Monday, October 31, 2011

Yearly Halloween thoughts (amended)

Someone just asked me today if our church did some sort of Halloween alternative activity. I let him know that we don't have a building, so that makes it harder (though not impossible by any means). But I also let him know that I didn't feel there would have been that much interest anyway-as I perceive it.

As I've noticed over the years, Christians in different areas of the nation have different "taboo's": convictions that have been elevated so high that for many they are just understood. I really can't figure it out, but I'm as intrigued as I'm perplexed about it.

I dropped Connar off to his pre-school today in his fireman costume. Most kids dressed up for this "Harvest Party." They'll get candy. Amy is going in today to do some pumpkin activity. This is a Baptist church. Another fairly, or very legalistic church in the valley where women have to wear dresses, say nothing against Halloween and has no Halloween alternative. It's just not taboo in this area.

But in South Carolina, and in parts of Florida, scores of churches had Halloween alternatives. It was understood that Halloween celebration outside the church was not kosher. Or at least that's the vibe I got.

Yet in FL, alcohol consumption in moderation is not taboo. But in my area, for many churches and Christian schools in the area, it is. Although somehow cigarettes and chewing tobacco for some reason isn't.....Other areas Christians consider cussing as "a" or THE sign that you are an unbeliever, while in some parts, it can be appropriate in private conversation.

Christians should have convictions and not just respond as oysters (filter feeders who suck everything in) to the culture. If there are holidays or just any day, where they our communities say, "Let's get naked and go to bath houses," then stay home and keep the lights on. Early Christians were insulted because they didn't go get naked with their neighbors. They really did get insulted for this.

However, we also shouldn't simply respond to the "taboo" mentality of local or state "church culture."And if you do choose to celebrate, and people think you're wrong, it doesn't matter. You don't have to prove that "you're right" and "they're wrong." I just preached on that yesterday. We often have opinions that we hold on too tightly, and by doing so, let real cultural values contrary to the gospel, quietly seep into the church. I wonder if Satan really does like Halloween as much as some folks say, but for different reasons: division, pride, and self-righteousness on BOTH SIDES of the issue.

I'm much more concerned about playing sports on Sundays, and how quickly people culturally cave to whatever the community event it is when it coincides with worship. 

If you choose to celebrate Halloween, and trick-or-treat with your kids, I'm pretty sure no one is going to come up to you and say, "Hey, you're a pagan like me. Awesome, can we talk Druid stuff, or whatever the perceived origins (I stopped counting how many different "authorities" claimed THEY knew the true origin) and how we both are bringing mother nature, or Satan, or someone other than God glory tonight?" You can read about folks like that here. If they do, consider it a blessing to have the conversation and one that is pretty easy to steer that one toward Jesus.

If you do celebrate Halloween, and you haven't yet-our area is incredibly unique (some neighborhoods have already had their trick-or-treat night)- here are some good ways to "bring Jesus" with you as you go to and fro. 

If you choose not to "celebrate" it, that's fine too. You can still care about your neighbors, serve and bless them on other nights. In my opinion, you miss one opportunity; but it is not the ONLY opportunity.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Inconsistency and Insecurity from Keyshawn and Gruden

As a huge Tampa Bay Buccaneer fan, I'm always listening to what comes out of former Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden. And even more so now that he's currently out of coaching (and no doubt somewhat muzzled because he is still receiving a check from the Bucs), yet involved with ESPN. Gruden took the Bucs to the Super Bowl, but after that, never won a play-off game. In fact the year after the Super Bowl, he actually told former Buccaneer Keyshawn Johnson NOT to come to practice anymore, ever. That was probably 8 years ago, and yet Keyshawn, aka "MEshawn" still talks about Gruden messing with his head.

“When your psyche is messed with, and you don’t want to be around the organization or team, you just want to do whatever you can to get out of there,” Johnson said. “And that   was the situation when I was under Coach Gruden in Tampa.”

Then, as men with egos always do, Gruden fired back.  

“I had a guy on SportsCenter say he couldn’t get along with me the other day on TV,” Gruden said. “So I know how it feels. You’ve got to have some thick skin, and you’ve got to know when things get tough there are going to be some negative things said.”

The commentary from this article is priceless:

 If Gruden’s skin were really thick, wouldn’t he just let it go?

How true is that? Does Jon Gruden really have thick skin? Not nearly as thick as one would, or should think, for a coach. Just another example of how our actions are always a better indicator of what we believe than our words. Whenever we see such inconsistencies with things we say, and then how we live, Christians have a place to run for forgiveness and change: the cross. It's a place for the inconsistent to find the ONLY one who was/is/will be consistent. And it is a place where we can begin to change the belief, which will lead to changed actions and words (Colossians 2:6-7).

And regarding MEshawn Johnson, who actually wrote a book called Just Give Me the Damn Ball (I still can't believe that-but at 22.95, not sure how many he's actually sold), he's a bit more fragile than advertised as well. It's a good reminder that those who seem so outwardly confident, cocky, obnoxious, are probably just as insecure as the rest.

 This is incredibly helpful to realize in ministry and in life. If we can see this insecure person, as opposed to only seeing the Just Give Me The Damn Ball person, we'll find loving them much easier.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A potential Trinitarian example

There is no concept harder to explain to a toddler, a youth, or even an adult than the Trinity. We explained to my three year old Connar the other day that Jesus lives in heaven, but now He doesn't believe that Jesus lives in Florida. That's a fun one.

