Saturday, November 28, 2009

Five Reasons I Love Christmas

5 Cranberry Splash Sierra Mist

4 Starbucks Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha

3 The Muppet Christmas Carol

2 Captain Crunch Christmas Crunch

1 Uncle Andy's Holiday Bacon Cheese

Friday, November 27, 2009

Overdosing on the Temporary Benefits of the Gospel

This week, Kevin DeYoung blogged about the "New Gospel." This new gospel is really a false gospel, an attempt to soften the message of Jesus. It has appeal because it takes away the offensiveness of the gospel and is likable for non-believers.

There are delicate tensions in the Christian life. Go to one extreme (or the other) and you've got problems (sometimes, big ones). There is a tension between being sons of God and slaves of God. There is a tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. There is a tension between Jesus being fully God and fully Man.

There is also a tension between being in the world (evangelize the lost, not living in a remote monastery, etc) while not being like the world (not living like the Christ-less culture around us).

This balance can be difficult and we can fall on either side. On the one hand, it is wrong to withdraw from culture, never share your faith, or even look at an unbeliever in the name of "holiness." On the other hand, it is wrong to be so liked by the world, to be just like the world in everything you do, and so relevant to the world in the name of "evangelism."

How can this wrongly play out in my life? In an effort to be solidly committed to the Gospel and reach out to the culture around me, I can too often focus on the temporary/earthly benefits of the gospel to such an extent that the real benefits of the Gospel are minimized.

What do I mean? Sometimes I (wrongly) think of Jesus as a Fix-It Superhero--in my life to fix all my little, shallow, temporary problems. Rather than being the Lord of eternity who must be worshipped and obeyed, I can view Him as a friendly older mentor who can help me with my present existence. Rather than being consumed with eternal issues (heaven, hell, storing up treasures, setting mind on things above, etc) I can be consumed with how Jesus will help me feel better now.

What is so wrong with this kind of thinking?

1 Worldliness--It may not be obvious initially, but as I begin to think about Jesus less and less as Lord and more and more like a friend, my fear of God diminishes and my flesh thrives. If Jesus is God, who calls us to live distinctly from the world--that's a real mandate from GOD. But, if Jesus is more like a friend with good advice--that's something I can more or less blow off depending on how I feel.

2. Eternity is Real--This life is a prelude for the next. This life isn't all there is. When I think about Jesus as my fix-it Man, guess will dominate my thoughts/worries/cares? Present, immediate, temporary issues. Like: romance, dating, love, sex, marriage, parenting, divorce, remarriage, finances, diet, physical beauty, health, emotional health, self-development, self-esteem, success, failure, burnout, leadership, friendship, conflict-resolution, etc. Now, these are all good things, important things even. But what don't you find in the list? Discipleship, obedience, love, faith, hope, zeal to rescue the lost, holiness. Too often I would rather have my discomforts in this life fixed, rather than discipline myself so as to not be disqualified.

Yes, only through Jesus can I find true joy, peace, and rest in this life. But, He hasn't called me to experience heaven while I'm on earth. I'm here to suffer and, when I die, experience glory. My relationships in this life are going to be painful and hard, as I struggle for holiness. But the Gospel doesn't say that my 80 (or 50 or 25 or 105) years on this life will be awesome. The gospel does promise that eternity will be amazing.

So, here's to...
-ignoring therapeutic suggestions for a better life now, but for hearing an authoritative Word from God
- not being so concerned with friendships, self-help, and happiness, but evangelism, discipleship, and holiness
- the temporariness of our sufferings and pain and to the everlasting-ness of glory in heaven

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Christmas Mix '09

I have some standards. Standards (or boundaries) are set up beforehand, before an event/issue/area, to protect one's self (and sometimes others) from making foolish choices in the heat of the moment. God has given us emotions and these emotions, when guided by God's Word, are fantastic. When operating under the control of the flesh, they can deceive and mislead us.

With that in mind, I have standards about Christmas music. The standard is to not play Christmas music unless one of the following two conditions is met: 1) it is after Thanksgiving Day or 2) snow has fallen.

Last night, snow fell in Racine, Wisconsin. I was prepared for this. I was excited about this. Without the aforementioned standards, my emotions would have caved in. I did not cave in. It was worth the wait.

