Saturday, April 12, 2014

It's Through Relationship: Teaching Grace

It's through retrospect that I see in a clearer picture of the man I am today. I have many faults and many fears but nothing can separate me from grace. The grace that I have been taught since a young age. It was taught in church and at home through games, lessons, stories, dramas and song. But none of these teaching methods can compare to one thing--relationship.

The most appropriate way to learn about grace, especially God's grace, is through the experience of having a relationship with the one teaching. How did Jesus teach His disciples about the Kingdom of God? Through relationship. He said, "Follow me" and the rest is history. He simply lived out His destined life and died His necessary death all while His disciples watched. They learned through experience, through heartache, through joy, through wonder, through uncertainty, through miracles, through confusion, through doubt (come on, Thomas!) and through trust. It was through a relationship with Jesus that these men went on to change the face of the planet!

Think about this, maybe we're not making a huge difference around us because we aren't taking our relationship with Jesus seriously. Or maybe some of us don't even have a relationship with Jesus to begin with and we are just fooling ourselves! If we are to be Jesus' disciples then we ought to start acting like it. If we are going to be believers then maybe we should be more believable from the outside looking in.

The truth is, people are watching you. What are you teaching them through your words and actions? Is it worth learning? Is it worth following? Is it worth where you are leading them? To whom are you leading them?

If you are a follower of Jesus then these are CRUCIAL questions to answer for yourself. Because if the answer isn't rooted in the message of grace through the completed work of Jesus then your life is meaningless and you would be better off chasing the wind. (Read Ecclesiastes, it's depressing.)

The point is, it's through retrospect that you see in a clearer picture of the person you are today. You will find yourself as a person with many faults and many fears. But if you are a follower of Jesus then nothing can separate you from the grace of the Father! And that FACT should drive you crazy if you never share it with others. Crazy! If not, maybe you haven't experienced the reality of His grace.

If you have not experienced God's grace, I pray you do! If you have, I pray you share it THROUGH relationship with the ones who haven't. May God continue to develop you in your faith and that you are open to leaving complacency.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


"Your legacy is going to be most important to the people you're with right now. Invest in the people closest to you."  ~ Reggie Joiner, author of Think Orange.

Many of us, I feel safe to say, probably don't think a lot about the legacy that we will leave behind. I mean, come on, as each day unfolds we are way more consumed with the demands that we have to meet before the clock strikes 5pm... or whenever we're done for the work day. The point is life can be busy.

But it doesn't have to be busy all the time. It's important to make time for what matters most--other people!

Whenever I would think about the term legacy I would automatically think about it as being family. But here is what I've grown to understand...your legacy can go far beyond blood relation. The legacy you leave behind can be anyone within your sphere of influence.

Make every moment in your life count! You never know who you will inspire or whose life you will change. Always remember that, as Christians, we were redeemed so that we may live our lives sacrificially so that others may come to know our Savior, Jesus. And no other legacy can be greater than the legacy within the Kingdom of God.

Know Christ and Make Him Known!

In Christ,
~Justin Hall
Families Pastor 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Punishment Signs: Why I Think They're Harmful

I read an article online talking about how parents are beginning to use signs or t-shirts that has written on them things that their child has done wrong. It’s a form of punishment that has taken off with some of today’s parents. At first, I laughed a little bit when I saw a boy holding a sign that said, “I was sent to school to get an education NOT to be a bully…I was not raised this way!!!” I laughed because I was bullied as a kid and thought that the sign was clever but after seeing more and more incidents of this type of punishment I have begun to see how it can cause more harm than good. The following is my convictions that I simply want to share. Please read and see my points. I hope it influences you for the better.

If we are to model ourselves after Christ and to show God’s love and grace then we must do so with our own kids. The way they view their relationship with you, their parent, will be the way they will potentially view their relationship with God the Father in the future. We don’t want to skew their perception of what a loving parent should be.