The ontological, or essential unity and yet distinction within the Trinity is described in by the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 6

WSC Q 6: How many persons are there in the Godhead? There are three persons in the Godhead. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and in glory.

You can actually hear it sung by an accomplished musician here. In fact I just used this music to verify the correct wording now that my bibleworks program doesn't work any longer with my new Apple operating system.

There really isn't an illustration or example that is technically accurate when describing the essential unity and yet distinction in the Trinity. Pretty much all of the examples teachers tend to use (and not deviously mind you) are actually heretical forms of what is called "modalism" or Sabellianism (where God appears at one time Son, another time Spirit, another time Father but not all at once). And so we're kind of limited to holding tight to the scriptures, and to the language passed down to us from church history.

However, I don't think we're necessarily limited on illustrations describing the functional subordination (where each member honors and points to the next person) relationship within the Trinity. What I mean is that the Spirit points to the Son, the Son points to the Father, the Father points to the Son. A little bit of that can be seen in John 16:12-15.

We've been trying to get my one year old son Cade to talk, but he's only got the "da-da" sound down. He can probably say that word because my wife Amy, who obviously spends the most time with him, always pointed him toward "Da-da." She is incredibly important in Cade's life, but she wanted to point him toward someone else equally as important. When I'm with Cade, I try to get him to say "Ma-ma." I also try to get Cade to say Connar's name "Ca-ca" (he did ONCE and that was it.) I don't need to hear him say my name; I desire him to say the names of his mother and brother. I want to honor them. And they want to honor me. Neither of us is essentially more important (though you could obviously argue she gets the nod from me), but we each sense the need to bring honor to the other.

Maybe this helps. Maybe it doesn't. Like any analogy it has limits, but it makes sense to me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review for The Quest For Comfort

When you hear catechism, what words come to your mind? Honestly? Seriously, if I had to do a word association with catechism, I think I'd hear, or maybe say (I confess) words like "rigid," "heady," "for pastors," "for a different kind of Christian." You may have had experiences with those who embrace different catechisms, and think, "Well those aren't my kind of guys or gals." Or you may think that a catechism is something you memorize as a kid, or have as a resource as adult, to make you smarter. Regardless, catechism and comfort don't regularly find their way together in the same sentence. They should.

You will see comfort and catechism collide in William Boekestein's The Quest for Comfort. This is the 2nd book of his I've had the opportunity to read and review: Faithfulness Under Fire was my first.  Through vivid illustrations, and simple language, he uniquely connects the quest for true godly comfort with the devotional riches found in the Heidelberg catechism.

This book is a children's book. It is designed for children, and illustrated for children, but it is just as devotional to parents. As a P.C.A minister, I'm fairly well versed in the history surrounding the Westminster Confession of Faith. However, I found myself woefully ignorant of the events which fortunately forged the Heidelberg Catechism.

Just as the events surrounding the hymn "It Is Well With Soul" make it that much more comforting-that God could provide comfort after such a tragedy-so do these events add to the rich experience of the Heidelberg Catechism.  In fact, not long after finishing The Quest for Comfort,  I "went out" and purchased the Heidelberg Catechism for my kindle.

Boekestein draws the reader into the timeless struggle of trying to understand and apply the scriptures amidst a culture and human heart which naturally rejects it. While the whole story makes for a fun and quick read, there are three reasons why I WANT to read the Heidelberg catechism, and this book again for that matter.

The Need for such a catechism. We hear of a deacon and preacher actually get in a fist fight over doctrinal questions. How crazy is that! Reminds me of Robert Duval's character in The Apostle when Billy Bob Thornton's character tries to stir up trouble and experiences quite a "beat-down." Tension makes for a great story. But more than making for a great story, it reminds us how helpful a tool a catechism can be in understanding and applying the bible today. We have folks who can help us understand and apply it today, even though they lived a long time ago.

Comfort of a catechism. Like the title suggests, Boekestein frames this catechism not just historically, but existentially. While folks at the time had access to the Belgic Confession, Frederick III wanted, "something simpler, more personal, more peaceful. He wanted a book that showed the heart of the gospel to men, women, boys, and girls who needed the comfort that only God can give." The goal was not to exhaustively cover every biblical topic but to provide some objective truth which comforts the heart and set the hands and feet in motion to service. We should seek comfort in the gospel and this is a great place to find and experience it.

Restore adventure to the Christian life. As adults we can sometimes lose that sense of adventure as we live in a place of religious freedom. But what a time to rekindle that passion. We don't need to pretend we live in the same time period, or same "place" (many Christians do now though), or feel guilty we don't. However, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), we should take encouragement that God worked in them, and He'll work in us. One can almost hear them encouraging us, "You guys have opportunities and challenges we didn't face. Look to Jesus and He'll take not only take care of you, but He'll take you on an adventure."

I commend this short book to you. It will do your soul, and the soul of your little one's some good. And if you're at all like me, you'll go out and get your hands on the Heidelberg catechism.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spiritual Constipation and the Gospel

This past week I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with someone who I had hoped would help out with an existing ministry at Redeemer. But first I wanted to hear his story, how God had worked in the past, and what the Lord was doing now. He was connected to one of our C.D. (community/discipleship) groups now, and had been involved in a previous bible study for a few years. So after I had discerned the desire to grow, and to continue to grow in his faith, I laid out an opportunity before him. He gobbled it up like Pacman. 

