Monday, February 27, 2017

Love Accross the Divide

Everyone is saying our country is divided more than ever before. I do not know if that is true (Americans from 1860 might have something to say about that). But i do know that a Christians we are called to love across all division. Check out How to Love People Across the Political Divide by J. Lee Grady
Our country has always enjoyed lively political debate. But psychologists and sociologists have noticed that the 2016 election took the United States to a whole new level of polarization. The animosity is hot—and getting hotter. In fact, couples have gotten divorced and families have stopped speaking to each other because a massive chasm separates Red and Blue political platforms.

To put it bluntly, we hate each other.

Call it the Trump factor, if you will. But more than two months after the presidential election, nerves are still raw, and blood is still boiling. Longtime friends are avoiding contact or unfriending each other on Facebook. Rage is seething under the surface of our country like a volcano about to erupt.

This anger is also in the church. Believers are at odds with each other over who voted for whom and who supports what policies—and even who drinks Starbucks coffee, shops at Nordstrom's or likes Lady Gaga's Super Bowl halftime show. Everything has been politicized. This divisive spirit burns bridges, erects walls and pushes God's people into opposite camps over even the most trivial matters.

Many white evangelicals view Trump's presidential victory as a miracle of God, and for that reason, some of them rigidly defend every decision he makes. Other Christians—including many African-American, Hispanic and millennial believers—view Trump as a dangerous threat to the country. And somewhere in the middle are Christians who accept the outcome of the election and pray faithfully for Trump, even if they don't support every move he makes.

We are faced with a serious challenge. Either we choose to love each other across this vast divide, or our love becomes cold and our message becomes hollow and hypocritical. I'm praying we will rise above the conflict so we can show America who Jesus is. Only a church full of love can reflect Him. Here are some steps we can take now:

1. Read your Bible and pray more than you listen to news programs. There's nothing wrong with staying in the know when it comes to politics. But if you find yourself listening to countless hours of angry commentators every day on Fox News or CNN, it's possible you have become addicted to this verbal venom. Today's polarized media is fueling a civil war, and many Christians have become pawns in the devil's scheme to divide and conquer. Please hit the mute button when necessary. Tune out the screaming before it poisons you.

2. Submit your mouth (and your social media posts) to the Holy Spirit. I've been shocked by the belligerent tone some Christians take when defending their views. Is it really necessary to blow someone out of the water just because they disagree with you? The Bible makes it simple when it says: "Be kind one to another" (Eph. 4:32). Does this commandment apply to us, or not?

(I'll admit I haven't always tempered my words in this column, and for that I am sorry. I'm learning that grace should season my words like salt. Please forgive me if my tone sounded self-righteous, condescending or judgmental.)

3. Let Jesus adjust your attitude. In the Old Testament, Moses went on top of a mountain and received the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament, Jesus went on top of a mountain and gave His most quoted sermon—which focuses not on outward behavior but on attitudes of the heart. The Sermon on the Mount calls us to show love, mercy, gentleness and forgiveness. And in it Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).

Reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel. But today we prefer quick-witted comebacks, one-line zingers and downright ugliness to get our points across. Our hearts are full of resentment and hostility. We need the Beatitudes now more than ever.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Gospel Bearings

Feeling worried about the state of culture and society? Feeling distressed by the political and social messes all around us? You (and I) need Gospel bearings!  Pessimistic About The Future? You Need Gospel Bearings by Trevin Wax
Pessimism is surging.

George Orwell’s dystopian tale, 1984, is the bestselling book at Amazon. (I think Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a dystopian vision that better captures the dangers of our current moment, but alas, it’s only #71.)

Meanwhile, some of the wealthiest people in the world are building bunkers and prepping for doomsday scenarios. The New Yorker covers these efforts in great detail. Apparently, New Zealand is the place to ride out the cultural apocalypse.

Christians aren’t immune to the waves of pessimism in our country.

Recently, I was talking with an older Christian who was both encouraged and distressed by some of what he was seeing take place politically in the initial days of the Trump administration. He was appalled at the celebration of abortion and the vulgar words and signs at the Women’s March that took place just after the Inauguration.

