Friday, March 30, 2012

A Longing for More

When I was a little girl growing up in largely-rural northwest Missouri, some of my favorite playtimes revolved around imagining I lived in a different time and place. I would most often imagine I was a pioneer girl, riding horses, living out of a covered wagon headed west, frequently terrorized by wild savages. Sometimes I was an Indian girl, completely at home building a fire and silently skulking about in the "wilderness" of my grandma's back yard. Having some Cherokee Indian blood in my mother's side of the family, this particular game held a special appeal to me as I would imagine that I was somehow living out my ancestors' experiences.

As I got older, my imagination got a little more sophisticated, but the overall scenery stayed the same. My Girl Scout camping kit became the rudimentary cooking tools I'd use to make a meal for my pioneer family - my Holly Hobbie dolls and my dog, playing key roles in said family - as we camped out near the stream we'd come across in our trek westward.

It's been a long time since I've played imaginary games like these, but that longing to be a part of a simpler time and more connected to God's creation in nature has never left me. I still feel myself most connected to God when I am outdoors - though nowadays I am digging in the dirt, planting flowers, pulling weeds, and marveling at His endless creativity.

I've also found that longing piqued by certain literature. I've written before how very much I love the writing of Wendell Berry, whose fiction is largely about a small town in Kentucky and the people who lived there. His writing is rich with descriptions of a time gone by, both in terms of how we survived as a people, living largely off the land, as well as the connectedness of individuals within that community. Berry has an amazing ability to breathe life into a story with his words. His writing feeds a desire in me to once again live in a time when life ran slower, people genuinely meant something to each other, and God loomed large in the lives and livelihood of all.

I recently discovered that I'm not alone in this very specific response to Berry's writing, either. A friend of mine and I were recently sharing what we are currently reading, have read lately or are going to read soon. (Yes, we are both bookworm nerds and totally fine with it.) She wrote something that I thought articulated not just her heart, but mine as well:
I have to take Wendell Berry in fairly small doses, partly because I love savoring him...partly because reading him makes me long so much for the simplicity of the rural life my grandparents had...and partly because I sometimes get so sad about how shallow my community ties here are when I read about the depth of community life they had. He plucks my country-girl introverted strings in just such a way that I might move off to our little cabin in the woods and become a hermit, seeing no one save for the few folks down the lane who come to visit and pick blackberries. I know these are not modern or "healthy" tendencies but it's how I’m woven...I might have done well to live in the lifetime of Hannah Coulter (a Wendell Berry character). But God gave me this life and says I'm woven for it, so here I'll strive to thrive, all the while knowing those sorrows are all part of the whole longing for the "not yet" of heaven, where depth of community will no longer be a sorrowful struggle.
My friend, in tying the longing she feels when reading Berry to her desire for the "something more of heaven," has hit the nail on the head.

There's something about the reality of our lives in the here and now that creates in all of us an almost unstoppable longing for "something more."

We all seem to be fairly proficient at putting our fingers on those points in our lives that are "not quite what we wish they were." It really doesn't matter what the details of your life look like; if I were to ask you to pinpoint something in your life that disappoints you, or where you'd make a change or wish things were different, I am guessing you could answer that question fairly quickly. We all carry around with us that list of things we'd change if we could.

This discontentment with our lives, however it manifests itself, can oftentimes create a temptation to sin, but my point is not to address the many ways in which ingratitude worms its way into our hearts and causes us to stumble.

Rather, the discontentment I am talking about is more of a "holy longing" that is evidence that we were built for something more. Of course we're dissatisfied with the day-to-day reality of what it's like to live out life this side of heaven - we are all desperately broken people trying to relate to other hopelessly-damaged souls in the context of a deeply-corrupted creation...and God has created us for so much more.

Our five-year-old has of late been wrestling with questions about heaven and, coincidentally, many of his questions seem to center on whether or not God's view of heaven will be "good enough" for him. Of course he doesn't articulate it like that. Instead, what he has been doing is asking if he can take this or that prized possession with him to heaven. For a few weeks now he's been cataloguing for his Daddy and I the things he wants to take with him when he goes to heaven: his favorite stuffed animal (actually, there are probably 20 reserved for heaven at this point), the little evergreen tree in our front yard, a cool stick, and fruits snacks are on his list, and the list continues to grow. The underlying idea, it seems, is that it won't be heaven if he isn't surrounded with the things he loves, values, things that comfort him.

I think even at five years old he's sensing that life here on earth "isn't all it could be" and yet is fearful that heaven won't be either.

I wonder if we aren't all just a little like our young son. Since none of us has a very clear vision for what heaven will be like (1 Corinthians 2:9), don't we all struggle to believe that leaving everything here behind will be far better (Philippians 1:21-23)?

I think so. Our view of heaven is so corrupted by the things we value here that we can't possibly imagine what beauty awaits us and even if we did know, we couldn't articulate it - Paul saw it himself and couldn't put words to it (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

When we feel our hearts longing for the unattainable - like, for me and my friend, the "kingdom" that Wendell Berry's writing so vividly portrays - we would do well to remind ourselves that our longing is really pointing to a greater Kingdom (Romans 8:22-23). This Kingdom, while the details right now are an indescribable unknown to us, is at core the very presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). As believers, our longing for "something more" will one day be completely and utterly fulfilled, not because we reach heaven with our arms filled with our treasures, but because we will, by God's grace, fall into the arms of the One who made us to long for Him.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Crossing Web Feature: Point of Focus

ESI readers might be interested to know that we've just started a new monthly feature on The Crossing's website called Point of Focus. It's designed to help you better understand the Bible and theology, defend the Christian worldview, and engage in cultural issues from a biblical perspective. You can check it out here. This month's debut feature: "Wrestling with Old Testament 'Holy Wars,' Pt. 1: The Moral Indignation of Richard Dawkins."

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Former President Weighs in on How to Approach the Bible

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a former President of the United States “headlining” an edition of the NIV Bible.  But that’s exactly what Zondervan has done with Jimmy Carter—who, in addition to being our 39th chief executive, is a nuclear engineer by training and longtime Sunday school teacher.  According to the product description, The NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections from Jimmy Carter includes  “short, application-oriented notes on particular verses…longer articles on particular topics…prayers of application on select passages,” and “brief one-sentence sayings and quotations by Jimmy Carter.”  