But how he responded brought me more joy than simply his response. I've been feeding and getting fed for a while now, and I've been ready to serve for a while. I've been getting fed and now its time to feed others. I can't hold this stuff in. It's uncomfortable to continue being fed and not feeding others.

He had been experiencing what I call "spiritual constipation." That is, that he'd been feeding and drinking deeply on the gospel through our bible studies and CD groups and felt spiritually bloated. He was stopped up. I know that's somewhat graphic language, but this is a reality for many. We're not designed to experience the blessings of the gospel only to hold them in. We'll get backed up. We'll be uncomfortable, or at least forfeit some of the joy of following Jesus and fellowshipping with Him. In the end, if we are truly growing in grace, we'll desire to serve and bless others.

In Genesis 12:1-3, we see that Abraham is blessed SO THAT he would be a blessing to others. God has never in the scriptures blessed anyone so that he/she could simply revel in that blessing and keep it for themselves. And we now know that it is through Jesus, that we inherit the blessing promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:29), which is ultimately "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3)." With these blessings, and "every" sounds like a pretty large number to me, YOU do have something to offer. 

If you are the lad or the lass who believes it is important to go to a bible study each day of the week, and yet you are not serving in the local church, I would like to encourage you to consider that this MAY not be God's design for you. He designed you to be a conduit of gospel blessings, not to be a storage container for them to remain stagnant. My hope is that you would begin to feel spiritually bloated and uncomfortable, because it is not God's design for you to be "spiritually" constipated. 

Now of course there are caveats if you simply need a break, or you've been burned out, or if you have to wait to join to serve, or if you can't say no to anyone who asks you to do something. But consider that you serving the church with your gifts, and reaching out to those outside the church is not only to benefit others. It's for you as well. 

I hope that you can find a spiritual comfort that comes with being a conduit for the gospel instead of keeping all the good stuff to yourself. Yes you'll enter into suffering at times, but you won't regret being used by God to bless others with the blessing secured to you by Jesus.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Godly Masculinity in Parenthood

Last night my wife and I watched the most recent Parenthood episode, and as usual, thoroughly enjoyed it. One scene near the end stuck out as particularly powerful, and a great example of how a man can lead his family.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, "Coach" Craig T Nelson is the patriarch and somewhat overbearing grandfather. He has four grown kids, two boys and two girls, who also have children. One of his daughters decides she wants to support her alcoholic ex-husband through rehab. He expresses extreme disapproval. His other daughter and son-in-law express their intentions to adopt a co-worker's baby. And that is also met with such disapproval that the daughter begins to re-think the whole process. Then at the dinner table, it comes out that his oldest daughter has requested money from his younger daughter and son-in-law to pay for her ex-husband's rehab. "Coach" just loses it.

Then the son-in-law, who is normally behind the scenes, steps up to intercede for his wife and sister-in-law. He's not normally "manly" in the sense we tend to think of men. While he's good with his hands, he is not the primary breadwinner. He is better with their daughter, and can regularly be seen packing her lunch and making dinner.

Yet, despite the cultural masculine image he doesn't portray, he nevertheless acts, and leads like a man (Eph 5:25), sacrificing his own comfort, reputation, approval to defend his wife and sister-in-law at the hands of this overbearing patriarch.

He commends his sister-in-law's willingness to be hurt and disappointed (which could happen in rehab with such a perennial loser ex-husband) and is happy to support such a cause. Then he explains that HE and HIS wife will adopt who ever they want, "And you need to be okay with that Zeke."

Out of nowhere. This passive lad decides it is time to lead. It was time to love. Absolutely beautiful. The patriarch cannot make decisions anymore for his daughters. There's a new sheriff in town: the husband.

Everyone seems to have a picture of masculinity they purport to be truly masculine. Miler Lite does this with humorous commercials of men acting like women and being called out. On the other end, some Christian folks have tried to redefine masculinity (as though that were one of Jesus' goals) and end up just creating an image of man based upon themselves, their personalities, and their picture of Jesus (which is never big enough when you hyper-emphasize one part of his character-like godly anger to the neglect of his gentleness and compassion). Jesus is more of a "punch you in the gut" kind of guy, a well respected leader claims.

Yet I just don't know that Jesus would promote such a picture of masculinity. But I can say with confidence, that this scene, depicts a laid back-not in your face kind of guy-acting like a godly man.

I think people get lost in "Am I acting like a man?" and forget about simply following Jesus wherever He puts you. In this case, the husband chose to defend his wife at the risk of being rejected by his father-in-law. And this is hard. Family is a functional god in many areas of the country, particularly my part. We often care about their approval more than Jesus' approval. Still Jesus essentially says, "You need to love me and follow me, even when it goes against your family's or in-law's wishes." (Luke 14:26). And so he does.

Yet this guy follows Jesus not by force, banging his fist, or even raising his voice; he respects his father in law. "You're going to need to be okay with this, Zeke" He doesn't say, "You can kiss my grits." But he draws a line in the sand, defends himself and his wife, and commends his sister-in-law. There is no doubt who is calling the shots-not Grandpa, or P-Pa, or Gramps, etc....

If more men would lead like this, more women would want to follow them. When fear of God replaces fear of man in the home, good things will be happening there. That's the kind of masculine expression I think Jesus cares about. Far more than who makes more money or more dinners.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gay, Proud, and Presbyterian

Last week or so, the Presbyterian denomination P.C.U.S.A., ordained the first openly gay minister. You can watch the interview here. Its pretty sad, because I have family members, in-laws, and friends in PCUSA churches as members and ministers. Those churches don't feel this same way, but perhaps the day is coming when they must recognize that they can't have real fellowship with those in their own denomination. Crazy.

