Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kathy Keller on hermeneutics, ladies, and misinterpretation

A number of months back, blogger/speaker/writer Rachel Held Evans shared a number of reasons why she became disillusioned and left the church. I deemed this a helpful list, and even responded to that list here, here, and here,  though I obviously disagreed with her conclusions. Later she shared a list explaining why she returned to the church.

Now she has a book out called A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on a roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master.

Apparently her publicist must have done some good work as Evans ended up on The Today Show. But do not count Tim Keller's wife Kathy among her fans. I commend her review  called "A Year of Ridiculous Biblical Interpretation."

Whether you intend to read Evan's book or not (I don't unless folks in my church start reading it), do yourself and your friends a favor and read the review, if for nothing else, then its sound, simple, but helpful lesson in hermeneutics. 

Hermeneutics is simply the method of interpreting something, though its use is often employed in reference to bible interpretation. Kathy gives several parameters which will help you interpret the bible. According to Keller, one of Evan's main contentions with so called "Biblical Womanhood" is that primarily folks are simply picking and choosing which bible verses to apply. Yet Keller wisely recognizes in her review/open letter, "In doing so, you (Evans) have further muddied the waters of biblical interpretation instead of bringing any clarity to the task." Here are a few things we can glean in regards to how to more responsibly interpret the bible.
  • Interpret the Old Testament with the new. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law and so we can eat bacon wrapped scallops now. It is not picking and choosing to not follow dietary or cleanliness  laws (Mark 7:19)
  • Narrative or Prescriptive? Is the author telling the story to condone/approve/teach evils (prescriptive) or does he include the "dirt" of God's people to show everyone that even the "heroes" need a savior. Is Abraham's passing off his wife as his sister to save his butt something the bible approves of/instructs us to do (prescriptive), or is it a display of a lack of faith ultimately displaying our need for Jesus? The writers no more condone or approve of evils perpetrated on women than a newspaper editors approve of a rape or murder they report. Nice one Kathy!
  • Intended meaning in context. What is the writer trying to communicate? She gives two examples. One includes a misapplication of proverbs as she literally stands on the corner of the street with a "Dan is great" sign when the text of proverbs reads, "Her husband is respected at the city gate." It just means the husband is generally respected in the community. The 2nd is when Paul explains to Titus that even one of the Cretans own prophets declares that they are lazy. Paul isn't being a racist, but instead reminding Titus that he his work cut out for him and their own prophets agree!
While Evans espouses a how will we pick and choose bible verses to apply, this is not how, even the bible writers, assume one should interpret it. In the end, hopefully one of Evans "gifts" to the community will be a heightened awareness that each person needs to  examine his heart when coming to any subject matter addressed in the bible. We should do all we can to make sure we aren't picking and choosing which ones to apply. Unless of course, Jesus tells us specific ones (ceremonial law) not to apply in the ways they were first intended.

Like I said earlier, read the review, if only for the hermeneutics lesson. It's well worth your 5 minutes or so.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Making your own "study bible" and some prayer apps

My last post focused on how not to use your cell phone during corporate worship. But recently I have come across some helpful ways to use technology in and outside church.

1.) All kinds of tablets offer various versions of the bible. Provided you can resist the urge to check facebook or update your fantasy football roster, tablets can be quite helpful. A woman in our church actually takes notes within the electronic bible app. So in essence she is creating her own "study bible" whenever she hears the word preached. Since we at Redeemer preach expositionally through books of the bible, she will have "commentaries" on various books or sections of scriptures (like the Sermon on the Mount which I'm preaching).

2. I'm not very technologically advanced compared to most, but I'm still benefiting from the Prayer Notebook app. Tim Challies recently shared a number of prayer apps for iPhones here and I ended trying the free version of the app called Prayer Notebook Lite. After I saw how it worked, I felt it worth the price of $ 1.99.

One of the more convicting things about the app is that I'm now realizing folks I've simply not prayed for. But the bright side is that I'm praying for more folks and more situations now. While I'll never pray for everyone as much as I would like, fewer people are slipping through the cracks. The app allows you to separate requests into categories, days of week, mark as "answered", and will even send you reminders if you want. Just started using it a few weeks ago, but very helpful, especially for those requests which fit outside my normal categories.

Here's a screen shot of what it look likes

If you have any other helpful apps, please share them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shoud you facebook and tweet during church?

