Connecting with Non-Christians in Your City

My wife and I recently recently relocated from SoCal to NorCal in November of 2013. The reason being that I received a Student Ministries Pastor position at a local church in Sebastopol, California. The move has been great in many ways and yet foreign in one major manner:

We don’t know any non-Christians.

Beginning to work a full-time church position in an entirely new community can be difficult for many reasons. Aside from learning where everything is at, numerous questions arose: How are we going to build any relationships with people outside of the church? How are going to be a light in our community as Jesus calls us to (Matthew 5:13-16)? Are we going to be stuck in a Christian bubble?

We knew that we needed to find a way to get connected to non-Christians.

For us, it involved my wife and I prayerfully making the decision for her to not finish her bachelor’s degree. Instead, she sought a job in the city in order for her to have an opportunity to meet and build friendships with non-Christians. We also are very intentional about going to the same coffee shop (Taylor Maid Farms), the same few restaurants, grocery stores, etc. with the intention of becoming regulars. This provides the opportunity for us to be more than simply customers to the employees but potentially acquaintances and even friends.

Ideas for Connecting with Non-Christians in Your City

Getting involved and connected with non-Christians in your city can be difficult and sometimes seem nearly impossible. Here are a few creative ways to get connected to your city:

  • Go to city-wide events and gatherings. City Council meetings, farmers markets and local festivals are great ways to connect with and be a part of what’s going on in your community.
  • Coach a little league or high school sports team. Find a sport that you enjoy and coach a local youth team. This is a great way to connect with both the youth and their families in your community.
  • Become a regular at your favorite coffee shop, restaurant/s, businesses, gym, etc. By doing this, you are creating an opportunity to connect with the employees and other regulars. Don’t just ask, “What can these employees do for me?” Ask, “What can I do for these employees?”
  • Volunteer to tutor or teach musical instruments to students. If you have the mental capacity or musical talent, why not use it to serve students and their families in your community? By sacrificing time and energy to teach them, you have the opportunity to demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus.
  • Work in your community. For years, I worked at a Starbucks a few blocks away from our church. During my employment, I was able to build relationships with regulars as well as their friends and families. They also were able to take notice of me when I would: 1) read my bible or a Christian book on my break and 2) be gracious and merciful to my coworkers or even a customer who hadn’t had their cup of coffee yet.
  • Serve at your local animal shelter, retirement center, hospital, soup kitchen, homeless shelter, food bank, etc. People in your community are already serving in these non-profit organizations. Many of them are non-Christians. This is a great platform to serve alongside non-Christians and share why it is that you choose to sacrifice your time and energy.

Final Thoughts: Quit Avoiding Non-Christians

Jesus didn’t avoid you; don’t avoid them.

If you only go to the Christian church, the Christian school, the Christian sports league, the Christian supermarket, the Christian coffee shop, the Christian restaurant, mechanic, gym, doctor, bookstore, etc, you are separating yourself from your city; this is not the way Jesus called us to live.

You are called to be in the world but not of it (John 17:14-19). This does not mean that we remove ourselves from non-Christian institutions and businesses; this actually means the opposite. We are to live amongst non-Christians in such a way that our lives demonstrate that the values and idols of this world are not our god, but that God is our God. 

Do you have other creative ways to get involved in your city? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to comment or email me at tylerasaldana@gmail.com Please be praying for Erin and I as we continue to seek ways to better be involved and get connected with the non-Christians in our community.

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Seven Reasons Why I Believe in Jesus

Growing up, I doubted Jesus. A lot. To be completely honest, I still do from time to time.

After Jesus had risen from the dead, Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, still doubted Him (John 20:24-39). If one of Jesus’ disciples is allowed to wrestle with the truth of Who Jesus is, I don’t see why we can’t either.

Towards the end of my senior year in high school, I began to critically investigate Who this “Jesus” was. Who is He? What does He want? Why did He come to earth? How do we know that He’s real? And is He really God? I mean come on…

After much critical research, I began to slowly believe in Jesus, His gospel, what He said, what He did, and what He stood for. Even though there are many others, here are seven reasons why I believe in Jesus:

