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Friday, June 28, 2013

Maps or Stories?

We just returned from a week of vacation. We spent a few days in the mountains and then traveled to Columbus, Georgia where Hannah is doing an internship for the summer. That involved driving through Atlanta, which improbably, I had never done before. We got off pretty easy. The traffic was just really bad, but not horrible, or horrendous.

Using a GPS gives me more confidence on such a trip, though I think it’s making me less able to figure out directions on my own. I like finding the fastest way to get to places, so I often use it even when home to see if there’s a better way to get from one place to another. Sometimes I drive my family crazy on trips though because the technology fools me into thinking I will never make another wrong turn. I hate making wrong turns and so I obsesses over details like, “turn right,” “turn left,” “turn here,” “don’t turn there.” When I make a wrong turn, I’m frustrated because I wasted all of a minute or two. You should pray for Kat. She’s had to put up with me for a long time. 

Many see the Bible as a set of directions, a map if you will, that tells you exactly what to do. Some have decided they don't want to go where the Bible seems to point, because they don't much like what following those directions apparently does to some people. But the Bible is not a map; it is not a set of directions. It's a story of a desperate rescue. It's your story and my story. It is the story of every person everywhere. The story has a glorious ending. But you and I have a role in determining how we fit into the story. For the story to end well for us personally, we have to accept this story as the truth about the world and the truth about us personally.

I’m beginning a study of the Old Testament book of Joshua, but I must first place Joshua’s story in the context of this big story. Joshua’s story contains numerous memorable incidents that will yield clues to developing an enduring faith. It begins with a delicate transition when a great leader (Moses) is gone and a new one (Joshua) is coming on the scene. It ends with Joshua’s funeral and this ominous statement:

Joshua 24:31 (ESV) 31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. 

Israel remained faithful to God through Joshua’s life and of the lives of those who outlived him, but then (recorded in the Old Testament book of Judges) they tragically wandered away. This begs the question, “Is there a way to avoid this outcome? Is there a way to set down such roots of faith into the DNA of our churches, organizations, and culture so that an enduring faith is built that lasts for generations?” I'll be exploring those questions while walking through some of the most memorable incidents in all of the Bible. The series title is Reproducing Faith. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Come Home

No one likes hypocrisy when they see it in someone else. Don't you think everyone is, at best, put off by someone who looks down on other people; the kind of person who believes they are better than everyone else? That kind of attitude repulses us. Problem is we each are hypocritical about some things, but it’s harder to detect in ourselves. Perhaps the worst variety of hypocrisy is a religious bully, a person who delights in focusing on what everyone else does wrong, but seems blind to his or her own pride and judgmentalism. Ironically, it turns out that those who show resentment and bitterness through their condescending attitude are just as much a child of the devil, just as far away from God as those who blatantly run from God in open rebellion, who wildly express their independence from God in visibly destructive ways.

Shockingly, God seems ready to welcome home to himself both kinds of people. Probably we each tend toward one version or the other of running from God and we tend to be irritated by those who struggle with the opposite variety. Yet God still draws us to himself, to the only “place” we will ever feel completely at home. But he doesn’t just call us to himself. He also draws both kinds of rebels into groups of people he calls churches. What a motley crew we turn out to be!

Which kind of rebellion do you tend toward? Regardless, God welcomes you into his family full of both kinds rebels. Welcome home!

Sunday I'll complete the series Caring for Young People in a Technology Obsessed World. I have argued throughout the series that only the Gospel has the power to dig deep enough into our souls to block the pull of technology and the new ways it can trap us into old ways of sin.  Each week I've laid out a part of the Gospel like this:

1.    We looked at the question “Who is God?” in a message called All People Everywhere from Acts 17:16-34. (You can get the video for this one at the link.)
2.    We talked about “Life=God Centered Living” in a message called Mission Impossible from Mark 10:17-31.
3.    Next we talked about “Sin=Self-Centered Living” in a message called Our Default Setting from John 4:1-30.
4.    Then we explored Jesus as the way back to God in a message called Actions Speak Louder Than Words from Romans 5:6-8.
5.    We conclude Sunday with a message called “Come Home” from Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the prodigal son which dramatically demonstrates God’s compassion toward both kinds of rebels described above.

Eventually we will get the audio to these messages posted. You can see the text, outline, and discussion questions for Sunday's message by clicking here.

