Monday, July 21, 2014

10 Characteristics of Transformed Lives

In the past week, two very different people sent me two very different thank-you letters. Both men wrote to thank me for something that God alone is responsible for. Rather than argue theology with these two guys, I simply rejoiced with them that their lives were solidly on the road to recovery from a lifetime of besetting sin and affirmed my willingness to continue walking with long as it takes, over as many bumps in the road as will undoubtedly occur.

The road to recovery and transformation is long and hard, no matter the details of your particular mess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is deceived. That said, God is rich in mercy, and He sometimes "breaks in" and gives people who are sincerely seeking Him "a leg up" on the recovery process, a rapid boost intended to allow His people to get a glimpse of His power in their lives. He did this for me in July of 1997 when He "all-at-once" removed the desire to drink alcohol and/or take illegal drugs.

Since that epic moment in my own life, I have continued to watch for signs of His mercy in my life and in the lives of others (Psalm 130:6). There have been countless reasons to rejoice, just as there have also been countless times to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11). More on that some other time. For now, here are some mind-blowing excerpts from last week:
"Bob," who is going through a divorce, had this to say: I wanted to share a good moment with you that I could not have ever thought I could have made it through, let alone consider it "good," before God and [His church] came into my life. My sister in law called me today. She was upset...when [she] told me [the news that had upset her], I responded with, "I am having a great day. I asked God to help me forgive [my wife] and He is. It is a beautiful day out. My [child] is with two people who I may not be pleased with, but I am positive that they love him." I could not believe those words and this feeling of calm are part of me. My sister in law was shocked but happy for me. She said she wishes she could be as strong as I am. I told her it is not me, it is God.

Two days later, "Joe" shared this with me (after several years of minimal progress/frequent relapses): I do not want to continue to be a slave to these desires that can never be filled...I want to know how to truly love. I realize how much damage I've done to myself; [I have a] warped view of women and I want that to change. I want to be able to treat them with respect and to see them as humans created in the image of God and His daughters. I do not want to take the chance of passing this on to [my kids], to learn that I disrespect women. I want God to heal my heart and mind. I want to be able to have a wife one day and to be wholly hers and my eyes and thoughts only for her. To learn what true intimacy in marriage is all about...
As I said, the two guys who reached out to me this past week could not be more different in terms of background, education, temperament or even appearance. It's fair to say that these two might not meet or spend time with each other anywhere apart from the advancing Kingdom of God. They have very different problems, lifestyles and understandings of Who God is and how He works. In short, they are both "in process," and far from complete in their recovery.

But these two men do have some things in common; please note that the list below is not intended to be comprehensive. I'm sure many of you could add your own nuances to this list of common qualities among people whose hearts are genuinely seeking the healing that only God can provide. Whenever I see one or more of these qualities in the life of someone I know, I get excited, because I know God is powerfully at work transforming them.

People who make astonishing, rapid changes/recovery:
  1. Accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Much could be said here, but for now what I mean to highlight is that accepting Jesus as one's Savior necessarily means that you are also willing to receive Him as Lord of your life. You can't have Him one way without the other, though countless millions have tried and deceived themselves into thinking they are Christians (Matthew 7:21-23).
  2. Accept the Bible as God's Word, inerrant and infallible. To make the point clearly, let's say it this way: People who progress rapidly do not elevate themselves to the realm of "scholarly Bible critic," picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they wish to believe and leaving the rest to the trash can of "Outdated rubbish!" Humbled hearts are not interested in arguing about what Scripture makes plain.
  3. Stop trusting themselves and their decision-making ability. Our human pride is such that we feel as though we must occupy the Chair of Judgment, incessantly deciding what "pieces" of the Christian faith we will accept "as-is," which pieces need to be modified or updated, and (significantly) how we will live out our lives in response. The heart of the Christian, on the other hand, has learned that he or she is often the worst person to test and apply the Word of God to their ability to make wise choices. They will much prefer to wrap themselves in a cord of three (or more) strands (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  4. Submit themselves to wise, God-honoring counsel and resist worldly advice. Again, another slap in the face to our pride. God has established His people precisely for the purpose of advising and assisting each other. The "self-made man" is a contradiction in terms. We all need to be made by God and reshaped by His Word, and we need others far wiser than us to help us interpret how we should live out our faith in the day-to-day. Show me someone who bows to no one and I will show you a fool.
  5. Stop trying to "feel good" and turn their gaze toward "doing good." Let's face it, serving others can often be a huge pain in the butt. People are trouble. They have crises at inconvenient times of day. They need stuff. We like to relax, and serving others often means putting our desire to feel good on hold for another's benefit. Those who set down their beer, turn off the TV and drive out to meet with a friend are often astonished to find that by putting themselves out there for another, they actually reaped what they were trying to harvest in another field. They actually do "feel good," far better in fact, even though they missed The Big Game.
  6. Speak openly about their struggles. You can always tell when the gospel finally takes hold in someone's heart: They stop being ashamed of themselves. They speak openly about pornography, heroin, spouse abuse, anger, meth, fornication and so on. They do not attempt to hide or minimize their mistakes, and their certainty of God's love emboldens them to set aside "fear of man" issues. Show me someone unwilling to share their burdens and I will show you a flat denial of God's unconditional love.
  7. Accept the suffering and consequences that come to them as a result of their poor choices. People who understand the gospel at a heart level have an enhanced understanding of their own sin, and can therefore positively link much (perhaps all) of the suffering/difficulty in their lives to an outworking of their own rebellion or foolishness. Accepting unpleasant, often-lifelong realities as just one of the consequences of sin is usually tied to a solid belief in Point #8:
  8. Believe that their biggest problem has already been solved. Trusting the completed work of Christ on the cross, those Christians who move rapidly in their recovery accept the words of Jesus: "It is finished." (John 19:30) There is so much that could be said about this statement, delivered from the mouth of a bloodied and dying Savior, but for now it's best to simply say that believers make rapid progress when they finally grasp that Christ has done absolutely everything needed to reconcile the individual to a holy, just God.
  9. Begin seeing all of life with an eternal perspective. So many of the points above become easier to live out as we realize that life this side of heaven is just a blip on the radar compared to eternity, and knowing that Christ has saved us from our biggest problem helps us to accept all the in-your-face realities of life now with peace and serenity. We may not like much of what goes on under the sun, but we trust that one day it will all make sense.
  10. Stop living for themselves. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus assured His followers that all good things would be added to them if they would simply focus on pursuing the Kingdom of God. Being focused on Christ's Kingdom necessarily entails a willingness to stop focusing on yourself, your needs and your desires. When we face forward to a sincere pursuit of the Kingdom, we trust that Jesus is standing behind us, "breaking bread" and amply providing for our needs. If we make the mistake of turning around to watch Him as He does His work for us, we lose sight of the more important work He has given us for others.
Every story is different, just as every individual is different. We are all on a unique race, one that cannot be duplicated by another. God alone can change our hearts, and yet He requires us to do our part as well. Rather than argue about the seeming contradiction of Philippians 2:12, I simply see that God has graciously given us a part to do, even as He does His part. As He changes your heart, you still have some "stuff you can do" while you co-labor in the struggle. Grace and peace to you in your own battles.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Getting Ready for Sunday July 20th at The Crossing

Worship on a Sunday starts before Sunday morning. When you think about and prepare ahead of time, it gives you a chance to read the Bible passage in advance, see the song list, and get your mind and heart ready. You can see some of the rationale here.

