Thursday, January 26, 2012

Figuring out what to study next

When I was in high school, I didn't have many choices on what classes to take. I liked it. When in college, I had some more flexibility, but much of the guess work was taken out:  take 3 classes, 2 classes, and then 3 classes each tri-mester and I would graduate. 

When it comes to teaching or leading a small group, choosing what to teach next can be difficult. Here are some guidelines that help me think through what to teach next. They are not from Mt. Sinai, nor are they ordered in any sense of primacy. But cumulatively they can be helpful to make sure that you are teaching on a variety of different, relative subjects, moving those under your care towards maturity in Christ (Col 1:28-29).

Some churches have designated key areas, and leaders can choose a book from each key subject area. One of my churches I served at had 10 separate keys that would take place over 3 years. Then you repeat. This method is thoughtful and ensures that you cover a variety of issues-some of which you or your group wouldn't choose but nevertheless needs to discuss. While this plan makes sense, I don't know if it is absolutely necessary. That church tried this method, but not for long. Systematically going through topics is grand, but I just don't think you can cross subject matters off the list and then move on. That's why I prefer something a little more flexible.

1.) Bible. In college, I remember a bible study that I went to once. They challenged everyone to take seriously, very seriously, what we would be studying for the next semester. Like we could end up studying the wrong bible book. I thought, well, if its the bible, that's probably good. They didn't think that, but I still do. I've never studied through a book of the bible and as a group discerned, "This really wasn't relevant. I think we should have studied a Pauline epistle instead of James...." Never. The Good Book Company and Matthias Media has all kinds of great bible study guides.

2.) Have a frame-work. While I don't think you necessarily need to be locked down into a systematic grid for what to study over the period of 5 years, I still like having a framework. We should have in mind issues and topics to consider for our next study or discussion. If you don't have any framework in mind, you may tend to skip over some issues you could have ignored. The framework I think through is the Head-Heart-Hands Model. Is there anything that our group would benefit from knowing more about God (Head)? Maybe we need to spend some time on Christology because people don't understand who Jesus really is (Head)? Are there any Heart issues, like materialism, worship of family, which could be best tackled through a specific book or study? Is it best to continue to lay a gospel foundation, which people may not really grasp (Heart)? Are there any practical (Hands) issues like how to parent, do finances, how to study bible, how to share your faith, how to show mercy, etc...? I tend to reserve the latter two for small group and the former for Christian Ed/Sunday School. If you tend to study practical issues in books, then its probably wise to take a break and simply study the bible, books, or studies particularly plumbing the depths of the gospel. If you've never gone theologically deep (Head), but focus primarily on the practical and outreach/mercy (Hands), then it might be wise to balance. A framework can help that.

3.) Freedom: Those who oversee certain ministries have the final say on what gets studied. That's their "job." I prefer to give leaders lots of freedom because they are at ground level, hearing what is being discussed. They hear the answers. They know if the group lacks knowledge (Head), the application of the gospel to life (Heart), or if the group knows anything about tithing, showing mercy, reaching out, whether they are serving their church. So as a leader, you just want to have these things in mind. You are a student of your group, as much as they are a student of your teaching, leading, shepherding. 

If you are attentive, you will begin to discern heart issues, growth areas, application blind spots, areas of scripture (all of the aforementioned you may have too!) that you'll want to keep in mind for the next, as well as the current study material.

Some questions that can helpful to think through are as follows:

a.) What keeps them up at night? What scares them? In other words, what are their idols? Respect, work, love from spouse/family/friends, family? Anything that if taken away, would leave them with no reason to get out of bed.
b.) How well do they know simple truths of the gospel? Are they ready to move deeper (not advance beyond)?
c.) Does any theological question keep coming up? Is there any section of the bible which they seem to deficient or interested in knowing more?
d.) Are they interpreting and applying the bible in a Christ-centered way or simply as instruction manual?

Some things may be more pertinent or pressing to study than others, so that's why I like to get input from leaders.

