Friday, April 27, 2012

A Memorable Object Lesson - Part six and a half of Questions From The Lifehouse Youth Group

Where have I been? Bed-ridden. Possibly as a result of hanging out with the very youths I speak of today.

What did I have? I'm not sure, but you don't want to hear about it. It would gross you out.

And yet, I'm about to tell you the grossest object lesson I ever gave the youth group. It happened at the end of the meeting I mentioned in the last post.

Someone brought up the point, "If we don't have to worry about losing our salvation or having God get mad at us because we've sinned, is it a big deal if we just keep sinning?"

Okay, yes. The answer is yes. But only because understanding the magnitude of God's goodness in offering salvation and the full depravity of our sin should make us want to live a different kind of life. It's the same kind of answer I would give to someone who asks, "Can a person sin in Heaven?" Well, yeah, I guess. Satan and the other demons did. But if you were in the presence of God and aware of the consequences that come with it, why would you choose to sin? It'd be like watching someone lose their leg during Shark Week and then thinking, "Yeah, maybe I'll cut off my leg. Just to see what it's like." You'd probably have lost your mind, right?

Paul made a similar statement in Romans 6:1-2. "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?"

After reading this in the youth group meeting, I had a thought. "I'll tell you how I think about this personally.

"When I was in high school, I didn't always cut my toenails. I ran around the beach a lot, swam in lakes, and never thought to wear sandals in the shower after gym class. So I ended up getting a pretty nasty fungal infection in both of my big toenails. They got all yellow and think and ingrown."

"Did they hurt?" Someone asked.

"Yeah, they hurt! After a few years, they hurt so bad I decided something had to be done. I didn't have insurance, and I didn't want to pay full price at a hospital, so I asked my friend Dale to pull them off with pliers."

A few of the kids paled. Awesome, I thought. Nothing like a gross object lesson during youth group. "I bit down on my bandana, gripped the sides of my chair, and Dale tore both of those suckers off my feet.

"I won't go into the part where I went to the emergency room the next day. The point is, it hurt worse than any pain I've ever felt. And I've had to go through this four times at the clinic since Dale first pulled them.

"Now, if I knew for sure after the first toenail pull I would get clean and healthy nails in their place, would I take care of them differently? Or would I live my life of poor foot hygiene like I did in high school? I can tell you this, I would I clip them regularly, wash my feet intentionally, and wear sandals in public showers. I would want to live differently."

And like I told the youths that night, I hope this story sticks with you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Are You A Sinner Or A Saint? - Part six of Questions From The Lifehouse Youth Group.

If you don't know, let me tell you. Teaching theology to teenagers presents some challenges. How do you sum up enormously important topics like grace in a way that doesn't sound condescending? Here's one way in which I tried.

Since we're reading his book, Enjoying God's Grace, I borrowed an example from Terry Virgo. I asked the youths if they've ever traveled a long distance into another time zone. Most of the kids raised their hands. "The car radio clock or your wristwatch might say it's 3:00 PM, but anyone in Atlanta would tell you it's 4:00 PM. Which is true? Is it 3:00 or 4:00? Or maybe some of you have flown several hours and gone into another part of the world. Now, not only does your watch tell you a certain time, but your body feels like what your watch tells you. It may feel like bed-time, but it's early in the afternoon where you've landed. Which is true, what your feelings tell you or the time set for that zone?"

After becoming a Christian, I still sinned. I was and continue to be kind of a bonehead. So which was it, was I a sinner or a saint? I asked the youths this question. Most of them said "sinner". One kid said, "both".

The Bible tells us when we put our trust in Jesus and make him the Lord of our lives, we go through a transformation. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Paul further describes this change in Romans 6:6-11. "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."

After having one of the youths read the passage from Romans 6 aloud to the group, I asked them the question again: Are you sinners or saints? You may feel like a sinner, but scripture says your old self has died and you are no longer enslaved to sin. You've been set free. Death no longer has dominion. It doesn't rule over you. "It sounds like it's one way or the other," I said. "You're either a sinner or a saint. That's your identity. The Bible says I don't have to pay for my sin or carry the shame of it. Which should I trust more, what the Bible says is true or how I feel?"

I told the youths I knew it was a lot to take in. I'm nearly thirty and I still have a hard time remembering all of this. I told them to think about our discussion and talk to me if they had questions. After the meeting, one of the guys thanked me for leading the discussion. "Yeah, thanks," I said. "I don't know how well I explained it."

