An Interview with Actors / Models Clayton and Keeley - Part 3

An Interview with Actors / Models Clayton and Keeley - Part 3

Clayton and Keeley are my good friends and a married couple whom I admire greatly. Both are working models and actors based in New York City, who also happen to be Christians. It is an incredible privilege to know such strong followers of Christ who take seriously their mission to be God’s salt and light in the entertainment industry. If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 of their interview, be sure to read that here and here. This is Part 3, where they share with me how being married has expanded their influence, why they thrive in New York City and how we can be praying for them and the entertainment industry.

Read More

An Interview with Actors / Models Clayton and Keeley - Part 2

An Interview with Actors / Models Clayton and Keeley - Part 2

Clayton and Keeley are my good friends and a married couple whom I admire greatly. Both are working models and actors based in New York City, who also happen to be Christians. It is an incredible privilege to know such strong followers of Christ who take seriously their mission to be God’s salt and light in the entertainment industry. If you missed Part 1 of their interview, be sure to read that here. This is Part 2, where they share with me how they practically minister to their cast and crew on set, how God is moving in Hollywood, and their advice to aspiring Christian actors.

Read More

Inside My Prayer Journal: Thoughts on 'Avengers' and Femininity

Inside My Prayer Journal: Thoughts on 'Avengers' and Femininity

(WARNING: May contain plot spoilers from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’)

Dear God,

I listened to Britt Nicole’s “Still That Girl” and I couldn’t help but break down. It’s like she wrote that song for me. I totally relate to how “dreams may change” and “plans may fail,” and how once upon a time, Britt believed she could be the girl “shining in the dark,“ the bright-eyed girl who truly believed she could change the world.

I’m thinking about ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and its different portrayals of femininity.

Read More

Dear Friend Struggling with Homosexuality

Dear Friend Struggling with Homosexuality

Dear Friend,

I’m told you are a homosexual. Is it gay? Is it practicing homosexuality? Is it you’ve switched sides? I don’t even know how to say it.

First, I need to apologize. We, your brothers and sisters in Christ, have presented you with a religion with standards that we can’t possibly live up to. Instead of trying to fix you from the outside in, we should have been introducing you to a Person. 

To quote one of my favorite theological books, The Jesus Storybook Bible, “Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.”

Read More

Why We Love Liam Neeson [Guest Post]

Why We Love Liam Neeson [Guest Post]

Liam Neeson is an interesting actor. For one, Schindler’s List was released back in 1993, and he honestly doesn’t look much older now than he did when he acted in that movie over 20 years ago. Second, other than Star Wars:The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins (which I wouldn’t really label as purely action films), Liam didn’t become an action movie star until the original Taken came out in 2008. That’s right—the man became an action film star at the age of 56! That’s incredible! I’m only 38 years old, and I’ve already got issues with sciatica.

But I mentioned Taken, and that movie really was the turning point for Liam Neeson. It propelled him into another category altogether in the eyes of the movie-goer, making him both kick-butt cool, and intensely trustworthy. Let me explain what I mean.

Read More

Maple Seeds, The Word of God and Christmas

Maple Seeds, The Word of God and Christmas

I love maple seeds. When God designed them, I think He was just having fun. They come with their own little helicopter wing and when you scoop up a bunch and throw them up in the air, they spin and float all over the place with a big wink from God. But what do they have to do with the Word of God and Christmas?

Read More

Shia LaBeouf: Why Prayers Work

image

Most likely, you’ve heard by now that Shia LaBeouf revealed that a woman raped him during his #IAMSORRY performance art exhibit in L.A earlier this year.

Now, we’re not about to sit here and say for sure that it definitely happened or that it definitely didn’t happen. Some people are backing up his claims. Somepeople are insisting that it’s all a publicity stunt.

It doesn’t matter whether Shia’s culpable or not, it’s God’s job to deal with the sin. Ours is to protect our little brother (because he’s younger in the faith). How? Refuse to gossip and choose to pray.

Now, I (Marilette) have been a brokenrecord with this “pray for celebrities” topic. But the truth remains, most of us Christians are more likely to point out Shia’s “lack of fruit” in his Christian walk than pray for him. With fists raised, we demand to know: Is he even a Christian?

I love how Hillsong NYC’s Carl Lentz put it, referring to his well-documented relationship with Justin Bieber. “I tell people grace and acceptance does not mean approval. I can accept you as a human being and not approve of your actions. That’s how we’ve been loved. We love because we were first loved.“

My heart breaks again every time Shia talks about his relationship with his Vietnam-vet, former drug-addict, verbally-abusive dad. Can God remove brain and heart damage caused by abuse in minutes? Yes. Does he always heal instantly? No. He often prefers to cycle through healing because it’s better for our faith in the long run. But if Shia doesn’t have protection from us believers (via prayers on his behalf), there’s no way his pain will ever be removed.