4.) Asking: Much of the time you can get what you need to study by thinking ahead of time where you want the group to go, and then tweaking that plan if need be, by your attentiveness to their needs. However, another way to supplement (not replace) is by asking them. It can be helpful to ask if there any issues or sections of the bible which you feel you need to study? This can sometimes be quite helpful. Or you can ask something like this, "Would you be interested in studying a book by so and so?" I did this and it let me know NOT to go through a particular book because they wouldn't have time to read it. I'm glad I asked and I appreciated their honesty!

However, you also need to be aware that sometimes people will pick something that he/she wants to study but the individual, or the group as a whole might need to study something else. For instance, someone might want to study "end times" or "prophesy" when in reality, he/she doesn't know his spiritual gifts, or is shacking up with his girlfriend or boyfriend.

5.) Sermon discussion/application: I've never done this in a small group bible study, but many churches do. My last church did this off and on in Sunday School, which took place after worship. Many enjoyed and benefited from it. The Mars Hill churches have this as a regular component of their community groups as do a number of other larger churches as well as thriving church plants. The idea here is to focus not primarily on what has been said, but to believe the truth that has been preached, and apply what has been preached. This of course requires that your group is regular in worship and the leader takes notes and asks good application questions.

The most important thing you do as a CD/Small/Community group leader is to shepherd the people in your group. Picking material is part of that shepherding process, but it is only part. Praying for, teaching, following up with, loving on, and pointing them toward Jesus are the bigger parts. Be faithful in those, and then pick the material that you feel is the best (of course have it approved!), and you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Kyle Williams and Manning-up/Womanning Up

There were some great football games this past weekend for the divisional championship round games (winner goes to Super Bowl). Unfortunately for both losing teams, their losses are mired in the mystery and misery of mistake ridden final moments.

The 49ers lost to the giants in OT because kick-returner Kyle Williams fumbled the ball on his team's side of the field. As a result, the Giants kicked the game winning field goal. Unfortunately for him, he actually received death threats via twitter (unfortunately its not just soccer where that happens).

The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Patriots due to a missed field goal in the final moments which would have sent the game into OT. 

Two games. Two goats. 
But each responded a little differently. 49ers Kick Returner Kyle Williams owned his own mistake. Ravens kicker seemed to do just that. But then he began blaming the New England scoreboard for not putting the correct down causing him and his teammates to rush. Given New England's penchant for cheating, I'm sure that it was intentional.

However, two games, two goats. Two different responses. As Jim Rome said on his radio show today, "One guy manned up, and owned it. That's macho."

I'm always interested in what folks consider masculine, or in other words, what "real men do," because even "Christian" masculinity seems to be cut and pasted from respected cultural norms. Then you can just throw a verse or two on top of it and canonize it.

But because man is made in the image of God, we shouldn't expect everything held high in our culture to be completely devoid of biblical truth. Rome is on to something here. In part.
Right: It is "manly" to confess when you screw up. Men often run from their problems. We blame. Adam did it. But redeemed manhood does confess. And this can be hard because men are designed to lead and saying you screwed up seems to get in the way of leading. But part of leadership is being able to say, "I screwed up. I own it. It's not YOUR fault. It's mine." People like that. Kyle Williams' teammates did too. Of course this really can only be accomplished by a deep belief in the gospel that says, "I screwed up, but God loves me the same as He did before I screwed up. I don't lose my opportunity to lead, but have the opportunity to recognize my need for grace. Ideally others will also see their need for grace too."

Perhaps not as Right: While it is "manly" to confess when you screwed up, I don't know that is is uniquely manly. Men do need to take the lead in this because, well, they are to lead. So maybe there is a primacy...Yet you could also just as truthfully deem this quality "womanly," or feminine. You could just as easily say, "Woman up, own this, and move forward." Adam blamed Eve. Then Eve followed his example and blamed the serpent. Just like the natural man, the natural woman, is prone to blame shift. But the redeemed woman, can also believe the gospel, and "woman-up,"  and display this "manly" or "womanly" quality.