Despite this strict standard, my taste in music is horrible. I can fairly easily like a song. Maybe it was in a movie, maybe a roommate played it enough that I liked it, maybe it is so over-the-top sappy that I like. With this in mind, I thought I would post 10 of my favorite Christmas songs. I tried to avoid "classic" songs or songs that get overplayed. Embarrassing? Yes. Helpful? No. Funny? Maybe.

Quick Serious Note: If I could recommend an album, it would be Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Becoming Man. Made by Sovereign Grace, Christ-centered, with 'the Reason for the season' in mind. Most of the songs below have lyrics that are shallow, weak, and/or misplaced.

Anyways, ten of my favorite Christmas-only songs:

10 This Baby (Steven Curtis Chapman)
Reason: Because many people whom I love sang this song last year at Christmas time.

9 Better Days (Goo Goo Dolls)
Reason: My roommate in college played it. It makes me think (though this wasn't the original intent) of the better days we have to look forward to in eternity.

8 Little Drummer Boy (Audio Adrenaline)
Reason: Kinda-cool rock revision of the classic song.

7 Sleigh Ride (Jump5)
Reason: Pop music at its finest.

6 Christmas Time is Here (Sixpence None the Richer)
Reason: Soft, slow, relaxing.

5 Carol of the Bells (Straight No Chaser)
Reason: A cappella group. Cool song.

4 Where Are You Christmas (Faith Hill)
Reason: Its from the Grinch movie.

3 I Hate Christmas Parties (Relient K)
Reason: Roommate played it and it quickly became a favorite.

2 Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home (Death Cab)
Reason: Its really catchy and when a friend was playing it, it stuck.

1 My Only Wish (Britney Spears)
Reason: Quite possibly the single worst Christmas song of all-time. It is terrible. Terrible words, terrible tune, terrible everything. And, because of this, its a holiday classic.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

H2: You Would Not Believe It

What can we do when in despair? When situations seem too much to handle, when life seems too hard, when problems seem like they are only going to get worse, when people hurt us, offend us, and don't treat us like they should, what can we do?

These were Habakkuk's very complaints in Habakkuk 1. He looked at the nation of Judah and saw that sin was everywhere, that no one cared about God, and (it appeared to Habakkuk) that God didn't care. Habakkuk's prayers weren't answered, his advice wasn't taken, and he was ready to despair. But God came to Habakkuk with a message:

I am working even when you don't see it

God is working, even when we don't see Him working. He is working in ways we may not expect. He is working on a timetable that isn't always ours. God is working even when we don't see it.

I understand this on a human level. For instance, I am confident when I leave the house and hit "start" on the dishwasher that, when I come home, the dishes will be clean. The dishwasher works even when I don't see or hear it working.

I believe this about dishwashers, but why do I have such a tough time believing this about God?

One big part of the problem is that I live off of my emotions. What I feel is what I believe. I act out on my feelings. When situations or people cause me to despair, I can tend to live in my feelings instead of on the truth.

Example: Let's say I pray for an unsaved friend every day for a month. Let's say, then, that at the end of the month, he remains unsaved. My emotions begin to work--sadness, anxiety, maybe even despair. My emotions weigh down on me, telling me that it is hopeless and that it isn't worth it to pray anymore.

Rather than listening to my emotions, I need to read and believe the truth of God's Word. I need to believe that God is sovereign and in control. I need to believe that God wants us to pray--and pray faithfully and consistently. I need to believe that God loves me and is working out all things for His glory.

Habakkuk is at this point. He is ready to give in. He is ready to stop believing God and is ready to let his emotions call the shots. What does God tell him?

"Look at the nations and watch--and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." (Habakkuk 1:5)

Habakkuk is going to be utterly amazed by what God is going to do. So much so, that he wouldn't even be able to believe it.

God often uses times of hardship and despair to break us. That doesn't come off sounding very loving, but in fact, the reverse is true. It is very loving. As He breaks us, He causes us to become more dependent on Him. We recognize our need of Him.

Three reasons to be still and draw near to God (and not live by emotions) in times of despair:

1. Transformation--God will make you look more like Jesus through the time of despair. He will teach you new things about Himself. He will convict you of sin that allows your worship of Him to be deeper and purer. He will give you a new capacity for love, peace, and joy.

2. Intimacy--Isn't it times like this that draw us closer to God? Unfortunately, I have not gone to God in every trial in my life. Too often, I've just wallowed in my emotions. But when I do wait on the Lord and draw near to Him, there are unparalleled times of growth. He breaks you and makes you realize how much you need Him. How much you need Him for victory over sin, for faith, for hope, for deliverance, for life.