  1. His resurrection from the dead. After Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of His people, He resurrected from the dead conquering sin, death, and the enemy Satan. We know that more than 500 people saw Jesus after He died (1 Cor 15:6). There are three explanations for these appearances: 1) they were lying, 2) they were hallucinating, or 3) they actually saw the risen Jesus. Number one doesn’t make sense simply due to the fact that many of these people including all of the disciples were outcasted or even murdered for making such claims. Why would they risk and even give there lives for a pointless cause? There is no motive. Number two to this day cannot be medically verified; no two people have been known to have the same hallucination at the same time. Therefore, it is reasonable for us to conclude that they saw the risen Jesus. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, our faith would be in vain (1 Cor 15:19).
  2. His impact on human history. How could a working-class average joe from a tiny village in the first century become so famous that at this very point in human history, it’s estimated that 2.1 billion people worship Him? Even more so, other faiths and cults such as Islam and Mormonism believe in Jesus as well. The fact is that there is far too much overwhelming evidence for His existence. He has forever changed human history. You can’t ignore Him; You have to do something with Jesus.
  3. Who He is: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. C. S. Lewis correctly pointed out the trilema when it comes to approaching Jesus: Jesus could only be an incredible liar, an incredible lunatic, or an incredible Lord; there’s no other option. His teachings and claims to be God incarnate and the Savior of humanity give us no other options.
  4. The reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. This one sold me. There are vastly more early New Testament manuscripts (with limited insignificant errors) than any other piece of writing we have in human history. Check it out.
  5. The numerous Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. This one blew me away. The book of Isaiah was written at least 600 years before Jesus was born and is filled with countless prophecies of who Jesus is, what He would, how He would do them, etc. Just read Isaiah 53 and see how intricate the prophecies were. Here are ten major prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus.
  6. The utter meaninglessness and hopelessness of life apart from Him. Let’s face it: life sucks. Terrorism and wars, genocide and discrimination, sexual abuse and slavery, divorce and suicide. The list goes on. Without Jesus, what’s the point of living? Why go through this life of constant pain, struggle, and suffering if there is no reason or hope that things will get better? Jesus came to redeem, renew, restore, and recreate. Without Jesus, my life (and yours, too) would be meaningless.
  7. The cosmological argument. Explaining this philosophical argument would take an entirely different post. If you’d like to learn more about this, check out William Lane Craig’s defense of this argument on his blog.

If you are interested in researching the validity of Jesus, the bible, and the Christian faith, check out some of these resources:

1 – Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

2 – C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

3 – James W. Sire’s Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All?

Ten Reasons Not to Watch Porn

Porn is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, bringing in nearly $13 billion annually in the U. S. alone. It’s also one of the most heavily searched terms on the internet. This obsession with porn isn’t just coming from outside the church walls.

It’s estimated that nearly 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to porn. These numbers do not include those who are currently casual users (evidence shows that it’s only a manner of time before they move into the “addicted” category unless they seek help). 

Here are ten reasons why you should not watch porn:

  1. It abuses and objectifies women. Men and women were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). This means that we are called to reflect and bear His image and character in this world. Humans are not mere animals but souls with a physical body that have dignity, value, and purpose. When you watch porn, it inadvertently causes you to see the person (often women) not as human being but as a sexual object. She becomes no different than a  sex toy in your eyes.
  2. It’s fake. If you’re married and/or have had sex before, this is obvious. Porn portrays scenarios in which women are always available, always willing to do anything and everything, and always excited to be with you.
  3. It alters your standard of beauty. You begin to view your spouse or potential spouse in an unfair manner, comparing them to who you’ve viewed in porn.
  4. It alters your standard of sex. By viewing porn, your standards for and expectations of sex are elevated to an unrealistic level. Instead of sex being a fun, joyful, and adventurous time with your spouse, it often is a let-down.
  5. It causes sex in marriage to become less-desireable and less-satisfying. Once you get married and begin having sex with your spouse, this becomes evident. Over time, you get bored with being with your same spouse. This is due to the fact that every night, you can have virtual sex with a different sexual partner. This mirage of newness causes you to find porn to be more exciting and satisfying for you than sex with your spouse.
  6. You lose control. Porn becomes your drug. You become so addicted to the sensation or high that you begin being controlled by your sexual desires. 
  7. It rewires your brain. William Struthers writes in his renown book Wired for Intimacy, “As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on [pornographic images], the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with woman are routed…They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image.”
  8. It turns sex into masterbation. Sex becomes about you instead of your partner, lust instead of love. Tim Keller compares the two, “Lust asks, ‘What can you do for me?’ Love asks, ‘What can I do for you?'”
  9. It separates you and your spouse. 56% of divorce cases involve at least one partner that is heavily into porn. 
  10. You’re never satisfied. Just like any drug, you always want more. You constantly seek out that first high but can never completely grasp it. And once you think you have it, the high is over and done with and it’s back to square one for you. Eventually, porn addicts lose control of their sexual desires and dig deeper into porn (abusive, child, etc) and sexual activity.
If you are struggling with pornography addiction, check out these resources:
-William M. Struthers' Wired for Intimacy
-Tim Chester's Closing the Window: Steps to Living a Porn-Free Life 
-Tim Challies' Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn
-Craig Gross' Eyes of Integrity: Living Free of Sexual Temptation
-xxxchurch.com
-Covenant Eyes
If you would like prayer in regards to this issue, please feel free to email 
me at tylerasaldana@gmail.com

