Why I wrote a book

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Being Thankful is Hard Work: Four Obstacles to Being Thankful People

Friendship, family and food comas. Tis the season.  


I remember being in a Bible study where one of the leaders mentioned that Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday. One the students responded with a hilarious question. 

"If you're a Christian, doesn't your favorite holiday have to be Christmas?" 

Regardless, there's something special about Thanksgiving. So special that I would love to be thankful 365 days a year, not just for one Thursday in November. But being thankful doesn't come easy or naturally. 

In fact, here are four things that I will have to overcome to be a consistently thankful person. 
  • I feel more entitled than thankful. This one is the tough one for me. I would never say this out loud, but in my head and in my heart, I often find the thought, "I deserve ..." This is the biggest barrier to thankfulness in my own heart.
  • I focus on things that make me ungrateful. Earlier this year, Young Life sent my wife and I to Bermuda for free. Pretty amazing, right? During my week in Bermuda, I had poison ivy. Poisoned in paradise.  At that point, I had two choices. I could be thankful I was in Bermuda with my wife, or I could focus on the little thing that was wrong. So often in life I choose to focus on the little thing that's wrong rather than the big picture of everything that is right.
  • I fail to recognize how good I have it. The man who has no shoes feels sorrow for himself ... until he meets the man with no feet. This year, 2013, has been a challenging year for me. As true as that is, my heart breaks for friends and neighbors who have it much worse. I'd be much more thankful if I could keep in mind how much worse things could be.
  • I'm not thankful enough that I don't get what I do deserve.  If the rest of my world falls apart, I can always be thankful for the cross of Jesus Christ. It was at the cross where Jesus took the punishment that I deserve. He got what I deserve - God's judgment - so that I could get what Jesus deserves - an intimate relationship with my Heavenly Father. 
 I write these blogs as conversation-starters. I would love to hear what you are thankful for today.

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her moving blog on forgiveness here), a father of five and a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for VIBE, HipHopDX.com, The News Leader, Rapzilla.com, JamTheHype.com and other publications. Moody Publishing recently put out his first book, You're Grounded, which you can purchase here. This blog gets updated twice a week. Please consider following.

 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pimp? Murder? Sell Drugs? The "Happy Meal" Aspect of Hip-hop

A recent conversation I had with the students that I work with reminded me of this must-see, 54-second commercial.

 

Before I share my conversation, let me first explain the video. 

A man in a black sweatshirt fashioning himself as a rapper walks up on a couple. He begins chanting "Pimpin, Pimpin, Pimpin, Murder, Murder, Sell Drugs" several times. 

The couple, as you would expect, looks disgusted. 

Then things get interesting. 

The man in the black hooded sweatshirt gets his friend to drop a beat. The rapper then recites the exact same "Pimpin, Murder, Sell Drugs" chant to the couple, only this time to a beat. 

Now, instead of disgust, the couple actually joins in on the chant, and even starts dancing. 

The commercial, a promo spot for Reach Records' 2009 Don't Waste Your Life Tour, is equal parts hilarious and saddening. 


 
Fast forward to my conversation. I was in a mini-van on a road trip with a group of hip-hop loving teenagers. When I work with students, I invite them to play their own music in my van. And they are always quick to oblige. Heads get to nodding. Faces scrunch up tightly when the beat drops. And they sing along word for word. 

Over the weekend, it sounded like this: 

"Whipping a Brick. Whipping-Whipping a Brick. Whipping a Brick." 

(note: This is not a song about brick masonry or what the Israelites chanted in Egyptian captivity.)

The only catch is we don't just listen to the music. They have to help me critique it. I prefer the critiquing approach to the "baby-out-with-the-bath water" approach, because critiquing helps students to become thinkers.