While I’m sure there are merits to asking someone like President Carter to reflect on the Bible, I found his recent comments as to how one should approach it to be troubling…and in fact antithetical to the view of inerrancy I wrote about last week.  In an interview with The Huffington Post, Carter had this to say in response to a question of whether we should interpret the Bible literally or metaphorically:
When we go to the Bible we should keep in mind that the basic principles of the Bible are taught by God, but written down by human beings deprived of modern day knowledge. So there is some fallibility in the writings of the Bible. But the basic principles are applicable to my life and I don’t find any conflict among them.
Leaving aside a larger discussion about the differing ways we use the terms “literal” and “metaphorical,” there are a handful of problematic aspects to the former president’s comments, including:

1. They certainly don’t reflect the Bible’s view of itself.  

Passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, Psalm 119, Matthew 5:17-18, etc., offer a decidedly different take. 

2. They suggest that the Biblical text is compromised by its authors’ lack of modern knowledge. 

Earlier in the interview, for example, Carter said this:
We know, for instance that stars can’t fall on the earth, stars are much larger than the earth. That was a limitation of knowledge of the universe or physics, or astronomy at that time, but that doesn’t bother me at all.
President Carter is of course correct in saying that stars don’t fall upon the earth.  But it’s equally true that we still talk as if they do, that is, we employ what scholars call phenomenological language, i.e., describing things as they appear to us.  Unless we think it appropriate to treat people that speak of “falling stars” and “sunrises” as erroneous or deceptive, we might need to acknowledge that speech can be truthful and accurate even if it lacks modern technical precision. 

3. Most seriously, they reflect a “kernel of truth in a husk of error” perspective of the Bible.

The former president appears to be joining a long line of people claiming the Bible contains timeless principles amidst material that is anything from benignly mistaken to bigoted, shameful, etc.  Those making such an assertion, however, eventually need to address a related question: how do we tell which is which?  What are the criteria?  Who decides?  There is far more to say here than can be said in a blog post, but I would argue that the approach President Carter advocates is more often than not driven by ideas that are problematic in their own right, including but not limited to questionable or simplistic interpretations (see above) and subjective values and preferences.  The latter are why, for example, the many so-called quests for the “real” or “historical” Jesus supposedly lying behind the biblical accounts tend to result in a portrait strikingly similar to those doing the questing. 

All this suggests that, when biblical inerrancy is questioned, it’s usually helpful and appropriate to ask for specific examples of erroneous or objectionable passages.  That at least opens the door to address the fundamental issues in question.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Cleaning House

Having been a Christian for over 14 years now, I can look back on my walk with Christ and clearly see how He has been oh-so-slowly sanding off the many, many rough edges, and so very patiently sanctifying me. I still have a few (OK, a lot of) rough edges, to be sure, but nowadays I can look back and see real progress, and I am greatly encouraged. Ironically, I have also found that as the "bigger sins" have been removed - like an addiction to alcohol and sexual rebellion, just to name a couple - it's easier for some persistent "small sins" to creep back into my life and, perhaps because I'm too busy congratulating myself on how much progress "I've" made, I don't tend to see them right away.

Unfortunately, church leaders and ministry workers can often seem to become their own worst enemies. The forces of darkness do a much better job of destroying God's servants not by throwing obvious temptations into their paths - like hiring strippers to dance at their birthday parties - but instead by building up various influential Christians with fame and an unbroken string of successes. Sadly, the list of prominent Christians who have authentically desired to serve Jesus - only to find themselves overcome by greed, unstoppable pride or some other lust of the flesh - gets depressingly longer with every passing year. The very best way to barbecue a man, it turns out, may be to simply lavish a great deal of success and its resulting positive attention on that person. Left unchecked, even the most well-meaning praise can be corrupted to serve a growing sense of pride; Christian believers do well, I think, to give all credit to God when they are praised for anything.

I already see this dynamic at work in my own life, though obviously in far smaller ways.

Last summer, I began facilitating a men's redemption group, focusing on Ed Welch's "Crossroads" series as our curriculum. No big deal, really, "just" an 11-week program that would provide an opportunity to meet up with some other guys, share our stories and (hopefully) be able to encourage one another as we all sought to throw off some lifelong habits and hang-ups that had done a fairly impressive job of screwing up our lives and separating us from God. As someone who has been, by God's grace, drug- and alcohol-free since July of 1997, I made a serious mistake by thinking that I was merely facilitating a redemption group in the hope of helping know, since "I was doing so great" and all. In other words, I was there solely to help these guys, not that I necessarily had anything more in myself that needed to be revealed and dealt with.

Foolish pride!

My moment of clarity came when I was sitting at my desk at home, typing out an encouraging e-mail, exhorting the guys in the group to recommit themselves to discipline and strength. In God's infinite mercy, I think it was right about then that I happened to look down into the trash can next to my desk and glimpse approximately 23,000 empty Starburst wrappers. And as if that's not bad enough (and it is), I had been fishing those delightful candies out of the clearly-marked plastic bin which indicated that these tempting treats had been specifically purchased and set aside for the participants in the church's DivorceCare class. A rare foray onto the bathroom scale the next morning confirmed my worst of fears. "Great! Now I'm a hypocritical thief...and a fat hypocritical thief to boot!" When I came face-to-face with a trash can full of Starburst wrappers, I realized that I was failing the guys in the group by, on the one hand, encouraging them to give up their vices while, on the other, ransacking another ministry in service of a seemingly-insatiable sugar buzz.

The clear message? We Christians need to pay close attention to those little pockets of our lives that stubbornly resist examination, are drowned out by excuses or are minimized or rationalized away as "not that big a deal."

Enemies without, and enemies within! But lest you get the idea that I am now walking through life in a constant state of anxiety, panicking that I might miss some small evidence of sin that will have major negative repercussions in my own life, or that perhaps I'm preparing to dive headlong into a cesspool of pride, I have instead chosen to learn from other Christian leaders how very dangerous it can be to enter into the service of the Lord, however small our part. It's become very clear to me that, as difficult as it may be for all of us, if we want to serve others, we must do it always with a wary eye on our own hearts and a commitment to seek humility in all things. Nothing delights the enemy of our souls more, I am convinced, than when a faithful Christian allows God's sanctifying work in their lives to create a prideful blindness that then allows them to do something particularly stupid, sinful or just plain ill-advised. Like, for example, eating a giant punch bowl of candy while simultaneously rebuking addicts to put down their own comforts of choice.

