Fatherfullness

Article by Miles Trump

By now, you’ve probably watched or heard about the video.

A 26-year-old Atlantic City man, Ibn Ali Miller, intervenes during a street fight between two boys while a group of other young men egg them on from the street corner. Another boy is recording the altercation as Miller approaches, stops the fight and starts speaking to the young men.

He tells the two boys, presumably teenagers, that they’re not kids anymore. He tells them they’re turning into young men, and that they need to start acting like it. He tells them they won’t get anywhere like this.

He tells them that the devil will play tricks on them.

And he has some pointed words for the other young men standing around, recording the altercation, encouraging the fight. He tells them not to disappoint their parents. He reminds one particular boy that he came from humble beginnings. He tells another that his dad is doing life in prison, that this environment is no game.

He tells them that, with this kind of foolishness, they are going to end up just like the people they’re trying not to become.

And then he stands there, demanding that the two young boys – who a few minutes earlier were trying to hurt each other – shake hands. He says he won’t leave until they agree on this final gesture.

And they do.

When I took a deeper dive into this story, I wasn’t surprised to find out that Miller is also a married father of six children.

In a sense, he was helping raise those boys on the street that day.

*******

Fathers, do you know how powerful you are? Do you understand your significance?

Do you realize the collective impact that all of you can make on our society?

When I think about all of you, I can’t help but think about the effects you have on your children.

I can’t help but think about the positive, what the National Center for Fathering calls “Fatherfullness.”

Kids are more likely to flourish when they have loving, dedicated fathers in their lives. Studies show that children with committed fathers learn more, perform better in school and exhibit healthier behavior, according to the National Center for Fathering. When fathers are involved in their children’s lives, their children have less emotional and psychological distress and better relationships throughout their lives.

We know this, and we’ve known it for a some time. In 1996, a Gallup poll found that 90.3 percent of Americans agreed that “fathers make a unique contribution to their children’s lives.”

I also can’t help but think about the high rates of fatherlessness and the damage it causes.

Kids who grow up in fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, to abuse drugs and alcohol, to never finish school and to suffer from health and emotional problems, according to the Center. Boys are more likely to become criminals. Girls are more likely to become pregnant teens.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If that isn’t crippling enough, this will be: In 2014, almost one in four U.S. children lived in homes where dad was absent. One in four.

When I think about you, fathers, I also can’t help but think about myself.

I met my biological father for the first time when I was 26 years old, on the corner of Hennepin and Lagoon avenues on a busy night in Uptown Minneapolis. It was an unexpected, yet long overdue meeting.

He was absent from my childhood, and his absence damaged me, in ways that I’m still coming to understand. I had, and still have, a father wound.

However, my stepfather – the man I call “Dad” – slowly helped heal my father wound over time. You know how? He was there. For me.

He was the loving, kind male role model I needed, the man in my life who could teach me about responsibility, give me direction and provide me with guidance and correction. He taught me about hard work and relating to other people. He taught me how to play second base. He taught me about taking advantage of opportunities in life. He taught me how to mow the lawn.

He disciplined me when I deserved it. He rewarded me when I deserved it.

He told me he loved me, and he told me it often. Sometimes, late at night, he would come up to my room, kneel by the side of my bed and have long conversations with me. He’d tell me that he always thought of himself as my dad, regardless of what a blood test would say.

And that saved me. It saved me from becoming a statistic. It saved me from seeking love from more destructive outlets. It saved me from the traps that await so many young kids who, to no fault of their own, don’t have a father like mine in their lives.

He changed everything for me.

*******

As a Christian, I know I have another, even greater, Father. A Father who embodies all the greatness I could ever wish for and, at the same time, so much more greatness than my mind could begin to comprehend.

The perfect Father.

And this Father sent his only Son to endure a brutal, shameful public death on a huge piece of wood and absorb the penalty of the world’s sins.

So that I could live freely. So that the barrier between God and I would no longer be unsurmountable.

So that I – and you, too – would be called a child of God and would strive to walk in His Son’s ways, bringing glory to Him.

So that, one day down the line, when (if) my amazing wife and I are blessed with children, I would look to God the Father as my blueprint for fatherhood, because “fatherfullness” is a word that only begins – and isn’t nearly enough – to describe Him.

*******

I pray that someday I will be a father. It’s an aspect of life that’s excited me since I was young.

But until then, I can’t claim to know about the fatherhood experience. I can’t claim to know about the stress some of you fathers endure, the weight of responsibility some of you fathers feel.

I do, however, know what it’s like to have an (earthly) dad and to not have a dad. And I know that you, fathers, do not have to be perfect. You do not have to be Uncle Phil. You do not have to be Danny Tanner, Carl Winslow or any other stereotypical 1990s sitcom father.

As kids, we just want you to be you, and to be there for us. When you do these things – when you’re present, loving, committed, responsible, guiding, correcting – we flourish as children, teenagers and adults. When you teach your children about God (through words and examples), about right and wrong, about the world, about people, about love, about responsibility, they will live richer, fuller lives.

That’s what Ibn Ali Miller seemed to understand. In a world full of fatherlessness – and pain and dysfunction and chaos – he displayed the kind of fatherfullness that so many people yearn for in life. The kind of fatherfullness that begins to bring real healing and reconciliation. The kind of fatherfullness that breeds love and acceptance.

The kind of fatherfullness that will, quite literally, change lives. And on a grand scale, it’s the kind of fatherfullness – empowered by our perfect Father – that I truly believe could begin to change our world.

 

Dating Within the Context of Community

Article by Patrick Ray

Too many churches are segregated based on position in life. There are 20-something groups, singles groups, empty-nester groups, married groups, children’s ministries, middle-school youth groups, and high school youth groups. There’s nothing wrong with any of those groups (Pastor Drew, I promise, youth group is cool), but if the people of a church are only experiencing close relationships with those like “them,” how is that different than the world? I start off my post this way, to ask you to read it even if you are not dating. If you’re a married man, this post is relevant for you. If you’re choosing the route of lifelong celibacy, this post is relevant for you. If you’re not quite ready to look for a wife, this post is relevant for you.

Four years ago yesterday, I told my now wife “I kind of sort of dig you.” September 25th is always a big day on the calendar for us. It’s always a good time for the two of us to look back and remember how fun it was getting to know one another (even if I couldn’t afford to take her to dinner).

Guys often ask me, “when did you know you should marry Shelby?” I always respond with the same thing. “I got to know her.”

So many people are looking for a special feeling in their gut to tell them to marry a specific person. While I believe we should be tuned into our intuition, I worry when I see people putting too much stock in their initial feelings.

