Jesus Loves Porn Stars. Just Making Sure We Were All Aware.

One of my favorite ministries is Fireproof Ministries. It’s a multi-faceted ministry with several branches, including XXX Church. One of their primary goals is to reach out to those that work in porn and simply love them by showing them the love of Christ.

I recently received, as a perk for donating to a recent fundraiser, a copy of the Bible in the picture above. It’s the Gideons-like copies of the book of Luke they hand out at porn conventions and other events. It says on the front, coupled with a drawing of a man with a “porn ‘stache,” “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.”

I wanted to get a physical copy of this Book of Luke because I wanted to see what exactly they were handing out. I love the work they do and would love to be a part of it some day, Lord-willing.

As part of the colorful intro, Craig Gross, the founder of XXX Church, wrote this:

You see, the Bible says we’ve all blown it. Whether we’re making porn, working in a coffee shop, or running a church, we are all sinners who have “stuff” we need to clean up. It doesn’t matter how much stuff we have; it all makes us imperfect.

The good news is that Jesus knows this and loves us anyway. It doesn’t matter if you got high yesterday or masturbated five minutes ago. He still loves you. In fact, he desperately wants to have a relationship with you. Your “stuff” doesn’t change this fact.

Whether it’s liberals, murderers or porn stars, we in the Church have a complex of avoiding people we disagree with or people whose lifestyles we don’t like. I’m entirely guilty of doing this.I don’t like hanging out with super crazy, Westboro Baptist-echoing, super-Republican fundamentalist Christians.

But when I read things like that, I’m convicted. If my call is to love like Jesus loved, no matter who I’m around, then I’m failing miserably. The Church, for the most part is failing miserably.

What I love about XXX Church is that they’re not going to try to get people out of the industry. That’s not their main goal. I’ve read and heard interviews with Craig Gross and other XXX Church staff. They would love for that to happen, they would love for these guys and girls to get out, but their main hope is that they feel and know the love of Christ.

In their work I see what the Church could and probably should be. Instead of first trying to change behavior, perhaps we should simply try to look at ourselves first and ask ourselves: are we really loving the porn stars? Are we really loving the Democrat in our workplace who vehemently disagrees with our stance on abortion? Are we really loving that guy we saw on the news who murdered his wife?

And I’m not necessarily saying we have to go all out and love by taking action, although that is the ultimate form of love. The question is this: at the base level, is our heart at a posture of love towards that person? Even if we never meet them, do we love them? We can love people without ever meeting them.

I can love the person on Facebook I haven’t seen in years who negatively comments on my blog post. I can love the politician who says everything I don’t like. I can love the woman who drowns her baby in a bathtub.

Why? Jesus did. And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

And so can we, the Church, the people Jesus has called His own.


With Grace, You Don’t Have to Sit in a Waiting Room

Probably the worst part of going to any doctor’s office – physician, dentist, chiropractor, orthodontist, ER, you name it – is having to wait.

You come in, “check in,” then sit with everyone else who has an issue just like you. You flip through a magazine, scroll through your smartphone, watch the overhanging TV or just look aimlessly around the room. It’s a waiting game.

Then, after what seems to be an interminable period of time, the nurse calls your name and you go back to get your problem looked at.

What if you got to go to the doctor’s office, check in and go straight back? No waiting, no magazines, nothing. You’re accepted for attention right away.

That’s what the Gospel looks like.

As soon as you admit your need for help, you’re accepted. You don’t come to the doctor’s office healthy. You’re not expected to. You come because you need help. You come because something needs to be fixed. You come because there’s an issue you can’t deal with on your own.

With God, there’s no need for you to try home remedy after home remedy to fix your need for grace. 

The Gospel means you can have salvation given to you without you doing anything but simply coming to Jesus.

Sin leaves us broken like a disease. It leaves us in need of a cure. Without the cure, we’re diseased for eternity and miss out on health, true health.

Grace provides the remedy. And there’s no need to wait.

Just check in.

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

What Is It That Is Desired Most in a Man?

OK, so a little personal embarrassing confession time here.

When I was younger, I liked the music of Clay Aiken. I actually got made fun of at school for it. But I liked it. One of his standout songs was “Measure of a Man.” The chorus is catchy, and it gets stuck in my head every now and then even though I can’t remember the last time I listened to it.

It goes like this:

Would he walk on water?
Would he run through fire?
Would he stand before you, when it’s down to the wire?
Would he give his life up to be all he can?
Is that, is that, is that how you measure a man?

