinds of hidden “treasures” while cleaning out our office. It’s a reminder to me that there are hidden treasures everywhere around us, evidence of God’s creation, power and beauty. I just need to slow down and look around to notice.

Like many of you, we are still able to work from our home. We have been working from home for a number of years so the shift wasn’t too radical for us. However, we were used to meeting people at various places throughout Orange County and beyond. In addition, we have conferences and other events we would typically travel to. All of those things have been either canceled or suspended and the bulk of what we are doing now is finding ways to minister to people online.

Dave connecting with the UCLA Cru director and two of their seniors to talk about the benefits of coaching. Dave was able to coach each senior in a short 15 minute preview session.

We continue to coach folks but we do it virtually instead of in person. We continue to lead groups and host groups online. Training and development conferences we are a part of have been converted to webinars and Zoom discussion groups. We’ve pivoted in a number of ways already but we’re actively seeking new ways to minister to people online in this current environment.

We are grateful for you, our friends, family and partners who have supported and encouraged us to press on, especially as Jen has been immuno-compromised due to a vasculitis flare she’s been experiencing.

We would greatly appreciate your continued prayers for Jen and her health and for us as we continue to navigate life and ministry in this new climate of social distancing, working from home and sheltering in place.

Just as I’ve been more intentional about seeking to recognize the things around us that may easily go unnoticed, please pray that we would “recognize” the ministry opportunities God is placing before us.

 

Is Healthier Social Media Possible?

Last week, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a post from a friend who was announcing they were taking a break from Facebook mainly because of all the misinformation, politicizing and negative interactions.

Many people are taking a break or Sabbath from social media because of the negative interactions and anxiety it causes
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I feel ya! Going on social media these days can feel like entering the gladiator ring. You never know what political viewpoint is going to be thrown at you or who is going to challenge your ideology or what news article is going to pop up in your feed.

You innocently start off with a desire to see “What’s up?” with some of your friends and before you know it you’re engaged in a heated debate with a person you never met about some political policy on which you disagree. It’s easy to get worked up and riled up.

One of my favorite authors, John Ortberg, describes his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted as “Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies”, and says that the purpose of spiritual disciplines is really to train ourselves to love God and love others more.

Ortberg suggests that sleep could be a spiritual discipline, reasoning that If lack of sleep causes you to be grumpy and irritable, then a good night’s sleep could help us become more loving people! Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

In one of the chapters, Ortberg makes the case that for some people, the most important discipline they could practice is getting a good night’s sleep. His reasoning is that if being sleep deprived makes you moody and grumpy, then the best thing you can do to love God and others is to ensure you are well rested.

Maybe Ortberg is on to something! Given the polarizing nature of social media these days, it’s easy to see why so many people are deciding to take a break from it. The sad part about it though is that in this season where we’re sheltering at home and not physically able to connect with others, we could use the benefits of social media now more than ever. Is healthier social media even possible?

A friend of mine thinks so. Mike was a student I discipled years ago during my early days with Cru at San Jose State. Years later we’re still in touch and Mike and his family are living in Kansas City. After working as a graphic designer for most of his career, Mike has teamed up with a couple of believers who not only think that healthier social media is possible, they’ve created an app that aims to prove it.

Mike DeVincenzi is one of the developers of The Jump, a new app that seeks to provide a healthier social media ecosystem. Go to: thejump.com for more info. Photo courtesy of thejump.com

The Jump is an app that markets itself as “Healthier Social Media” with a mission of “bringing together authentic community, robust tools and a positive culture to create a better ecosystem.”

How are they doing that?

You can learn more at thejump.com but here are a few benefits:

For one, there are no ads, so you won’t be endlessly bombarded with posts urging you to buy an item that you happened to search for online last week.

Second, there are no algorithms. Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter use sophisticated algorithms to push content to you that THEY think you want, instead of just letting you determine what you want to see for yourself.

Additionally, in our high tech world, privacy is always a concern. Who has my data and what are they doing with it? The developers of The Jump are just as concerned about privacy as you are and pledge not to sell your data to third parties.

Last year I spent some time using The Jump app with my boys Cross Country team and was really impressed with how it functions. It seems to work especially well for teams and groups.

Check Out My Jump “The Lowedown” by clicking the image or the following link:
https://plm4.app.link/XH0QcDNap5

Personally, I love the idea of social media enabling me to stay connected with the people who are important to me, but much of the current social media culture is toxic and polarizing. The Jump may just be the alternative we’ve all been looking for.

I’ve created a Jump (group) on the app for those who want to stay connected to us and our ministry (Group icon is shown at left).

I invite you to try it out by texting 54293 to (913) 828-0100. You’ll receive a personal invitation to download the app and join our Jump.

In these crazy, uncertain times, now more than ever, we need a way to stay connected to encourage and support one another. Please let us know, in whatever fashion works for you (text, e-mail, snail-mail, The Jump, or whatever), how you’re doing and how we can pray for you!

We are so grateful for you and we pray that the Lord is protecting you and meeting you in the midst of this global crisis!