Justin Garrett finishes our sermon series in Exodus this week with a sermon from Exodus 34:1–8, entitled “Getting what you need instead of what you want.” The Scripture reads,

The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.”
4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.

We’re often faced with a dilemma: we seek after God, but it’s god on our terms, the god we want to be there. But as attractive as that god may look initially, it’s often not really the God that we need. That was the dilemma faced by the Israelites in Exodus, but it’s our dilemma too. So how do we train ourselves to look for and want the God who is really there, the God whom we truly need? Join us Sunday to tackle just such questions.

Here’s our song list for this Sunday (with links to lyrics and music):

Jude Doxology [lyrics; listen] – Cam Huxford (hear some of the story behind the song)

Holy, Holy, Holy (Lord God, Almighty) [lyrics; listen] – words by Reginald Heber; music by John Dykes

How Long to Save [lyrics and listen] – David A. Cover and Patrick Miller

I’m Yours [lyrics; listen] – Asher Seevinck and Dave Wilton

It is Finished [lyrics; listen last track in list] – Dustin Kensrue

Revelation Song [lyrics; listen] – Jennie Lee Riddle

See you on Sunday!

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Parry and Lunge: An Encounter with 'Light-Saber Theology'

"How about we just watch the rest of the movie, OK? We can talk about that other stuff while you get ready for bed."

It's not often that my son makes a sincere inquiry and I decline to answer him, especially when 1) it's actually a valid theological question (though he wouldn't know that), and 2) it's clearly "a teachable moment." The truth is that I simply had a less-than-exemplary parenting moment. Selfish and tired, I just wanted to watch the rest of the movie; I very nearly missed the opportunity to instruct (Deuteronomy 6:7).

"Your pop-culture theology has made you weak, old man!"

In all fairness, though, Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith had reached the climactic light-saber duel between Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) and Obi-Wan Kenobi as they jumped around on makeshift platforms in the middle of a sea of boiling-hot lava. Even as the segment at hand clearly demonstrated the limitations of digital effects, I was anxious to find out just how, exactly, the current feature would square with the previous Star Wars episodes that I had already seen.

Most of my son's questions zeroed in on the consistent references to "The Force" that show up in every episode and seem to suggest that everything around us is part of one supreme being, if only we had the wisdom and training to harness its power. While my son is not yet at the point where he can identify key differences between what he learns on Sunday mornings as part of Crossing Kids and the mysticism/pantheism of Star Wars creator George Lucas, he has nonetheless begun sensing an alternative worldview at work. His questions regularly point to this disconnect. For example:
"Can people really learn to make light sabers and blasters jump into their hands?"

"Well, no. The Force is a silly little fiction that helps move the story along. It is not in any way to be taken seriously."
In fact, we can even see how absurd the Jedi philosophy really is when we consider the following exchange:
Anakin: "If you're not with me, you're my enemy!"

Obi-Wan: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes."
Full Stop: Didn't Obi-Wan just make an absolute statement?

"Fortunately, son, evil is pretty easy to spot. It typically
involves a lot of over-acting, plot holes big enough
to drive a truck through and scary-sounding music."

Despite the absurd fact that Anakin and Ob-Wan's deep discussion of theological truth and the proper use of political and military power should never have been held in the middle of a sea of red molten rock while trying to kill each other, we still need to pay attention to the worldview their verbal sparring pushes, especially if our kids are listening. As Christians who affirm the absoluteness of God, we should be taking every opportunity to both ask and answer questions as our kids soak in worldviews clearly contrary to our faith.

Perhaps, like me, we all need to be just a bit more willing to hit the PAUSE button, even when we are tired and it's getting late.

For my money, Al Mohler offers a great overview to the issues at hand with his blog from June of 2005, Star Wars and Christian Truth - A Collision of Worldviews. The key (for me and my son, anyway) lies in debunking the idea that we should "trust our feelings" (Jeremiah 17:9). A relevant passage from an earlier work by Mohler gets right to the heart of the matter:
"The Force" is not analogous to Christian faith, but is a form of personal enlightenment and empowerment. Faith in "the Force" is simply faith in mystery and some higher power - mostly within. As Lucas instructs: "Ultimately the Force is the larger mystery of the universe. And to trust your feelings is your way into that." The last thing Americans need to be told is to trust their own feelings.
Amen. I personally know of many marriages that have died because one of the spouses listened to some sort of pseudo-Christian/mystical nonsense and agreed that they should trust their feelings or (perhaps more accurately) "Trust the lust." I can also think of several people who have stumbled and fallen badly simply because they wanted to believe what their heart was telling them about sex, drugs, alcohol or what-have-you; I am among that number. As Mohler suggests - and I agree 100% - the dead-last thing I want my kid walking away with from Star Wars is the voice of the late Alec Guinness in the back of his head: "Trust your feelings, Luke!"

Fallen human beings should never trust their own fallen hearts.

By all means, get caught up in the excitement of a great science fiction film series! Sure, go see Episode VII when it arrives at the local multiplex in 2015. Enjoy the great space adventure, but be sure to look for - and lose - the squishy theology along the way.

Or at least be willing to point it out when asked.
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Thus says the Lord:
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds."

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Getting Ready for Sunday July 13th at The Crossing

After a few weeks off because of study leave, we’re back with our guide for how to prepare for the upcoming Sunday service. It gives you a chance to read the Bible passage ahead of time, see the song list, and get your mind and heart ready. You can see some of the rationale here.

Keith Simon resumes our series in Exodus with a sermon from Exodus 33 entitled, “Do You Love God or his Gifts?” Often we talk about being a Christian because it gives us peace, helps us find hope, provides a sense of purpose. These are all benefits of the Christian life. But are they reason to be a Christian? Here’s a test question for you: If you could have all the blessings and benefits of being a Christian without a relationship with God, would you take it?

Here’s our song list for this Sunday (with links to lyrics and music):

Divine Invitation [lyrics; listen] – Eric Owyoung and Steve Hindalong

In Christ Alone [lyrics; listen] – Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

The Trees Will Clap (based on Isaiah 55) [lyrics and listen] – Andrew Camp, Scott Johnson, Patrick Miller and Greg Wiele

Holy (Jesus You Are) [lyrics and listen] – Jason Ingram, Matt Redman, and Jonas Myrin

I’m Yours [lyrics; listen] – Asher Seevinck and Dave Wilton

See you on Sunday (actually, not really, since I won’t be back yet!)