Owning your mistakes and shortcomings is both masculine and feminine, if you have to put it in those terms. But truthfully it is simply living out the gospel. It is Christ-centered more than anything. 

The fact that some people appreciate this characteristic is but another example of the ways man/woman still images God. While I don't know that this is SPECIFICALLY masculine, it is still part of godly masculinity. And it's great to see this quality praised as opposed to what passes as "macho" in beer commercials. Maybe folks like Jim Rome will take the next step and say, "I screwed up because that's what I do. I'm a screw-up. But Jesus loves screw-ups who recognize their need of His grace."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reflections on Winter Jam

Several weeks ago, because I thought that we needed more adults, I attended the Winter Jam concert  in Charleston with the Redeemer youth. We had a great time hearing from a variety of different Christian bands-some of which I had actually seen in high school and college. So that part was a stroll down memory lane for me. I had a blast with those and really enjoyed the craziness of the hard rock band Skillet.

Let me give you my synopsis of the highs and lows of the concert...

High parent to student ratio. Really high. That is a good thing. Kids need adults in their lives. Lots of them.

The place was absolutely packed. It was encouraging to see the number of folks in WV (and some from farther away) who came out to hear bands that they most likely listen to during the week. Because most youth haven't developed a very strong filter yet, I"m glad that they are listening to Christian music.

In addition, I was encouraged by bands trying to reach kids I can't, and give them something to listen to that is different that what they are normally offered. I was also encouraged how deft they were at contextualizing the Christian faith into the world of these students. You don't have to wear skinny jeans and be hip to be a Christian. However, you can be. I'll not be wearing skinny jeans. Ever. But when youth see clean cut, khaki pants/jeans wearing pastors and parents, we need to make sure that they don't have to look like us either. 

The bands honored Jesus. The last band, a hard rock band called Skillet, talked a good bit about Jesus. Now when they sang, I couldn't really tell what they were singing. But when the lead singer talked, he did talk about Jesus. That was refreshing.


While I appreciated that there was a gospel presentation, and I appreciated that there was a call to repentance and faith, I didn't so much subscribe to the methodology of having everyone say the magic "sinner's prayer." We were ALL instructed to close our eyes and say after him the magic prayer-no matter how many times we'd already said it (and he even hinted that he'd "come forward" a few times, though those trips didn't mean anything-which should tell us something!). Then by virtue of everyone saying that prayer, we should expect a few conversions or re-dedications or something. Kind of weird. Weird but consistent with evangelicalism.

There really isn't a magic sinners prayer that you can say, where you are "spiritually tasered," and then transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Col 1:12-13).

One band talked about having "church" together without actually going to church. I can understand that it may be hard to attend worship regularly when you are hitting up so many cities in so short a time. And if you can't gather together with an assembly of believers, then getting together is the next best thing. But it is not "having church." Hanging out with your buddies and the bible is not really the picture of church we see in the bible. 

Many Christians don't have a very good picture of the church and so think they can just as equally worship God by going surfing, sleeping, skiing, or doing family time. Sometimes these venues (though I don't think this one did) can become "church" for that week. It takes an effort to express that while this concert IS good, it is NOT a good replacement for regular corporate worship. I'm very thankful for bands like Casting Crowns that clearly stated this when I saw them.

Finally, it was a bit weird-though not inherently wrong-to take up an offering. They "passed the hat" around and people were asked give to this ministry. Since the concert was only 10 dollars, it didn't covered all of the production costs, of which Skillet's pyro-technicians had to have received 95%.
I would have more happily paid 15 dollars and not seen the hat. Again, just a bit different and weird-not wrong. I think more people are reached by church planting then concerts, so that's who's next in line for my money.

All in all, a good experience though and am glad I went. While I don't listen to contemporary Christian music, live music is tough to beat.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Dolphin Tale: Should we save Dolphins? part II

This is a continuation of a post on my previous post on why or why should we not take the time to save wounded dolphins.