Say what you will about Clay Aiken and his musical prowess or lack thereof, but I think there’s something quite insightful about those lyrics.

What defines how you measure a man? According to Proverbs, it’s something you might not expect.

Proverbs 19:22 and 20:6 say,

What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar…Many a man proclaims his steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?

Steadfast love is to be most desired in someone. Not an overwhelming amount of knowledge, not skill at a trade, not even spiritual acumen, but the trait most desired is steadfast love.

What is steadfast love? It’s love that doesn’t sway or change due to feelings, circumstances, obstacles, whatever. It’s a love that stays the same. Really, it’s the way God loves.

So what’s most important for someone, what’s most desired, is steadfast love, a love that doesn’t change, a love that stays the same through the ages. A love that looks like this:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

That is what is most desired in a man.

Don’t Give Up: Even When You’re Depressed and Anxious Like Me

Note: This is the continuation of a series on the idea of not giving up in different scenarios. Previous posts include entries on work and relationships. The previous posts have not had a particular audience, it can be applied generally. But my heart is for the Church, for the body of Christ. So the next two posts will be aimed at a Christian audience.

This post dives into the subject of depression and anxiety, something I’ve written about countless times. Please read my other posts on this subject for more of my thoughts and experiences. Just search “depression” in the search bar and you’ll find them all. This piece gives a brief overview of my story.

I originally wrote this for submission to an online magazine but it was not picked up, so I share it here.

The biggest problem with mental illness in the Church is not that it exists, but that we don’t talk about it.

If we do talk about it, it’s a passing mention, with an emphasis on “read your Bible” and “pray.” Oh, I wish that were true.

I’ve had depression for at least six years, probably more. And it nearly killed my faith.

When we think about depression, we often don’t associate it with the word “Christian.” When we think of “Christian,” the list of words that come to mind don’t usually include “depressed.” In a way, “depressed” often can seem anti-Christian to people who don’t understand it.

Depression implies that someone is down or sad, that it’s a state of mind that is hard to get out of. And that seems to go against what it means to be a Christian. We’re saved, let’s be joyful! We’re forgiven, let’s celebrate! God loves us, let’s be excited! Those are things to get excited about. Those are things to celebrate and be joyful about. However, when you’re depressed, it’s hard to join in that crowd.

The majority of my time as someone who has depression was spent in college at Elon University. I was studying print journalism and participating in a campus ministry. The campus ministry was a good experience and had an emphasis on evangelism and spiritual disciplines, things that were good. However, evangelism and discipline are two of my biggest “weaknesses,” if you can call not being good at those a “weakness.”

Within the context of that ministry, it felt like a weakness. It felt like I was not “good enough” to be a part of the group because I wasn’t as passionate about sharing the Gospel with the lost. I wanted them to know Jesus, but I would rather spend time at the house I shared with a couple guys playing FIFA or doing my homework (I was a bit of an academic when I wanted to be) than building superficial relationships with guys just to try to convert them.

For wanting that, I felt like I was less. And because I felt like I was less, I got depressed. Struggles with sin also depressed me.

I talked about this general feeling of depression every now and then, but it was not a comfortable thing. The guys I talked with, as awesome as they were as brothers in Christ, just didn’t get it. And they seemed to be quite happy with their lives. “What was wrong with me?,” I wondered. “Why didn’t I have the same joy, the same drive?” I chalked it up to that I wasn’t good enough as a Christian, and I had to get better. Then I wouldn’t be depressed anymore and people would think I was an awesome Christian.

That was my driving force in life for a long time, and to today still is to a degree: being the best Christian there is. I wanted people to look at me and see my spiritual life and see perfection. That’s what I thought had to happen. See, everyone around me didn’t act like there was anything wrong with them. Prayer requests usually revolved around sick relatives, hard business presentations and that freshman they had been “pouring into,” hoping to get them saved. I felt like there was no place for me to share the mental anguish I went through on a nearly daily basis. No one talked about their personal struggles in their head, and I wasn’t bold enough yet to share it and start the conversation on my own.

Now I feel a little more comfortable talking about my personal experience with depression, at least online. But bringing it up in person with people is still a struggle. I have a few times in my small group, and it’s been fruitful each time.