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Most Common Religion Among American Kids

Are you a Christian or are you a member of the growing new American religion called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? That's an important question to ask based on research by Christian Smith and others at the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina. After conducting 3000 interviews with teenagers, Smith and his team said that most teens' religion can be reduced to these five convictions:
1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. 
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

The title "Moral Therapeutic Deism" captures the spirit of this new religion. It is moral because the new religion inculcates a moralistic approach to life. "It believes that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, and responsible; working on self improvement; taking care of one's health; and doing one's best to be successful."

The new religion is therapeutic because it is all about providing benefits to its adherents. "This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, etc..." "Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.

One fifteen-year-old Hispanic conservative Protestant girl from Florida expressed the therapeutic benefits of her faith in these terms: 'God is like someone who is always there for you. I don't know, it's like God is God. He's just like somebody that'll always help you go through whatever you're going through. When I became a Christian I was just praying, and it always made me feel better.'"

Finally the researchers labeled the religion "deism" because its adherents believe that God exists, created the world, and defines the moral order but is not "particularly personally involved in our affairs--especially affairs in which we would prefer not to have God involved." In other words God doesn't interfere with one's personal agenda but is there when you need him to take care of your personal needs. "This God is not demanding. He actually can't be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination of a Cosmic Butler and Cosmic Therapist--he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."

The study goes on to point out that Moral Therapeutic Deism is not an established denomination and that of course no one would identify themselves with that title. But this new religion is becoming the pervasive way of thinking in our country and has infected every denomination and every church.

The most significant problem is that in this new religion there is no sin, no repentance, no Savior, no gospel, and no grace. Moral Therapeutic Deism isn't Christianity.  

But this new religion is definitely not confined to teenagers. Teens are simply living out in a purer form what they have seen from their parents and learned in their churches. The hard to escape truth is that teens understand how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches have accommodated themselves to the larger culture. Their world view is the end result of what happens when truth is sacrificed on the altar of individualism and relativism. Teens are only modeling their spiritual leaders pursuit of personal fulfillment above all else.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

POF: Does Christian Faith Equal Blind Faith?

This month's Point of Focus touches on whether exercising faith means checking your critical thinking at the door:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Songs and Scenes: Sunday, July 6. 2014


Today's liturgy review features photos by Scott Myers. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs where available.

1. One Redeemer - by David A. Cover, Christine Cover and Patrick K. Miller

From start to end,
You are the "Amen!"
to Your promises,
Jesus, my soul's Savior,
the great story's One Redeemer.


2. Behold the Lamb of God by Cam Huxford

I’ve heard of you, how you hung the stars,
though you hold all things, your hands are scarred.
I’ve heard of you, how you laid the earth
but you spilled your blood into this dirt.
I’ve heard so many things, but now I see.

Behold the Lamb Of God, who takes away our sin.
Behold the Lamb Of God, now fix your eyes on him.


3. O Sacred Head Now Wounded - Words: At­trib­ut­ed to Ber­nard of Clair­vaux (1153), Translation: James W. Al­ex­and­er (1830), Music: Page CXVI

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale are Thou with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
O how your face bears sorrow that once was bright as morn!

You bled by our hands. You bled by our hands.
You bled by our hands. You bled.


5. I'm Yours by Asher Seevinck & Dave Wilton

I am no longer a slave.
I am no longer afraid.
You gave me a voice and a song,
You taught me how to sing.
Now I have brothers and sisters,
You gave me a family.

I’m Yours, I’m Yours,
You called me Your child.
I’m Yours, I’m Yours,
You bought me with blood


6. The Solid Rock - Words by Edward Mote (1834); Music by William B. Brad­bu­ry (1863), Arranged by Page CXVI

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
all other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.


Music Team for July 6, 2014:

Lacey Burrell - vocals
Andrew Camp - worship leader, electric and acoustic guitars
Kristen Camp - vocals
David Cover - bass, loops
Alex Dereszynski - electric guitars
Andrew Luley - drums
Justin Schilb - violin
Britney Stutz - violin
Johnny Tucker - piano, keyboards

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Men Can't Have It All Either

Back in the summer of 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter responded to a decision by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, to severely curtail telecommuting with an article in the Atlantic entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." In Tuesday's post Nathan wrestled with that issue from the perspective of Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo.

Before I leave for a long weekend visiting my mom in Minneapolis, I want to come at the same topic from another perspective...the man's. In an article in the Times, "He Hasn't Had It All Either," Michael Winerip shares how he and his wife, both journalists, have each had to make difficult choices regarding work and family.
"I, the dad, had to make career “sacrifices” to run the family’s domestic life. And my wife, also a journalist, made those same “sacrifices.” She anchored the first decade; I did the second."
Winerip says that he put sacrifices in quotations because neither of them really saw raising kids as a true hardship. The sacrifices were more like choices that come in life because no one can do everything. He gave up being an editor and the better salary that came with it so that he could have more control over his work schedule and therefore be more available to his family.

Anne-Marie Slaughter thinks businesses and corporations need to change and adapt so that women are not forced to choose between family and having a high powered career. Winerip is more sympathetic to employers and says this is a choice that each family has to make fully aware of the consequences.
"I do not blame job discrimination for blocking my path. I knew what would happen when I made these decisions. I knew there were jobs that, by their nature, were too inflexible for me if I was going to achieve the balance.

You can’t cover a war and be there for your children. Do not believe it when people say they can travel and still keep up with their kids at home by talking on the phone or Skyping."
And a little later...
"Foreign correspondents can’t cover a war and travel less. A reporter’s interview is going to be better if it’s done in person instead of teleconferencing. News is as likely to break out on Saturday morning as Wednesday at noon when the kids are in school."
I appreciate Winerip's perspective not only because it doesn't seek to play the victim card and blame others but also because it doesn't judge.
"Those jobs that refuse to be friendly are often the hardest, most time-consuming, most unpredictable, require the most personal sacrifice and, to me, deserve the best compensation and most corporate status.

Which does not mean that these are the people whom I admire most or want to spend my time with. When I see a man who has reached the top of a company only by making work his entire life, I think, what about the kids, what about the wife? And it’s no different when it’s a woman."
Nathan made good points in his post yesterday and there's no reason for me to repeat them. All I want to do is say that no one has it all. No one. Not men or women or adults or kids or moms or dads. No one. So instead of deciding who's to blame because we don't have it all or trying to figure out some way that we can be the first to have it all, we'd be better off thinking through what our values are and making the hard choices of life.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

PepsiCo CEO Says She Doesn't Think Women Can Have It All

In many respects, Indra K. Nooyi is an enormously successful woman. The 58 year-old CEO of PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage business on the planet, often ranks highly on list of the world’s most powerful women and top executives in general. She reportedly earned a salary of over $13 million in 2013.

She is also the married mother of two daughters, and her attempts to balance this aspect of her life with her role as the leader of PespiCo led her to offer some provocative comments at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival. David Bradley, owner of The Atlantic, asked Nooyi the following question: “What’s your opinion about whether women can have it all?” The following are excerpts from her answer:
I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom. I'm not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.