This week, I chose to take five days off work and get some things taken care of that desperately needed attention. In addition to schoolwork that had fallen by the wayside, I had some unmet responsibilities with my work at The Crossing, as well as several projects around the house that have been left undone for several years. Perhaps most embarrassingly, there is an unused room in our basement that has become a sadly-disorganized mess over the course of the past seven years. And when I say, "mess," I am being charitable. I do not mean that there are "a few things out of place," or that there are a "few piles of stuff" stacked here and there. No, what I mean is that a human being is no longer able to walk through this particular room without incurring injury, so stacked had it become with stuff that we clearly had not needed for seven years.

So why was I "hoarding" things in my basement? How exactly was this massive collection of you-name-it contributing to the cause of Christ in my hometown? The truth is, this room is in the back corner of the house, so it's easy to ignore. Not being forced to "see" it regularly, it had become an absolutely beautiful picture of how our hearts - even as they are being sanctified in more obvious ways - can slowly begin to collect smaller sins that we will eventually trip over and not only humiliate ourselves but also grieve Christ.

This basement chaos becomes for me, then, a perfect picture of the corners of my heart that tend to collect junk, should I refuse to keep a vigilant eye on those areas of my life that cause me to stumble.

Ever since God was pleased to give me the Moment of Fat Thief Clarity, I have been repenting of much. True, eating candy (along with too much food) might not be placed in the same category of seriousness as nearly drinking myself to death, but it's all sin. It's all an attempt to grab as much comfort for myself as possible, and it's all dishonoring to the faith that I profess. No, I am no longer drinking copious amounts of booze each and every day, nor am I smoking dope, nor allowing myself to watch sex-soaked movies or view inappropriate material on the Internet. Praise God for delivering me from all of that, and for keeping me "in the fold" these past several years! And praise God that, through His mercy, He also opened the door to the "basement storage room within" that I was intentionally leaving shut, and lovingly showed me that regardless of "scale," I still have sinful attitudes that I need to clean up.

Since last summer, I have continued to be on what I call "Low Alert" for other examples of hypocrisy in my own walk. There is real wisdom to be had in being vigilant, in keeping watch for those heart attitudes that bring a bad name to the community of believers. Also, with God's enabling, we can now dare to take on the piles of unused furniture, computer equipment, and hardware supplies that have bedeviled our basement ever since we moved into our present house back in February of 2005. As we do so, I am praying that God would continue to shine light on those dark corners of my heart that have persistently gathered dust and allowed "small sins" to accumulate unnoticed.

Lord knows I could never keep on top of this mess all on my own.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Songs and Scenes from Sunday, March 25, 2012


Today's worship service was planned and led by Andrew Luley. The Songs and Scenes review features photos provided by Nate Herndon. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs where available.

I Sing the Mighty Power of God - Words: Isaac Watts (1715), Music and Additional Chorus: Scott Johnson, Keith Scherer, Andrew Camp

I sing the mighty power of God,
that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command,
and all the stars obey.


We continued in worship by reading this adapted prayer from the Worship Sourcebook.

Eternal God, you are the power behind all things:
behind the strength of the storm, behind the heat of a million suns.
Eternal God, you are the power behind all minds:
Leader: behind the ability to think and reason, behind all understanding of the truth.
Eternal God, you are the power behind the cross of Christ:
behind our redemption and reconciliation, behind our forgiveness through his blood.
Eternal God, we worship and adore you. Amen.


He Holds All Things by David A. Cover and Patrick Miller

This original song by The Crossing Music (based on Colossians 1:15-20 and Romans 11:36) is available as a free download along with "I Sing the Mighty Power of God."

From kingdom dark to kingdom's light,
Your blood has made a way.
The death of sin and hope of life,
Your mighty cross proclaims.
From Him, to Him, salvation is sustained.
Through Him, for Him, all things remade.


Jesus gives us the confidence to enter the very presence of God because of his once for all sacrifice on his cross. With this knowledge, we humbly confessed our sins to God (reading Psalm 51) with the assurance of his help in our time of need.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.


With Melting Heart and Weeping Eyes - Words by John Fawcett (1740-1817), Music by Clint Wells

Does not Thy sacred word proclaim,
salvation free in Jesus' name?
To Him I look and humbly cry,
"Lord, save a wretch condemned to die.
Lord, save this wretch condemned to die."


1 Peter 2:24 gave us the assurance of Christ's saving work on the cross and the effect it has on our lives.

Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By his wounds we are healed.

You Alone Can Rescue by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

Who, O Lord could save themselves
their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea.
Your grace is deeperer still.

You alone can rescue, You alone can save.
You alone can lift us from the grave.
You came down to find us, led us out of death.
To You alone be longs the highest praise.


On Jordan's Stormy Banks- Words by Samuel Stennett (1787) and contemporary music by Christopher Miner.

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

I am bound, I am bound,
I am bound for the Promised land.


Surrender by Marc James

I'm giving you my heart, and all that is within,
I lay it all down for the sake of you my King.
I'm giving you my dreams, I'm laying down my rights,
I'm giving up my pride for the promise of new life.
And I surrender all to You. All to You.


Death in His Grave by John Mark McMillan

We introduced Death in His Grave to learn as a congregation in anticipation of Easter. The song is a wonderful example of poetry in the context of a corporate worship song. Bobby Gilles in his blog, My Song in the Night, gives a helpful analysis of the songs lyrics. Here's an excerpt.
McMillan uses scriptural allusions and quotations throughout “Death In His Grave.” For example...
"The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled anew"
speaks of the Old Testament sacrificial system, which Jesus ended by becoming the once-for-all sacrifice, and it speaks of God’s “from dust to dust” proclamation in Genesis. Our “rent,” our “dues,” is the giving-up of our bodies in death. But we were created for immortality. Christ’s sacrifice restores our right-standing with God and makes us fit to live forever in God’s Kingdom. “Death In His Grave” succinctly and brilliantly conveys this information.
You can see the complete set of lyrics here.


Music and Tech Team for Sunday, March 25, 2012:

Kenny Ashton - acoustic guitar, vocals
Andrew Camp - vocals, acoustic guitar
David Cover - electric guitar, vocals
Ashley Gross - vocals
Rhett Johnson - electric guitar
Scott Johnson - piano, organ, vocals
Andrew Luley - worship service designer, drums
Ryan Ponder - bass guitar

Mike Contant - sermon media
Ken Kroll - lights
Darrin Nichols - music media
Jake Wandel - light, media and stage coordinato
Tim Worstell - sound

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Biblical Inerrancy Is...and Isn't

What is the Bible? Is it God’s own trustworthy revelation of truth?  Or is it something else?  Perhaps a valuable but corrupted history or collection of writings that hide gems of insight in the mud of another era’s biases and shortcomings? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining how we approach the Bible and what role it ultimately plays in our lives. 