I (Alyssa) have to admit that sometimes I cringe when people say, “The only thing we can do is pray,” because what we really mean is: “Oh yeah, it’s absolutely hopeless, but let’s schluff off a prayer so we feel we’ve done everything we can.

A few weeks ago, I was at a morning prayer meeting at my church. Our leader said God wanted us to pray for a young black girl in a pink coat–the leader could see her face clearly. So we did. A few days later, this story about a Philadelphia kidnapping popped up on the news. Our leader watched the news story about how a young black woman was rescued. He saw her face, and realized it was the same woman he’d seen two days before. The kidnapper had killed other victims in previous crimes, but this woman was rescued within days and had no major injuries.

God’s payment plan for intercessors is answered prayer. When you see an incredible response in the world to something you were praying for, you are motivated to keep praying.

I thought that after I wrote the first article about Shia’s conversion, I would stop heavy lifting in my spirit for Shia. But I keep praying and praying hard. I’m praying because God is demanding that I do.

I have known and loved God for over 20 years. I have a strong faith. I have spiritual gifts to use. So like Romans 15:1 says, that gives me responsibility. And if I don’t take that burden, it’s bad news. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.’” (Ezekiel 34:1-10).

Weak. Sick. Injured. Stray. Lost. Scattered. Sounds like Shia to me.

Well doesn’t he know better? Probably not.

In prayer, I asked God what is plaguing Shia. God revealed to me that Shia is haunted by a spirit of iniquity, literally lawlessness. What happens when you spend your lifetime longing for approval from an abusive dad; when the movie industry is demanding your best work, only to sprawl you out in the public eye; when truth is preached as a flimsy ideal? You want freedom.

But Satan has a good counterfeit for freedom: “anything goes.”

Shia doesn’t really understand moral lines (which, by the way, also explains the chronic plagiarism). It’s the cry of his generation that doesn’t have any anchor to truth.

In this new article, Shia says he looks up to Joaquin Phoenix. My favorite movie of Phoenix’s is Walk the Line, which shows Johnny Cash’s raging, messy journey out of darkness. I’m still praying for Shia because I believe God is going to use him in a parallel journey.

It’s crucial for Christians to speak life, not death, because our words become reality.

Let’s not abandon our posts of covering our weakest members in prayer. Let’s not let Shia slip through the cracks.

QUESTION: Why is it so easy for us Christians to underestimate and even dismiss the power of prayer? Let me know in the comments below.

image

Shia LaBeouf and the Heart of God

By Alyssa Plock

This is a guest post from Alyssa, my dear friend and roommate from college. For the past few years, she has helped lead a scripture-based recovery program. Her experience has taught her that many Christians are saved, but not healed of pain. Her passion is to see God move every hurting person to a new place through reflection, accountability, and forgiveness. Alyssa currently works as a radio producer in upstate New York. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

image

Cory Monteith, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams–stars with dark secrets who did not make it out alive; souls who, as far as we can tell, became permanently lost to the Father.

But then there’s Shia LaBeouf. His dark secrets are well known. But because of God’s pursuit, he will make it out of this alive. Shia shares a lot about himself and how he found God in the recent Interview Magazine article, a sit-down interview with Elvis Mitchell. As I read it, I rejoiced, cried, and felt a deep, brotherly love for him grow and grow. God reached down into a dark life and pulled Shia up.   

In the Interview article, Shia candidly describes his father as “a Vietnam veteran who came home disgruntled.” A former drug addict and motorcycle gang member, Shia’s father created a childhood of darkness and “irony” for Shia, in which the greatest gift he got from his dad was pain.  

Then in his young adulthood, Shia explains how he felt like he had become a slave of the movie industry, that he had given it so much control over him, and that he struggled to feel hope when the whole world was “dumping” on him. He says his method acting and deep insecurities often got him in trouble in the public eye.

Then Director David Ayer entered the picture.

image

David is known for writing Training Day, The Fast and the Furious, and End of Watch. David grew up in the rough streets of Los Angeles, joined the Navy before he finished high school, and taught himself to screenwrite. He was a troubled soul until the Lord rescued him. David uses his movies to explore manhood, explore the complexities of life, and honor those who put themselves on the line to protect others.

When Shia first met with David on the set of Fury, the writer/director said, “I want you to know that what’s being offered to you is not just a film, this is a life-changer. We’re going to push it all the way to the edge. I want you to make this movie like you’ll never make another movie. You’re going to die on this set.”