If the bible is "silent" on homosexuality, on what issues is it "loud?" Or if there are different ways of interpreting the bible (called a "hermenuetic"), which allow us to pick and choose what we follow, then I'd keep the homosexual part in play but throw out the whole love your enemies part. That's one I don't like all that much. It's hard. But I don't get a vote, and I'm glad.

Anyhow, here are a few takes from this video

1.) What is Liberalism? A friend of mine, when being accused of being a "liberal," was asked, "What is the difference between you and liberal mainline Christianity?" He answered, "I stand UNDER God's Word as the final authority." A typical liberal mainline minister will stand OVER God's Word to critique it.

2.) At what point is a church no longer a church? The Reformers gave three marks of a church: Preaching of Word, Administration of Sacraments, and Church Discipline. When the word is preached in such a way that is not the final authority, then it would be tough to argue that is being preached at all. How many liberal churches are truly churches? I don't know, but something to consider.

Of course in my denomination, we have to ask that question as well. Just because a group of people have a building, that says, "Church" on it, is that gathering legitimately a church? Is it a church when there are 6 people, 20 people? Is there a cut-off? Should we consider it a bible study that meets Sunday mornings? So we have that question as well, but it becomes more difficult when theological fidelity is present, and perhaps the Holy Spirit absent. Again I don't have answers, but just want to point out that theological orthodoxy does not in and of itself make or maintain a church.

3.) Language games. It is not hard to say the correct theological terms and mean something completely different. A plethora of German scholars in the late 1700's-1800's had one foot in a "conservative camp" with their words, but in their meanings, they paved the way for a severe lingering suspicion of the scriptures. They would say things like, "Jesus is my Savior," but mean that Jesus was important to them. You can also say things like "God's Word is my authority, but I just don't think the bible speaks against homosexuality." Again, a language game.

4.) What's the difference? When a church is so identifiable with the cultural stance or perhaps even a political one, can it then turn around and say anything true about the gospel or people's need for it? How is it different than a social club worshiping a deity that it finds palatable? I'm actually kind of curious to visit such a church, but on the four Sundays I have off each year, I'd rather hear God's Word preached faithfully.

5.) Many Christians literally struggle with same sex attraction. While some folks have pronounced victory in this fight, there are other Christians who affirm homosexual sex is contrary to God's will, and as a result fight each day to live faithful to the Lord who has bought them with the price of His blood. This book, Washed and Waiting, is one of the best books I've read this year. In it you'll hear of a normal dude struggling in this area, yet trusting in Christ to forgive and empower him. I felt for this brother in Christ. How must he feel when other "Christians" choose to ignore God's commands and good design and profess to be saved by and follow the same Savior? And then celebrate their "victory."

The evangelical church probably still has a ways to go. To condemn and affirm sin is one thing, but to not welcome, not affirm the dignity, to provide blanket assumptions for why folks are gay, and to not befriend and get to know other fellow sinners (but ones yet to experience grace) misses Jesus as well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Corn Maze, Youth and Adults, and Now and Later

This past Sunday afternoon, Redeemer, went to the Corn Maze at Cooper Farms in beautiful historic Milton, WV. We combined both Sr. High and Jr. High youth groups and allowed families to bring their children. As a result we had over 40 human beings who came together to fellowship and find their way out of the maze. For the 2nd year in a row, my group was last. Whoever said, "Teach the children, and let them lead the way...(I know it was Whitney Houston)" definitely didn't have the Corn Maze in mind. After we finally made it out, someone snapped this picture, which shows most of the folks involved. Again, because we were so late, some folks had already headed home or to Pizza Hut to save seats.

It was one of those days, outside of us getting so lost (although that was what the young girls in our group actually wanted!), where things just seemed to click. The weather was gorgeous, conditions were "brochure" and we had all portions of our congregation represented.

The latter encouraged me just as much as the warm day and cool breeze. 

It is vital that youth do not ONLY separate and do their thing AWAY from everyone else. While they do need to develop and deepen their faith in community of folks their age-they spend most of their days with people at school their own age-they can't ONLY spend time with people their age. Age specific youth groups and Sunday School, or Christian Ed (that sounds so much cooler, doesn't it?) correctly supplement the gospel which is to be fleshed out and talked about at home. But youth need more than regular youth group and parents. They need community. They need to be immersed in a community of brothers and sisters, as well as fathers and mothers in the faith.

One of the reasons why MANY youth leave the church when they are older is that they have NO relationships with adults. According to Essential Church by Thom and Sam Rainer, one common denominator with young adults who never left the church was multiple adult relationships. A YoungLife friend of mine echoed the same sentiments. They need godly adults in their lives. The more the merrier. Not just a youth leader or two (those are important-they really are), but a number of adults.

I believe youth need to have THEIR time. But if we only give them THEIR time, and take them away from the rest of US who are no longer youth, then we will ultimately be doing them a disservice.

Simply isolating them from the rest of the church may help them "beat the streets" for a season. But will they return if there is no connection outside of youth group? I don't think we need a study to see that. They'll find new friends who don't go to church. They'll find entertainment somewhere else. If they go to church as a college student, and are simply looking for a youth group type experience, they won't find it.

