Trying Harder Isn’t Always the Answer

We want life to be easy. It’s human nature to avoid pain and conflict. The American way is to reduce hassle and maximize comfort, usually by purchasing something on a late night infomercial. Sorry folks, consumerism won’t solve all your problems.

Contrary to the prosperity gospel message, God utilizes hardship to teach us.

James 1:2-5 (ESV)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

The Greek word for trials is peirsasmos, which can be translated as challenging circumstances. Maybe the budget is tight and you are staring at a stack of bills. Could be that you are were overlooked for advancement at work, conflict in relationships, failing health…the list goes on and on.

Gideon’s Lesson About Resources

We tend to think that having resources is God’s will for our life to tackle trials. A huge stack of money in the bank for paying bills or friends to help us when we get stuck in a jam must surely be what the Lord wants for me.

In Gideon’s case the commodity he valued most was a large army. War with Midian was coming and everything was looking good, until God said to downsize the army. That’s right, God wanted Gideon to cut his force down to 300 soldiers.

Try taking this advice to the Pentagon and see what happens. Man’s wisdom would never conclude that having less soldiers in an open battlefield would be advantageous. God has a plan behind this scheme.

Judges 7:2 (NIV)

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

The goal of difficulties is not to stir us up into a panic to try harder. The hardships we face teach us that God is the deliverer. We can’t roll up our sleeves and save ourselves. The perseverance that grows in us is trust in God. With every trial we see that God is faithful. He is trustworthy. Trial after trial Christ reminds us that He really is the Good Shepherd. In Christ we are saved and secure by His work on the cross.

Gideon saw that trusting in the Lord to provide victory was much better than trusting in the size of Israel’s army.

Judges 7:22 (NIV)

When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.

The might of the Lord came through for Israel and Gideon. Whatever you are going through, stop, take a deep breath and cry out to the Lord. In every trial He is our hope.

1 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

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LGBTQ Activists Criticize Drew Brees for Partnering with Focus on the Family

Drew Brees is a Super Bowl champion and all-star quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. Recently Brees joined forces with Focus on the Family to promote “Bring Your Bible to School Day” which will occur on October 3rd. Here’s the very vanilla promotional video Drew Brees takes part in:

Pretty bland right?

Wrong. That 20 seconds of encouragement to “share God’s love with friends” garnered indignation from the LGBTQ community, which instantly challenged Drew’s commitment to anti-bullying.

In the past Brees partnered with Ellen Degeneres to stop bullying in schools. Now the LGBTQ accused Drew Brees of being the bully because he worked with Focus on the Family – a “hateful organization that’s against gay marriage.” The star quarterback is guilty by association according to the LGBTQ community.

What Has Drew Brees Actually Done?

Brees simply encouraged Christian kids to take their Bible to school and tell people that God loves them. When I first saw the promotional video I was a little let down that Brees didn’t offer a meatier Biblical concept.

God’s Love Needs to be Defined

I’d argue that nothing of consequence was really promoted. “God loves you” could be the blandest and mushiest statement a Christian makes to an unbelieving world. Which God? What forms does God’s love take? We could ask thousands of defining questions to give shape to “God loves you.” Ultimately the Christian must link God’s love to Christ’s finished work on the cross.

John 3:16-18 (ESV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

As this passage demonstrates, Jesus was sent to save the condemned because God has great love for this world. The problem happens when sinners don’t realize they are condemned. Sinners that are comfortable sinning actually need the law to convict them of their sin. To tell an oblivious sinner that God loves them won’t supply them with the urgent context of their situation. Sinners are in peril of eternal death.

Romans 6:23 (ESV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s the Digital Age, Drew…

“Bring Your Bible to School” seems like a great message, until you consider that 91% of teenagers 13-17 years old have access to the internet on a cell phone. Most of those students are two swipes from the Living Word.

If a teenager brings an actual leather-bound Bible to school it would solely be for the purpose of demonstration. Look everybody! I’m a Christian!

Sadly “Bring Your Bible to School” day has digressed to a shouting match over rights: Christians carrying Bibles to show they have the right to be Christians and LGBTQ activists slamming Drew Brees/Focus on the Family to promote their sexual preference.

To the Christians: Why are we all so fragile? Can anything separate me from the love of Christ? No! An army of picketing LGBTQ activists on unicycles can’t prohibit my relationship to the Father.