“The gap is so wide,” he said, referring to conservative Christians and so much of society. “I guess I just feel hopeless for our country these days. I’m becoming a pessimistic old man.”

My response? “You’ve got to snap out of that.”

It’s one thing to be weary of earth and self and sin, to be sad at some of the developments in our time. Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said. Christian tears are real, and necessary, for those who feel the weight of the world’s evil.

But it’s another thing to allow that pessimistic posture to become your default. An overly pessimistic view of the world leads to a defensive posture. A defensive posture leads to defensive decision-making. We start making decisions based on maintenance rather than mission. Holding on to what we have holds us back from moving forward in faith in the power of the gospel.

The gospel blows up pessimism. If you truly believe the Word of God has authority—that it will accomplish God’s purpose and will not return empty, if you truly believe that God has a church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, then you fortify yourself for spiritual battle, not for surviving a spiritual siege.

In This Is Our Time, I call the pessimistic approach “a decline narrative.” It’s the idea that the world is getting worse, no matter what we may do. We see decline narratives in society on both the right and the left. Yuval Levin shows how liberals believe we have fallen from the heights of the 1960s, whereas conservatives feel like we have fallen from the heights of the 1950s or the 1980s.

In the church, we are tempted to scour the annals of church history looking for the pinnacle of better times, from which we have fallen and now must reclaim. Perhaps it’s the early church, the Golden Age of the ecumenical creeds, the Reformation and Puritan era, or the revivals of North America. Whatever point in time we pick, we contrast ourselves to our ancestors and feel as if we’ve fallen from those heights. The world, and too often the church, is getting worse, we say.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Prayer Journaling

For you journalers - How To Start A Prayer Journal by Richard Foster via Renovare (Excerpted from his book  Coming Home)
Few things can nudge us toward God more than the keeping of a prayer journal. What is a “prayer journal?” Well, if prayer is the ongoing interaction we have with God, and a journal is a record of those experiences and thoughts we deem valuable, then a “prayer journal” preserves those interactions, events, and reflections from our external and internal worlds which track our personal history with God. It is an Ebenezer of sorts—a way of declaring “hitherto has the Lord helped us.”

History is replete with the prayer journals of disciples of Jesus Christ. From Augustine’s Confessions to Lady Julian’s Showings to Pascal’s Pensées to Woolman’s Journal to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings to Luci Shaw’s God in the Dark, we are privileged to share in some of the finest of Christian devotion. These journals, of course, merely represent and illustrate the myriads upon myriads of unpublished prayer journals of followers of the Way throughout the centuries. It is a long and honored tradition.

Question: What do you do with a prayer journal? Answer: Almost anything you want. There is no right way or wrong way to go about a prayer journal. You are a unique individual before God with special gifts that only God can reveal and special needs that only God can satisfy. Together, you and God will find the prayer and journal pilgrimage that is best for you.

Having said this, it still might be useful to you if I made a few general comments. I encourage you, first of all, to comment freely on the events of your day. This differs from notations in a diary by its focus on why and wherefore rather than who or what. The external events are springboards for understanding God’s deeper workings in the heart. Perhaps a particular encounter stirs up feelings of anger and defensiveness in you, or maybe pride and hope. Why? What is God teaching you through this experience? Remember, his is a scrutiny of love.

As you write, you will discover times when finding just the right word or phrase becomes important. You might begin with a prayer such as, “Jesus, teach me your love.” But as the process of prayer leads you deeper into the reality you are seeking, you will notice the prayer changing ever so slightly—and profoundly; “Lord, let me enter your love,” or maybe “Jesus, let me receive your embrace.”

So when seeking to experience prayer, I think it is wise to allow plenty of free space for crossing things out, changing direction, adding commentary, drawing arrows or other scribbles, and so forth. The same holds true if you are writing poetry—even more so. Time spent discovering the right word or phrase that gives voice to your heart cry is time never wasted. You may even want to set aside a page for a particular prayer or poem and date each time you return to it, making revisions, notes, or additional thoughts.

On the other hand, it is important not to get too tangled up in words. Sometimes it is best to let thoughts tumble forth unedited and uncensored. You may want to write by means of free association or stream of consciousness. (Sometimes I like to doodle!) Throughout, be open to Divine surprises—new ways of seeing, thinking, hearing, feeling.

