Thursday, April 24, 2014

Love Languages: The Good and The Bad

Everywhere I look it seems that I run into someone carrying around one of Gary Chapman's books on Love Languages. There are plenty to choose from and it seems that he's left no demographic untouched. There are Love Language books targeted at adults, teens, children, singles, and men. There's a Love Language devotional, small group resources, and books explaining the "heart" behind the love languages as well as the love language that God speaks.

The main thrust of these books is that human beings give and receive love in five distinct ways:
  1. Acts of Service
  2. Touch
  3. Words of Encouragement
  4. Quality Time
  5. Gifts
Chapman observes that there is usually one (or maybe two) of these languages that speak more profoundly to us. He refers to that as our primary love language. The problem, according to the books, is that we tend to show love to others in the same way that we receive love. To use the book's language we too often think our spouse, children, and friends have the same primary love language that we do.

Early in my marriage I remember wondering how my wife could possibly say that she didn't feel loved. After all I had emptied the dishwasher, cleaned up the kitchen, and picked up around the house. What more could she possibly want? I operated under the theory that nothing says, "I love you" more than a orderly home.

I still remember when I first heard the concept of Love Languages and it dawned on me that my wife might not be wired exactly like I am. It had never even crossed my mind that picking up my dirty socks didn't communicate love to her. When pressed to think about what her love language might be, it became pretty obvious that it was "Words of Encouragement" not "Acts of Service". I had made the all too common mistake of assuming that she was just like me.

As a practical step you might want to try to discern the primary love language of those closest to you. But don't assume that you're correct. Take the time to discuss this with them and see if you're on the right track. Ask them what makes them feel loved.

In one sense I think that the Love Language concept can be very helpful. But I think that there is another sense in which this same concept can also be very dangerous to a relationship.

The problem that David Powlison finds is that Chapman's philosophy is built on Jesus' statement that "even tax collectors, gentiles, and sinners love those who love them" (Matthew 5:46ff and Luke 6:32ff). This translates roughly into something like "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." While this kind of love is common in the world, it isn't what Christians are called to. In this very section of Scripture Jesus tells us that we are supposed to love our enemies not just those that love us. In this way Christians stand out from others and bring glory to Christ.

Another problem revolves around Chapman's concept of the "emotional love tank" and his assertion that our "misbehavior, withdrawal, harsh words, and critical spirit occur because of that empty tank." It sounds as if this is giving the sinner the right to play victim blaming their sin on the fact that they haven't been loved properly.

Additionally it seems that it gives everyone the right to demand that they be loved in the "right way." If I don't get my love tank filled, then who knows what hurtful thing I'll do or say? But does the Bible ever give us permission to act sinfully because our needs aren't being met? I don't think so. Yes, we all have ways that we enjoy being loved but that can't ever become an excuse to demand that others treat us according to our self-described need. Our "needing" can quickly turn into our demanding.

Chapman seems to distill relationships down to a set of skills. No one has to deal with their heart. Relationships can be fixed if a person will just learn another's language and make the effort to love them the right way. There is no real need to face our sin and selfishness. No need for a Savior but just improved skills. There is no need for a Redeemer as much as a counselor.

Powlison has a great section on how the five love languages become distorted by sinful human beings.
Affirming words? I feel loved when the crowd cheers and when you offer me flattering comments.

Quality Time? I feel loved when you drop everything to focus on me, are completely understanding, give me unconditional love, agree with all my opinions, and never disagree with me, question me, or interrupt me.

Gifts? I feel loved when you are my Sugar Daddy, giving me money, buying me lots of nice stuff, taking me on exotic vacations, and pampering me.

Acts of Service? I feel loved when you do exactly what I want, and don't make any demands on me, and say, "Your wish is my command."

Physical Touch? I feel loved when you go along with my perverted sexual fantasies and when you make me feel like the most special person in the world.
Our sinful nature can turn each of the love languages (along with everything else) into something dark and selfish. We usually can see it when others' love languages grow perverse but it is more difficult to see it when it happens to us.

What we need is a redeemer--someone to rescue us from our sin. What we need is a changed heart so that we demand less and serve more. What we need is to know a greater love that can satisfy our hearts so that we don't look for people to meet that deepest need. In other words, what our relationships need is for each of us to believe the gospel in deeper ways for it is in the gospel that we meet Jesus, experience his love, and gain a new heart.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The 450th Birthday of B.S.

Excuse my pun above, but I think The Bard would appreciate it. It is, in fact, the 450th birthday of William (Bill) Shakespeare. But, alas!, his writing is now relegated to the classroom, and viewed by the populous as a form of punishment. Today we remember the greatest dramatist who ever lived as a snobbish, inaccessible author. Fie on that. He wrote plays for the masses!

You and I are Shakespeare's target audience, and today his work is more easily accessible than ever before. Thus, as an evangelizer of Shakespeare's work, and in honor of his birthday, I'm going to offer 5 brief reasons why all people can/should enjoy Shakespeare's work today. I'll even drop a few suggestions on where to start:

1. You speak Shakespeare's English. Modern English doesn't exist without William Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 words and we still use most of them today. Let me offer a few: addiction, cold-blooded, eventful, eyeball, manager, and scuffle. Rappers couldn't "swagger" had Shakespeare never writ, and no iPhones could be "bedazzled" apart from his plays. Many of our cliches find their source in Shakespeare. He was the first one to "break the ice" and "breath his last," and offer "cold comfort" to many found "in a pickle."

2. He's easy to find on Netflix. Make it a date night. There are hundreds of Shakespeare adaptations out there. It used to be dreadful picking through the morass, and even worse attempting to locate a copy. No more! Many of the best adaptations are available through Netflix streaming. Check out Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, Patrick Stuart's Macbeth, Ian McKellan's King Lear, or the recent (and excellent) cinematic take on Corialanus, starring Ralph Fiennes.

3. His work is relevant. (You can't be culturally literate without it.) As if my first point didn't make this case? Consider that some of our most treasured modern stories are based on Shakespeare, like The Lion King (it's Hamlet with animals and music). He's inspired film, music, and literature for centuries. The Bard won't stop influencing us any time soon, and understanding the underpinnings of our cultural heritage is impossible without understanding him.