3. Testimony--When God lifts you out of the despair, whether the way you thought He would or not, you will have testimony/ministry to share with others of what God has done for you. You will be able to proclaim His glory.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

H1: In the Pit of Despair

I hope that life is hard for you. It should be. Life on earth, on this cursed earth, is hard. I don't wish ill on you, but I do hope you realize that there is more than the 80 or so years (or less) that God gives us on this planet.

Despair can be my response to a situation that is perceived as hopeless. Maybe its a relationship. Maybe its a life path. Maybe its a trial. Maybe its a personal struggle.

Here are four ways that life can be hard and that we can despair:

1. Your Prayers Go Unanswered--God can respond to prayer four different ways. He can say "yes" or "no" or "wait" or He can ignore you (Psalm 66:18). I understand God will most often say "no" to my requests for: a new Mercedes, my golf slice to be corrected, or a Chipotle restaurant to be built in my kitchen. I understand this. God is not a genie.

But there are times when I feel I have a very valid request. A very good request. A very godly request, even. It is in these times that I expect God's answer to be "yes." When God answers with a "no" or a "wait" this can cause me to despair.

When I want to see someone's heart changed and God doesn't change them, I can despair. When I ask for justice to be served and its not, I can despair. When I request a trial in my life to end and it doesn't, I can despair.

2. Your Counsel is Untaken--This goes hand-in-hand with the first one. I like to counsel God (Isaiah 40:13-14). I think I have some pretty good ideas on how things should be run. I explain to God how things can be solved and how He can fix the problems that I am in. When He does not take my advice, I can despair.

3. Sin Goes Unchecked--When I look around and see evil flourishing and I see wickedness running rampant, I can despair. To see evil in the world and to see evil happen to me and to others around me, I can wonder what God is doing. Strife and contention in personal relationships seems to be endless. Sin, it appears, has no limits.

4. When God Seems Uncaring--Sometimes, it seems like God doesn't care. It seems like God is paralyzed to stop the evil, to change the hearts, to bring people back/near to Himself. How could God let sin go seemingly unchecked? When I don't see God doing anything, I can despair.

What can I do when I face such despair?

The answer tomorrow. For a preview, check out Habakkuk 1:1-4 (where these four areas of despair come from) and check out the rest of the book for the answer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Youth Leader: Luann

Name: Luann Purdy

Nickname: Epaphroditus (see Philippians 2.25-30 for why)

Years in RBC Youth Ministry: 1 year

Gifts: Baking, serving, cooking, leading choir, grilling, discipling, and she's good at making food

Evidences of Grace: It was harder for me to come up with cooking synonyms than with evidences of grace in Luann.

She serves and serves and serves. When Jesus talks about what discipleship is all about, He talks about denying yourself. He talks about not coming to be served, but to serve. He talks about following His example and counting others as more significant than yourself (see Phil. 2 again). These are things Luann knows, because she regularly puts these truths into practice.

When you see Luann at church (or maybe you don't see her, because while you are filling up your coffee and talking to your friends, she is serving), you see that she is denying herself and serving Jesus. You do not see her expecting to be served, waiting to be served, merely talking about serving, whining about other people who are not serving--no, you see her actually serving. You see her esteeming others as better than herself.

(Don't ask the question.)

(Seriously, don't ask the question.)

(You still want to ask the question?)

(Fine, but you were warned...)

How does Luann serve?

(cue: the floodgates)

Serving week in and week out in the youth ministry, caring for girls, loving girls, talking to girls about how their week was, encouraging them with the love of Jesus. Being a caring wife to one and a caring mom to four (actually, like a dozen, because there are always a lot of random kids at their house). Leading and ministering to the kids in Vertical Devotion. Making meals for families in the church. Caring for other couples in their small group. Thoughtfully putting together meals suggestions and buying groceries for youth leaders whose blood pressure runs high. Giving up nights and weekends to rest (which she's earned) to spend time building relationships and building up the body of Jesus. A dozen other ways which I don't know about because Luann is humble and doesn't brag.

In Luann, God's grace shines through in her humility and service to her Lord.

Book Log: October 2009

I did not finish a non-school book all month. How sad. Here's what I did finish last month:

1. Mark Dever and Paul Alexander. The Deliberate Church. 221 pages. Crossway Press. The only redeeming book of the bunch. Basically a how-to book on how to build your church on the Gospel. There were a lot of good chapters in here that flush out the premise of how the Gospel impacts: selecting elders, church discipline, organizing the worship service, and introducing new members. A really good read.