The contrasting answers just mentioned (we could add others) point to a controversy that’s been in full swing since the Enlightenment, often even within the big tent of confessing Christians.  Just in the last several weeks, I’ve run across various articles, blog posts, or books in which the nature of the Bible’s witness is a central issue. 

With that in mind, I thought I’d point to a document that many evangelicals and other theologically like-minded persons have relied upon to articulate a view of biblical inerrancy, i.e., the doctrine that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology).  The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, drafted in 1978, remains a reliable, nuanced expression of what inerrancy is…and also what it isn’t. 

Following a short preface, the Statement contains a short, five point-summary, including the three listed below:
2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms, obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.
4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.
5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
This summary is followed by nineteen brief “articles of affirmation and denial.”  A few that might be of particular interest:
Article I
We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God. 
We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source. 
Article II
We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture. 
We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

Article VII
We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us. 
We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind. 
Article VIII
We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared. 
We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities. 
Article X
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic [i.e., original—NT] text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. 
We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant. 
Article XII
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. 
We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood. 
[Note: to the best of my understanding, this article doesn’t rule out such views as an “old earth” (i.e., one that is several billion years old) or conceptions of evolution that are superintended by God’s providence.  Many biblical inerrantists suggest that such views are consistent with a proper understanding of the biblical accounts, which they fully affirm to be completely trustworthy and ultimately authoritative.—NT]  
Article XIII
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. 
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
The entire Statement (linked above) is a brief and worthwhile read.  I’ll close with a helpful paragraph from the preface:
We offer this Statement in a spirit, not of contention, but of humility and love, which we purpose by God's grace to maintain in any future dialogue arising out of what we have said. We gladly acknowledge that many who deny the inerrancy of Scripture do not display the consequences of this denial in the rest of their belief and behavior, and we are conscious that we who confess this doctrine often deny it in life by failing to bring our thoughts and deeds, our traditions and habits, into true subjection to the divine Word.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

"Am I Really Saved?"

You know, I think I've lost count of the number of times that other people have asked me that question - "Am I really saved?" It seems to come up in conversation a lot, particularly as I'm often in conversation with people who are struggling to give up deeply sinful behaviors, lifestyles that run contrary to a regenerated heart. The truth is, I have lived through seasons when I asked myself this question, too, particularly during those times when my heart attitudes, spoken words and actions don't match up with the faith that I profess.

And yet, I never get tired of hearing people ask this question.

An individual's ability to put voice to this doubt indicates that the person is at least still interested in the eternal state of his/her soul. Whether any individual is truly saved or not rests fully and finally in God's hands, of course, but I find asking this question an encouraging piece of evidence. After all, the real danger reveals itself whenever someone stops asking themselves this question and loses all interest in following Christ.

I really can't think of a more pivotal issue for faithful Christian living than having settled the matter in our hearts that we do, after all, truly belong to Christ, and that therefore all the manifold promises of God apply to us. I seem to run into this issue all the time in the context of the ministry work that I do for The Crossing. As someone is being called, for example, away from a lifestyle of sin and rebellion, more often than not they are struggling with the question of, "Why?"
  • Why am I suddenly interested in living my life free of drugs?

  • Why do I feel guilty for doing the same things I've been doing, guilt-free, up to now?

  • Why won't God deliver me from this debilitating heart condition?

  • Why didn't my desire for God "kick in" before all of this happened?
These are not two-bit questions, either; lives typically hang in the balance, and so we can all be exceedingly grateful that the work of regeneration in the human heart does not ultimately depend on us. Thank God that He will call and regenerate absolutely every single person that belongs to Him (John 10:25-30, Romans 8:29-30). In other words, while I may have the great privilege to participate in His plan for salvation, He does not ever "hand over the reins" of ultimate control to any of us.

It's this very truth - that we do not ultimately have control over our own salvation or sanctification - let alone anyone else's - that often creates in us such a need to ask these "Why?" questions. Because we don't understand God's plan and perfect timing, I often find that we are tempted to throw up our hands and assume defeat, rather than continuing to pray to the Lord on our own behalf (or for another), for that peace regarding the assurance of salvation.

Given that there is no way to state definitively whether or not someone truly belongs to the Lord, I would nevertheless say that someone living in perpetual sin gives evidence that they do not belong to God, no matter what they might say. "You will know a tree by its fruit." (Matthew 7:17-20)

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow, in which He encourages his followers to pray without ceasing for our own souls and the souls of others. If we lack assurance of our own salvation, we should repeatedly ask that God give us His peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7), If we are troubled by the profligate lives and complete lack of interest in Jesus demonstrated by friends and relatives, we are to pray for them over and over again, with the assurance that our prayers do mean something and are taken seriously by God.

Yes, the absence of fruit in the life of someone we have prayed for over and over can be discouraging, and perhaps another's dry season becomes the rationale we use for ceasing our prayers for them: "I've prayed for this person for years, and they haven't changed." I know I have certainly been guilty of giving up in impatient frustration at times! But I would suggest that this is exactly when we need to remember Jesus' call to us to ask persistently. Trusting His good timing, we need to leave room in absolutely everyone's life for the Spirit of God to work powerfully; we should never give up on anyone, no matter how wicked they may be nor how long they have been at it.

It may just be that part of God's perfect plan in our prayers for an unbeliever include the sanctification and regeneration of our own hearts.

Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.' For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'" And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

A Puritan Prayer from "The Valley of Vision"

O God of the highest heaven,
Occupy the throne of my heart,
take full possession and reign supreme,
lay low every rebel lust,
let no vile passion resist they holy war;
manifest they mighty power,
and make me thine for ever.
Thou art worthy to be
praised with my every breath,
loved with my every faculty of soul,
served with my every act of life.
Thou hast loved me, espoused me, received me,
purchased, washed, favoured, clothed, adorned me,
when I was worthless, vile, soiled, polluted.
I was dead in iniquities,
having no eyes to see thee,
no ears to hear thee,
no taste to relish thy joys,
no intelligence to know thee;
But thy Spirit has quickened me,
has brought me into a new world as a new creature,
has given me spiritual perception,
has opened to me thy Word as light, guide, solace, joy.
Thy presence is to me a treasure of unending peace;
No provocation can part me from thy sympathy,
for thou hast drawn me with cords of love,
and dost forgive me daily, hourly.
O help me then to walk worthy of thy love,
of my hopes, and my vocation.
Keep me, for I cannot keep myself;
Protect me that no evil befall me;
Let me lay aside every sin admired of many;
Help me to walk by thy side, lean on thy arm,
hold converse with thee,
That henceforth I may be salt of the earth
and a blessing to all.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Songs and Scenes from Sunday, March 18, 2012

Worship 3/18/12

This week's Songs and Scenes review features photos provided by Gerik Parmele and Nate Herndon. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs where available.

Awakening by Chris Tomlin and Reuben Morgan

Awakening served as our call to worship this week. When we sing this prayer (which echoes Ephesians 1:17-19) we ask God to wake our wandering hearts so that we may seek his will and worship him.

In our hearts, Lord, in this nation awakening.
Holy Spirit, we desire awakening.

For You and You alone awake my soul;
Awake my soul and sing.
For the world You love Your will be done;
Let Your will be done in me

Worship 3/18/12

Holy, Holy, Holy - Words by Reginald Heber (1783-1826), Music: Nicaea, John B. Dykes (1861)

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

20120318 5424 gp Crossing Worship

We read the Worship Sourcebook's adaption of Colossians 1:15-20.

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.

All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

20120318 5398 gp Crossing Worship

He Holds All Things: Part 1 by David A. Cover and Patrick Miller

This original song by The Crossing Music (based on Colossians 1:15-20 and Romans 11:36) is available as a free download along with two other songs we sing together as a church.

Who has known the mind of God, been His counselor?
Who has giv'n a gift to God that He might be repaid?
From Him, to Him, His glory is sustained.
Through Him, for Him, all things are made.

Worship 3/18/12

Medley: The Gospel Song/When I Survey the Wondrous Cross/The Wonderful Cross

I first heard a variation of this medley at a conference I attended a few years ago and it stirred a love for Christ's cross deep inside me. We've sung it a few times at The Crossing and this week it seemed like an appropriate response to Dave's message.

The Gospel Song (by Drew Jones and Bob Kauflin) is a simple song that reveals the complex reality of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.

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

20120318 5470 gp Crossing Worship

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (by Isaac Watts) then helps us to further mediate on the cross and consider how we should live our lives in response to Christ’s sacrifice.

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.

20120318 5431 gp Crossing Worship

Once we recognize that the cross “demands” that we give our lives for the sake of Gospel, the chorus from The Wonderful Cross (by Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin) recognizes it is God's grace which gives us the help we need to do so.

O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross,
bids me come and die
and find that I may truly live.

O the wonderful cross, O the wonderful cross
All who gather here by grace draw near
and bless Your name.

20120318 5428 gp Crossing Worship

He Holds All Things: Part 2 by David A. Cover and Patrick Miller

He holds All Things together.
He holds all things together.

You work all things together.
You work all things together.

You hold our world together.
You hold my life together.

You brought peace by the blood of your cross.
You brought peace by the blood of your cross.

Music and Tech for March 18, 2012:

Kenny Ashton: vocals
Andrew Camp: vocals, acoustic guitar
Kristen Camp: vocals
David Cover: electric guitars
Sadie Currey: violin
Ashley Gross: vocals
Nick Havens: bass
Scott Johnson: vocals, piano, keyboard
Andrew Luley: drums
Joel Schirmer: vocals
Alison Tatum: violin

Kameron Bong: stagehand
Josh Burrell: stage, light and media coordinator
Addison Hawkins: sound
Jamie Stephens: media

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Altars Without Building Permits

As a child growing up in northwest Missouri, I was given the opportunity to live in two starkly contrasting environments, living situations that served to teach me some important lessons about money, among other things.

When I was eight years old, my parents divorced. I moved with my mother and brother to another town. For two years, my mother worked hard, but found it difficult to support two young children on her own. This was the mid-1970s, and while divorce was no longer quite as taboo as it had been in decades prior, the reality was such that when a couple divorced, it was typically the man who kept the lion's share of the financial wealth. More often than not, the woman's standard of living plummeted...and her children's along with her.

So, as a single-parent family, we "managed" by sharing a tiny basement apartment with my aunt for a year. My mother and I shared one bedroom, with two twin beds and a plastic TV tray in between them serving as a nightstand. Such was the limitation on our space. After a year of basement living, we moved into a single-wide trailer which was also quite small...but now it was "just" my mom, my little brother and me, and I had a tiny bedroom all to myself, so I remember it as "a step up."

After those two years or so, my mother remarried. My new stepfather had a solid job managing a local company, and he provided very well. We owned a sailboat and we spent our summers weekending on the lake, sailing and lounging in the sun. I would spend hours relaxing on the front of the boat, soaking up the sunshine and reading a novel. We often took vacations to Florida as well, and my mother and her second husband traveled together often. In this setting, I had everything I needed, most of what I wanted, and far more than I deserved or probably should have had as a teenager growing up in that house.

But life with plenty of money wasn't all fun and games, either, and as I grew up I began to see the differences in the two lifestyles I had led in my formative years. Even at a young age, I knew that money was tight during those two years as a single-parent family, but my memories of life in the single-wide trailer are almost singularly made up of laughter, hugs and familial closeness. While certainly we continued to have that after my mother remarried, too, my memories of that later period of life also include tension and arguments - many of them, ironically enough, over money.

I entered adulthood with what I thought was a clear understanding that the security and pleasures that money can provide do not arrive with a guarantee of happiness. Even before I became a Christian, I would have told you that I didn't hold money and all its benefits too highly.

So, you can only imagine my dismay when, recently, as The Crossing's building project necessitated that my husband and I sit down and really consider how we might sacrificially give to the expansion of the church, I discovered that I did, indeed, have some remaining altars in place to various financial idols. Those altars, the ones that I would have told you my childhood experiences had torn down and ground into dust? They had surreptitiously been rebuilt, and I had not even been aware of the construction going on in my heart.

The idol resurrected in my life? "Money equals security."

When I lived with precious little money in my bank account, it was easy enough to say that, "Piles of money provide a false sense of security anyway." I can honestly say that "doing without" has never been that difficult for me. I think that lesson from my childhood may have ingrained in me a sense that one truly can be content with just a little. Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that I don't feel anxiety when the balance in my checking account is low; I do. But I am able to quickly recognize that anxiety as a lack of trust in God's provision.