At times, when I am praying for another person, I will place their name at the top of the page and then prayerfully begin to sketch out a picture. Perhaps a tree with roots going down deep and strong branches reaching skyward. Perhaps a rose opening up to the sunlight. Perhaps a wall of protection surrounding the person. Whatever. And my little picture becomes my prayer on behalf of another.

Above all, a prayer journal has a way of focusing, clarifying, keeping us honest. Self-centered prayers become manifestly so when committed to paper—even to us. Insights that are hazy figures on our horizon sometimes become crystal clear when written down. Vacillating indecision sometimes turns into marching orders.

So, I commend you to God as you begin a prayer journal. Who knows. Perhaps, just perhaps, through the process of prayer journal writing you will, like Moses, catch a glimpse of the backside of God. But even if you see nothing and hear nothing, you can still rest assured that you too are hidden in the cleft of the rock.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Out of Context

This is probably on of the most misused verses in today's American Christianity - Stop Taking Jeremiah 29:11 Out of Context by Thomas Turner at Relevant
It’s written on graduation cards, quoted to encourage a person who can’t seem to find God’s well and doled out like a doctor explaining a prescription: Take Jeremiah 29:11 a few times, with a full glass of water, and call me in the morning. I think you’ll feel better.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” Jeremiah 29:11 tells us—possibly one of our most beloved, yet most misunderstood, verses in the entire Bible.

Sure, it might make a person feel better, but this verse as we often prescribe it is being taken completely out of context. It doesn’t mean what people think it means. It’s time to back up and see what the author of Jeremiah is actually saying.

When it comes to reading the Bible, we can sometimes be so familiar with the words on the page that we read them, but we don’t really understand them. We see the words and hear the words, but we don’t make any sense out of them. Familiarity can breed laziness, and so many of our misunderstandings about the scriptures happen because we are too familiar with the passage to look it with fresh eyes. If we would come to the Word of God with fresh eyes more often, we would realize that some of our most common interpretations of Scripture passed down to us don’t make much sense when viewed within the context of the passage.

Like any author worth his salt, the writer in Jeremiah begins by stating the subject of the passage: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ... “ (Jeremiah 29:4).

This verse, quoted to countless individuals who are struggling with vocation or discerning God’s will, is not written to individuals at all. This passage is written to a whole group of people—an entire nation. For all the grammarians out there, the “you” in Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t singular, it’s plural. And you don’t have to be a Hebrew scholar to realize that “one” versus “many” is a big difference.

And the verse just before it is perhaps even scarier. For in Jeremiah 29:10, God lays down the specifics on this promise: that He will fulfill it “after seventy years are completed for Babylon.” In other words, yes, God says, I will redeem you—after 70 years in exile. This is certainly a far cry from our expectation of this verse in what God’s plans to prosper us really mean. He did have a future and a hope for them—but it would look far different than the Israelites ever expected.

So what? Some of you may be thinking. Even when the verse is taken out of context, it still offers value, right? God does know the plans of individual people, so it’s just as well to keep prescribing Jeremiah 29 for those seeking God’s plan for their life, right? Well, yes and no.

We need to let the Bible speak to us, not allow our own personal bent to speak into the Scriptures. If Jeremiah 29 is speaking to the nation of Israel, and not just one person, then we should start with the truth in the Scriptures. Context matters—God speaks at a particular moment in time, to a particular people group, for a reason.

What this means is that God has plans for a whole group of people, namely the nation of Israel. And if we read on in the Scriptures we find that this promise was fulfilled: those in exile returned, and the nation of Israel was restored for a time. God made a promise through the prophets, and that promise came true.

But that’s not the end of the story, either. There is something to the out-of-context prescriptions that so many make using this verse. God is a God of redemption, after all, and He wants to redeem people and put them on a path of wholeness, just as He wanted the nation of Israel to be redeemed and whole again.

As John Calvin says about this passage, the prophet is speaking not just of historical redemption, for that period in time, but also of “future redemption.” For the Israelites, God listened to their prayers when they sought Him with all their heart, and in His time, He brought them out of exile.
But how does any of this apply to us today? Can we still take heart in such a beautiful promise—even though it was spoken to people long ago, people in a far different situation than ours?