…You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt. My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you're rising to middle management your kids need you because they're teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.

… You know, stay at home mothering was a full time job. Being a CEO for a company is three full time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to all? You can't.
Bradley also asked Nooyi to recount the story of when she told her mother that she’d just been named president of the company. Here again is part of her answer:
I got home about 10, got into the garage, and my mother was waiting at the top of the stairs. And I said, "Mom, I've got great news for you." She said, "let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk?"…So like a dutiful daughter, I went out and got the milk and came back.

I banged it on the counter and I said, "I had great news for you. I've just been told that I'm going to be president on the Board of Directors. And all that you want me to do is go out and get the milk, what kind of a mom are you?" And she said to me, "let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you're the wife, you're the daughter, you're the daughter-in-law, you're the mother. You're all of that. Nobody else can take that place."
No doubt Nooyi’s quotes could launch a discussion that would quickly overrun several blog posts. So while there’s no possible way to cover all the nuances of the issues here, I will offer a handful of comments in response.

1. To work (both in and out of the home) is to fulfill our God-given mandate (see the first two chapters of Genesis). So it’s not evil or even a concession to a fallen world. Rather, it’s a good gift from God. In fact, it’s worth noting that the children of the idealized woman in Proverbs 31 “rise up and call her blessed” even as she pursues profitable ventures (see vv. 10-31). Her life is certainly meant to be a model to shoot for, even if admittedly hard to always emulate. Which brings me to the second point.

2. We should be under no illusions that trying to balance work and family is easy. In fact, one of the things that struck me when I read Nooyi’s comments is just how relevant they are for anyone—women and men—trying to navigate work and family life. We simply don’t live in reality if we think we can navigate both major areas of our lives without having to make hard decisions. We are finite and therefore, by definition, limited in our time, attention, effort, resources, etc. 

3. Given our limitations then, the inevitable question we’re all left with is this: which aspect of our lives will we consistently value more? That is, recognizing the caveat that it may be appropriate to prioritize one over the other at any particular point, which one will we give more weight to on a regular basis? As I ponder this personally, I’m left asking another question: at the end of our lives, how many of us will regret consistently choosing to invest in our families rather than pursing greater income, climbing the ladder at work, etc.? Though I can’t say as I’ll achieve even this, but if I had nothing else to my name other than being a reasonably good parent (defined in biblical terms), I think I’d count myself as far ahead of the game.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

The 'Master Builder'

For a few years now, I have often thought that a potentially-awesome theme for a future Crossing Kids Club - assuming copyright hurdles didn't exist - would be to build the curriculum around the theme of LEGO. Almost every American parent is immediately familiar with those interlocking, multi-colored plastic building blocks that seem to end up squirreled away under sofa cushions and dropped into heating and air-conditioning ducts. Founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen, The Lego Group had 2013 revenues of $4.7 billion.

It's easy to see why. Most kids seem to have an irresistible draw to all things LEGO-themed, as the incredible success of The LEGO Movie - domestic revenues $257M as of this writing - clearly demonstrates. (To no one's surprise, a sequel is already in the works.) My wife and I purchased the Blu-ray edition the very first day it became available. I'm not even embarrassed to admit that I had the release date noted on both our calendars.

Yes, it really has gotten completely out of control at my home, and while my seven-year-old son is happily complicit in this, I also get a lot of the credit. (Don't even get my wife started...please.)

Shelly was not always an enthusiastic supporter of the "builds" that my son and I would hold on her kitchen table, but she is slowly coming around. I think it was four or five weeks ago, roughly, when one of our build sessions yielded a futuristic starship that had rotating "shields" and gunnery comprised of pieces taken from a set that was intended for a completely different purpose. In my experience, boys (and their fathers) can fashion weapons out of just about anything. When the final result was displayed for her to inspect, something "clicked." She finally saw that amazing things could be put together once the builders decided to toss aside the instruction booklets and go "free-form."

What is most interesting to note about LEGO is that a potentially-dull, uninteresting piece of plastic - not much by itself, really - has the indwelling potential to play a key role in the development of something totally cool.

On a regular basis, through various ministry efforts at The Crossing, my wife and I meet people from all walks of life who find themselves feeling as if they are under a shroud of gloom; they feel "discarded," "unimportant," or (more often) "too screwed up for God."

I know exactly how they feel.

In the summer of 2001, when I first began attending The Crossing, I too felt both "discarded" and "useless." I did not fit into my long-since-discarded perception of "the church mold," and yet my heart longed to draw closer to the God that I had spent most of my adult life denying. I instinctively knew that my life and my character had been "designed for something more" than all-night drinking sprees, and yet I had no way to "put the pieces together" in any meaningful way. It took years for my heart to soften such that I became a "willing piece of LEGO" in the Master Builder's hands.

Time and considerable amounts of healing have opened my eyes such that I now am privileged to "see" how God draws disparate people together - people who almost certainly would never be friends outside of the church - and builds a unified whole, a masterpiece where normal math and human reasoning do not seem to apply. "One plus one" equals something far beyond "two," and a cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Again, what is most interesting about the manner in which Jesus "builds" is that He takes some of the most uninteresting and most-likely-to-be-discarded pieces and puts together something that the human eye would never have been able to conceive, absent His divine intervention. Unlikely friendships form. Previously-impervious hearts are changed. Rough-looking characters seek out opportunities to serve others. One brick interlocks with another. Shining out from the messiness of just about every human endeavor, God's glory becomes readily apparent.

Is it weird for me to meditate on Ephesians 2:19-22 while stripping parts from The LEGO Ultrabuild Joker to piece together another free-form starship for my son? Yeah, probably. But these disparate activities are no more oddly connected than the love and concern for others that has grown in my once-hardened heart - and the hearts of numerous others who once considered themselves "discarded" and "unusable." God has fashioned each and every "brick" for a specific purpose. Every child - and every adult - needs to understand how vital and important they are to God's Kingdom.
1 Samuel 16:7b:
"For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Psalm 118:22
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Isaiah 28:16
Therefore thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: 'Whoever believes will not be in haste.'"

Matthew 21:42
Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"

Acts 4:11
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-22
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

1 Peter 2:5-7
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Love Starts In Passion and Ends In Carpools

Some people (too many people) get married with crazy expectations. They say things like, "Now that I've found my soul mate, I'm going to be truly happy" or "She's exactly what I've always wanted" or "When I'm with him I feel complete and whole." I think that all that's silly and slightly ridiculous. These are the kind of things people say before they are married but not after they've been married any significant amount of time.

An old friend of mine said that before he got married he thought that it was going to be naked bliss. But he found out that when two sinful people enter into the deepest of all human relationships, it's not always and only naked bliss but also a multiplication of sin.

Because most marriages are a mixture of great companionship and tough learning experiences, the wise person is always on the lookout for helpful marriage advice no matter where it comes from. Enter David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times and a self identified, if not especially observant, Jew.

