All posts by Kevin Howell

4 Lessons from 2014

4 Lessons from 2014

As 2014 winds down, I like to reflect on the year and all the ups and 4 Lessons from 2014downs it brought. I’ve learned the purpose of life isn’t our happiness or comfort, but rather our character development, so when I look back on the year, I don’t just think of what happened, but rather what I learned.

Here are a few lessons I learned this year (Last year I suggested 5 questions to ask yourself at the end of the year, give it a read, it’s helpful):

Step out in faith.

When we take a step of courage, God responds. He meets us there. It won’t be easy as we continue to move forward, but He’s there, working with us, working on our behalf. Often times we think we are supposed to wait on God, but most of the time He’s waiting on us to make a decision or make a move. The moment of certainty never arrives. There will always be questions when it’s time to make a decision and doubts will persist initially. But God has given us a sound mind, free will, and faith. That’s enough to make decisions. Some of our choices will be wrong. That’s fine. Some will fail. That’s fine, too. Grace is big enough to overcome our errors.

Never underestimate prayer.

For some reason, I slacked off in prayer. I attributed it to laziness, but Pastor and author Mark Batterson said it best: “Our lack of prayer is less about laziness and more about overconfidence.” I just thought I could carry on. I thought if I missed a day or two I would be fine. But I learned prayer isn’t important; it’s essential. It’s as essential as eating and sleeping. I need it. Here’s why: Not because I’ll falter without it (though that’s probable), but because there are people God is depending on me to pray for. There are specific people He has put on my heart for a reason. These people are important to God and He has required me to pray for them. It’s fine if I want to be reckless and not pray for myself, but when my lack of prayer impacts others, it becomes dangerous.

Be open.

Over the years, we tend to view things through a preconceived filter. The older we get, we tend to get more set in our ways and our thoughts. I’ve learned to challenge my beliefs and patterns through books I’ve read and conversations I’ve had. Not all of them changed my thoughts, but they challenged my preconceived notions. (As far as books go, I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath as my best reads of 2014.)

Embrace the adventure of the unknown.

One of my best experiences this year was going to a conference in Chicago for a few days. I was apprehensive about going because I was making the trip alone and didn’t know anyone attending the event. I’m somewhat social, but not always comfortable in situations like that. Well, I ended up making great friends and connecting with people not only at the conference, but also through random encounters with strangers around the city (people are quite friendly over pizza, beer, and sports). I almost didn’t want to leave, and many of us stay connected and continue to encourage each other.

What have you learned in 2014? How can you apply those lessons to 2015? Think about it and feel free to share your thoughts. Also, sign up to receive my posts by email here. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. See in 2015 friends.

 

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Speaking Up Even When You're Afraid

Speaking Up Even When You’re Afraid

Sometimes in life we feel compelled to do difficult things. And by difficult, I mean something we don’t want to do. Something we resist Speaking Up Even When You're Afraiddoing because it goes against our nature, our personality, or our level of comfort. But deep inside, we know we should do it…we must do it.

This difficult thing can be asking for a raise, quitting a job, ending a relationship, pursuing a relationship, standing up to an authority figure, addressing an issue, or simply telling someone the truth.

Most of the challenges we face of this nature have to do with confrontation. Most of us aren’t predisposed to confronting others. It can be intimidating in many respects, but particularly because of the uncertainty. We don’t know how the other party will react. We don’t know how we will react to their reaction. We’re not sure what to say or how to go about it. And ultimately, we fear the worse consequences — rejection, loneliness, embarrassment, or failure.

Honestly, all the aforementioned phobias are possible. But there is a greater consequence than rejection — regret.

What if we do nothing? What if we keep things status quo and don’t rock the boat? Life will go on, but we’ll be uncomfortable. We’ll wonder “what if?” We’ll be weighed down with regret.

In 1 Samuel 3, young Samuel is faced with a similar situation. He’s being raised and trained by his mentor, the high priest Eli, and staying in the tabernacle with him. Samuel hears the voice of God one night — a rare occasion during those times — and God tells him that Eli and all his family are going to be killed because of their sins. Whoa. Try going back to sleep after hearing that. The Bible says the next morning Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision he had (obviously). Imagine what was going through Samuel’s mind: He’s only 12 years old and he has to tell this man who is like his father that he and his family will be wiped out. And you thought you were facing a difficult situation.

After Eli implores (and nearly threatens) him, Samuel reveals the prophecy. Eli doesn’t get angry, he simply replies: “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him” (1 Sam. 3:18).

If God is pressing you to do something or say something that is difficult, I’d go out on a limb and say it’s for the best. He already knows the result and how the other person/persons will respond. It may be rejection or it may be acceptance, either way, it’s not your responsibility. You can’t control others’ reactions; you control your obedience. One simple yet difficult step of courage and confrontation may open the door to your destiny. It did for Samuel. A frightened, preteen boy got the nerve to speak up, prophesying for the first time, and went on to be the first major prophet of Israel.

