What do Millennials (18-35) think about church?

I’m working on a new book which focuses on churches that are effectively engaging 18-35 year olds. As part of the process I’m asking Millennials to tell me what they think about church. If were born between 1989 and 1998 would you take 10 minutes and give me some feedback? It might help shape the church in the years to come. Here’s the link

Thank you so much for your help!

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Would the Apostle Paul fly the Confederate flag?

S.C.-Confederate-flagThe first century Corinthian church has a significant problem. Some of the new believers are shocked and offended that other church members are eating idol meat. This is tantamount to idol worship, something clearly against God’s will. The meat eaters respond saying the newbies don’t have clue; the idol is just a hunk of wood so why not grill up a t-bone? Symbolism is destroying the unity of the church, so they write to the Apostle Paul to get his take on the issue.

I love Paul’s answer:

While knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NLT)

Paul goes on to say that it really doesn’t matter what we think the meat symbolizes, what matters is the impact our actions have on others. He says that if eating meat causes harm to his fellow Christians he’s willing to become a vegan (my paraphrase).

Facebook’s current kerfuffle is over the fate of the Confederate flag flying near the South Carolina state capital. Some say the flag symbolizes racism and that it must come down. Others say that it is a symbol of heritage and pride and it should stay. I strongly believe if we could ask the Apostle Paul his question would be, “Does flying the flag causes others in the body of Christ pain? If so, regardless of its symbolism, we should take it down.” I believe he would say the same principle that he gave the church at Corinth 2000 ago still applies today; it is love that strengthens the church.

If I am a Christ follower it doesn’t matter that the flag was never the official flag of the Confederate States, it doesn’t matter why I believe the southern states seceded from the Union and it doesn’t matter if the flag makes me feel proud of my heritage. If my brothers and sisters in Christ say the flag is a painful reminder of the hatred of racism then I say take it down. To again paraphrase Paul, I’d rather be called a Yankee than cause more pain to my fellow believers.

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Please pray for Charleston

Last night was one of the darkest times in Charleston, South Carolina as a young white man took the lives of nine African Americans as they sat in a Bible study at historic Emanuel AME Church. I cannot imagine the shock, the sorrow, the outrage of those who knew these innocent people gunned down because of deranged racism. My heart breaks for them.

My heart breaks as well for Charleston, a place where a part of me will always live. Following on the heels of the senseless shooting of an unarmed black man in North Charleston, this horrible incident reinforces the stereotype of Charleston as a bigoted, segregated southern town. People who do not know Charleston, who do not love Charleston, feel justified writing off the Holy City, and much of the south, as ignorant and uncivilized.

Charleston is a beautiful, complicated, nuanced jewel. The millions of visitors who pass through every year experience the charm of one of the most unique cities in the world, but they never get a chance to know her soul. And now, for a few minutes, the nation will get a one dimensional view of Charleston that exists but doesn’t define.

The racial challenges in Charleston are different than in Baltimore, Ferguson and New York. Poverty and crime play a role, but there is much more. Many of the African Americans in Charleston area still live on the land their families were given after the Civil War. Ft Sumter, the spark that began the war, can be seen from every shore around Charleston Harbor. The last name of the pastor who was gunned down is Pinckney, a name every Charlestonian knows. Pastor Pinckney’s great, great, great grandfather was likely a slave of Charles Pinckney, a signer of the U.S. Constitution. Pastor Pinckney’s ancestors would have worked at Snee Farm, just down the road from where the original campus of Seacoast Church now stands. This horrible act of terror rekindles a fire Charleston has never been able to extinguish.

As Charleston awoke this morning to the shock of unspeakable tragedy accusations and agendas were already being formed and broadcast. Motives and circumstances disected again and again by pundits and activists with little knowledge and less context. Once again we shout across the internet at each other pointing fingers and calling names. None of this helps. None of this helps at all. This crazed act of evil does not define Charleston and opportunistic exploitation will not heal her either.

The most important thing we can do right now is pray for Charleston. She is a beautiful, complicated, precious city who desperately needs our prayers. Here are a few things we can pray for:

  • The families of those killed that they will know a peace that passes understanding
  • The pastors of the African American congregations in Charleston that they can bring healing and hope
  • Political leaders like Mayor Riley, Governor Haley and Senator Tim Scott that they can help find a way forward
  • The pastors of the predominately white congregations that they can find ways to join hands with their black counterparts and lead the city to unity

Will you pray with me for my adopted city?

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Is God the God of liars?

Sing praises to God, our strength.Reformed Liar

Sing to the God of Jacob. (Psalm 81:1)

As I reflect on the 81st Psalm I am struck by the phrase, “the God of Jacob”. At least 12 times the Bible refers to God as the God of Jacob. He is never referred to as the God of Moses, the God of David or the God of Nehemiah; instead he is the God of Jacob. The more I think about that title the more I smile.