To the LGBTQ: Are Christians doing anything to actually hinder your relationships? In 2015 same-sex marriage was accepted in all 50 states. Up to that point I can see how Christians would have been viewed as the most vocal road block to that happening. Christians expressing God’s disapproval of gay marriage doesn’t prohibit you from getting hitched.

We have two groups with dynamically different moral values and truth claims, yet we sit around yelling at each other surprised that the other group isn’t giving us a gold star for our convictions.

Dear Christians, don’t wait for the approval of sinners lost in sin. Please share the hope we have in Christ; this is our great calling.

Colossians 1:28-29 (ESV)

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Drew Brees Throws Focus on the Family Under the Bus

The disappointing end to this saga is Drew Brees classifying Focus on the Family as promoting “hate.”

My sinking suspicion is that Drew Brees didn’t want to say same sex relationships are sinful because it would be bad for business. Forbes reported that Brees made 13 million dollars from endorsements in 2018 alone.

Whatever Drew’s motives are, it isn’t fair to say Focus on the Family is hateful. They simply call same sex relationships what they are – sinful. It’s not hateful, it’s God’s law. People don’t like hearing that any of their behavior is sinful.

And what’s particularly interesting is that Drew Brees continues to bang on the drum of God’s forgiveness in rebuttal to the attacks on him. That, in itself, is proof of his belief that gay marriage is sin in need of forgiveness from the Father.

Either homosexuality is a sin that requires forgiveness or it isn’t and requires full acceptance.

John 3:19-20 (ESV)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

My dad and I discuss this matter and more on my latest podcast. Jump in at 26 minutes to get the Drew Brees talk.

This is a complex story with tons of moving parts. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below! I look forward to hearing from you.

You Can Podcast for FREE!

It finally happened…I found a way to podcast for free!

That’s right, totally free. I’m not getting paid for this post (who makes money blogging anywho..?) – I’m simply overjoyed to have a user-friendly way to make and store a podcast for free. Did I mention this is free?

I recently stumbled upon Anchor, which enabled me to create my first ever podcast. If you have access to a smart phone you can make podcasting magic today!

Here’s my first ever podcast…

I post it here because I share part of my testimony in the pilot episode, and if you are a long time follower of The Sullivan Spin you may remember a “sports” category existed when I first began. Eventually I decided to separate sports topics into Apathetic Sport Report because I thought writing about the Holy Trinity in one post followed by a post on the NFL draft was scattered and confusing to my readers.

Anyways. I hope you enjoy my podcast and I hope you are encouraged to start your own. Why not? It’s free!

Can Gun Laws Save Us From Our Wicked Hearts?

There is no reason to re-invent the wheel, this post sums up my feelings about gun violence really well. We must acknowledge our sinful nature and our depravity if we hope to address mass shootings with a solution that will actually help.

As Christians we know that laws don’t stop us from sinning, they simply inform us of our need for a Savior. For whatever reason this knowledge doesn’t stop us from looking to laws for salvation in the political realm.

I tend to believe that American society has lost a grip on morality and the value of human life. When a disturbed individual wants to express how hurt they are, a moral construct doesn’t exist to stop them from killing strangers.

Check out this post by Life Through Lutheran Lenses “We Have a Heart Problem” and let me know what you think. I think this is an important conversation to have, I look forward to hearing from you.

Plot: The Structure of a Great Short Story

In 1929 the first Academy Awards occurred, Motorola made the first car radio, and Agnes Reeves wrote Twelve Cardinal Elements of Short Story Writing. In an effort to clean out my book collection I discovered said book… collecting dust on my shelf. What surprised me as I skimmed the pages of Twelve Cardinal Elements of Short Story Writing was how relevant the advice remains 90 years later.

Agnes pours out her knowledge, like hot apple cider on a bitter winter day. Thanks grandma! She teaches that plot supports all the other elements of your writing: setting, atmosphere, dialogue, and character development. All the nice things you want in your building can’t be supported unless there is a sturdy under-girding…that’s the plot.

3 Advantages of Premeditated Plot

You’ll Tell a Better Story

When you plan your plot before writing you’ll be able to find flaws in your storytelling and fix them. You may be wondering, “How do I know if my plot needs fixing?” One test is to remove a scene from your plot and see if the story still makes sense. If the scene isn’t necessary for the plot, cut the scene. Every incident should be building towards the climax of the story.

If this tactic seems ruthless ask your self if you are writing an action/adventure story or if you are writing about characters. If your story is action driven a tight plot is more important than a story focused on character development. If you are writing action/adventure delete the unnecessary scene.