We look for things such as: 
  • What does this artist tell you is worth reproducing artistically?
  • What values does the artist want to instill in you? 
  • If we fast-forwarded to the logical conclusion of the way this artist tells you to live, would society benefit or crumble? 
Fairly consistently (although, thankfully, there are exclusions), we find several themes that tend to run through hip-hop. 
  1. Money, and lots of it, is what it means to be happy.
  2. Being worshiped sexually by multiple members of the opposite sex is what it means to be happy.
  3. Being a man that everyone fears (not masculinity but hyper-masculinity) is absolutely essential. 
But here's the catch. Those hip-hop messages have a Happy Meal quality to them. Not a ton of nutritional substance, but very cleverly packaged.  In both cases, something undesirable (unhealthy food or unhealthy values) is being communicated in something otherwise desirable.  In the case of the Happy Meal, it's usually a toy. And what kid could resist a new toy? In the case of hip-hop, the message is usually hidden within an appreciation of a certain style of music. And what person doesn't like a catchy song?

Now one Happy Meal is more than likely not going to destroy someone's health, but a diet in which fast food is a main staple is going to have negative effects on your long-term health.

I'm trying to teach my students that similar to the way fast food impacts the body, music that promotes destructive values can have a similar impact on the soul. Ask anyone who really knows me. They will tell you that no one loves hip-hop more than me. However, I can not just consume any hip-hop anymore. The only hip-hop that resonates with my heart now is hip-hop that: 
  • creates art in a responsible way
  • communicates values consistent with the truth
  • affirms that life that follows God's design for humans is the best and most freeing way to live. 
In a 45-minute conversation with guys, I don't think I could completely transform the way they think about hip-hop. I'm just hoping that the students - much like a person who is considering the health risks of fast food - can be a little more critical of what they consume sonically.  

I write these blogs as conversation starters. I would love to hear how you think through the content in hip-hop lyrics. 







Chris Lassiter is a husband to Emily (read her powerful blog about forgiveness here), father of five kids, and a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, Va. He has written for VIBE, Rapzilla.com, JamTheHYpe.com, Young Life Relationships and other publications. Recently, Moody Publishers put out his first book, You're Grounded, which you can purchase here.  Please consider following this blog, which gets updated twice a week.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Okaly Dokaly: 3 Ways Christians shouldn't be like Ned Flanders


There is always some truth in fiction.

The creators of the hit cartoon sitcom The Simpsons did a masterful job of showing what non-Christian America thinks of evangelical Christianity by creating an evangelical neighbor to the Simpson family. His name is Ned Flanders. (As a side note, this is precisely why we need more Christians in the arts and entertainment industry.)



And boy is this Flanders character a piece of work. 


His sweater is out-of-date. His mustache is terrible. He speaks in Flanderisms, replacing simple sayings like O.K. with "Okaly-Dokaly."

Flanders is portrayed as extremely annoying,  beyond optimistic, scared of science, out of touch with reality and having attained a level of holiness most of us could only hope to reach. During one Sunday morning church service, he confesses before the congregation that he has too much civic pride in his community.

How then, as Christians, do we avoid an unattractive Ned-Flanders religiosity?  

Here are three ways: 
  • Don't confuse fear with holiness.  We can take one or two approaches here. The baby-out-with-the-bath water approach means that Christians retreat from everything that "threatens" our faith, namely science and culture.  
Ned opts for this approach. In one episode, Homer writes a paper denying the existence of God. When Flanders can't combat Homer's answer with reason, he lights the paper on fire. 

The other approach is to learn to navigate the real world with a Biblical worldview.  We can then really engage our friends and neighbors over their doubts, questions and presuppositions about Christianity.  All in the context of a real friendship. That works a lot better than burying our head in the sand.
  •   Don't replace your culture with a religious subculture. Flanders is intentionally created to show that every part of him - from his vocabulary to his fashion choices - don't work in society at large. His only culture is the subculture that he's created, even down to his own Flanderisms.
This makes being a good gospel witness tough for poor old Ned. Rather than attend a barbecue at the Flanders' home, Homer Simpson elects to hide on his couch and watch the Canadian Football League Draft. 
    