In Monday's column, Brooks compared the view of human nature that says that we are all rational and good and that happiness is easy to find with the view that says that "We are, to varying degrees, foolish, weak, and often just plain inexplicable — and always will be." Your view of yourself and your spouse will deeply affect your approach to marriage.

If you have a more positive view of human nature, you are more likely to think that you need to resolve all arguments before you go to bed because if you just talk it through, you'll end up agreeing on the issue. If you have a more realistic (I'd say biblical) view of human nature you know that sometimes you just have to go to bed with things unresolved and that's okay. Arguing when you're tired and grumpy isn't going to help and most things seem better after a good night's sleep and decent breakfast.

(See Lydia Netzer's post "15 ways to stay married for 15 years").

A good marriage is built on the reality that we are deeply flawed people and our expectations need to be adjusted to fit that reality. Couples who know their own sin and personal frailties choose to "find the annoying endearing and the silly adorable." They are anti-perfectionists and realize that sometimes no amount of dialogue will lead to agreement. They learn that "Love starts in passion and ends in carpools."

Every marriage is comprised of two sinners. There's no other option. Happiness is possible but it won't come easily or automatically. It's found by those who learn to bear with one another and show patience and extend grace and forgive. That's the truth whether you find it in the Bible or the newspaper.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Seven Things You Might Not Know About the "War" Between Science and Faith

If you pay much attention to how our culture views the relationship between science and faith, the following story might sound familiar.

Once upon a time in the ancient world, Greek philosophers and thinkers began to usher in a golden age of learning and knowledge. Unfortunately for everyone, the rise of Christianity eclipsed this good work, bringing about the several centuries known as the Dark Ages, in which the church repressed learning through superstitious dogma. Thankfully, classical learning was rediscovered and courageous individuals were willing to shake off the shackles of Christianity. Their efforts launched the impressive flowering of knowledge and advancement we now know as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Science is therefore the natural enemy of faith, and scientific advancement will steadily make religious belief increasingly implausible.

It’s a compelling story, but it’s almost entirely wrong. In the book, For the Glory of God, sociologist/historian Rodney Stark points out a number of things you might not know about the “war” between science and faith:

1. In a chapter entitled “God’s Handiwork: The Religious Origins of Science” Stark flatly states not only that “there is no inherent conflict between religion and science” but “Christian theology was essential for the rise of science” (123, emphasis in original). Importantly, he adds this: “Having begun this chapter, I immersed myself in recent historical studies, only to find that some of my central arguments have already become the conventional wisdom among historians of science” (124).

2. Modern science failed to develop in other civilizations, including Egypt, ancient Greece and Rome, China, India, and the Muslim world. Stark quotes historian Edward Grant: “It is indisputable that modern science emerged…in Western Europe and nowhere else” (146; see also 155-58). Stark adds, "The decline of Rome did not interrupt the expansion of of human knowledge any more than the 'recovery' of Greek learning enabled this process to resume. To the contrary...Greek learning was a barrier to the rise of science! It did not lead to science among the Greeks or Romans, and it stifled intellectual progress in Islam" (154, emphasis in original).

3. Why was Christianity a seedbed for modern science? Because it provided a view of the world that reflected the character of its rational and responsive Creator. It therefore possessed “a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension” (147).

4. The idea of the Dark Ages, in which the church stunted learning in medieval Europe, is a historical myth. In reality, the period better termed the Middle Ages saw an explosion of technological advancement and “excelled in philosophy and science” (134; see 128-46).

5. In keeping with the above, “the so-called Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth century was the normal result of developments begun by Scholastic scholars [a school of Christian thought] starting in the eleventh century.” Moreover, “the leading scientific figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries overwhelmingly were devout Christians who believed it their duty to comprehend God’s handiwork” (123; see also 134-46; 160-72).

6. Several popular accounts of the supposed conflict between faith and science are either somewhat mistaken or simply not true. For example, Andrew Dickson White, the author of the perhaps “the single most influential book ever written about the conflict between science and theology,” characterized Christopher Columbus as courageously defying resistance from a Church that stubbornly clung to an outmoded understanding of geography. In reality, “every educated person of the time, including Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round” and opposition to Columbus came “only on the grounds that he badly underestimated the circumference of the earth and was counting on much too short a voyage” (121-22, emphasis in original). Likewise, the celebrated episode of Galileo running afoul of the Catholic Church seems to have been more about the former’s refusal to pay proper deference to the Pope than his actual scientific views. And at any rate, far from seeing himself as some kind of champion of science in the battle against faith, Galileo “always regarded himself as a good Catholic” (see 163-65).  

7. “The identification of the era beginning in about 1600 as the ‘Enlightenment’ is as inappropriate as the identification of the millennium before it as the ‘Dark Ages.’ And both imputations were made by the same people—intellectuals who wished to discredit religion and especially the Roman Catholic Church, and who therefore associated faith with darkness and secular humanism with light. To these ends the sought credit for the ‘Scientific Revolution’ (another of their concepts), even though none of them had played any significant part in the scientific enterprise” (166).

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Much-Needed 'Reminders'

Every now and then, my faith begins to fail me. The exigencies of living in a fallen world - filled as it so often is with setbacks, disappointments and heartbreak - seem to "catch up to me" and bring me to the cusp of despair. If maintaining one's faith in God's good plan can be helpfully compared to a tank of gas, I sometimes feel myself "running on vapor."

Jesus, in His great mercy, often stoops down to offer me a tangible, right-here-right-now reminder that He is in all things and superintending all things (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), which is precisely what I need to refill my tank. Jesus offers these here-and-now reminders to all of His people, if we will only ask for "eyes to see" (Matthew 13:16).

I was less than two years into my sobriety from drugs and alcohol when, with considerable financial assistance from my now-deceased father, I purchased a brand-new Mazda B3000 pickup truck. Black with gray trim, extended cab and a built-in CD player, this represented a huge leap forward for me and my five-year-old daughter. In the summer of 1999, I had more or less resigned to a state of permanent singleness in the wake of my divorce and told myself, "I will never again need to seat more than two people safely."

Even though the interceding 15 years have more than shown me just how foolish I was to predict the future like that - not to mention doubt God's faithfulness to restore me - that truck meant a great deal to me. It still does. It's the vehicle that carried me and my daughter through the more difficult days of my dawning sobriety and my halting steps forward toward Christ. I have weathered much while driving that truck, and every scar on it (and me) has been well-earned. When I got remarried in May of 2004, I told my wife I was going to drive that truck until it fell apart.

This past fall, however, it became apparent that I would need to find a safer vehicle with which to transport children - my son and his buddies - to school. Every time I hit a bump in the road, I could hear the kids in the extended cab jump seats crack their heads lightly on the rear windows. Not good. Still, I winced inwardly at the thought of handing my beloved truck off to some stranger or used-car dealer.