4. There is a reason people read him for centuries: the drama is good. You can read, watch, listen, and experience Hamlet a dozen times without fully tapping the psychological depths of Shakespeare's hero. He's profoundly Human. He speaks to our own anxieties about death, and what defines the good life. Characters like Iago and Lear incarnate the darkness of the human heart in ways that transcend time. The Bard makes us think about ourselves differently. He is true. And challenging. And good. See also, Richard III, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, & Julius Ceaser.

5. You'll laugh. Seriously. You will. Shakespeare might sound like a bore, but remember that audiences kept coming back to hear more. Maybe it's because his work is loaded with puns, double entendres, and all the idiosyncratic human ironies that make us laugh at ourselves and those we love. If you want to start out with a comedy check out Joss Whedon's or Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. Also see The Taming of the Shrew. For a more serious, but still whimsical play see The Tempest.

I promise Shakespeare is good for more than pizza. Have a date night. Get some friends together. Celebrate the bard's b-day, and you won't regret it.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Does Fair Trade Coffee Help or Hurt?

If you’re devoted to the blessed coffee bean, you’ve probably come across the phrase “fair trade” dozens of times. And most of us here in the United States have at least some recognition that the term has to do with bettering the wages of coffee farmers in countries far less affluent than our own.

Given that reality, author Jay Richards asks, “Who wouldn’t want fair trade? ‘No thanks, I’ll take a cup of unfair-trade coffee.’ For a Christian it sounds like a no-brainer” (Money, Greed, and God, 39).

But is it?

Richards is just one of many who question whether fair trade is an effective strategy for alleviating poverty. To understand why, we first need to understand what fair trade entails. In their book, The Poverty of Nations, theologian Wayne Grudem and economist Barry Asmus briefly describe fair trade this way:
The promise of the fair-trade movement is that coffee growers in poor nations will receive a higher price for coffee if it’s produced in better working conditions with higher wages. Then coffee that is marketed as “fair-trade coffee” is sold at a higher price to consumers in wealthy nations. 
Seems straightforward enough: those with more resources voluntarily pay a bit more for their coffee in order to help those who often have radically less income. The reality, however, is not quite that simple. There are a few other factors to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of fair trade coffee.

A Basic Law of Economics

It’s vital to remember that the price of a commodity like coffee on the world market is determined largely by two things: supply and demand. The greater the supply of coffee, the less demand. And with less demand comes lower prices. Keeping this basic law of economics in mind helps us to see what happens when fair-trade artificially raises the price for (at least some) coffee.

The Unintentional Effect on Non-Fair Trade Growers

As Grudem and Asmus note, “Paying some growers a higher price than the world market price for coffee encourages them to grow more coffee than the market actually demands.” They continue by citing economist Victor Claar:
Thus, while there is too much coffee being grown relative to global demand in general, there is also not sufficient demand to purchase, at the fair trade price, all the coffee being grown as fair trade coffee. In both cases there is simply too much coffee. 
The result: “The larger supply of coffee then depresses the price for other coffee growers that are not part of the fair-trade movement” (94, emphasis mine). All things being equal, these farmers will actually receive less of a return on their labor and investment if they’re not involved in fair trade arrangements. 

Other Problems 

Depressing prices isn’t the only unintended consequence of fair trade. Jordan Ballor, a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, explains another:
When it is allowed to do its job, the market price of something provides a lot of good information. It can tell us, for example, that the supply of coffee far outstrips the demand, and so some coffee growers should think about getting into another product or industry. It would be in their best interests to do so, and the best interests of all of us, so that the world doesn’t end up with too much coffee and too little of something else.
Oxford economist Paul Collier notes the tragic irony for the recipients:
They get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty (quoted in The Poverty of Nations, 95).
Finally, this New York Times article also mentions instances in which fair trade can open the door both for middlemen to siphon benefits meant for farmers and retailers to artificially raise prices even higher than necessary.

Closing Thoughts

None of this is meant to argue that Christians (or anyone else for that matter) should never purchase fair trade coffee. But I hope it does point to the possibility that what we intend might not be what we accomplish in regard to coffee or any other fair trade product. And in the words of Grudem and Asmus:
Charitable contributions to the poor are more efficiently given by other means, and such charitable transfers will never lead to a long-term solution for world poverty (95). 

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Right Act, Wrong Heart?

It's strange how easy it is to focus on how we have lost the approval of another person we care about, and yet how hard it is to embrace the joy that should accompany knowing that we have been given God's approval, through the finished work of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).

By comparison, God's "approval" - His unmerited favor, the very definition of grace that is extended to us through the blood of Christ - is the most amazing, life-changing gift we will ever receive. It is, in the end, the only relationship we have that will be of eternal importance. And yet, how often we spend long seasons of our lives seeking the approval of those close to us and then grieving or being angry because we have lost their favor.

Why is this such a struggle?

I wish I knew I had the definitive answer; I don't. However, I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think my thoughts have application across a broad range of relationships.

The struggles I'm currently having with relationships don't include my marriage, but they easily could. Having worked with countless women whose marriages have fallen apart, I can tell you that one of the deepest wounds that divorce inflicts upon people is that of rejection. Here, occupying center stage in your thought life, is this still-living person who once loved you so much that he or she chose you out of every other human being on this planet to commit their entire lives to.

At least, that was the plan. And that's what the deepest emotions of our hearts were set on.

As the relationship falls apart, however, it becomes clear that expectations have not been met somewhere; at least one person has decided to leave the marriage instead of working to stay true to the promises they made to each other. Few people are anything other than devastated by a loss such as this. Most people handle the death of a love one far better - at least the person being mourned did not voluntarily leave the relationship.