After his first meeting with David, Shia became a chaplain’s assistant with the National Guard. Through this training period, in which he shadowed a chaplain for a month, he found God.

Back on set, David connected with Shia over rehearsals, camping, and living life together.  “I’ve never experienced unconditional love from another man,” Shia tells Mitchell. “And war is the only place in society where men are allowed to unconditionally love each other. And what we experienced on the set was unconditional love.”

For Shia, working on Fury was the best experience of his life because making films is his therapy and David Ayer was “not the observer; he’s going through it with you…It was like becoming a Christian–you subject yourself to everything that’s coming. You relinquish everything.”

At one point Mitchell asks Shia, “It sounds like this is the first time you’ve ever had real trust in a director?”

Shia responds, “In men.”

God’s heart is for men like Shia who grew up in “affliction” and “bitterness of suffering” (Lamentations 3).” He knows that at one point, like Shia, we were all dead in our filth, children of wrath by nature, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2).

It pains God to see His sons slipping away from His grasp. The Bible describes a story in which a son disowned his father, took his inheritance early and spent it all in crazy, reckless living. When the money ran out and the son hit rockbottom, he decided he would go back and work like a servant for his dad. But his dad wouldn’t have it. His dad had been watching for him and when he saw the son far off, he sprinted toward him and wrapped him in his arms (Luke 15:11-32). Like that father to the prodigal, God wants to run to his lost sons when He sees them looking for a way out of the dead ends.

I am grateful to men like David whose hearts align with the Father’s heart and who see their job as their calling. As Shia’s public meltdowns spread across the cyber-universe, he seemed to appear beyond saving to most of the world. But God allowed David to pursue him and show him what no other man had shown him–unconditional love. As God’s love changes our brokenness, we begin to feel the heartbeat of God and realize that His deep love can pour out of us and change another life.In David’s case, the pain from his past allowed him to extend the ultimate ‘pay it forward’ to Shia. He felt what Shia felt.

A few years ago, a friend of mine slipped further and further away from God. Through this awful experience of watching the light go out in someone’s eyes, the Lord drew me near to the depth of His love. As I would pray for my friend, God would cry, “My child, my child. Alyssa, you are not weeping right now, but I am.” And the Father’s searing pain and the Spirit’s groans would burn in my spirit. It’s called travailing in the Spirit. It’s feeling pain on someone else’s behalf to spare them, bring them to healing or, like in my case, serve God’s purpose in pushing one you love over the edge.

When God brings you into this kind of prayer, no matter how deep he brings you or how much it hurts, you are safe. When you have witnessed what God has for you, he brings you back up to the surface to breathe easily again, refreshes you and equips you for the next task. Just because it is scary at first, does not mean it is not from God. The honor in submitting to a travailing prayer is that you walk away knowing that God has shared his innermost thoughts with you.

I ask you, my brothers and sisters to join me in travailing for Shia. He, other Hollywood souls, and the people God has put before us in our own circles, need our love and support.

For Shia, pray that God breaks the anger he is still holding onto and replaces it with something more powerful: forgiveness; pray that God brings even more men to unconditionally love him and keep him walking on the path of truth; and pray that Shia finds movies to work on that (in his words) make his “soul grow.”

image

An Interview with Shane Harper | MariletteSanchez.com

image

Some may recognize Shane Harper as Josh Wheaton, the in-over-his-head college freshman (God’s Not Dead). Others know him as Spencer on Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie. His latest role on MTV’s Happyland is quickly shooting him up the ranks of Hollywood’s young heartthrobs. 

I’ve always admired Shane’s multi-faceted talent (see here and here), his candidness about his Christian faith, and his ability to seamlessly navigate between “Christian” and “mainstream” media.

In this exclusive interview with MariletteSanchez.com, Shane opens up about about his ideal role, the reaction of the Christian community to Happyland, and his most important life lesson.

————————

MS: Let’s pretend the best movies you have seen were never made, and were still in the production stage. What script would you want to get in the mail that would make you say, “I have to play this part?"  

SH: Newsies. It’s a movie musical that was released in 1992. Getting to play Jack Kelly would be the coolest! 

MS: How is it going filming "Happyland” for MTV? Tell us a little bit about your character and why you chose that role. 

SH: Filming “Happyland” has been wonderful. It was a short production for season 1 but it was action-packed… long days and late nights were the norm! My character Ian Chandler is “bad boy prince charming”, but he has a good heart underneath the bravado. When I read the pilot, I immediately gravitated towards Ian. It’s always fun to play a character with many emotional layers to them. 

MS: Can you share a time when your Christian values put you in an awkward situation in your acting career? How did that turn out? 