Around the time that safety concerns were becoming increasingly pressing, I was driving the boys to school and I happened to see my friend, Eileen Long, dragging out her trash as wet, sloppy snow was falling on Columbia. From a distance, I watched her toss out a bag of trash and mourned that she had only recently lost Gary, her beloved husband and a great friend to our family. I wondered if taking out the trash had been Gary's chore, and if this additional burden caused her to miss him all that much more. As we drove by, out of the corner of my eye I happened to observe her toss a FOR SALE sign on Gary's 2004 Pontiac Bonneville.

One much-cherished vehicle gets a new owner.

Within days of seeing Eileen do this, I also discovered that another good friend of mine, Ryan Stoll, told me he was "in the market" for a new car, having just totalled one in hazardous winter weather. Imagine my delight as I realized I might be able to offer my truck to him!

As you might imagine, one thing serendipitously led to another.

When I subsequently discovered that Gary's car was in fact a Bonneville GXP, it was like the best parts of the "Detroit Boy" in me came out to play all over again. I was thrilled to take Gary's car off Eileen's hands and, in turn, sell Ryan my B3000 at "something considerably less than market value." It was Serious Triple Win time for everyone involved. Ryan now has a truck that he appears to love driving...and I still get to borrow it sometimes. Eileen was able to hand off Gary's car to someone who both loved Gary and appreciates how he maintained the vehicle. I get to act like a teenager on Woodward Avenue again. (Oh, and our boys travel much safer, of course.)

As of this writing, I have steadfastly refused to modify any of Gary's settings on the Bonneville; automatic (ultimately unhelpful) seat and mirror adjustments regularly remind me of Gary, Eileen, Ryan and God's great mercy in all of our lives. Sure, I'll get around to making the car solidly "my own" someday...I'm just not in any big hurry to do so. Given her respect and admiration for Gary, my wife seems just fine with that, too. We both love driving that car.

Another much-cherished vehicle continues to prowl the
streets of Columbia, encouraging others and keeping
loved ones from cracking open their fool heads.

All of this auto-swapping occurred in early January of this year. But here's where it gets really interesting.

On Monday, June 16th, I was attending a men's group meeting when I got an emergency call from my wife. Our son had just gotten smacked in the head by a wooden swing seat and his head was bleeding rather impressively. It turned out not to be a big deal, nothing that a little cyanoacrylate couldn't fix, but it shook up both Mom and our boy such that my presence in the ER that night was definitely the right call. Even though the wound was not nearly serious enough to merit playing hookie from summer school, Shelly and I agreed to let our boy stay home the next day and "recover."

On the following Tuesday morning, then, I did not have to make my usual stop at my son's school but only needed to get myself to work - a very unusual circumstance. I took a different route than I normally would. On the way in, some crazy lady began waving frantically at me while I waited at a stoplight. As her car came up closer, I could see our friend, Eileen, clearly delighted to see me driving Gary's car. We waved at each other and headed off to work, but I paused briefly and thanked God for His tireless efforts to build for Himself a people and an eternal Kingdom. Not a long prayer, certainly, more of a silent "Thank you," as the brief stoplight interaction had struck me.

The next day, my wife got this note from Eileen:
Subject: A Sweet Reminder
On Father's Day and Monday, I was feeling sad and missing Gary so much. Grief hurts and is much like being hit by a wave it comes up, overwhelms you for a time, then pulls back leaving you feeling empty and lost sometimes and others times it leaves peace in its wake. On Tuesday I was leaving for work still feeling the effects of the first Father's Day without Gary when I felt a nudge in my heart to take a different route to work than I normally use. I have learned to follow those nudges. The song "Amazing Grace" came on the radio and I became tearful. I pulled into the left lane and looked over to the right. There, driving just ahead, was a familiar pearl-white car gleaming in the sun. I drove up next to our former car and in the driver's seat was Warren Mayer, the new owner. Gary loved Shelly and Warren so much and I know he is smiling knowing that they are using "his" car to benefit their precious family and ministry. It hit me that the great God of this universe must really love me; why I can't imagine but He had to know how much I needed to be reminded that He is involved in my grief and concerned with the hurt I feel. He sent me on a different route so I could be reminded of His amazing love. The rest of the day, my heart was lifted up and I rejoiced praising God and thanking Him.
Amen. Thank You, Lord, that the hairs on our heads are all numbered and that You hear the laments of Your people. Though we "deserve" none of it, You regularly reach down and nudge us, remind us and encourage us. You are the God who sets wooden swings in motion, who orders our days and all of our circumstances. You are with us in the emergency room and You are also with us at the stoplight. Thank You for the bloody wound that is easily mended and looked much worse than it really is. Thank You for the friends and loved ones that You bring into our lives at just the right time. Thank You for encouragement in the dark times. Help us, Jesus, to remember that You have promised to never leave us or forsake us and that You are with us always, even to the end of the age.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Songs and Scenes: Sunday, June 22, 2014

Songs and Scenes is a weekly blog review of songs, readings and prayers featured in The Crossing's Sunday morning liturgy. If you're interested in downloading a song, you'll find links in the titles that will allow you purchase recorded versions when available.

1. Call to Worship: Hebrews 10:19-23

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

2. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name - Words by Edward Perronet (1780), Contemporary chorus: Judah Groveman (based on a arrangement by Jaron and Katherine Kamon)

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.

His name is Jesus,
risen Lamb for sinners slain.
His name is Jesus,
and all creation sings the praise
of Jesus name.

3. Here is Our King (chorus only) by David Crowder

Here is our King, here is our love,
here is our God who's come
to bring us back to Him.
He is the One, He is Jesus.

4. Call to Confession: Hebrews 3:7-8, 12-13

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion...

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

5. This Breaks My Heart of Stone - Words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), Music by Benj Pocta.

Savior, Prince enthroned above,
repentance to impart,
give me through thy dying love,
the humble, contrite heart.
Give what I have long implored,
a portion of thy love unknown,
turn and look upon me, Lord,
and break my heart of stone.

6. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - Words: Isaac Watts (1707), Music: Lowell Mason (1824)

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

7. Assurance of Forgiveness: Based on Colossians 1:19-22 (adapted from The Worship Sourcebook

In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
and through Christ God reconciled everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God.

We were his enemies, separated from him by our evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled us to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought us into his own presence, and we are holy and blameless as we stand before him without a single fault.

Brothers and sisters, through the cross of Christ
we are forgiven, redeemed, and restored
to a right relationship with God.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

8. New Song: In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross by Brooks Ritter and Rebecca Eliot

In the shadow of the glorious cross
Compelled by grace to cast my lot
Iʼll discard the loss and bare your name
Forsaking all for your own fame

When deathʼs dark shadowʼs at my feet
When I am plagued by unbelief
You place my hands into your side
By precious blood identified
By precious blood identified

7. Communion Song: Satisfied - Words: Clara T. Williams (1875), Music: Karl Digerness (1997), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

All my life long I had panted
for a drink from some cool spring,
that I hoped would quench the burning
of the thirst I felt within.

Hallelujah! He has found me,
the One my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies all my longings,
through his blood I now am saved.