Whether your relationship struggle is with your spouse, a dear friend, a parent or sibling, or anyone else whose opinion really matters to you, a few thoughts might help you to have a healthy perspective on your struggles:

  • When we find ourselves disappointed with someone we care about, we should look closely at our own motivations. Are we disappointed that this person is grieving the heart of God with the way that he or she is failing to love...or (nearly always) are we disappointed that they haven't lived their lives within our relationship the way we want them to? When someone cuts us off in traffic, do we mourn the other driver's obvious (perhaps momentary?) lack of a close walk with God, the absence of an abiding faithfulness that would invariably produce the fruit of rush-hour patience (Galatians 5:22)? Or do we instead get ticked off that we have been thus offended and blurt out, "Idiot!" in front of our kids in the back seat?
  • Far more seriously, when we find ourselves grieving over the loss of acceptance by someone we care about, we should attempt to scrutinize the standards to which we are being held. Are they even biblical? Most often, they are not.
  • Most of the time, the "standards" that have brought about a rupture in relationship are more about the other person's self-fulfilling desires for how they want the relationship to look; a parent's dismay over their adult child's too-infrequent visits is an expectation often set by that extended family's history, or the parent's need to stay overly-involved in their adult children's lives, or some other perceived failure to hew closely to a personal preference. If Scripture is ever invoked to help "settle the matter," it is often used in an abusive manner; we might call this "hitting someone over the head with the Bible." In all of this, the One being overlooked most of all is Christ, and his Kingdom.
  • When a relationship begins to deteriorate and disappointment is setting in, I would simply suggest that you take a "time out" and look closely at where your focus is: Are either of you looking more closely at the others' failures...or their heart behind the action? For example, a husband whose wife is not a good cook can really hurt the relationship by focusing on the multiple burned dinners, instead of feeling appreciation for how hard his wife is trying to serve her family by improving that one skill.

Jesus seemed far more interested in our hearts than in the size of our service (Mark 12:41-44). Rather than compete for "faithfulness prizes," perhaps we would do better to think deeply about our motivation for doing things for others.

Whenever I consistently feel dread or anxiety when approaching an interaction with someone, I know our relationship has problems that I need to address. That awareness itself can kindle a quick-but-fervent prayer, and it can allow me to hang on in the day-to-day vagaries of life, regularly pulling back a bit to ask myself:
"Is it God's call on my life that I am trying to be faithful to here...or is it another person's?"
I'm definitely not saying we shouldn't prefer each other in ways that, while they may not have eternal importance, matter to the people we care about. When you do something for someone you care about out of love for and deference to that person, you are living out God's call to love others (Matthew 22:36-40). But our inclination to self-deceive mans that we really need to keep an eye on our motivation. When you do something for someone as a way of "staying on their good side," or attempting to improve their opinion of you, it's highly likely that you are not honoring God. You might rather be stuck in a relationship with some dysfunctional tendencies.

Additionally, if in loving someone with selfless motives, you find they have still found you wanting, then be comforted by this truth: In God's economy, it's your heart for the person that matters, not your level of performance. Clean hearts offer up acceptable service, but getting there will take a lot of practice.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Holy Week: Easter, April 20, 2014

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The Crossing's Easter Sunday music and 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. It is Finished by Dustin Kensrue

There’s no sacrifice to offer,
there’s no penance to complete;
Freely drink of living water,
without money come and feast.

It is finished! He has done it!
let your weary heart rejoice.
Our redemption is accomplished
raise a shout with ragged voice.


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2. Doxology - Words: Thom­as Ken (1674), Music: Old 100th, Ge­ne­van Psalt­er (1551)

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

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3. Prayer of Intercession (from the Book of Common Prayer)

Almighty God,
who through your only Son, Jesus Christ has overcome death
and opened up to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection,
may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit
ever, one God, world without end.

Amen.


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4. David lead us in a reading a portion of The Apostle's Creed.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.


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5. Christ is Risen by Matt Maher and Mia Fieldes

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light;
Our God is not dead He's alive,
He's alive!

Christ is risen from the dead
trampling over death by death.
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave.


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6. I Know That My Redeemer Lives - Words: Sam­u­el Med­ley (1775), Music: Duke Street, at­trib­ut­ed to John Hat­ton (1793) and Bruce Benedict, Arrangement: The Crossing Music

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever living Head.


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7. Scripture Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

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8. Before the Throne - Words: Charitie L. Bancroft (1863), Music: Vikki Cook, Arrangement: the Modern Post

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!


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9. Rejoice by Dustin Kensrue and Stuart Townhend

Following the message we sang this new song by Dustin Kensrue and Stuart Townend. Here's a helpful excerpt from an interview where Dustin talks a little more about the origins of the song.
I had the idea to write a song that was pretty directly a call for people to worship, specifically in rejoicing. We see in Philippians and other places that Paul calls us as Christians to rejoice—even in suffering and hardships. I wanted to have a song that called people to rejoice in what God has done and who He is, and who we are in Him. Also, I wanted to work in the idea of rejoicing through trials and suffering. That was the big idea behind the song.
All our sickness, all our sorrows,
Jesus carried up the hill.
He has walked this path before us.
He is walking with us still.
Turning tragedy to triumph,
turning agony to praise;
There is blessing in the battle
so take heart and stand amazed.

Rejoice! When you cry to Him He hears your voice.
He will wipe away your tears.
Rejoice! In the midst of suffering
He will help you sing.
Rejoice!


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10. The Mystery of Faith - Words: Traditional english liturgy, Music by Scott Johnson and David Wilton

Christ has died,
Christ has risen,
Christ will come again.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel
Christ will come again.


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Music Team for Easter Sunday 2014:

David Cover: Worship leader, bass guitar, Moog bass
Alex Dereszynski: electric guitars
Ashley Gross: vocals, percussion
Emily Herzog: vocals
Rhett Johnson: electric guitar, vocals
Andrew Luley: drums
Johnny Tucker: keyboards, loops

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Week: Good Friday, April 18, 2014

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On Good Friday we remembered the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who humbled himself, became obedient to death on the cross, and redeemed us from our sin. We meditated on the seven last words Christ through scripture readings, responsive prayers (from Grace Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto, CA) and songs as we expressed our gratefulness for Jesus, what he has done and continues to do for us.

1. Gathering Song: The Gospel Song by Bob Kauflin and Drew Jones

Holy God, in love, became
perfect Man to bear my blame.
On the cross He took my sin.
By His death I live again.


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2. Come Ye Sinners - Words: Joseph Hart (1759), Music: Christine Cover and Greg Wiele
Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

On the bloody Cross behold Him,
Sinner, will this not suffice,
Lo! the incarnate God ascended,
Pleads His perfect sacrifice.

