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!

Adapting to New Realities

Jacob (Navy) and Joshua (Army) look on as their former team-mate races to the finish line of the 800m race!

One week ago, with my twins home for spring break, we went to a track meet where I took photos while my boys connected with former coaches and teammates. Everything seemed normal and life was good. We were making the most of our few days together as a family before the twins were scheduled to report back to their respective academies.

Within 24 hours, everything changed.

EVERYTHING!

It was announced that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had tested positive for the Coronavirus. At the same time, a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive and the NBA immediately suspended their season. Things escalated exponentially from there.

The next day, Jacob and Joshua were both informed that they were to delay their returns for 2 weeks and that online instruction would ensue shortly. Restaurants began closing and other large events were canceled or postponed. Disneyland closed for only the 4th time in its history. By the end of the week, all major sports leagues had been suspended, most schools had closed, weekend church services were either canceled or moved online and many people were told to begin working from home.

New terms such as “flattening the curve” and “social distancing” have become a normal part of our vernacular while crowded grocery stores and empty shelves have become commonplace. Who would have thought a few weeks ago that toilet paper would be more sought after than gold?

Long lines and empty shelves are the norm now at most grocery stores

What we’re experiencing is unprecedented….at least in my lifetime. How should we respond?

As you know, Jen has been experiencing her own health issues with her vasculitis flaring up recently. She’s been hospitalized, is back on Prednisone and has undergone two different infusions of Rituxan, a drug which is designed to suppress her immune system as a measure of stabilizing the auto-immune flare that is currently afflicting her.

A few weeks ago, Jen spent the day at UCLA, receiving a five hour infusion of Rituxan, a drug that is part of her ongoing treatment in combating her vasculitis flare.

While she’s not bed-ridden and she’s able to carry on most work responsibilities, she’s at increased risk for infections. As a result, we’re trying to be extra cautious and vigilant, but also doing our best not to panic.

From a ministry perspective, we’re still working and actively seeking to minister to Young Professionals. While many of our upcoming work trips have been canceled and events postponed, we’re still able to coach Young Professionals virtually. In fact, we already office out of our home and have been doing more and more of our coaching in a virtual environment anyway, so these latest measures have not been a major disruption to us.

One benefit of having the boys home is the dog gets more attention…but yeah, he’s already a spoiled pup!

Perhaps the biggest change for us is the fact that our boys are home and we are all sharing the same space and needing to get online for virtual classes or online meetings. Our boys are attending class as normal but everything is on East Coast time so they are having to get up at 4:30 a.m. in order to attend their first period classes.

Food consumption has also gone up, which means there are more trips to the grocery store, and more empty shelves and hunting for food and supplies to keep these guys from going hungry!

Though the nation is in crisis, we are trying to rest in the peace that Jesus is in control and we are His.

We would appreciate your prayers, though, mainly to stay healthy and for Jen’s vasculitis flare to become stable so she can begin to taper off of some of the drugs that have such negative effects. Pray too that we would find new and creative ways to minister to people during this time.

We know this crisis is affecting many of you in very real and perhaps devastating ways. We would love to pray for you. Please let us know how we can intercede on your behalf!

A Health Setback

I recently met a Young Professional for a coaching appointment over dinner and to my surprise, I saw another Young Professional who had attended a home group we hosted during the time in our lives when Jen was really sick.

Baxter (left), was involved in a Home Group we led for Young Professionals several years ago. I happened to bump into her while meeting another Young Professional for a dinner appointment.

Baxter had moved out of the area a few years ago to take another job but recently moved back to Orange County. Though we had exchanged some texts and engaged on Facebook, we hadn’t actually had an opportunity to connect personally since she moved back to the area.

Having been around during the time Jen was struggling with her health, Baxter saw first-hand the effects of the disease and medications Jen was taking. Naturally Baxter was curious about how Jen was doing.

For the past few years, as I’ve been asked frequently about Jen’s health, I’ve been able to share about how well Jen is doing and how the condition that afflicts her (Vasculitis) is under control, thanks to the care she’s been receiving by her doctors at UCLA.