Some college basketball coaches experience a zero% graduation rate. I won't name names. It's not that big of a deal for them, as they figure at least it keeps them off the streets. I'm OK with that. But when it comes to the church, our goal in discipleship is someone maturing in Christ (Col 1:28-29). It's not simply to keep them off drugs for a while. Our goal is bigger because our Savior is bigger and offers bigger things for us. Our goal in youth ministry is that they walk with Jesus NOW, and LATER when they leave the home and connect to a local church. Now and Later.

I'm not diminishing the need for peer relationships. I think some folks really do. I don't. Those relationships are extremely important. But I don't want to see Redeemer diminish the need for adult-youth relationships. That's why I appreciated the Corn Maze so much. Maybe next year I'll go with a different group and not get so lost. But I guess that's part of why you pay 6 dollars to get in....

Monday, October 17, 2011

When coaches attack

One of the highlights of the NFL, besides the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upsetting the New Orleans Sinners, or rather Saints, 26-20, was the questionable display of sportsmanship and concomitant retaliation for that questionable display. You can view the video here.

Yesterday, the San Francisco 49er's coach Jim Harbough shook losing Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz's hand. Then he "patted" or pushed, Schwart'z back. Problem. I guess you just have to stick with the hand shake because Schwartz took issue, and felt like he was pushing him out of the way. Then as Harbough tried to flee the scene and get to the locker room, Schwartz chased him down, bumped into him, and had to be separated.

The NFL will will probably be handing out a few fines to both coaches sometime this week. 

But the interviews and commentary after the incident intrigued me.


Jim Harbough claimed, "It was on me. I just came in to shake his hand TOO hard." I appreciated his admission of guilt. However, I have a feeling that a football coach doesn't take offense a hard handshake. Confession is great and can restore relationships. However, if that which we confess, isn't exactly what offended the other party, it will go nowhere. Harbough appeared to be the humble one and take the high road, but in the end, his confession probably only increased the gulf betwixt these coaches. Now he may call Schwartz and they may later have a cup of tea, or pint of beer, or whatever they drink. But I'm simply responding to the interview. What you apologize for is as important as how you apologize.

Schwartz claimed Harbough's "sportsmanship," comprised profanity among other things, including the "push" as more than a pat. He on the other hand, was unapologetic. He ignored the "chase down." While what offended him was left unaddressed by Harbough, he completely ignored his part: chasing down a coach and having to be physically separated. Often times folks do us wrong. It's often more than a subtle (in my opinion) "push-pat" confusion. But our response to sin doesn't have to be some form of blatant or subtle (cold shoulder, gossip, bitterness) retalliation. We can instead explain that such and such a move was either "busch-league" or whether it really was clearly sin. 

This is hard. I'd rather snub someone, than tell them they hurt me. Sometimes retaliation is blatant. Sometimes it's the subtle response we need to repent from. And I hate it for myself, and you-as we often want to vicariously get people back through other people. But I don't get a vote, and you don't either.


The commentary was solid. Coach Dungy recognized that even though someone wrongs you, you can't retaliate. Of course this only makes sense with a Christian worldview, where Christ ended the need for the "I got you last game," with his once for all death for sins. As a result, we don't NEED to get people back because Jesus took care of our sins. He is the peace offering, who has made the two groups who believe-Gentile and Jew, 49'ers and Lions, offender and offended-one in Christ (Eph 2:14).

Finally, Rodney Harrison, who regularly was voted the league's dirtiest player, and handed down multiple fines for his illegal hits had this to say: "What will you tell you kids?" I found that a bit close to ironic. But maybe there is an on-field ethic distinct from an off-field (when game has ended) ethic. Having not played the game, I can't make a call. Still, Harrison brings a great challenge to all those in leadership. Your teachings have to apply to you. For instance, you can't tell your kids, "Its important to go to church," and then go to church when its convenient for you. Believe me, somehow it will not be convenient for them when in college, or any time after that. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Jon Stewart and Archibald Alexander have in common

I purchased a mini-subscription to the magazine Rolling Stone a few months ago for 5 dollars. I then received about 6 or 8 different issues. Some of the stuff in Rolling Stone magazine is a bit over-the-top vulgar (as I found out), but I figured the articles might help me better understand a culture who reads Rolling Stone. As it so happens, no such culture exists where I live. So it obviously didn't help, and I was quite turned off by much of the content anyway. I didn't renew the mini subscription. 

However, the final issue I received had a fairly telling article with "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart. I figured this was worth a read for a number of reasons. Many college students and young adults (and at times older adults) get their news from "The Daily Show." Jon Stewart is viewed as an honest and reliable authority, so I finally figured I'd get my 5 dollars worth.

I think I would have, had I been able to finish the article. My three year old Connar, decided to pee all over the bathroom one day and thoroughly saturated the magazine. So needless to say, I didn't get to finish. But I did get half way through the article, feeling as though I at least got my $ 2.50 worth.  

Stewart actually posited some information that would be helpful for the church to hear.

I would like to use exact quotes, but since I don't have online access to the article, and the urine soaked magazine was thrown away before I had a chance to read a potentially "sun-dried" version with gloves on (my wife tossed it), I'll have to speak with italics instead of quotes.

I try to stay away from demonizing my opponents. I mean, I realize that not everyone who is against gay marriage is homophobic. 