A pastor in Arizona actually encourages social media during the worship service. "What" say you, or at least that's what I say. I'm a pastor. Is that really a good idea?

Just before The Office took a nose dive in quality, it depicted a beautifully tragic/accurate cell phone addiction scene. Ryan, one of the younger characters on the show had his cell phone taken away during a game of bar trivia. He was cheating with it. After it was taken away, and for just only a matter of minutes, he confessed he couldn't play the game any longer because, "I can't live without my cell phone."

I confess now that I have a smart phone, I use it all the time. I take it places where I probably shouldn't. But is "having to have it" all times a good thing? My wife says no, and I think I agree with her. And I'm pretty sure Jesus is on her side on this one.

If you watch the short clip, which of course you should, you'll see a pastor leading his congregation to share the gospel on facebook and other social media. During the service. He argues that the church should be ahead of the times and take advantage of these opportunities.

As one who tends to embrace the pragmatic, I can sympathize with this direction. The Reformers certainly embraced technology in the form of the printing press. They took great advantage of it, and one wonders what kind of influence they would have had without that wonderful piece of technology. I don't remember Luther or Calvin saying, "I want to go 'old school.' Let's just get some people to hand-write our materials. Helmut or Pierre, you guys have good penmanship, right?" Nope they took advantage of what was out there and used it for the spread of the gospel.

While I love the outward facing direction of this pastor, and the truth that people need to hear the gospel preached each week, my concern is more in regards to the timing of when this should happen. Here are my three main concerns:

 1.) Cell phone idolatry. We're on our cell phones 24-7. Can we not take a break from them, taking our gaze off our idols (even if we're using them for good things like inviting folks to church)? Aren't we more like Ryan from The Office than we want to admit? Who greater to deal with our idolatry than the beautiful risen Savior King Jesus?

2.) Church and worship. Should the church worship service be a time no different than any other during the week? Or is it a once-a-week special time when God's covenant people gather together to offer up their hearts, minds, time, wallets, voices to serve the God who has graciously saved them and lavished them with grace? Invite people to worship. Ask early and ask often. But when God issues His call to worship Him, just direct your attention on Him as much as is possible. You've got tons of time to invite folks over facebook, twitter, text messages, etc....

3.) Are invitations during worship more effective than invitations extended before or after church? Do you really think its more effective to take a picture of yourself singing and then tweet it to others than to send the same message after or before worship starts? Perhaps the most effective communicative tool is asking someone in person. You don't even need a cell phone plan to do that.

Other pastors have thought through the issues of technology during worship. Some don't even want power point or media shout. Some think printing words in the bulletin is from the devil (God only wants you to sing out of man-made hymnbooks I guess...). That's not me. Use technology for God's glory, our edification, for outreach and mercy.

Use technology but don't let technology use you. I think someone smarter than myself probably already said that once. Or twice maybe....

If you're interested why well known Reformed pastor Tim Challies thinks you absolutely should not tweet sermons in real time, check this out. I don't always agree with him-why do pastors feel the need to always make that disclaimer when its pretty obvious we can't agree with everyone all the time-but he is very biblical, thoughtful, and "down with the times."

Next post will be on some spiritual benefits of technology folks have passed on to me.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Implications of believing in Judge Jesus

We have been watching the video Soul put out by Christianity Explored for youth group time. The video and materials that come with it are intentionally evangelistic, so any visitors will get to hear the gospel or at least part of it (the video is 7 weeks long). The benefit for those in the youth group is that they get to better understand it or believe it for the first time. I never assume everyone who regularly comes is a Christian.

In addition the youth are afforded a way to learn the gospel in a way that they can share it in the language of those outside the church, as opposed to "simply" using words like "ask Jesus into your heart" that only people in the church understand. 

But the final benefit of hearing and re-hearing the gospel is that it provides so much application for believers as well. For instance, the video highlighted the resurrection, but spent time explaining one of the "perks" of the resurrection for Jesus' followers: Jesus is the Great Judge.

Jesus is being "judged" by the high priests, he tells him that they will see "The Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds in heaven (Mark 14)." Jesus is ultimately saying, "You're judging me now, but you will see me judging you in just a bit. And I'm right and you're wrong." What irony: that the one being judged is actually the just judge of all!

So what difference does that make? Well the video highlighted some helpful stuff. First of all that no one will pull a "fast one" on God. Jesus will have the last laugh. Not the Taliban, murderers, rapists, etc....