SH: My values as a Christian hinge on the centricity of grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The biggest challenges I face all revolve around the temptation of narcism and self-worship. Christianity is all about loving God well, and loving our neighbors. We’re called to serve the people around us but It’s very easy in this business to be self-serving. 

MS: Share a story about a time when your decision to take a mainstream role conflicted with the opinion of the religious community. Would you have done something differently based on their reaction? 

SH:  think my role in this MTV series brings to mind a good example that relates to your question. There have been some interesting remarks from the Christian community commenting on the content of the show, and how they’re “disappointed” I would take a role like this, insinuating that somehow all of the characters I play and all of the narratives I participate in are supposed to share my faith and beliefs. This kind of thinking is the result of looking through the short-sighted, conservative American evangelical lens. That is not a Christian gospel mentality; it’s an us VS. them mentality. Jon Foreman put it concisely when he said, “There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds”. Every narrative has the potential to show us something powerful and important about the human condition. Life is messy and so should art be. The Bible, after all, is filled with messy stories. But we find God’s hand of redemption in all of them. My faith in God leads me to understand the inconceivable value of all people, and it breathes passion into every good endeavor. 

MS: What’s the song that you just can’t get out of your head right now? 

SH: “Ink” by Coldplay 

MS: Who are your top three musical influences? 

SH: Coldplay, John Mayer, Jon Foreman 

MS: Give us your cardboard testimony

SH: In need of grace and mercy. / Still in need of grace and mercy. 

MS: What is the most important life lesson you have learned? What struggles did you have to go through to learn it? 

SH: What’s the truest thing about me? That’s the question I’ve learned to ask myself. The truest thing about any one of us is that we are loved by God. When you know who you are, you know what your purpose is. The cross reminds me every day. 

MS: How are three specific ways my readers can pray for you in the next year? 

SH: That would be so wonderful, thank you. I’m always praying for wisdom. Lately, I’ve been focusing on being patient in all things. And please pray for peace. 

WANT MORE SHANE? Check out this interview with Family Christian, in which Shane describes his Christian upbringing and his personal journey to own his faith, and gives us glimpse into being a vocal Christian in Hollywood.

Why We Must Drop the Stigma of Mental Illness

By Stephanie Jonasson

This is a guest post from Stephanie, my dear friend from college. Stephanie got her start in the field of mental health working as a Mental Health ParaProfessional in a Residential Treatment Program for teens. She has since transitioned into donor development (for the same non-profit health organization) where she spends her time helping the local community better understand what it means to struggle with mental illness.

I’m so excited that Marilette invited me to share my two cents on the recent loss of one of my favorite comedians, and some of the misconceptions that surround suicide and mental illness. The news has been inundated this week with the gory details of Robin Williams’ suicide. I’ve watched as conversations sprang up around me on social media, in the hours after the news broke as people tried to come to grips with what had happened. The opinions I encountered ran the gamut of emotion from anger, which accuses him of being “selfish” for leaving his family behind, to pity, which absolves Mr. Williams of all responsibility for his actions. 

My experience with mental illness is both professional and familial. I have provided direct care for teens in treatment for mental health issues; and I’ve seen the devastation that depression (and illnesses like it) has caused in my family. In all that time, I’ve learned one important thing: people who suffer from chronic mental illness are fighting forces that have literally re-wired their brain chemistry.

They didn’t ask for it, and they can’t just “fix it” – at least not at this point in medical technology. In a lot of cases it can be treated quite well, but I’ve also seen some horror stories where it has taken a lot of trial and error just to get someone stabilized.

Suicide takes a sad mental health story and turns it into a nightmare. Any time someone dies, his or her family and friends bear the grief of that loss. They have to struggle with everything not said and the important moments their loved one will miss. It’s so much worse, however, having to look back and know that this person, for whom you cared so deeply, despaired enough to take his or her own life.  I would do just about anything for the ones that I love, and I can’t imagine the guilt and grief that comes from knowing they were hurting and I didn’t stop it. It’s easy from that perspective to call the one who has died “selfish”. But in most cases, people stay alive longer because they care about the family and friends they would leave behind. They don’t want to hurt the people they love; they just want to stop hurting

Don’t get me wrong: suicide is NEVER the right solution for depression. Suicide doesn’t just “happen” to people, it has to be chosen and carried out. The destruction of self is so against the image of God that we were created to be, that it should be repugnant to all of us. But we can never forget – even in our grief – that it’s a choice some people make because they feel like they have no better alternative.

