Visions from the Vincents

October 20, 2008

Spreading the Wealth Around?

Joe the Plumber recently escalated to the forefront of the political scene as the result of a simple question addressed to Democratic Presidential Candidate, Barak Obama, which resulted in a response that “spreading the wealth around” is good.  Well, I haven’t posted a political blog yet, and do not intend to do so here.  Rather than endorsing any particular candidate, I simply want to entertain why this idea of “spreading the wealth around” actually connects to a grander ideology that opposes the basic tenets of Christianity.

What is Socialism?

You really can’t talk about Socialism without a few quick thoughts from history, in particular, Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels critical work, The Communist Manifesto (CM).  The worldview ascribed to by these authors demonstrates a certain genius that unfortunately, at the end of the day, conveys a shallow understanding of humanity and a complete absence of a view of God. CM seeks to bring peace.  In this work, they claim that the main cause of unrest in a given society centers on class warfare.  In particular, CM claims that the rich (Bourgeois) and the poor (Proletarians) are constantly at war with one another.  So, how can peace and freedom be achieved?  Ultimately, the disintegration of private property.  Socialism is the temporary mechanism suggested to bring about the transition from capitalism to communism.  A great way to describe it is “spreading the wealth around.”

How is this worldview genius?

This is really ingenious in the sense that much of the expectations set forth in CM can be seen today in the United States as well as other countries.  In some senses, CM is almost prophetic.  Class warfare is a real and present danger.

How this worldview is shallow?

Genius and shallow seem to contradict one another.  Can the two coexist simultaneously?  I would argue yes.  This worldview seems and feels right in many ways.  But, if we look at the way that this worldview plays out it fails the test of experience and doctrine.  Notice, that this philosophical system has never played out well.  Have we forgotten the history of China, Russia, or Germany?  This philosophical system has never served to help the lives of people, nor has it served to encourage the free exchange of religious ideas.  Not only does it fail the test of experience, it fails the test of doctrine.  All of us watch with glee as Robin Hood robs from the rich and gives to the poor.  The rich are characterized as evil and the poor as virtuous.  So, of course, we like to see good conquer evil.  This picture has an anthropology that perhaps improves on CM, but it still doesn’t tender an accurate portrayal of humanity.

A Huge Assumption

Notice the huge assumption of CM: if you give everyone the same stuff, nobody will be unhappy.  In other words, Utopia is expensive but possible if you just take from the rich and give to the poor.  Again, the Utopian experiment has been attempted and failed.  Why?  Our problems run much deeper than the toys and gadgets and property that surround us.  Here is a quick public service announcement for you: greed isn’t the only thing in us that isn’t virtuous.  Giving everyone the same paycheck doesn’t end lust, greed, pride, or racism.  In fact, socialism can encourage greed and other sins, which again, just look to history to find the great tragedies associated with this worldview.

Bigger issues at play

Christians know that the problems that we face run much deeper than what is “out there.”  A basic doctine of humanity states that man is born into sin–all of us.  Humans have deep-rooted sin issues that need to be addressed.  Socialism assumes the basic goodness of man claiming that the real problem is that the rich take advantage of the poor.  In reality, we need to ask ourselves, “Why do the rich take advantage of the poor, and why do the poor seek to take advantage of the rich?”  Furthermore, will the fracturing of class warfare not only give way to further types of warfare?  In truth, the real issue that we have is “warfare” in general.  We are a people that waged war against God by sinning against him, and we war with one another.

Conclusion

What we really need isn’t “spreading the wealth around” we need an identity change.  We need to make Jesus our King, repent of our sins, and believe in him for salvation.  The best way to redeem culture is to evangelize it.  Redeeming culture happens when culture is redeemed!  So, who are you voting for?  Worldviews matter, and we need to consider the relationships that differing philosophies have to one another.  It might just be that something that sounds good is actually not!

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October 1, 2008

Evangelism Mythbuster #6

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joshua @ 1:24 am

What if I don't get a lot of these filled out?

6. Evangelism without a decision is a failure. Decisions are not the ultimate goal of evangelism.

Some get a lot of decisions

If you remember the intro, evangelism literally means to “proclaim the good news.”  I have already made it clear that making disciples is the goal of evangelism not decisions.  Many still monitor successful evangelism by decisions, but is this biblical.  One question we must ask ourselves is what does Paul mean that some have the gift of evangelism in Eph 4:11.  Is that to say that they are more effective?  Is there some tangible, measurable means by which it is made evident that a certain person has this particular gift?  I would say so.  Philip, a deacon, is also referred to as “the evangelist” (Acts 21:8).  This title is probably in reference to at least what we see of him in Acts 8:5, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.”  And despite the efforts of Simon the magician the results were obvious in 8:12, “but when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”  So, Philip was an effective evangelist with results (admittedly in a special time in redemptive history).  We have seen many throughout history who seem to be particularly gifted in evangelism: George Whitfield, Billy Graham, etc.