"Even if we don't get it all right now," he said, "it was good just to talk about it."

Maybe it would be good for the rest of us to talk about it as well.

Next I'll talk about the other object lesson I gave them. It'll be shorter and more disgusting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Need To Stop Playing Catch Alone - A non-legalistic type of discipline

Recently, I heard a comedian say he had no toy more pathetic than a bounce-back. If you aren’t familiar with this product, you probably had more friends than I did as a child. Basically, it's a trampoline set on its side. When you throw a baseball, it'll "throw" it back to you. When my brothers didn't want to play catch with me, I hauled out the ol' bounce-back.

As you might imagine, it's accuracy in rebounding the ball made me jump and dive for a lot of catches. This helped me on the field when I needed to snag line drives, but my throwing accuracy was only so-so. And hitting? I was probably somewhere around .250 in my little league career. Not exactly the Mendoza Line, but nothing to crow about either.

Even though I knew my weaknesses, I kept practicing with that bounce-back. I didn't tape off a box on a backstop or hang an old tire to get better command of my throws. I spent more time on Mike Tyson's Punch-Out than I did swinging in the batting cages. Those wild throws and swinging strikes embarrassed me, even when no one saw them. So I kept practicing what I knew I could do well.

Okay, in terms of my life as a Christian, this analogy breaks down. But I did think about the bounce-back this weekend when John Privett from Lifehouse Church taught through Luke 5. Then he read verse 16, "But he (Jesus) would withdraw to desolate places to pray." John stopped and asked, "Now why would Jesus need to take time to pray? Why did he need to go off by himself in solitude?"

Lots of people object to the "do-this-don't-do-that" image of Christianity. In a way, they should. We're saved entirely because God offers to remove our sin and also credit us with the righteousness of Jesus. If we've accepted this forgiveness and receive His grace, we don't have to earn God's favor by doing all of the right things.

This went entirely against the four-point "what it means to be a Christian" lesson I learned in Sunday School. We would count them off every week: 1. Accept Jesus into your heart (always confusing concept) 2. Pray 3. Read the Bible 4. Go to church.

Maybe the list could have been cut in half and simplified. 1. Repent 2. Make Jesus the Lord of your life. Or maybe 1. Become a Christian 2. Try to live the way Jesus taught his disciples to live. I don't know. Maybe that's not helpful. But I think it gets more to the point.

Whatever the case, Jesus is my example. He knew God was pleased with him (Matt 3:17 and 17:5), so the fasting, prayer, and times of solitude weren't ways in which he made God happy. I think Jesus did it for at least two reasons. First, I'm sure it helped his growth and the strength of his relationship with God. When Luke 2 says Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God, I doubt this happened without any action on his part. Earlier in the chapter, he's in the Temple keeping up on discussions with the Bible teachers as a twelve year old. The kid hadn't even been Bar-Mitzvah'd! How did he get to that point? Wouldn't it make sense he spent time in the Bible?

Second, I think Jesus practiced these spiritual disciplines because they didn't fit in with the demands of his schedule. It seems he wants to get away and pray right when there's the most demand for him. With so many people to heal and so many messages to teach, where does a guy find time to sit and pray in peace? He had to make time. He had to say no to demands.

There, right there I thought about the bounce-back. I rely on what comes easily. I study the Bible. I pray. I worship. These are all acceptable. People tell me I do these things well and I know God is already pleased with me.

But then again, I don't necessarily see growth in other areas of my life. If I say I want to be a more humble person, then maybe I should practice doing something good without announcing it. If I want to grow in wisdom, maybe I could learn how to spend time with men who will actually challenge me and help me mature. If I want to have more joy, maybe I should learn how to celebrate my relationship with Jesus and demonstrate it once in a while. All of those things might be hard or embarrassing, but I need to show some initiative.

Sometimes you have to get over yourself and ask someone to play catch with you.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting Wise - One way in which God used the church in my life.

*I'll tell you now. This is something I thought about today and I haven't exactly honed it down to my usual style of weblog post.*

Several years ago, a friend called me to see if I wanted to "hang out after everyone got out of church." I wasn't going to church at the time. Or rather, I was attending a church, but a church of several thousand where I could burrow in the back seats, unseen and undisturbed.