In fact, early last year, I wrote about how Jen’s condition was considered to be in remission and her doctors wanted to take her off her medication completely, which they did in May of last year (see April 26, 2019 post on Lowedown.com).

Unfortunately though, I was not able to give such a positive and glowing response to Baxter in that moment, as Jen has recently suffered a setback in her health.

Jen sports her Navy spirit on Christmas day!

Back in December, Jen received the results from some blood work which indicated elevated levels in her kidney. Jen has only one kidney so this was very concerning to her and her doctors. Shortly after Christmas, Jen experienced elevated potassium levels which forced her to spend the night in the hospital.

Last week, Jen made several trips to UCLA to meet with her nephrologist as they try to figure out what is happening with her kidney. The good news is that the ultrasound and CT scan that she had showed no abnormalities in her kidney. However, some of the most recent bloodwork came back indicating that the vasculitis that has been in remission for the last four years has returned.

We suspect that this is the reason for the elevated levels in her kidney, as these same symptoms were present back in 2014 when the vasculitis first presented itself.

To say there is discouragement with this development would be a huge understatement. Jen is not looking forward to going back on Prednisone as the reminder of the damaging effects it had on her body are pretty painful.

Enjoying a Philly Cheesesteak tradition while in Philadelphia visiting our boys over Thanksgiving!

We are hoping and praying that because we know what we’re dealing with and Jen’s doctors are extremely competent that the path to stabilizing this “flare” will be quicker and much less traumatic than before.

We don’t know why we continue to be faced with these health challenges, but we know God is good and He has blessed us in so many ways. We would greatly appreciate your prayers.

Specifically, we are praying for the following:

  • We are praying that this vasculitis flare would be quickly stabilized
  • We are praying that Jen would not have to be on Prednisone for very long.
  • Lastly, we are praying that Jen would not have to be admitted to the hospital for ongoing treatment but that whatever treatments are prescribed could be done on an outpatient basis.

We are grateful for you, our friends, whose prayers and encouragement have sustained us. Thank you for your ministry in our lives!

Casting Away 2019

A few nights ago, while channel surfing, I stumbled across the Golden Globes broadcast. Tom Hanks was being honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award for his lasting impact on the movie industry.

During the monologue outlining Mr. Hanks’ long and illustrious career, there were short clips of the many noteworthy films he has starred in, including Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13 and Cast Away.

The short clip of Cast Away showed a scene where Hanks is talking to a face-painted Volleyball he has named Wilson.

Tom Hanks, paints “Wilson” the volleyball, in the movie Cast Away

If you’re not familiar with the movie, the following may be considered a spoiler alert. In the movie, Hanks is the lone survivor of a FedEx plane crash where he finds himself stranded on a deserted island with only a few salvageable packages, one of which is a volleyball.

Hanks paints a face on the volleyball and since it is a Wilson branded ball, he begins calling it Wilson. Throughout the movie, Hanks talks to the ball as if it’s a real person, even responding to the ball as if it has talked back to him.

Jen and Jacob share an embrace in August at the beginning of Plebe Parent Weekend at the U.S. Naval Academy.

This strange dialogue might lead the viewer to conclude that Hanks, being alone on a small deserted island with no human contact, is going mad. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Hanks’ dialogue with Wilson doesn’t indicate a step into insanity, but instead it’s a step to prevent insanity.

Hanks becomes so connected to Wilson that the movie-viewer can feel the anguish as Wilson begins to drift away beyond reach during Hanks’ attempted island escape.

As weird as this may seem, I can relate a bit to that feeling of anguish as the ball floats away. Numerous times this past year, we’ve had to say goodbye to our boys, and they have had to say goodbye to each other. Each time, there is a profound sense of sadness as we go our separate ways.

Jacob (left) and Joshua are all smiles after seeing each other right before Thanksgiving for the first time in months.

Even with amazing technological advancements such as texting and video chat, there still exists a deep longing and profound desire to to be with the people you love.

