My ideas for a men’s conference

For several years now, I have been part of a team that provides feedback to a large nonprofit organization on various products and initiatives. The organization is known worldwide and has books, podcasts, radio programs, blogs, and video content all aimed at one purpose: to help families thrive. They asked us about our ideal men’s conference. You know, like the events that organizations like Promise Keepers used to be famous for. So I answered, and I thought I’d also share my response as a blog post here.

Q: For the guys… What speakers, activities, topics, format, etc. (if any) could the organization incorporate into a men’s conference, that would make you want to attend?

A: I realize that the usual topics like marriage, parenting, accountability, and resisting temptation are an automatic part of men’s conferences. But I would also enjoy teaching on how to be a better student of the Word and develop more of a hunger for it… How to better defend my faith… That type of thing.

I would want speakers who challenge me both intellectually and spiritually, not just the latest popular Christian football coach or comedian. I would really get a lot out of hearing from people like N.T. Wright, Francis Chan, David Platt, Brian Welch, and Eric Metaxas, among others.

As for format, I’ll start with music. I would bring in musical artists who are different than the usual cookie-cutter worship bands. I would schedule artists with more lyrical depth. They’re not easy to find since they don’t get radio airplay. It might take some work, but they’re out there.

My vision for the format of a men’s conference would go beyond the Promise Keepers and Authentic Manhood concept. It would be an environment that would empower men to love. But it would define love not as a squishy feeling generally experienced by women and children, but as an action verb, and as one of the most challenging things a man must do.

In recent decades, men have been emasculated in our culture. The media portrays us as either weak idiots or muscle-bound buffoons. We’re now the only demographic for whom open ridicule and prejudice is widely allowed. But we don’t have to be the idiots they think we are. We are capable and intelligent.

We write books and songs and chop wood.

We dance and we fix cars.

We change diapers and engage enemies in combat.

As the historically dominant gender, we have a unique opportunity to lead the world in love. We have too long used that dominance against the other gender. What if we turned it around and used our historic position in the world to exude the love of Christ?

There’s a reason men aren’t attending church as much as before. We aren’t learning to take charge in our roles as spiritual heads of our households. We’re passive. We have the strange idea that getting to know the all-powerful Creator of the universe is just for women. We have believed the lie that Christianity is for wimps, when in fact, using Christ as the model for our behavior is the epitome of manhood. He sacrificed everything for those He loved.

In fact, when we use that last sentence to describe military service members, it’s in the context of heroism. Jesus is the ultimate Hero. Men need to be reminded just how heroic it is to serve our families by assuming our roles as spiritual leaders in our homes.

The Ahmaud Arbery case, my privilege, and love

I’m no activist. I don’t jump on bandwagons, especially when I smell the media pushing a narrative. But I went for a run around our town yesterday, and in light of the Ahmaud Arbery case, there was something I made sure to notice:

At no time did I feel unsafe. At no time did I have any concern that someone might think I looked suspicious. At no time did anyone approach me or even look my direction.

Now, there are several factors at play. For one, I live in one of the safest towns in my state. So that helps. Another thing—and I know this may be controversial—is that I’m a middle-aged white guy. I have a bit of privilege, whether anyone wants to acknowledge it or not. My privilege doesn’t provide financial benefits or anything. Plenty of people in other race categories and/or genders are in a similar economic situation as I am. But my privilege *does* afford me the following: I can walk into a store and not automatically become a suspected potential shoplifter. And I don’t feel the need to look over my shoulder for racist nut jobs who might assume I’m a criminal or otherwise up to no good. I acknowledge that.

Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do to help in a time like this, besides continuing along my life trajectory that includes simply not being racist. But I felt the need to say something.

So, here’s the “Jesusy” portion of my post that you might have been expecting… Jesus literally told us to love others. It was so important that the only thing He said is more important is to love God. Love is an intentional thing, an action verb we’re expected to do. (i.e. more than a feeling).

1st Corinthians 13 is the so-called “love chapter.” Verse 7 mentions that love “believes the best,” or “assumes the best.” I’ll admit that sometimes it’s incredibly easy to assume the worst about people based on their appearance. But if we can somehow get in the habit of assuming the best of people, and choosing to show love as our first response, our world, our communities, and our eternity will be a lot better off.

What is baptism?