The result of effective evangelists

In fact, they receive such a response that it makes others feel taunted by the success of others.  So much so, that they are immobilized with a fear that they are not getting decisions.  I believe many quit as a result of poor returns on their evangelistic investments.  The costly activity of proclaiming the gospel is intimidating enough for many without the doubts that loom large in the wake of yet another perceived failed evangelistic effort.  But, is the perception of a failed evangelistic effort necessarily perceivable to the naked eye.  Or, what if the great value of God is that his people rejoice in his mighty deeds which happens to be the same vehicle God uses to create his people it is the Word that displays life and gives life.

The proclamation of the good news doesn’t just create life, it displays it.

Peter couldn’t be more clear.  In 1 Pet 2:9, he says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  His mixed audience of believers hear that they, though including both Jews and Gentiles, have become the new people of God absorbing Old Testament identities only ascribed to Jews like “priesthood” and “holy.”  God made us his people “that you my proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” So, it is the proclamation itself we are told is our calling, and God uses that to expand the boundaries of his kingdom.  Our God is a speaking God from the beginning of Scripture to the end.  Through speech he reveals himself and the true nature of reality.  Just as he spoke the first creation into being, he is speaking a new creation into being.  The amazing thing that happens in the New Testament is that he knits his people so tightly to himself that he actually uses them to speak the Word that usher in the second creation.  That Word is Christ.

When Christ stands up!

But, if the borders aren’t expanded, it doesn’t mean that evangelism has failed.  The proclamation itself is our calling.  In Acts 7, Stephen proclaims a majestic and full account of the gospel, and is stoned to death.  Does this mean that Stephen failed?  By no means!  Notice that 2,000 years later I am still talking about the majesty of this evangelistic effort that tendered no immediate response, except what we find in Acts 8:1-4.  The Christians running for their lives eagerly proclaimed that same gospel that endangered their lives and led to the death of Stephen.  Some may say that he didn’t get a lot of decisions that day, so, he failed.  But, that is not how Christ viewed it.  This is one of the only, if not the only, example of Christ standing in honor of some one in all of Scripture.  We may think that that evangelistic attempt ended in the worst possible way.  God’s perspective differs from man’s.  God’s perspective is the one that matters.  Some of us may have many experiences that feel like failure, when in actuality, they bring great honor to Christ even if we don’t have the decisions of a Billy Graham or  George Whitfield.

September 29, 2008

Evangelism Mythbuster #5

Filed under: baptism,Evangelism — Joshua @ 5:22 pm
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5. The goal of Evangelism is a decision. The bible clearly communicates that the  goal of evangelism is discipleship.

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:18-20 is commonly referred to as the Great Commission (too often it is also the great omission of the church!).  There it says,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This verse can be used for missions,–taking the gospel across geographic, cultural, or linguistic boundaries– or evangelism–to proclaim the gospel to those with fewer boundaries (both are shortened definitions that should be expanded).  Jesus leaves his disciples in the book of Matthew with these final words, enlisting them to herald the Kingdom that Jesus ushered in with his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Many place the emphasis of this verse on baptizing, thinking it some great service to baptize a lot of people.  Don’t get me wrong, I am intentionally baptistic, because I believe in regenerate church membership and find conversion to be an amazing thing to, which baptism points.  I would never take anything away from the significance and meaning of this divine drama.  And of course, we must decide to follow Jesus.  But, what is more important than a decision, or a Baptism, or filling out a membership card, is that one is presently following Christ.  That is the mark and goal of an authentic decision.  Discipleship is the goal of the Great Commission.  This is evident clearly in the English and even more clearly in the Greek. The focus of evangelism rests in ongoing Christian vitality.  So, where their is no fruit, there probably is no root.  Instead, the plant is probably severed from life, life that is only found in real authentic faith in Christ.

Implications

Individually, this means that practically, our focus should be much more intense than looking for a decision.  When we evangelize we should be looking to the whole person.  We need to see in what ways we can develop long lasting relationships in which we can cultivate the seeds we plant.

As a church, it means that you should be building into your corporate lives a mechanism to invest in the lives of those P.W.E.s (post-water experiences).  You should make it clear to those you baptize the faithful church membership is a natural out working of true grace.  To love God is to love his people, and that it is in this atmosphere that Christians are discipled best.  Moreover, one-on-one disicpleship should be encouraged and provided for christians young and old (in his case, especially young).