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3. The First Word: Luke 23:26-38 and Corporate Prayer
(all prayers from Grace Presbyterian Church)

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father in heaven, forgive us for we know not what we do.
We cry to You for help and crucify Your Son.
Thank You for loving us, Your enemies, weakened and enslaved by sin.
To You we give thanks and praise: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.


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4. Were You There - Words: Traditional African Spiritual, Music: Clint Well

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble,
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?


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5. The Second Word: Luke 23:39-43 and Corporate Prayer

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Father in heaven, we are justly condemned for our sins,
yet Jesus promises us Paradise through faith in Him.
Grant us the blessing of Abraham that we may live forever with You,
through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.


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6. Hallelujah! What A Savior - Words and Music: Phillip P. Bliss (1875), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!


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7. Third Word: John 19:25-27 and Corporate Prayer

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

O God our Father, perfect Your love in us that we,
in the midst of our suffering, may reach out to others,
as did Your Son Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit,
who lives and reigns with You, one God, now and forever.


Amen.

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

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.


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9. The Fourth Word: Matthew 27:45-49 and Corporate Prayer

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Our Father in heaven, for our sake You judged and abandoned
Your Son Jesus upon the cross, making Him sin who knew no sin.
Grant that we may humbly receive the gift of his righteousness
to live fully reconciled to you, one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.


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10. How Deep the Father's Love For Us by Stuart Townend, We used the arrangement by King's Kaleidoscope

How deep the Father's love for us,
how vast beyond all measure
that He should give His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss,
the Father turns His face away
as wounds which mar the chosen One
bring many sons to glory.


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11. The Fifth Word: John 19:28-29 and Corporate Prayer

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

Our Father in heaven, Your Word became flesh and dwelt among
us and, as flesh, He suffered terribly upon the cross. Do not shield
us from the enormity of His pain. Break our hearts and flood them
with the assurance of Your love for us, through the conviction of
the Holy Spirit who, with the eternal Lord, lives and reigns with
You, one God, forever and ever.

Amen.


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12. 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.


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13. The Sixth Word: John 19:30a and Corporate Prayer

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Our heavenly Father, You sent Your Son Jesus to put away sin once
for all. Nothing about us is finished: our lives, our striving, our
work, our sinning. Help us to live by grace through faith knowing
that our redemption is secured by You, the living God: Father, Son
and Holy Spirit.


Amen.

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14. Jesus Paid it All - Words: Elvina M. Hall (1865), Music: John T. Grape (1835-1915), Arrangement: Kings Kaleidoscope

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy power and Thine alone,
can change the leper’s spots
and melt the heart of stone.”

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.


Crossing-Good-Friday-20140418IMG_4879T.jpg

15. The Seventh Word: Luke 23:44b-49 and Corporate Prayer (Psalm 31:1-5)

...and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.


Crossing-Good-Friday-20140418IMG_4905T.jpg

16. Rock of Ages - Words: Augustus M. Toplady (1776), Contemporary chorus by Page CXVI (2009). Arrangement by Page CXVI and David Wilton

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.


Crossing-Good-Friday-20140418IMG_4922T.jpg

17. The Death of Christ: Matthew 27:50-56

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

Crossing-Good-Friday-20140418_SPM0928T.jpg

18. Nothing But the Blood - Words and Music by Robert Lowry, Arragement: Page CXVI

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

How precious is the flow
that makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
nothing but the blood of Jesus.


Crossing-Good-Friday-20140418_SPM0956T.jpg

19. Death in His Grave by John Mark McMillan

On friday a thief, on sunday a king
laid down in grief
but woke with the keys
of hell on that day.
First born of the slain
the man, Jesus Christ, laid
death in his grave.


Worship Team for Good Friday 2014:

Charles Anderson - Teaching Pastor
Andrew Camp - vocals, electric guitars
Kristen Camp - vocals
David Cover - electric guitars, percussion
Nick Havens - bass, Moog bass
Scott Johnson - vocals, piano
Patrick Miller - liturgist
Andrew Luley - drums
Justin Schilb - violin
Benedict Sin - violin

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Do You Raise Moral Children?

What is your number one priority for your child? In an article in last Sunday's New York Times Dr. Adam Grant of Wharton Business School says that several studies reveal that most parents place far greater emphasis on caring than achievement. Now if you are even a fraction as cynical as I am, you probably think that parents answered the survey that way because they know they should value character over success. If you were to observe what families actually invest their time and energy in, it would be hard to prove that they actually believe their own answer.

Nonetheless, Grant takes parents at their word and asks how to go about raising a moral child. It's an interesting article that touches on the nature vs nurture debate, whether a parent should praise a child's actions ("That was a helpful thing you just did.") or their character ("You are such a helper."), and the difference between guilt and shame. For the Christian it is important to note that our goal isn't to raise moral children but children who love and follow Jesus. Those aren't the same things. Moralism is not the gospel no matter how many people think it is.

Dr. Grant concludes the article by referencing a famous experiment in which kids in elementary and middle school were given tokens for winning a game. Each child was then able to keep the tokens or donate some of them to kids who lived in poverty. But before the kids received the tokens and had to make a choice on whether or not to be generous to the less fortunate, they watched a teacher play the game and make the same decision.

What the experiment revealed is that the influence of the role model was significant and that their actions were far more influential than their words. In different versions of the experiment the teacher alternated between being generous and selfish in their actions and preaching to the kids the wisdom of generosity and selfishness. The results were clear: the words didn't make near as much difference as their actions. Even when a teacher behaved generously but preached on the virtues of selfishness, kids behaved generously themselves.
Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do.
All this serves as a good reminder that your children are watching their parents and more is caught than taught. You can tell your children church is a priority, but if they see you prioritizing other things, then don't be surprised that they see church as something to do when nothing else is going on.

You can tell your children to serve others but if they see you focused on your needs, then don't be surprised that they act as selfishly as you do.

