Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year-End Wrap Up.

Well everybody, it's been a wild year, huh? I know it has been for me, at least. I don't really know what most of you went through in the last twelve months. To reflect on 2011, I've decided to offer you a list of Press highlights:

- I tried encouraging more discussion by trimming the volume of content per post (but forgot halfway through the year).

- Saw the agitation caused by words like "Authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency" when talking about the Bible.

- Lived through my house collapsing on me and my comfortable life.

- Wondered if everyone struggles with worshiping mirrors.

- Compared a primarily religious weblog to Judas Priest.

- Reached 100 posts.

- Then began a fairly regular Mon/Wed/Fri schedule for the Press.

Thanks for reading. We'll see you again on 1/4/2012.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Phony Tactic Or An Authentic Interest? - My struggle with "relevancy" (or Part five of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group)

I had a brief but difficult time deciding whether to make this an extension of the previous post or a part in the youth group series. I have decided to do both.

I'm over a decade older than the kids in my youth group. Even though I don't feel old and out of touch (except once when a college student called Wayne's World a "classic movie" as if it belonged on TCM), I realized something one day: I have little to no idea of what my kids are like outside of our meetings. I know one guy loves metal. You should have seen the other kids when he walked in wearing his Job For A Cowboy T-shirt. I know one of the girls likes Journey and Zooey Deschanel. Some of them play basketball. From there on, I'm pretty much clueless.

And like Francis Schaeffer said, shouldn't I know their culture? So instead of complaining about it, I've given a look or a listen to nearly everything they mention. I managed to get through a whole episode of Jersey Shore before I decided I got the gist of it. Glee is a little easier to stomach than the reality shows, but I only like characters in wheelchairs.

This goes beyond pop culture. Sometimes they mention stuff going on in religious culture, but I pretty feel the same way I did about Thousand Foot Krutch when they first formed ten years ago.

I feel like I should keep up with my youth group because I want to know how they think. I want to know where they get their ideas. I want to know what issues they have. I want to take all of this and help them understand why the gospel matters for them in their day-to-day lives.

At the same time, I want to do everything in my power to avoid ending up like this guy, especially when my kids might ask themselves those types of questions.

If you work with kids, or have kids of your own, how do you learn about their culture? I'm up for some pointers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Think What You Want, This Isn't A Commercial - Opening a discussion on the idea of "relevant".

Francis Shaeffer once wrote, "If a man goes overseas for any length of time we would expect him to learn the language of the country to which he is going. More than this is needed, however, if he is really to communicate with the people among whom he is living. He must learn another language - that of the thought-forms of the people to whom he speaks. Only so will he have real communication with them and to them. So it is with the Christian church. Its responsibility is not only to hold to the basic, scriptural principles of the Christian faith, but to communicate these unchanging truths "into" the generation in which it is living."

I've thought about this all weekend. The Nashville campus of Lifehouse Church recently moved into a building and some of us are beginning to ask, "How can we do more to reach out to our community now that we have a home?"

For my part, this has reignited my enthusiasm to start The Summer Country Podcast. About a year ago, my band had this great idea: We'll start a podcast to tell people about what excites our band without talking about our band. As we developed the idea, it became clear we wanted to specifically focus on exciting things going on in Nashville. Aside from anyone listening, I think it'll do for us what Schaeffer describes.

All that said, how do you feel about the word "relevant" in the context of Christian living, mission, etc?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Meaning In The Seemingly Meaningless - A look at Ecclesiastes.

At some point, I don't remember when, I wrote a post about people ignoring certain books of the Bible. It seems like horny people read Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs, if the translators didn't want us to get the wrong impression of a dude with 700 wives). Sometimes I wonder if the book of Esther was inspired by God just because He knew, in his Omniscience, it would become the perfect topic for women's Bible studies.

And then there's Ecclesiastes. What a bummer, right? Depending on your translation, you may have been shocked to find the Bible calling everything "meaningless".