But what happens when money in the bank accumulates a bit - even just a little - and begins to grow into a respectable savings account of sorts? Well, for me, I realized that I'd started thinking this money needed to be "guarded and protected." After all, it's there to protect us against life's inevitable trials.

In other words, while I can see my lack of trust when funds are low, I have been blind to the fact that my heart tends to drift toward trust in my security down the street at the First National Bank when money is more plentiful. In that blindness, I could be tempted to make greedy, selfish choices about what to do with that money.

Sure looks like a surreptitiously resurrected altar to security to me.

In his sermon this past week (March 11th, you can find it here), Keith Simon made the comment that Jesus warns us to be on guard (Luke 12:15) against the sin of greed, and he made the point that our love for and misuse of money - even in the way we think about it - is the one area we seem most consistently blind to.

I felt like Keith had perhaps been bugging my house (again) as this was exactly the uncomfortable realization I'd come to just the week before. While I know I'm at risk here among my own congregation for beating a dead horse with all the recent talk about money, and giving, and sacrifice, I just wanted to share my own experience. Mostly, I just thought I should share the genuine surprise I felt when I realized that I had unwittingly begun collecting all the "stones" required to resurrect an altar to the security that money provides.

And I'll repeat another truth Keith mentioned last Sunday: There's a reason that Jesus talked more about money than several other issues that you and I might think would be of "greater eternal importance." It truly is very easy for us to be blind to the altars we are constantly building to the god of money and its attendant idols of power, stability, comfort, independence and security…just to name a few.

I think we all need to be wise - and exceedingly cautious - about how we manage the money that God has given us the intelligence and ability to earn. For sure it's wise to save, and wise to prepare for the future as best we can. It's certainly true for me, and I don't think I'm unique in this. In fact, for me it is an apparently-ongoing lesson in how to hold money and all it represents loosely.

Loosely enough that if God asks us to let go of it for His kingdom purposes, that we do so gladly, with hearts excited to see what He is doing in the lives of others. It is my prayer that I would choose to live again - joyfully - in a single-wide trailer rather than hoard what God Himself has blessed me with.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Gospel: Good News or Good Advice

Not too long ago I met a friend for lunch and while we ate he shared how he was discouraged because he wasn't seeing a lot of spiritual success in his life. Having become a Christian about a year or so ago, he expected to be further along the path to Christ-likeness. But instead he finds himself still struggling with all the same sins he always had: impatience, pride, lust, insecurity. You know the list because it's no different than your sins both past and present. The lack of spiritual progress in his life made him feel far from God and was sapping his desire to keep pushing on.

His problem--our problem--is that he had confused the good news of the gospel with good advice. We live in an advice saturated culture. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Dave Ramsey, the self help section of the book store, and magazines in the grocery store check out line all inundate us with advice on topics ranging from weight loss and self esteem to finances and marriage. We make the understandable but deadly mistake of thinking that in the gospel God becomes a kind of life coach showing us how to get the best out of our lives. And then when our life doesn't improve the way we expect it to, we get discouraged with him and ourselves.

But the gospel isn't primarily advice. It's the good news of what Jesus has done for sinners like us. The word "gospel" literally means "good news." In the Old Testament the word we translate "gospel" was used to report victory from the battlefield. When the Philistines defeated the troops of Saul on Mt. Gilboa, "they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news (gospel)...among the people" (1 Samuel 3:19).

In 9 B.C., within a decade of Jesus birth, the birthday of Caesar Augustus was hailed as good news [gospel]. Then we read in Mark 1:1 "The beginning of the gospel [good news] about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Jesus is the good news. Jesus is the good news that God's Son has come. Jesus is the good news that salvation has arrived. Jesus is the good news that there is hope for sinners like us. Jesus is the good news that God is reconciling sinners to himself. Jesus is the good news that God's King is here and that he is inaugurating his kingdom.

Good news is fundamentally different than good advice. The good news of Jesus is about what he has done. Good advice is about what we should do. When I hear good advice, I think about how I need to try hard to implement it. When I hear good news, I rejoice at what has happened.

My friend was discouraged because he wasn't living up to the standard that he expected of himself. And his discouragement was driving him away from Jesus. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ accepts sinners and therefore our sin shouldn't drive us away from him but toward him.

In the early part of the 20th century J. Gresham Machen found himself trying to distinguish the gospel from the Protestant Liberalism that was on the rise all around him. His appeal may be timely for the American church today.
"What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God as saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?"

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Seeing Marriage More Clearly

What is marriage?  And how should people go about having a good one? 

These are, without a doubt, fundamentally important questions, both for individuals and our society as a whole.  New research by Dave and Amber Lapp among working class young adults (i.e., those with a high school diploma but no college degree) provides a look at how at least some Americans view the answers. What did they find?  They explain in a recent article at The Public Discourse:
Even as working class young adults dream of love, commitment, permanence, and family, they inherit a cultural story about love and marriage that frustrates those longings.  And while there are other factors—both economic and social—this inadequate philosophy of love and marriage helps to account for the “new normal” [of the high rate of births outside of wedlock].
I’m not a social scientist, but one of the many things I found to be interesting about the Lapps’ article was that the “cultural story about love and marriage” that they detail appears to be one that is embraced far more widely than just in working class young adults.  I’ll mention some of the relevant features for you to judge for yourself:
Marriage is essentially about personal happiness. 

This means that although most people view marriage in light of traditional values like commitment and fidelity, they tend to think it makes sense only as long as both spouses are happy, or to put it another way, “love each other.”  It also means that marriages are not necessarily seen as integral for children. 

Love, which is thought of as integral to marital happiness, is thought of primarily as a feeling. 

From the article: “As one woman defined love: ‘You know when your body lights up when you get that first kiss from a guy and your whole body is like in overload? …When you are still with that person in ten years from now, and you still feel the same way.’”

Determining whether the “spark” of love will endure is therefore really important.  And one of the best ways to find out is to live together. 

Research among a nationally representative sample of twentysomethings indicates that 62% of believe “living together before marriage is a good way to avoid eventual divorce.”
For Christians who care about the institution of marriage and all those affected by it—in short, everyone—this narrative has a great many implications.  Two foundational thoughts in response:

First, it’s critical that the church communicates an understanding of marriage that is biblical and realistic. 