Evangelism Mythbuster #4

Filed under: Evangelism — Joshua @ 2:13 am
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4. We don’t evangelize because we are fearful.  This is actually both true and untrue. If you are anything like me, you have felt that queasy feeling in the bottom of your stomach that rushes to your head when you want to tell someone of Christ.  We all have been scared of telling the truth about Christ.  I know there are a number of reason we can fear evangelism.  We can fear physical harm like the Christians in much of the New Testament faced.  We can fear being made fun of, or compromising an opportunity to rise up the latter in a job or social circle.  We can fear costing ourselves a relationship with a family member or a friend.  We can fear not knowing enough to talk to someone smarter than us who is a non-christian, or of messing it all up.  All of these are fears of telling the truth.

Where does this fear come from!

But, I think this fear usually finds it’s source in one of two places.

One is not understanding the grace and love of God. God loves for you to speak true words of him.  You don’t have to have deep debates over doctrine to be a faithful evangelist.  You need to know that man has sinned against his good God and that he needs to trust in Jesus Christ, who died for their sins to be saved.  Nor, do you have to have a perfect life.  Whitfield was a horrible example of a husband.  He neglected her to preach and teach.  But, God still used him.

A second reason is that we fear evangelism is that we don’t realize that we don’t evangelize to bring us favor with God.  We evangelize because we have received God’s favor in Christ Jesus. Consider the love a grandparent has for their grandchildren.   We have all seen the way they talk and act concerning their grandchildren.  Some can’t close their wallets because they have so many pictures of their grand kids.  And, they can’t have a conversation with somebody without talking about how advanced their grandchild is. Sometimes, the way that they talk to them when they are around them is kind of embarrassing, but they don’t care.  Why?  Because, they value that child so much.  They have no fear in expressing their affection for that child.  I know this is an imperfect analogy.  But, many of us need to become gripped afresh with the awe inspiring love of our Creator God for us as he displayed in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of a God-Man born as a baby in a stable.  We need to really meditate on the excellencies of the salvation that has been won for us.  Paul Little says that to evangelize effectively, we must first get our hearts happy before God.  Part of this includes, I think, realizing that Evangelism isn’t something we do as a job for God.  Instead, it is  something that comes out of our hearts being happy before him.

Conclusion

So, if you are fearful of evangelizing, it could be because your heart needs to be happy before God.  How can we do this?  Spend time in prayer.  Ask God to reveal to you why you have lost joy in him.  Ask him to show you if there is some sin that is inhibiting your happiness in God and keeping you from evangelism.  Meet together with other members of your church in small groups or one-on-one discipleship to hold you accountable and to help remind you of God’s calling on your life to tell the truth to others.  The main point is to be intentional about your relationship with Christ and others.

September 26, 2008

Evangelsim Mythbuster #3

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joshua @ 5:50 pm

3. Mowing someone’s yard isn’t evangelism. Evangelism is, without question (though some have and do question it), centered in proclaiming the “good news.” (Okay, so I know this picture may be somewhat offensive, and maybe trite, but it just seemed to fit).

Lifestyle Evangelism?

This statement might sound really funny to you.  Who would call mowing someone’s yard evangelism?  Some of you have probably heard this referred to as lifestyle evangelism.  Your lifestyle is crucial to affective evangelism.  Everyone’s life tells a story. As N.T. Wright has said, we are all in the process of writing our own narratives with the ink of our lives.   Our lifestyle matters.

Is that enough?

But, evangelism means “proclaiming the good news.”  So, we can do all of the good works we want too.  We can love people for decades and work really hard doing it, but never actually evangelize them.  Why?  Because we have never explained what the good news is and how that person must respond to it.

What is this “good news?”

The Old Testament is primarily about the fact that the first man sinned against God who is both good and just, and the rest of the Old Testament shows that every man after that sinned against God. As a result, God punishes the guilty, as any just judge would.  But he also shows mercy, to some in the OT.  He always promises his people salvation from sin and its consequences someday.  Can you imagine thousands of years of waiting for deliverance?  That is why the people of God rejoice that Jesus Christ was sent as our Savior.  He came to answer the countless prophecies pointing to one who would come and gather the people of God from amongst all nations.  He took that wrath and judgment that was rightly ours.  He was crucified on  a Roman cross, not for anything he had done, but for your sins and my sins.  In the ultimate act of power, God raised him from the dead and seated him on the throne of the Universe.  Anyone that makes him king in his or her life will be saved from facing an infinite God’s eternal wrath.  Friends this is the truth that we must tell.  This happened in history and this is the truth we all need to be talking about.  There is no more important truth in your life than what you do about this truth.  This gospel both converts and sanctifies.