1.) We are called to have dominion over creation. This doesn't mean that we rule over it in the sense of ruthlessly destroying creation the way much of humanity has done when they decimate fish and animal stocks. Instead we are to cultivate the creation, and included in that creation, are God's creatures. I remember when my buddy threw a rock at a crab after I prompted him to do so when on foreign study in Israel (at En Gedi-where David hid from Saul). Someone came up afterwards and said to him, "S$#$% you and your dominion-over-creation thinking." That really isn't true dominion type thinking. Neither he nor I were actually acting consistently with our belief and worldview.

2.) From a Darwinistic worldview, it does not make sense to me why you should help sick animals. Even cute ones like baby dolphins. The healthy ones are supposed to survive and produce stronger offspring. Helping sick animals only stops that process that made the dolphins what they are. Yet I would imagine many of these marine biologists are complete Darwinists, so to me, that seems a bit on the irrational side. Again, this is just how I see it from that worldview, but would welcome thoughts from someone who fully lives according to that worldview.

3.) God does seem to genuinely care about animals, aside from the general verses which speak of him providing food for ravens (Luke 12:24). In the book of Jonah, God "reasons" with Job and rhetorically asks him, "Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?" Should I destroy the animals too? It is possible that we learn something of God's concern for animals-though I wouldn't build a theology around it!

4.) Difference between man/animals. I'm actually not a big dolphin fan because they have eaten way too many snook and redfish in front of me and ruined some quality fishing opportunities. But I do appreciate them and enjoy pointing them out to folks who have not grown up with them in the way that I have. There is a creator-creature distinction between us and God. Yet creation is further divided between man/woman, and under us are creatures (Psalm 8). People are more important than animals.  Many people don't believe this, and that is consistent with a Darwinist worldview.

But the Christian worldview does not allow such equality. Sometimes our love of animals (and I do love them) can literally cross the line where animals are elevated above people. Love your dolphins, cats, and dogs, but be very careful that a good thing can become a bad thing when it replaces the ultimate command-loving God and loving other PEOPLE. If you love your pets more than you love your neighbors, then you are not having dominion over creation; in fact the reverse has become true.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winning and Losing: God's help and God's involvement

This Sunday I preached on Philippians 4:10-23 which includes the famous or in-famous Phil 4:13 "I can do all things through him who gives me strength." The major theme of this passage is thankfulness, but the "sandwiched" truth in the middle is that we CAN be content in all situations: from bad houses to bad spouses, from losing to bad weather. Now I'm not saying I always believe that; I often don't. But I think its more scriptural to say I CAN THROUGH CHRIST honor God and find contentment in specific situations than it is to say "I just can't...." (which we all say from time to time, right?) and become angry, gripe, or run. The sermon can be found here.

I pulled for Tebow and the Broncos vs. the Patriots (I pull for anyone vs. the Patriots) but pretty much saw on the TV Saturday what I thought I might see: a clubbing.

But I'm very thankful for how far the Broncos went this season and the opportunities for Jesus to be talked about by secular sports talk show hosts that probably don't even know or usually care too much for Him. Because of Tebow, pastors and theologians have also been given a platform as well. One such article, that I think is incredibly apropos for all sports fans, is the Atlantic Journal's  "Does God care if Tim Tebow wins on Saturday." How cool is it that The Atlantic Journal, read by all kinds of different folks from all kinds of different beliefs, has given those folks a chance to read about God's Sovereignty, Providence, Secondary Causes, Calvin, etc..., and of course Jesus. Check it out, as it will be helpful not just as an athlete, fan, or parent, but simply as a person navigating this world with the hope of a Transcendent as well as Immanent Lord.

Whether winning or losing, we see a growing Christ-centered contentment in Tebow (as opposed to his crying after loss at FL), as well as the opportunities God has afforded many others through his faith, passion, service, and play on the field.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Dolphin Tale: Should we save dolphins?

After the hit movie "Dolphin Tale," the little Clearwater Marine Aquarium has instantly become a smash hit of a tourist destination. You can actually see  a webcam of Winter the dolphin-though I don't think you can facetime or skype her yet. If you haven't seen the movie, and I've only seen about half, it is the story of a dolphin washing up on shore, disabled and entangled in the rope of a crab trap. It's tail is gangrenous and falls off (in the movie its amputated), but the animal learns to swim without it. Then they grant it a prosthetic tail which is used for training purpose (I think in the movie its a permanent appendage).

