From the monthly archives: November 2012

We are pleased to present below all posts archived in 'November 2012'. If you still can't find what you are looking for, try using the search box.

Ride Out with Me: Following God in Faith's Adventures

 

For fans of The Lord of the Rings, you will recognize “Ride out with me” as the appeal of the warrior Aragorn to king Theoden to take up arms against the forces of the evil lord Sauron.

Theoden is king of the people of Rohan who are known as skilled cavalrymen with agile and brave horses. As the enemy, bent on destroying Theoden’s kingdom, advances, he chooses to retreat and take his people to the safety and security of the fortified castle of Helm’s Deep rather than to “ride out and meet them” and lead his people and his warriors against the inevitable confrontation with evil. If you’re familiar with the story, you know that the enemy breaches the walls of the fortress and the people retreat further and further into the rock that the castle is built into. Finally, with nowhere else to go and the enemy battering down the last door, Theoden cries in desperation, “What can men do against such reckless hate?” Aragorn again responds, “Ride out with me.” This time the men mount their horses and charge the enemy, becoming the warriors they were always meant to be. Surprised, the enemy falters, reinforcements arrive, and the battle is won.

This story is presented in Neil Cole’s book Organic Church, which I read over the summer while leading the remnant of the Rock that was here in Fort Collins rather than on Infusion in Austin, Texas. God used that book to grow my desire to be involved in advancing the Kingdom throughout my life, and, in part, it became the inspiration to multiply the Nickell House Church (the Rock’s version of D-Teams) this past semester. I find the story above to be an astounding analogy of God’s vision for His people. The people of Rohan had a certain identity as elite warriors on horseback made for battle, not retreat. However, under Theoden’s leadership, they didn’t embrace that identity. They suffered greatly at the hands of the enemy before realizing what they were made for and, finally, gaining the victory.  

I challenged my House Church this semester with this story, encouraging them that we would do well to not miss out on what we were made for, what we were born again for. We were born again to be people of faith, people with tremendous courage because of the might of their God; to be his children and let him be our Father; to be with him and to let Jesus live his life through us. Jesus described himself as the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and told us to be the same (Matthew 5:14). I felt that God was asking us not to settle for the comfort of the living room in which our House Church was meeting, but to ride out with Him on an adventure in faith.  

It has been a very exciting semester for all of us, but from my vantage point I have been particularly thrilled by God’s goodness. I’ve witnessed how He paved the way for us. For many months, my co-leaders and I had been praying for the opportunity to multiply and he answered those prayers and many more related ones.

Here are a few of the ways God came through for us as we sought to multiply our House Church:

The first was in our leadership team. One of the challenges of multiplying was not having another man willing and ready to step into leadership. But since Faithwalkers of last year, I had watched God grow my very own brother into a man of increasing faith, and after returning from a very faith-filled summer in Austin, Cory was ready to let God use his life to lead a D-Team. God also provided two amazing ladies to replace the former female leaders on our team.

Secondly, God orchestrated the adventures and the structure for how our teams were to multiply. After reading Organic Church, God had laid the Alley Cat Café on my heart as a place full of college kids to outreach to, and I very much wanted to take a small group of people and begin having our House Church meetings there. So I had one dream to envision us with, but what about the other half of the team that wouldn’t be going to Alley Cat? I began asking God to give us a vision for the second half of our House Church.

He answered with two freshmen from Newsom Hall who joined our House Church at the beginning of the semester. I approached them with a plan to have the other half of our House Church meet in Newsom Hall, and asked them to play a big role as our point men in the dorms (something our team was severely lacking). They received the idea with enthusiasm, and so just after the Rock retreat in September, what was formerly one Nickell House Church became two Nickell-led task forces for the gospel: One meeting in the midst of the eclectic and often eccentric atmosphere of the Alley Cat Café, and the other right in the thick of things on campus in Newsom Hall! I could tell that God was leading by the overwhelming enthusiasm with which my team received the call to arms. I was fearful of backlash coming from separating close, godly relationships, but I found out that many of the team members were waiting for a new thing to trust God with.

 

  

 

Lastly, in a very personal way, God proved faithful. Toward the end of the summer, before much of what I described above took place, and when the dream seemed to wane in my prayers, God encouraged me with the message to “dream bigger wow” three times in one day. Perhaps it is a weakness of mine, but my engineering-trained mind is generally skeptical that God gives such direct personal “signs.” However, getting the same message three times in a day got my attention, especially when one of them was relayed through a completely random act of graffiti along a bike route I do not usually take. God backed up that literal sign in my quiet time with a verse, Ephesians 3:20: “[He] is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”

God is on the move, and has blessed us with much fruit! I hope this spurs you on to “Ride out with Him” on a grand adventure of faith!