What if someone doesn’t believe the gospel?

In Richard Dawkins new tome on atheism, he asks the provocative question, “what is so special about belief that it determines whether or not someone is ‘saved’ or not?”  If you are coming from a worldview developed by a 19th century scientist, and if you presuppose that all that exists is that which can be monitored in a test tube, then you will never get to the significance of things we all know exist but can’t account for, such as: beauty, love, thoughts, and belief.  But, if you are honest, you know there are all sorts of things we can’t test, but we do believe in.  God has spoken to us and given us a much clearer and coherent understanding of the universe than Darwin.  God says that we must believe in Christ and make him our king if we are going to be saved.  If you are a non-Christian, I hope I have been both gracious and clear in this explanation.  It doesn’t take an episode of Mythbusters to prove that you will die one day.  I want you to know that one day you will die, and you will be judged by God.  You will come before the judgment seat of Christ as it says in Phil 2:11 and elsewhere and you will have to give an account.  Are you ready for that?  Or have you already tested whether or not the soul of man continues after his body dies?

What does this means for Christians?

Christians, we have to know the good news ourselves.  We need to know content.  Yes we need to live lives that are reflective of the gospel, but if we don’t ever express the content of the message, we don’t offer the thing that brings life.  We have to speak of what Christ literally did for us on a real cross in history to fulfill the promises made by the God of Israel.

Is sharing my testimony evangelism?

So, sharing your testimony is good, but it is not evangelism.  It is one great bridge to evangelism, but if you don’t speak of the work of Jesus diing in history and on a Cross, and, if you don’t move towards the imperative to change their direction in life because Chrsit is now king, it is not the gospel or evangelism.

The family is often forgotten!

Sometimes lifestyle evangelism is the default in the family.    Make sure that you are living right before them.  But, also make sure that each day you tirelessly speak of what Christ has done in dying for your sins.  The gospel isn’t just that we are to be moral people, it is that Christ makes us innocent, he took our punishment, and we are called to follow his example with our lives.  So, when correcting or rebuking, make sure that you are doing so in light of the actual event and meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross.

September 25, 2008

Mythbuster #2

Filed under: Evangelism,Uncategorized — Joshua @ 1:22 am
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2. Not everyone is called to evangelize. Actually, all Christians are called to Evangelize.  Maybe you have been taught that your job is to invite people to church and the pastor’s job is to invite them to Christ.

What about verses about “evangelists?”

In places in the Bible, we find that some are particularly gifted or called in this area.  In Ephesians 4:11, we see that there is a special gift to the church of an evangelist.  And, in 2 Timothy 4:5, pastors are called to do the work of evangelists.  So, you may think that evangelism is something that only a select few do, and that because it is not your gift, you don’t bother with it.

Consider these verses

The Bible is clear that we are all to “proclaim the gospel.”  In fact, this is the reason that God has called you to himself.  Look at 1 Pet 2:9, “but you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Who is Peter speaking to here?  He is speaking to Christians undergoing persecution.  Notice he doesn’t say, “Some of you have been called to evangelize because you have that gift, or all those of you who have some kind of special Bible training proclaim the excellencies of him who called you.”  He says, we are all called to proclaim the excellencies of God in Christ.

Does evangelism have to take place from a pulpit?

This includes fisherman, teachers, accountants, homemakers, or any other category of person you can concieve of.  God calls all Christians to evangelism.  That proclamation isn’t necessarily from a pulpit either.  In fact, at the time this was written, I would venture to say that is virtually a gaurantee.   This proclamation happens as mothers raise their children, as a plant worker eats lunch with an unbelieving coworker, or as a Doctor offers consolation to someone suffering a terminal illness.

Isn’t this risky?

Are there risks in doing this?  Yes!  And, I don’t want to belittle the ever-growing risks of faithfull evangelism.  Risk itself is not a new developement in the lives of Christians though.  Remember Peter’s audience faced sporadic, but severe persecutions for proclaiming the faith.  All of the Disciples suffered immensly and most were martyred for the faith.  In Acts 4 we find a similar situation.  There, the dispersed Christians flee for their lives while proclaiming the gospel.  The point is that risky evangelism is the only true kind of evangelism.  That is one of the costs of true discipleship.  Another way of saying that is, Christians, this is what you were created and recreated to do.