First and foremost, we are all in this together. This verse does not apply to isolated individuals or to a broad community. It applies to both, together, functioning as one. The image painted here is one of individuals in community, like the Body of Christ which Paul talks about. Here are a bunch of people, worshiping God together, hoping for a future redemption.

The theologians Stanley Grenz and John Franke explain in their book Beyond Foundationalism just how a community “turns the gaze of its members toward the future.” The future in Jeremiah is one that is bright—one that everyone in the community through prayer and worship seeks as their collective future hope. Many of us want to desperately know the plan that God has for each one of us as individuals, but let the prophet Jeremiah remind us that it’s not all about us, and it might not look like what we think.

Even more important than our decision about which college to attend, which city to move to or what job offer to take is the future hope of the Kingdom of God foretold by the prophets and fulfilled in the reign of our now and coming King. In this way, the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is bigger than any one of us—and far better.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Christian Snowflakes

This is not a time for snowflakes. Check out Christian Snowflakery by Stephen McAlpine

I've just about finished Tony Reinke’s book on John Newton’s pastoral letters, Newton On The Christian Life: To Live is Christ and here’s what I have concluded: compared with his theological robustness in the face of trials, we’re in danger of being a culture of Christian snowflakes.

You get what I mean by “snowflake?”

The word has been hijacked these past few months by all sorts of political flavours. There are almost as many usages of “snowflake” across the political spectrum as there are different shapes of snowflakes. Well maybe not that many.

In political terms “snowflakes” are those who can’t stand the heat of any opposition to their cherished views. And all sides of the fence use it. “Snowflakes” melt when the blowtorch is applied.

Christian snowflakery cuts across the spectrum. And it does so because we live in a culture that worships, what RR Reno calls the “hearth gods” of comfort and security.

We’re marinaded in an expectation that somehow we are owed these things as rewards for either our hard work and striving, or for our good fortune at having been born in the West in the 20th and 21st centuries.

And it’s a perspective that is in danger of squeezing out any theological conviction that “trials” are a normative part of the Christian life, as a quick skim of the Christian bestsellers list may reveal.

It’s that aspect of Newton’s life that has particularly struck me. He was convinced that trials were not simply occasional bad luck events, but were part and parcel of what it meant to belong to Christ, to be like Christ and to be brought home by Christ.

Now Newton was no stoic. How could the man who wrote Amazing Grace be unmoved in the face of his own trials, or the many trials recorded in his decades worth of pastoral correspondences to other Christians?

I was almost unnerved reading many of the passages in the book. There is no maudlin or gleeful tone to the reality of trials, but a conviction in Newton that God brings these trials to us because we need them.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Those Dark Times

How to Deal with Dark Times from Crossway on Vimeo.

From How to Deal With Dark Times by Mike Bullmore at Crossway
All of us are going to experience darkness in our lives. There’s no avoiding it and there’s no guarantee that because we’re in a saving relationship with God through Christ that we’re going to be exempt from it—we’re not.

But in the midst of this, Psalm 88 comes in and speaks to us in our darkest times, whether the result of disappointment, loss, betrayal, or any number of things. We're all going to experience what the writer of Psalm 88 experienced: the sense of a loss of inner strength, even to the point of despair. Psalm 88 is in our Bibles to let us know that, when we experience that sort of thing, we’re not alone; it’s not an uncommon human experience.

But far more important than letting us know we’re not alone, Psalm 88 tells us what to do in that experience. It embodies for us the right pattern of how to act in the darkness. Three times in the chapter, the psalmist cries out to God, and that structures the psalm. Psalm 88 is actually a turning to God in the darkness. It’s telling God about the darkness. It’s trusting in God despite the darkness.

Psalm 88 ends up reminding us we’re not alone in hard times and helps us to know what to do—turn to God.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Recharge the Desert Way

The text below is from Let the Desert Fathers Teach You How To Recharge by Phoebe Love at Relevant
Parched air. Unquenchable thirst. Isolation. No, it’s not the Sahara. It’s your spiritual life. It’s the desert of the soul when you’ve been scorched by life and your communication with God has dried up. You don’t know how you g
ot there but you feel stuck.

