Monday, January 31, 2011

Song(s) of the Week

The thought of more snow and/or ice, and more snow/ice days pushes me to the brink of here's a couple good insane songs for the week.

Metallica, "Frayed Ends of Sanity"

Megadeath, "Sweating Bullets"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Care about what people think?

Honestly, we all do. We want people to think we're well adjusted, happy, successful, smart. Some of us settle for normal. Is that a problem?

There is a tension in the Bible on this. Ultimately, we are to care first and foremost what God thinks of us not not strive to please men or earn their admiration. On the other hand, we are to work to keep a good reputation with our neighbors so as to earn a hearing for the gospel (or at a minimum, not cast disrepute on the gospel). Exploring this tension would be a worthy post, but not for today.

Instead, I want to explore how our preoccupation with others opinions of us is a hateful thing. Our caring so much about what others think is not a loving way of relating to others. Let me explain, and to do so I'll end up quoting large chunks from an article I found today about Facebook and how it makes us - especially women, it seems - sadder and lonelier.

A study at Stanford began when a PhD student in psychology noticed that people seemed to feel lousy after spending time on Facebook. Why? He explains, "They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life." The article continues,

"The human habit of overestimating other people's happiness is nothing new, of course. Jordan points to a quote by Montesquieu: 'If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.' But social networking may be making this tendency worse...

"Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one's assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.) Blandness will not do, and with some exceptions, sad stuff doesn't make the cut, either. The site's very design—the presence of a "Like" button, without a corresponding "Hate" button—reinforces a kind of upbeat spin doctoring.

"Any parent who has posted photos and videos of her child on Facebook is keenly aware of the resulting disconnect from reality, the way chronicling parenthood this way creates a story line of delightfully misspoken words, adorably worn hats, dancing, blown kisses. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of pure, mind-blowing tedium. We protect ourselves, and our kids, this way; happiness is impersonal in a way that pain is not. But in the process, we wind up contributing to the illusion that kids are all joy, no effort. " [emphasis added].

Facebook oneupsmanship may have particular implications for women. As Meghan O'Rourke has noted here in Slate, women's happiness has been at an all-time low in recent years...'The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood in believing that one's life is not measuring up.' ... women may be particularly susceptible to the Facebook illusion. For one thing, the site is inhabited by more women than men, and women users tend to be more active on the site, as Forbes has reported. According to a recent study out of the University of Texas at Austin, while men are more likely to use the site to share items related to the news or current events, women tend to use it to engage in personal communication (posting photos, sharing content "related to friends and family"). This may make it especially hard for women to avoid comparisons that make them miserable. (Last fall, for example, the Washington Post ran a piece about the difficulties of infertile women in shielding themselves from the Facebook crowings of pregnant friends.)

The conclusion to the article, I think, is good:

"Jordan, who is now a postdoctoral fellow studying social psychology at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, suggests we might do well to consider Facebook profiles as something akin to the airbrushed photos on the covers of women's magazine. No, you will never have those thighs, because nobody has those thighs. You will never be as consistently happy as your Facebook friends, because nobody is that happy. So remember Montesquieu, and, if you're feeling particularly down, use Facebook for its most exalted purpose: finding fat exes."

Ok, so here's my thing. By posting these 'airbrushed' portraits of ourselves, our careers, our marriages, our kids - our whole lives, we are giving our friends the impression that this is the way our life is. And, by so doing, we make others feel bad that their life doesn't measure up. That's not loving. Even if it were try, it would not be good to flaunt all our success in front of people. And it's not true. The cute video I posted of Luke dancing was 1:30. It was fun, adorable, and preceded by an hour or so of refereeing arguments between him and his brothers, frustration at dinner trying to get him to sit in his seat and get the idea.

I'm not at all saying we should stop posting witty updates or cute photos, but maybe we should offer a little more transparency into the tough parts of life too.

Russell Moore has pointed out how the 'happy-happy' culture of our churches can have the same effect. He argues, "By not speaking, where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion—including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation—we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile through it all." He continues,

"Nobody is as happy as he seems on Facebook. And no one is as “spiritual” as he seems in what we deem as “spiritual” enough for Christian worship. Maybe what we need in our churches [and on our Facebook walls] is more tears, more failure, more confession of sin, more prayers of desperation that are too deep for words.