Yesterday my wife and I were holding hands as we were driving home from the church service. As we held hands, I felt an electricity run through my wrist. It’s that kind of romantic feeling you get when you know you’re going to go home and fall asleep while watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding. While we were holding hands, I remembered the first time I held her hand. Honestly, it was pretty awkward.

I had just gotten out of a relationship (that’s a story for another day), and our hands just didn’t seem to fit right. Something just felt off. I had two choices: I could listen to Ted Mosby’s universe theology and conclude she’s just not the “one.” Or I could continue getting to know her.

I decided to continue getting to know her. We kept talking about our shared desires to plant churches, have big families, and live in the inner city of Minneapolis. After a month or so, I met her family. I got to see her interact with her father and mother, and little brothers and sisters. My family lives in Iowa, so I needed people in Minneapolis to be family for me. I would often check in with a pastor-friend of mine, who is about ten years older than me.* I wanted to know what he thought about my relationship with Shelby.

You see, I had relied on my feelings before. About a year before I met Shelby, I was a lonely-eighteen-year-old who fell in love at first sight an average of 12.3 times a day. I began to realize I shouldn’t just rely on my feelings, but needed to rely on my community.

I wasn’t going to ask my pastor to arrange a marriage for me, but I did realize I needed my church community’s input. Infatuation is fun, but it’s also dangerous. Without infatuation men might not have the courage to ask women out. Without infatuation, we might not overlook those tiny faults that really aren’t a big deal. Infatuation is a gift from God to humanity. But like all post-Fall gifts, we need to remember infatuation can be deadly. I knew infatuation could convince me to marry a woman who isn’t godly. I knew infatuation could convince Shelby to look over my most destructive qualities.

We needed people to speak wisdom into our relationship. To do that, we had to let other people know us. Trips to Shelby’s family’s house were a regular occurrence. Late night coffee at Perkins with our friends was a weekly date for us. We didn’t do these things because we wanted other people to run our life. We did these things because we saw the value of outside perspectives.

I recommend dating within the context of community. Here’s what I don’t mean:

You have to introduce first date’s to all your friends.

I do not mean you have to introduce all your friends to a woman before you go on a date with her. No, you’re unmarried. Go on lots of first and second dates with women if you want. Get to know women, and don’t makeout or elope with anyone. First dates aren’t marriage proposals, they’re first dates.

Recommendations for dating within the context of community:

Dating within the context of community might look differently for you than it did for me, but I hope you find people in your life who will give you brutally honest feedback about your dating relationships. Here are four recommendations as you start the process of dating within the context of community.

1: Choose these people ahead of time.

Give people permission to speak into your relationship before you even start dating. Shelby and I shouldn’t have started dating when we did.** I had just gotten out of a serious relationship, and I wasn’t emotionally healthy enough to date. I remember intentionally choosing not to ask my pastor, Bob, for advice, because I knew what he would say. I knew Bob wouldn’t think it was wise to move into another relationship so quickly. That was foolish of me. If I had come to Bob for advice, I would’ve saved myself (and Shelby) a lot of confusion. Our relationship would’ve been healthier.

Don’t pick and choose people based on the relationship. Don’t count people out because you know they don’t approve of the person you’re dating or the timing of the relationship. If you think they might be right, slow down and consider what they have to say. I knew Bob was right, but I wanted to date Shelby right away. So I intentionally avoided asking Bob his opinion. Don’t make this same mistake. Find wise people and ask for their opinion from the outset.

2: Do they really know me?

Try your best to choose people who know you well. I am the type of person who often grows close to people very quickly. I might be calling you “one of my closest friends” after a few months. But if I only choose people who barely know me, I’ll be tempted to respond to their brutally honest feedback with, “You don’t even know me.” Pick some people who know you very well and give them permission to speak into your relationship. When you’re infatuated, the people who know you very well often know you better than you know yourself.

3: Know your timeline.

One way to avoid a devastating break up is to know where you’re at in life. Are you wanting to get married within the next year, or does that seem like it’s too soon? Before Shelby and I got too serious, I asked her how long she would date someone before getting married. She told me she thought eighteen months was a good timeline. I agreed. We were married twenty months after the I told her “I kind of sort of dig you.” This conversation wasn’t a proposal, it was just a check in.

I’ve seen people break up because one wanted to get married soon and another wanted to wait a few years. If you can avoid that before getting attached, you should. Date people who are at similar spots in life as you.

4: Be willing to break up.

In order for this to work, you need to be willing to break up. If you’re dead set on this relationship ending in marriage, you won’t be open to the brutally honest feedback you might get from friends and family. If you’re only willing to hear positive feedback, you’re not really open to feedback. You’re only open to affirmation.

If you’re dating, you aren’t really committed to your girlfriend. Don’t pretend to be committed if you aren’t actually committed. Be willing to break up. People ask my uncle when he knew my aunt was “the one.” He always responds, “When I said ‘I do.”

Dating isn’t a mini-marriage. Breaking up isn’t like getting a divorce. Be willing to break up, if that’s what wisdom is telling you. And once you break up, do the best you can to live at peace with your sister in Christ.

What’s at stake?

A friend of mine married a wonderful, nominal Christian who was in a spiritual high during their early stages of dating. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and she has absolutely zero desire for the wartime mentality of following Christ. If my friend and his wife have children, my friend’s children will be discipled by a nominal Christian. Think about that.

What’s at stake? Your household’s gospel witness is at stake. What’s at stake is your ability to follow Christ in so many areas: how you use your money, how involved you are in your church, how you witness to your neighbors, how you raise your children. Read and remember the stories of men whose marriages paralyzed them from a life of service towards God. Choosing a wife is no small thing and it has so many greater implications than your romantic fulfillment. Worry less about electricity shooting up your arm and more about her godliness. Here are some good questions to talk through with a friend: 1) Does she love the Lord? 2) Is she involved in making disciples? 3) Is she generous with her money and the rest of her resources? 4) Do we want to live a similar lifestyle? 5) Will she be a good mother?

Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, a beautiful marriage is a wonderful reflection of Christ and the Church. Keep us from the evil one, who would want to rob the world of this gift.

We pray for all the husbands and wives in Hope Community Church, keep them loving and faithful. Help them say “no” to idealizing the so-called American Dream so they can say yes to following You, wherever You lead.

We pray for all those who have chosen a life of celibacy. Thank you for their dedication to You. We ask that You bless them with the love of Your people. Help Hope Community Church be a blessing to them and to never overlook them.

Finally, we pray for all those looking for a husband and all those looking for a wife. Keep them from the evil one, who wants to tempt them with making an idol of marriage. Keep them from the evil one, who wants to rob them of their joy in exchange for cheap grace and nominal Christianity. Help them be humble, and help them listen to wisdom.