What a breath of fresh air! Just because someone may vote against gay marriage, does not mean that they hate gay people. Obviously. But its great to hear someone who has such a voice use it, at least this time, so correctly. 

Christians have a hard time following Stewart's example. We tend to demonize the other side, whether it be with other Christians whom we disagree, or those of opposing political parties, religions, etc....

Tim Keller offers some helpful and godly ways to disagree and debate, that if followed, may allow you to actually be heard by your opponent. That should be our goal, not just hearing ourselves speak. In other words, we need to be careful to love our opponents, whether they be a brother/sister in Christ, a colleague outside of Christ, or a flat out enemy. 

It looks as though Jon Stewart already read the article and has applied "Alexander's Rule." 

1. Carson's Rule - You don't have to follow Matthew 18 before publishing polemics...

In short, if someone is publicly presenting theological views that are opposed to sound doctrine, and you are not in the same ecclesiastical body with this person (that is, there is no body of elders over you both, as when, for example, both of you are ministers in the same denomination,) then you may indeed publicly oppose those without going privately to the author of them...

2. Murray's Rule - You must take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of someone's views...
In other words, to misrepresent reality to others is always wrong. He grants, of course, that there is a great difference between a deliberate lie and unintentionally passing on erroneous information...
3. Alexander's Rule - Never attribute an opinion to your opponent that he himself does not own...
In other words, we must not argue in such a way that it hardens opponents in their views...
The rest of the article can be found here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Young Adults, Sex with "strings," and later marriage: Part II

This is another response to the article from my last post on Christian young adults not connecting sex with marriage, and living no differently than their non-Christian peers. 

The article, as previously mentioned, close with some questions: 

So what should a Christian parent or youth pastor do? How do they convince more young Christians to wait until marriage, or should they stop even trying?

First of all I do like these questions. I especially like the order of parents, and then youth pastors. I look back on my youth ministry days (and I'm still obviously involved in it now), and it does seem that one of the common denominators with those youth who walk with Jesus when they are young adults (and I've seen PLENTY who aren't walking with Jesus now), is that they had Christians parents investing in them. They didn't "farm" out the discipleship to the youth pastor. Instead they partnered together as a team.

And in this case, I think parents have a great opportunity to help shape a biblical sexuality. More than they think. So talking with kids about sex and sexuality is a good thing. A thing that shouldn't be abdicated. Even the parents on the show Parenthood try do it, even though the daughter is reticent.

Pastors and other leaders in the church have a part to play as well. Last year we went through a book in a series of Little Black Books called Sex. It was well written, "down with the times," Reformed, and helpful to produce some discussion in our 9th-12th graders. I think parents could go through such a book as well. It's important that neither the church nor the parents run away from this issue. Silence and assumption don't produce mature disciples. Neither does giving youth and young adults "Nike" messages: JUST DO IT! Jesus, and our laboring relentlessly with His energy produces mature disciples (Col 1:28-29). Particularly in this area.

Should we try to convince young adults to wait or stop trying? I think its a fair question to ask. Some things youth do are not necessarily sinful. Instead those things aren't helpful. Texting 24-7 might be one of those things. But instead of saying NO, we might try to redirect, or instruct, or limit, or whatever you as a parent feel convicted. It does have an affect on their relationships, but its not something that we necessarily need to draw a line in the sand over.

But sex outside marriage is clearly outside God's design. So we should make a go at "convincing," them to wait. Here are some thoughts.

1.) If the marrying age is increasing now, then should it be that much of a stretch to think that the "acceptable" dating age should probably also increase? Again, dating ages are ultimately parents decisions. But instead of taking cues from culture, why not consider delaying dating since marriage is being delayed? Many folks, even those in their church, date vicariously though their kids. Obviously parents have to nip this in the bud. If that's the case, then I think the goal of delaying dating a bit, is certainly feasible.

2.) Earlier marriage? Some have made a move towards getting married younger so that they don't "burn with passion" (I Cor 7). I guess the jury is still out on whether or not these marriages will really make it. Paul said it was better to marry than burn with passion, but I'm not sure that he was trying to nudge us to necessarily marry early. I wouldn't want to have put Amy through my prolonged serious depression years (she still got to experience some-she's a real trooper), so age 26 seemed to be good for us. However, if couples are ready to actually leave and cleave, then go for it. But on the flip side, while it is better to marry then burn with passion, it is worse to marry and then divorce.

3.) Is later marriage a good thing? While it benefited us to marry at 26 (almost 27), I think our general delaying of marriage as a culture does fuel the pre-marital sex epidemic. Getting married in college, or before, may not be ideal. But waiting until everyone is financially independent, and then waiting to have kids once you are financially ready, is a recipe for disaster. Watch the movie Idiocracy for a possible result to that!
4.) Pre-marital sex does leave scars that you will deal with in your marriage. People will compare experiences. People will bring past physical and emotional experiences into their marriage beds. Youth need to learn this stuff NOW if they will escape this alarming trend when they are young adults. There are consequences to pre-marital sex which go far beyond STD's that will bring harm into your marriage. Christ's righteousness means that we have a Christ covered slate, not just a blank slate. But Christ's righteousness does not level all consequences. God's grace can curb the consequences of sexual infidelity, and redeem sexually broken folks (which is really all of us if you want to be honest), but there is reason why He says "Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live...(Deut 30:19)." Sin is death.
5.) Church is a place of sexual brokenness. If you mess up sexually, even though you may experience consequences, you can experience grace. If the church expresses grace to sexually active Christians, then there is hope for change. If sexually active young adults don't feel the church is a place for those struggling sexually, then they won't be showing up on Sunday. And then there will be no hope for them. They need to hear Jesus preached and applied each week and surround themselves with fellowship. Even if young folks are not broken by their sin, if they are connected to the means of grace (word, prayer, fellowship, sacraments), brokenness is possible. But if they sense a "if you screw up, you're out," then those will be the last words we hear.
6.) Sexual infidelity is not THE sin. It's bad. It's highlighted here as being a sin against our body (I Cor 6:18). Yet just before it is also counted among swindling, idolatry, greed, drunkenness, and stealing as precluding Kingdom inheritance (I Cor 6:10). Of course Paul is writing to people who are struggling with these sins. He is telling them that their lives WERE dominated by such slavery. Now they are washed free and waiting. And struggling. So we should be frustrated at the sins of others. But we must not elevate or ignore other sins in ourselves and other folks.