It appears that as humans we’ve been created with a deep need for human connection; our souls long for the physical presence of others.

In our ministry to Young Professionals, we know that this need and longing for connection IS the biggest need and challenge that they face. All of the most recent research and our own experience affirms that this is the case. Young Adults are desperately seeking meaningful connections with people who are in their life-stage.

Pray for Jacob (left) and Joshua as they enter the 2nd semester of their frosh year apart from each other.

In the past few years, we’ve positioned ourselves well to minister to Young Professionals by providing Leadership Development, Vocational Discipleship and professional level coaching. Yet a primary need and problem is helping Young Professionals develop significant connections with others.

As we reflect back on the lessons of 2019 and look forward to 2020, we would appreciate your prayers in these areas:

  1. Pray for Jen and me to pursue and maintain significant relationships that would feed our souls and encourage us to press on as we face new challenges.
  2. Pray for our boys to develop deep relational connections with others at their respective academies. 
  3. Pray for us to help the Young Professionals we encounter forge solid friendships with others that will spur them to continue to walk with Jesus and serve Him wherever they are.

We are grateful for you and your ministry to us. May you be richly blessed in 2020!

How do we Disciple in Digital Babylon?

Over the summer I attended a breakfast at our National Cru Conference that featured a speaker who was talking about the value of coaching. He made an interesting statement that stuck with me. He said, “Growing up in the church I was discipled by events.” He followed by saying he wasn’t against events but that event-oriented discipleship wears out the leaders AND the participants.

Recently, I’ve been reading Faith For Exiles by David Kinnaman. It’s a fascinating peek into current research regarding Young Adults and their relationship to the church. One of the main points of the book, which we highlighted in last month’s Lowedown, is that we’re living in “Digital Babylon.” The idea of Digital Babylon is that people are so connected to their screens that we’re slowly being indoctrinated to the culture’s values by the content we’re immersed in through our phones and other digital devices. I was particularly struck by the statement that “Screens demand our attention. Screens disciple.”

Four Kinds of Exiles, from Barna Research …. Prodigals – those who no longer claim to be Christian …. Nomads – those who still claim to be Christian but are not engaged with a church community …. Habitual Churchgoers – those who attend church regularly but not engaged at church …. Resilient Disciples – those who attend AND are engaged in church and desire to see their community transformed as a result of their faith.

The question we’ve been trying to answer as we seek to resource and equip Young Professionals is how do we disciple this generation in this cultural environment? Kinnaman seeks to answer this question as well, pointing out that “in a previous era, we had some semblance of success mass-producing disciples.”

Our focus in the church has traditionally been on using events to reach and disciple people, just as the speaker at my summer breakfast had mentioned. But the dropout rate of Young Adults who have left the church demonstrates that this method and approach doesn’t work in today’s culture. We need a different approach if we’re going to develop disciples in “Digital Babylon.”

My experience with Young Professionals over the past few years has led me to the conclusion that most Young Adults have been so immersed in event-oriented discipleship through Youth groups and campus ministries that they cannot envision another way to grow in their faith and be connected to a Christ community.

It seems to me that many Young adults bounce around from place to place looking for an event-oriented community experience for people in their life stage. Finding this kind of community has proven to be as elusive for many Young adults as spotting a unicorn. As a result, many Young Adults we know get discouraged and some give up on church altogether.

Jen and I are working with a group of Young Professionals who desire to create Christ Communities among Young Adults where they currently do not exist.

But what if Young Professionals learned to lead themselves, instead of looking for the elusive event-oriented Young Adult community that doesn’t exist?

Kinnaman’s research shows that only 10% of Young Adults who grew up in a church are what he refers to as Resilient Disciples. People in this category are engaged with their church and have a strong desire to see communities transformed as a result of their faith.

Our hope is to work with these resilient disciples and unleash them to create Christ communities among their peers where they currently don’t exist. We can provide “discipleship”, not through highly organized events, but through Coaching, Leadership Development opportunities and connecting them to other like-minded, missionally-driven individuals.