*At the time, our church only had about six people. We were in the pre-planting stages which basically meant we were a small group doing church together.

** Earlier I said, “Go on lots of first and second dates if you want.” With that being said, if your community doesn’t think that’s wise, consider their advice.

Non-Vocational Ministry

Article by Ben Honken

Last year, I finished Hope’s internship program, LDI.  It was a proud moment for me.  I worked hard to get into and through that program.  I had been talking about working as a worship pastor for over three years.  I loved LDI.  I loved the hands on ministry experience I got in tons of different areas.  I loved being a part of the worship team and meeting regularly with Tim.  I loved leading small group.  I loved mentoring.  I loved working with events like Study Day and Film Fest.  I loved the academic aspect.  The bible classes were amazing.  I learned a ton in interpretation and preaching and ethics and really in every class.  As a lifelong follower of Jesus, I was impressed by the fact that I was being poured into, and I was continuing to learn.  Everything about LDI helped me grow my ministry and leadership skills and prepare me for full time ministry.  

But here’s the thing:

I’m not in full time ministry.  

…Yet.

After spending a ton of time at Hope, and visiting a few other churches that were looking for a worship guy, I came to a conclusion.  I didn’t want to go to an existing church for a job.  The vision that other churches had for worship did not align well with my own.  That’s not to say there was anything wrong with it.  One place I visited wanted to do hip hop.  There is nothing wrong with hip hop, but you really don’t want to see me trying to rap.  Well, maybe you do, but not because it’s good.  Another place I visited focused on inclusiveness at the expense of quality.  Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but it is not how I want to do things if and when I become a worship pastor.  Maybe somewhere down the line I will visit a church and everything will line up the way I want it to.  Or maybe I’ll make some changes to my vision.  Or maybe I’ll go with a plant and shape the vision from the start.  

By now you’re probably wondering what my point is, if I have one.  I do.  My point is this:  I was in an environment where I was conditioned to do full time vocational ministry, and I had significant portions of my spiritual development laid out for me.  Now I am out of that environment, but I am not in a position to do full time vocational ministry.  And so I’ve been forced to ask myself, “Now what?”  

Now I was under no delusions that LDI was some sort of job placement program.  We already have two worship people on staff.  I did not anticipate us needing a third.  I had planned for this.  As for vocation, I chose to start a business.  After 7 years of tutoring experience and a good deal of contract work for some tutoring companies, I decided to start my own.  So the question of “Now what am I going to be doing with the bulk of my time?” was answered.  

But there were more aspects to the question “Now what?”  Now what am I going to do to continue studying God’s word since I don’t have anyone telling me when to read what and when it needs to be read by?  With whom will I discuss it?  How will I take time to gather 4-6 pages worth of reflection on certain aspects of it?  

I had kept a fairly solid prayer and bible routine for years prior to my time in LDI.  I changed it out of necessity to keep up with the massive amounts of reading required for the bible class.  Suddenly afterwards it was like the training wheels were off again for the first time.  I felt unsure of what to read, when to read, how much to read.  Questions that I didn’t bother asking myself in the past.  I felt distant from God in prayer.  Sometimes I still do.  

Everything was different.  My faith perhaps looked better on paper.  I had training.  I had ministry experience.  But honestly, I felt more confused about how to love and follow Jesus than I had in a long time.  

I was a part of a church staff for three years.  Suddenly I was not on staff anymore, and I felt like I was loving and serving God less because of my change in vocation.  

This, of course, was categorically false.  I was not loving and serving God less because of a change in vocation.  I was doing so because of my own idolatry of full time vocational ministry, because of selfish stubbornness and resistance to change, and probably for a host of other reasons.  

When I finally started listening to the gospel rather than myself, I realized that things being different didn’t mean that I was somehow less a servant of Christ than I had been.  It just meant I had to do things differently.  

So I started to ask myself some questions.  What does it look like to pursue Christ in this?  How do I take time to read my bible?  How do I set aside time to pray?  How do I use my current job to show people Jesus?  

That last one really started to excite me.  I wanted to run my business like Jesus would.  I wanted to figure out how to treat people respectfully and fairly.  I wanted to be a light and an encouragement to every student who worked with my company.  I realized that my particular line of work gave me some exciting opportunities.  I don’t know a lot of people who are invited into the homes of families every single week and given the opportunity to be a positive influence on kids from all faiths and walks of life.  Every week I get to influence these kids.  Usually we’re talking about math or chemistry, but sometimes we talk about politics, faith, racial issues, drugs, college, divorce, or any number of other things.  I count it an immense privilege to have a front row seat to their everyday lives.  

With a simple bit of gospel truth and a slight perspective change, being out of full time vocational ministry wasn’t so bad.  I still believe that one day I want to be a worship pastor.  But in the meantime, I feel that I am right where God wants me to be.  I know that he can and will continue to use me where I am, and that if and when he places another call on my life, I’ll be ready to respond to that as well.  

I want to encourage you to believe that the gospel relates to you and your life and the people that you work with.  Jesus wants to use you.  He is giving you incredible opportunities to show His love and grace to the people around you.  Will you see them?  Will you take them?  

False Advertising

Article by Paul Stiver

I graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a degree in Strategic Communication, aka Advertising. Since I graduated in 2009, I’ve never worked a job in advertising or any related field. I do not use my degree. However, I do use the things I learned while acquiring my degree, especially on the communication side. And I still remember some of my education. I’ve been reminiscing on a particular idea from the world of advertising. When you are advertising a product, you are selling someone on the idea of a future version of their life.

Advertising sells you a future you, a future life. The product advertised is the means by which you can become this “better” future you. Car and cologne ads are notorious for selling a better “future life.” But so many products do this.

Let’s look at “The Most Interesting Man in The World” by Dos Equis beer as an example of this concept. We all know these ads, the cool old guy tells us, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” Typically, the cool old man tells us his preference for Dos Equis while surrounded by beautiful young women who are hanging on his every word. Earlier in the commercial we have seen the man have some cool and desirable experiences throughout his lifetime.

Below the surface the advertisement is communicating these messages:

“Drink Dos Equis beer and you too will be a more interesting and desirable man. Your life will be fulfilling because it will have fascinating experiences and a slew of conquests. You will be the kind of mature, rugged man that women can’t resist, all because you drink Dos Equis.”

We know this isn’t true. If we drink Dos Equis beer, our life won’t change in these ways (nor should we want it to). But the message is telling us that this could be our “future self.” In latent ways, Dos Equis is not selling us a beer, but a new future life. We know that this is silly. Dos Equis beer won’t give us some new, cooler life but we bite on the advertising anyway.