If you want to develop characters leave the superfluous scene, but only if character growth is achieved.

You Won’t Waste Time

Some writers sit down and start writing without any plot in mind. They peck away at the typewriter without any goal in mind. It may work for some people, but this method could waste a lot of your time.

The downside to this approach is getting stuck in the story and not having a valid way to continue the story. If you plot out your story you can find the dead end before you invest your time developing characters, setting, and dialogue that has nowhere to land.

Peace of Mind

When you’ve mastered the plot of your story you can write with clarity and assurance. Now you know where the story resolves and can focus on adding wonderful details, dialogue, and characters that will make your story great.

Have Fun Writing Friends!

Take some time and work on a great plot, then you can get busy writing a wonderful short story.

Christians Trust a Triune God. What Does That Mean?

Some things scare me: creepy flying rodents (bats), porcelain dolls, and theology I don’t understand. Christians trust in a big, complex God – a triune God. Understanding the Trinity has intimidated and eluded me throughout my biblical studies.

If you run into a bat or porcelain doll, I can’t help you…

However, there is a solution for learning more about the Trinity. . Peter Slayton (My brother-in-law) of Crucial Productions has an awesome podcast that wrestles with complex biblical concepts.

This episode explores the Trinity and has fun doing it. I highly encourage you to set aside 40 minutes and join the conversation.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Stranger Things 3: Sheep Defeat Wolf Without Shepherd

If you haven’t binge watched the 80’s nostalgia fest that is Stranger Things 3 by now, you probably don’t really care about the successful Netflix series. I will be divulging spoilers galore as I continue…so stop right now if you haven’t watched Stranger Things 3 and care to.

Cozy up on the couch and summon the streaming. This post will be waiting here for you when you’re done.

What’s so compelling about this sci-fi series? Why are so many folks talking about the recent release of Stranger Things 3? Keeping in step with the 80’s feel-good vibe (think The Goonies, E.T., The NeverEnding Story), Stranger Things 3 showcases a band of misfit kids taking on the world’s problems with minimal parental supervision. It’s a syrupy sweet story about the power of working together to overcome slimy, zombie-bugs from The Upside Down.

One problem…could untrained tweens really stop a monster invasion?

Deceptive Themes in Stranger Things 3

Underestimating Evil and Overestimating Our Abilities

In the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, evil is one laser beam blast away. Random Russians are intent on ripping a hole in the galaxy and inviting a host of beasties from another dimension upon the townspeople. Why? почему бы и нет? It doesn’t really matter, we just need some monsters to fight!

In the face of hissing spider demons, our heroes fail to recognize how totally overwhelmed and over-matched they are. The crew is in denial about their ability to combat this evil. Playing Dungeons and Dragons in your basement doesn’t prepare you for a battle with dragons.

Image via Netflix

Instead of running for the hills, the gang clings to the fantasy that they can send evil back to the pit with a little bit of elbow grease, help from each other, and amateur pyrotechnics.

In this fairy tale, it works. It’s actually the point. The kids shoot some bottle rockets, the parents turn off the laser beam to shut the demon door, and sweet victory is secured. Rejoicing ensues.

The moral of Stranger Things 3 is that human love and ingenuity can vanquish evil if we simply band together – which is really good news because there are no reliable saviors to be found.

Unreliable Savior

In the past two seasons, Eleven’s been the hero. Wielding telekinetic powers to dismantle Demogorgans and the like, El has saved everyone’s bacon on multiple occasions. In season 3, Eleven’s superpowers are on the fritz, so the gang will have to chip in if they want to survive this bout with evil.

The climatic end scene comes to mind when the all the kids are trapped in the mall and El’s abilities are totally gone (GASP! I warned you…spoilers!) Mike, Lucas, Nancy, Max, and Jonathan resort to weaponizing fireworks. It’s laughable, shooting a bottle rocket at Godzilla ain’t going to get the job done. If anything, these attempts would provoke the beast, reveal your hiding spot, and lead to your crunchy demise.

If we told the story with honesty, everybody dies. When there is no hero, like a fully-powered Eleven, the villain wins. The end.

Netflix didn’t like my idea about everybody dying so they only killed Billy Hargrove. He was a jerk anyway, so minimal tears were shed. Since everybody managed to survive, Season 4 is still on the table. How convenient.

Snapping Back to Reality

Creative differences aside, let’s look at some biblical truth.