Before I go any further I want to make it known that I am not a father yet. So, with that said, I will be speaking from my past experiences and what I have learned throughout my academic studies of family and child development—along with biblical perspectives on the matter, of course.

Does God make us hold or wear signs that tell the world about our sins?
Does He embarrass us into becoming obedient?
Does He turn our punishment into a joke?

The answer for all three of these questions is NO….especially the last one. Our punishment was no joke. God sent His son Jesus to take on our punishment. The fact that God took our punishment as His own speaks strongly as to how you should approach punishing your kids! It literally hurt God more than it hurt us.

Of course, you’re not God and the consequence of your kid’s actions is not death but if you are to parent your child the way God wants you to then you are to experience more pain and discomfort than your kid. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that your kids shouldn’t feel the weight of their bad decisions. What I am saying is that you are to love them and show them that their decisions and behavior has consequences. You are not to enjoy the punishment. It is not for amusement, it is for teaching what is right. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (NLT)” The way you discipline your child matters. If what you command of your child is unreasonable and severe then they will become irritated and possibly miss the whole point of what is trying to be taught. Is that really how it’s supposed to be? On top of that timing is everything!

I believe that the rod does its work only when a child is a child. If not used until teen years, it’s too late. Many people these days don’t value the method of disciplining their child through the use of corporal punishment—which is a shame! Although I see their point in that there has been a long history of abuse from parents who do respond out of anger instead of a calm and collected mind. I get that! Absolutely! But it is better for the welfare of a child to receive the appropriate measures. While there are some kids who require corporal punishment in order to learn, there are children who require other means of discipline such as showing disapproval towards their actions. My wife, as a little girl, would cry her eyes out simply because her parents would show disapproval towards her bad behavior. She valued how her parents viewed her and that was sufficient enough for her as a means of discipline. However, for other children who can care less of what other people think about them, the rod keeps them from spoiling. (Side note: depriving children of toys only does so much, and ignoring behavior in hopes of not feeding them your attention is what has gotten this nation of kids in the state that they are! Seriously.)
Garden Example:
Now, tomatoes are a very delicate thing, much like children, and if the garden isn’t kept up and no attention is shown then the odds of the tomatoes growing into rip, healthy tomatoes is lowered tremendously. And if a tomato spoils during the growth process and it rots then there is no going back for that tomato. It is what it is. It’s no good.

Just like with the garden, if the child is not shown attention and/or dealt with when they disobey or do something wrong/harmful then they will not learn what is acceptable or appropriate—therefore their being spoiled. And that only contributes to more ignorant and “uncalled for” issues in their future.

Now, teenagers are not to be treated like tomatoes. We can’t throw them out simply because they were spoiled in their childhood. That would be heartless and inhumane. Plus, teenagers face enough abandonment issues as it is. But what needs to be done is NOT found in the method of using signs that point out their shortcomings. The spoiled teens will only be pushed further away from their parents/adult influences. Even the non-spoiled teens will be like…”really?” As mentioned in my previous blog-post teenagers are not capable of always making the wisest decisions (immature prefrontal lobe). But you, the parent, should be wise in how you respond and discipline.

Teenagers want and need parents/adults in their lives to teach them important lessons. And the best way for us to do this is through relationships because that is how teenagers learn the best. It’s not through corporal punishment so much. I remember when I was a teenager and I received a whipping a few times. Guess what I learned about what I did wrong? Not too much. I mainly felt angry…regardless to the fact that my parents didn't respond with anger. If a few other teens that have experienced this were to add a few words here they would probably say something along the same lines. But the number one thing that I had to have in order to keep me accountable to being obedient to my parents was TRUST. I trusted that my parents knew what was best for me because they responded appropriately and with love. Never once did my parents turn a discipline moment into a joke. Doing so kept their credibility as wise parents to me.