7.) Only grace will produce sexual healing and fidelity. Steve Brown includes a great illustration in his book Scandalous Freedom of Abraham Lincoln redeeming a slave. The slave girls says, "I'm free to leave?" Lincoln tells her, "Yes you are." In the end, the slave wants to go with Lincoln. Experiencing grace makes you want to follow Jesus. Grace motivates and empowers you to follow God's commands in all areas of life.

These are just some thoughts which I hope will help us think through, instead of run from, or give up, on this important issue.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Young adults, sex with "strings," and later marriage

Here is a fairly disturbing article explaining that fewer Christians are actually saving sex for marriage. In some cases, it looks like evangelical Christians and those who don't profess Jesus at all, often have a similar sexual ethic. And it is reminiscent of the Nike command: "Just do it."

Several reasons are given for the numbers of young adults engaging in pre-marital sex nowadays. From the "everyone else is doing it," to the oversexualized culture we live in. However the article concludes with one major reason.

Scot McKnight, author of “The Jesus Creed,” and "One.Faith: Jesus Calls, We Follow," acknowledges that young, single Christians face temptations that their counterparts in the biblical age didn’t face. He  tells Relevant: Sociologically speaking, the one big difference – and it’s monstrous – between the biblical teaching and our culture is the arranged marriages of very young people. If you get married when you’re 13, you don’t have 15 years of temptation.

Is that point relevant? Does it matter that the scriptures were given to a culture when in actuality, it wasn't AS hard to follow? I mean, I can remember being a 13 year old, and I can't say that my temptation for pre-marital sex was even on my top 5 sins radar list. I'd have rather gone fishing than have a girlfriend. At 16, I actually had a girlfriend, but still, I can't say that it was as hard as when I was 25 years old.

So how should we think of the now increasing marrying age discrepancy?

We need definitely don't need a simple answer if we're going to apply the gospel to a very serious, and hard problem. So here are some of my thoughts.

First of all, Jesus actually raises the bar when it comes to sexual fidelity. He says that if we look lustfully upon a lad or lass, that we are actually committing adultery in the heart. His standards are incredibly high. Even lusting is off limits. Wow.

As a result we need Jesus more than we think we do. Fortunately Jesus didn't remove himself from female company, yet he walked without lusting among them-even though, he was fully human. He would have done the same for our culture today where women shower, shave, and smell better, and tend to dress a little more, shall we say, "progressively." He did this for us, and now he empowers us to live as citizens of heaven while here on Earth. While the culture says, "Just do it" in relation to sex; the church can't say, (and its primarily those who are married saying it-which sometimes makes it harder to hear) "Just do it," in relation to remaining faithful until marriage.
In order to be faithful to the scriptures AND gracious with those dealing with this struggle, we do need to lay all cards on the table and be honest with some new difficulties present in our world.

The article ends with a few questions and no answers.

So what should a Christian parent or youth pastor do? How do they convince more young Christians to wait until marriage, or should they stop even trying?

Let me simply continue the discussion-not attempting to "solve" the problem (that won't happen till Jesus returns) but try to honestly reflect on this difficult trend.

Honesty with the difficulty, without being quixotic

People do get married later these days. It is true. Therefore that can present some problems. Obviously. I think we need to recognize and be honest that the struggle is going to be hard. Will it be harder than in previous times? I think in some ways, yes. Simple math tells us that. 13-15 is different than 26.

Nevertheless, if you say, "well people got married earlier then," it doesn't change the situation. Sex did not ever come with "no strings attached" but within the confines of the committed covenantal relationship. No matter what age it is regularly experienced, sex always comes with "strings." For Christians, those "strings" are called a covenant.

But do 13-15 year olds really want to get married? Are they ready for jobs, to be responsible for family? They can't even drive yet. We can lament the age difference, but even with hormones raging, do guys and gals really want to get married in their teens? 

Still, you can argue the command to wait until marriage may in some ways be more difficult today, but that doesn't nullify the command-or the reason for the command. And, some commands were probably harder then than they are now. Whether you like Obama or not, he's a lot easier to honor than Nero, or Trajan, or any other awful emperor that Romans 13 refers to.

There wasn't some golden age to live in, where sexuality was something easy to live out. It certainly wasn't that way with the bible. We need to recognize that it may be harder in some ways to live chastely before marriage now, but in some ways it could have been just as hard then.

Is our Culture worse?