To find out what baptism is, we only need to look at Jesus’ example. Wait, Jesus got baptized? Who did the sprinkling? Why would he need it if He wasn’t a sinner?

Yes, he was baptized. No, He wasn’t sprinkled. When the Bible mentions baptism it describes the act as immersion in water of someone who has made a conscious decision. It serves as a public declaration of faith.

It’s not infant sprinkling. It doesn’t literally wash sins off of you. It’s not the way you get saved. The saving has already happened by the time someone gets baptized.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John objected: “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!”

But Jesus insisted. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it.

The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17 (MSG & ESV)

The physical act of baptism symbolizes the washing of sins, but the immersion into water and coming back up again symbolizes death, burial, and resurrection into a whole new life.

For those who have decided to follow Jesus, baptism is following Jesus’ example to be obedient and make a public declaration of faith. It’s a way to declare to the world, “Look! I’ve decided to follow Jesus. I have confessed that I’m a sinner, and He has forgiven me!”

The physical act symbolizes the washing of sins, but the immersion into water and coming back up again symbolizes death, burial, and resurrection into a whole new life.

If you were sprinkled when you were a baby, it was wonderful of your parents to do something they felt would either secure your salvation or initiate you into the faith. Traditions are beautiful and meaningful. But with many traditions, humans have changed them over the centuries into something they were never intended to be.

Since baptism is a declaration of faith, biblical baptism can only be done when someone consciously decides to become a Jesus-follower. A declaration of faith cannot be made by an infant.

However, certain denominations believe that infant baptism replaced an Old Testament covenant from the time of Abraham which was intended to dedicate a child to God. That covenant was circumcision. I’m not going to tackle that topic here. Maybe I’ll save it for a future blog post.

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Why we went to the Pride parade

We went downtown a while back to hug homosexuals.

Well, there’s more to it than that. And it wasn’t a completely original idea. I had heard about a group of people from a church across town showing up at the Austin Pride Parade to provide “free mom hugs” and “free dad hugs.”

On its surface, the idea sounds nice, but to some, it might seem a bit confusing. After all, what are people from a church doing associating with homosexuals and transgender people? So I looked into it. In my reading, I discovered that there are lots of people in the LGBTQ community who have been ostracized as a result of coming out. Many have been kicked out of their homes, and even disowned by their parents.

Being a parent, this broke my heart.

As people who follow Jesus’ example of loving people unconditionally, I thought this sounded like an incredible opportunity to put our beliefs into action. If we are to truly follow Jesus’ example, then we need to let go of some of the hang-ups that modern American Christianity has given us.

Hugging gay people. What would that even mean? Would it be awkward? What would they think of us? Would they understand why we were doing it?

Turns out, it went very well.

Standing there all night in my “FREE DAD HUGS” t-shirt, I could count on more than one hand the number of young people who ran right up and threw their arms around me. My wife experienced the same thing. These people were craving some sort of contact from a parental-type figure. A young lesbian walked away with tears in her eyes, because, we supposed, it had been a long time since she had been able to hug her own parents.

We don’t know her story. We don’t know any of their stories. So if I had one regret about the evening, it’s that there isn’t time — as the loud, festive parade floats roll along — to get to know any of these people. I would love to have sat down with some of them and listened to their stories.

Jesus is the priority. What you or I or anyone else thinks about the LGBTQ lifestyle is immaterial. Whether the propensity for homosexuality is there from birth, or if it’s chosen, doesn’t really matter. One day when I stand before God and give an account for things I’ve done and haven’t done, I want to be able to say that I showed genuine love to the people He loves.

He died for them just like He died for me.


Why are there different denominations?

by Jamy VanSyckle and Brian McGovern

Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopals, Catholics… Why is the body of Christ so divided? Which denomination is the right one? Are any of them the right one?

Before we answer these questions, we have to talk about what many people refer to as “open-handed” issues and “closed-handed” issues.

Closed-handed issues are the so-called “essentials” of biblical Christianity: things like the Trinity, Jesus being God-in-the-flesh, Him raising from the dead. The very essence of salvation. That type of thing.

Open-handed issues are the things we don’t necessarily agree on, but which are considered non-essentials. These can be practically anything not specifically mentioned in, or settled by, Scripture. Our thoughts on predestination, the clothes we wear, the beverages we consume, the language(s) we speak in church. The statues, banners, or windows that adorn our worship spaces.