8. Communion Song: Behold Our God by Jonathan Baird, Meghan Baird and Stephen Altrogge, Arrangement: The Village Church

Who has felt nails upon hands
bearing all the guilt of sinful man?
God, eternal, humbled to the grave.
Jesus, Savior, risen now to reign.

Behold our God, seated on His throne.
Come, let us adore Him.
Behold our King—nothing can compare.
come, let us adore Him

Music Team for June 22, 2014:

Walt Beeson: electric and upright bass
Andrew Camp: vocals, acoustic guitar
Kristen Camp: vocals
David Currey: lap-steel guitars
Rhett Johnson: electric guitar, vocals
Scott Johnson: worship leader, piano, organ
Christian Smith: vocals
Stephen Varner: drums
Greg Wiele: percussion

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Does Space Argue Against God?

What comes to mind when you stare into the starry skies? What do you think about when you hear descriptions about the enormity of the universe, or the billions and billions of stars that reside within it? Do you ever wonder how all of it got here, or maybe even where its “going”? And of course the big one: how does all of this relate to the question of God?

No doubt different people will offer different answers to the above questions. But we can count Tim Maudlin, professor of philosophy at New York University, as someone who believes modern cosmology has “refuted” the traditional biblical account of the origin of the cosmos. Though after reading an interview with him in the New York Times I’m not sure that his case is as persuasive as he suggests. Going point by point is beyond the scope here, but I’ll mention a few things.

First, according to Maudlin:
The biblical account of the origin of the cosmos in Genesis, for example, posits that a god created the physical universe particularly with human beings in mind, and so unsurprisingly placed the Earth at the center of creation.

…We now have precise knowledge of the distribution of galaxies and know that ours is nowhere near the center of the universe, just as we know that our planetary system has no privileged place among the billions of such systems in our galaxy and that Earth is not even at the center of our planetary system. We also know that the Big Bang, the beginning of our universe, occurred about 13.7 billion years ago, whereas Earth didn’t even exist until about 10 billion years later.
Hmmm. The opening chapters of Genesis clearly do make the theological point that humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creative work—after all the text is careful to describe both men and women as being made in the very image of God. Still, you will search in vain there (or anywhere else in the Bible) to find a passage that places the earth in the spatial center of the universe. And why would humanity’s prominence within God’s creation rest on being in the center of the physical universe anyway?

Nor does the age of the earth, or even the age of the earth relative to the rest of the universe have much to do with the significance either of our planet or us. That would be similar to saying nuclear power isn’t very significant in our world because it’s relatively young—never mind its potential to annihilate civilization or provide the electrical power so integral to modern life. Frankly, Maudlin’s comments here strike me as curious non-sequiters.

Finally, I’m not sure what criteria would constitute the earth having a “privileged place” in the universe, but being the only planet that we currently know of that supports life couldn’t hurt.

Here’s another quote from Maudlin:
No one looking at the vast extent of the universe and the completely random location of homo sapiens within it (in both space and time) could seriously maintain that the whole thing was intentionally created for us.
Particularly in light of the above discussion, my question is simply this: why not? Leaving aside my own view that the universe is fundamentally more for God than us, it’s still not clear why Maudlin feels warranted to make this statement.

I’ll mention just a couple more problematic points:
One thing is for sure: If there were some deity who desired that we know of its existence, there would be simple, clear ways to convey that information.
On this Maudlin and I might well agree. He seems to be suggesting, however, that God hasn’t done this. But that, to put it mildly, is an arguable point. To take up just one example, I might suggest that when a man claims to be God incarnate, is clearly put to death, then rises from the grave to new life, we might do well to give his claims great weight. And if Maudlin wants to debate the evidence for this being a historical reality, that is a conversation Christian believers should welcome heartily. 
Atheism is the default position in any scientific inquiry…. That is, any entity has to earn its admission into a scientific account either via direct evidence for its existence or because it plays some fundamental explanatory role.
No doubt many fabled scientific names throughout history would be shocked to find that, far from their faith being the ground and impetus of their scientific advances, it was actually diametrically opposed to “the default position in any scientific inquiry.” (See, for example, chapter 9 of Alvin Schmidt’s How Christianity Changed the World, or chapter 2 in Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God.) In fact, playing a “fundamental explanatory role” in science is the very thing that many scientists, philosophers, and apologists—both now and in the past—would say God does.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Overcoming Busy Schedules and Aging Knees

Last week - for the first time since becoming a part of The Crossing community - I volunteered to help at Kids Club. Prior to last week, I always thought that I had good reasons as to why I couldn't get involved in the amazing, chaotic world of Kids Club.

For instance, for the last eight years, I've done child care out of my home and, to be honest, volunteering to help with hundreds of excited, screaming kids in the evening (after spending 10 hours of my day caring for little ones already) just didn't sound like something I was physically or mentally capable of doing.

This year, however, I learned that the Kids Club organizers were still in need of a few people to lead discussion during Bible Story Time - a.k.a. "Hero Training 101" - and so I decided to step up, though not without some trepidation. After all, I'm no spring chicken, and the idea of four days of non-stop activity was daunting to me.

On the very first night, I watched as the first graders came into Hero Training 101 and thought, "How hard can this be? I've been well prepared with great materials here, and I probably know my Bible better than most of these kids." While the discussion for the night was supposed to be on how Jesus is our HERO and how he is, in particular, Holy and without sin, one first grader managed to ask me what would happen if someone killed themselves and they didn't believe in God - "Would that person be in heaven?"

Uh oh. I suddenly questioned the wisdom of the person who assigned me to be part of the Bible Story discussion team!

On the second night, our discussion centered on how Jesus is our Exalted HERO, so far above us that seeing Him as He really is changes the way we see Him and in turn changes us. This discussion seemed to go much better, in my opinion, except that at the end of the evening, I couldn't get up off the ground. It turned out that sitting on the floor for two hours with eight squirmy elementary kids had taken a toll I hadn't realized until I tried to get up and move around.

No worries; nothing a little Advil wouldn't solve!

By the third night, the kids recognized me and were running to our little corner of the world, ready to hear more about how Jesus was our Rescuer, the ultimate HERO who didn't just risk His life for us, but actually sacrificed it for us so that we could be saved. The kids were warming up to me, which meant that they were ready to get to know me better. One Kindergartener asked what I can only assume was a burning question in his mind. "Do you live here?" he asked me, looking around the room. I smiled and told him no, I had a home like he did away from church. "But you're in here every night," he said, looking at me skeptically. I don't think he believed me, but is instead convinced that I do indeed live in Trailer 304 at The Crossing.

On our last night together, we talked about Jesus as Omnipotent - so powerful that He even has power over death, proving it by coming back to life after having given His life for us to rescue us. All week we had talked about several attributes of Jesus, qualities that all of us clearly lack, and I clearly lacked power by the end of the week. Quite the opposite of powerful, I was exhausted.

But it was such a good exhausted.