We continue to learn and trust God for this next generation. We are so thankful for you and your part in helping us to disciple Young Professionals in this “Digital Babylon.”

Living and Ministering in Digital Babylon

Based on recent Barna research, Faith For Exiles is the latest book by David Kinnaman.

As I read the words on the very first page, I was hooked. David Kinnaman, in his latest book, Faith For Exiles, was describing what it was like to drop his oldest daughter off at college, with all of the emotions that you would expect. Having just dropped our twins off at schools that are 3000 miles away, I could relate to Kinnaman’s fears and anxieties concerning the question of how your child will fare spiritually in this new and secular environment without our guidance. Is their faith strong enough? Have we built the right character into them? Did we do a good job of preparing them spiritually for what lies ahead?

TOP LEFT: Jacob (left) waits in line to get on a bus to enter summer training for the Naval Academy
TOP RIGHT: Joshua waits in line to enter summer training for West Point
BOTTOM: Sign at West Point directing new students where to go

Kinnaman’s 2011 book, You Lost Me, argued that the church has a dropout problem. Research at the time showed that 59% of Young Adults who claimed a faith upbringing had left the church. New research shows the problem has gotten worse, with 64% of Young Adults abandoning the faith of their youth.     

What accounts for such a mass exodus? Kinnaman, and his co-author Mark Matlock, argue that our culture is “especially and insidiously faith repellant.” The biggest culprit, they contend, is our smart devices, which have created a digital culture that actually works against us. As a result, believers are swimming upstream, fighting to maintain their values and their faith beliefs in a culture that is becoming increasingly opposed and in some cases hostile to these values and beliefs.

Click on the image to watch this short video from thebibleproject.com, which explains what exile is and how the theme of “exile” is woven throughout the Bible

The Old Testament highlights God’s promise that if His people followed Him and worshiped Him alone, they would prosper. But He warned them that if they were disobedient, He would bring judgment in the form of invading armies who would conquer them and take them into captivity. Much of the Old Testament is story after story of the nation of Israel forsaking God to pursue false gods. God continually sends prophets to warn them of impending doom but His message inevitably falls on deaf ears.

Click on the image to watch this short video from thebibleproject.com, which highlights what it was supposed to look like for the Israelites who were living in exile in Babylon and what it means for us as believers “living in exile.”

God finally hands his people over to the Babylonians, who take the Israelites into exile, where they live for 70 years in a foreign land, amidst a foreign culture that serves foreign gods and does not share their religious and cultural values. In fact, one of the goals of taking a conquered people into captivity was the systematic dismantling and eradication of their culture and the assimilation and adoption of the invading empire’s culture and values.

Imagine what it was like to be a Jew living in Babylon. How hard would it be to resist adopting the culture in which you’re thoroughly steeped, while trying to keep your own faith and religious views alive?

Young Adults spend an enormous time on their phones and the content is not always helpful to to maintaining a vibrant faith. Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

We haven’t been taken into captivity and we’re not living in a foreign land, as the Israelites did, but the authors make the case that the internet age in which we’re living has created what they refer to as “Digital Babylon.” A sobering graphic shows that the average 15-23 year old spends nearly 2800 hours in a typical year engaging with media on their phone. For the average 15-23 year old who is not a Christian, only 153 of those 2800 hours contain ANY kind of spiritual or biblical content. The Christian Young Adult fares only slightly better, with 291 hours of biblical content to offset the nearly 2800 hours of input they’re getting.

Our “smart” devices have created a digital environment that is slowly indoctrinating us to views and values that are contrary to our faith. This is what it means to live in “Digital Babylon”.

It’s not all bad news though. There is a segment of Young Adults, identified as “resilient disciples” who are thriving spiritually even in this current cultural context. The book is really about the practices of this group that enable them to maintain a vibrant faith. It turns out that we’ve already identified many of these practices as critical to thriving spiritually and as a result, we’ve already implemented many of these practices in our own ministry to Young Adults.