Whoa, wait. Everything?

Well, Solomon (the Teacher, or Preacher, again depending on your translation), talks about the futility of man's pursuits on earth. We're born, we die. We try to educate ourselves and end up with more questions than answers. We seek pleasure, but keep enduring pain. We work hard, but our work crumbles over time. All we gain we leave behind when we die.

When it comes to God and His purposes, the text takes a very different tone. 3:14 says, "I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before Him." In 5:1-6, we learn that God alone should be taken seriously and has the power to destroy the work of our hands.

While it may seem like Solomon's mood would kill a party in this book, he actually encourages the opposite. Verse 5:18 says, "Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot."

My feelings toward Ecclesiastes have changed during the last two years. I used to ignore that book because I didn't expect to get much from a guy saying, "Ah, what's the point?" But now I think this is the big statement of the book - People get too caught up in all the wrong stuff. They worry and work themselves to death for meaningless reasons. If God's efforts are all that will endure, then shouldn't our focus turn to what He is doing and then join in His work? If we have the proper perspective by putting our trust in God despite the hardships, frustrations, sin, and death around us, won't we look at the things in our life differently?

I think God wanted this book in the Bible because it teaches an extremely important lesson many Christians need to hear. At the end of the book, in 7:14, we're told, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him."

Did you catch that? God has made good times and hard times. When things are good, people thank Him. When times are hard, people call Him mean. But He has purpose for everything, He is in control, and He wants you to both enjoy and consider your life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Could You See If You Were Going Blind? - Why Christians Need Vision.

Who else out there loves Spotify? If you haven't heard about it yet, it's like Netflix for music. I can search for a whole album, drag it into one of my many well-named playlists, and listen. And if that wasn't neat enough, I can share tracks with people, post a song on my Facebook wall, and check out what music my friends have played recently. I haven't been this excited since Audio Galaxy.

But sometimes, I don't want people to know when I listen to some tracks. Apparently, you can make some playlists private, but I haven't yet seen that completely work. More than one person has already made mention of all the Christina Aguilera I had playing despite my private setting. So instead of relying completely on Spotify for my nostalgia, I've begun to listen to the radio. Once in a while, I'll hear some 90's radio rock and momentarily fall back in love with the format.

I'm sorry if this seems like it's going nowhere, but I felt compelled to explain how it was I found myself listening to Korn.

So, I was twelve years old when Korn put out their first record. If you couple my youth with an overwhelming need for acceptance, then maybe you will see why I listened to that album when it first came out. And dang it, when I heard that opening chord in "Blind" earlier this week while driving home from work, I felt completely exposed.  I felt like the radio had pulled out the home videos so I could relive each and every awkward phase.

I made it about halfway through the song and shut it off so I could sing Elvis Costello to myself (Radio Radio, of course). But before I had quit torturing myself, I heard the tagline of the song. "I can see, I can see I'm going blind." "Now that's funny," I thought. "Are people aware when they're losing their eyesight?" And once I thought about eyesight, I thought about vision. And then came the post.

Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law." In this verse, the law, or Bible, has a link with vision. I wonder if Christians can read the Bible without seeing God's overall purpose in it and fail to see the vision He has for us. I wonder if this was the situation in Judges 21:25. "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

The people believed in God. They offered Him sacrifices. They had intentions to obey Him. But they were unrestrained. All of the belief and good intentions didn't stop the people from making a bizarre deal with the tribe of Benjamin. I won't get into it, but if you read that passage for yourself, just think about Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Weird.

This has me asking myself a lot of questions. What is God's vision for my life? What is God's vision for the church? What is God doing in my city? I think I need to know the answers to these questions. I want my decisions to lead to results, and I want those results to help move myself and other people to where God wants us.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Learning To Like My Favorite Book - A thought on Jesus and the Law.