Since Christians don't stand on their record but Jesus' record, the image of a Great Judge should provide comfort. But it also makes a huge difference in life. We went a bit further than the video to mine this truth for more application.

Oprah teaches us to not let anyone judge us (meaning don't let anyone tell you are sinning, even if you are). Paul teaches us to not let anyone judge us according to the new moon or a Sabbath (Col 2:16). I think he means that we can defend our not celebrating new moon or special Sabbaths (not referring to the weekly Sabbath). Don't cave. Relax. You're in the right. Let Jesus take care of it.

But what happens when people do judge us incorrectly? What happens when other Christians judge us according to standards not in line with the gospel? I think the Jesus response to the high priest applies for both situations: "you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power."

Whether our accusers are Satan and his goons (the great accuser), non-Christians, or Christians, we will all face the great judge. Thankfully.

Give it to Jesus. If we're right, we'll be vindicated. If we're not, we'll be forgiven. Win-win.

Now that's not always easy to do. In fact, whenever I'm judged incorrectly (as far as I know), I hate it. It seems so unfair. But it's not nearly as unfair as what was done to Jesus. And I want to retaliate. Yet ultimately why I demand justice now is that I don't believe what Jesus says. That's really it.

But there is also hope in this life too. Consider Paul's words to Timothy: 

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds......At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might by fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

-II Tim 4:14, 16-18

That perspective can be ours when we believe. Lord give us faith to believe.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I've accepted who I am: I'm bad

My wife and I have been making our way through Breaking Bad on Netflix. As we are approaching the middle part of the 4th, and I believe, penultimate season, I've actually noticed a number of "common grace" (beneficial things non-Christians display and do) and fairly biblical insights. Let me share with you one particular questions that the series raises, and then answers.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it all centers around Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who discovers that cooking Meth can provide for his family. Everything goes downhill from there. Duh....

His partner Jesse regularly goes to a recovery group for drug addicts. The ultimate presupposition of this group stated in their beginning session is that you need to first accept yourself and that change is not the most important thing. You have to like and accept yourself. This Oprah-esque mantra is assumed as gospel over the period of several different sessions.

Now what is positive about this is that it points us to a God who accepts and justifies us not because we clean ourselves up, but completely because of His Son who took our dirt and gave us His cleanness. Therefore we don't first clean ourselves up to come to Him. This kooky psychiatrist chooses to forgo the "religious" way to acceptance. You shouldn't try to clean yourselves up so that someone else will accept you. I'm with that.

But he instead opts for the irreligious way of self-acceptance or self-actualization. Just accept yourself for who you are. You don't need to change at all. You have to like who you are despite all that you've done, and how much your actions have literally destroyed lives.

Jesse gives it a shot. Instead of quitting the drug dealing industry, he hops back in with more vigor, determination, and delight than before. He used to to do it for money. Now it is who he is. He tells Walt that, "I've accepted who I am, and I am bad. I'm a drug dealer."

In a later group counseling session depicted in another episode, the same leader presses him to open up and share. Then he drops the bomb shell which exposes this "self-acceptance" theory of change. "Do you know why I've come here? I've come here to sell the recovering addicts in this group crystal meth. Should I accept myself? How bad is that!"

The scene is beautiful in a broken sort of way. It exposes the follies of the religious/irreligious ways of salvation and change as futile shams. The only thing missing is Jesus.

The gospel is a third way to live. We don't change in order to be accepted. But we also don't NOT change because we should accept ourselves and all of our sin. We're sinful. We shouldn't see our sin and say, "That's good stuff. That's me." The gospel says that is NOT the way God designed us to live. That is not you. Yet neither accepting ourselves, nor working to change our situation before God does any good. Change isn't primarily the problem. Self acceptance isn't primarily the problem. God's acceptance of us is, and can't be bought by self work or self-acceptance. 

Instead, the gospel offers us both God's acceptance (which then allows us to say-I like who am re-created to be) and the gift of a desire to change. Not a desire to change in order to please God or others, but a desire to change because we already have God's acceptance. And consequently the acceptance of His congregation of fellow struggling addicts.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's not time to go solo: "spiritual but not religious?"

Spiritual can have lots of meanings today. I've heard it used in ways that I'm pretty sure the framers of the word never intended. I went to a "spiritual" church, one that told me the future. My personal favorite is one I heard during a foreign study trip in college: "The most spiritual people I know are atheists." Hmmm.....