As you read the account of Jacob’s life in Genesis you quickly pick up that he is, to put it kindly, a complicated character. He lies, cheats and steals, and that’s just how he treats his own family. Everywhere he goes intrigue follows. He has kids by several different women, and he clearly loves Some of his children more than others. One of his final acts is to purposefully bless the wrong grandchild, irritating even Jacob’s favorite son.

In modern terms Jacob was a hot mess, but God chooses to be known as the God of Jacob. He is the God of liars, and cheats and cowards. He is the God of the dysfunctional family. He is the God of the scared and the confused. He is the God of the parent who loses their child, he is the God of the child who cannot live up to the legacy of their parents. He is the God of the boy who doesn’t play sports and the girl who doesn’t dance. He is the God of the shy, the quiet and the timid.

He is the God of Jacob. He is the God of the man who regrets every day the decisions he made when he was young. He is the God of the woman who desperately wants to go back, but thinks she never can. He is the God of the father longing to be reunited with his son, the mother whose heart never quite heals from the loss of her child.

He is the God of Jacob. He is the God who weaves bad choices and tragic circumstances into a beautiful garment of hope. He is the God that turns what man meant as evil into good. He is the God who redeems the past. He is the God who sends his favorite son, his only son, to give his life for liars and cheaters and losers like Jacob.

Although I am inspired when I read about Moses parting an ocean, David killing a giant and Nehemiah rebuilding a wall, I am drawn to the God who chooses to identify himself with Jacob. I wish that I were more like Moses, or David or Nehemiah, but I know that I am really more like Jacob. And that is why I “sing praises to God our strength, sing to the God of Jacob.”

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Six Values I Learned From Mom

Today was the 24th Mother’s Day since my mom went to see Jesus. Mom was an incredible woman who raised four kids, one husband and several dogs. Mom loved us unconditionally and believed that everyone, including the clerk at the grocery store, wanted to hear about all of our accomplishments. Mom could make my blood run cold with her, “You better cut that out right now, young man” look, but I never once doubted her love and fierce loyalty to our family. Mom had a vision for who God created us to be; here are a few of the phrases she used to instill that vision in all of us:

“You’re a Surratt”

Mom taught me that family identity is something to be lived up to. There are things we did and did not do because we were Surratts. It was not until much later in life that I realized mom was the one who created the ideal we were expected to live up to. She decided who we would be and then willed us to become what she envisioned.

“I’m not Mark’s mom”

Mark was my best friend growing up, and my constant plea was “Mark’s mom is letting him…” I don’t know why I kept going back to this well because it never worked. Mom’s parenting style was not swayed by peer pressure or popular culture, and she seldomed struggled with self-doubt when it came to what her children should and should not do.

“You don’t HAVE to go to church, you GET to go to church”

We went to church a lot. Every Sunday morning, every Sunday night and every Wednesday night. And then we had the dreaded “revivals” when we went to church every night for two weeks. When I whined about having to go to church mom’s response never wavered; you GET to go. Church wasn’t a choice, it was a privilege. That may be why all of her kids ended up deeply involved in the local church.

“Because I’m your mother and I said so”

Mom never felt the need to justify her decisions or to reason with a nine year old. Underneath this phrase was a deep-seated value of respecting your elders regardless if they’d earned it. Mom instilled a clear understanding of authority in each of her kids, even the ones who resisted the most. (I’m looking at you, Dee) I still wear a tie every Mother’s Day because mom said I should. I’ll stop when she decides its time.

“Call me from school if you still feel sick”

Exposed bones or a fever over 102 we’re the only things that kept me home from school.  Anything else could be overcome with some Pepto Bismol and a brisk walk to school (We were too close to ride the bus, but not too close for frostbite during sub-zero Denver winters. Mom felt the cold built character.) Feeling sorry for yourself wasn’t in mom’s vocabulary. Mom’s father walked out on her family when she was 10, so she had to help support the family by taking in laundry. She also had to raise the niece when her sister abandoned her baby at mom’s house. Mom knew we could overcome almost any circumstance if we wanted to.

“You can quit at the end of the season”

I sat on the bench the entire ninth grade basketball season. Our record was 1-14. I wanted to quit at Christmas, but mom said I could quit when the season was over. (I don’t think mom understood how quitting worked) In mom’s world you finish what you start, regardless how you feel about it. Surratts don’t quit.

My mom could be tough, but I never for one day doubted her love for me. She pushed me because she believed in me. She believed in all her kids. She believed we were created for something big, something beyond ourselves. She was right.

In the years since mom’s been gone some of the memories have faded. There are fewer days I cry when I think of her. (This is not one of those days) But the values, the character she built in me never changes. 

Happy Mother’s Day mom, see you soon.

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