Four Reasons Christians Should Listen to Secular Music

More and more, I’m meeting Christians that know less and less about secular music. Whether it’s because it’s “the devil’s music” or because they simply don’t enjoy it, secular music is practically a foreign language to far too many Christians, in my opinion. Here are four reasons why Christians should listen to secular music:

  1. It expresses the values of the current culture you live in. For the Christian, music is one means of worshipping God. For the non-Christian, music is no different. Hip-Hop, Rock ‘n Roll, Country and Rap artists alike often sing about what they love (or worship). Streaming on Pandora are countless artists expressing their joy in and longings for love, sex, meaning, fame and fortune. Music has also often been used as a means of expressing protest and outrage in regards to a timely issue. Albums like Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ and Green Day’s American Idiot are two notable records among many others that were filled with far more than catchy tunes; both albums voiced their generation’s dissatisfaction and desire for change amongst their government. By listening to secular music, we are able to gain an understanding of what our current culture worships and longs for.
  2. It shapes the values of the current culture you live in. Personally, corporate worship is a time for me to reflect on and respond to the Truth of Who God is, what He has done, what He is currently doing, and what He will do. Through the powerful means of beautiful, catchy music and rich, heart-felt lyrics, my thinking becomes transformed into the mind of Christ and begins overflowing in heart-engaging worship. For the non-Christian, music can have a similar power. Music not only expresses the values of culture but also has the power to shape culture. Just like meditating and reflecting on God’s Word transforms a Christian’s thinking, so can secular music for the non-Christian. 
  3. It’s a means to relate to non-Christians. Many Christians I know don’t want to listen to pop music because it’s pointless, dirty, cheap, etc. I’m not saying buy every record that a non-Christian artist releases and play them on repeat. I am, however, saying we should see the songs of our culture not as simply pop music but as songs of worship. By listening to the songs and reading the lyrics of our culture’s songs, we begin understanding the values of the current culture we live in. This then will allow us to better be able to engage the thinking of those around us with the gospel. Jesus and Paul both engaged the culture of their day; so should we.
  4. Music is just shy of being a universal language. There are nearly 7,000 languages being spoken at this point in human history. Though language differences place barriers between numerous cultures and people-groups, music is one means that unites countless. Since music has such a powerful means of transcending and influencing culture, we must not ignore it; we must engage it with the gospel.

For similar content in regards to Christians living in and engaging with a non-Christian culture, check out the recent post Jesus at the Movies.

Dear Erin: An Open Letter to My Wife

Dear Erin,

Since today is our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, I thought I’d write and share with you forty things that I love about you. Why forty and not fourteen? Because fourteen is definitely not enough (neither is forty)! With that being said, here are forty things that I love about you in no particular order:

  1. I love your cute little smile.
  2. I love that you always place others first.
  3. I love the way that you look at me.
  4. I love that you love Jesus more than anyone…including me.
  5. I love your humility.
  6. I love that even if you are dead tired, you stay next to me on the sofa until I’m ready to go to bed because you enjoy sleeping next to me.
  7. I love that you love people.
  8. I love that you put up with my awkward and corky expressions and impressions.
  9. I love that you love and are committed to God’s church.
  10. I love to dance with you.
  11. I love that you’re my best friend.
  12. I love your willingness to grow and learn.
  13. I love how you emphasize the word “beans” when you say, “green beans.” It makes me feel better about how I emphasize the word “browns” when I say, “hash browns.”
  14. I love that you always strive to show me love.
  15. I love to pray with you.
  16. I love that you serve with me in ministry, both in vocation and in life.
  17. I love that you’re a dog person.
  18. I love the way your heart mourns and breaks for those who are hurting and broken.
  19. I love how you can totally pull off red lipstick.
  20. I love your willingness to submit to my leadership in love.
  21. I love that when we walk side-by-side, you always link your arm in mine.
  22. I love your boldness to tell me when you think I’m wrong or in sin.
  23. I love how you talk, make funny noises, and slightly kick a little in your sleep; it makes me think that your dreams are exciting.
  24. I love that you love to read your bible.
  25. I love how you laugh at my jokes.
  26. I love that you pursue holiness, not because you want to earn God’s love or be better than other people but simply because you love God.
  27. I love that even if I have only one sip of alcohol, you still insist on driving “just in case.”
  28. I love that you have a heart for those who don’t know Jesus.
  29. I love that even though you overhear me singing “Ke$ha, T Swift, and others in the shower, you still love me.
  30. I love how you know when I’m tired spiritually, emotionally, and mentally and allow me to seek rest on my own.
  31. I love that you watched The O. C. with me.
  32. I love that you don’t need me.
  33. I love how excited you get to see me.
  34. I love how you think that you look funny or weird or dorky in numerous outfits; you always look so beautiful.
  35. I love that you help me grow in my gifting and ministry skills.
  36. I love when you take a sip of my Coke.
  37. I love that you chose to marry me despite knowing some of my deepest flaws.
  38. I love that you choose to stay committed to me despite understanding and experiencing some of my deepest flaws.
  39. I love that you walked with me into the unknown, leaving the only lives we knew behind us in SoCal and began writing our own love story in NorCal.
  40. I love that no matter what, I know you will love and stay committed to our marriage and family, not because either of us are amazing or worth it but because God is beyond amazing and is beyond worth it.

Happy Valentines Day, my beautiful and sweet wife! May God bless us with many more together!

Love,

Tyler Saldaña

Stereotypical Christianity

Why do we act this way? We all do it in some way or another. From time-to-time, each of us lives into the typical Christian stereotype that the world so easily mocks and outcasts. Why? Because unfortunately, the stereotypical Christian is easy to make fun of. However, this “stereotypical Christian” is not who Jesus calls us to be and is nothing like Jesus, Himself.

Here are a list of many characteristics and habits of the stereotypical Christian that I would ask each of us to stop doing:

  • Please stop wearing a mask. When someone asks how you’re doing, it’s not mandatory for Christians to be completely joyful every single second of every single day. Sometimes, life is difficult and we need to own that. Our lives won’t be perfect nor are they supposed to be. People won’t be impressed by Jesus because of our “picture-perfect” lives; how we respond when life sucks is what impresses a non-believing world.
  • Please stop being so anti-everything. Sometimes, the church is so vocal about what they’re against (abortion, homosexual marriage, secular music, rated R movies unless they’re about Jesus, premarital sex, drugs, etc.) than Who we’re for, namely Jesus, gets lost in the mix. 
  • Please stop acting like you’re better than everyone else. By professing to be a Christian, you are claiming to be the worst person you know. Your heart was so evil and violently set against God that He had to die on your behalf and pay your debt of sin to God.
  • Please stop being afraid of culture. Jesus and Paul engaged culture; you should, too. Quit focusing so much on being not of this world that you remove yourself from the world entirely. 
  • Please stop being against change. Change can be a good thing. God changes our hearts from evil to good in Christ by the power of His Spirit. We, too, are to change as culture changes. Our worship sound will change but Who we worship won’t. How we read our bible (iPad, iPhone, etc) will change but Who our bible is about won’t. The clothes we wear, the seats we sit in, the way our church looks, and so much more will constantly change and evolve with culture; our God and His gospel will not.
  • Please stop removing yourself from non-Christian society. If you are a Christian, you are to be a representative of Jesus to the unbelieving world. How can you represent Jesus to the unbelieving world if you’ve withdrawn yourself so far from them? Imagine if Jesus lived amongst us the way you live amongst non-Christians. Would He be involved in our day-to-day life or would he just be a fellow taxpayer and nothing more? This world needs Jesus. Do your part and bring Him into your community. Don’t simply stand on a soapbox in downtown and proclaim Jesus in word, but also proclaim Him daily in the way you live your life amongst non-Christians.
  • Please stop saying you’ll pray for people unless you actually will. “I’ll pray for you.” How many of us have made such claims only to forget about that claim moments later?
  • Please stop making low-quality entertainment. It saddens me that when someone describes a movie or band as “Christian,” immediately people’s expectations diminish. I appreciate so many artists and bands such as Citizens, Dustin Kensrue, Propaganda, Ascend the Hill, King’s Kaleidoscope, Ghost Ship, Rend Collective, Jon Foreman, Lecrae, Gungor, and more who put out records that are rich in lyrics and unique in sound. 
  • Please stop making and wearing these shirts. Enough said.
  • Please stop obsessing over minors. Creation v. evolution, young earth v. old earth, the various end times views. Each of these discussions and many more often turn from delightful discussions to dividing debates. Why do we need to fight about such minor doctrinal disputes that have no bearing on the salvation of humanity? Instead, let us set aside our differences and unite in service to our one God and King, as one church, serving one mission that’s building one kingdom in this world.