Having different denominations within Christianity is not a bad thing. It shows a diversity of thought and ideas around the things that are open-handed issues.

Different people groups worship differently and it is okay that individuals in those groups would find common purpose around that.

Where we go awry is when we say, “My denomination is the only right one, and everyone else is wrong,” or if we split because of the color of carpet that’s being purchased for the church.

Demanding that we all agree on all things is lunacy.

Unity is not sameness, but oneness. Husbands and wives are not the same as each other, but they are considered one. The fact that there are a variety of churches should be considered a beautiful thing.

Loving your enemies

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: Love is a verb. It’s not a squishy feeling in the stomach you get when you see that special person. It’s not something you feel, period. It’s something you do.

True love is unconditional. There is no such thing as “I’ll love you if…” Likewise, there’s no such thing as “If you loved me, you would…”

Those are conditions. Love merely says, “I love you. I want what’s best for you.” When we place conditions on love, it’s no longer love. It becomes a transaction, no different from exchanging money or bartering goods and services.

Unconditional love is hard.

In fact, when we’ve been hurt, it seems impossible. Every human being is made in the image of God, even the ones who we consider despicable and deplorable. God loves the murderer, the abuser, the drug dealer, the rapist, and the drunk driver, just as He loves you.

We’re called to love people as God does. So how then are we supposed to love those people? Well, the good news is loving people is not a skill we’re expected to master overnight. But as we get closer to God and more intimately familiar with how He works, we’ll be able to let his spirit take over. And the more God’s spirit lives in us, the less concerned we’ll be with how we’ve been hurt. We’ll start to see all people — even the “bad” ones — as His children, who were born into a fallen, sinful nature, just like we were.

Jesus’ command to love your enemies sounds simple when the word “enemy” is just some ambiguous concept. Sure, I can love them… No big deal. But when we’re the recipients of true injustice, injury, or hatred, do we have the same attitude?

His command to “do good to those who hate you” from Luke 6:27 is such an odd concept, and it was probably just as weird to hear back in 30 A.D. when He said it out loud. But what do you think will happen if you show love to someone who hates you? You may find that you start to run out of enemies.

Sure, there will always be those who take advantage of your kindness, and there’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself from being abused. But sometimes all it takes to love someone is to not retaliate when we’re shown hatred. We humans aren’t conditioned for that, are we? We feel like we need to have the last word or that drop-the-mic parting shot that will devastate the opponent. But what would happen if we just showed love?

It takes discipline. But practice makes better, as my wife always says. The more we keep in mind the sin we were saved from, the better prepared we’ll be to extend grace to others. Even our enemies.

It’s a process

Finally, there’s nothing I can say to take away the feeling of vengeance you may have toward someone. You may want the person who hurt you to rot in hell. And I totally get it. I wouldn’t tell you to be dishonest about your feelings. The desire for revenge can be a very real human craving when we’ve been seriously hurt.

But when we allow God to take over our desires, He begins the process of conforming those desires to look more like His. Notice I said “process.” Once you’ve decided to follow Him, he starts to change you from the inside out, and it’s not usually an overnight thing. Growing closer to God is a process.

circumstantial faith

You wanna hear some raw honesty? As I write this, I’m going through some very real depression. It hit me last week, subsided over the weekend, and now that I’m back at work and preparing for a business trip, it’s weighing me down again. It sucks, I’m working through it, and I have to trust that God is somehow using it.

What is constant is that trust. I know He’ll get me through this. If I wake up tomorrow still depressed, I’ll still believe that He’s got it taken care of. Why? Because my faith in Him is not based on what I’m feeling. Everything I feel right now is temporary. Sometimes I have to remind myself, but it’s still true.

What I’m aiming for is a faith that is not at all dependent upon my circumstances. It has to be anchored to something deeper.

When things are good, we tend to assume our faith will be good. God is providing financially. I have a place to live. I’m pretty healthy. My kids are obedient (usually). So my faith in God must be through the roof, right?

Maybe, maybe not. If you’ve got everything you need, that’s actually a pretty terrible garden to cultivate faith in.

Think of it like a muscle. Faith grows because we use it, and we use it because we need it. We often find little use for faith — in anyone or anything — when every material need has been met.

It is through adversity that faith is tested. Our faith muscle gets exercise when we experience trouble, difficulty, or need.