But then there are more common and more widely accepted uses of the term "spiritual." I guess it means I believe in God, but not "organized religion." How organized are you willing to go? Are Quakers too organized?


Everyone has heard the age old euphemism "I'm spiritual but not religious." Not long ago the CNNbeliefblog ran this article "My take: I'm spiritual but not religious."  A non-pastor gives some helpful insight. That thinking needs retiring.

1.) It's helpful to realize that beliefs like this have a root. They don't just come out of nowhere. People don't just say, "I'm spiritual, not religious" without having already adopted some deeper picture of reality.

It is within the context of today's anti-big, anti-discipline, anti-challenging climate - in combination with a therapeutic turn in which everything can be resolved through addressing my inner existential being - that the spiritual but not religious outlook has flourished.

2.) While mega churches are not bad per se (probably many are much healthier than smaller shrinking ingrown churches), have profited from the most from this therapeutic driven, shallow, doctrine-less philosophy and way of life? This guy thinks so.

The boom in megachurches merely reflect this sidelining of serious religious study for networking, drop-in centers and positive feelings.

3.) Why does the "spiritual, but not religious" philosophy matter? The organized religion of Christianity has made possible a number of things we all hold precious in Western history and culture. Why should we embrace a worldview that won't allow for such creations?

Christianity has been interwoven and seminal in Western history and culture. As Harold Bloom pointed out in his book on the King James Bible, everything from the visual arts, to Bach and our canon of literature generally would not be possible without this enormously important work.

4.) What happens when we jettison sin? If we don't call "sin," sin, then we don't change. It is bad for us. It is bad for our families. It is bad for our neighbors, co-workers, etc....We accept an extremely selfish picture of ourselves with less concern on how our "sin" keeps us from loving others.

The idea of sin has always been accompanied by the sense of what one could do to improve oneself and impact the world.

Yet the spiritual-but-not-religious outlook sees the human as one that simply wants to experience "nice things" and "feel better." There is little of transformation here and nothing that points to any kind of project that can inspire or transform us.

This is what I think when I hear "spiritual but not religious"
1.) I rightly hate the hypocrisy of professing Christians (or you fill in the blank _____), but those people are beyond redemption. I'm so much better than them that it's waste of time to associate and gather which such people. I hate pride but I live just as pridefully.

2.) I rightly hate the negative experiences I've had with organized religion. I know people will hurt me in the same way with a new church because all churches operate in the same fashion. I won't give them the pleasure.

3.) I rightly hate people making up rules and telling me what to do. But I clearly know better than everyone else how to live and don't need any input in my life. I'd rather discover the truth for myself, even though the truth I discover will be completely shaped by what I want it to be.

4.) I would much rather serve myself than to serve other people and be concerned about their good. What matters most is what makes me happy. If there's some happiness left over, I'll try to do something nice for someone else.

5.) I don't want or need a community that can love me and speak truth to me. I don't need to be loved or to love. I'm a rock. And an island too, by the way.

6.) I worship God how I want to worship Him. If He exists, he's just happy to have someone as good as me pay Him a bit of attention. He likes it when I go hiking or fishing.

7.) My time is my time. I'm obviously busier than you are.

"Organized" churches have really done lots of damage to a number of people. As a result many have, like Vanilla Ice, felt "it's time to go solo." But in the end, "spiritual not religious" is the height of arrogance, selfishness, and foolishness.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jay Mohr on "suffering"

Jay Mohr played a dirtbag agent Bob Sugar in the movie Jerry McGuire. From what I can tell after hearing him numerous times guest hosting the Jim Rome show, I don't think he had to "act" too much for that role. Actually I have never enjoyed him filling in until a few days ago. 

Mohr referenced someone complaining, "We've suffered through years of bad quarterbacks and we finally have a good one now." 

He responded, "Oh, so you personally suffered during the bad quarterback play? What, did you go without a coat all winter? Were you evicted from your house? Did you have no place to live? You suffered because of bad quarterback play?"

I'm sure I've said similar things. A good reminder in regards to words we use to describe sporting events. We don't really "suffer." Even long suffering Browns and Bucs fans.

But he wasn't done. Mohr went on to fairly accurately describe the way some folks view their sports teams. We slave 40 hours at a job we hate with a boss we dislike to check out for 3 hours and have something to really live for.