Have you ever liked something enough to where you decided to call it your favorite? Most people have, I think. Even if there are other books, movies, singers, TV shows, roller coasters, or frozen desserts you enjoy as much, you still call that first thing your favorite. For a long time, I did that with Galatians. I called it my favorite because I liked (and misused) one verse (1:10) on a regular basis to justify my attitude with people in authority.

But this post isn't about my attitude with people in authority.

The point is I learned to like Galatians quite a bit as a book while telling people it was my favorite. And even though I wouldn't call it so nowadays, I still find myself surprised at how much I do enjoy that book. It makes me ask myself hard questions and I like it when the Bible challenges me.

Here's what I read today in Galatians 4:4-5. "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons."

The phrase "born under the law" stuck out in that passage. If you've read Galatians, you may remember the whole book warns against legalism. But Paul stuck that phrase, "born under the law," into his reminder of our redemption through Jesus.

The law was the standard of holiness set by God, and only God could meet that standard. Jesus was "born into the law" so that He could fulfill the law and show Himself as the only person capable of paying for our crimes. Only He could save us.

This passage tells me the law accomplishes two things. It demonstrates all of my faults and all of God's perfection. Through it all, He offers me forgiveness and life.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Eggshells and Combat Boots - A look at Biblical confrontation.

One of these days, I think I'm going to write a post about how certain books of the Bible have unexpected endings. You've got 1 John, which doesn't end like most letters with a "sincerely" or "yours truly", but instead says "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." After 21 chapters of Judges, where God uses men to rescue and guide His people time and time again, the writer dusts off his hands with the sentence, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." And then there's Jonah, with some of the best drama of any Sunday School story. God asks Jonah a funny rhetorical question before you turn the page to Micah and realize the book has ended. 

I think the book of James also has an unexpected ending. James tells his readers to be humble, mature, and concerned more with spiritual rather than financial growth. Then he signs off by telling them, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." 

This got me thinking about how Christians approach confrontation. I grew up around some people who knew we were at war, and war was all hell. The people around me took James's advice by shouting, gossiping, or in one lady's case, trying to exorcise me. No kidding. 

And then you've got the Christians who swing to the opposite extreme. They don't want to appear judgmental. They don't want to offend people or scare them away from Christianity. They saw the movie Saved and decided they didn't ever want to look like these girls.

So how do we take James's advice without becoming spiritual lunatics? First, as always, I recommend praying. Ask God how to talk with someone and then listen for what He tells you. James opens his book by telling people to ask God for wisdom, so I assume that would apply well to these situations. Second, there's always the Matthew 18 model of confrontation. Discuss the problem with the person in private, then with a trusted third party, and then only in public if the person refuses to change. The third thing to keep in mind when confronting people is Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." If these attributes aren't at the heart of your confrontation, it may be good for you to step back and reevaluate your approach. 

How do you feel about confrontation? Do you tend to walk on eggshells or walk all over people?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Should I Pray About Everything? - Discussing whether God is a good father or a gang boss.

Five years ago, someone asked me, "You listen for God to speak, right? And you ask Him what He wants you to do? At what point do you use your brain?" Since then, several people have asked a similar question. It seems natural to ask God for wisdom and direction when it comes to big decisions like where to live, who to marry, etc. But should we go overboard and stand still, waiting for orders? Is it like working the chain gang in Cool Hand Luke where you have to get God's approval before everything? "Getting a drink of water, Boss."

This question came up last night during a Bible study after some friends and I read James 4. Verses 13-15 say, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'"

We talked for a few minutes and asked ourselves, where's the line? Do we avoid boasting 'I'm going to get a drink of water' and instead say, 'If the Lord wills, I will live to get a drink of water'?

Wise people make wise choices because they have wisdom. That makes sense, right? And according to Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." If we seek to know God, we'll know how to live. Fearing Him could simply mean we make decisions we know will make Him happy. We live for His approval.