Everyone from my 3 year old to 6th grade nephews have seen the movie and wanted to visit "Winter." Everyone. It was packed when I visited the place with my family and in-laws over the Xmas break. Packed but well worth the visit.
Our visit left me with a few thoughts, but one which my wife reminded me today: what place does animal rescue, particularly of dolphins-but more generally of sea creatures-play in a Christian worldview? Is it inconsistent with a Christian worldview, or is it inconsistent with a non-Christian worldview? Or inconsistent with both?

Only about one beached/trapped/injured dolphin in a 1000 actually survives being transferred from the wild to aquarium. And when they do, it's a lot of work. I watched an amazing video, not of Winter, but of another dolphin called Hope. They have to actually give these baby dolphins baby formula (Winter was found as a baby, not like you see in the movie-we still can't time travel unfortunately so you can understand that one..), blend it with herring, and teach them to drink it. They spend all hours of the day. There was footage of the workers feeding dolphins on Xmas Eve. Just  50 yards away, we could see the fruit of their effort as Hope did tricks and frolicked and jumped in his tank. And splashed my son. He still talks about it.

The story of Winter is heartwarming and inspiring for many vets who've paid dearly for their service in the war. So, I want to pose the question in a more general way, are such efforts to save and rehabilitate animals consistent with a Christian, or non-Christian, worldview?

In order for this post to not get too long, and to spend a little more time thinking about the question, I'll try to break it up a bit.

Sometimes answering questions by asking other similar questions can help be of great service. Can a person be a scientist for the glory of God? Can they study physics, marine biology, astronomy? Of course. In a Reformed Christian worldview, as espoused in the Protestant Reformation, there is no distinction between secular and spiritual work.

For instance, I'm a pastor. You can be a scientist. And we can both honor Christ. One is called to be spend more time studying, preaching, teaching God's Word. The other is called to spend more time studying God's World. His Word points us to Jesus, and His World can point us to Jesus too. Just ask the Magi-they followed stars. 

So if scientists can study God's World and learn how God's World operates-and teach us who are not scientists-then why would it be outside that worldview to think they can learn and study how the world operates in order to save dolphins and other sea creatures. They are applying what they know of God's World to help preserve God's creatures. If I believe it is good to be a scientist for God's glory, then I think its more than consistent-but a logical next step-to use that knowledge to preserve His creatures.

Even though that's only one reason, I'll stop here and try to get to a few more reasons why I think (with a few parameters) such a dolphin rescue is consistent with a Reformed Christian Worldview.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Parenthood and family idolatry

One of my favorite shows these days is Parenthood. I think its fairly popular in this area, largely due to the fact that the family unit is so popular in this area. And that's a good thing. It's just not the ultimate thing-which is Jesus. And as Tim Keller reminds us so well that when a good thing becomes the ultimate thing, that is an idol. It blocks the gaze of our Savior (not His gaze of us, but ours of His). And we all say yeah, yeah, I know Jesus is more important than our families-at least that's what we're supposed to say if we read and follow the bible (Luke 14:26). But we are all vulnerable to saying one thing, and living something else-which is consequently a more accurate depiction of how well we believe.

I've seen episodes that actually challenge the idol of the family and demonstrate some positive ways to lead a family. But last week's episode-which was not without commendable material-ended up leaving me fairly saddened and frustrated.

Grandfather Craig T. Nelson tries to assemble ALL his family and ALL their children to go visit his mother for her birthday. Because his daughter-in-law is skipping out on the adventure, he goes nuts. After acting like a neurotic jerk who later tells his kids, "You all suck" he seems to come to the point where he is almost repentant. And then his true savior, who has let him down (as all min-saviors do) is expressed verbally: "All there is in life, when it all comes down to it, is family."