The problem comes when we think that being a Christian means you don’t struggle with anything like mental illnesses. Being depressed and being a Christian is not a contradiction. It’s just like being a Christian and being born in the South or being a Christian and being a journalist (I’m both of those things) – it’s just part of who you are. The key difference between those things and depression is that you can be a Southerner and a journalist and that often doesn’t seriously affect how you live as a believer. Depression does.

But I’m writing this to all of you out there who are Christians and have depression: it’s not a losing battle. It’s not a battle that you have to fight alone. You don’t have to be joyful all the time to be a Christian. Being a Christian simply means Jesus saved you. There’s no other prerequisite for being called a son or daughter of God. Don’t let the conversation, or lack thereof, about depression in your church or your local group of Christians make you think you’re all alone.

I’m there with you. I don’t struggle as much anymore, mostly because I take medicine for it and I’m engaged to a beautiful young lady who knows everything about me and loves me anyways. Just like Jesus.

What I’ve found is that the answer to depression is the Gospel. It’s the truth that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear of being rejected by God for our feelings, fear of being not good enough for the Father. It’s that God loves us throughout our struggles. The Gospel doesn’t necessarily heal us from depression, but it will help and guide us through it.

So be open about it. Share your story. Don’t be afraid to take medicine. Don’t let people discourage you. Find someone who echoes the love of Christ to you and build a friendship with them. You’re not abnormal. You’re just like me.

Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. It’s not worth it.

Don’t ever give up.

As Far As It Depends on You, Just Get Along With People on Social Media

We live in a culture of vehement disagreement. Just take a look at your News Feed.

Every day, I see (and am sometimes involved in) conversations on someone’s Facebook post that revolves around a vehement disagreement on some political or societal issue. Sometimes that disagreement can be over something trivial and the disagreement can be joking and playful. But sometimes it can be bad and vitriolic.

These kinds of interactions have led some people I know to stay out of conversations on Facebook altogether, and I applaud them. Perhaps it would be better for me to take that route. I’ve been in quite a few of those bad conversations and said some things that were out-of-line or had a sinful attitude and approach.

Romans 12 has some words for me. Verses 16-18:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Live in harmony. Live peaceably. If we look at social media, there’s not a lot of harmony and peace.

There is a place in society for disagreement and people having a conversation in which opposing viewpoints are presented. People are different, so we’ll have different ideas and opinions on how certain things “should” or “ought to be” run or thought about. That’s just part of being human.

But we shoot ourselves in the foot as a society and as the body of Christ when we resort to vehement vitriolic disagreement.

I’m guilty of this. I’ve tried to stay away from being mean in my comments but my attitude has gotten sour over some things said on Facebook. I have done little to create an environment of harmony and peace on social media.

But these verses challenge me, and hopefully challenge you who might read this, to think through how we behave on social media. Are we creating an environment of peace and harmony on social media?

To be fair, there’s only so much we can do, right? We can’t control how other people behave on their Facebooks and Twitters. Romans 12:18 takes care of that, saying that “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” It’s saying that we must do whatever we can to pursue peace in our relationships with everyone. There are going to be times where the other party isn’t as willing to pursue peace, and in those times we can be content knowing that we’re trying to do the right thing. But remember that doesn’t give us license to be spiteful and unfairly critical of the other party.

My fiancée once told me something very wise. We were talking about fighting sin and she said, “You need to do what you need to do to not do what you don’t need to do.” I was like, “Brilliant!” We need to take whatever steps necessary to avoid sinful behavior. Particularly online.

I need to think five times about what I’m about to post. I need to think about something that my dad tells me all the time – “Is this thought helpful?” I need to think about how what I’m about to say can create an environment of peace, even in the midst of disagreement.

It is possible to disagree well.


Don’t Give Up: Even When Relationships Are Stressing You Out

“Actually, there is a word for that. It’s love. I’m in love with her, okay? If you’re looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want no matter how much it destroys you, it’s love.”

I’ve mentioned before how one of my favorite shows is How I Met Your Mother. Just in case you’ve missed the posts where I’ve mentioned it before, it’s a show about Ted Mosby, a young guy living in NYC trying to find the woman of his dreams, the mother of his kids. It’s narrated by an older Ted Mosby to his two kids. It’s him saying to his kids, “Hey, here’s how I met your mother.” Classic.

Ted Mosby is a romantic. Easily. Throughout the whole series you see him pining for different women. Sometimes it’s a mess.