September 24, 2008

Evangelism Mythbuster #1

Filed under: Evangelism — Joshua @ 1:08 am
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George Whitfield, the famous preacher of the First Great Awakening of the 1700s, is considered by most to be one of the greatest evangelists this world has ever known.  Why?  Probably the same reason this artist has him donning a halo.  Some estimated that Whitfield preached to 80,000 people at one time.  Ben Franklin, a contemporary of Whitfield, heard of Whitfield’s greatness with skepticism.  He was no Christian but wanted to see. He said, “It seemed as if the whole world were growing religious.  He estimated that Whitfield could preach to 30,000 people and have them hear his voice.  As far as I know, Franklin never trusted in Jesus for salvation, but he did become a friend of Whitfield of whom he said, “he is a good man and I love him.”  I don’t know about you, but it is encouraging for me to know that despite the sheer magnitude of Whitfield’s ministry, even he had those whom he did not see come to Christ.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not reveling in the fact that Franklin didn’t come to Christ (as far as I know).  The thought is actually terrifying!  I do feel that I can relate to the fact that even Whitfield had his disappointments that he had to lift up to God.

Defining our terms
What is evangelism though?   Historically, this hasn’t always been so clear, though we don’t have space here to pursue some of the past and present attempts to reinvent the term.  The word evangelism comes from the Greek word  gospel, or “good news.”  So, to evangelize is literally to “proclaim the gospel.”  It is not so hard to see that “good news” is central to being an Evangelist.  According to the Bible, the “good news” climaxes in Jesus Christ, who claimed in John 14:6 to be, “the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him.”  To be honest, I am no George Whitfield, and teaching on the topic of evangelism is intimidating, because I believe all of us feel that we fall short of being faithful in this area, including me.  It is for this reason that I think it is critical that we consider the question: Who is going to tell the truth (to follow Will Metzger’s helpful work)?

Myth Busters

I think that many of us are prevented from evangelism because of certain myths that we buy into concerning this God-given, glorious, attribute.  That’s right attribute!  I think that it is so natural to being a Christian that is actually a property of the new birth given to all true believers.  We reflect God’s image of speaking to his greatness.  I plan on following the method of a show Cari and I love to watch, myth-busters.  On this show, two scientists test commonly held myths to see if they are actually true.  For instance, they had an episode on sharks where they dealt with the myth of sharks seeking out human prey.  So, they took their friend Harry out into shark infested waters and dropped him in and started a timer to see if the sharks would eat him.  I am just kidding.  You’ll be happy to know that Sharks don’t hunt humans.  Sometimes they simply mistake humans for wounded animals.  I let you trust that one.  I want to topically apply some common beliefs I believe Satan uses to stifle Evangelism and bust them with what the Bible actually says concerning these myths. I believe that biblical evangelism begins with God and flows with joy out of the heart of Christians.  So, this will be the first myth of the series of evangelism myth busters.

1. Evangelism begins with us.  In reality, Evangelism begins with God!
2 Cor 5:18-20 tells us that it is God that is reconciling men to himself.   God is the great reconciler.  In John 10, we are told that Christ is looking for his lost sheep and that he will retrieve all of them.  And remember, it is God who sent his Son, the living Word that he might save us.  God is the first mover and great Evangelist.  He is the substance of the gospel that we trust in and the one acting on our behalf.  And, he has given his Spirit to us to point both us and others to Christ.  Notice, when the Spirit is poured out in Acts, they immediately speak the gospel of what God has done, this is the point of the Spirit–to point to Christ.  This is the reason we have been given the Spirit.  So, God is reconciling men to himself.  Therefore, when we evangelize, we aren’t actually doing anything new or alone.  God has been working on the salvation of all who believe since before the world began in setting aside his Son, Christ, to die for our sins.  More than that, he is still working, reconciling men to himself.  And, Christians are called to join him in this grand venture in which he has been involved since before time began.  I trust that he will succeed.  And, my life finds its greatness significance when I take part in something that is infinitely greater than myself, and nothing exceeds the the greatness of proclaiming the goodness of a great God and thus taking part in the ushering in of his kingdom!

July 15, 2008

Student Life 2008

Filed under: Youth — Joshua @ 2:18 am
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Louie Giglio

This past week 11 of us set off for Student Life at the Beach with LouieGiglio and Christ Tomlin.  The camps theme was “The Way” with the theme verse being Acts 19:23—“About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.” We had an excellent experience and I believe we met with God.  My hope is that the time that we spent together will prove fruitful.  I challenged the congregation and the students with six practical ways to encourage growth after the weekend.  Three take aim at the congregation as a whole and three are particularly focused on the youth.