You can even preach the importance of character, but if they observe you treasuring achievement (yours or theirs), well by now you get the point.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

POF Easter Edition: Dying As the King

Have you ever noticed that the time in which Jesus seems the most vulnerable—his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion—actually demonstrates that he's the King over all things? Take a look:

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Monday, April 14, 2014

'Hidden' Blessings

The last few weeks, as the winter snows have finally melted away, I've been spending more time at family meals looking out our windows and doors. My seat at the kitchen table affords me a great view of our neighbor's pear tree, covered in white blossoms. It's a welcome sight, a sign that the bitter-cold winter of 2013-14 really is over.

Praise God from Whom
all blessings flow.

There are many days, however, when the sight of this beautiful tree is "obscured" somewhat by the chew marks on our porch deck railing. There are other days when my heart is completely blind to multiple blessings. On those days, I almost literally cannot see the pear tree for the chew marks. On those days, I am reminded of how I used to scoff at the ancient Israelites as they whined and grumbled against Moses and Aaron during the Great Exodus from Egypt.

Numbers 14:10 used to be a jaw-dropping passage of Scripture for me. I simply could not believe that the Israelites would ever lift a stone to kill Moses and Aaron after the miracle of the Red Sea, but the longer I live and the more complaints I hear - particularly those tucked away in the shadows of my own heart - the more convinced I am that God has given us this story precisely to show us how quickly our hearts can turn against Him.

Praise Him all creatures
here below.

As always, time is the great revealer of ingratitude.

Nowadays it is becoming fashionable to dismiss the grumbling of others in our midst by labeling their complaints as "a First-World problem," meaning simply that whatever is currently causing an individual's heart to grow hard is a problem that just about everyone in a third-world nation would accept with overwhelming gratitude. The car doesn't start. The energy bill is too high. Vehicle traffic in Columbia is getting a lot worse. "Can you believe that they only had two cashiers working when I went to pay for my groceries?" These all fall solidly in the category of complaints that most of the rest of the world can only dream about, as these problems would mean that they had cars to drive, homes that had heating and money to spend on food.

It's the same thing with my lower deck railing.

Praise Him above,
Ye heavenly host!

As I sit inside, comfortably enjoying a homemade meal with loved ones, I can't help but glance out the window and be tempted to become annoyed at the nonstop gnawing with which our one-year-old dog has defaced our home. "Some white paint would go a long way toward hiding the ugliness of the gnaw marks," I think to myself. But then I quickly realize that Calvin would simply add a fresh coat of white deck paint to his Wood Railing Diet. Short of removing all his teeth or never letting him go outside, it seems as though my family is doomed to live with a lower deck railing that looks like it was salvaged from a junk yard...at least until Calvin outgrows his propensity for eating wood.

And all the while, of course, I fail to see the blessings that undergird this minor annoyance. Without even working too hard, I can rattle off dozens of blessings that exist hand-in-hand with this "problem" of my dog creating an ongoing need for an outdoor paint job:
  • To start things off, our family owns a home.
  • As of this writing, we are in no immediate danger of losing our home.
  • My wife and I both have paid employment.
  • We regularly have meals together in our kitchen, and there is absolutely no concern about running out of food. (One quick look at my waistline confirms this blessing.)
  • Our dog has brought a lot of joy to our lives.
  • My wife and I are both healthy; getting outdoors to paint the railing is still an option.
  • We can easily afford to replace the wood, whenever we decide the timing is right.
  • God has been blessing our lives with a great deal of peace and health for years now.
The blessings above came to mind in an instant; all I had to do was ask God to show me the ways in which He has been supporting us and carrying us over the course of our years together in this home. And the well never runs dry, either. If you spend even a few minutes in this exercise, you soon come to see that for even one of the blessings listed above to be true, a thousand other things had to go in our favor such that we continue to enjoy God's good gifts of life and breath.

Praise Father, Son and
Holy Ghost. Amen!

A couple days ago, Calvin's puppyhood demolition of our home proved to be a blessing in someone else's life in a rather-unexpected way. I was talking to a good friend who has been really down on himself these past few weeks, and he (like me) had "lost sight of the pear tree" for the multitude of "chewed deck railings" in his life. By recounting this episode from my own life, he was able to see that he was indeed a very fortunate man, albeit one who still has a long way to go. In the midst of his struggles, he has a beautiful wife who loves him, many friends who are committed to him regardless of his failures, he is employed and healthy...on and on it goes.

Taking this approach to all of life, I am convinced, is at least one of the keys to biblical faithfulness. Gratitude, even in the form of "forced gratitude," has increasingly been the tool that casts Satan out of my life. The more that the enemy tries to call me down into the depths of despair, the greater the need for an iron-fisted grip on gratitude. When temptations to despair come my way, I can think of no better way to cause the enemy to flee than to mine the riches of my life, the good gifts that God has given, and then trust Him with everything that has been withheld.

The day will come when either Calvin or I will depart this life. If he happens to go before I do, then I'll be able to keep my window screens completely free of claw marks and holes. I won't have to buy premium dog food anymore. (Indeed, I won't have to buy any dog food at all!) I won't be rudely awakened by a wet nose nuzzling my face or hand. I'll be able to put my shoes down on the floor and not wonder where they disappeared to ten minutes later. My deck railing, once repaired, will stay that way.

And my life will be that much poorer.
Psalm 136:1 (ESV)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Hebrews 12:28
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.

James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holy Week: Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014


Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, a time when we fix our eyes on Jesus' triumphal entry, crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. On Palm Sunday we remember when Jesus set out for Jerusalem, was hailed as Messiah and King and was greeted with shouts of "Hosanna!" During this morning's service, we followed Christ's path from Jerusalem to the cross, seeking Him as our true Savior and King.

This week's Sunday song review features photos by Nate Herndon. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs (where available)

1. Call to Worship (adapted from The Worship Sourcebook, John 12:12-13, and Sojourn Community Church)

2. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name - Words by Edward Perronet (1780), Contemporary chorus by 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.



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. Hail to the Lord's Anointed - Words: James Montgomery (1821), Music and Arrangement: Vito Aiuto (2008), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Hail to the Lord’s anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
to set the captive free;
To take away transgression
and rule in equity.