But one instance that strikes me so deeply is early on in season one. He’s dating a girl named Natalie, someone with whom he has a messy history, for the second time. The first time he broke up with her, he dumped her on her birthday via a message on her answering machine with a bunch of people in her apartment waiting to surprise her hearing every word. After they restart dating, Ted suddenly says, “I have to break up with her…She’s terrific but I have to break up with her…I should be in love with her, but I’m not feeling that thing. It’s ineffable.”

They had only dated – this second time around – for three weeks. Ted’s issue in this episode was that he was basing all his decisions on feelings and giving up really easily. It reminded me how easily people give up on relationships.

True, Ted is kinda clueless half the time. But just look at the statistics on divorce. Some studies say it’s 50 percent of marriages, some say it’s less. Either way, people give up on relationships all the time.

Sometimes giving up on relationships is what needs to be done. Sometimes it’s just not going anywhere. But there are two instances when giving up isn’t an option.

When you’re married, you don’t give up.

There are specific exceptions that are really hard and messy to deal with here, but 99 percent of the time, you say, “Till death do us part,” and you stick with that.

The American Psychological Association says that 40-50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. That’s crazy. That’s a lot of people giving up.

I can’t speak specifically to the difficulties that come within marriage because I’m still a few months away from experiencing it myself. But all that I’ve heard is that marriage is hard, and that it can be somewhat easy to want to ditch it.

But all I’ve heard about quitting marriage is that it’s not worth it.

As I’ve thought about the possibility of being married, I can think of several reasons why one would want to quit: arguments that never seem to end, the financial difficulty of managing money for two people, and many more. But when you say, “I do,” you’re committing for life.

One thing I’m learning about love is that it’s more about commitment. When you say, “I love you,” it’s more than a feeling. It’s saying, “Hey, I’m committing to you. I’m promising to stick with you, no matter how I feel. Even if I don’t feel the love.” Love means commitment more than anything else. Yes, there are feelings in there too, but it’s more about a promise. Love is a promise. What I’ve heard is that going through the tough times will only make your relationship stronger.

Don’t give up.

Don’t give up just because you’re scared.

Fear of commitment/relationships is one of the most powerful fears out there. I’ve experienced it in my own life, and had to overcome it to start pursuing my now-fiancée.

Fear can be a powerful motivator, but it can also be a powerful de-motivator. It can suck the life and desire and drive out of you.

I know how terrifying commitment can be. You’re offering to give yourself up for someone else.

But I can tell you from personal experience that it’s worth it. The months that I have spent dating and now engaged to my fiancée have been hard sometimes, but they’ve also been incredibly joyful and rewarding. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.

So if you’ve got the opportunity to pursue a romance, but you’re sacred, please, don’t give up. Push on.

Don’t give up.

Don’t Give Up: Even When Work Seems Like It Will Never End

So I just started watching Cheers. I’m an episode-and-a-half in as of the beginning of writing this, and I love it. The characters are fantastic, the setting is brilliant and the dialogue is snappy and funny.

Maybe it’s just the show, but a bar seems like a lovely place to work to me. You’ve got a steady flow of people, a group of co-workers, it’s usually a laid-back environment. Of course that’s not the case for every bar, but Cheers looks like a bar where I’d love to work.

Kinda makes me want to go find a bar to work at.

But two things hold me back. First, I’m not qualified to be a bartender. I don’t know anything about alcohol. Second, I don’t want to just quit my job now and give up.

A 2013 Forbes article reported that around two million Americans on average voluntarily leave their jobs every month. That’s staggering. That’s back when the economy was rough, even rougher than it is today.

Why do that many people leave their jobs? Dissatisfaction with the boss, unchallenging assignments, tough workplace environments, lots of reasons. Many of them can be legitimate reasons and people need to get out for their emotional or mental health.

But I wonder how many of those two million people simply quit when they didn’t need to. I can relate to them. Remember, I’m a quitter. I like finding reasons to give up. I like finding things that I’m discontent about in my work. Well, I don’t really like it, but I do it so much that sometimes I think I do like it.

So what do we do when we’re in a job that we’re not exactly thrilled with but, for whatever reason, can’t find another one? Maybe we’re getting married soon and need a steady paycheck with good benefits. Maybe we’ve got kids we’re trying to put through school and they need that money. Maybe we’re trying to pay off a house purchase and any other options won’t fulfill the space in our budget we’ve set aside for payments. Maybe it’s not that bad of a job, but we’re honestly just a little frustrated with what we have.