Living with mental illness is such a frightening experience. Humans are great at intervening in a physical crisis (floods for example) but issues like depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia send people running for the hills. Often when people do notice that something is wrong they respond with criticism for symptoms. This kind of reaction makes experiencing depression like trying to swim laps with concrete blocks on your ankles while the lifeguard yells at you for falling behind. The person battling mental illness needs help and mercy, not judgment. For example: someone might be censured for erratic sleep patterns, profanity, and excessive drinking but it takes someone with experience to recognize the self-treatment of an underlying anxiety disorder. 

As Christians, we should be at the forefront of helping our brothers and sisters who are struggling with mental illness. We know we live in a fallen world where God’s creation doesn’t function as He originally intended. Why are we then surprised when our minds (a physical and biological entity apart from our spirits) are also marred from the effects of the Fall? I’ve heard well-meaning Christians advise people with depression to “pray more” for healing or “joy”. Yet those same people would never suggest a cancer victim solely rely on prayer – to the exclusion of medical and community support – for healing. We have to start recognizing depression and other mental illness as a legitimate health issue, and abandon the stigma that keeps us from talking about it openly.

Community is so desperately important for people who struggle with depression.  An astonishing 50-70% of people will tell someone before they attempt suicide. They don’t have to reach a point where they consider suicide. There is hope. Someone who is centered in his faith, actively seeking help from his community, and receiving medical attention is significantly less likely to commit suicide. (Not saying it couldn’t happen in an extreme case, but the odds are significantly reduced.) But they need to know that they can talk about their struggle without being judged for struggling. 

I grieve for Robin Williams and the family he left behind.  In him, we lost a kind man who inspired us with desktop monologues and infused our lives with humor. I can only hope that his death will continue to foster discussion about depression and suicide, for the sake of everyone out there who is still struggling.

QUESTION: Why do we Christians tend to lump mental health with spiritual and not physical ailments, thereby making it something we can only “pray away”? Let me know in the comments below.

image

Why Justin Bieber Needs Our Prayers, Not Our Gossip

image

When controversial videos of Justin Bieber surfaced recently (with a young teenage Bieber spouting off racial slurs), he once again positioned himself in the glare of the public spotlight.

In a previous post, I wrote: “I’ve always felt a compassion for young celebrities, [who], like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.” Unfortunately, we treat celebrities not as mere entertainers, but as entertainment themselves. The public places them under continuous scrutiny, and we “regular people” feel entitled to criticize their every move.

The fame cycle is intriguing: celebrities are worshipped one moment, and then become the object of ridicule the next. They live in a constant Catch-22. Placed on a pedestal, they are unable to do anything wrong. Placed under a microscope, they are unable to do anything right.

A deep prayer of mine is that one day, Christians would come to view celebrities as real people who carry their own share of brokenness. Whenever a fellow Christian makes a critical comment about a celebrity, I flinch. It stings especially coming from the pulpit. Gossip is a sin, whether it’s someone you know personally or not (more about that here). As someone once said: “If you spend time praying for people instead of talking about them, you’ll get better results.”

I first considered working for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) full-time upon learning about its founding. Co-founders Bill Bright and his wife Vonette began reaching out to college students at the UCLA campus in the 1950s. Their main demographic was student leaders, especially members of fraternities and sororities. Bill Bright believed that while churches had plenty of ministries serving Skid Row and jails, they lacked existing outreach towards college students and executive leaders. These were the influential leaders of today and tomorrow. No doubt, Jesus cares for the orphans, widows, homeless and the poor. But I don’t think He ever meant to exclude the cultural leaders (Don’t believe me? Brush up on the stories of Nicodemus and The Rich Young Ruler: both powerful, privileged individuals whom Jesus did not turn away).

Besides the video controversy, Bieber has had a rocky year thus far with his January DUI arrest, criminal vandalism (“egging”) charge, and his high-profile on-again, off-again relationship with Selena Gomez. But soon after the controversial videos leaked, Bieber posted an excerpt from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional book on his Instagram account. Just a few days ago, Bieber and Selena Gomezattended a bible study together.

Someone once said that the Gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread for free. Unfortunately, we Christians are quick to point out the sins and shortcomings of celebrities, yet rarely do we take the awareness of celebrities’ flaws as a catalyst to pray for them. Eighteenth-Century Scottish Preacher Oswald Chambers said that “God gives us discernment not so we can judge, but so we can be intercessors.”

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that we excuse the wrong behavior of celebrities. I simply want to challenge fellow Christians to choose to see past the fame to the brokenness, and as a result, to extend compassion.

Bieber reminds me a lot of David in the Bible. Both are public figures who committed giant mistakes in the public eye. But even after committing adultery and murder, God still chose to use David as a King. In the same way, I believe God still plans to use Bieber in a mighty way in pop culture, not because he is perfect, or the most well-behaved Christian, but because he is a broken human being desperate for God’s grace.