When Jesus incarnated, he didn't just become human. He was Jewish. Jesus entered the world in a certain culture, and so did we. I grew up in hip-hop culture. When I became a Christian, I didn't all of a sudden have a desire to become like Ned Flanders. Christ didn't come to change my culture - except where the culture doesn't align with His Word - He came to change my heart.
  • Live in reality. Our world is broken. I worked in a newspaper for years. Six days out of seven you could replace the lead news story title with the words "Our World is Broken" and it would make perfect sense. Christians and non-Christians both grapple with the fact that our world is indeed broken.  
Poor Ned comes across as a guy whose life is perfect inside of his evangelical Christian bubble. The real problem is that he seems to engage everyone he comes across as if everything is "Okaly-Dokaly" in their world, too. Ned comes across as the type of person who would give you a pat on the back and a Hallmark card quote without a hint of true empathy. 

The opposite of the Flanders approach is to show that we, just like our neighbors, also have deep scars from living in a broken world. However, we can also show them the hope we have in a fallen world because of God's activity in the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the religion of Ned Flanders. Agree? Disagree? What other points would you add to the list? 

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her gripping blog about forgiveness here) and a father to five wonderful kids. He's a Young Life leader in his hometown on Staunton, VA. He's written for VIBE, HipHopDx.com, Rapzilla.com, The News Leader, Young Life Relationships and other publications. Moody Publishers recently published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Lou Holtz and I Have in Common: Three Reasons You Should Dream Big

At age 28, Notre Dame college football coaching legend Lou Holtz was jobless and almost penniless. 

To make matters worse, his wife was expecting the couple's third child. 


 
To help lift him out of a funk, his wife gave him a copy of David J. Schwartz's book The Magic of Thinking Big. Holtz began to make a list of 107 things he wanted to do before he died; a list that included things such as winning a national football championship, meeting the president of the United States and other outrageous ideas.  (Read Holtz article here.)

For a man who wasn't sure how that month's bills were getting paid, that was thinking big.

Now, many decades later, that once unemployed 28-year-old coaching hopeful has crossed off over 100 things on his life's to-do list. 

I'm finding myself in the same place as Lou Holtz. Not the championship-winning coach but the 28-year-old unemployed Lou Holtz. My life is full of ambition. And it's full of obstacles and challenging circumstances.



I'm working on my life's to-do list now. It includes things such as:
  • Spend my whole life investing in a gospel-proclaiming, multiracial,  missional church. 
  • Create a nationally syndicated podcast talking sports, culture, music and theology.
  • Lead chapel for the student-athletes at my alma mater, Shenandoah University.
  •  Install a pond at my house for salamanders.
  •  Read 500 books.
  • To give away $100,000.00 in my lifetime.
  •  Debt free by age 50.
  •  Sell a combined one million books in my lifetime and have a NYT bestseller.
  • Spend part of every day praying for friends and family.
My list is still in its early stages, but I will see it through to completion, Lord willing. Here are three reasons I would encourage you to create a similar list. 
  • Goals are better than regrets. Even though Lou Holtz hasn't crossed off everything yet, he knows what he's aiming for. Creating that list and then going all out after it has led to one incredible adventure for the coach.
  • There is no such thing as "Must See TV." Americans reportedly watch an average of 38 hours of television a week. Is this the alternative to chasing our dreams? I'm not anti-TV, but I doubt the season finale of any show could be as exciting as Lou Holtz putting a check mark beside the goal that read "Win a national football championship." 
  • This life is a gift. There's not a single material possession a man would willingly exchange for his life. That's because we all realize that our life is the most important thing we have. Not only is it a gift, it's the best gift. Drifting through life aimlessly is sort of like getting the present you always wanted and then never using it. 
I write these blogs as a way to encourage discussion. I would love to hear some of your life goals. I'd also love to see your life goals list when you finish.

 Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her powerful blog about forgiveness here), and a father to five wonderful kids. Chris leads Young Life in his hometown on Staunton, VA, and he has written for The News Leader, VIBE, SOUL M.A.G., Rapzilla.com, HipHopDX.com and several other publications. Moody Publishers recently published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here.



Friday, November 8, 2013

When the real "Enemy" is Inner-Me: Five Thoughts on Forgiveness

If anyone has a right to hold a grudge, it would be Mary Johnson. 

Her only son was murdered by a young man named Oshea Israel, yet her response was anything but typical (This three-minute video might just change your view of forgiveness).



 Mary Johnson's initial reaction wasn't forgiveness. 

"I wanted justice. He was an animal. He deserved to be caged." 

I write this with great sensitivity knowing this situation impacted many people in this community, but I can relate to Mary Johnson's anger and longing for justice.  When a friend of mine was murdered, convictions and long prison sentences didn't bring the peace I thought they would. I grew angry and bitter and that bitterness began to take a toll on me and those closest to me.

Earlier this year, however, everything began to change.

God began walking me down a path of introspection and healing. Even though I said I had forgiven, deep down I really hadn't. Then God allowed me, like Mary Johnson, to forgive what - for years - seemed unforgivable to me.

Here are five things I've learned on this journey...

  •  Forgiveness doesn't usually happen overnight. Forgiveness is a process. For years, I told myself and others that I had forgiven when true forgiveness had never taken place in my heart. When I saw photos or heard the names of the men who took my friend's life, all of the emotions would come rushing back. Many lives were changed on 12/12/00, and we are all likely in different places on our journey to forgive. It takes time.
  • Refusing to forgive punishes us and the people around us, but rarely the person who originally hurt us. We often believe that refusing to forgive allows us to have power over someone who hurt or victimized us. In reality, the person that unforgiveness has power over is us. I was filled with bitterness and hatred and it was damaging relationships with the people I loved the most - not those who had hurt me. As Mary Johnson shares in the video, "Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out." The only way to be free from its power is to make the choice to forgive. 
  • Choosing to forgive isn't something we can do in our own "power." Forgiveness isn't natural, but supernatural. For years, I'd said I had forgiven when the true work of forgiveness had never really happened in my heart. I really didn't want to, it just seemed like the Christian thing to say. I could only make the decision to forgive after God revealed my refusal to do so and worked in me by His Spirit to truly forgive. 
  • Forgiveness allows us to see more clearly. The day I chose to forgive, I read Luke 23:34 where Christ on the cross says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” God allowed me, for the first time, to see the humanity of the men who took the life of my friend.  He also helped me better understand His heart for all of humanity. I was able to see all the lives that were left broken as a result of what happened that night. While I knew my friend's family members and friends had suffered deeply, my hatred and bitterness never allowed me to consider the lives of the other families and friends that were left changed as a result. Over the last year, God has helped me to see that no one wins in situations like these and there are victims on both sides.
  • Extending forgiveness brings healing. After choosing to forgive, I wrote letters to the men who were in prison for the death of my friend. I shared the hatred and bitterness that I had carried for years and how God's forgiveness of me had changed my life and was helping me extend that same forgiveness to them. To my surprise, they wrote me back. Forgiving them or beginning a friendship with them doesn't absolve them of the crime they've committed or restore all the brokenness that resulted from this situation. It does, however, free me from the prison of my hatred and bitterness. It reminds me of God's mercy towards me and that someone else paid a debt for me I could never pay myself.  In the words of C.S. Lewis: "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."
I wrote this with hopes that my story would help encourage others. I would love to hear how you are wrestling through the issue of forgiveness.






Emily Lassiter is wife to Chris Lassiter and mother to their five beautiful children (Read her other guest post here). She is the Coordinator for Valley YoungLives, an outreach ministry to pregnant and parenting teenage mothers. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter or email her at younglivesvalley@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wait, so am I a racist? Thoughts on the Klan, Costumes and Craigsville


Halloween costume or social statement? 