Our prayer is that our influence would increase and the Lord would show us new ways and avenues to impact Young Adults, who are seeking to live as resilient disciples in “Digital Babylon.”

We greatly appreciate your partnership and your prayers as we strive to this end!

Life is Like a Broken Phone

It was the last day of our Spring Break trip visiting a potential college destination our boys were considering. As I was getting into the rental car, my phone slipped out of my hand and fell to the ground. There was a moment of panic as the phone hit the ground but I had a protective case on it and I had dropped it before and always seemed to avoid any serious damage.

My phone, with the familiar spiderweb-like cracked screen on the bottom right.

The phone was lying face down on the ground. As I picked it up and turned it over, I immediately noticed a spiderweb-like screen crack on the bottom right corner, along with a longer crack stretching across the bottom of the screen. My heart sank in frustration. While my phone wasn’t brand new, it still had plenty of life in it from my perspective. We all know that these new-fangled smart phones aren’t cheap, and one can hardly afford to be buying the latest technology every other year.

I briefly entertained thoughts of self-condemnation, chastising myself for being so careless.

I inspected the phone and found that even with a cracked screen, it appeared to be working normally. I resolved that I would be one of those people who was walking around for months, if not years, with a phone that technically worked on the inside but was clearly damaged on the outside.

Not long after, I noticed that the back plate on the phone was starting to come apart as if it was coming unglued. I wondered if the impact of hitting the ground had weakened the integrity of the back plate, causing it to loosen. I tried to squeeze it back together but clearly the glue was no longer able to hold it in place. I took solace in knowing that the case was holding it all together and it was still working normally.

The back plate on my phone started to come apart. That cant be good!

Over the next few weeks and months, that plate started pulling farther and farther apart. I determined that the issue was not related to the impact of hitting the ground but instead, the battery was failing and beginning to swell, pushing the back plate off and making it impossible to reattach, even with new glue. At that point, I realized that I was going to have to bite the bullet and get a new phone.

After some reflection, I considered how much our lives are like that broken phone. Every single one of us is broken – flawed in some way. It’s inevitable. We are born into a broken and fallen world where nothing works quite the way it was designed, including us. But just because we’re flawed doesn’t mean we can’t thrive and be productive.

Some of our flaws are external and visible to others, like the cracked screen on my phone. But some of our flaws are internal, hidden deep within the depths of our souls, like the battery that began to swell. Perhaps we’re not aware of our issues, or perhaps we are and we’re just really good at hiding our stuff.

The Pharisees were upset that Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating according to Jewish religious traditions. Photo by Samad Deldar from Pexels

In Matthew 15, the Pharisees were upset with Jesus because his disciples didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before eating. Jesus responded to the Pharisees by saying, “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands could never defile you and make you unacceptable to God!” (Matthew 15:19-20, NLT)

What Jesus is saying is that our brokenness is an internal issue. All of the ugly stuff that we say and do or think but hide, all stem from our heart. The problem is that just like the battery on my phone began to swell and expand outward, what is on the inside in our hearts inevitably comes out, often in dark and ugly ways.

Unlike our phones when they break, we cannot just order a new, unbroken version of ourselves. We’re stuck with having to navigate broken screens and swelling batteries in our lives.

Jesus provides grace to deal with our brokenness and our internal issues. Photo by Greg Weaver on Unsplash

This is what makes the gospel such good news. The gospel is not just a message that saves us from sin and allows us entrance into heaven some day. The good news is that Jesus understands our pain and our issues and he meets us where we’re at every day. There is grace and forgiveness when we blow it, and there is truth and power to experience freedom and deliverance from sin and shame.

As a Christ-follower, I’m becoming more keenly aware of my brokenness and the internal issues that afflict me. I’m grateful that Jesus loves me and accepts me despite my flaws and issues and my hope is that he will meet me in my brokenness and help me understand my flaws and issues so that I might experience true freedom and victory.

We greatly appreciate your partnership and your prayers for us as we navigate life’s challenges and seek to help Young Professionals do the same!