If teens don’t trust or like an adult then they’re not going to want to develop a meaningful relationship with them or heed to what they have to say. If parents don’t have their teen’s trust then making them hold signs telling the world about how much of a screw up they are is NOT going to help. It only creates a bigger rift between the teen and parent. I’m not saying that parents are supposed to be their teen’s best friend—I’m saying that they should be approachable and humble when teaching what’s right and what’s wrong.

As said in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, “You can teach a child all you know but one day…they are who they are.” And there will be a point in time where you’ll have to accept that and TRUST that God will always keep His hand on their life. Parents can only do so much to teach but it’s up to the child to learn. I promote healthy, meaningful relationship over the stupid sign method.

God doesn't make us wear a sign of all our bad decisions or sins.
He doesn't embarrass us into obedience.
He didn't turn our punishment into a joke.
It hurt Him more than it hurt us to see His son on the Cross. Remember that.
Be wise. Be calm.
Be loving.
Your kids perception of God will be influenced by how you treat them.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Coping Skills: How Teens Think

If there is one thing that I can point out about some of today's teenagers is their lack of coping skills. When difficult situations occur, which can be frequent and sometimes back-to-back, they can become so overwhelmed that they either close themselves off to other people (stonewall) or they just completely quit all together (fall into depression/suicide). Which, in today's performance-driven world, the fear of failing and the fear of looking "incapable" is a huge concern. Heck, I'm concerned with those things and I'm 25 years old. So it should come as no surprise when teens freak out when they don't know how to handle the pressure of difficult situations. 

The complex part out of all of this is that teenagers, just like adults, have to live within several overlapping contexts. Contexts are simply the different arenas in which we live out our lives. (Examples: Family Home/Step Homes, School, Neighborhood, Church, Extracurricular Activities, etc) If two or more of these contexts were to present hardships during the same time frame then that could cause an overload. And for the brain of a teenager where their prefrontal lobe is no where near finished developing and connecting to the rest of their brain it can lead them to drastic, unwise decisions. Why? Because the prefrontal lobe is in charge of decision making. It's not until their mid-twenties before they can fully answer the questions, "Is this a good idea? What would be the consequences of my decision?"

Knowing this information should help guide us in how we counsel and talk to teenagers. Not only should we focus on "what" they are thinking, we should also focus on "how" they are thinking. 

Bad decisions on their behalf will happen. It's inevitable. We need to get that through our heads. Don't blow up at them when they create a mess of things because that will only further their insecurities of how they feel they are being perceived. "Man, my counselor thinks I'm a screw up...can't ever do anything right. Must be true. Why do I even try?" As youth specialist we have to understand that the front part of their brain is running sluggish right now. A bit slow. We should just suck it up and continue to meet them where they're at.

Each teenager is different. They come from many backgrounds and they all have their own story. Some come from healthy homes. Others don't. Some know how to have healthy relationships with others. Others don't. Some know that boundaries are important and necessary. Others don't. Why do you think the "at risk" kids are at risk? Because no one has helped them learn how to process stress and how to make wise decisions.

A big part in knowing how to help a teenager sort through their thoughts and even desires is to know them as an know their story and how they relate to others. Then and only then can we begin to understand which angle to approach them by, in order that we guide them in the appropriate direction. Teenagers should learn how to solve their problems. That's what life is about--growing and learning. Once they grasp that idea they may begin to view their life in a different perspective...a healthier perspective.

Here is a scary reality.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in colleges
For every suicide completion, there are between 50 and 200 attempts.

Here is what I gather from the above trends. Teenagers are not making any positive progress from their adolescents to early adulthood. Stress can be found at any corner of life. We already know that as adults, that is why it's so important that we help teenagers learn how to cope before it's too late.

My prayer for you is that you realize how crucial it is to mentor a teenager. As an interim youth pastor, I see on a daily basis how important it is for teens to know that they are valuable and capable of living a fulfilling life. And to be honest I believe that a life fully surrendered to Christ is the best option for them. A life that is full and completely worth living!! (John 10:10)

Only the power of God can completely change the course of history in a teenager's life. And I hope that I see that happen to many teens.