I guess you can see why some folks use the word "suffer." Not a good way to view sports. But when there is no alternative bigger picture other than sports, success, family, it makes sense. And when Christians forget the bigger picture of the gospel, we can very quickly revert back to our old form.

I may never say this again, but, thank you Jay Mohr.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Coach Schiano's son and what do with "fatherly embarassment"

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has been, and will be under much scrutiny this year. First of all, he is a first year head coach. But more than a first year head coach, he is a first year head coach who came from Rutgers. Most college coaches don't make good NFL coaches (and there was a good one last year, so the "law of averages" is not in his favor). Then he makes news in his second game of the season by implementing a college play (trying to cause a fumble during the "victory formation" kneel down). Then come reports of Schiano being a bully to folks visiting Rutgers.

Now the most recent story is his linebacker son at Berkeley Prep getting suspended for the rest of the season. Apparently vulgar language can come from coaches but not from players using such words in anger toward the referees. 

According to a FHSAA report obtained by The Tampa Tribune, Schiano was ejected from the Lennard game for using profanity at a referee. The conduct is considered a "Level 2'' unsportsmanlike conduct, which carries a six-week suspension.

This is somewhat ironic in that Coach Greg Schiano preaches discipline. According to respected player Ronde Barber, "he even has rules for rules." But his son was obviously playing by another set of rules.

Here are a few takes:

1.) A son's behavior, particularly when it swims against the current of his father's core teachings, reflects poorly on the father. Now it doesn't mean that the father has done a bad job of instilling discipline. It doesn't necessarily mean that he is a bad dad-although how one can be a good Dad AND good football coach is either a mystery or impossibility. But it really does dishonor and embarrass the father. When our kids do cuss out refs, or don't shake hands after games, it really is embarrassing. I think that's probably OK. But what we do with the embarrassment is where we can get into trouble.

2.) Regardless of the fact that it does embarrass the father (I'm sure I've embarrassed my father the same way my son's tantrums embarrass me) I don't think my embarrassment can EVER be the reason  why such a behavior is bad. Now for shame based cultures without the gospel, there is nothing wrong with that. That's normal. Don't screw up because you bring shame to the father. And if you do, you have to bear that shame somehow through atonement or suicide. But if the gospel reminds us that there is no shame for those in Christ (Romans 8:1), then parents can't play the, "you embarrassed me" card. God doesn't do it to us, so we can't do it our kids.

3.) It's natural to be embarrassed. But have you ever asked yourself, "Why is this so embarrassing for me?" Often times it is because we lose approval points. We don't look like we know what we're doing (which is only an illusion anyway). No one will give us the proverbial "parent of the day" award. And you know you want it. I do, and that's why my child's bad behavior is so embarrassing.

4.) While sins affects more than just the person sinning such as the parent, team, or community, the ultimate offended one is God. Schiano may have rules for rules, but God has laid out a perfect design for us to follow. And it is him whom we have offended. David reminds us of this when he says, "Against you, you only have I sinned Lord...."(Psalm 51:4) The sin of cussing out a referee or refusing to shake the other teams hands is not primarily an offense against the ref, the other team, or the coach, but against the Lord.

5.) It doesn't hurt to read and re-read, and re-hash in our minds the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The younger brother, due to his sin and selfishness brings shame to the father. In a shame based culture, this is a bad idea. Bad Idea Jeans for sure. But the father meets the son outside of town, embraces him, and brings him back into town to remind everyone that he is covered. The father covers the sons shame while taking the sons shame upon Himself. How great is it to hear that God is not embarrassed or ashamed to call us his sons, nor is Jesus ashamed to call us his younger brothers (Heb 2:11). I hope I can remember this the next time I'm embarrassed by my son's actions.

Monday, October 8, 2012

This UK pastor is OK: Struggle with same sex attraction

Yesterdays sermon on Ephesians 5 took us deep into the challenging world of sexuality. It's probably the most offensive topic, whether it be a neighbor sleeping with his girlfriend, a capitulating "non-struggle" with pornography, or whether homosexuality is "cool" with God. If you question these ideas, you will most likely get dealt the "don''t judge me" card.

But there is a difference between struggling/wrestling or admitting struggles in such areas AND "Let's not go there." The latter is a non-Christian response. But there are is also a difference betwixt struggling/wrestling with sexual sin and actually admitting/confessing sin. The former demonstrates that Christ is working in you. If there's no struggle, then you've arrived at Heaven. And I'm not sure folks in Heaven are reading this blog-though I can't prove that. And it would be pretty cool if they were. But that's a bit tangential.