When I told him I wanted to stay in that night, I admitted to what I was doing instead: sitting in the basement, soaking my feet, watching the Gilmore Girls, and drinking gin (with a splash of cranberry juice, you know, for color). One of the biggest reasons I drank alone back then was because, well, I didn't want to be around people when I got shiker.

Around that time, I read Proverbs 18:1 and began to feel uncomfortable. "Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." Even if I went out, I could put on the Isaiah Kallman act and never let anyone into the messier parts of my life. Even if I went to church, it was about as intimate and connected as any game at Comerica Park. Even if I talked to people sitting next to me, we would just share commentary.

It took long while for me to realize I lived like this because I was selfish. I didn't want to admit my problems and look weak or foolish. Worse, I didn't know if I really wanted to change. This last point shook me because I was smart enough to recognize my imminent destruction.

The problem went beyond my tendency to hole-up in my parents' basement and drink. My life needed something besides more people and less booze. I needed something else. Other sections of Proverbs spoke to this need. Like 11:14, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." Or 19:20, "Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future."

I needed to let people into my life, yeah. I needed to let wise people into my life. And I needed to apply their advice.

I'm glad God sent me to Lifehouse Church here in Nashville. Not only do I love the people and the mission, I appreciate how I couldn't casually attend. The people there challenged me. They gave me advice when I needed it. I learned how to grow in humility, although I'm still working on that one. Before you ask, I do drink considerably less, even if I make more of my own beer.

Proverbs clearly says God is the source of wisdom, so I don't want to give the people in the church too much credit. But I'm certain God used the church to help me become the relatively healthy adult I am today.

What's your church experience? Have you seen a good change in your life? Or has it been terrible? Boring? I'd like to know.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Just Because It Made Me Feel Better.

Earlier this year, I admitted to my quarter-life crisis. I began to panic when the question, "What am I even good at?" popped into my head. And so, the post linked above...

This crisis has nagged me since well before I got married, but my responsibility for another person has at times intensified the anxiety.

Instead of simply caving into the fear (let's call it what it is, right?), I worked on a song for over a year and thought you might like to hear the final result. Here's The Summer Country performing "All Of The Best".

All Of The Best

Twenty-seven, in an entry level job
Working part-time with uncertain hours
And you're thinking how success comes to the young
And you wonder why you never got so far
The world can seem so cruel
When you feel overlooked
But you trust
Good things will come

Now you're praying
You're pleading with the Lord
And He hears you
He's given you His word
So you tell Him how you want to be a man
And provide for a health insurance plan
But there's no certainty
Except in Him who you believe
And you trust
Good things will come

You say, "All of the best now,
"All of the best now will be mine.
"One day, all of the best now
"All of the best now will be mine.
"Will soon be mine."

Twenty-eight now and pulling salary
Nine-to-five and every weekend free
How're you feeling wearing that shirt and tie?
Does it strangle? Does it make you want to...
Die to everything you knew
With everything He's given you
Can't you trust
Good things will come?

And say...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chronological Snobbery And Modern Application - A continuing look at the popular view of scripture.

"You can't take your faith too seriously," one of my wife's relatives said to me. "Sure, it's good to have. It's important. But there's faith and then there's the day-to-day real life."

I asked this person to explain the difference.

"Well, it's like how you want to teach people about the Bible. You can't take it for what it says because a lot of stuff has changed since then. Now we've got electricity, indoor plumbing, medicine, and stuff like that."

I asked if those things really made a difference.

"Sure they do!" she replied. "Times have changed, so the best thing to do is relate the Bible to real life today. I hope you do that when you're a pastor."

Having just met this person, I didn't feel like explaining why, if I ever became a pastor, she probably wouldn't enjoy most of my sermons.

I'll admit I don't get out much. I go to work, church, band practice, and occasionally a two-for-one night somewhere. So I actually appreciate having conversations like the one I just described because it tells me something of the cultural view of Christianity.

My wife's relative, for example, showed me how people still possess what C.S. Lewis called "Chronological Snobbery". Her argument seemed to say people who didn't know about electricity and penicillin were obviously ignorant. How could we take their inferior wisdom so seriously as to believe the Bible for what it says?

Just because people in ancient Israel believed both A: The Bible was God's word to man and B: the sun rotated around the earth does not mean belief A loses credibility in light of Copernicus.