I believe you have to look no further than the story of Elijah for a little inspiration.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah, a prophet of God, was under duress. Jezebel – the wife of Ahab, the king of Israel – was sending men to kill Elijah after he had killed all the prophets of Baal. So Elijah ran. Verses 4-6a:

But (Elijah) himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.

So Elijah’s in a pretty bleak situation with his occupation. Yes, this is ministry, so it may not directly be related to what we would consider normal “secular” jobs today. But let’s put it this way: his “co-workers” (the people surrounding him) are trying to kill him, his mental state is not good, his workspace (sitting under a broom tree) is not exactly the most amenable. (Maybe this is a stretch, but just go with it for me.)

What does God do? God sends an angel to provide Elijah with “a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water” (v. 6) twice. Elijah then “went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God” (v. 8).

What do we learn from this? Elijah’s situation didn’t get fixed. His work environment was still stressful. People were still trying to kill him. What God did was crucial for Elijah, and it’s something important we can learn for getting through our uncomfortable job situation.

God provided Elijah with motivation outside of himself. God provided Elijah with food out of nowhere. God gave Elijah sustenance to continue on. At jobs we dislike, our motivation is often sapped and drained because of the environment or the working conditions. If we truly can’t get out of the job, we need something outside of the job to keep us moving forward in it.

Sometimes there will be certain things at the job that can excite us and motivate us. But sometimes even those things will let us down.

I write this today to encourage those of you who are in jobs you can’t stand but have no other options: don’t give up. It’s not worth it to give up for no reason. You can still make a difference. The key is finding that exterior motivation, like Elijah did, that motivation outside yourself and your mind that can keep you going.

I’m praying as I type this that whoever reads this would find that motivation. I sincerely do.

Love you guys.

Don’t Give Up: A Series on Why You Shouldn’t Quit on Yourself

I’m someone who likes to give up. Always have been.

My mom has told me several times that when I was younger, I would start to build a block tower. If the tower collapsed, I would give up. Most kids would probably try again. But me? Nah, I’d quit. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t find it worth it to attempt building the tower again.

There have been many things in my life that I’ve quit that I didn’t need to: jobs, relationships, projects, studies, etc., all things that I could have completed, but because I didn’t “feel” like I could, I quit. Books to read, books to write, blog posts to write, many things I’ve ditched because I thought it wouldn’t be good enough.

Even this series I’m about to start.

It’s called “Don’t Give Up.” It’s all about why we quit, why we shouldn’t and how to see quitting in light of who we are as God’s creation.

This series is for believers and non-believers, unlike the majority of my work which ends up being for Christians. If you are a non-believer and you’re reading this series, welcome. I hope you find something beautiful here, something that will inspire you to keep going. And I sincerely hope you see the worth you have as one of God’s creation and choose to trust Him with your life.

It’s worth it.

I’ll share a lot of personal experiences, per usual with this blog, and some biblical truth while exploring several areas of life we like to quit on ourselves in and discussing why (most of the time) we shouldn’t. I want to share myself and my life as well as what Scripture might have to say. I kinda want to say I’m an expert on quitting because I’ve done it a lot. Sometimes it was a good thing to do, and sometimes it wasn’t.

But this thought of not giving up has been on my mind a lot recently. Perhaps it’s my personal struggles, perhaps it’s the prevalence of suicide in recent years among people my age and younger. There just seems to be a lot of giving up going on.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And I hope this series will encourage you to keep going.

My Favorite Songs from Each of the 24 Years I’ve Been Alive from the Billboard Top 100

I write a lot of serious things on this blog. Sometimes I think I get too serious that I don’t know how to lighten up.

I love music. At least listening to it. Playing music isn’t something I’m really that good at.

So here are my favorite songs from each of the 23 years I’ve been alive in an attempt to be lighter in content.

Here’s the catch: I’m turning 23 today. That’s right, 23. But there have been 24 years in which I have taken a breath. I turned 23 today, but I started my 24th year of life. Kinda confusing, but here we go.

Each of these songs are taken from the official Billboard Year-End Top 100. The 2015 entry is not, as this year is not over yet. Hope you enjoy!

1992: “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men (#1 on the chart)

I love early 90s boy band/R&B. Oh my goodness. All-4-One’s “I Swear,” New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain.” I can’t get enough of it. I forget about it all the time though. This song is so good!

1993: “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers (#27)

I know this song from its prominent placement on the television show How I Met Your Mother. It’s a great road trip track. So good.