This is how sin works. Sin sells us a new future life. Sin sells us a life with greater happiness, less stress, and more control. Sin lies to us and deceives us from the truth.

Sin tells us that the future life we will have as a result of committing the sin will be better than life God wants for us.

We see this pattern in Scripture in Genesis 3 when we look at the Fall of Man. 

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” -Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV)


The serpent advertises the fruit of the tree to Eve. He deceptively compels her, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

Eve starts to believe that she is lacking something – that God is “holding out” on her. Before this point, she was unconcerned about the fruit of the tree, for all her needs were met. 

“The tree was to be desired to make one wise.” How does Eve even come to the opinion that the tree was ‘to be desired?’ The lie of the serpent is creating an imagined need. Eve now desires to be this new “Future Eve,” where she has eaten the fruit and has acquired the desired wisdom. The serpent’s lie is now penetrating her mind more than the truth of God’s word, and as a result, she sins. Eve believes that the future life she will have by committing the sin will be better than what God has in store for her. 

This is an all too familiar pattern of sin. We start to believe that the future life we can have by committing the sin is going to be better than the life God has for us. For me this comes out in my struggle with the sin of overeating and poor bodily stewardship. I start to believe that a “future life” where I can eat a whole pizza and bag of chips will be better life than my current life with a salad and modest meal. I end up sinning and am left ashamed of my decision and asking for God’s forgiveness.

For others this might be the pattern they experience with pornography and masturbation, believing the lie that “men have needs,” more than the truth that God’s grace is sufficient. (2 Cor. 9:8) Maybe it’s the future life promised by financial security that causes someone to walk out of line with God’s will. Whatever it may be, sin promises us a future life which it can’t deliver on, and we end up separated from God and feeling ashamed, just like Adam and Eve. 

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” -Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

 

How do we resist the deception of sin that promises us a better future life?

  1. We remember the good news of the gospel that Jesus Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

 

  1. We remember that we have received the Holy Spirit and His immeasurable power. (Ephesians 1:13, 19, 3:20)

 

  1. We remind ourselves that God’s grace is sufficient. 

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

 

  1. We give thanks to God. Thankfulness to God will always combat the lie of a better future without God. 

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)

 

  1. We live in community and bear one another’s burdens.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)

 

  1. We rely on our faith and hope in God.  

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; (Ephesians 6:16 ESV)

 

  1. We protect our hearts with God’s word and we pray. 

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:17-18 ESV)

 

  1. We live in the hope of glory knowing that we have peace with God. 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1 ESV)

 

  1. We remember that God is good and He is for us. 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

 

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)

 

  1. We remember that God’s future is better than we can even imagine. 

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5 ESV)

 

Let’s rely on the truth of God’s word to help us fight the false advertising of sin. Let’s be as N.T. Wright says, “future people,” focused on living out God’s will in every aspect of our lives for the sake of His glory and the coming of His kingdom!

 

Known Man Dead, Dead Man Alive

Article by Michael Bolland

How often does this side of the fall feel like a chaotic, disordered cocktail of nuanced flavors of deadness and sin choking out our livelihood? Our experiences in this environment can never quench our thirst, and the worst part is often the shame from our own unique contributions to this broken world. The temptation is to hide and tell yourself, “My sin is better left to wither in darkness, left unacknowledged, unseen, and untouched.” The problem is that our sin grows in darkness and evil thrives unchecked, and to remain unknown is to spiral further downward into deadness.

Being known—in a loving manner and with the gospel as an anchor—is the nourishment a parched dead man needs. And the livelihood that rises from the newly watered soil of our souls is an increasing resemblance to the Son of God whose death and resurrection we are united to through faith. The Welsh poet, George Herbert, puts it much more succinctly: “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel has now made him only a gardener.” As we die to ourselves through allowing ourselves to be known, whether before God or before brothers and sisters in Christ, we are participating in the redemptive pattern that Jesus intended to infiltrate our deadly environment with.

When I can sense God’s gentle nudge of seeing me in sin, or when others begin to notice my sinful patterns, my internal response is to squirm for something impressive to replace or hide what is supposed to be brought into the light. I need to remind myself that to do this, at best, is to remain as bad as I am because it leaves my sin in the dark. Pastor Bob Thune’s words are sufficient encouragement if you are like me in this way: “Don’t be content to be impressive; just be known.”

To be known, in a gospel sense, is to unite to Christ’s death and crucifixion, however, it is also to have faith that we are united to Christ’s resurrection and glorious livelihood. A known man is seen in his deadness, yet through the gospel a known dead man becomes alive. This is the only way we experience godly growth. John Townsend puts it well when he says, “We need to experience all of our souls, whether good, bad, or broken; otherwise, what is not brought into the light of God’s love and relationship cannot be matured, healed, and integrated into the rest of our character.”

“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” (Romans 6:5-9—NASB)

 

Fix Your Eyes on the Unseen

Article by Matthew Holmes

It is that time of year where images of romantic gestures are all around and we are reminded of the cliche.  Those who are married or in a relationship sift through cultural expectations.  Those who are single are reminded of their singleness, for better or worse. 

Our culture preaches a different idea of love than how our Savior Jesus Christ defines it.  Culture’s definition of love is one well known to all and very attractive.  We will simplify it here to three words, “happily-ever-after”.  You will find completion and fulfillment in a companion.  Relationships are to look polished, perfect, free of problems.  But we know that relationships are messy.  Marriages are the joining of two sinners.  Therefore, do not overly romanticize romance.  The end of relationships isn’t happiness, though that is a wonderful byproduct.   But marriage points us to an eternal joy that has been ushered in and also awaits us.  The love of our Saviour isn’t a self-seeking, fleeting love.  Christ’s love for us, his bride, is a selfless, covenantal love that is eternal.  

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This season let’s be reminded of how Christ defines love.  This season let’s lose sight of what is seen and fix our eyes upon the unseen.   Let’s seek the One who has truly defined love and freely given it to us.  Let’s fix our eyes not on what is temporal, presented to us by culture, but what is eternal.

Look at marriage in perspective of eternity.  Look at your significant other in perspective of eternity.  Look at your relationships in perspective of eternity.  

Here are some ways that we can fix our eyes on the unseen:

For the married.  

“…and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” – Ephesians 5:27

Remind yourself that the end isn’t marital bliss.  God is doing a work in your marriage, using the good and bad.  God’s use for your marriage is carried out into future glory for both you and your spouse.  Renew yourself this season to seeing your wife the way Jesus sees the Church, holy and blameless.  Love her not with your own love but with Christ’s love so that she will be encouraged to run to Him in all things.  Cherish her in a way that she will cherish Christ more.  Allow your marriage to give you a glimpse into the sweet glory that is being united with Christ.  