You’re not alone. Some 1600 years ago brave men and women went searching for something more than the norm. Inspired by Jesus journey into the wilderness, they decided to give up everything and devote themselves to prayer. By faith they moved into the silence and solitude of the Egyptian desert. They became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

Most of us are not called to be hermits but at times we do find ourselves alone and isolated. We might as well be camped out in the middle of nowhere because that’s how we feel. Church is boring. Scripture is meaningless. We can’t pray. We wonder if we’re just pretending to believe anymore. Take heart. The desert believers are still speaking. Here is how we can listen.
Reduce distraction.

Our full lives echo back to these ancient Christian’s. Before their pilgrimage, they too faced daily busyness and burnout. So they reduced distractions. Determined to depend on God for everything, they gave all they had to the poor and entered the desert. Silence and Scripture became their only teachers. While this may not be practical for the rest of us we can identify what distracts us and make better use of the time we’re given. Running errands for instance. We can transform that time into quiet for ourselves. Let silence surround us while we drive. Once we’re parked, sit and breathe deeply for a moment. Enjoy being still. “If we seek God, he will show himself to us, “ said one desert father, “and if we keep him, he will remain close to us.”
Be honest.

Admitting how defeated we feel can loosen life’s grip. We live in a world that’s all about appearances so being real about struggles is tough. One place to start is the bathroom mirror. Close the door, look at your reflection and tell yourself exactly how you’re feeling. Be totally honest. For example, “I am overwhelmed by life and have no idea what to do.” Telling the truth is the practice of confession. “I am so angry that my wife died of cancer.” “I’m scared to death. I can’t find a job.” Confession is an art of the soul. It’s the free gift of being honest with what’s going on inside of us. “Teach your mouth to speak what is in your heart,” an astute elder advised. His wisdom is still relevant today.
Be alone.

We all get lonely and spiritual loneliness can be painful. When prayer and meditation are no longer consoling, it can be particularly dark. It may sound crazy but scheduling time to be alone with our pain in order to listen to it can help. The desert fathers bathed themselves in deep silence. In it, they found their true identities totally centered in their spirituality. One of them captured the essence of his journey this way. “If a man does not say in his heart, in the world there is only myself and God, then he will not gain peace.” Sometimes our pain comes from expecting others to give us purpose. We lose our true selves along the way. Learning how to be alone allows us to get back in touch with what’s happening inside. This is critical for finding God in new ways.  

Though making a change has its place, there is much to be said for standing still and waiting. We live in a revolving-door world but we don’t have to get caught in the momentum. In fact, waiting can be very beneficial. Through it we develop patience, perseverance, and even contentment. One of the most famous sayings of the Desert Father’s is, “Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” A cell is where you go to spend time in prayer and meditation. Go there regularly despite your mood and trust God to do the work. Let go of expectations. Practice acceptance of yourself and your circumstances. Wait there and see what happens.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Meditation Excercise