Maybe then the lonely and the guilty and the desperate among us will see that the gospel has come not for the happy, but for the brokenhearted; not for the well, but for the sick; not for the found, but for the lost.

So don’t worry about those shiny, happy people on Facebook. They need comfort, and deliverance, as much as you do. And, more importantly, let’s stop being those shiny, happy people when we gather in worship. Let’s not be embarrassed to shout for joy, and let’s not be embarrassed to weep in sorrow. Let’s train ourselves not for spin control, but for prayer, for repentance, for joy."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Catechism #65-68

I've been looking forward to this section on the sacraments since we started and I'm glad we finally got to it this week.

Question #65:
It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from?

Answer: The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments (John 3:5; 1 Cor. 2:10-14; Eph. 2:8, Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23-25, Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:16).

Question #66: What are sacraments?

Answer: Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise. And this is God's gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ's one sacrifice finished on the cross (Gen. 17:11; Deut. 30:6; Rom. 4:11, Matt. 26:27-28; Acts 2:38; Heb. 10:10).

Question #67: Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

Answer: Right! In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments he assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ's one sacrifice for us on the cross (Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 11:26; Gal. 3:27).

Question #68: How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?

Answer: Two: baptism and the Lord's Supper (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Song of the Week

Oops, a day late. I love this song - it was one Luke wanted to sing every night for a while. It fits with the sermon I'm preparing on Philippians 1:21 for Connexion.

Red Mountain Church, "My Jesus I Love Thee"

Monday, January 24, 2011

Luke Dancing

It'll make you smile.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Song(s) of the Week

I love solid rock and roll music, and Aerosmith certainly qualifies, though I forget about them from time to time. The big question: old Aerosmith or new Aerosmith?

1973: "Dream On"

1977: "Kings and Queens"

1991: "Living on the Edge"

1998: "I Don't Want to Miss A Thing"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jesus is Better Evangelism

I'm sure many of us have encountered what Jason Stellman terms 'Jesus is Better than Drugs (or Sex, or Money, or Power) Evangelism'. I know my own evangelistic efforts have sometimes rested on this presumption - the presumption that the pleasure of knowing Jesus and serving him is better than than pleasure gained from anything this world has to offer. I hear a lot of testimonies that follow this line too. There seems to be several problems with this approach to evangelism.

First, the Christian life promises to bring more present pain than present pleasure. Consider all the things Jesus said would accompany following him - homelessness, persecution, tribulations, rejection, a cross. Think about Moses for a minute. Moses had all the pleasures of Egypt for the taking. Women, food, drink, power, prestige...the list could go on. How does wandering in the desert with a group of malcontents compare? Well, on the level of pure present pleasure, it doesn't.

The second problem with the 'Jesus is better than ______ ' approach to evangelism is happy pagans. What do you do with them? I remember a student who came back from teaching abroad. It had been a great, but disturbing semester for her. She was in a country that is highly unchurched and secular and had few Christian friends. Yet, they were all happy, well adjusted, fun. That didn't match with what she had assumed about life apart from Christ. She found she didn't know how to witness to happy people, and wasn't sure she wanted too. Should she pray for a catastrophe in their lives so they'd be unhappy, hurting, etc., so they'd be ready to hear how much better Jesus was than the parties and fun?

Certainly some pleasures are sinful, self destructive, and harmful. Heroin. Promiscuity. Drunkenness. Certainly the list long, but not all pleasures make the list. A cold beer, a hot pipe, sex with a spouse, walking in the woods, swimming in the ocean, puppies, a hard days work, friends, children. None of those things are sinful in and of themselves. How do I witness to a neighbor who isn't involved in any self destructive patterns of life, who seems to have it all, who is happy and loves life? I don't think 'Jesus is Better than _______' will cut it.

In addition, I'm nervous for what happens to converts who've accepted the 'Jesus is Better than _________.' What happens when the pleasure of sitting through a sermon doesn't measure up with the pleasure of the drugs? Will they be disillusioned? Will they feel deceived? What will happen when pain enters their life, especially if it's pain associated with their decision to follow Christ?