For the dating.

Dating is not about pursuing a finished product that fits all of your needs.

I have found that a central verse for me in my season of dating has been 2 Corinthians 5:17.  

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

The more you get to know someone, the more you see their sin and struggles.  It is important when dating someone to preach the gospel to one another, speaking new creation into any past struggles and being excited about the new creation that the Lord is bringing about in that person.  Relationships are about trajectory.  Are you excited of where they are going and who Christ is making them to be?  

In Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, he puts it this way: “I see who God is making you, and it excites me!  I want to be part of that.  I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to His throne.  And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this.  I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!’”

For the single.  

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

Look to and delight in Christ’s redeeming work in your life and the lives of those whom God has placed around you.  Relationships are an incredible vessel for sanctification.  God will use them to humble us, discipline us, teach us.  But romantic relationships are not the only way that God does this.  God often uses those closest to us to do this.  Roommates frequently play this role, assisting in the work of sanctification.  Cherish whatever relationships that God has placed in your life in this season.  Cherish the means in which God uses to expose sin and conform you more closely into the image of Christ.  

Brothers, be reminded of the Gospel of Jesus Christ this season.  If you are married, fix your eyes on Christ.  Renew yourself to loving your wife with the love of Christ and seeing her as holy and blameless.  If you are dating, fix your eyes on Christ.  Honor God by honoring His daughter by asking, are you excited about who Christ is making her to be, so much so that you will lay your life down for her?  If you are single, fix your eyes on Christ.  Are you pouring into relationships and allowing God to use those closest to you to continue to bring about His sanctifying work until completion?  

Fix your eyes on the unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen, hidden with Christ, is eternal.  

The Mind of Christ

Article by Lance Steiger

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately…

We live in a remarkable age.  We really do.  The phone in my pocket can access almost all of the collective knowledge of the human race. Google even brags about the speed at which it fetches this information… “About 24,500,000 results (0.59 seconds)”…not bad.  Want to learn about the “history of the fuel injection system”?…About 2,560,000 results (0.71 seconds).  Boom, there it is!  …read some articles …look at a few diagrams …and I can now speak eloquently about the inner workings of the internal combustion engine throughout its history.  Some might even think I’m an expert on the topic when they hear me speak.  But in reality, I gained that knowledge through an iPhone screen and about 10-12 sips of coffee.  Don’t let me work on your car.

How much does this “Google” approach to knowledge affect my knowledge of Christ?

I’m thoroughly conditioned to avoid thinking, praying, meditating and reasoning when faced with the complexities of life.  When faced with a new challenge, it seems that my instinct is to search first for answers in books, webpages, sermons and the knowledge of other people.  Why should I contemplate and ask God for answers when I can get the answers in 0.71 seconds?  Is it wrong to seek knowledge from other places? NO!  Does God speak to us through books, blogs, sermons and other people? YES!  But what if I were to start each quest with complete dependence on Christ, knowing that he is the source of all wisdom and knowledge? (Proverbs 9:10)  Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God at the same time.  He created me and relates to me on a personal level. I have access to God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  I have a relationship with him and his spirit lives in me.  I can go directly to the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

Paul asks us in Ephesians 4:23 to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind”

What is the “spirit of our minds”?  (if any theologians are reading this, please add your thoughts in the comments section!) I would guess it means that our minds are not simply data processing machines.  Our minds must be tied with with our being, our souls and our hearts.  If this is true, they must be fallen as well…hostile towards God.  I’m going to let John Piper weigh in here.  In his blog post titled “The Renewed Mind and How to Have it” he says:

“The mind has a “spirit.” In other words, our mind has what we call a “mindset.” It doesn’t just have a view, it has a viewpoint. It doesn’t just have the power to perceive and detect; it also has a posture, a demeanor, a bearing, an attitude, a bent.”

This makes sense to me, thanks John.  My fallen mind doesn’t want to rely on Christ.  It can’t instinctively acknowledge Christ as the source of all wisdom and knowledge.  Its fallen viewpoint looks for wisdom and knowledge apart from God.  Thankfully, 1 Corinthians 2:16 says that I “have the mind of Christ”.  My fallen mind has been renewed by the spirit of God that lives in me. The Holy Spirit changes my mindset and enables my mind to trust Christ for the truth.

When I’m anxiously searching for answers, I can focus on Christ and trust that he will provide the wisdom and knowledge that I need (James 1:5).  I can trust that the Holy Spirit will expose me to Christ-centered truth and, at the same time, break down the stubbornness in my mind that doesn’t want to believe God.  

When I set the posture of my mind toward Christ, he might lead me to a pastor, a blog post, a book or a trusted believer.  Or, he might overwhelm me with peace and understanding (Phil 4:7) No matter how he responds, I can be sure that I’m receiving wisdom that comes from God.  

 

The Importance of the Imago Dei

One of the most influential sermon series I’ve listened to is “A Beautiful Design” by Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas.

Focused on God’s design for men and women, the series left a profound mark on me when I first listened in 2014, several months before I married my wife, Lisa. Today, I’m revisiting these sermons with Lisa and a couple we’re close to, and I’m reminded of how these messages began to transform me in a number of ways.

The first – and most important – way came by introducing me to a concept I had never before thought critically about: the “Imago Dei,” a theological term that means “image of God” and signifies God creating humans in His image.

Chandler defines the Imago Dei as “God’s investment in humanity of God-like glory and moral capacity to reign and rule the earth as His representatives.”

This definition is supported in Scripture. In fact, if you were to open your Bible and begin reading at Genesis 1, you’d read only 26 verses before the Imago Dei would pop up: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

For most Christians, this comes across as Sunday school material. Basic stuff.

But do we truly know this? Do we live our day-to-day lives as if we know the Imago Dei is true?

The Imago Dei has wide-ranging implications (which is the focus of one of Chandler’s sermons). But the one ramification that resonates loudest is this:

Because I am made in God’s image, I have an intrinsic value, given to me by God, that is higher than the rest of creation. So do you. And so does every other human being.

Let me repeat that: So does every other human being.

Understanding the Imago Dei means understanding that every human being has an inherent, unwavering God-given dignity.

Put another way, the Imago Dei is a defining principle of our humanity. It signifies our high value and dignity, given as a gift from God, as creatures made in the image of our Creator.

Yet in today’s culture, defining each other by other standards – by seemingly any standard other than the Imago Dei – is what we often do best. It’s how we as a society determine people’s value and dignity.

Disagree? Read the following statements, and take note of whether you begin to make judgments — positive or negative — about each person.

She’s black. He’s white.

He’s a Democrat. She’s a Republican.