At various points in my volunteering, I questioned my ability to effectively teach the kiddos who were a part of my group. I wondered if anything I was saying was getting through their energetic, wiggly little bodies and into their hearts. And then an encouraging word from a fellow volunteer reminded me that I was doing what I often tend to do - I was thinking it depended on me. God's Word, however, tells me differently. Isaiah quotes the LORD Himself, saying, "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11)

I needed only to show up and allow God to use this weak vessel to shine light on the truth of who His beloved Son is, and trust the Holy Spirit to open up the hearts and minds of the kids in my group who struggled to "sit on their pockets" and listen, but who were so excited to be at Kids Club that they spilled over with energy. Who am I to know what those kiddos heard or what God will do to recall those truths as they grow and learn to know Jesus more and more?

At times, I was tempted to feel as if I'd failed to be a good Bible Story discussion leader. After the much-needed reminder from Isaiah, it occurred to me that if there was a point of failure in my life, it was in the previous years, when I failed to even show up to volunteer (Romans 10:14).

Maybe you are like me, prior to this year of Kids Club, and you've never volunteered for a variety of what seem like perfectly plausible reasons. Job pressures, time pressures, aging knees and a whole host of other reasons make it hard to willingly spend time among the chaos that is Kids Club. I totally get that.

If so, though, I would encourage you to join me next year and to just "Show up." Be a willing, humble vessel that God can use to send living water into the hearts of the young kids who show up for Kids Club...and you will find Him blessing you beyond measure. He certainly did me...even though my knees needed a good dose of Advil to get through it.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Getting Ready for Sunday June 15th at The Crossing

On Fridays we post a guide for how to prepare for the upcoming Sunday service. It gives you a chance to read the Bible passage ahead of time, see the song list, and get your mind and heart ready. You can see some of the rationale here.

Dave Cover continues our series in Exodus this week from Exodus 28 and 29 in a sermon entitled, “Why You Need a Priest.” For many of us, the priesthood is like the tabernacle in that it seems far removed from our everyday experience. Or maybe you think of some churches that have priests. What’s the point of a priest? Why do we need a priest? And if we do need one, then why don’t we as a church have them? Join us Sunday as we tackle these kinds of questions.

As we  reflect on Jesus as our priest, we’ll have the chance to celebrate communion, the meal which celebrates his work as our priest. Take some time before Sunday to pray and ask God to prepare you for communion.

Here’s our song list for this Sunday (with links to lyrics and music):

O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus [lyrics] – words by S. Trevor Francis; music by Christine Cover and Greg Wiele

It’s You [lyrics; listen] – Asher Seevinck and David Wilton

Nothing but the Blood [lyrics; listen] – Robert Lowry; arranged by Page CXVI

O My Soul, Arise [lyrics and listen] – words by Charles Wesley; music with additional lyrics by Eric McCallister

It is Finished [lyrics; listen] – Dustin Kensrue

In the Shadow of the Glorious Cross [lyrics and listen] – Brooks Ritter and Rebecca Elliot

Before the Throne of God Above [lyrics and listen] – words by Charitie Lee Bancroft; music by Vikki Cook

All Must be Well [lyrics; listen] – words by Mary Bowley-Peters; music by Matthew S. Smith

See you on Sunday!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Does It Pay to Believe?

Can faith in God/Jesus lead to material prosperity? This is one of the central ideas of the “health and wealth gospel.” And needless to say, this kind of message has an obvious attraction. Most of us would rather be rich than poor. And if we can get more money by essentially believing that God wants to open up his heavenly storehouse and bless us in that way, well, why wouldn’t we?

Perhaps because this kind of thinking has several problems associated with it, at least if we take the Bible seriously. To mention just one of the most significant, we have to figure out what to do with any number of passages that underscore God intentionally using, not prosperity, but rather privation for the good of his people. Paul, no stranger to hunger, thirst, and exposure, can even say that such things are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Nor did Jesus exactly cash in on his Father’s supernatural favor. His road included “nowhere to lay his head” (Mat. 8:20), not to mention even greater suffering and, eventually, his execution.

No, the Bible is clear that God’s greatest gift to us is not a house on the water or luxury SUV or simply a comfortable life. It’s himself. And so his purposes for his people are often more complex and, ultimately, much more glorious than the “faith equals wealth” message would have us believe.

Still, we can perhaps make another error if we believe that a biblically shaped Christian faith has no relationship with economic flourishing in this world. Or at least that’s the contention of theologian Wayne Grudem and economist Barry Asmus in their book, The Poverty of Nations.

Before going further, I should note a couple of important points. First, Grudem and Asmus write as professing Christian believers and are therefore careful to note that “the Bible gives frequent warnings that a person’s relationship to God is far more important than material prosperity, and that the pursuit of material wealth can, in fact, very easily take first place in one’s life” (41-42). Secondly, their focus is not primarily on individuals, but rather how entire cultures and nations can move from poverty to prosperity.

With those things in mind, the authors present the thought provoking case in support of this basic idea: that a society acting in accordance with beliefs arising out of a biblically informed Christian faith will actually promote prosperity. In fact, in chapter 9, “The Values of the System,” they detail several related beliefs that in some way foster economic growth. Here are just a few examples:
Believing that there is a God who holds all people accountable for their actions. “When a national culture includes a widespread belief that there is a God who holds all people accountable for their actions, it tends to produce individuals who act with honesty, care for others, keep their promises, work diligently, and care about the quality of their work” (318).

Valuing truthfulness. “If a culture tolerates lying and breaking one’s word, then the entire economic system breaks down” (322). By contrast, societies that honor biblical commands to be truthful (e.g., Ex. 20:16, Col. 3:9) will foster the trust necessary for positive economic transactions.

Believing that there is both good and evil in every human heart. “If a society believes each person has tendencies to both good and evil, then it will see it as the person’s responsibility to decide to do good and decide not to do evil. This means that people who decide to be honest, work hard, and be productive should be rewarded. But people who decide to do harmful and evil things to others should be punished for the harm they do. By contrast, if a culture believes that each person is basically good, it will regard the bad choices he makes as the fault of outside factors that have hindered him. Less accountability and individual responsibility will inevitably be the outcome of this belief” (329).

Opposing discrimination. A biblical view of each person possessing the dignity and worth that arises from being made in the image of God is conducive for every citizen—regardless of things like race, gender, and religion—being free to get an education and participate fully in the economic life of a society.

Counting things like family, friends, and a relationship with God as more important than material wealth. “If a society makes material prosperity its ultimate good, then greed and selfishness, bitterness and frustration will increasingly characterize that society” (365).  In addition to (and because of) the personal and relational cost they bear, these things can all actually impede a society’s ability to grow economically in the long run.
The above examples are just a fraction of Grudem and Asmus’ larger presentation in The Poverty of Nations, which is well worth reading in full for anyone who wants to think carefully about a Christian view of economics and material prosperity. In the meantime (and with all the appropriate caveats) the above underscores a point that Christians should find as no surprise: when we believe and act in accordance with God’s larger plans for his people and his creation, we should, on the whole, expect to see good things result.

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