Come Home Text, Outline, and Discussion Questions

You can read a preview to this message here

Come Home
Luke 15:11-32
Caring for Young People in a Technology Obsessed World, Part 5

1.    Repent from running
Luke 15:11–20a (ESV) 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father . . .

2.    Receive from a gracious Father
Luke 15:20–24 (ESV) 20  . . . But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

3.    Repent from resentment
Luke 15:25–32 (ESV) 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

Questions for discussion or personal study
1.     What are the similarities between this parable and the two immediately preceding it in Luke 15? What is the significance of these similarities?
2.     How would you describe the primary point of this parable? What relevance does the overall point have to the subject of caring for young people in a technology-obsessed world?
3.     How you describe the view of repentance shown in this parable?
4.     How does Jesus demonstrate through the parable that God does not simply ignore sin?
5.     Do you think the primary target for this parable is people who live a wild life or people who live a self-righteous life? Why?
6.     How would you describe self-righteousness?
7.     How do you think a self-righteous attitude in churches affects teenagers in general in our society? How can we be sure that we are not personally contributing to this problem?
8.     Which son is further away from his father, the younger or the older?

9.     What do you think it means for us to preach the gospel to ourselves? Why might this be important?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Haunting Word on Productivity

A post by Tim Challies has been haunting me all week so now I'm sharing the love. He provocatively challenges that there are six things that get in the way of productivity we need to toss out. There's plenty of hyperbole here, but he's in good company on that tactic. Challies is no traditionalist on technology. His book The Next Story is a must read for thinking through your relationship with technology.

He argues we need to:
  1. Get rid of email
  2. Get rid of distractions
  3. Get rid of notifications
  4. Get rid of mobile
  5. Get rid of multitasking
  6. Get rid of your phone
Just reading that list won't have much effect, but his post will get under your skin. I'm not the first to have given away precious time to these tools or circumstances that needed to be invested differently.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Spurgeon on Writing

I ran across these words of Spurgeon this morning and thought I would share them. He starts out with a decidely negative view but concludes the paragraph with a very different impression.
Writing is to me the work of a slave. It is a delight, a joy, a rapture to talk out one’s thoughts in words that flash upon the mind at the instant when they are required; but it is poor drudgery to sit still and groan for thoughts and words without succeeding in obtaining them. Well may a man’s books be called his “works,” for, if every mind were constituted as mine, it would be work indeed to produce a quarto volume. Nothing but a sense of duty has impelled me to finish this book, which has been more than two years on hand. Yet have I, at times, so enjoyed the meditation which my writing has induced, that I would not discontinue the labour were it ten times more irksome: and moreover, I have some hopes that it may yet be a pleasure to me to serve God with the pen as well as the lip.[1]

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1858), v–vi.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

When someone asks me a question about a theological issue, it’s usually not an easy one. Many of them boil down to some version of this classic problem: If God is good and God is all-powerful, then why is their evil in the world? All Christ followers need to grapple with this question. It provokes many to question God’s love and we need to know how to talk credibly about this. Here’s how John Stott says it:

 . . . personal tragedies, floods and earthquakes, accidents cost hundreds of lives, hunger and poverty on a global scale, the cold vastness of the universe, the ferocity of nature, tyranny and torture, disease and death, and the sum total of the misery of the centuries—how can these horrors be reconciled with the God of love? Why does God allow them? The Cross of Christ, p. 212.

Stott goes on to explain that there aren’t easy answers to these questions, but there is objective evidence to lay next to these great difficulties. That evidence is the cross. It is Jesus death on the cross that instructs us on what love actually is. 1 John 3:16a says (NIV) 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us . . . We think we know what love is. We use the word in different ways, but when pressed, it’s hard to know how to define it. The apostle John boldly claims that what Jesus did on the cross is the way we know what love really looks like.

We tend to think of love as something that happens to us over which we have little or no control. We love ice cream because it taste good. We love a particular kind of music or book or movie because its what we are in to. Sometimes we think we love a person because they are attractive and because we meet each other’s needs for affection and affirmation, but it when that person ceases to provide those things, we stop loving them, that wasn’t real love. That’s not the sort of love God demonstrated by sending Jesus to die for us. His love is a determined and decisive; it cannot be squelched or put out. It can't be frustrated by the actions of the one loved. His love is sacrificial, unconditional, and seeks out your highest good no matter how you respond to it.

These things are on my mind because I’ve been wrestling with a seemingly unrelated problem. How can we help young people negotiate a world in which crazy abuses of technology are in some cases the price of popularity and acceptance? Shallow solutions won’t do. I’ve been putting forward this argument for a few weeks: Only the gospel has the power to change the heart of any person to want to honor him. I’m basing this on Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . . ” The gospel is the power of God for salvation. The gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ is the only thing that has the power to bring about the salvation of our souls. There is a tendency to think that this power in the gospel is only useful to a person in their initial conversion, but that is not so. The gospel continues to work on our souls to accomplish spiritual progress in us. The deep ongoing work that the gospel does in the hearts of those who have already experienced salvation is the only weapon that also has the power to block the tremendous flood of pressure to misuse technology. So, I’ve been walking through a series of sermons which seek to apply the gospel to the challenge of helping young people negotiate their use of technology. You can see the scripture, outline and discussion questions for Sunday’s message at BethanyPlace by clicking here.