She’s stylish. He wears sweatpants all the time.

He’s rich. She’s poor.

She’s Jewish. He’s Muslim.

He has an associate’s degree. She has a Ph.D.

She’s a VP of Marketing. He’s a custodian.

He’s an ISTJ. She’s an ENFP.

She’s gay. He’s straight.

He’s vegan. She’s gluten-intolerant.

She’s slim. He’s overweight.

He’s a newlywed. She’s divorced.

Did you find yourself making value judgments about each person? (Don’t worry – I won’t tell anyone.) For most of us, the answer is yes.

Too often, we let society tell us who has value and who doesn’t. Too often, we place too high of a premium on differentiation and forget what we all have in common.

This is not to say that diversity isn’t beautiful. God made us diverse (in a multitude of ways), in His image, for a reason. In my opinion, a more diverse world is a better one.

But before we can get there, we need to begin by defining ourselves and treating one another as if we’re all created in the image of the Creator. We need to stop allowing our culture to tell us how we stand out and we need to begin focusing on how God tells us we fit in.

We can start with the Imago Dei, which shows us that societal definitions, stereotypes and judgments pale in comparison to God’s truth.

Consider: The Imago Dei tell us that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the homeless person asking for a few spare dollars near the highway share the same inherent God-given dignity. It tells us that my 15-month-old niece and LeBron James share the same God-given dignity. It tells us that you and the coworker you cannot get along with share the same God-given dignity. It tells us that Hillary supporters and Trump supporters share the same God-given dignity.

It tells us that Christians and non-Christians share the same God-given dignity.

Picture what our relationships with one another might be like if we were to recognize the intrinsic value that God has gifted to humans in every person we come across.

I’m serious. Think about that. What might our households, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our cities look like? What might Hope Community Church look like?

I believe that understanding the Imago Dei and acting on it is our imperative as Christians. My worry is that, although we know this in theory, we will continue to let society tell us who has value and who doesn’t, instead of treating every person with the God-given dignity they deserve.

We must not fall for the lie.

“But oh,” as Chandler puts it so fittingly to end his sermon, “if we understood the image of God. Can you imagine?”

Let’s not imagine. Let’s live like we understand the image of God in ourselves and everyone else around us.

Social Justice, Racial Reconciliation, and the Gospel Part 3: How Do We Move Forward?

Note: This is part three of a series of blog posts dealing with racial reconciliation, social justice, and the gospel. I highly encourage you to read the other two, dealing with social justice and the cross, and false unity and gospel unity. The last two posts in this series were written specifically in response to the racial violence manifesting largely apart from the election, and they were written before Donald Trump was elected on November 8th. Upon rereading them, however, I found myself thinking that the categories and arguments that I set up in those posts were very much how I was thinking about the election itself. This post will be focused on the thread I set out to write before, but will bring into the discussion the scope of argument we now find ourselves in. We’ve now not just isolated ourselves along normal partisan or racial dividing lines, which is what my last post was about; we’re largely separated by gulfs of conflict centered on if you voted for one Donald J. Trump or not. -Joel Stegman

By now, the dust has somewhat settled, and dramatic responses on either sides, at least on my Facebook feed, seem to be dissipating. This doesn’t mean that the storm is over, but it does mean that the reality that Donald Trump will be our next president has started to sink in for people.

My concern in this post isn’t necessarily for the America. If you aren’t a Christian, this post will likely sound like foolishness to you. My concern isn’t for the guy on Facebook who is unfriending everyone who voted for the candidate they hate. My concern here is for the church, the united body that I talked about in my second post who are created by the work of justice performed on the cross, which I discussed in my first post.

In Ephesians 3:10 Paul states that it is the church that will be through whom the “manifold wisdom of God” comes to the world. N.T. Wright talks about how Paul saw the church as part of God’s “solution” to the problem of the fall, to be different, a “new kind of philosophical school, teaching and modelling a new worldview, inculcating a new understanding, a new way of thinking.” 1 How often, however, have we seen the church simply be polarized to either side, spouting the same lines as partisan voices originating from cultural depths rather than biblical ones? I fear that many reading this may find how little has been contributed by them that is different to this discussion.

We’re supposed to be something different!

But have we been? Have we looked different than the other voices in this conflict, this deep divide we find ourselves in? Not often. But we can be. I’m going to walk through several ways we can be different, modelling the One whose image we’re being conformed to, offering a way forward. Those ways are 1) Stopping the cycle of hostility, 2) Repentance, 3) Forgiveness, and 4) Embracing the changing nature of who the church in the world is.

  1. Stopping the Cycle of Hostility

Miroslav Volf speaks about how

“We choose evil; but evil also ‘chooses’ us and exerts its terrible power over us…Carl Gustav Jung wrote, ‘It is a fact that cannot be denied: the wickedness of others becomes our own wickedness because it kindles something evil in our own hearts.’ Evil engenders evil.” 2

The truth is that there is an evil that lurks in our hearts. Think about how the Dallas shooting, an unqualified evil, sprung from other unqualified racist evil. The shooter responded to evil with the same form of evil done to African Americans. We desire to lash out, to respond in the language of which we’ve been wronged. This is because

“In addition to inflicting harm, the practice of evil keeps re-creating a world without innocence. Evil generates new evil as evildoers fashion victims in their own ugly image…The more attentive we are, the more accurate the portrait the Apostle Paul paints of humanity – of “all” from which “no one” is exempt (Rom 3:9, 20) – strikes us.” 3

This is why and how we’ve ended up in the hostile place we are, where people are quick to lash out at each other, why we all feel like as a nation we’re on a knife’s edge. We, as the church, need to step into the gap.

I recently watched Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, and I was reminded of a great scene where Indy and his dad are on a motorcycle. The Nazi’s are chasing them on their own motorcycles, and one gets right next to the Joneses and the rider pulls his Luger on them. Indy grabs a pole and sticks it into the spokes of the motorcycle and the whole bike goes flying in the air. This is a great analogy for stopping this cycle of hostility, because when we don’t respond in the way of the evil coming against us, we throw the whole violent system off. We’re called to do this in the midst of these political/racial reconciliation conversations – as we act differently, as we act like the solution. But how do we do it? By following Christ’s teaching, the bedrock of the church.

  1. Jesus, Repentance, and Forgiveness

Jesus made much of his ministry about throwing off these violent discourses through challenging the terms of engagement in two distinct ways: calling for repentance (from everyone!) and for calling for forgiveness of the those in the wrong.