Where to go from here?
Church
1.    Pray for particular youth by name.  The way is hard and narrow that leads to life, and youth need other Christians who are willing to get involved in their lives on a relational level so they can know how to pray intelligibly for them.
2.    Invest in a youth with more than financial investments.  Get to know them.  Speak truth informed from the Bible into their lives.  Get involved.  Young adults are facing big issues and they have big questions. It is going to take more than a playstation 3 to address the questions and problems they are grappling with.
3.    Know the Way yourself.  You can’t speak truth into a students life it you do not know the truth yourself.  It is hard to apply God’s timeless truth in time and space.  We need lay theologians who are equipped and ready to speak to difficult issues.  If you are not prepared, you could give a student poor advice that will result in life long consequences.  If you are prepared, you could help send him down the narrow path and through the narrow gate.
Youth
4.    Practice the spiritual disciplines, including coming to church.  Your parents might not come to church.  They may be unfaithful.  In fact, you may be more faithful than they are.  But, one day it will be you standing before Christ and giving an account for the breath that God has given you.  What will you say?
5.    Remember Ashley and be an agent of conviction in your parents life.  Louie shared the story of a girl who was converted by the faithful testimony of a Christian room mate she called Fruitcake.  Three months after her conversion she died in an automobile accident.  Because of the radical change in her life over those three months, the day after her funeral, her atheist father, told Louie that he didn’t believe in God but that he wanted to speak to the man that had spoken to his daughter and led her to dynamically change her life. In gentleness and love encourage them in the gospel.  Live in such away that parents are convicted that they need to be more faithful to God and others.
6.    Live big on the narrow road.   Louie encouraged students to have a big idea for how God can use them to make Jesus famous.  I would simply echo these sentiments and encourage students to live for God’s renown.

June 26, 2008

Holding Hands Holding Hearts

Filed under: Books,Youth — Joshua @ 6:43 pm
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Holding Hands Holding Hearts (H4) by Richard and Sharon Phillips is perhaps the best book on dating I have read.

The basic gist of the book
The Phillips say, “Our challenge is to think biblically about an activity that isn’t in the Bible” (12).  The biblical approach that they present–dating is an opportunity to honor God and grow in grace–stands in stark contrast to that which, even, many Christians hold–dating is the pursuit of romance and meeting emotional needs.  Too often, the Christian’s understanding of dating is shaped more by the world than Scripture.  The beauty of the approach found in Holding Hands Holding Hearts is its simplicity.  Dating is more that holding hands, and more than seeking to manipulate situations into mere self-gratification.  Dating involves holding hearts, and taking responsibility for the present and future spiritual condition of the individual. The main point of this book is that Christians need to freshly apply the gospel to relationships between men and women.  The Phillips flesh this out in two parts.

Part 1: A Biblical view of dating and relationships
In the first part, the authors explore the three-act-drama: God’s design in creation, the relationship fallen through sin, and the relationship redeemed by God’s grace.  Instead of beginning with dating and trying to work towards marriage, this book begins with the biblical principles of a healthy marriage (as seen in the primordial garden of Genesis 2) and works backwards to describe a healthy biblical dating relationship, because the foundations for a healthy, godly marriage begin while dating (cf. 13).  They list three dynamics in particular.

Three dynamics bind couples together. H4 draws three dynamics that bind couples together from Genesis 2: commitment, intimacy, and interdependence.  These helpfully display the trajectory of a relationship that seeks to be faithful to the Lordship of Christ and to love your neighbor as yourself.  These three should increase with codependency as the relationship evolves.

Commitment “involves an increasing exclusivity in terms of relationships with others; it means giving time to the relationship; and it involves a growing attention to the needs of each other” (32).  Commitment begins low and so should expectations for time and exclusivity.  In other words, “their obligation is little higher than that toward any other brother or sister in Christ” (33).  This progresses and increases steadily until the two are married.  If commitment doesn’t grow, neither will the relationship.

Concerning intimacy, they say, “Men and women are made to fit together for the most intimate ministry one to another–spiritually, emotionally, and physically” (34).  This is both beautiful and profound.  But, it is for this reason that H4 claims, “the breaking of these bonds does so much damage” (34).  The connection between intimacy and commitment is as follows: “one is foolish to expose the secrets of his or her heart to someone who has not made a tangible commitment to faithfulness” (35).  So, intimacy should follow commitment.

Interdependence is the final dynamic.  This involves the fact the idea that they man and woman are not “just two people doing their own thing” (35).  This means that marriage is about more that cohabitation.  Couples must be able to work together for the glory of God.  As relationships grow, all three dynamics should grow.  With this foundation laid they move on to offering some practical guidance.

Page 85 offers a list of 7 suggestions as to what submission and respect look like for a woman in a dating relationship.  This can be quite dicey given that dating is not marriage.  The Philips helpfully council a woman as to what that progression of intimacy commitment, and interdependence looks like before moving on to considerations of practice in part 2.