Is there something God is nudging you to do that you’re scared of? Is there someone you need to confront? Embrace the uncertainty and move forward in faith. No matter what happens, God has your back.

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We Can't Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

We Can’t Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

In recent years, I’ve commemorated Advent, the four-week season that leads up to Christmas. It’s been a great time of reflecting on the story of the birth of Christ and the celebration of the coming of the Messiah to rescue humanity.We Can't Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

The interesting thing about Jesus, and something that Advent so powerfully recognizes, is that the rescue He provided is progressive. In Advent, we celebrate the rescue that came, the rescue we live in now, and the rescue that is still to come…the ultimate rescue we long for. We look back on His work on the cross, we contemplate the salvation He is working in us now, and we anticipate His return to restore a broken earth still suffering from the impact of sin.

And in the middle of this season, I can’t help connecting all that Advent represents with the state of America right now. As the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., have sparked anger, outrage, protests, and debate, we are seeing a groaning rising from the earth. There are plenty of things that can distress our hearts. There are plenty of things in this fallen world that cause us to long for Jesus’ return. Some of those things are obvious to all believers, and some of those things are obvious to all mankind (such as human trafficking, terrorism, etc.). But the events of Ferguson and Staten Island haven’t caused a universal distress.

I can’t breathe.

I won’t lay out all the background of why the black community (and those who sympathize with it) see police officers escaping indictment for lethal force as such an injustice. But understand that there is an inbred distrust of law enforcement that goes back generations. It comes from the experiences of our grandfathers, our fathers, ourselves, and our children.

I can’t breathe.

We have seen too much injustice. We have seen law enforcement officers receive grace for their mistakes while the mistakes of our brethren are fatal. We have seen a justice system we are told to trust disappoint us time after time. So we groan:

I can’t breathe.

Our struggle is like that of Advent. Our rescue has come. We have seen the dismantling of institutional racism in this nation. We have made progress. We have a twice-elected black president. We have increasing opportunity and influence. We are experiencing rescue. But we realize we are still broken. Still disproportionally in poverty. Still undereducated. Still looked upon with suspicion (whether we have a degree, own a home, and make more money than those profiling us). So we Advent. We yearn for a rescue. A rescue the president, justice system, nor any civil rights leader can provide. Writer and Pastor Winn Collier’s words on Advent ring so true:

“Advent first pierces the cold air as a desperate groan from those living at the jagged edges, from those who taste sorrow’s bitterness, those accustomed to the crush of disappointment, of fear. Advent comes first for those who have made a wreck of things, those who carry a legitimate complaint, for those whose existence teeters on the brink. If you do not know any pain, if you have no yearning for what is not yet true, if you have no pang of grief for your sorrow or the sorrow of another…if there is no raw, raspy voice somewhere in the hollows of your soul that every now and again whispers into the ravaging night, God, please…Please tear the heavens and come down… then some of what Advent offers will always stand remote for you.” – Groan, by Winn Collier

The groaning of the black community in America today is not an African-American groan, it’s the grown of mankind. It’s the groan of broken people who make mistakes, sin, and carry anger yet believe in grace and yearn for grace. It’s the groan of people who realize justice might be blind, but it isn’t always colorblind. It’s the longing for the just and righteous One who looked into the eyes of the adulterous woman and said “go, and sin no more,” instead of consenting to the lethal force of the authorities. Our world is broken. Our justice system is broken. We are broken. So we yearn. We Advent. Desperately, we Advent. Oh, Come Emmanuel.

We can’t breathe.

 

 

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courtesy of compfight

Have We Created an Elitist Faith?

Earlier this year, I attended a Buddhist wedding ceremony my first time attending a non-Christian wedding. It wasn’t much different from any other wedding I attended because, ultimately, a wedding is a wedding.

courtesy of compfight
courtesy of compfight

Toward the end of the reception, the bride was sharing her heart with the attendants, thanking everyone for coming and partly sharing why she became Buddhist. She said she grew up Christian like most people in her native country. She shared a story of when she first moved to America, she attended an all-day event with her daughter. They were both hungry and a Muslim family shared some food with them. She said years later, when she was recently divorced and moved to a new neighborhood with her children, Hindu neighbors would mow her lawn for her. These interactions with people of different cultures and religions opened her eyes to the good in people of other faiths and led her to explore other religions.

A recent study from MIT found that the percentage of Americans with no religious preference has risen 18 percent in the last 20 years. The study attributed at least 20 percent of that drop-off in religious affiliation to the rise of the internet because it “allows more personal interaction with people of other religions.”

Though the study included all religions, I think a large portion of those losing their faith were Christians.