Jesus at the Movies

What if Jesus went to the movies? Would He be an extra butter type of guy? Skittles or Starburst? Reese’s Pieces or Peanut M&M’s? Coke or an Icee?

More importantly, how would He view movies? 

Among Christians, the verdict varies extensively. To some, Jesus would have had a difficult time watching rated G movies because of the subliminal messages. To others, Jesus would watch anything that isn’t rated R unless it’s about Himself, of course. In other circles, we find Christians that are against an inch of skin being shown but still enjoy watching people get shot and blown up; I’ve never quite understood that crowd.

For the most part, the church seems to distance themselves from much of pop culture due to fear of “getting dirty” or being influenced by sin.

Imagine if Jesus would’ve walked into the 1st century speaking American English, wearing 501’s and a Ramones t-shirt, rocking Chuck Taylor’s and hipster glasses while listening  to Mumford and Sons on His white iPhone 5s through His earbuds; wouldn’t He be just a little out of place?

Jesus and Paul Engaged Culture

In the opening chapter of John’s gospel, we see that in order for Jesus to reach out to sinners, He became like them in both nature and appearance (John 1:14). We also see in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus was quite familiar with the culture of His day. He used the popular sayings [i. e. “you have heard it said”] and language as a means to evangelize (Matthew 5:21, 27, 38, 43). This is why when Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:14-18, He said that His people are in the world though not of it.

Similar to Jesus, Paul also was extremely familiar with the culture of His day and used it as a means to identify with the people. Luke describes for us in Acts 17:22-34 a time in which Paul addresses a group in Athens. In his message to the people, Paul 1) quotes the rockstar of their day, 2) shows how through idolizing this rockstar, they’re life is void and meaningless, and 3) how Jesus fills this very void. Just like Jesus, in order for Paul to reach the people, he became like the people.

So this begs the question: how would Jesus view and use the movies of our day to reach the people of our day?

Engaging Movies with Jesus

Paul encouraged the Christians in Collasae to do everything in their daily lives for God (Col 3:17). We, too, are to do as such; this includes watching movies. When seeking to watch a movie through the lens of Jesus, there are two questions to ask:

  1. How and where is Jesus in this?
  2. If He isn’t, how and where is Jesus missing?

By asking these two questions while watching a movie (or watching tv, listening to music, reading a book, etc), we are able to identify how the movie is either a portrait of a redemption with shadows of Jesus or a storyline void of any lasting joy, hope, and meaning. Here are two examples:

Harry Potter and Jesus

Though in the past, the book and film series has received much criticism from the church due to the story’s witchcraft and wizardry, J. K. Rowling’s series is  actually a shadow of God’s story of redemption. Harry is portrayed as a Christ-like archetype who takes on the Satan-like archetype Voldemort. In the end, Harry conquers his enemy (Voldemort) and his army of darkness by dying and resurrecting from the dead. Aside from these few key and striking similarities between Harry Potter and God’s story of redemption, there are many more throughout the series that identify the books and movies with the bible.

Regardless of the witchcraft and wizardry, we as Christians must not neglect to use one of the biggest and most famous book and movie series of all time for the sake of the gospel. There’s a reason why so many people hold these books and movies near and dear to their heart; the hero of the story is a shadow of Jesus, the maker and satisfier of their heart.

Gatsby Missing Jesus

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, which was recently adapted as a film, is a key portrayal of life’s meaninglessness and hopelessness apart from true and lasting love. Gatsby is a man with a culturally-deemed picture-perfect lifestyle, owning anything and everything he wants and yet is still missing something (or someone). He seeks joy, companionship, comfort and love in the long, lost love of his life, Daisy. In the end, Gatsby never does find fulfillment through his relationship with Daisy and unfortunately loses her and his life to the cause.

Many people resonate with The Great Gatsby because, like Gatsby, their lives are left hopeless and void of meaning a part from true and lasting love. Similar to him, people seek fulfillment in things and people other than Jesus only to be left dry, empty, and depressed; Jesus is the only person that can truly satisfy one’s soul.

Concluding Thoughts

Don’t just watch movies; view them through the lens of Jesus, engaging both His heart and mind to connect with not only the people who made the films but also the people who find glimpses of joy and hope in watching them.