In my own personal life, I’ve been learning that I don’t give hope to others by having it all together. I give hope by being transparent about my flaws, yet being secure in the love and forgiveness that Christ Jesus provides. It has been my prayer for the past several months that Bieber would have a “Gethsemane” experience. As Christian Author Ken Gire says, Gethsemane is “where we go when there’s no place to go but God” (Source). In other words, we usually meet God at rock-bottom.

It’s my deepest desire to see young celebrities like Justin Bieber to arrive at their “Gethsemane” to truly see their need for grace. I would love to see every young celebrity have a similar experience to what Anthony Evans describes in his song “The Way That You Love Me.”

My way, destroying me / I couldn’t see I was my worst enemy / So You took away till my soul ached / And I knew that it was no mistake / Anything that meant anything to me was gone

You love me so much that You let me fall knowing that / I would lose it all and hear Your call / You love me so much that You chase me / When I ran away You captured me / By letting me run to the end of myself /…This is the way, the way that You love me

QUESTION: Would you join me in lifting celebrities up in prayer, to nudge them towards their rock-bottom, and ultimately towards Jesus Christ?

Resources:Intense Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

Why I Willingly Gave Up My Dream Career

By Tracy Pierson

This is a guest post by my good friend Tracy. She is a fellow full-time missionary with Cru, serving middle and high schools in Chattanooga, TN. She is also a very talented singer/ songwriter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

image

In most cases, you lie down and then you dream. In my case, I dreamt only to find that laying down came next.

From the time I was a teenager, I was passionate about music. A self-proclaimed singer-songwriter from the age of 13, music has been my longest relationship. Even when I changed my major from music to education, my desire to perform professionally never waned.

When I gave my life to Christ in high school, I began to see a pattern develop: God would bring the things I loved to the surface, show me that I loved them more than him, and then ask me to lay them down. That was fine when it was shopping or watching “Friends,” but as my love for Jesus grew, the things that crowded Him out were deeper and more entrenched in my heart. In the back of my mind, I kept saying, “This is all well and good, but I don’t know what I’ll do if God ever asks me to lay down a career in music.” I had judged and resented those that I saw around me that had given up their dreams. I drew a line in the sand and said, “That will never be me.”

I don’t typically subscribe to the whole, “Don’t say you won’t ever go to Africa, because that’s exactly where God will send you” mentality that I hear a lot of Christians peddle. I don’t think God’s character is so simple and vindictive. What I do know is that He is jealous. He will never let anything or anyone stand in the place that He rightfully deserves as the object of my affection. In my heart, I knew this would mean that one day, He would approach me and my dream of becoming a musician.

As part of my calling into full-time ministry, I had to choose between pursuing a music career and following God to wherever He was leading. As I sobbed into the carpet of my bedroom, I envisioned my fists clenched tightly around this career that I always wanted—a life married to music. Unfortunately, without opening my fists, there was no room for anything else. A life with what I wanted most suddenly became a life of misery. Simply to ease the pain, I laid down the career in music that I was convinced I was made for.

You may be tempted to call this a moment of weakness. Maybe you’re drawing a line in the sand already and, like me, saying “That will never be me.” It’s tempting to circumvent this process, and truly, a lot of people do. Following your dream is what every American is already doing. But the way of the Cross is consistently one of laying things down. Every disciple is called to Jesus by being called away from something else that has trumped their love for God: whether it’s their livelihood, their father, or their life of sin.

Is it wrong to dream at all, though? According to my logic, God will ask for and take away whatever He finds there, after all. In fear of what we will certainly lose, we can easily be hesitant to unveil our dreams—even to ourselves. As I’ve wrestled with this exact question, I’ve come to this conclusion: Dreams are a gift and so is laying them down.

Only in the process of relinquishing our dreams can we understand the value of what we receive in return: Jesus Himself. In asking for our dreams, Jesus gives us the opportunity to sell everything to purchase the field of treasure. The bigger the dream, the more valuable the treasure must be for us to forsake it. It’s not that our dreams aren’t important to God—they are. In fact, I think He dares us to dream as big as we possibly can, because He intends to surpass them—by leaps and bounds and wild imaginings—with Himself. If we would only loosen the vice-grip on our dreams, then He would fill your arms with the bounty of His presence. I don’t know about you, but that really is a dream come true. 

QUESTION: What is the hardest thing God has asked you to give up for His sake? What was the aftermath? Let me know in the comments below.