5. We read the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”



6. The scripture reading was followed by a time of confession and assurance (adapted from the Worship Sourcebook) based on Matthew 21:8-9, John 3:17, and Ephesians 5:1-2.

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

For Christ came into the world not to condemn the world,
but that the world through him should be saved.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Hosanna in the Highest!



7. Hosanna by Brooke Fraser

I see the King of Glory
coming on the clouds with fire,
the whole earth shakes,
The whole earth shakes.
Hosanna! Hosanna!
Hosanna in the highest!



8. Communion Song: Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed - Words: Isaac Watts (1707), Music: Martyrdom, Hugh Wilson, (1800), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
and did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
for such a wretch such as I?

My God why would You shed Your blood
so pure and undefiled,
to make a sinful one like me
Your chosen precious child?



9. Communion Song: How Deep the Father's Love For Us by Stuart Townend, Arrangement: King's Kaleidoscope

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.


Music Team for Sunday, April 13, 2014:

Andrew Camp - vocals, electric guitars
Kristen Camp - vocals
Nick Havens - bass
Emily Herzog - vocals, piano
Rhett Johnson - electric guitar, vocals
Scott Johnson - worship leader, piano, organ, acoustic guitar
Andrew Luley - drums
Justin Schilb - violin
Benedict Sin - violin

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Ready for Palm Sunday 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.



This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day when we remember Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem for the last time, setting in motion the events that would lead to his death. Keith Simon will preach from Luke 19:28–44, “Jesus is the King No One Recognized.” The Scripture reads,

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

This passage is often referred to as the Triumphal Entry. Yet there’s far less triumph than we might first expect. The Pharisees object, and Jesus cries for the city. Does this sound like a king? What are we expecting in a leader? How should a king act? Perhaps even more to the point, what do we expect God to be like as king? Do we know what we’re looking for? Do we know what we should be looking for? Jesus confounded their expectations, and he still does that today. Join us Sunday to see just what king he really is.

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

Sanctus [lyrics; listen] – words traditional (1st century); music by Christine Cover and Scott Johnson

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name [lyrics and listen] – words by Edward Perronet (v.4 by John Ripon); music by Oliver Holden; chorus by Judah Groveman

Here is our King (chorus only) [lyrics] – David Crowder

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed [lyrics; listen] – words by James Montgomery; music by Vito Aiuto, arranged by The Crossing Music

Hosanna [lyrics; listen] – Brooke Fraser

Alas! And Did my Savior Bleed [lyrics and listen] – words by Isaac Watts; music by Hugh Wilson

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us [lyrics; listen] – Stuart Townend; based on a recording by King’s Kaleidoscope

See you on Sunday!

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 Reasons Why I Think Kids Today Are Overprotected

1. I think that if I gave my kids the same freedoms that I (and all my friends) had as a kid growing up, someone would call the Division of Family Services. In elementary school we used to ride our bikes (without helmets!) all over the neighborhood and the only rule was to be home by dark. It was common for kids to walk to elementary school and now that has all but become extinct.

2. I think that kids are overprotected in large part because the internet and cable news wrongly leads parents to believe that child abduction has significantly increased. It hasn't. According to David Finkelhor who is the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, the only abductions that have increased are the ones done by estranged parents resulting from divorce. It turns out that we shouldn't warn our kids to avoid "stranger danger" as much as a mom and dad.

3. I think that because kids have cell phones allowing their parents to keep in touch with them, they should have more freedom. They don't. If you're a parent, it's likely that you lived in BCP (Before Cell Phones). When you left the house no one could get in touch with you. You might have left your parents a note that you were out with friends but regardless of how they found out that you were gone, they couldn't get in touch with you unless you called home. Now that we can use modern technology to stay in constant touch with our kids, why do they have less freedom than you did growing up?

4. I think that parents overprotect their kids because they are afraid to let kids fail. Breaking news: Failure is an unavoidable part of life and good for your kids.

5. I think that over protection leads to kids who are less confident, take less risks, and are more insecure and timid. See this ebook by Tim Elmore.
In an essay called “The Play Deficit,” Peter Gray, the Boston College psychologist, chronicles the fallout from the loss of the old childhood culture, and it’s a familiar list of the usual ills attributed to Millennials: depression, narcissism, and a decline in empathy. In the past decade, the percentage of college-age kids taking psychiatric medication has spiked, according to a 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association. Practicing psychologists have written (in this magazine and others) about the unique identity crisis this generation faces—a fear of growing up and, in the words of Brooke Donatone, a New York–based therapist, an inability “to think for themselves.”
6. I think that over protection means that kids don't play sports in the neighborhood and therefore play more organized sports under the supervision of an adult coach.

7. I think because kids have less freedom to be outside with their friends, they watch more television, use more social media, and play more xbox.

8. I think that over protection is a factor leading to increased childhood obesity.

9. I think that a variety of sociological factors including the declining birthrate, the increasing number of homes in which both parents work, and increased divorce rates contribute to parents making their children the center of their lives. Interesting and surprising fact: parents spend more time with their kids now than they did 40 years ago.

10. I think that parents want to be good parents. Obvious I know. But what's not so obvious is that good parents raise independent kids who know how to handle failure, are willing to take appropriate risks. I wonder if our over protection is keeping us from being good parents?

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why I struggle to return to God after I sin (again and again and again)

She described in painful detail how Multiple Sclerosis upturned her life. I heard her story on NPR. Once active and fit, it took only three years impair her ability to exercise, enjoy a walk around a museum, and even help herself to a glass from the cupboard. With profound honesty she shared the hardest part of her disability: always being the one who is helped. 

One day she will need her her husband to help her to bathe, to do everything. "It's hard not to feel beholden," she said. The balance and equality within their relationship tips away from her; receiving help constantly diminishes her sense of dignity.

Hearing this, her interviewer paused, then asked, "So it's a question of grace?"

"Yes."

How true. Her story points to a spiritual reality that's easy: true grace is disorienting and difficult to receive.

Grace is unearthly. We have no categories for it. There are analogies, perhaps. A disabled person receiving unconditional love from a spouse. A newborn relying on his mother's careful provision of food. A murderer adopted by the mother of the man he killed.