Before his family arrives, the daughter-in-law praises the overbearing father-in-law for "creating" this family. Idol affirmed. Now this man is not without worthy qualities, though over all, he makes me thankful that my father and father-in-law are NOTHING like him.

Then his family shows up, and of course, they seem apologetic and everyone seems OK.

Here are a few thoughts.

1.) An idol will always let you down. And when your idol is being threatened, you will bite, claw, kick, and fight to preserve that idol. That's what he did the whole show. We all do this. When you idol is removed, you feel there is nothing else to live for. All is lost. If you want to locate your idols, look at your attitudes and actions. Its foolish to think that our families don't become our idols. When kids or parents don't behave or fulfill us they way we demand of them, we get nasty. So we need to be careful that the idol of family is not just a non-Christian problem...Its ours as well.

2.) Is life only about family? What about those who have crappy families? Are they then doomed? At the end of the day it is not about how much money you make, how nice of a car or house you have. Most people can eventually get past those things when housing market crashes or when they have cancer. But most folks still miss Jesus because, in the end, its all about family. However, in the end, its all about being included in His family. I remember a lass in my college days telling me this when her father had been in a terrible accident. Such a blessing when you're family lets you down and vice versa. Or when you move, or have to move, etc....

3) At the end of the show, Craig T Nelson finally got what he had so eagerly sought: his mother's approval. His whole life, he had loved his kids and told them that he loved them. And though his character is overbearing, and clearly at times "needs" more than love his kids/grand-kids, he does care. And he expresses that care verbally with an "I love you." But his whole life he worked for her approval and it didn't come. Until this episode.

It shows the importance of expressing the words, "I love you" to our families. But some people will never hear that from their deadbeat fathers or mothers. They really won't. While that verbal affirmation is important, it is not essential for the child to break free from the bondage of parental failure. I know folks who have. And its beautiful. It demonstrates that while they may not have heard it from a father or a mother, they face each day with the promise of "I love you and I love who you are becoming" from their Heavenly Father. That promise is something we inherit from our elder brother Jesus. The joy and delight God has over His son (Matt 3:17) is now shared with us as part of our inheritance. And the fact that he didn't spare His son, but gave him up for us all (Rom 8:32), is not just a spoken "I love you," but truly sacrificial "I love you" still evidenced by his scars (John 20:27).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Why I need CD groups

In our C.D. group (community/discipleship) last week we discussed some "gospel transitions" for how to make the "leap" without making a leap from the normal shared experiences or opinions to the gospel: such as war, politics, family, injustice, etc....These are quite helpful, so I encourage you to check them out here.  

Studying those gospel connections in community allowed all of us to share our own experiences, struggles, fears, failures, and future opportunities that individually we would have missed.
However one of the greatest confirmations for why I and YOU need to be in some sort of regularly gathering group was confirmed to me without any bit of teaching. Amy was home with a sick kid, and I was still lamenting the fact that I would be spending MORE money on my property in FL (little did I know the upcoming expenses for my house in WV just days later!), as well as a few other things.
Then during our prayer time I soon became not only convicted but encouraged. I wasn't alone. Actually folks had much rougher things going on. A small group is like Vegas, so I don't share any personal details with those outside the groups. But suffice it to say that I began to hear of other struggles and suddenly I didn't feel alone. I didn't feel so frustrated. I felt what was actually true: I'm not a pilgrim on a solo trek, but part of a caravan of struggling pilgrims. 

Even if we didn't have an encouraging study-which we did-just the mere gathering for prayer in someone's home made my problems seem much smaller. We all had problems. Some were worse, some the same. But problems shared in the home and fellowship of others are far less daunting than when they never leave your heart or your house.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Don't cry for me Argentina or Jerusalem

In reading through Zechariah 7 for my devotions (you'll never hear me use the word "quiet time," b/c that's what my 3 year has to do when he doesn't take a nap), I came across a challenging passage. 

It sounds innocent enough. 