As evangelists, we don't offer greater present pleasure. In fact, we ask people do give up some present pleasure and accept some present pain - the key word, if all the italics hasn't clued you in already, is present. It's not that the warm feelings we get from worship are necessarily stronger than the feelings we get from other forms of pleasure, but the joys we are offered in Christ are eternal, not temporary. Certainly the pleasures of heaven will outshine the pleasures of this earth in degree and duration, but we only get foretastes of those pleasures now. In fact, it requires a good deal of faith to see how the promises of greater and more lasting pleasure - faith because it is not now a present reality. Read Hebrews 11:23-28 and notice Moses' focus on the future rewards and the faith it required! The present reality is that we, for the cause of Christ, forgo sinful pleasures, keep the good things God has given in this life in their proper perspective (which is why we're ok if our stuff is plundered, our friends desert us, our lives are stolen, etc. - see Heb 11:36-40).

An approach to evangelism that focuses on the temporary nature of these pleasure seems consistent also with the them of Ecclesiastes - vanity, vanity, it's all vanity. Not all sinful, but all vain because it all vanishes. Not so with our eternal reward in Christ.

Stellman writes, "Moses did not give up earthly misery for earthly joy; he gave up earthly joy for earthly misery. Why would he do this. Because his faith provided him with 'an assurance of things hoped for, the convicition of things not seen' (Heb. 11:1). In other words, the only reason anyone would trade present comfort for present pain is because both are just that - present... they will soon give way to a joy at is eternal, on that transends the successes or failures of this age."

An approach to evangelism that focuses on the eternal (and future) nature of joys in Christ is not only more honest and realistic, but also opens up the doors of evangelism to those who aren't necessarily 'down and out'. Again, Stellman writes, "All people - even the ones with nice houses and expensive cars - are equally plagued with a longing to escape the fleeting and temporal confines of this age. This in not because their worldly happiness is a farce, which allows us to concede the point rather than secretly wishing we could slash their tires in order to prepare them to hear about 'the happiness that only Jesus can give.' Rather, all people inwardly experience this angst because they have been created for eternity and are hardwired for frustration with anything less."

The apostle Paul deserves the last word,
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. "
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Catechism #62-64

Question #62: Why can't the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?

Answer: Because the righteousness which can pass God's scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10, Deut. 27:26, Isa. 64:6).

Question #63: How can you say that the good we do doesn't earn anything when God promises to reward it in this life and the next?

Answer: This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace (Matt. 5:12; Heb. 11:6, Luke 17:10; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Question #64: But doesn't this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

Answer: No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude (Luke 6:43-45; John 15:5).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Song of the Week

I had never heard of 30 Seconds to Mars till last month. I've been listening to them a lot in my truck. I really like the sound.

30 Seconds to Mars, "This is War"

Thursday, January 06, 2011

It Can All Be So Exhausting

I'm reading a book for class called Missional Small Groups. Honestly, it's not bad, at least not awful. I find myself getting exhausted by it. Here's an example. In the fifth chapter the author begins to describe how to be a missional group. He says there are "three rhythms" each group should begin with (if you read the first four chapters, you'd get the whole "rhythm" thing). Ok, three things - not too bad. Turn the page: "Before diving into the specific rhythms and practices, there are five things to know that will help you start the music." Ok, eyes drooping.

Scanning down to the bottom of the page and point number two (of the five): "There are twenty-one different practices that I discuss in the following chapters - seven for each of the three rhythms." Granted, he does say we should just pick three, one for each of the three rhythms, but reading and deciding which practices to adopt takes energy.

Next page: "Appendix A proves a thirteen-step process for determining how a group can get started with these three practices."

You have to be kidding me. Have we overcomplicated something that should be pretty easy? How about this: I'll meet with people in my home, or better yet, in theirs so we don't have to clean. We'll enjoy each other, share life together, learn and pray together, laugh together, maybe cry (not as often as laugh I hope). I'll watch their kids sometimes, they'll watch mine sometimes. We'll encourage one another, ask tough questions of each other...etc. We'll support each other through hard times, and we'll make fun of one another (cause that's what friends do). Either way, it'll make my week better.

Oh, and I'll be realistic. I'll not expect my small group to change my life in dramatic ways - just make it better each Wednesday night - or at least every other. I'll not expect it to transform the world - not even my town. Does it sound like I'm undervaluing my small group. I hope you don't hear that. I love it! But, I think I love and enjoy it so much because I understand what it is. If I expected it to be this great force of change that would sweep through the westside, I'd miss out on the joy of just being in good fellowship with other believers.