The culture of Jesus' times was no less sexualized than today. I've seen the artwork on pottery when on foreign study in Italy; it's literally pornographic. I saw a mural in Pompeii where a lad was weighing his oversized penis. Seriously. Sex was all around them, just as it is all around us.

Biblical commands have always been counter-cultural. They continue to be today. We still have to affirm God's good design for sexuality. And we still have to affirm God's sufficient grace for our forgiveness (when we fail or have failed) and for our sanctification. I'll try to get to some more thoughts on the latter later.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What your car says about you?

Yesterday I peached a sermon called "Walk Like an Egyptian" on Phil 3:13-21, focusing on what it looks like to walk as an enemy of the cross of Christ, and how we are to walk as Christians: like imperfect citizens of heaven. Since Paul explains in this passage that people's "walks" display something about what they truly believe (even if they wouldn't profess something unorthodox about the cross), I chose to intro with a few examples of "what your car says about you." I only had time for a few, so if you would like to see the ones that "didn't make the cut," here they are.
My personal favorite is probably the Lincoln Town Car: "I live for bingo and the potluck suppers." This list is probably 15 years old, so keep that in mind.

If you want to listen to the sermon, here it is.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Modnik Update: Compassion and Application

Here is the final update from our Jr. High youth retreat. The other one's are here, here, and here. The final talk Sunday morning centered around some motivations and applications of how to actually go about changing or influencing the culture.

Compassion: How do the kids look upon people who don't know Jesus and "do the things" they do? Are they judgmental and angry at kids who simply are doing what non-Christians do (not following Jesus)? The correct response should be compassion. When Jesus looked upon the crowds, he didn't see a bunch of idiots, or yahoos, or even simply a bunch of sinners, he saw people who were helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9). He had compassion upon them.

One heart at a time: There is no need to assume that youth will necessarily see people come to Christ en masse and whole middle schools will be changed instantly. The challenge that he left them with was to think through one or two of their friends who need Jesus. Instead of judging them, spend time loving them, serve them, and begin to communicate the gospel message. Instead of having nothing to do with non-Christians, begin to pray compassionately for them, move towards them, and live out their faith before them. Darkness needs light. That which is stale and bland needs salt. Compassion motivated, not guilt, or results motivated. 

My thoughts:

I liked David's approach once again.

The storm hell with water guns, rah-rah approach just doesn't seem to jive with anyone anymore. I also appreciated his non-triumphalism, as though we'll have this whole Satan influencing culture thing down pat in a few years. Unless you are a post-millenialist, you realize that the church will advance and have some effect on the surrounding culture while at the same time Satan will see major advances. I don't know who will be in the "lead" when Jesus comes back. I also don't care, as its really none of my business. Jesus thinks the same (Mark 13:32).

Nevertheless, one heart at a time, does really make a difference. When God calls us out of the kingdom of darkness, he brings us into His glorious Kingdom (Col 1:13). People can see that. Some will like us even if they don't like what we stand for. They will like us for our love. When people like you, they usually will at the very least listen to you. So the opportunity for impact is fairly large even with one heart at a time.

Ultimately, David's cultural approach can be summed up (as I see it) by "live out your faith among your  Christian and non-Christian friends and let your faith make a difference in your schools, sports teams, neighborhoods, and families as much as the Lord sees fit. In the music, art, business you make/create or take in, let Jesus be Lord. Even just a few people who are Christians in a college religion class, where God's Word is the subject of ridicule, does make a difference. I know from experience. The same is true for middle schoolers.

Some final thoughts on applying this

1.) Are middle schoolers ready to live out their faith among the world? That's got to be entered into carefully and prayerfully. Maybe yours is not. Maybe yours is. Parents have to make that decision, but don't assume that youth are necessarily too young to influence their friends for Christ.

2.) Middle-schoolers, like all Christians, need fellowship. They can't ONLY be around non-Christians. Youth groups are key. So is church worship. So are other fellowship opportunities. So are godly families. If you and your youth are ready to be used in reaching out to others, they need to grounded in solid fellowship. And the flip is also true: if they are grounded in good fellowship, then they can probably can step out in faith and make a difference without being overwhelmed.

3.) Take advantage of outreaching opportunities. Invite unchurched youth into your fellowship. They don't need to go on secret one-on-one missions, but instead can reach out with their fellowship.

  • Hospitality: Simply having one of your kid's friends over to your house, and living out your faith before them, is a good place to start. Have them over to eat, or come to spend the night, and go to church the next day. You can control, to a degree, the environment this way.
  • Wyldlife: Christian kids can have an impact in their culture simply by inviting their friends to Wyldlife, the middle school version of YoungLife. Their friendships can play a part in leaving people to Jesus, and then to the church. All it take is a friendship and invitation. You need not fear the environment-though it can get a little messy on certain occasions!
  • Youth Group: This is an untapped resource that I really challenged the kids to think about. Invite friends to youth group and they will get to hear the gospel as well as see what fellowship looks like. The early Christians seemed to do lots of fellowshiping, but obviously didn't neglect evangelism. I think fellowship and evangelism probably happened in the same place.
  • Church: While I don't think this is the only outreach attempt we should make, we should still be open to inviting folks to church. Youth will often come if invited. Particularly if they spend the night. 

In the end, God can use Middle Schoolers in a bigger way than we might have assumed. As families, you can be a part of something bigger than just hoping they good good grades and do well in sports. You have the opportunity to be involved in something big. Huge. Don't waste or wish away the middle school years, because God can redeem.