2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD,  3 saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” 

But there really is something missing. It is like someone saying, "Lord, should I try to be sad and go through the outward emotions of looking like I'm sad because of my sins and the sins of my nation? Because I really am just bummed about missing my favorite restaurant and hangout places back home. Should I keep going through the motions of repentance without real repentance?"
Because that's what was happening. Keep in mind, many of the same things that caused Israel to 'get the boot,' continued to happen. That's why these lofty promises of a restoration of the temple (the rebuilt Temple was NOT nearly as cool as before) and the kingship never go anywhere. We don't hear much about this new potential king Zerubbabel until Jesus' genealogy. 

5 When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?

The Lord says that they were not fasting and weeping because of their sins. Some were probably bummed about the consequences of their sin: living in foreign land. Some of them had actually become quite comfortable there and enjoyed the foreign food and ladies.

It's a good reminder to all of us that we can be sad over the consequences of our sin, without ever demonstrating true repentance: sadness over the fact that we've chosen death over life, empty wells (Jer 2:32) over the spring of living water (John 4:10-11).  For instance we can be sad over the relational consequences of yelling at our kids, kicking our dogs, belittling our spouses, not loving neighbors: loneliness, lack of intimacy, divorce, people not being there when we need them. But being sad about the consequences is not the same as truly grieving the sin.

What's the difference? God says, "was it for me that you fasted these 70 years?" In other words, their idolatry and injustice was an affront to God Himself in addition to an oppressing His people. As David reminds us in Psalm 51, any sin done against another person made in the image of God is first and foremost a sin against God. It was He whom they had sinned, and it was to Him whom they were to first repent. But they hadn't as evidenced by continuing in the pattern of injustice (Zech 7:9-10).

In regards to parenting, some things hit me then and now: do I grieve my sins against my kids and wife as though I've sinned against God? And when my kids disrespect me, do I grieve the fact that they've disrespected me only? Or do I grieve, concern myself, pray for the fact that they're really disrespecting God as a Father? If I can grieve the sin as against God first and foremost, I don't have to take it as personally. Instead of responding quickly or harshly, I then have the opportunity to bring the gospel to bear on the heart. After all, our sins are an affront against a Holy, but also LOVING Heavenly Father. It is out of respect and love for Him that I hope my kids will respect me, and not the other way around. Particularly when I'm hard to respect.

Anyhow, just some thoughts I had while reading Zechariah.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

NFL Live, Authenticiy, and Tebow

The Denver Broncos, the team that my three year old sometimes calls the "Tebows," backed into the play-offs this year by losing three straight games. Fortunately for them, the other teams in their division also lost. As a result they will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. 

Their QB Tim Tebow has played very poorly lately. He's not shown the 4th quarter magic we've become used to the last month or two. I would imagine that as quickly as people have jumped on that Tebow bandwagon, they will jump off when/if the Broncos start losing again.

However, not all will jump off. The crew (Trey Wingo, Marcellus Wiley, Mark Shlereth) from NFL Live absolutely sang his praises several weeks ago, but it wasn't because of his play; it was his personality. The word that they continued to come back to was "authentic." They piled on with the usual expressions: what you see is what you get; he doesn't change to fit some mold; he is who he is. And he doesn't apologize for his personality, which is of course, largely shaped by his faith in Christ.

Authentic is perhaps the most over-used word in our post-modern world. Nevertheless, it is obviously still culturally apropos and it is a word-or at least a sentiment-that people cherish. 

Authenticity is really only cherished nowadays because of post-modernity. So this vague  post-modernness (still pretty hard to define) is not all bad, but the ever-cherished post-modern term brings both challenges and opportunities.


Some of these guys probably don't share the same faith as Tebow. They may not-though I can't assume one way or another-enjoy Tebow calling them to faith and repentance. But that is irrelevant. The content of his faith, or the fact that his faith shapes his personality is not important. So that can present a challenge when we share our faith. There is gospel content which needs to be embraced for one to be saved. Yet what is important to many is simply whether or not someone is authentic. If that faith makes you authentic, good. That's the goal.