Everyone knows Jesus spent most of his time with the disenfranchised, the lowest of society. They were the ones who were taken advantage of by the Roman leaders, and the Jewish ruling class, political and religious leaders – the “false shepherds” of God’s people (Ezekiel 34 and John 10:1-13). No one could dispute that they were the ones Jesus was focusing on, the ones who he sought out as the first recipients of his gospel. Yet, he still called them to belief and repentance (e.g., Mark 1:15 and Luke 5:32), all the while claiming that “theirs was the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus called all to repentance, the poorest and mightiest.

We’re a culture that has a hard time repenting of anything, as we’re told from a young age that doing what feels best is what is right. How could we ever be wrong about anything? So we have an especially hard time repenting when we’ve felt we’ve been wronged.

I know it’s one thing for me – a white male who has largely been a beneficiary of a system that is geared for my success – to say this. But that’s the thing about the gospel: it’s supposed to be a challenge to the commonly accepted norms. What do we repent from? I, the white male, have to repent from the fact that I am oftentimes all too glad to reap the benefits of the system we live in, all the while knowing many people don’t have the luxury of doing so.

But what about the person who has been legitimately wronged? Where does repentance come in for the person who has been the victim or racism, in small and large ways? First, we must grapple with the reality of ‘original sin’, the subject of my first blog post. But second, we must reflect upon a deep truth about the nature of repentance. Again, Miroslav Volf is excellent here:

“Envy and enmity keep the disprivileged and weak chained to the dominant order – even when they succeed in toppling it! All too often, of course, they do not want to topple the dominant order…they “demand the reshuffling of cards, not another game”…The dominant values and practices can be transformed only if their hold on those who suffer under them is broken. This is where repentance comes in. To repent means to resist the seductiveness of the sinful values and practices and let the new order of God’s reign be established in one’s heart…For a victim to repent means to not allow the oppressors to determine the terms under which social conflict is carried out, the values around which the conflict is raging, and the means by which it is fought. Repentance thus empowers victims and disempowers the oppressors…Victims need to repent of the fact that all too often they mimic the behavior of the oppressors, let themselves be shaped in the mirror image of the enemy…Far from being an acquiescence to the dominant order, repentance creates a haven of God’s new world in the midst of the old and so makes the transformation of the old possible.” 4

Repentance frees the disenfranchised from the violent cycle. It keeps their hearts from the desire to not see the “dominant order” of oppression done away with, but worm to turn; for them to be on top for a change. Repentance by the people is proof that God is with a group: that they can lay aside the sin inside them that they know if, left unchecked, would create a system that was just the same as the one they find themselves on the bottom of. I’m calling for my black brothers and sisters in Christ to do this as a show that they won’t be a part of the system that my white ancestors set up; it’s a chance for them to be better than we were and have been.

Which brings us to forgiveness. One may not imagine that forgiveness is possible (or right!) when so much evil has been done. How can forgiveness really be enough, when so much justice is needed? The answer is again a big flashing sign pointed at the Christ. The most unjust sufferer in history, the one truly innocent human to ever walk the planet, begged God to forgive his oppressors: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). That statement is a fierce challenge to all who would follow him, and a threat to the modus operandi of normal, worldly culture. The Lord’s prayer calls for us to “forgive us of our debts, as we’ve forgiven those who’ve trespassed against us.” (Matthew 6:12) We need the power that animated Christ to forgive on the cross to also animate us now as we forgive those who’ve wronged us – the power of God’s own Holy Spirit.

Once again, this is difficult for all involved, and may seem like an acquiescence, a tacit approval for the oppressors. And once again, Christ and his desires for his followers cut through the ‘normal’ way of thinking about such things:

“In the framework of strict restorative justice, no reconciliation is possible. On the contrary, the pursuit of such justice will deepen the conflict and reinstate the ‘compulsion to evil deeds.’ Hence the need for forgiveness…Only those who are forgiven [by God] and who are willing to forgive will be capable of relentlessly pursuing justice [and reconciliation] without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice…For the followers of the crucified Messiah…rage belongs before God…Hidden in the dark chambers of our hearts and nourished by the system of darkness, hate grows and seeks to infest everything with its hellish will to exclusion. In the light of the justice and love of God, however, hate recedes and the seed is planted for the miracle of forgiveness…In the presence of God our rage over injustice may give way to forgiveness, which in turn will make the search for justice for all possible.” 5

When we forgive those who have committed evil to us, we break their power over us and the trenches of evil dug within our own hearts. It forbids us from going the route of vengeance, the will to avenge evil done to us and to wrestle away justice from God (Rom 12:19). God will be the one to bring about justice on earth, whether that is through justice systems or in the final judgment. Until then, we can live in Christ’s example and forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

  1. Embracing the Changing Nature of the Church

The landscape of the church is shifting beneath our feet. All across the world, the church is becoming less and less white, even here in America. Russell Moore, writing in The New York Times, says that

The center of gravity for both orthodoxy and evangelism is not among Anglo suburban evangelicals but among African Anglicans and Asian Calvinists and Latin American Pentecostals. The vital core of American evangelicalism today can be found in churches that are multiethnic and increasingly dominated by immigrant communities…The next Billy Graham probably will speak only Spanish or Arabic or Persian or Mandarin…The thriving churches of American Christianity are multigenerational, theologically robust, ethnically diverse and connected to the global church. If Jesus is alive — and I believe that he is — he will keep his promise and build his church. But he never promises to do that solely with white, suburban institutional evangelicalism…The question is whether evangelicals will be on the right side of Jesus. That will mean standing up for the church’s future leaders, and for our mission, especially when they are politically powerless.4 (emphasis mine)

The church is changing. Those who assume the church must remain as it largely has been through its history – dominated by white men – will alienate themselves from the places that the Holy Spirit is moving. Tim Keller speaks about how white America is becoming increasingly secular, yet minority Christian groups are exploding in number. Basically, leadership in the church will also begin to look less and less white. And it’s time for us to start anticipating that.

Traditionally, in America, the evangelical, orthodox church has taken its cues from white theologians and leaders (e.g., Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, John Piper, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, to name but a few). This is a reflection of a largely white evangelicalism, or at least a perceived one. Yet, if this trend is going to continue in America (and it is), we need to reposition ourselves so that minority brothers and sisters are in positions to lead, so that the church can adjust to the changing demographic and be representative of the people in the actual pews. If not, we’ll ask for a racial oligarchy to be formed, where we expect white leaders to lead in the church and for those who are to remain orthodox to follow them, regardless if most of them are of a different skin color.

What I’m actually calling for is nothing other than to be willing to expose yourself to leaders that are black, Hispanic or Asian, and to be willing to let them share the spiritual authority of those white spiritual leaders you look to. I could – and maybe will – write more on this, but for now, begin to embody Paul’s words and truly allow for there to be ‘one new humanity where there was once two, thus making peace’ (Eph 2:15).