2. B. J. Worth. Worth's Income Tax Guide for Ministers. 136 pages. Evangel Press. Perhaps the single most boring book I have ever read. Really. 136 pages felt like 3,000 pages. Page after page of over-my-head, difficult to understand, tedious tax laws. But, it is a necessary book. Like if you don't-want-to-go-to-jail-for-tax-violations necessary.

3. Philip Jenkins. Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way. 272 pages. Oxford Press. Not written by an evangelical (I think he's Anglican), but he defends why the four gospels in the New Testament (for those who also aren't evangelical, that's Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are the only gospels that should be in the Bible. There are all kinds of goofy "books," (read: edited books written by heretics several hundred years after the actual disciples recorded the actual gospel in the actual books we have in our actual Bible) that liberal (read: non-Christian) scholars (read: people smarter than me who will do whatever it takes to convince people Jesus is not God) think should be in the Bible. Jenkins handily disproves these scholarly theories.

4. Marvin Meyer. The Gospel of St. Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus. 144 pages. Harper Press. You've probably heard of it. Its a book written well after all the disciples (and their kids) were dead. And its heresy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Top Ten: Lame Quiet Times

Everybody is looking for ways to have lamer quiet times. That's a given. The problem is some people keep slipping into habits of: extended prayer times, changed lives, and (worst of all) communion with God. What can we do to prevent to this? Well, I am hopeful this post can help. So, here's ten ways to have ineffective and unproductive quiet times:

1. Skip It. This is the best and easiest way to keep from actually meeting with God. I mean, let's be honest, you're busy! I get sick of these Christians running around acting like I need to do one EVERY DAY! Between hitting the snooze button seven times, three solid hours of TV/Facebook/Gaming/Movies, and having fun with friends, there's not a whole lot of time for God.

2. Hate It. If you (for whatever reason) can't do #1, the rest of this list should help. First off, start by dreading/hating/whining about having to do one (even if its just in your own mind). I recommend making it feel like a burden around your neck. If you can get your emotions to this point, even if you accidentally have a quiet time, it will be worthless. You can even get to the point where you would rather: clean your room, do homework, spend time with your family, read the Pennysaver, climb a fence with barbed wire, or count your arm hair rather then spend time with God.

3. Don't Pray. Make sure you don't kick off your quiet time with prayer. This is a no-no. Prayer slows you down and makes you think you actually need God. Prayer may lead you to think that you need forgiveness, that you need grace, that you need His help, that you need faith, that you need deliverance, that you need patience, in short, that you need Him. Now, the problem with this line of thinking is that it may make you realize you need God and thus pray more. So nip this area of spiritual growth in the bud.

4. Rush Through It. If you've got to do one, keep it short. Your time is precious and you don't want to waste it on eternal thoughts--you've got a mist-like life to live! The briefer your time with God is, the less chance you have to be a deep Christian. Your mind can tend to wander towards eternal things, towards the gospel, and towards Jesus if you stay in the quiet time too long. Some suggested passages for a quick quiet time: John 11:35 and Job 3:2.

5. Don't Actually Commune With God. You want to treat your quiet time like an assignment from school. You want to get the checklist mentality going. One good method of applying this is to never confess sin. Hold on to your sin! Here's why: you start confessing sin, you realize that you are incomplete, falling short of God's glory, and totally depraved. Then, God's Word naturally points to the remedy: Jesus. When you look at Jesus, you'll see complete forgiveness, atonement, fellowship with God, and righteousness. Your affections may be stirred to love God, to praise Him, and to obey Him. Don't let this happen, remember you want lame quiet times!

6. No Meditation/Reflection. The Bible repeatedly commands us to meditate on God's Word. God wants people to not just read His Word, but to think about it, to consider how it applies to our lives, to consider how great God is, to be captivated with Jesus' love, and to mull it over in our minds all day. So, if we avoid reflection, we can trick ourselves into believing that God's Word is old, outdated, and isn't relevant for our lives.

7. Read Too Much. This can be taken the wrong way, but here's what I mean. Let's say you're in the habit of never spending time with God. All of a sudden--maybe after a stirring sermon or a convicting word from a friend--you want to start spending time with God. A good way to rid yourself of this attitude is to launch into an impossible reading plan. Commit to reading something like the Old Testament in one week. After you fall behind after one day, become easily discouraged and tell yourself you tried.