Having trouble meditating on Scripture, or medittion in general? Well, Duh! Anything that is good for us is usually not easy, but can be be learned (and enjoyed) through Practice. Check out Meditation Is A Practice by Heath Davis Havlick at the Uncovery Discovery Blog:
My husband recently asked me to write something for him because, as he put it, “I’m not good at that.” The response that flew out of my mouth surprised me: “You don’t get better at it by not doing it!”
This is what I call a “divine duh” moment. It’s a thing that you may not have articulated, but when you hear it, you instantly know it’s true. So true, in fact, that it seems on the surface to be a “No duh!” statement – except that its implications are too profound to dismiss it as a truism.
As soon as the words came out, I thought of meditation (or, for our purposes, also called Centering Prayer). That’s because I know it’s a common complaint that people have regarding meditation: they just don’t feel like they’re any good at it. And because I was thinking of one particular friend who dislikes the practice because it feels like failure to her; it’s hard to measure progress, so it just feels like a waste of valuable time.
However, that’s just the personality talking. Did Yo-Yo Ma set his cello aspirations aside after hitting a few bad notes? Did Simone Biles give up gymnastics after her first few falls from a balance beam? Did Tiger Woods hang up his clubs after a few weeks of attempting the perfect swing?
No, or else we wouldn’t know their names. But this isn’t about fame; it’s about practice. These people really wanted something, and they were willing to be less than perfect to start. Or, in some cases, for a long time. They put in untold hours of practice.
The goal of meditation is not to be perfect at it. The goal is to create a quiet, still space that enables you to hear, feel, even see God. Sure, it’s frustrating to attempt this and get nothing but a head full of noise and distraction, particularly when your goal is deeper union with God. But that’s a worthy goal whose very attempt is success.
In other words, if you practice meditation and “fail” at it, you have succeeded. The attempt is success. Because stillness and quiet must be practiced; they are not natural behaviors for us. But they can be learned – not by avoiding them, but by practicing them.
So, the question to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to do something that I’m probably going to feel bad at in order to get better at it so that I can encounter God at a deeper level?” That’s a question only you can answer. I sure hope it’s “Yes.” God longs for you with a longing beyond words, and he is waiting in stillness for you.
Confused about how to start? Here’s what I do. I go to a place that’s quiet and has a door. I close that door and sit with a straight back. (This is so you can breathe easier.) I close my eyes and welcome the Holy Spirit. As thoughts come to me—and they will—I notice them and release them; I don’t start making the grocery list or rehearsing the conversation. Let those thoughts go and pay attention to the sound and feel of your breath. There’s nothing magical about breathing; it’s just that focusing on this helps you to stay focused on what’s happening right now rather than on grocery lists etc.
I also use an app from the Centering Prayer folks. It’s handy because you can set a timer—start with five minutes if you’re new to meditation—and you can choose from a wonderful array of chimes, from Gregorian chants to lutes to singing bowls! Anything to help this sometimes-hard practice, right? Do this every day. Yes, every day.
Please share your experiences, frustrations and breakthroughs regarding Centering Prayer. We all learn from each other.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Choosing Wilderness Time

Last Saturday I took several hours to go on a prayer walk. I know I need more of this. Here is an excerpt from Emile Griffen's guide to spiritual retreat: Wilderness Time. Linking The Indispensability Of Retreat To That Of Daily Rhythms Of Prayer via Renovare. Maybe you need this too!
Finding time for retreat is as difficult as finding time for prayer in an ordinary, overscheduled day. Whether the time be days or minutes, the issues are the same. Is retreat one of our priorities? Does God have a place in our scheme? How far we have allowed ourselves to slide! How distant we feel from the spirit of prayer! Possibly the barrier is not time at all. What we are up against is not really the pressure of events, not the many demands on our time, but a stubbornness within ourselves, a hard-heartedness that will not yield to transformation and change.
Setting aside a morning, a day, even a week or more for spiritual retreat is one of the most strengthening and reinforcing experiences of our lives. We need to yield. We have to bend. Once we embrace the spiritual disciplines, we are carried along, often, by a storm of grace. Giving way to the power of spiritual disciplines becomes a step toward freedom, a movement into the wide-open spaces of the sons and daughters of God.
Retreat—with all of its prayerful beginnings and renewals—can become a step into reality. On retreat we may discover our true identity not from any self-analysis but by God’s gift of enlightenment.
The spiritual disciplines are ways to truth, stepping stones from our furious activity into God’s calm and peace. When we have crossed over on the stepping stones, we escape into the life of grace. Then and there it is the Lord who teaches us. The power of God is leading us. Soon we hardly know where God leaves off and we begin.
How to Use Wilderness Time
[It’s right to raise and answer] practical questions, yet the aim is not practicality as such but rather personal transformation in Christ. Hope of such transformation moves us into a place apart, a time of prayerful separation from daily pressures and cares.
Transformation is God’s doing—not ours—yet it happens because we choose it, in this instance by going apart for reflection and prayer.
People sometimes suppose that a special reason is needed to justify making a retreat. We assume that a retreat needs to be made on a certain occasion. In fact, no more reason is needed than that your heart longs for greater closeness with God—because you are worn out by many annoyances and worries, and you are seeking the refreshment of God’s presence; because you need rest from the anxieties of ordinary living, even from the legitimate responsibilities imposed by family, work, and church; because you want to follow the example of Jesus in going apart to pray.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Psalm Immersion

Time for a good Psalm soak!  Reasons To Soak Yourself In The Psalms by Chris Bruno at TGC
Just before Thanksgiving in 2015, I was having lunch with a friend, and we were discussing how we teach our kids the gospel. He mentioned he was focusing on the Psalms since he realized the current generation of Christians might be the least “Psalms-literate” generation ever.