Not very missional? How about we pop out some kids, raise them in the church (so they can pop out some kids and raise them in the church too)! If we have three kids and they have three kids, then we've added 12 people to the church! Boys and girls, we're going to learn a new word today - cynical. Sorry.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Catechism #59-61

We took a break from the Catechism during the school break, but hit it again on Monday of this week when school started back up. These are great questions!

Question #59: What good does it do you, however, to believe all this?

Answer: In Christ I am right with God and heir to life everlasting (1 John 3:36; Rom. 1:17, Hab. 2:4; Rom. 5:1-2).

Question #60: How are you right with God?

Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart (1 Rom. 3:21-28; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil 3:8-11, Rom. 3:9-10, Rom. 7:23, Tit. 3:4-5, Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:8, Rom. 4:3-5 (Gen. 15:6); 2 Cor. 5:17-19; 1 John 2:1-2, Rom. 4:24-25; 2 Cor. 5:21, John 3:18; Acts 16:30-31).

Question #61: Why do you say that by faith alone you are right with God?

Answer: It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me. Only Christ's satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God. And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone (1 Cor. 1:30-31, Rom. 10:10; 1 John 5:10-12)

Monday, January 03, 2011

My Homemade Desk

We couldn't find a good, small, cheap desk for the boy's room. Nor could we find good plans. So...I designed and made this very simple desk. I probably have $30 and 10hrs into it. It came out reasonably good given the tools I had. I learned a few things, especially about glues and stains, but I'm happy with it. Next up, a bookcase for our bedroom. (It is square and level, thought the pictures make it look cattywampus).

The Church as Mother

"No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother". So argued Cyprian in the early third century. His words would not be accepted by large swaths of Protestantism today as a Roman Catholic perversion of true heart religion (never mind that in the third century there was no Roman Catholic church, just the catholic church - the bishop of Rome not nearly as important at this phase in the church life as other bishops from Carthage or Alexandria). Other Protestants would agree with Cyprian, but quickly retreat to the idea of the invisible church.

Honestly, neither of these solutions is satisfactory to me. I hope, over the course of the next year, to read, think, meditate and write more on the doctrine of the church. Roman Catholics often charge that Protestants, especially evangelicals, have no doctrine of the church. I tend to agree, at least when it comes to contemporary evangelicalism. I don't think that was true of the Reformers, nor do I think it's true of many confessional Protestants today - Lutherans, Anglicans, certain Presbyterians, Reformed Churches, etc.

Is the church really as important as Cyprian made it. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians 5:1-4,

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. [2] And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. [3] For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. [4] When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, [5] you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord."

There is so much here to unpack, but notice just one key truth - being cut off, excommunicated, from the church was being 'handed over to Satan'. It was the most severe form of church discipline - a last ditch effort to convince the immoral brother or sister of their need to repent.

Think about what this entails. To truly punish my kids, I don't bar them from eating their vegetables or cleaning their room. Those aren't activities they deem important, valuable, or enjoyable. If I want to get at them, I bar them from the Wii, from TV, from sports activities, etc. Then I've taken away something that will hurt in the hopes that they will understand the gravity of their errant behavior/attitude. When the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to bar the immoral brother from the fellowship, he is encouraging them to bar him from something that is incredibly good, valuable, essential - all in the hopes that this shock will awaken them to the gravity of the situation.

Why doesn't church discipline work well today? Lots of reasons. First and foremost, we have a pathetic view of the church! We have this "God-me-and-my-Bible" approach to piety that utterly disregards the role of the visible church. To be banned from church; honestly, not many would consider that a horrible fate. In fact, many have been 'self excommunicated' - choosing fellowship through the TV or the internet, or church on the golf course.

Only with a high view of the church as a mediator of divine grace does Paul's method of discipline make sense. In the church is sustenance for the Christian life: grace in the sacraments, the Word preached. Outside the visible church is the realm where Satan holds power - it is enemy territory. Facing it without the support of Mother Church is scary indeed.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Song of the Week

Van Halen is/was a great group. This song makes me think of the awesome John Cusack movie "Better off Dead" - singing cheeseburgers! Oh, and what in the world is he saying at the 1:56 minute mark?