***

In the movie Hacksaw Ridge, a young soldier named Desmond Doss, motivated by his Christian convictions, refuses to even hold a gun as he tries to serve his country in the Pacific theater of World War II as a combat medic – saving lives while others are taking them. As he’s pressed by his superiors – who fear he’ll be a liability – to be willing to fight, he makes a statement that has lodged itself in my brain as being highly relevant to us today.

He says that “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

As we circle back around to the idea that the church is supposed to, in some strange way, be the “solution” in the world as it carries the message of the gospel, I can think of no better mission statement than the one given by Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge. The world is intent on tearing itself apart. It has been since the fall of Adam and Eve.

The goal of God in sending Christ was to reconcile the world back to himself and to undo the fall through the God-man. The goal of Christ was to create in himself a people who be a “city on a hill”, inviting the world to ‘come and see’ what the gospel is all about.

Those inside the church, living in a way that is different, stopping the cycle of hostility, repenting before God and forgiving as we’ve been forgiven, along with being willing to live in a way consistent with the gospel by accepting that the Spirit is moving in all over the world outside of the traditional white church, we can do as Doss seeks to do: put the world back together a little bit, piece by piece.

 

Footnotes:

1 N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God

2 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

3 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

4 Russell Moore, A White Church No More, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/06/opinion/a-white-church-no-more.html?_r=0

The Foundation of Motivation for our Productivity

Article by Miles Trump

This is not a blog post about how to improve your workflow in 2017.

Nor will it give you zero-inbox, SMART-goal and decluttering techniques.

That’s all good stuff. But this is a blog post about the foundation of and motivation for our productivity – a topic I find much more important than any efficiency technique.

Our productivity matters to God. But in our schedule-driven, workaholic, calendar-invite culture, we sometimes (often?) confuse productivity as an end instead of a means. We glorify “busyness” as if our jam-packed schedules determine our value as people.

That’s a backward approach to productivity.

The foundation of our productivity must be our faith in Christ. We must feel compelled to be productive because God loves us and has been more productive for our sake than anyone in the history of mankind. And we must be productive in ways that glorify Him, not in ways that glorify ourselves.

If our hearts and minds are not positioned in this way, we will face an uphill battle.

To a degree, I have experienced this battle.

In an effort to live with intent and purpose, a close friend and I created a long list of individual goals last year that would push us to become better men.

I drew up spiritual goals, financial goals, physical goals and mental goals. Marriage goals, leisure goals, stewardship goals. Goals, goals, goals – about 35 total. I inputted them into one of those trendy mobile apps that, with a tap or swipe, could track and report my progress back to me instantly.

The goals were “good.” The motivation and enthusiasm was there. Everything was great

But by spring, I grew tired and stopped feeling like these “SMART Goals” were all that smart. They grew heavier and began to feel more frivolous in comparison to day-to-day life.

Was it truly necessary for me to memorize three new words each week? Did God care if I read 12 books or became a better cook? Were these achievements glorifying Him?

I now realize I didn’t grasp the true foundation and purpose for productivity. While many of my goals were rooted in my faith in Christ, others were rooted in my faith in myself.

As a result, I believe I’d fallen into several – avoidable – traps that wore me down.

 

  • Turning productivity into an idol. I turned “busyness” into an idol. Progress on my goals made me feel more and more important. A real mover and shaker. A truly good person.

 

    • Believing my good works helped me earn my salvation. This was less noticeable in the moment. But it’s clear that I began creeping into this Pharisaical area of trying to earn my salvation – and God’s favor – through my “good works” rather than feeling compelled to do good works because of God’s immeasurable grace in my life.

 

  • Failing and growing dejected. I realized I had bit off more than I could chew, but, because of the two points above, my pride wouldn’t let me give up. I dropped a few of my goals and (with middling success) tried to salvage what I could. But with time, most of my plan fizzled away.

So, what now? As I write this, I’m working on setting my goals for 2017. But this time, I’m explicitly asking the question, “Why and how does God want me to be productive in 2017?”

Below are three overarching Biblical principles, which I chose based on my own experience and a few helpful articles (shoutout Google!), that I’m using to serve as the inspiration for my productivity in 2017.*

To do good works for God’s glory.

James declares that faith without good deeds is dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save them?” (James 2:14). James is not saying that our good works will save us, but rather, that our salvation through God’s grace must compel us to do good work.

Matt Perman, author of “What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done,” says productivity is about learning how to do good works in the most effective way possible. He writes on the What’s Best Next blog: “Everything we learn about productivity (and at all levels — work, life, organizations, and society), every productivity practice we might implement, and every productivity tool we might use, ultimately exists for the purpose of helping to amplify our effectiveness in good works, for the glory of God.”

To act out of love for others.

When I think about productivity, or getting things done, I rarely think of other people. Our culture often tells us productivity is about work efficiency, self-improvement, personal gain, career advancement, etc.

The Gospel tells us differently. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We are to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). We are to do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Shouldn’t our checklists and planners focus on fulfilling commands such as these – rather than clearing our email inboxes each night – with the best of our effort?

Perman says yes. In another blog post, he writes that “the guiding principle in all the things we get done should be the good of others. … In the end, love is to be our supreme motive in all that we get done.”

To purposefully steward the resources God has given us.

I’m not talking about money only. Resources, in my view, can be anything God gives to us. And yes, that means finances, but also time, expertise, energy, relationships, opportunities and much more. If it’s a resource to us, then it’s a resource we can look after (or steward) for God’s glory.

Productivity can – and should – manifest itself in the form of biblical stewardship. We’ve seen the importance God places on biblical stewardship and productivity in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14), in which a noble man gives bags of silver to his servants, according to their abilities, before leaving for a long journey. When he returns, he celebrates the servants who have been good stewards of the silver and punishes the servant who has not.

Later in the New Testament, Paul writes that we must make the most of every opportunity and understand what the Lord wants us to do (Ephesians 5:16-17), and that we must work willingly at whatever we do, as though we are working for God instead of people (Colossians 3:23).

These passages show us that our productivity in stewarding our resources matters to God. And so it should matter to us. We should be productive in managing our money, taking care of our families, doing our jobs, volunteering our time, growing in our faith and much, much more.

As many of us look ahead into 2017, we will be swept up by New Year’s resolutions and plans to improve ourselves. We will get organized, get our lives together and get things done.

But let us always remember to be productive for the right reasons.

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* I am not a biblical scholar, by any stretch of the imagination. These are three simple Biblical principles for productivity, and undoubtedly many more exist. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. My hope is that this blog post will help you consider productivity in light of the Gospel.