Throwback Thursdays: A Light Shining in Darkness

 

It's a safe bet to expect Christmas-themed "Throwbacks" now through December. (Hey, any excuse I get to play "Silent Night" by Sixpence None the Richer, I'm going to take it. Stay tuned.)

For today's "Throwback," we turn to Aaron Ritter's message from December 2010, "The Light Shines in the Darkness." He opens this teaching on John 1 with a story about his blind friend, Noah, and how he actually took a challenge to go a whole day blindfolded. The Christmas season is an apt time to refresh ourselves on what it means to be saved from the darkness of sin's lies. Audio and video of the message are here. Also, congrats to Mr. Ritter for making his first appearance on "Throwback Thursdays."

I've long found Brave Saint Saturn's "Daylight" to be a particularly moving and poignant expression of this metaphor of Jesus being the light shining in the darkness. As always, leave your suggestions for "Throwback" teachings and music in the comment section of this post.

 

Parents Are the Best People to Raise Their Kids

 

I have no children, but I can say with confidence that the best people to raise children are their parents. This is not a political statement, a deep theological insight (though it could be), nor an underhanded slight at certain cultural tides. Sometimes it is good to just remember the basic things of life and rejoice where obvious truths and goodness are upheld among us. 

The parents in our Exchange Zone have greatly encouraged me with their faith. Our season of life ministry for families with teenage/high school-aged children is parent led. Like I said, this is not a revolutionary concept, though, for the times in which we live, it may be (that was the underhanded slight). As I teach and interact with the world of education and teenagers, there is a growing professionalization of child rearing. 

I am so grateful for our community at Summitview. The newly created “parents council” that oversees the ins and outs of the Exchange Zone demonstrates God’s love and initiative toward his people. These families have owned a refreshed vision for their teens and families that has ministered to my soul and revealed something of Jesus’ body and the Father’s love. 

In the past I would have my blank Google calendar open, ready to be filled with very spiritual events that would then be blasted out to everyone’s smartphone so they knew when to show up. 

Lately, however, the parents of the Exchange Zone have been zealous for good works and initiated these events on their own. Different members of the council have created events and vision to encourage parents’ hearts to be for their children. Our recent middle school and high school outreach time was an astounding success. The game we played did not change; the building was the same; however, the momentum and ownership of parents created an atmosphere of genuine fellowship, and our inroad into the community was much more significant. 

This goes well beyond the council. There are so many saints stepping out in faith to bless their teens and high schoolers from around the city. I think God is pleased to see moms in community with their daughters; fathers going bowling with their daughters and doting on them. This is how God lavishes his love on his children. He is also pleased to see fathers fighting the flesh and the good fight with their sons. This is how the Spirit equips his church to press on into battle. 

Let’s not forget to celebrate that God has put some very fundamental and valuable conviction before us. I, for one, am extremely blessed by the faith of these parents. God is serious about this, and I am thankful for a community that is serious about it, too.

 

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (Malachi 4:5-6)

Something in the Way: The First Car, Nirvana and Growing Up Christian

 

I had just turned 15 when my older brother Travis and I got our first car. Growing up in a homeschooling family of four boys, there were few things that you could truly call “mine.” Even all of the Lego sets, given individually at Christmas or birthdays, eventually were deconstructed into a communal tub for all to use. So it was fitting that “my” first car wasn’t really mine at all. Plus, at the time, I only had my learner’s permit. But, Mom and Dad paid half and Travis and I paid the other half.

It was a silver 1989 Dodge Raider, so boxy and top heavy that high school friends would later call it the “box on wheels.” The Raider faithfully served all four Sides boys in high school, and to this day still sits in my parents’ garage, albeit in need of a new radiator.

We bought the Raider from Dad’s youngest brother Steve. At the time, Steve, his wife Nikki and infant son Mitch were living in Missouri, and they joined us for Thanksgiving that year. It was 1999, and no one was really sure if there was going to be a Thanksgiving next year.

The plan was for Steve to drive the Raider while Nikki drove their primary car, a Toyota Land Cruiser. They’d leave the Raider with us and go back home together. En route, somewhere around Kansas City, the Raider broke down. The shop wouldn’t have it fixed until a day or two after Thanksgiving, so Steve and Nikki left it and spent what might have been their last Thanksgiving with us.