I think the latter, actually admitting/confessing takes belief one step further.

Most Christians-and I'm in that category-tend to limit sin struggles to very generic terms like "pride" or "lust." Duh....thanks for letting me in; tell me something I don't know!

The specifics are hard. When those specifics comprise sexual sin, they are much harder. When those specifics involve same sex attraction, that is REALLY hard. When one is a pastor, that is REALLY, REALLY hard.

Vaughn Roberts, and I are close. If by close you mean I met his sister at the National Outreach Conference in San Diego back in 2008, and I have one of his books God's Big Picture, yes we are close. Recently he agreed to an interview about his struggles with same-sex attraction.

Do yourself and those around you a favor. No I'm not talking about wearing deodarant or flossing your teeth: read this interview.  Here's a snippet:

Julian: Evangelical Anglicans are widely reported as saying there shouldn’t be gay clergy. What does that mean for you?

Vaughan: The press is often very misleading here. There is no objection to people being church leaders because of a homosexual orientation. The focus of the argument is over teaching and practice. Evangelicals say that clergy should uphold the Bible’s teaching that sex is only for heterosexual marriage in teaching and lifestyle, both of which I do.

Julian: You might not be meaning to say anything fundamental about your identity by acknowledging that homosexuality is a personal issue for you, but there are many who will hear you in that way and are likely to label you accordingly. Would it not have been better to have kept silent?

Vaughan: I have been very grateful for the friendship and wisdom of my Advisory Group (Peter Comont, Jonathan Lamb, Will Stileman and Pete Wilkinson), who keep me accountable and provide much needed counsel. They, along with close family and friends, have known for a considerable time that I experience same-sex attraction. We have thought through these issues together and, although the words in the preface are very low key, I didn’t take the decision to write them lightly.

In fact, I included some personal references when I first wrote the chapter on homosexuality six years ago, but I removed them before it was published because we were all conscious of the potential dangers of unhelpful labelling and of the pressure for me to engage increasingly in a single issue ministry — something I’m very keen to avoid. I felt it right to include the new preface, however, with their support, because of an increasing conviction that there does need to be more openness in this area among evangelical Christians, given the rapidly changing culture we live in — and the resulting increased pressure on believers who face this battle.......

Julian: What advice would you give to those who have not felt able to share their experience of same-sex attraction with other Christians?

Vaughan: I would strongly urge them to take a first step and think of at least one mature believer they could trust and be open with. We haven’t been called to live as isolated Christians, but rather as members of God’s family in local churches. Churches are imperfect, just as we all are as individuals, but they are the context in which God means us to grow together as disciples. Many of us have found that honesty about our struggles with trusted brothers and sisters has not only been an encouragement to us, but has also made it easier for others to open up to us about their own battles. Parachurch organisations can also be a useful resource. The True Freedom Trust (http://www.truefreedomtrust.co.uk), for example, has been a great help to many.

I'm glad Vaughan chose NOT to take this particular struggle out of his book since the title of the book IS Battles Christians Face. Christians do face this battle. To admit such a struggle takes serious some serious spiritual cojones (I know that's crass but "gusto" just doesn't do this act justice). It takes some serious belief in the gospel. Remember, you can confess and admit struggles if you believe that you are ALREADY clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You can admit your struggle with depression, same-sex attraction, pornography, eating disorders, or whatever other struggles are taboo for church folks.

Thankful for the gospel centric honesty from Vaughan. Probably a fantastic pastor.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Greenberg and Acting like Marlins

Every now and then you just come across a cool story in sports. In 2005, Adam Greenberg stepped up to the plate for the first time, and took the first pitch. Right to the back of the head. The first pitch was his last pitch, as he never earned his way back to the big leagues. Until last night. Check out the story here. Seriously, do yourself a favor and check this one out.

It would have been magical for him to have hit a home run off 20 game winner R.A. Dickey. But instead he struck out on three straight 80 mph knuckleballs. Like most of the Tampa Bay Rays he faced this summer.

But the ovation from the fans left him feeling as part of the ball club. So did the Marlins, from manager to the stars, from top to bottom. Several Marlins players invited him to come watch football during the week. He was part of the club. At least for a day.