(Photo via)

image

'Dear Hollywood': An Open Letter from Anthem Lights

image

Earlier this month, Christian band Anthem Lights released a lyric video for their song “Dear Hollywood” off their latest album You Have My Heart. The band is more widely known for their acoustic covers of pop songs on YouTube (last year, they won Ryan Seacrest’s contest for best Taylor Swift cover of all time with “We Are Never Getting Back Together”). Still, all of their original songs are clearly faith-based. I always had an inkling that they shared my desire to engage an unbelieving culture for the sake of Christ, and not simply create music that preaches to the choir. I no longer have any doubts.

In the Behind The Song video interview, band member Caleb Grimm says the song is “the conversation that we would want to have…if each of us (band members) could sit down with a celebrity.”

The song points to the spiritual emptiness that plagues many celebrities:

Broken hearted but pretending you’re alright / You’ve lived out every dream / But something missin’ / There’s a bigger picture calling you tonight / You could know your worth if you would only listen

The calling to reach out to these people is urgent, for the Bible says that “the human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14).

In the song, the band also tells Hollywood that “It breaks my heart that you still look away / From the perfect love that’s right there on display.” Jesus Christ is the only one who is able to fill a human being’s insatiable desire to be known, admired, and accepted. Not even the biggest or most loyal fan base can accomplish that.

Besides the celebrities themselves, their fans are spiritually hungry as well. And the artists have the greatest potential to influence those fans for good. Through the song, Anthem Lights also tells Hollywood that “There’s so much good that you could do / With so many eyes watching you /…When all the world is listening.”

Alan Powell, another band member, says that as fellow musicians, the band has an “overwhelming desire to see this medium of entertainment be used in an uplifting way. Tragically,…it’s used to glorify things that are not edifying, that aren’t uplifting to the individual, more specifically, are not glorifying to God.”

To be clear, Alan says, “we don’t mean this in any means like pointing fingers, like ‘Hollywood, you’re stupid.’” Rather, it’s simply to point out the entertainment industry’s potential.

“There’s so much influence that they have,” says Caleb. “In a very real way, entertainers run the world.”

Alan shares his hope for Christians who hear the song. “As a believer, you either feel this way about Hollywood, or you’re like ‘Oh, man I should feel that way,’ or it’s like ‘Yeah, I didn’t know it, but that’s the way I feel.’”

I used to think I was the only person who saw celebrities in this way. But as God once showed Paul, He has “many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). I’m glad to know that I’m not alone.

image

How God Redeemed My Broken Dream

image

I still remember the day. It was the summer of 2011 in Colorado. Moses and I were two months away from marriage and we sat in a park discussing our future: our pending marriage and my career. The pit in each of our stomachs spoke of the anxiety we were feeling. Unanswered questions flooded our minds. I had no doubt that God was calling us to be married, but knowing that only added to my confusion. God, if You truly wanted us to be together, why would our careers clash like this?

For two years prior to our engagement, Moses had worked at the Christian non-profit organization Cru, developing New York City high school students spiritually via afterschool discussion groups, Bible studies, and one-on-one mentoring. Cru strongly encouraged married couples to become full-time staff members together, because the “job” was not simply a nine-to-five. It required a flexibility to mentor high school students after school, during evenings and weekends. It required swapping a paid salary for a requirement to raise financial support through individual donors. Moses felt an undeniable call to take the plunge. Me? I wasn’t so sure.

I always had a love for helping teenagers develop spiritually, but my deepest desire was to get to the root of the false ideologies force-fed to them via popular music, movies and television. Pop media are the poisoned wells from which teenagers drink their beliefs. Therefore, in college, I made it my life goal to be an entertainment magazine writer.

I’ve also felt a compassion for young Hollywood stars like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers. Young celebrities, like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.

As a mainstream magazine writer, I hoped to call out the falsehoods of pop media, and eventually befriend celebrities, helping them form personal relationships with Christ. Many teenagers will also emulate celebrities, oblivious to the discontentment and spiritual emptiness lurking beneath the fame, money and glamour–it’s a vicious cycle.

Soon, I landed internships with a Manhattan television production company, an online fashion magazine and the marketing department of a board game company. I had a growing network of media professionals in New York City; God seemed to be opening doors for me to reach all of my goals.

Yet here I was, weeks before my wedding, anxious instead of excited. I applied for the job at Cru, but grudgingly. Frankly, I was mad at God. All those years of praying, of crying out on celebrities’ behalf, would they all go to waste? Would I even get to meet them, to get a chance to be their friends and really invest in their lives? Why would You tease me by allowing me to progress in my media career just to pull the rug from under me?  

My life verse has always been Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” But at that point in my life, I truly doubted whether or not God was out to harm me. Despite how I felt, out of sheer obedience to God, I decided I would take the job at Cru.