If that faith we have is only based on what we have or how we feel when things are going well, what happens to it when we run into the inevitable problems life chucks at us? We’ll crash and burn, and maybe even be mad at God. But if our faith is rooted in something more sturdy, then the trouble can show up and we won’t be shaken.

You always hear about these people with terminal diseases like cancer, and how they grew even closer to God as a result of the sickness. Well, there’s a reason for that. They were close to God in the first place. And they didn’t just come to him because everything was fine, and they were healthy. No, they rooted their faith in Jesus Christ, and not in their own circumstances.

You may have been through some crazy s***. You may have lost whatever faith you had, and maybe even determined that you’re now an atheist or agnostic as a result of some event or circumstance in your life. What was your faith hooked to? Was it attached to a particular church or denomination? Was it based on the relationship you had with a close friend or family member who ended up hurting you?

There was a guy in the Bible named Job (pronounced like “Joe,” but with a B at the end). He was close to God. He was healthy, had a big family. and a lot of wealth. Sounds exactly like the kind of guy who we’d expect to curse God if He took it all away, doesn’t it! Turns out, the opposite happened. God allowed Job to lose literally everything except for his life. His family died. He lost his home and material wealth. He got a painful skin disease that affected him from head to toe.

Still, he remained faithful. There’s a lot more to the story, but in the end, God rewarded Job’s faithfulness and obedience.

God is faithful. He’s good and He’s just. He may not necessarily restore health and wealth, but He does restore us.

What is your faith hooked to?

Do I really need saving?

I need saving.

For many people, one big obstacle to becoming a Christian is the idea that we don’t really need to be “saved.” We don’t need rescuing, because what is there to be rescued from? I’m not literally drowning, and I’m not homeless or addicted to drugs or anything. I’ve got a decent job, and I’m making ends meet. Might even take a vacation later this year. Besides, I volunteer in my community and generally try to make the world a better place.

The assumption is since there’s nothing to be saved from, then why do I need a Savior?

We’re flawed.

We’re sinners. All of us are. I’m a sinner. Billy Graham was a sinner. The thing you have in common with Johnny Cash, Tim Tebow, and Chuck Norris is that you’ve all done or said things that are offensive to God.

The Bible says that the wages of sin are death. But there’s a way to remedy that, to be rescued from that kind of death. The same verse that condemns us also provides a way out: “…but the gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6:23)

But I’m a pretty good person.

Yeah, me too. But I still don’t make the cut. Doing good things in this life is not going to help when the only solution to the sin problem is the blood of Jesus Christ. The God of the universe, who is the very essence of goodness, isn’t too impressed by the fact that you do nice things and never murdered anyone. It takes a blood sacrifice, and Jesus accomplished that on the cross.

The really great news is you don’t have to stress over it. Jesus did the hard part. All we have to do is accept the free gift of salvation, and let Him rescue us and change our lives.

Salvation is free

Salvation, salvation, salvation is free
—The Cranberries

It really is.

You don’t have to pay indulgences to a church and you don’t have to send “seed money” to some televangelist.

You don’t have to work your way to Heaven. In fact, you can’t. You don’t have to be a perfect person. No one is.

If people had any idea how simple this is, the world would be an incredibly different place. But we’ve been conned into thinking that Jesus, God, religion, spirituality, et al, are complex and convoluted topics. The most complex theology out there really just boils down to this: Jesus, the Son of God, became a human so that He could die for us. We don’t have to go to hell but get to spend eternity with him in Heaven.

Salvation is a gift.

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash

Imagine if you unwrapped a present from your spouse or your parent, and they immediately asked, “Now, what are you going to do for me?” That wouldn’t be a gift, would it? It would be a transaction.

Jesus isn’t a banker or a retailer. He’s a giver of gifts. And the biggest, most significant one of all is that He provided us a way to live with Him forever.

Because we’re sinners, and sinners deserve death, God saw fit to offer His own Son to take the punishment. Jesus suffered the most brutal kind of Roman torture and execution methods. He allowed them to do this to him for our benefit.

You don’t have to work your butt off to change yourself. If you’re serious about a relationship with God, He’ll do the changing.

All you have to do is accept the gift. Acknowledge that you’re a sinner, and ask Him to forgive you. If you’re still unsure about prayer, ask him to reveal Himself to you.

You will not regret it. If you have any questions, please contact me. I’ll do my best to answer any questions you may have.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

John 3:16-18 (MSG)

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