On the morning of the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Travis and I hopped in their Land Cruiser and rode down to Kansas City to pick up the Raider. I don’t remember seeing the Raider for the first time, but I do remember feeling stunned that our parents were letting a 15 year-old and not-quite-17-year-old make the nearly seven-hour drive home all by themselves.

We celebrated the occasion in the best possible fashion: by listening to Nirvana’s universe-altering album Nevermind. I manned the portable CD player (with marginal anti-skip protection) and the tape adapter, and as we drove north on I-29, I knew life would never be the same again.

A Tale of Two Albums

Nevermind wasn’t all we listened to, mind you. We were, after all, homeschooling evangelicals, and good, homeschooling evangelicals don’t (just) listen to Nirvana. For a good stretch of the journey, we rocked out in holy array to Sonicflood’s self-titled debut album. From my perspective, it’s hard to state how quintessential Sonicflood’s first album was. I would argue that it came to define all of Christian culture in the 1990s. It was at once urgent and innocuous: It produced soaring worship songs many churches still sing today; yet it also gave teenage Christendom everything it clamored for in those waning days of the millennium: Noise, self-righteous expression, and an incubator-like warmth that kept us safe from the real world that existed on the other side of the CD aisle in the mall music store. There, in those purple neon waters, floated every single American teenage Christian, grasping for we knew not what, looking towards a seemingly blank horizon.

If Sonicflood was the defining cultural artifact of Christianity in the 90s, then Nevermind was the crowning glory of culture – period – in the 90s. There’s nothing I can really add to the conversation about its place in pop culture and the effect it had on the American psyche, and Kurt Cobain’s suicide only added to the mythification of the album. But it is worth pointing out that its album artwork, like Sonicflood’s, featured someone grasping for something in a body of water. With Nevermind, at least the object was verifiable, tangible. No horizon, though, just the self-made waters of our own consciousness, the existential struggle for identity and purpose in this world.

On lonely stretches of I-29 as it traced the Missouri river in the space between Nebraska and Iowa, these two albums traded places in the portable CD player of two teenagers growing ever more into manhood with each mile that rolled across the odometer. Two albums: One composed at the dawn of the decade, and the other near its twilight. Nirvana and Sonicflood: so different, yet so similar.

I’ve always found it odd that my brother and I could listen to these albums interchangeably without any apparent sense of contradiction. I’ve had 13 years of reflection since that evening to try to sort out this paradox, and I think most of it revolves around the fact that I couldn’t fit all of life’s experiences and desires in a constant loop of CCM-sanctioned praise and worship music, no matter how “edgy” the style. I couldn’t justify a life lived totally inside that bubble, enveloped in those comfortable neon waters.

Circling the Wagons on Our Own Subculture

It should be noted that these are fairly personal takes on Sonicflood and the CCM industrial complex circa 1999. If you follow this blog regularly enough, you’ll know that I have a certain affinity and appreciation for Christian bands that boomed in the mid 90s. There may be some of you reading this that still follow Sonicflood, and your time listening to them may be a source of encouragement in your relationship with Christ. I don’t want to paint with an absolute brush on the value of late-90s Christian anthem/praise rock. But the bubble I began running into at this point in my life was that of a sentimental expression of faith that had very little grounding in what was going on in my life, and even life in general. The social expectation to stay within the confines of “Christian” culture seemed troubling to me. American Christianity kept burying its head deeper into its own patch of sand, kept circling the wagons closer and closer together. I didn’t get it. Why the fear of the “other” culture? We were quarantining our faith to the point where we had no thought to even look for the similarities/differences in Nirvana and Sonicflood cover art. It’s no wonder, then, that we awoke on the morning of November 7, 2012, asking, “What happened?” We got stuck in our own cultural idol factory, that’s what happened, and we had very little idea where the country as a whole was heading. We separated Christian life from life itself, and the world noticed.