So go and make a difference in a teen's life. If you're willing and ready to lead by example in every area of your life then do it!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Live from New York!

I always enjoyed watching Saturday Night Live. 
Over time I found myself impersonating various characters such as; 
Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar performed by Mike Myers & Dana Carvey 
Mr. Peepers performed by Chris Kattan 
Church Lady performed by Dana Carvey 
Harry Caray performed by Will Ferrell
The Bee Gees performed by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake 

and the amazing host Christopher Walken  

The list can go on and on with all the characters that have caught my eye over the years. I owe a lot of my kookiness to SNL mainly because I quote it so much. If I could run off and audition to become a cast member for Saturday Night Live I would. I love the show and have always wondered if I have what it takes to be a "Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Player". Of course, they haven't used that term since like the 70's but hey! It's Saturday night!!!

Why don't I just go and audition? Well, the tricky part to this desire is that it would potentially place me in a position to do or say something that doesn't line up with my convictions. I have my beliefs to consider. One of the main reasons why I got out of theater in the first place is because when you're in a production you are at the mercy of the script and how the director wants to present it. You have to be a willing to do anything regardless of what you believe is right, wrong, or some where in between.

It's crazy how much our beliefs drive what we do. Sure, we can want many things that don't necessarily line up with what we hold to be true but when it comes to actually doing it--that is where we draw the line. If we stay on our side then we're living in harmony with our beliefs. If we cross the line then we're throwing ourselves out of sync with what we hold to be bigger than ourselves. 

The question of what is truth has hounded humanity for....well, all of time. What is truth? Do we create it? Or does someone else? The answer to that question lies in what you hold to be true. 

Do you believe in God? Does He call the shots? Or.... 

Do you believe in many gods or spirits? Do they call the shots?

---Whoa Justin, where are you taking me with this? I thought this was about how much you love Saturday Night Live and how you always wanted to be a cast member.

I understand but bare with me and I'll guide you through your thoughts to something pretty big. Consider the previous questions as mental stretches to prepare you for what is to follow.

It's important to know what you believe.

I know what I believe but do you?

If you don't know then here is a tip and I'll try to be as impartial as I can.

Before you try to figure out what you want to believe you need to understand these three fundamental principles to finding truth.
  1. When beliefs are being formed they need to be molded by truth. No one intentionally goes looking for something false to believe in—that would be absurd and insane. (Way? way. --Wayne Campbell)
  2. When searching for truth it has to be something that is absolute. It can't involve multiple truths because at that point one is blatantly admitting that absolute truth does not exist and that their viewpoint is the best that "they" could come up with. If there were multiple truths then there would be nothing absolute.(Come on, it's not rocket science, doctor! --Harry Caray)
  3. When you find the truth you might not like it. Why? Well, since it would be the absolute truth more than likely you would have been exposed to it before and all you remember is a bad experience--that would explain why you haven't yet fully believed in it until now. But, since you have sought out truth and have found it you have to understand that truth has to mold you--not the other way around. It may very well conflict with everything that you have lived by up until this point. But how will you respond? Will you allow preconceived notions and experiences hinder you from pursuing truth? (Well isn't that special? --Church Lady)

Here is a fact:

Absolute truth has to be something eternal, something that has always been. We, this current living generation, haven't always been in existence because we weren't even alive over 100 years ago. So, how can we make up something new that just so happens to be absolute? My guess would be that we can’t. I don’t think we’re that powerful.

I'm Justin Hall. Have a good night and a pleasant tomorrow!

Monday, May 21, 2012

From Fear To Courage: Let's Roll!

It was so hard to fall asleep last night. I couldn't stop thinking about Guatemala. For some reason I could not push the pictures out of my mind. I felt very overwhelmed and insecure about everything. After all that God has provided us and all the hard work that Ashley and I have put into raising our funds for the trip I found myself scared and doubtful.