Contrast the approach to marriage bound up in the above with this description from Tim and Kathy Keller:
We are defining marriage as a lifelong, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman.  According to the Bible, God devised marriage to reflect his saving love for us in Christ, to refine our character, to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish this by bringing the complimentary sexes into an enduring whole-life union (The Meaning of Marriage, 16).
Speaking as both a veteran pastor and husband, here’s Keller again:
Marriage is glorious, but hard.  It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories.  No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true. …At times, your marriage seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, a maze in which you feel lost. 

I believe all this, and yet there’s no relationship between human beings that is greater or more important that marriage. …And that is why, like knowing God himself, coming to know and love your spouse is difficult and painful—yet rewarding and wondrous (21-22). 
Second, accomplishing the first point will necessarily mean understanding and teaching a biblically shaped view of love.

As Steve Cornell writes over at The Gospel Coalition:
Over the years, people have told me they want to be married because they love each other. I've also had people...tell me that they want out of their marriage because they no longer feel love for their mate.
This has led me to ask some serious questions about the nature of love. In my evaluation, I've concluded that we need to distinguish two dimensions of love.

1. Being in love

This dimension is the emotional attraction of love. It's what people mean when they speak of "falling in love." It's usually based on more superficial reactions to appearance and first impressions. Clearly, it's a natural part of human attraction. Though not necessarily wrong, it's not enough to sustain a meaningful and lasting relationship. It's far too superficial. Deeply satisfying relationships are built on the second dimension of love.

2. Behaving in love
This dimension does not depend on feelings and chemistry. It's the love of volition. It's the choice to respond to my mate in a loving manner, regardless of feelings. This dimension of love is a choice to value my mate and seek his or her best. While I can't always make myself feel a certain way, I can always choose to act in a loving way.
As Cornell goes on to point out, this view seems to be born out by the fact that the most famous of biblical passages dealing with love speaks of it in terms of actions rather than feelings:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a).

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Monday, March 12, 2012

"Shackled and Drawn"

As I may have mentioned previously here on ESI, I'm a lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen's music. I have been ever since I first heard the strains of "Thunder Road" echoing down the hallway from my older sister's bedroom back in the mid-1970s: "Oh, man...what is THIS that you're listening to?!" The one-two punch of power chords fused with lyrical depth hooked me right away. So it was only natural that I ran out last week and bought a copy of Springsteen's newest CD, "Wrecking Ball," just as fast as my out-of-shape, old-man legs could carry me. One of the more immediately-impressive cuts on this new effort is entitled "Shackled and Drawn:"
Gray morning light splits through the shade.
Another day older, closer to the grave.
Closer to the grave and come the dawn,
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn.

Shackled and drawn, shackled and drawn.
Pick up the rock, son, carry it on.
I'm trudging through the dark in
a world gone wrong.
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn.
Subsequent verses lead one to believe that this is primarily a protest song about American economic injustices and the many ways in which the honest workingman is regularly trampled underfoot by the power brokers in our all-out, wealth-at-any-cost culture. While I would agree that this is almost certainly what The Boss is singing about, that's not what I heard on my first listen.

Where Bruce might be singing about "shackles" that are clamped in place by oppressive systems and the self-interested machinations of others, I found that my mind instead went immediately to the truth that many of the shackles we wear have been forged and fastened in place by ourselves.

No matter if it's economic oppression or the self-selected slavery of an addiction, I think we can all easily agree that the imagery conjured up by the phrase "shackled and drawn" is a tremendous word picture, denoting harsh treatment, brutality and a despairing sense of helplessness.

As I have mentioned before, I work part-time for The Crossing in men's redemption and recovery ministries. If you wanted to boil the ministry work I have been entrusted with down to its most basic level, I would say that my primary role is to co-labor with God's Spirit to call the attention of others to the chains and shackles that they are forging for themselves as they "act out" with anything - and I do mean anything - that promises short-term relief...but instead delivers lifelong bondage and deep spiritual captivity. Knowing that I can do nothing on my own to open anyone's eyes (John 15:5), I talk with and pray for others that God might be pleased to deliver them from blindness and oppression.

And this is where most of the guys I talk to are living these days. What may well have started out years ago as "harmless fun" was actually a dangerous descent, begun in blindness, into something that, with increasingly-slavish repetition and the passage of time, became oppressive - complete with chain, padlock and ankle bracelet. For most, the only thing missing is "the key" that offers freedom.

It's interesting, in a life-or-death kind of way, that not one of the guys I talk to - myself included - started messing around with drugs, alcohol, or what-have-you with the explicit intention of becoming enslaved. To date, I have not met even one addict who said anything remotely close to, "I started smoking dope with my friends because I thought that what I really wanted to do was destroy my education, career, marriage and kids all in one fell swoop." Of course nobody talks (or even thinks) like that! Instead, without exception, what starts out as a method of "medicating" emotional pain or drawing closer to other enslaved people who share a particular habit turns into a self-sustaining captivity, a seemingly-uncrackable "stronghold" of sorts. We don't set out to imprison ourselves, but day after day goes by, and link after link gets added to the chain. One morning we "wake up" and find ourselves, well...shackled and drawn.

In my experience, The Great Lie that serves to blind men to what's really going on as they gradually give themselves over to drugs, alcohol, sexual sin or (most often) some combination of these three is a frequently-whispered deception that breathes out death in one simple, ego-gratifying sentence:
"No need to worry; you're still in control of this."
As long as an abuser believes that he is still in control, or that he is able somehow to master his inner demons without outside assistance, he is able to shrug off repeated warnings and return to the serious business of forging metal into links, joining links into a chain, and fastening chains to neck collars. By the time The Great Lie is finally exposed to the light of God's Word and the obvious destruction being unleashed in one's life, the road back can seem impossibly out of reach.

So as I drive through the streets of Columbia listening to my new CD, I can't help but silently recite the names and "see" the faces of various men I know who have been forcibly bound up by the decisions and heart attitudes that they themselves have chosen. I see the teenage kids making decisions now that, undeterred, will soon enough yield yet another crop of 40-, 50- and 60-year-old men looking at their destroyed lives and wondering what happened, and how they got to the place they are. I consider how it's all but impossible to point confident young men to the desperate old guys in our midst who once also were young, brash, and self-assured in their ability to set something down whenever it suited them, only to find that "shackled and drawn" had become a lifestyle.