8. Avoid Christians Who Are "On-Fire". People like this can be annoying. They are always joyful, seeing victory over sin, encouraging others, and growing in the Lord. The worst part, they actually seem to enjoy spending time with God. A lot of time it spills over into wanting to see others share the joy that they have. They want others to have this joy of the Lord. They want to see others cast off sinful habits, grow in God's grace, and cherish Jesus. This leads them to ask penetrating spiritual questions like: Do you spend time with God? and How can I help you more closely walk with God? The sad thing is that they really love you--they really do care about you--and you don't want to break their hearts by telling them you are spiritually lame, so just avoid these kind of people. Warning: Avoid RBC Youth leaders, they are the worst!

9. Compartmentalize It. What do you do, you ask, if you make it all the way through a quiet time? The answer: don't let it spill over into your "real" life. Leave it in that 10 minute (or less) block. Just being a hearer of God's Word keeps you lame, its the doing of it that's important (don't bother looking up James 1.22). Try as hard as you can not to put anything you read into practice. Don't talk about it. Act like you never did a quiet time in the first place.

10. Don't Repeat It. It can be dangerous to get into an actual habit of quiet times. Spiritual growth, affection for Jesus, and real transformation are not far behind. It is probably better to use the time you could use for quiet times and fill it with excuse making. Come up with good ones like: it doesn't make any difference; it's lame; i don't have time; I did a quiet time yesterday, that's probably good enough; I went to church on Sunday, what more do I need?; and my favorite, I don't know what to read (of course we know full well what to read, we are just being lame!)

Anyways, I hope this helps you to become ineffective and lame spiritually. You keep up this lifestyle for an extended period of time and you can even convince yourself that you're a Christian. Sure, those on-fire Christians may call you out--because, if you really were a Christian, everyone would see the fruit from your life--but hey, they just love you with the love Jesus has filled them with. Have fun wasting your life!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Top Ten: Project Serve, Fall 2009

10. Michelle and Shag--Michelle thought she spotted our host-leader, Bruce, through the trees. Turned out it was just a red stick.

9. The Students Impressed Me, Part 1: Hard Work--The students worked hard. We started off with little sleep going into Saturday and the students worked from 6:30am until 9:30pm. I didn't hear them complain, grumble, or whine. They didn't try to avoid work, skip out on work, or cut corners. They served in humility, unity, and holiness. I was impressed.

8. Don Francisco--Turns out 70s ballad singer Don Francisco has a bit of a cult following in our youth group. Most of the students already had all of his CDs, but they continued to marvel at his musical talent.

7. Bear Accident--I'm not sure exactly what he was looking for, but a wild bear climbed into our church van, shattering the back window. Luckily, no one was hurt.

6. Getting Reprimanded--So, we made our dinner stop as the second quarter of the Packers-Vikings game was going on. Naturally, I wanted to go inside McDonalds and watch the game. I went up to the TV in the restaurant and began to try to change the channel. As I was doing this, I got yelled at by a young worker, who told me not to "mess" with the TV. I told him that I was simply trying to change the channel. His reply? "Like I said, don't mess with the TV." (I didn't think pressing the "channel" button on the TV was equivalent to "messing" with the TV. I do have a TV at home I know how to use quite well. I thought this experience would qualify me to change the channel. Apparently, no exceptions could be made.)

5. Eating Lobster--TK, Sam, and I each took down several pounds of meat during dinner on Saturday night, including some really good lobster. That was one of the best meals I've had in a while and it tasted really good after working all day.

4. The Students Impressed Me, Part 2: Speed Fellowship--It is such a joy to talk with these students and hear what God is doing in their lives. They are sensitive to sin, desirous to grow, and eager to learn. They encourage me, big time.

3. Wood Splitting--I learned some things: what a wood splitter is, how hydraulics work, Sam can take out wood with an axe, and people don't like big logs being dropped on their feet...

2. The Students Impressed Me, Part 3: Shooting Shotguns--50 shots. 10 people. 2 had never shot before. Everyone hit a clay pigeon. Wow.

1. The Students Impressed Me, Part 4: Studying Habakkuk. I praise God for His Holy Spirit, who causes spiritual growth to happen in my heart and the students' hearts. They spent time in God's Word, they worked on memorizing verses from the book, they applied God's Word to their lives, and meditated on its implications for them. Very impressive.