We are Sheep

We like to maintain a self-image of battle-tested warrior, but in reality we are sheep. Fluffy. Defenseless. Sheep. At least that’s one of the ways Jesus describes His followers.

What would happen if a sheep fought a wolf? If you had to bet, would you put your money on the sheep or the wolf? I can’t imagine an outcome where the sheep wins. It’s exactly the reason a shepherd is needed. Jesus is making a point that we are totally over-matched by sin and the devil.

Romans 8:36 (NIV)

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

In our vulnerable condition, we still have comfort. It’s Jesus Christ. Faith in Him saves us. In this world we will face persecution, but eternally we are saved. Through the work of the cross we enjoy relationship with our Shepherd.

Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Conclusion

It’s a tempting lie; our flesh likes the idea that our puny abilities are enough to overcome every problem we encounter. This isn’t Hawkins. We need a Savior. Take comfort that you aren’t alone to face your tormentors when your faith is in Christ. God is with you. Go in peace.

Happy 4th of July!

The Fourth of July is a wonderful time to celebrate freedom with family and friends. Part of my tradition, like many other Americans, is watching fireworks.

Growing up in Minnesota I remember squeezing onto my grandpa’s pontoon boat with my family, then motoring to a nearby resort for the fireworks display. Gazing into the stars, with the waves gently rocking the boat, we waited for the spectacle to begin.

With a loud BOOM colors began filling the sky, accompanied by a chorus of “ohhhs and ahhhs” from eager onlookers.

When I think of the adoration Americans have for fireworks on the Fourth of July and my own fond memories watching chemicals explode in the night sky, I’m convicted. Jesus, the true Light of the world, walked this earth without the acclaim your local fireworks show will receive.

John 1:11 (ESV)

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

This is not a guilt trip. I love watching things blow up as much as the next guy. Consider this post an encouragement to relish the glory and wonder of Jesus in a corrupt world as you watch the fireworks this year.

Matthew 4:16 (NIV)

the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Honor Christian Martyrs on June 29th

The day begins with panic. I’ve overslept. “I know I set my alarm…now I won’t be able to take a shower… or eat breakfast!” I blast out the door and get in the car only to remember the air conditioning doesn’t work and it’s hot, very hot. Beads of sweat drip from my brow and pits stains have already formed under my arms. I open the windows for fresh air as I drive 70 m.p.h. down the highway. Instead, more hot air blasts my face, adding insult to injury and rendering the work of my comb useless. I arrive at work disheveled and agitated.

This kind of morning is typically enough to warrant a pout session in my life. I open my emails to see what else could ruin my day and click on one from The Voice of the Martyrs. What I read practically slaps me in the face and screams, “Snap out of it, you cream puff!”

VOM reports on the suffering church around the world. Affliction after affliction is detailed – Christians risking their lives or imprisonment simply to get their hands on a Bible. In 2017, research by Barna showed 87% of American homes possessed a Bible and only half of them used it. Here in the States God’s Holy Word is shamefully neglected and unappreciated.

Christians in America are excited to talk about the love of Jesus that led Him to the cross as the atonement for our sin, but there’s an application of this truth we’ve forgotten: We should also be willing to die to promote the name of Jesus.

VOM reminds Christians of this brutal reality. On June 29th I encourage you to join VOM by taking time to consider the tremendous cost your Christian brothers and sisters are paying around the world to advance the Gospel of Jesus.

Matthew 24:9 (ESV)

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

Pinterest Categorizes Pro-Life Messages with Pornography: Free Speech Too Risky

Recently I received an email from Live Action, a fantastic pro-life website I subscribe to, that informs the public about the atrocities of abortion. This newsletter included a video link that shocked me.

A former employee of social media giant, Pinterest, divulged the horrific truth that Live Action and other Christian sites are being systematically removed and stifled. New posts are prevented from seeing the light of day because Pinterest administrators place posts by Live Action on a blocked list reserved for pornography or conspiracy theories.

Why is this happening? According to Pinterest, the ideas are just far too damaging to people. In order to protect the undiscerning public, unapproved thoughts must be filtered out. Pinterest’s behavior is patronizing and disgusting, possibly diabolical. North Korea or George Orwell’s 1984 should be coming to mind right about now.

As a Christian blogger, Pinterest’s behavior is hair-raising. It makes me wonder when Christian doctrine will be banned from the internet. What if WordPress decides that Christianity is inappropriate and starts shutting down our blogs? I encourage you to set aside 20 minutes and watch the video. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.