Of course we should still ask for wisdom and listen for the Holy Spirit when we pray. When I lived at home, I asked my dad for his advice whenever I needed guidance. And yet there were times I chose to do something based on what he had already taught me. At all times, though, I also had to be open to his correction. I may have thought it was alright to dig for treasure in the backyard, but I had to listen to him when he told me to stop and dig in the woods instead.

Do you ever have trouble finding that line between listening and action? Which side do you lean more toward?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Preventative Maintenance - How I learned to appreciate my least favorite prayer request.

Question: If you went to my fifth grade Sunday School class, what would you say if you couldn't think of a prayer request?

Answer: I don't read my Bible or pray enough.

Believe me, this happened all the time. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure there was a Sunday where this was the only prayer request anyone had at the end of the meeting. Two things about this request made me cringe every time I heard it. One, it didn't really sound like a request.

Them: "I don't read my Bible enough."
Me: "Yeah? I forgot to brush my teeth this morning. Let's pray."

Two, I wondered if it was entirely honest. Not in the sense where I thought these kids read their Bible or prayed all the time and simply lied. I mean I used to feel there was something bigger they wanted to share, but were too embarrassed to do so.

Now that I've said all that, I feel comfortable telling you this. I don't feel like I read my Bible or pray enough. If I were in a prayer circle right now, I would give it as my request. Before my house caved in last Spring, I used to have a morning routine of reading a few chapters and praying for 10-20 minutes before work. But after the Disaster and having my way of life uprooted, I lost the rhythm of my routines.

Last night, I thought about the Disaster and how I felt the presence of God throughout the turmoil. It helped my wife and I endure the hardest trial we had faced as a couple. I realize it's not the routine I miss, but the regularity of coming into God's presence. So even though I do read the Bible and pray, I want more interaction with the Holy Spirit in the prayer and study.

From now on, I'll try to think of my least favorite prayer request as preventative maintenance. Hard times will come, but I want to feel secure in my new life in Jesus when they come.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Doing What Those Guys Did - Finding motiviation through heroes.

When my friends and I formed our band, The Summer Country, we spent a day discussing vision. Why did we want to play music in Nashville? What impact did we see ourselves having on the city? How did we want to achieve our goals?

During this discussion, we wrestled through the idea of merchandise. What would we make to sell and why? For the last seven years, all I had ever wanted to sell were recordings and books. I never even entertained the idea I would once again make the standard rock and roll Tshirt/sticker/button spread. If selling records exclusively was good enough for Fugazi, it was good enough for me.

Eventually, I conceded. We could in the future make non-record or book merchandise to sell. But I made a condition. For every normal business decision The Summer Country made, I reserved the right to do one punk thing. If we made Tshirts, for example, I would also have stencils made of our logo. Not that I'm encouraging anyone to commit vandalism. They could spray their car hood or the back of a hoodie. They could create their own merchandise without having to buy it from me.

So the point of that story is this: I have musical heroes. I look up to Fugazi, Piebald and Meneguar for what they created and how they created it. When it comes to music, I want to do the kinds of things those guys do. I know in the past I've talked about people turning musicians into idols, but I read something in James which made me rethink the subject of admiration.

James 5:10-11 says, "As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured." Then he uses Job as the example. Later, in verses 16-18, James writes, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit."

It's okay to have heroes. We should find inspiration in what others do. Paul once wrote, "Follow me as I follow Christ." But looking at the condition of the church in America, and definitely the church in Nashville, I wonder how many people here really admire the heroes of the Bible. If we look up to Elijah, David, and Paul, wouldn't we see more people doing what they did? Would it become normal for us to meet a Christian who wanted to tell people about Jesus, pray for them, and expect to see results?

Maybe we would see a change in the dead religious culture of Christianity if we found inspiration from heroes in the Bible. And I don't mean that in a daily-devotional inspiration way where we feel good in the morning as we read about what other men did in the past. I mean it in a way where we allow the stories of godly men to motivate us into action. I want to see Christians read the Book and do what those guys did.