As stated in prior posts, I am anxious and scared about going. However, last night as I tossed and turned in bed I was more scared than anything. The fact that I will be walking on ground zero of human and sex trafficking puts fear into my soul. It overwhelms my heart. All I know is that when I make eye contact with those kids I will want to bring them home with me... to keep them safe from traffickers and their government.

I also imagined myself witnessing a genocide of street orphans, which is far from being "make-believe". What would I do? How would I react in such a terrible, if terrible was a word worth using to describe such a ......horrific tragedy in our world. For a government to think it's okay to sweep their streets clean of overpopulated orphans and to line them up, shoot them in their heads, and bury them in a mass's appalling. It's heartbreaking how easy it can be to see a perfect example of humanity's sinful nature.

I could get caught up in so many reasons why I shouldn't go but I can't. I won't. I have to go. My heart is calling me to. God is calling me to. I have to go.

In order to help Reveal, I have to see for myself
In order to help Rescue, I have to see where they are.
In order to help Restore, I have to see what has to be done.

I don't know how God will make things happen within the grand scheme of His vision for MAG but I know that He will see us through. As a matter of fact, He will see us all through because He has commanded all the children who call Him "Father" to this very mission--to care for the orphaned and widowed! Guatemala is filled with them. The time to make a change in their situation is now.

Regardless to whether or not you consider yourself a christian, we can all agree that lives are at stake here. We never want to see or hear of women or children being used as slaves or sex slaves--but it is happening. The culture and society in Guatemala City has women and children of the low poverty zones stuck in a viscous cycle where selling themselves for sex is the only means of them getting paid and making a "living". That isn't living--that's bondage. The time to start making drastic changes for this demographic is now. They've lived in bondage and worthlessness for too long.

Will it be hard? Extremely.
Will sex trafficking ever really stop? Probably not.

However, as Christ Followers, we are not commanded to simply sit in our pews on Sunday mornings to sing a few songs and listen to sermons that only concern us and our issues to allow that sad realization become an excuse. We are commanded to change the odds for people in the midst of their bondage through the power of Jesus Christ who laid our death in His grave. It's time to share life with the lifeless and to give hope to the hopeless. If you're ready to roll with us then roll with us. Get connected ASAP! We need you.

Click the link below to learn more about us and how YOU can make a difference.

The Magdalene Project

Friday, April 13, 2012

Good Night My Child

This is a poem that I wanted to write for whoever is facing a separation. The effects that divorce has on a family is tremendous. I hope this serves as a way to deter you or someone you know from going through with divorce--unless it's a chronically abusive situation.

Good Night My Child

Good night my love what a day we’ve had.
To say it's good would be an utter lie.
Nothing warned us that we’d fall apart
I thought you’d stay until the day I died.
But now you’ve said what you’ve needed to and now you want to leave with him and leave behind all that our love supplied.

Good night my child what a day you’ve had.
To say its sweet would be a far-fetched truth.
I know you’re sad but please hear me now
Your mother said she’ll always love you.
No, my dear, the fault is ours it was never yours but what is yours is my beating heart, our love will always be.

Good night my love how did it come to this?
I thought our love was made of more than this.
When will your love and faith come back to me?
Please help me understand how this came to be.
So if you ask of me to please forgive I’ll surely do all you ask to keep you here, our baby girl is still awake and she cries for you.

Goodbye my love what a run we’ve had.
I thought I’d never see your love not mine.
What does he have that I’ve never given you?
My vows were more than just clever lines.
But now you’re gone and all the love I have for you is here pushed into the deepest part of where I hardly go.

Good night my child I’ll hold you as you sleep.
I pray your dreams will shelter your sweet mind.
This night I vow to take good care of you and never leave,
Your heart is good;
Oh please believe that I’m here for you.

Good night my child.