  

Jessica Black's choice to dress her son in a Ku Klux Klan outfit for Halloween has put her and the town of Craigsville in the national spotlight. The response, predictably, has not been kind. 

Now, personally, I would never dress my son up in a Black Panther costume. (He's biracial. It'd be a bit of a contradiction anyway.)

But does that mean I'm not racist?  Are racists only the people who do outwardly racist things? Is it possible to be a closet racist who navigates society a little more smoothly than Jessica Black?

 In light of the current controversy, here are three questions I asked myself. 

  • Would I be willing to be part of the solution in the Craigsville Klan Costume scenario? The easy thing to do is get mad or get "even." Would I be willing to do the hard thing? Would I be willing to befriend Jessica Black (how ironic is that last name?) and allow her to truly have a friendship with a black person in order to remove some of the stereotypes? 
  • How am I working through racism in my own life? I'm black. I absolutely love being black and black culture. It comes with hardships for sure, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.  I love the music, the food, the style of fashion and the unique brand of humor. 
The problem isn't with appreciating my culture. The problem is when I fail to appreciate other people's culture.  We fail to appreciate other cultures when we make our own the absolute standard. It becomes obvious when we make subtle statements like:
  1. That is NOT how you season chicken. 
  2. That's NOT how Amazing Grace sounds at my church. 
  3. Why is their table always the loudest in the cafeteria?
  4. Why is he wearing khakis? It's Saturday!
  5. Y'all follow directions to make Kool-Aid? 
  6. I can't stand (insert any different culture than your own here) music. 
Some of those items above just highlight that different cultures have different ways of doing things. Isn't it true that we are bordering on racism when we make one culture (usually our own culture) the standard instead of appreciating that different cultures have different tendencies?

Life becomes so much richer when we can appreciate the gifts each culture has to offer and so much more bland when we can only appreciate our own. 
  •  Finally, am I against institutional racism or just overt racism?  In Edward Gilbreath's book Reconciliation Blues,  Gilbreath recounts a chapel message given by Rev. Russell Knight to Moody Bible Institute students in February of 1991. Wrestle through the implications of his quote. 
"You might say, 'I'm a not a racist. I have not done anything to anyone personally.' But the problem is that we have to be careful that we do not enjoy the benefits (of racism).  When we silently enjoy the benefits of racism; when we do not protest injustice to those who are poor, powerless and oppressed; when we decide it's not our problem and go on enjoying the fruits of a racist system, then we too are racist." (1)

That one stings the most. We've all seen examples of systemic racism. Some may favor our own race. Some may oppress our own race. Wright's point is that when we see it and we do nothing about it, we're actually saying "This particular racial injustice isn't worth fighting. We're willing to live with it." 

I write blogs like these with the hopes of starting conversations. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you wrestle through the issue of racism. 

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her guest blog here),  a father of five wonderful kids, and a Young Life leader in his hometown in Staunton, VA.  He has written for The News Leader, VIBE, HipHopDx.com, Rapzilla.com, Young Life Relationships and other publications.  Moody Publishers recently published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here.

1. Gilbreath, Edward, Reconcilation Blues (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books) 2006, p. 49.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Tryin' to make a dollar out of 15 cents"... Connecting Students to Resources

  I tell people that the students I work with at Robert E. Lee High School are the funniest kids anywhere.



Even the most routine conversations are comical.

A few years ago, we were helping kids raise money to go on our annual Young Life fall weekend trip. Here is how a conversation played out with one particular student.

Me: How is fundraising?
Student: Not good, C! I made minus five dollars ...
Me: Minus five dollars? 
Student: Yeah, the only lady I asked ended up asking me for five dollars!!!

While that story remains one of my favorites, the truth is we've had success with fundraisers. This week, we're doing a Lee High stadium clean-a-thon to help kids pay for our 2013 Fall Weekend Trip.