The Jim Rome interview today shed a little more light on the story. Some big-wig and his wife were watching Field of Dreams (first time for the wife). "Moonlight Graham has nothing on Adam Greenberg," said the husband. And thus the dream to get Adam Greenberg back up for one more plate appearance was born. Last night was the fruition of lots of hard work. 

But it was hard work on someone else's part. Greenberg admitted that he didn't do anything to promote or get back onto the field. All he did was say, "Yes, I'd love to get at least one more at bat." He received it. 

The warm reception surprises me a bit. In a good way. A bunch of people who worked hard to get there, received this newbie like he was one of their own. They showed him grace and welcomed him as part of their community. 

When it comes to the church community, we don't have to put ourselves in someone else's shoes so much. We don't have to pretend. The church comprises a bunch of "Greenbergs," who have benefited from someone else working hard behind the scenes on its behalf. As long as we remember we're really a bunch of Greenberg's, we'll act like Marlins.

While I would have loved a home-run for Greenberg, he is thankful for the gracious opportunity to strike out. An obviously Jewish name (he also played for Israel's national team), maybe this won't be his last taste of grace? Maybe the veil will be lifted some day (II Cor 3:14-16)?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Retreat Reinforecments: Costs, Cultural Relvance Pass, and Youth Can Listen to Sermons

This is simply a follow up from yesterday's Modgnik post highlighting some random things I learned as a leader last weekend.

1.) Retreats really do have a cost. Obviously they cost money, as the retreat center needs to be rented (600 kids!), speaker paid, band secured, creative skits practiced, food eaten, kids housed, gas guzzled, etc.....These retreats take up a big chunk of our youth budget, and family wallets/bank accounts do take hits. But there is also physical toll that retreats take on leaders. One of ours progressively got sicker throughout the weekend and will be paying for her sacrifice this week. Sleep has never been my companion on these retreats either. But also, consider the family sacrifice. My four year old was not happy to send has Daddy off, and so that made his Mommy's sacrifice a bit harder as well. But it is part of my job, so how thankful am I to have parents and another non-parents come to labor alongside of me? Very thankful. I became acutely aware of some of the costs that really go into such a retreat (saying nothing of the sacrifice of those who regularly get together to plan these things). Modgnik is worth the price of admission and the "pay-offs" in the lives of these youth-and their leaders-is often eternal. Cost counting doesn't make me prideful but thankful for those who sacrificed to send kids and leaders.

2.) Youth will give you a pass when you don't pass the cultural relevance test. Our speaker referenced R.J.3, the former Heisman trophy winner and current Washington Redskins quarterback the first evening. The problem is that his name is Robert Griffin III, and so his nickname is R.G 3. He got some flack, but the kids cut him some slack. No mention of it throughout the weekend. Perhaps the Harry Potter allusions covered his bases, but I think that most kids get over that kind of stuff pretty quickly. Middle schoolers care that you like them much more than how well you know their culture. Fortunately. I must be living in the past, because I knew ZERO pop songs they played as we piled into the meeting room and cafeteria. Coolness and relevance are far less important to youth than love.

3.) Middle Schoolers can listen to sermons. This speaker is an RUF guy, and RUF guys do sermons. They preach expository sermons, and regularly allude to verses and say things like, "I get this from verse 8." He didn't disappoint, and yet I was concerned that he might be over the kids' heads. Last year's speaker looked and sounded very different, and spoke on very different subjects. This guy preached Revelation, yet he wasn't over their heads at all! Most of them articulated back to me exactly what he said in our cabin discussion time. The amount of "take-away" from the sermons confirmed that kids really can listen. A number of girls even took notes. While I do think preachers like myself need to recognize folks with shorter attention spans (like myself), middle schoolers should be expected to follow along. As parents we can follow up with our kids and expect to have meaningful sermon discussion. But we have to raise our expectations beyond the "Well I didn't hear him/her talking too much this week, so things are good" perspective.

4.) Illustrations are important for all, but especially so for middle schoolers. I consider illustrations as the "coat hanger" on which to hang both the truth and applications. When connected with the truth and application, they provide something to help the kid think about when the sermon is done. These kids could re-tell the illustration and the truth articulated. Reinforced the need for illustrations, and their power to connect the listener to more than just the preacher, but to Jesus.

Just some things I learned this week and want to pass on.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Modgnik Recap 2012

This past weekend, Redeemer's youth group, and 4 leaders made our trek down to Rockbridge (a young life retreat center) for the annual Modgnik Retreat 2012. Modgnik is "Kingdom" spelled backwards, which is appropriately named because Jesus' Kingdom often runs completely backward to how the world (not to mention Christians) operates.