These are pictures of grace, but no earthly analogy can capture the depths of human guilt, need, and darkness. No earthly analogy can capture the extravagance of God's forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

That's why we struggle to understand grace. We try to fit it into preexisting categories, but find they lead us astray. We think of God as a family member who loans us money to help us through tough times. But God's grace is so enormous that it cannot be paid back; "loan" is too light a word. Conversely, his grace is so free that efforts to repay him undermine the value of it.

His grace is unearthly. There's nothing like it. That's disorienting.

Remember your first job interview? Your first date? Your first day in middle school? They're all terrifying and exciting and confusing because we don't know what to expect. How should I dress? What will I say? What will they think? How do I act?

For many, their first experience God's grace creates a flurry of disorientation. We see ourselves, friends, family, and life experiences with new eyes. We yearn to live differently.

That first disorientation is never the last.

As his grace drills deeper into our lives, we're confronted with a confusing array of experiences. For instance: how does grace respond when I fall into patterns of sin like lust, gossip, pride, greed, and apathy?

I repent. I return. His grace meets me. He forgives me. I feel relief.

But what happens when I sin again, in the exact same way? And again? And again? Do I despair? Do I wonder why I didn't get fixed the first time? Maybe I try to clean myself up before I repent. But I can't, and my acts of self-righteousness is just another sin on top of sin. So I helplessly repent. His grace meets me once more.

After years of sinning, repenting, and being forgiven, the drill of his grace digs deeper. I wonder if there's a limit? Is God like a disappointed employer, who wonders why I don't improve my job performance after so many opportunities? Does his grace run dry? Will he let me go? After years of gracious help, shouldn't I stop sinning like this?

These questions crash like waves on my soul. Like the tide they recede and return. Every time I hear Jesus' words to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven," they feel, at once impossible to believe and impossible to ignore. I understand the crowd's response, "We never saw anything like this!"

I have no category to understand his grace. I have no category for being the one who always receives. I have no category for the infinite depths of love, which stoops to meet my every need. Learning to receive grace over and over and over and over is a Spiritual education.

I mistakenly believe that my sojourn on earth is about moral performance, but Paul's prayer is that I comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love for me (Eph. 3:18-19). My journey is about receiving Jesus' lavish grace and love in ways I struggle to comprehend.

It's my preparation for an eternity spent in awe-full exploration of his grace.

Do you think you've reached the bottom of his forgiveness? That you drained the last drop of his love? That his grace runs dry for you? You've mistaken grace for something on earth. His grace is unearthly. There's nothing like it. It's infinite. Unending. Unceasing. No sin, no power, no suffering, no man, no woman can stop it. You may not feel it, but he lavishes grace on you now, abundantly flowing over every sin to meet you in this moment, no matter where you are or what you've done. Will you receive it?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why Younger People Are Leaving the Church (and What To Do About It)

The numbers are sobering. According to a recent Barna survey, only two out of every ten Millennials (ages 30 and under) consider church attendance to be very important, and more than a third have adopted an anti-church view.  

While Millennials represent the far end of the spectrum of Americans’ attitudes toward church (about half of society as a whole considers church attendance to be “very” or “somewhat” important), they may be the leading edge of a larger cultural shift. When asked what, if anything, helps them grow in their faith, Americans as a whole failed to rate church among the top ten factors.

The Barna report continues:
But beyond a dip in attendance numbers, the nature of churchgoing is changing. Regular attenders used to be people who went to church three or more weekends each month—or even several times a week. Now people who show up once every four to six weeks consider themselves regular churchgoers. …Furthermore, the percentage of people who have not attended a church function at all in the past six months has surged in the last decade from one-third to nearly two-fifths of all Americans. The shift is even more drastic among younger Americans: more than half of Millennials and Gen Xers [ages 30–48] say they have not been to church in the last six months.
As for the reasons that MIllennials are declining to go to church:
[They] cite three factors with equal weight in their decision: 35% cite the church's irrelevance, hypocrisy, and the moral failures of its leaders as reasons to check out of church altogether. In addition, two out of 10 unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church, and one out of 10 senses that legitimate doubt is prohibited, starting at the front door. 
As I said, the numbers are sobering. But they also point to the ways in which churches need to respond. A few observations along these lines:
1. Any careful reading of New Testament will help us to realize that hypocrisy and moral failings will always be a part of the church. That’s not to say it’s unimportant for Christians—and particularly Christian leaders—to pursue greater holiness through the grace of God. In fact, the opposite is true. But it also indicates that churches need to do a better job helping people understand that they are not collections of people living in ivory towers, but rather communities of flawed and sinful people who desperately need the grace of the gospel…not only before but also after coming to faith. That truth should lead to greater humility and hospitality to those outside the church.

2. The challenge for the church in every age is to hold firmly to the timeless truth of found in the Bible while at the same time faithfully communicating and applying that truth in a constantly changing culture. Christians today need the same gospel as did people in the ancient world. But that means churches will need to find ways to express the gospel in ways that are uniquely suited for the present day. This will affect everything from mining current illustrations, stories, and data to innovating with technology to addressing significant cultural trends and problems with biblical insight. This means that Christians need to be serious students of both the Bible and the world in which they live. This rules out both separation from and capitulation to the surrounding culture.

3. If Jesus was gracious toward those who doubted and wavered (e.g., Mark 9:21-27; John 20:24-29; Mat. 12:20), then the church surely can do no less. This means taking serious questions seriously, so to speak. In any age, there will be issues and beliefs that will make believing the truth about Jesus more difficult. The church needs to tackle these with intellectual rigor on the one hand, and patience, sympathy, and kindness on the other.

4. Perhaps the greatest problem the survey points to is people feeling that God is missing from church. This illustrates a crucial point. If the church is about anything, it absolutely has to be about God—knowing, understanding, loving, worshiping, following, and glorifying God. If it isn’t, then the church ceases to be something vital and necessary, and instead becomes indistinguishable from any number of other organizations and associations. As obvious as it may sound, it’s worth noting explicitly: if God isn’t the focus of a church, people have no real reason to be there.