The fundraiser is really simple:

Students must:
  1. Agree to clean clean up the football stadium for 30 minutes or so after Friday night's football game. (We try to pick things that benefit the school).
  2. Try to find 12 sponsors that will give them 10 dollars each for the clean-a-thon.
Not only does the fundraiser help kids with the financial aspect of paying for camp, we help them learn three important lessons.
  •  Students have more resources than they think. So often kids see the price tag and believe they can't attend because they don't have the money in their piggy bank.  While they may not have the money in their bank account, they may have the resources to go get the money if they think creatively. 
  • You have to have some ambition in life. There will always be road blocks to success, but that doesn't mean it's time to give up. You have to find a way above, under, around or through the road blocks in life. Our hope is that as they raise their money for camp they see that they can find ways through other road blocks to success as well. 
  •  No one should be more invested into your success than you. At Young Life, we NEVER want to the reason that kids don't go to camp to be a financial one. And, in some cases, we help kids cover the cost. However, our first aim is to always to have a student invested in his or her own trip so that the student can learn lessons on being successful in life. 
There are plenty of other ideas out there for connecting students with resources, including a Urban Youth Workers Institute talk given by Kitty Fortner entitled 10 Proven Ideas for Fundraising Beyond the Car Wash. You can listen here

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her guest blog here), and a father to five wonderful kids. He's written for The News Leader, HipHopDX.com, Rapzilla.com, Young Life Relationships and other publications. Recently, Moody Publications just published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here.



Friday, November 1, 2013

The Donkey, the Elephant and the Cross: Three tests to see if the gospel impacts our politics

Confession: I don't love politics!



If you have ever tried to "trap" me in a political conversation, I'd run to a place where a "Kobe versus LeBron" debate was taking place faster than Usain Bolt runs the 100-yard dash. In fact, here is just a short list of things I'd rather do than take in an hour of C-SPAN or political talk radio.



  • mow the lawn by hand without a lawnmower. 
  • do a 1,000-piece puzzle using my feet.
  • count the pieces of sand in a sandbox during a dust storm.
You get the point.

However, I know one of the implications of the gospel is that the Lord wants Christians to be the best citizens in their communities. (Read I Peter 2) . Part of that mandate means being politically informed, helping to vote in people who we believe can best help our cities, states and nations flourish as God defines flourishing.

Then there's the other extreme.

Just as easy as is be too apathetic about politics (the thing I have to fight against), it's also possible for Christians to put more hope in the election process than in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here are three signs that our political views are out of line with the gospel.
  • Do we use hate-filled language about politics or politicians?  We live in America. We have a democracy. We're allowed to vote, disagree and differ in opinion. I can even see someone being passionate about politics. What I can't reconcile to the gospel is hate-filled speech or actions in the name of political activism. I wince when I see a bumper sticker that is really disrespectful of a politician right next to a bumper sticker advertising a particular church.Yikes!
  • Does the gospel have to compete for allegiance with our politics? For the Christian, a political party can never have our first allegiance. Scripture paints the picture of the Christian as a pilgrim passing through this life. We pursue politics being the best citizens we can be knowing that our first allegiance is to a King, not an elected official.
  • Are our politics a hindrance to our gospel witness? We can't have Christian fellowship with people with differing political views, or we've made our political stances in such a way we could never witness for the gospel effectively to a person with opposing political views.  Even the way we discuss politics should be transformed by the grace we have received. If someone who knows us well and refuses to listen about our Savior because of how we have flaunted our political position, it could be that we look more like our favorite politician than our Savior. 
I always write these blogs in hopes of starting conversation. I would love to know your thoughts on the how Christians should navigate politics. 


Chris Lassiter is a husband to Emily (read her guest blog post here.) and father of five. He is a Young Life leader in his hometown of Staunton, VA. He has written for The News Leader, VIBE, Rapzilla.com, HipHopDX.com, Young Life Relationships and other publications. Recently, Moody Publishers published his first book, You're Grounded, which you can read about here.