As I reflected later, his point hit home. For centuries faithful Israelites read, sung, and memorized the entire Psalter. Jesus likely knew all 150 Psalms by heart. For generations stretching back thousands of years, the Psalms have been the hymnbook of God’s people. Indeed, until recently, being part of the church for any length of time meant regular and systematic exposure to the Psalms.
So I decided to read through the Psalms once per month for a year. As I did, my eyes were opened to fresh depth and richness. Here are four reflections.
1. The Psalms are messianic.
From the blessed man who delights in God’s law (Ps. 1) to the Anointed One cast off and rejected (Ps. 89) now sitting at God’s right hand (Ps. 110), the Psalms tell the story of God’s people in the first person singular.
And this story finds its true meaning and ultimate fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. As we read the Psalms, Jesus’s sorrows, victories, and saving reign ring clear. If we are united to him, we share in all those experiences. The Psalms becomes our hymnbook and our prayers because they were first his hymnbook and his prayers.
2. The Psalms teach us God’s people have always suffered.
One of the central threads running through the Psalms is that Israel and her king must continue trusting their God in the face of suffering. Psalm 88 is the only one without a turn toward hope; it reminds us that some days will be bleak, and relief may not come quickly.
Psalm 2 teaches us that throughout history the earth’s kings will take their stand against the Lord and his anointed. He who sits in heaven laughs at everyone who opposes him, and his people will ultimately experience deliverance. This is why Jesus’s lament on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1), is an expression of hope that God has not hidden his face, but has heard his anointed’s cry and answered him (Ps. 22:24).
3. God’s promise of redemption is not far from the surface in the Psalms.
The Messiah suffered in hope because he knew his suffering was the way God would redeem his people from slavery to sin and death.
As you read through the Psalms you’ll see repeated pictures, symbols, and reminders of God’s salvation for his people and judgment on his enemies. For example, Psalm 78 tells the story of God’s unrelenting faithfulness to rescue the Israelites from Egypt and bring them into the land he promised. Although they continued to rebel, God chose David to shepherd his people—and through the greater David, the Lord would one day redeem them.
Again and again, the Psalms point Israel back to God’s mighty works in the exodus (Pss. 18:20; 80:8; 105:37; 136:11). And these reminders anticipate the second exodus, when God would deliver his people from slavery to sin and death through the death and resurrection of the Messiah.
4. The Psalms remind us of God’s sovereign glory and call us to praise him.
The Lord is the sovereign ruler over everything: “Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). Because of this, he is worthy of all praise and glory.

God will redeem his people through the Messiah, and this should drive us toward worship. I think this is why the Psalms close with a crescendo that is an increasingly loud call to praise (Pss. 146–50). We encounter an almost deafening cry to praise the Lord with trumpets, tambourines, dancing, shouting, and crashing cymbals. The book ends with the summons for everything that has breath to praise the Lord (Ps. 150:6). When we see God’s sovereign glory and salvation through the suffering of his Messiah, there is no other fitting response. 
Enrich Your Life
After spending a year getting to know the Psalms better, I couldn’t agree more with N. T. Wright’s conclusion that, while we should compose new hymns and songs, “to neglect the church’s original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy.”
If you don’t know the Psalter well, try spending a month or two or 12 in the Psalms. To read the Psalms in a month you’ll need to read about five per day. Most are pretty short, which should leave time for prayer, reflection, and reading elsewhere in the Scriptures.
Even on the day you read the 176 verses of Psalm 119, it won’t kill you.
Let’s join with God’s people through the millennia and again learn to sing the songs of the Messiah.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Over 40, Under 40

I've found it a good policy to listen when Ed Stetzer speaks. Check out Ed's Does It Really Matter: How Generational Dynamics Impact Our Evangelism
How should generational dynamics affect evangelistic methods? Or we could put it this way: “How is reaching people over the age of 40 different from reaching those under 40?”