I realized that like God testing Abraham with Isaac (Genesis 22), He was asking me to put my career on the altar. Like the Israelites and Baal, I had forged my own idol to replace God (Numbers 25). Making a name for myself as an entertainment journalist, even with the noble intention of using it as a ministry, was nothing short of prostituting my God-given gifts for my benefit–it was not worshipping God. Nineteenth Century Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers put it this way: “Our Lord calls to no special work: He calls to Himself” (My Utmost for His Highest). I became obsessed with my ministry at the expense of my relationship with God, and it took a toll on the health of my spirit.

In retrospect, I can see God’s sovereignty and foresight; He knew that three years later,  I would be a mom of two. The flexible schedule that Cru allows, especially to moms of young children, would no doubt be absent for a full-time journalist. With this blog, God has provided me with the platform to call out the false claims of Hollywood. Not to mention, if I had worked at a mainstream magazine, I would not have the freedom to be as vocal about my faith.

Hebrews 12:2 admonishes us Christians to look to Jesus Christ as “the author and finisher of our faith.” I know God is far from finished with developing my faith. I still haven’t befriended any celebrities. But after that ordeal, I’ve grown to trust God’s character. I can stand firm on the truth that no matter the circumstance, God always has my best in mind.

QUESTION: What dreams have you left behind in pursuit of following God? 

Boston Marathon’s Aftermath

By Katherine Devorak [GUEST POST]

My sister stretched her pudgy little fingers against my cheek. We both snuggled in my big girl bed counting the minutes until Dad came to tell us it was “really” bedtime. As a six year old, I was not always happy to have an adorable redheaded attention-monopolizing two year-old sister. But at twenty-five, I have come to think of her as the dearest thing to me on this green earth.

My sister lives in Boston. Moments before she called me today, I stood waiting for the door to my workplace to open and I prayed that God would teach me how to live in thankfulness. With a lot of very stressful and seemingly important ongoing events in my life, I had reasons to be unhappy.  That is why I prayed that God would help me to live in thankfulness. I didn’t think I could do it on my own.

“I’m okay,” my sister said to me over the phone. And then she told me what happened. An explosion just outside of the hotel in Copley Square erupted as the first wave of the Boston Marathon runners crossed the line. The blast instantly killed three people, wounding more than one hundred, and within seconds changing the fate of families and friends across America.

image

My sister lives about a mile and a half from Copley Square, the scene of the explosion. Her college campus is home to a section of the course of the marathon. Overcome with timely errands, she did not go to the marathon today, thereby very possibly saving her life.

It may have happened to you before today–the realization that we have so much to be grateful for–but for me, it sunk in hard today. It pressed down on my heart like a weight, causing me to cry on both trains I take home from work.

In the few hours on the train home from work, I continued to hear from loved ones who live in Boston.  They were all grief-stricken, but able to hold the phone and speak clearly enough to tell me they were all right. I cannot say the same for the friends of my fellow coworkers, family, and neighbors. I have friends who still have not heard from their loved ones. They are uncertain, still, if they are one of the runners who lost a limb or were wounded in another way.

We were all wounded in one way. Though our hearts are stunned with just a sliver of grief in comparison with others who lost their loved ones, we hurt for those who are hurting.

When things like this happen, I told my mom, “it seems like senseless and pointless grief.” And it does. There exists no discernible reason for what happened today in Boston. What does exist is a call to pray for the loss and suffering of every family and friend who lost a loved one today, or heard the news of their injury.

Though it seems like such a small offering in an ocean of suffering, join me today in lifting up in prayer those who have lost much today. The verse that God has been giving me lately is, “do not mourn like those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). For the Christian, this is key.

Today, God reminded me through a horrible, senseless, catastrophic event that I have so much to be grateful for every day.

It is my prayer that we who were not directly affected would be of use to those who were. May we make ours a shoulder to cry on, and our hands folded ever fixedly in prayer for comfort, hope, and in God’s good time, healing. 

Katherine is my dear friend and college roommate. She is a freelance journalist who has been published in World-New York Online Magazine and national Australian and Papua New Guinean magazines and newspapers.

Lecrae: Engaging Culture or Forsaking Christ?

Lecrae: Engaging Culture or Forsaking Christ?

It’s not often that mainstream media show interest in a gospel artist. But at this year’s Grammy Awards, MTV and XXL Mag took notice as Christian rapper Lecrae won “Best Gospel Album” for Gravity.

“[He] has done well to exist within hip-hop’s secular sphere” said MTV, highlighting Lecrae’s past collaboration with DJ Don Cannon and rapper Big K.R.I.T., and his participation in BET’s Hip-Hop Awards Cypher in 2011.

Read More