Part 2: Biblical Wisdom for Dating and Relationships
This second part considers the practical topics of attraction, first dates, commitment, and growing from dating to marriage, and struggling with contentment as a single person.  Chapter 5 challenges men to reevaluate what kind of beauty they are looking for.  They should seek the kind of beauty that God values.  Interestingly, this book doesn’t get to the first date until chapter 6.  From this point on, wisdom flows freely on the practicalities of dating in light of the gospel.  Some helpful examples include:
•    Page 115 considers the ideal situation in which the man would approach her father for consent, advice, and oversight.  On 116, a number of ideas are given to protect the woman’s heart.  Given a fallen world, they suggest that, if the father is absent physically (or otherwise), the woman should seek counsel from a pastor or a trustworthy friend.
•    Chapter 6 addresses issues like where to go on a first date, how to dress, and even when to call the girl back after the first date.
•    Page 155 provides 5 questions a couple should ask before engagement.
•    Page 160 contains a list of 5 essential matters a couple should talk about, pray about, and strive together for if they are hoping to be happily married.
•    H4 clearly articulates the dangers of dating a non-Christian, the particular sinful proclivities of men and women that result from the fall, how a man should lead the relationship in light of God’s intended purposes for marriage and how a woman is to faithfully live our her God-intended purposes.
•    Chapter 9 addresses how not to be dating.  In other words, they acknowledge that thinking through dating naturally leads some to be discouraged over not being in a relationship, and that dating isn’t a gift for everyone.  Instead, for many, it is a great trial.  The Phillips’s gentle counsel to those who hate being single carries the gospel specifically to their situation and challenges them to fight sinful desires that exist outside of relationships.

Hot thoughts to consider
This book flows steady with wisdom on dating in light of revelation in such a way that purifies a Christians vision of dating like fire purifies metal.

H4 applies the gospel to dating. “It is only as a man and woman come in faith before the cross of Jesus and find themselves restored to God that their own relationship can be redeemed from the guilt and the power of sin.  We find the ability to love one another rather than using one another to meet our needs and desires…In Christ, the Christian finds the ability to leave selfish manipulative relationships for a relationship that is empowered by the love that flows from the cross” (55).  H4 intends to say that just because the Bible doesn’t use the word “dating” doesn’t mean that it is a realm that stands outside of the Lordship of Christ.  In fact, Scripture actually has a lot to say about the relationship between a man and woman.  It is a theme that is central to the storyline of redemptive history.  H4 shows that the Bible has an answer for why relationships, including dating, are so messed up; sin!  The first part is actually a reflection on the effects of the gospel—God, man, Christ, Response—on marriage and dating.  The authors spend much of this book showing how the gospel can be applied as a redemptive tool for relationships. First, marriage is looked at prior to the fall.  Next, the effects of the fall on marriage are considered.  Finally, the work of Christ and its meaning for marriage and, thus dating, are considered.  So, it applies what the main message of the Bible has to say to this timely topic.  They say, “This is the glory of Christianity: that we are saved not just from our sin but also to the blessings for which God first created us and now has redeemed us through the blood of his only Son” (53).  This means that we can share in the blessings intended for man and woman by and through the power of the gospel!

H4 is incarnational in its approach. Far from being so heavenly minded they are no earthly good, the Phillips provide a model that considers the cultural context in which our younger people find themselves.  For example, they say, “Dating is essentially a twentieth-century invention” (12).  But, instead of jettisoning the whole project and hiding under a rock, they say, “it is nonetheless something that most of us can’t simply kiss goodbye” (12)—which could be a bit of joshing.  They conclude, “Under anything like typical circumstances, an adult man ought to be married. Given the way things are today, he probably needs to date someone.  And it also means that when he dates, it should be with an eye toward marriage” (21).  So, they focus not so much on what you call dating, but how you think about dating and the practical outworking of those thoughts in light of the gospel.  An example from above is the need of counsel in a woman’s life when considering a relationship with a man.  Ideally, that would be her father.  Given this fallen world, the Philips suggest thinking outside the box for wise counselors who can speak truth into the girls life and provide protection.

How the best could be better
I have already said that this is the best book on dating I have read.  The only potential drawback I see with this book concerns a vision for what dating looks like for those younger than college.  To be fair, the authors prepare you for this in the second line of the “Preface” saying, “It is geared especially toward single adults rather than to teenagers” (p. 9).  This book makes an assumption at the onset that “readers possess the maturity to enter into marriage” and that it is thus inappropriate for teenagers.  Given the detailed and helpful thoughts of this work, a chapter on the implications would be an asset to the numerous parents and ministers seeking to help teenagers consider relationships with the opposite sex in a more biblical way.  Then again, maybe its silence regarding the subject says something all together more powerful than words could communicate.