Why is it that the onset of slavery is most clearly seen through the rearview mirror? It's almost as though someone has set himself to the task of making sure we can't see what's really happening until it's too late (John 8:42-44). How can we co-labor with the Spirit of God - right here and now - to have our eyes opened, before that day comes when we "wake up" in chains? My strongest suggestion is to consider the confidence of "I'm still in control" as the hottest place in the fiery furnace, the heat that forges the most unbreakable of bonds. May we all embrace a humble lack of confidence in our own mastery of personal afflictions and look to the only One Who not only sees what is truly taking place, but has the ability to intervene.
2 Chronicles 33:9-13 (ESV)
Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Luke 4:16-21 (ESV)
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Songs and Scenes from Sunday, March 11, 2012

crossing worship_March 11, 2012__SPM4930.jpg

This week's Songs and Scenes review features photos graciously provided by Scott Myers. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs where available.

Before There Was Time by Aaron Senseman

Before there was time,
There were visions in Your mind.
There was death in the fall of mankind,
But there was life in salvation's design.

Before there were days,
There were nights I could not see Your face,
But the night couldn't keep me from grace
When You came and took my place.

crossing worship_March 11, 2012__SPM5041.jpg

We prepared our hearts to sing "Unimaginable (No Eye Has Seen)" by reflecting on the truths of Isaiah 64:4.

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

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Unimaginable (No Eye Has Seen) by Kristen Camp and Scott Johnson

No eye has seen, no ear has heard
nor the heart of man imagined,
No eye has seen, no ear has heard
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love Him.
What God has prepared for those who love Him.

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David acknowledged our common struggle to believe the promises of God as he led us into a time of silent confession rooted in Isaiah 64:4 and Psalm 62:1.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.

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I Will Wait For You by Jodee Lewis

Yet this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love
we are not consumed,
Your compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
And I will wait for You.

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We heard the assurance of Christ's Lordship in forgiveness and creation in a reading based on Psalm 40:1-3a and Colossians 1:15-20.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

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He Holds All Things by David A. Cover and Patrick Miller

This original song by The Crossing Music is available as a free download along with two other songs we sing together as a church.

Who has known the mind of God, been His counselor?
Who has giv'n a gift to God that He might be repaid?
From Him, to Him, His glory is sustained.
Through Him, for Him, all things are made.

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Surrender by Marc James

I'm giving you my heart, and all that is within,
I lay it all down for the sake of you my King.
I'm giving you my dreams, I'm laying down my rights,
I'm giving up my pride for the promise of new life.
And I surrender all to You. All to You.

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Music and Tech Team for March 11, 2011:

Andrew Camp - vocals, acoustic guitar
Christine Cover - vocals
David Cover - vocals, electric guitar, percussion
Sadie Currey - violin
Nick Havens - bass
Rhett Johnson - electric guitar
Scott Johnson - piano, keyboards, vocals
Andrew Luley - drums

Kenny Ashton - intern
Mike Contant - sermon media
Michael Novak - music media
Addison Hawkins - sound
Jake Wandel - light, media and stage coordinator

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Finders Keepers

We all like to hope when faced with ethical decisions that we would make the right choice. Too much change back on a purchase, padding your deductions on your recent tax return, the white lie that you hope brings more esteem from your peers. Many call it conscience, some call it guilt. What do you call it?

The industry leader in tech security, Symantec, has come up with a pretty clever marketing approach to sell the need for its services. The company decided to plant 50 cell phones around the country in a mock attempt to stage the phones as though they were lost. What those who found the phones did not know was the phones were rigged so that Symantec could track everything the new owners did on the phones. To further bait those who found the phones, enticing programs were included on the devices. Files and programs with names like “banking information” and “private photos” created an additional temptation. You really ought to take the time to read the article here.

The results of the challenge were not encouraging. Consider only about 50 percent of phones were returned and when all was said and done, approximately 89 percent of phone users accessed areas on the phone they probably shouldn’t have. My favorite part of the story was this email sent by one of the “finders”;

"Hi. I found your phone at the Santa Monica Pier last Thursday (Feb. 2). I used it for like a week but now I feel bad and want to return it. I'm really sorry. :/ What do you want me to do to return it to you?"

How about this picture of one of the “lost” phones? Really? Are you really going to pick that up AND put it to next to your face?

So, I think we typically have the same basic response when faced with the stark reality of human nature. We tend to recuse ourselves from the situation, adamant about how different we would behave if given the same test. We rarely consider our own capability to do evil. In contrast, what one finds in scripture is the tendency for those more mature in their faith to recognize the reality of their sin more readily. Consider Paul’s well know admonition of his own weakness in Romans 7:15. Christ appears to concede His disciples will continue to face an internal struggle between the spirit and the flesh as recorded in Matthew 26:41.

I am afraid our society has developed a laissez-faire attitude towards sin which stems from a lack of accountability from scripture as well as those around us who are struggling with the same issues. The study performed by Symantec is simply a microcosm of our own ability to justify anything when left to our own device. The way the study tracked those with the phones creates an uncomfortable awareness of the persistent power of temptation as we read about the almost pathologically repeated attempts of the “finders” to access personal information.

Character does matter, but it does not come easily. This study is a good reminder that it obviously doesn’t come by our own strength either.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Prayer for Priorities

It is often my custom to turn my morning Bible reading into a prayer for myself and others. Inspired by Scotty Smith*, I decided to write out my prayer based on Mark 2:1-12. The writing process always helps me clarify my thoughts and, in this case, my prayer.
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"


There are so many pressing needs in my life that feel both immediate and important. Some are personal (How am I going to pay for my kids' college?). Some are church related (Will we have enough money for the building project?). Some deal with health issues (my daughter's diabetes) and others with more selfish concerns (Will things turn out like I want today?).

The paralytic and his friends thought his biggest need was physical healing. How shocked and disappointed they must have been to hear you say, "Son, your sins are forgiven." And yet is there a greater need in anyone's life than to be forgiven and accepted by God? Of course not.

I confess that I am too often distracted and even deceived about what's truly important. I exchange the spiritual for the physical, the unseen for the seen, and the eternal for the temporal. I confess my sin to you.

I pray that my heart and soul would rejoice at the good news that in Jesus my sins are forgiven. I pray that I would find great joy in knowing Jesus who, as God, has the authority to forgive sin and sinners.

Finally I pray that today I would value, cherish, treasure, and pray for that which is truly important.


* Scotty Smith is senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn.

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