(For more information about The Crossing’s specific ministry values, click here.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Well-Timed Blessing of Fear

Growing up in a Baptist church outside of Detroit, I never understood how the sentence, "He's a good, God-fearing man" could ever be received as a compliment. After all, the American Male Mystique - an enslaving mirage, both then and now - glorifies the "real man" to be entirely fearless and confident, self-assured and in command of his faculties even under the most extreme forms of duress. The presence of fear was more often used as a critique, a sense that a man was lacking somehow, so the idea that a good man should fear anything landed on me as an oxymoron.
So how does a modern Christian male reconcile the entirely-biblical truths that we are to both love (Matthew 22:37) and fear (Deuteronomy 13:4) the Lord? What is the appropriate place for fear in the spiritual and emotional make-up of the well-ordered disciple of Jesus? If Jesus has indeed saved us from sin and judgment, then is there really anything left to fear?

One day last week, the ride to school was especially challenging for me and my son. Our morning routine had not gone well; there had been several less-than-loving comments issuing forth from his mouth, most of which I did not have adequate time to address as a father probably should. Even the simplest tasks - eating breakfast, putting on shoes, zipping up a jacket - became grueling events that tested the mettle of all combatants. In short, a heart of stubborn, rebellious pride had descended on my first-grader, and he had given himself over to it. Heeding some parenting advice once spoken by Jerram Barrs, I desperately sought to "overlook everything I possibly could."

As it happened, God blessed Boone County with a fairly-impressive storm that morning. Traffic was slow and snarled. Bridge construction on Scott Boulevard, other road work elsewhere and partial flooding had the effect of re-routing cars and busses such that the two of us found ourselves trapped in unmoving traffic more than once. And then the hail started coming down, landing loudly on the roof of our car and further obstructing our ability to see out the windshield. I briefly wondered if the hail was damaging my vehicle when the lightning kicked in. A nearby crack, and I no longer needed any more caffeine to wake up. Apart from any "choice" of mine, the adrenaline surged.

About that time, I noticed that my son had gone silent.

I then realized that he actually hadn't said much for a few minutes. Where previously he had been very loudly complaining and critiquing everything that crossed his path, he had at some point gone quiet. The expression on his face provided visible evidence that he had decided to suspend his growling and spend some time wondering what was going to happen to us next. When he began gulping for breath, the fear moving now into panic, I simply reached over to him, put my hand on his leg and looked full into his eyes; "Don't worry. Don't be scared. I'm with you. We're going to be just fine. You can relax." I kept my hand on his leg and repeated those phrases a few times, waiting for his breathing to slow down.

It wasn't too long after that when the hail stopped, bringing a measure of relief to the previously-deafening sound of ice striking sheet metal. The rain slowed up a bit, too, and traffic began to move again. We arrived safely at school, both of us now enabled to articulate gratitude for the warmth, dryness and safety of the car's interior. My son wondered what his life might have been like had he been walking or biking to school that day, as he sees "other kids do sometimes." His school principal stood by the covered entryway, large umbrella in hand, welcoming the kids who were being dispatched from a line of cars and hustling them into the safety of his building. My son was able to express his thanks before we hastily said goodbye.

The message had been received. I said a quick prayer, thanking God for my son's safety...and for the well-timed interruption in his peevishness.

My son is not the only Mayer male with a rebellious, stubborn heart in need of a healthy dose of reality.

I have had the same primary care physician for over 20 years. When I arrived in Columbia in the fall of 1992, I was a hot mess. A physical, emotional and certainly a spiritual shipwreck. My doctor and I have never spent much time talking about issues of faith, but I have an enormous respect for her plain-spoken approach, as well as her patience and considerable medical skills. At some point in the mid-1990s, God's common grace descended on her medical practice as she laid out three different possibilities for me to both enter rehab and have some chance that my University insurance would foot much of the bill. After I wasted her time by finding some small fault with each of the three possibilities for drug and alcohol rehabilitation - none of them fit "my" ignorant preconception of "what rehab should look like" perfectly - she gave me an incredible gift of well-timed fear:
"OK, well, these are your options. These are what your insurance plan will cover. If you keep drinking the way you are, you will die. Probably sooner than you think."
I never did go through any form of "institutionalized" rehabilitation, though I know many currently-sober people who have done so and swear by it. Instead, sobriety came a few months later as the simple truth of her words continued to "make noise" in my soul similar to the incessant downpour of ice that struck fear into the heart of my son last week. The Lord had allowed me to hear these words in a way that had previously been impossible; over the course of 20+ years of drug and alcohol abuse, I lost count of the number of people who had tried to talk some sense into me. On a plane ride from San Francisco to Kansas City, I surrendered my life to the God of my understanding. The specter of impending death had managed to catch my attention...in the best possible way.

Of course, fearing God and fearing for our physical well-being are very different. But God is in the business of redeeming even our most selfish fears. Where once upon a time various fears were a controlling influence in my life, a horrid feeling bringing with it much physical discomfort - a discomfort that could only be drowned out with prodigious amounts of drinking and drugs - fear has nowadays been relegated to the less-intimidating role of "indicator light on my heart's control panel." The presence of fear serves merely to remind me that I have 1) forgotten something about God or 2) have placed an inappropriate amount of trust in something other than God.

It's actually a blessing to have a "dashboard light" that calls me back to my Savior when I stray. A rightly-ordered fear of God stands in awe of His perfect holiness and righteousness. In the Bible, it is oddly reassuring to me that the universal reaction to the manifested presence of the Lord is immediate and consuming fear. God and His angels are constantly telling human beings not to fear (Daniel 10:10-12; Luke 2:10; Matthew 28:5), the clearest-possible indicator that God's world is "wholly other" than what we now know, and that His level of perfection is such that we simply cannot grasp it.

We fear that which we cannot understand, and in doing so with reference to God we must acknowledge our weakness and frailty.

Where once I looked down on fear and rather-cluelessly tried to master my own, I can now appreciate this kind of fear as a reminder of our place in God's universe, our need for protection and Christ's call to pursue love as the only effective means of casting out the more self-centered expressions of fear (1 John 4:18). Praise God that He regularly interrupts our selfishness and lack of gratitude with lightning, hailstorms and no-nonsense, plain-speaking family doctors.
Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Psalm 111:10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Job 28:28
And he said to man, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding."

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