Therefore, for this teenager at least, Nevermind was not just about music appreciation, though that was certainly part of it. No, it was more about discovering those parts of my heart, soul and mind that were Davidic in their angst, frustration and authenticity. I was seeing the other side of reality for what it was, and not for what I thought it should be. I was learning about the way the world worked, about things in my own life that I had never fully placed into grunge’s sallow light. Not that such an education was always “positive,” and not that I should deem “good” those things I learned about myself/the world from Nirvana, but there’s something deep and real going on when an entire generation can identify so fully with the likes of Cobain. I think I was able to put name and form to things I had been told shouldn’t even be in my own life. And yet there they were. How was I to handle them? There was no way – for me, at least – Sonicflood could offer any tangible relief to this tension. They offered an adoration and an attitude that I oftentimes felt got in the way of what I was trying to process. There was very little room for “struggle” in late-90s Christianity. Whether the struggle was against dating rules or specific beliefs that didn’t quite make sense to young minds, we were constantly told that if I didn’t want to “know You more,” then something was horribly wrong.

Which is true in the deep sense of it, but I don’t get more of a desire to “know You more” from listening to that song one more time. If Sonicflood – and, by extension, all other late-90s CCM rock – was a Psalmist, they’d skip the top half of the psalm – all the grungy inconsistencies of life – and skip straight to the praise chorus at the bottom.

So, as I rode shotgun in a 1989 Dodge Raider, as the late November sun put Iowa to sleep, I played Nevermind. “Something in the Way” became the most repeated track of the drive, and it will always be the lasting audible memory of that journey.

Then again, it could all just be teenage angst that had no purpose to it except to be angsty. Which is entirely possible. But every year around Thanksgiving, I drift back to that road trip – that first true road trip. To call it “formative” is an understatement. You can’t get much more Americana than teenagers in a new (to them) car, on their own, listening to Nirvana … and yet still feeling a connection with their Father God, Who they knew to be good and real and true.

I remember the details in snippets or flashes, really. Flashes of sun on razed cornfields and barren trees; the way the Raider smelled, the lights on the dash; the pride we felt when we showed it off to friends before we got home. And beneath it all, without fail, the lone guitar and desperate cello of “Something in the Way,” playing over and over again as we drove into the night.

 

Beyond the Blog

Looking for more resources on Christianity's role in cultural engagement? The Mockingbird blog "seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life." They do fabulous work in what I call "gospel criticism." Also, Nancy Pearcey's book Saving Leonardo should be recommended reading for every believer in this day and age. It's a mind-blowing analysis of worldview, art and science.

Second Helping: Some More Thoughts on Thankfulness

 

I was wrestling with some things this morning and searching Scripture for comfort from God. He led me to Psalm 113:3b: “The name of the LORD is to be praised!”

My first thought was that sounds like a command, and I should be thankful. God has richly blessed me in so many ways, and being intentional with our thanks is a great way to ground ourselves when we are prone to throwing pity parties. But as I started to make my list of things to be thankful for, I was struck by a different thought. The verse says that the name of the LORD is to be praised: Him, not what He does for me. I think in this season of thankfulness most of us have taken time to reflect on what we are thankful for. But when was the last time I thanked God for Himself? What follows is a short list of what I'm thankful for in Him.

He is merciful. He rescued me from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13) when I was in high treason against Him. And He didn’t just rescue me and leave me alone. He then brought me into the Kingdom of the Son He loves. I get to be a child of God, a princess in the most glorious Kingdom ever imagined, an heir not a slave. Not because of any worthiness on my part, but simply because of the mercy of God.

And I think all of that speaks profoundly of His love. He has a love for me that is over the top of anything I could comprehend, that is more persistent and pursuing than even the deepest love I could possibly imagine or experience from another human. His love for me is so profound that He is called a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). This is a term that has marital connotations; like a spouse, He does not want to share my affections with anyone or anything else.

He is also kind. He just gave me another breath, even though I have already sinned against Him this morning and I’ve only been out of bed for an hour. He chooses to give me all those things and people on my thankfulness list because it brings Him delight to do good to me, even though those are the very things that tempt my affections away from Him.

He is a God who sees and hears. We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses  (Hebrews 4:15). He is the best empathizer. He is a God who “gets” me in a way no one else could ever possibly “get” me – because He created me from scratch.

He is also the God who comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:3). The God who comforts me, personally and individually. He is also the God who heals (Exodus 15:26). He is a tender Father who weeps over our hurts and graciously extends compassion and life.

He is returning. He has not left me alone as an orphan (John 14:18), but He has gone to prepare a place for me and promises to come back for me (John 14:2-3). I have a delightful inheritance in Him; the mansion and streets of gold are just icing. I get to spend forever with the One who is all of this and so much more.

In this season of thankfulness, may we be more thankful for the Giver than we are for His gifts.

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