Having said this, I do think we should discuss how we can apply the Bible to our lives in the present day. Philosopher Francis Schaeffer once said, "Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting." I believe I'm better equipped to do this if I know more about the language and thought-forms of my surroundings.

Now's your chance to help me out. In one sentence (if possible), tell me what you think about the Bible and/or Christianity.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Did God Forsake Jesus?

In previous posts, I've referred to my friend Joe's sick sense of humor. I couldn't tell with his most recent comment if he asked in earnest, or if he wanted to teach me something new with questions. Joe, if that's the case, how very rabbinical of you.

He asked, "I'm curious, if Jesus didn't question the Father's love EVER, why did he say, 'My God, My God why have you forsaken me?'?"

This question has haunted lots of Christians with a chilling thought: Did God really turn away from Jesus? Did Jesus experience fear or doubt during the crucifixion?

We all know I'm not a certified theologian. I have plenty to learn about God and His word. But I want to suggest an answer to this question.


I don't think Jesus was asking God this question because he doubted or because God had actually forsaken His son.

First, consider how many times Jesus heard this phrase, "If you are the Son of God, then..." Satan said this when tempting him in the wilderness. The people asked this of Jesus when they wanted him to give a sign proving his claims. Some witnessing the crucifixion said it when they told him to come down off the cross.

In Luke 4:9-12, when Satan tempts Jesus to prove God's love for him, Jesus recites Deuteronomy 6:16 and says, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test."

Throughout the Gospels, people asked Jesus to show them a sign. In Luke 11, Jesus responds by rebuking their request. Then he teaches them the meaning of Jonah, how it was a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. Again, I see this pattern. People ask for proof, Jesus responds with scripture to declare his trust.

Finally, people passing by during Jesus' crucifixion call out in Matthew 27:40, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!"In verse 46, Jesus recites the opening line of Psalm 22, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" But this is a Psalm of trust. David expresses pain and feelings of desolation, but then says, "Yet you are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame."

And after this, Luke 23:46 reports Jesus saying, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" To me, this doesn't sound like someone who felt forsaken. It sounds as if Jesus trusted in God throughout the ordeal.

And what does this mean for us? If Jesus suffered worse than any of us in crucifixion and taking on the burden of all our sin, is it ever acceptable for us to give in to despair? Should we agree or disagree with Hebrews 13:5 when it says God will never leave or forsake us?

I'm sure there are more questions. I'm sure there is clearer explanation. But maybe this is a good start.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"We Are Nazareth."

When Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4, he teaches at a synagogue in Nazareth. It's his hometown. These people watched him grow up. They're excited to see Joe's kid give the message, but they don't know what's coming.

Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah, "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."

Then Jesus says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." He has declared he is the Messiah. Last night, my friend Jamie pointed out how Jesus must have said all this with great authority because the people at the synagogue marveled and spoke well of what he said. There was a moment where they believed, "Maybe Joe's kid is the Messiah."

Then Jesus goes on to tell them, "'Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, "'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well."' And he said, 'Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.'"

Maybe you already understand why the people in Nazareth decided at that moment they had to kill Jesus. Maybe it makes perfect sense to you why the people went from excited amazement to furious bloodlust. If you're like me, though, you have to go back through that passage a few times to figure out what happened.

Jesus said he is the Messiah. The Jews were waiting for someone to come free them from the Roman occupation. They wanted the Messiah to put Israel back in power. They wanted all sorts of things they thought would happen the way they wanted it to happen. Jesus knew this as soon as he said it, so he explained, "It's not going to look like what you thought or happen the way you expect, and I'm going to offer the same freedom to people you hate. Here are some biblical examples to back it up."

There it was. The Messiah they wanted would never say or do the things Jesus had just said and done. In the eyes of the Nazerites, Jesus went from the greatest man ever to a blasphemer who deserved death.

It should bother us how much we're like Nazareth. I know so many people who have said, "I can't believe in a God who..." They reject God because He doesn't act the way they think He should act or say the things they find acceptable. If they don't like something said in the Bible, they either reject it or reinterpret it.

The Jews were excited for what the Messiah would do for them. Freedom, healing, cancelled debt, justice. But they wanted the Messiah on their terms, and those terms were unconditional. Are we any different? Do we want Jesus or all the things he can do for us?

If Jesus were here today, how many of us would be excited until He started talking? How many of us would maybe think about trying to kill him again?