1994: “I Swear” by All-4-One (#2)

No competition for this one. You’ve seen this song mentioned before in this post. So good. First was introduced to it when the Minions “sang it” at the end of Despicable Me 2. Just barely beats out “What Is Love” by Haddaway (#97), famous for its inclusion in the Night at the Roxbury skit on SNL.

1995: “I’ll Stand by You” by The Pretenders (#95)

This was a barren year for me in terms of knowing the songs on this list. I only know this song from the Glee version. “Cotten Eye Joe” (#93) was a second choice here.

1996: “Name” by Goo Goo Dolls (#24)

Gotta be honest with you, I’m really struggling with knowing these songs on these lists. Guess I wasn’t really listening to music much at this time in my life. This is a good one though.

1997: “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) by Backstreet Boys (#11)

I’m so excited. We’re entering the era of the all-white-guy boy band. Noted some 98 Degrees as well on this list. Usher’s also making an appearance.

1998: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith (#25)

The song from Armageddon barely beats out ‘N Sync’s “I Want You Back” (#37). A classic of modern love ballads, it takes about a minute to really get going, but once it does, it’s amazing.

1999: “Amazed” by Lonestar (#85)

This one was tough. With “I Want It That Way” (#15), “(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time on You” (#45) and “Iris” (94) providing stiff competition, I went with the most country of these songs, which is surprising because I don’t like country for the most part. But this is too good to ignore. Came in at #8 on the 2000 list.

2000: “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” by Backstreet Boys (#31)

Breaking into the new millennium with probably my favorite song from these guys. Great groove song. Is this feeling I need to walk with? Tell me why I can’t be there where you are! There’s something missing in my heart.

2001: “All or Nothing” by O-Town (#41)

Continuing the boy band theme, this one-hit wonder drops in nicely here, just beating out Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” (#4) and Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero” (#99).

2002: “U Got It Bad” by Usher (#9)

We enter the Usher era. You may be noticing a pattern here with what I like.

2003: “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake (#32)

Justin Timberlake, Usher. I’m a fan of dudes who sing R&B/pop. It’s just a plain fact. Now I’m kind of surprised that Lonestar and Aerosmith made it on this list.

2004: “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West (#43)

Beats out Usher’s “Burn” (#2) and Evanescence’s “My Immortal” (#19), Kanye’s first entry on this list could honestly be considered a Christian song, but not for the profanity.

2005: “You and Me” by Lifehouse (#12)

The first real middle school slow dance song I really liked. What day is it? It’s slow dance day.

2006: “What’s Left of Me” by Nick Lachey (#54)

We’re getting deeper and deeper into my actual life where I listened to music, so the choices are getting harder and harder. This Jessica Simpson-inspired break-up song is hauntingly beautiful. Well, if you take it seriously.

2007: “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s (#7)

Again, more and more difficult. This one beat out “What Goes Around…Comes Around” from JT (#22) and Omarion’s “Ice Box” (#45). I was addicted to this song.

2008: “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West (#74)

Beats out OneRepublic/Timbaland’s “Apologize” (#5) and Gavin Rossdale’s “Love Remains the Same” (#94). This is from one of my favorite albums of all-time, 808s & Heartbreak.

2009: “Heartless” by Kanye West (#9)

Likely the only album on this list with two entries. This is the better second single from 808s & Heartbreak. Outruns Owl City’s “Fireflies” (#60) and Jesse McCartney/Ludacris’ “How Do You Sleep?” (86).

2010: “Breakeven” by The Script (#27)

Inches away from Drake’s “Find Your Love” (#32) and Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet” (#39). I was obsessed with Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” (#3) at this time, but The Script wins for longevity’s sake.

2011: “Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band (#99)

This is a surprise to me. Didn’t know this would have made the top 100, but I like this song a lot. I’ll take this over Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” (#55) (with which I thankfully unsuccessfully auditioned for an Elon acapella group) and David Guetta/Usher’s “Without You” (#73).

2012: “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction (#10)

The boys from England make their mark as the boy band genre returns to the list for the first time in 12 years. Beats out “Somebody I Used to Know” by Gotye (#1), Justin Bieber/Big Sean’s “As Long as You Love Me” (#34) and Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break” (#39). Fun fact about this song: this summer I was on Campus Outreach’s Summer Beach Project. I would often bring a couple guys back to our lodging from work at Wal-Mart. We would blast this song.