Conclusion
If you are single, read this book!  A flood of helpful thoughts contained in this book will help you make the decisions that will effect the rest you life, especially the one that will shape the rest of your life more than almost any other—marriage.  If you are currently dating someone, make reading this book a priority for you and your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Use it to educate and transform your relationship.  It is almost sinful for you not to read this book.  If you are the parent of a youth, encourage him, or her, as much as possible to read this work.  It may not be geared for them, but it certainly will prepare them for where they are going.  If you are a married person, it is valuable as well.  Because it begins with a model of marriage and then displays dating in light of working towards a healthy marriage, it offers a great deal of counsel for those who are married.  I just read the book for a second time and was freshly reminded of my own shortcomings and need to repent.  So, in short please read this book!  I am confident that it will reveal fresh venues for you to experience the grace and peace of God in your life.

(more…)

June 24, 2008

Gloucester 17 on children and sex

Filed under: Society — Joshua @ 8:10 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This past week the Associated Press reported that “17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies—more than four time sthe number of preganancies the 1,200-student school had last year…All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Then the story got worse. “we found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless,” the principal says, shaking his head.”

I find this sobering article provocative on a number of different levels as an evangelical Christian and a somewhat thoughtful individual (which are not necessarily mutually exclusive descriptions).

What a difference eleven years makes!

Do you remember Melissa Drexler?  I do.  As a senior in highschool, I remember the CNN story line of a highschool girl giving birth to a baby in the bathroom during prom and then sufficating the baby and leaving his lifeless new born body in the trashcan.  The contrast between the Gloucester 17 and Melissa shows a shift in cultural understandings of our children towards children and sex.  Sex and its fruit–even outside of marriage–are far from frowned upon by much of our culture.

The shift isn’t all bad, and neither is this story…

To be honest, it is a delightful thing, on one level, to know that the story line does not read, “17 girls under 16 had abortions this past week.”  I praise God that these girls are not seeking to take the lives of these children.  So, even this story, which clearly is filled with sorrow, contains the undeniable marks of God’s grace.

but much of it is.

A number of facts surrounding the events are troubling: all of the girls are under 16, the girls agreed together to get pregnant, one of the girls carries the child of a 24-year-old homeless man, etc.  One stands out.  The girls are far from feeling the necessity of stitching a scarlet letter A to their garments as Hester Prynne did in the Scarlet Letter.  In fact, the public, corporate display was the point.  These girls developed a sub-community in which they developed truth for themselves.  Together, they made a covenant to develop a community with values, which they themselves would define, even though, their values stand in contrast to those held by the larger community in which they find themselves.  These girls created their own culture with its own values.  The media’s shock displays that this is appauling.  Time magazine describes the responses as “soul-searching” and “finger pointing.”  So, at least the media is upset.  But, again, I ask, “What are they upset about?”  I would suggest two things.

They are upset because of their image

First, they are upset, because all have been created in God’s image.  Though all of us are fallen, God’s grace causes hints and echoes of his image to continue in all of humanity.  So, I hope, their is something deeply rooted in people, that says it is wrong for a woman to seek to have children outside of marriage.  God intends children to be the fruit of marriage.

They are upset because of their freedom

A second reason they are upset is probably a little less idealistic on my part.  It has to do with humanity’s sinful lust for autonomy.  They look at these young women as having given up all of their potential value for the sake of children.  Many are thinking to themselves, what a waste!  But, is this the reason that we should be upset?  Far from it! Children are a blessing.  They aren’t meant to line the bottom of trashcans.  They aren’t meant to be treated as impediments to joy.  In fact, God blessed humans with the ability to give birth to children created in his image.  Every child that is born is born in the image of God.  So, just as it is wrong to treat children as trash, it is also sinful to see children as an incumbrance to happiness.  As Christians, we need to be prepared to fight thoughts that marriage and children are hinderances to joy with a call to seek our joy in the ways that God has created us to.

One final thought

As Christians, we need to make sure that we view life rightly, in light of revelation.  In The Reason for God by Tim Keller, he noted the silliness of the philosophy that says that laws can be rightly conceived in a theological vacuum.  Notice, these girls created a community with their own laws.  How can anyone say that these girls have less significance in making their own laws than anyone else.  Why can they not have freedom to choose their own way of life?  By what standard can we judge their actions?  John Frame was correct in asserting that ethics and morality are simply subsets of theology.  The more we seek to create laws apart from the one true and living God, the more difficult it will be to speak to situations like that of Gloucester.  Only special revelation carries the force necessary to determine right from wrong and truth from error.  Only the gospel provides the light necessary to help girls like Melissa and the Gloucester 17 see.

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