The MIT study and the bride’s comments at the wedding have me thinking: Have we created a form of Christianity that is afraid of other religions? Have we, through the pulpit, ministries, or the Christian culture created an elitist mind-set that believes no one outside of Christ could possibly be good? Have we set up our children for culture shock when they interact with people of other faiths or face intellectual challenges in classrooms? Have we developed a simple-minded worldview within Christendom that views everyone outside of the faith as evil?

In a way, it’s hard not to develop an elitist ideology in Christianity. The Word of God says Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way to salvation, and every other option is false. No gray area there. While that doctrine is sound, without balance and proper emphasis in other areas, the church can raise children and parishioners with a disdain and phobia of people of other faiths.

There are two major, false beliefs created when we do that:

1. We create a belief that atheists, agnostics or people of other religions are our enemies, when in truth, people are not our enemies, but rather ideologies, false doctrines, the system of the world, and Satan.

2. The belief that only Christians can be good, and “good” is usually measured by good works. I know plenty of people outside the faith who are “better people” than many Christians and do way more good works. While good works are essential to Christianity, they aren’t exclusive to it. Furthermore, we must be careful to remember that our hope and our righteousness is not in our good deeds, but in the work of Jesus Christ alone.

Though these problems aren’t pervasive in Christianity, they are contributing factors to the problem of millennials leaving the church, and will continue to be a problem for youth in church today.

So how do we resolve this issue? By developing believers properly by focusing on love. Love doesn’t sit in church and memorize doctrine, it engages individuals and culture. It’s exactly how Jesus lived and taught His disciples.

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew she was of another faith and it was culturally unacceptable for Him to speak with her, but He engaged in communication anyway. With confidence, faith, and openness, He spoke with her and listened to her. When she made assumptions about Him because of His faith “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim the place we must worship is in Jerusalem” He explained the truth “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:19-21).

Jesus’ way of faith didn’t shy away from those outside nor did He see them as enemies; He embraced them, interacted with them, and conversed with them. Jesus understood other people’s beliefs, listened to their stories, and brought the truth in a way that was welcoming, inviting, and revealing.

Maybe the larger issue of the exodus from the faith is what we’re emphasizing. Are we more focused on teaching a set of beliefs and practices than helping people develop a personal connection with the person of God and allowing that relationship to grow in its own unique way (through trials, questions, struggles, and personal encounters)? The Christian bureaucracy will lead us to believe that the greatest challenge to the faith is political ideologies, postmodern thought, and moral decline. But I happen to believe nothing outside the church is strong enough to hurt it (after all, Jesus said even the gates of Hell can’t overcome it). Only those within can hinder its progression.

I believe Christianity is credible and strong enough to stand up against questions and encounters with other kind-hearted people of other faiths (or of no faith). Our job as individuals and the church raising up young people in today’s culture is to make sure we are grounded not in an elitist set of beliefs, but rather in love. Love isn’t afraid of other beliefs, nor does it isolate itself from them; it engages every individual, sees the best in others, and endures. God is love and love never fails

 

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Why We Should Value Death

Why We Should Value Death

I attended a conference a few weeks ago that focused on living a meaningful life. One of the first speakers asked us a simple yet profound question: How do you want to be remembered?Why We Should Value Death

When you contemplate that type of question, you must inevitably contemplate death, that inescapable commonality of humanity.

We are all going to die.

Steve Jobs probably had the best outlook on death I’ve ever heard in a statement he made several years before his death during a commencement address at Stanford. He said death is a motivator in life:  

“Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

I don’t like to think about death. I don’t want to consider dying. I know it will happen one day, but I have plenty I still want to do and can do before that transition. Yet, the best tool to push me toward those things I want to do and the person I want to be is my mortality.

We never know when our time will be up. Any day can be our last. Unfortunately, we don’t live by that reality. But what if we did? What would that look like? What would you start building if you were more conscious of the fact the clock was ticking down on your time here? What are you afraid to lose, or afraid to start? See how that fear shrinks when you stand it next to death.

Then think of what matters in light of death. Who do you value most? What do you value most? Is your time spent in proper proportion when you measure it by your values?

There are some simple things we could do now, simple steps we can take today to live in light of our mortality. I started to prioritize time with people since contemplating the questions I encountered at the conference. We’re all busy. There’s always work to do. But an extra 30 minutes of conversation, or lingering a little longer while visiting friends or relatives won’t ruin your schedule.

I much rather be remembered as someone who was available for people than one who was just a hard worker and always busy. We wear busyness like a badge of honor these days, as if our lives are more meaningful because we’re always occupied. Sure, we have important things to do and responsibilities to fulfill, but if we don’t put a premium on people and being available, at the end of our lives, we risk being remembered for things that don’t matter.

Death is inevitable. You get no choice in the matter. But living a life of meaning and the type of life you want is up to you. As Steve Jobs said, death is a tool to help you make the right choices in life. Make sure you spend your days on what you value most.

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