Authenticity is valued more than love. This shouldn't surprise us at all. So Tebow can be authentic as well as love and respect others, while someone else can be authentic but say F*&$ you to anyone who anyone who threatens to constrain their autonomy. They are both authentic. 

In addition, it is in the name of authenticity, that folks feel the need to be true to themselves and so they justify divorce just as quickly as sending back cold food at Applebees.


Still, I think the opportunities that the ever popular "authenticity" brings far outweigh the challenges. For instance, here is a guy who is unashamed to mention Jesus' name any chance he gets, and one of these lads actually uses the picture of he and Tebow as his twitter avatar. 

Authenticity will often give you a chance to at least be heard. Even though what people want is the authenticity more than the Christ who alone can free us to be authentic AND other-centered at the same time, the conversation can begin. The freedom to be who we are called to be, will often give us a platform. You don't have to be a good quarterback. People listen to authentic people as well as crave to be authentic themselves. It is in Christ that we can speak of a freedom that is truly free but not autonomous and self-centered.

Authenticity appreciates brokenness over moral perfection. There are obvious blatantly hypocritical Christians who will not be heard by anyone. But these lads are not lauding Tebow's moral perfection. They really aren't. They aren't saying he's flawless. They like the fact that he is free to be who he really is. So if they see Tebow sin, it doesn't destroy his witness to them. Authenticity admiring folks don't need to see perfection. They need to see repentance. They actually give Christians more of an opportunity to fail. And that's good. We can sin before others. 

Steve Brown recounts a story in his book Scandalous Freedom where a Christian woman slept with her boss and eventually repented before him, explained why it was so heinous, and led that man to Jesus. I think that kind of thing probably happens more in an authenticity craving culture. 

So postmodern catch words, or at least postmodern influence on culture, has shaped even NFL analysts. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, I it really does bring more opportunities than challenges.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Redemption and missing field goals

Just got back from sunny FL to arrive in time for the snow in WV. Maybe we should have planned a 9 day vacation.....Anyhow, eager to get back to the blogging world.

Many of Jan 2nd's bowl games lived up to the hype. The last game of the day, the Fiesta Bowl, featuring Stanford and Oklahoma St, certainly did. As Stanford drove the ball down the field for a last second field goal, the game seemed to be over. 35 yards is but a "chip shot." Unfortunately for this poor kicker, he hooked it mightily to the left. Then came over-time where he had the opportunity to redeem himself. Only this time he missed another, slightly longer field goal. The Oklahoma St kicker didn't return the "favor," and went on to become the hero. Or at least, get a high five or pat on the butt or something like it.

Camera men always focus on kickers when they miss. I guess they want to catch them cussing or crying. You could see the look of dejection in this young baby faced kid. It made me glad I wasn't his parent. I would much rather have my kid be a punter, since punters rarely lose games.

I also thought of other kickers who have missed memorable kicks. Boise St.'s kicker missed one last year that cost them a chance to play for the national championship.  If I'm not mistaken, I believe that kicker had opportunities to redeem himself and blew those as well.

I can personally empathize with kickers. Not because I've ever been a field goal kicker, but because I've messed things up before with my own sin. I've tried to redeem myself, and it just seems like I mess up again. 

This morning I was reading the book of Zechariah and going through the Good Book Company's  good book guide Zechariah: God's big plan fir struggling Christians. It posed an application question: What would it be like to live in light of the fact that Jesus has offered the perfect sacrifice and then sat down on the right hand of the Father?
I don't have to redeem myself. I don't have that pressure of redeeming myself, and then screwing it up again as I always seem to do. Freedom to follow Jesus, without fear of failure is a beautiful thing. Kickers choke, and sinners sin, but Jesus loves them both. Losers and sinners. There's more to life than football, and there's more to life than sin.  The Savior gets the final say when we embrace him through our imperfect faith. We don't need to worry about the impossibility of redeeming ourselves. That's for Someone else. Our job is to repent of replaying the "missed kick" over and over in our heads, and to instead continue looking at Jesus: the one didn't back out, sin, or "choke" our redemption away.