Last year, the speaker focused on the Kingdom and Culture. This year, Shawn Slate, R.U.F. (Reformed University Fellowship) campus minister at University of Virginia, camped out in Revelation. He called the youth, and of course their leaders, to a greater heavenly vision with all sorts of relevance for our lives today.

While the speaker is clearly in his element on the college campus, his personality, allusions, honesty, and illustrations reinforced a very deep message. As far as I could tell in the following cabin discussion times, the youth tracked well and could rehash the main points and illustrations.

So with that in mind, let me rehash some for you.

On the first evening, he challenged us to think about Revelation like a portrait. As with anyone creating a portrait, the artist is asking you to see the world the way he sees it. So it is with God, who offers us a portrait of what is really going on with the world. And we need such a portrait because we don't see the world from His vantage point. Yet the portrait of Revelation offers us a beautiful glimpse of not just what God is doing in the world, but a deeper, brighter, more beautiful picture of Jesus. The one who is first and last, and everything in between. The world hinges around Him. The portrait is ultimately a portrait of Jesus.

He also gave us something to really think about in regard to how we read Revelation. Some of the bible explains, "Do this, or believe this," but Revelation is God's "show and tell." Instead of believe this, do this, understand this, we have a "see this." A helpful hermeneutic indeed for connecting 1st century images to 21st century life.

The picture of Jesus we have in gospels is of gentle, suffering, servant-King, but we see a bigger, brighter portrait in Revelation. Nothing boring or ordinary, but a King worthy of respect, as John immediately falls down in His presence as if dead. Jesus isn't our "binky." But how cool is Jesus' offering the comfort of a "Fear not?" We're undone in His presence, but he puts us back together in His presence. Fearsome and powerful, but compassionate and reassuring. Jesus makes no promise of comfort or power, but he does promise none other will satisfy.

Why do we need such a portrait? Because Jesus is inviting us into this story of what He's doing in the world. It's an invitation, more than a straight command. If God captures our imaginations, He captures our hearts. That's what He really wants. Our hearts.

One of the more challenging images he presented was that of Jesus saying, "I will spit you out of my mouth." Instead of us looking at Jesus and saying, albeit inaccurately but honestly, "I'm bored with you," Jesus is ultimately saying, "I'm the One who is bored with you!" Powerful and sobering.

When John lays his eyes upon the figure of the Son of Man, where is he? Right smack dab in the middle of His people. Jesus is always right there with His people. He suffered for and with His people. And even now, while reigning, He is still in some real sense here with his people. Comforting.

So how do we live now? We long for the return of this King. We can see his presence now, though its distorted, like the Mac Photobooth where folks twist, turn, and stretch photo images. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses of what the world should look like. It's there. But we long for the real fulfillment. We bite into 3 foot chocolate Easter bunny, and discover its hollow. But one day we get a solid chocolate Easter bunny. We are heading for a real, solid world one day. Not an ethereal realm of spirits, but a real tangible world made new. Can't wait. Exciting!

Our cabin time after this talk focused on the hope of what will one day be. Our imaginations need to be recaptured, particularly in regards to relationships. Consider judgment on the evils of this world. We don't have to exact vengeance, but can trust God to do that. This belief makes us more gentle, less retributive. Consider the fact that your Christian friend, leader, etc..., who hurt you, will be made new as well. If we can imagine what that person WILL become, with their positives accentuated and negatives redeemed, we can love/forgive/bear with them better TODAY. Rubber meets the road kind of stuff.

Finally, he closed with the reality that the Return of the King will be good news for believers, but bad news for unbelievers. He illustrated what longing looks like. His little daughter called her daddy a bunch of times while on his way home. Daddy are you coming now? Yes, but I had to get groceries. Daddy are you coming home now? Yes but I had to pick up your brother. Daddy, are you coming home now? Yes, sweetie, do you see that blue car, I'm just behind that blue car? His daughter was in the front yard ready and waiting with a soccer ball to play with her daddy. That's anticipation. That image will stick. 

Hope you feel somewhat as if you were there. Would have loved to have this kind of stuff when I was a youth!

Just for your info, that is me in the pic, wearing a giant over-sized onesie pajamas. My skit career made a brief comeback after years of dormancy when someone volunteered me simply because I'm loud. Compliment or fact?