2013: “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake (#8)

This one was hard to beat. Lots of good songs on this chart. The one that came closest was One Direction’s “Story of My Life” (#26). But “Mirrors,” in my opinion, is a timeless song that will never get old.

2014: “Demons” by Imagine Dragons (#23)

This was probably the hardest decision. Defeats several great songs like John Legend’s “All of Me” (#3), Magic!’s “Rude” (#7) and JT’s “Not a Bad Thing” (#45). Barely sneaked by JT. That takes a lot on this list.

2015: “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran

Barely overcomes “Where Are U Now” and “What Do You Mean,” two Bieber hits. It’s that good.

So now that you’ve seen all 24 songs, I reveal my own chart: The Lifelong 24, by Zach Horner. These are not my favorite songs of all-time, just the definitive ranking of this list of songs.

  1. “Mirrors” – Justin Timberlake (2013)
  2. “Demons” – Imagine Dragons (2014)
  3. “Hey There Delilah” – Plain White Ts (2007)
  4. “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran (2015)
  5. “Heartless” – Kanye West (2009)
  6. “What’s Left of Me” – Nick Lachey (2006)
  7. “What Makes You Beautiful” – One Direction (2012)
  8. “Love Lockdown” – Kanye West (2008)
  9. “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” – Backstreet Boys (2000)
  10. “All or Nothing” – O-Town (2001)
  11. “I Swear” – All-4-One (1994)
  12. “Breakeven” – The Script (2010)
  13. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” – Aerosmith (1998)
  14. “U Got It Bad” – Usher (2002)
  15. “Amazed” – Lonestar (1998)
  16. “You and Me” – Lifehouse (2005)
  17. “Cry Me a River” – Justin Timberlake (2003)
  18. “Colder Weather” – Zac Brown Band (2011)
  19. “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West (2004)
  20. “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” – The Proclaimers (1993)
  21. “Name” – Goo Goo Dolls (1996)
  22. “End of the Road” – Boyz II Men (1992)
  23. “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” – Backstreet Boys (1997)
  24. “I’ll Stand By You” – The Pretenders (1995)

Welcome to the Family of God: A Letter to a New Christian

Author’s note: This is a hypothetical letter to a new Christian who has just accepted Jesus. The focus is specific, but the truths are timeless.

Dear my new brother/sister in Christ,

I was reading Psalm 113 in my Bible this morning and found these verses:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD! (v. 7-9)

There’s something so unique about these verses. In “Bible times,” the poor, the needy and the barren woman were three examples of people who didn’t belong in society. Look no further than the beggars Jesus encountered. And barren women were not able to give children, something important in a patriarchal society.

These verses reminded me of the love that you have just received in a very personal way for the first time. Get used to it. The greatest thing about being a Christian is that you’re now a recipient of the greatest love anyone will ever experience. It’s a love that looks past your past to you, to who you are now and who you will be forever. Oh my friend, God loved you then, He loves you now and He will always love you. Yes, like Celine Dion, He will always love you.

Forgive the pop culture reference, it’s something I do all the time with my friends, my family. Yes indeed, you are now a member of a big family, and this is the second greatest thing about being a Christian. You are now part of a club of people that have all received the same love you have. We’re not perfect, and we fight all the time. Good gracious, we fight. Sometimes we fight more than people that aren’t part of our family. But we have a perfect example of how to love one another from that love I talked about before, the love of the Father towards us.

Yes, God is your Father now. He’s your protector, your savior, your provider, your sustainer. I think of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:7-11,

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Let’s be real: the benefits of following Jesus are unreal.

But there’s also a price. I hope that you were told of what following Jesus will cost you. It will cost you friends, likely. You’re answering a call to seek to live a life that’s set apart, that’s spent in pursuit of truth and obedience. You will never do it perfectly – that’s what the grace you’re accepting is for. We have a guidebook – the Bible, that thing I hope you’ve read. It will be hard. It will be challenging. You will be stretched.

But it is entirely worth it. The peace and fulfillment that comes from following Jesus is unreal, and you won’t experience it until you get here, until you’ve accepted Him and you’re following Him. It will be an up-and-down journey, but it will be a worthy one.

One last thing: Don’t be afraid. There can be a lot of things to be afraid of around Christians – being judged for your weaknesses, not being “good enough,” not knowing enough, being too sinful. The right people won’t deny you because of those things, they’ll embrace you. In the body of Christ, your weaknesses don’t make you an outcast, they make you part of the family.

Welcome to that family, the family of God.

In Christ,