This is a tricky issue. We must first recognize that the categories are nuanced. Generally, generations are divided up into many categories such as Builders, Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. But let’s simplify and just think about the dividing line being above 40 and below 40 years of age. Let me share three points that I believe are helpful.

First, we must understand the whole idea and evolution of tolerance in the American culture. Those over 40 are much more willing to say, “There’s only one way, and if you can convince me that there is that one way, then I might be persuadable.” These folks tend to view Christianity more favorably as a whole as well, creating a bit more openness than those who are below 40.

When you dip below 40, there is a perception that not only is there not one way, but to think there is one way is intolerant and unhelpful. This posture is expressed in a number of ways. In particular, this is where a movement toward pluralism and universalism is rooted.

Those over the age of 40 tend to ask themselves, “Is it right?” while those who fall below that line lean toward the question, “Is it fair?” Fairness has been bent to mean that everyone’s way and truth is valid. Therefore, the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive.

Second, there is a distinct difference in how the two groups prefer to be engaged. Reaching folks over 40 is perhaps more effective in a large group setting with a high level of anonymity. This includes things like evangelistic meetings or crusades. Some of you remember evangelistic campaigns. People came to large-group meetings and revivals. These sorts of activities, however, have declined overwhelmingly.

This sort of ‘attractional’ outreach has morphed over time and has turned into what we generally refer to as the ‘seeker movement.’ If you are a Baby Boomer, you were not necessarily invited to a stadium, but you may have been invited to a church with contemporary music, approachable teaching, and a relaxed atmosphere.

But for those under 40, the attractional approach is much less appealing. Instead, these folks prefer relationship. An attractional-type event may play a role in their lives, but it is preceded by a conversation, a connection with a person. We may sum this distinction up as attractional versus incarnational.

Third, the generation before (those over 40) enjoyed a home field advantage. The culture in which they were reared assumed the basic tenets of Christianity. For them, Christianity is real, God is real, and people just need to get right with God.

This is in contrast to those under the age of 40, who are characterized more by a spiritual uncertainty. The milieu in which they have come of age in the United States is more complex, more nuanced. They ask questions like “Who is God?” and “Who is Jesus?”

Those under 40 are actually further away from the gospel than those over 40 because of the vastly different contexts in which they have lived. James Engel devised a scale to help us determine where a person is in relation to making an informed decision about the claims of Christianity. Due to the differing contexts, people in the United States over 40 years of age are generally closer to believing the gospel than those under the age of 40.

That said, when we look at how we are actually doing in sharing the gospel with those under 40, I think it is helpful to look at those in that age demographic who already claim to be born again Christians—How are under 40s doing in sharing their faith? The Barna Group released some research at the end of 2013 on the state of evangelism among born again evangelicals that may be helpful as we consider this issue on a broad scale:

As their report indicated, Millennials are sharing their faith more than any other group:

In fact, in answer to the question of evangelism on the rise or in decline, Millennials are a rare case indeed. While the evangelistic practices of all other generations have either declined or remained static in the past few years, Millennials are the only generation among whom evangelism is significantly on the rise. Their faith-sharing practices have escalated from 56% in 2010 to 65% in 2013.

Not only that, but born again Millennials share their faith more than any other generation today. Nearly two-thirds (65%) have presented the Gospel to another within the past year, in contrast to the national average of about half (52%) of born again Christians.

This is encouraging news indeed, and something that can help form our thoughts, strategies, and methods for reaching those under 40 and over 40 as we look to integrate the passion of under 40s into our plans.

The three factors I mention in this article aren’t the only factors, but they are major. Because of these factors, and others, it’s vital to adjust our approaches and methodologies that are tailored to whatever group it is that you are targeting. Be careful not to dismiss a strategy altogether just because it doesn’t produce fruit with one age demographic. Likewise, be careful not to assume that works with one group is a slam dunk for others.
  This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2016 issue of Outreach Magazine.