The Coefficients of Gospel-Sharing Friction

 

Have you ever tried to move a refrigerator, and become frustrated when it didn't budge an inch?

As it turns out, it is much easier to move a fridge (or anything, for that matter) once it begins moving. This is due to the fact that there are two different coefficients of friction (mu) for any given object: static and sliding. If you are trying to move an object from rest, the resistance is greater than when it is already sliding.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed the same phenomenon in the spiritual realms.

I spent the week of September 10-14 watching Tom Short, a campus preacher/evangelist from our movement of churches, share the Word and engage in debates on CSU’s campus. It was intriguing to watch the variety of responses to the gospel being preaching. There was yelling, cursing, and some born-again believers singing “Amazing Grace” at the top of their lungs.

I thought it was very insightful when one of our sisters in the Rock, Stacey Clear, mentioned how, once a conversation was started, many people were interested in talking about the topic of God. After getting past the uphill battle and asking about what someone thought about God, or Jesus or the Bible, a free-flowing conversation would start. Surprisingly, most people I conversed with didn't have a good answer for the deep questions of life.

One guy in particular told me he had never talked about these deep topics. Though he went to mass a couple times growing up, this public preaching was the closest thing to church in his life he had experienced. He was excited to chat about life, purpose, love, truth, Jesus and the afterlife because he never talked about these issues that deeply with his friends.

My personal take away from last week was this: I need to be bolder in starting conversations about Jesus. Sure, there is always that fear of how someone will respond, but once the topic is breached, there is a decent chance for long and hearty conversation.

The apostle Paul said it this way:

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20 NIV)

I love how Paul added "as I should" after talking about declaring the gospel fearlessly. As followers of Jesus, it is only fitting for us to usher in conversation about our unmatched King and his great news.  

This week, when you see your fridge at home, be reminded: God has called us to fearlessly make his gospel known.

And don't forget static mu and sliding mu as you start the conversation.

 

 

There's Treasure Everywhere (Even in Politics)

 

In my government classes at Mead High School, we are currently covering the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacque Rousseau. Hobbes, the namesake of Calvin’s best friend and tiger in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, got me thinking about the fact that there is treasure everywhere—even in the world of governmental philosophy, teaching, and Aristotle.

When we see the world around us, in this case the world of ideas and philosophy, are we willing to dig and make sense of what we find with the faith and joy of a child? Are we looking for treasure? 

A good friend recently sent me a blog post that had many good thoughts that related to the current political environment (in this case civil marriage) and the “state of nature.” Here is an excerpt with emphasis and abridgment added:

 

In the beginning of his Politics, Aristotle asserts that “he who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them.” …This manifested in modern form by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, each of whom constructed versions of a hypothetical “state of nature” that would have existed before the formation of political societies and governments.

 

…If someone, for example, were to encounter a hammer for the first time and see it simply lying around, he might be able to form a plausible conjecture regarding the purpose for which it was made and is best suited. How much clearer would his understanding become, however, if he were granted a vision of the first hammer-maker sitting perplexedly in a room full of nails? In a similar way, by imagining a hypothetical situation . . . we may hope to discover [a practice’s] logical source and essential purpose . . . What are the nails for which this particular sort of hammer would be fashioned?

 

The treasure here is in the analogy and the idea of returning to first things. For Hobbes, in particular, the state of nature helped him understand why people would give up the right to do whatever they wanted and instead install governments that seemed to be worse than this unrestrained freedom. The nail – which the hammer of government was created to drive home – was the problem of security. In the state of nature, the law is “kill or be killed,” and people live in constant fear.

By returning to first things and looking at the nails for which the hammer was created, we can see the necessity of things. God makes the hammers, but he is not perplexed by the room full of nails before him—he is powerful to deliver. We are perplexed, however, when we forget those nails. Why is there evil in the world? Why did Jesus have to die? How could God send people to hell?

The danger in not remembering the “state of nature” – one without God’s intervention and where we follow all of our natural instincts – is that we become ungrateful, prideful commentators. Forgetting our own tendency to kill or be killed, or to hurt and steal from others for our own personal gain, we forget that the hammer that God created to correct this state of nature was the death, burial, and resurrection of his own Son. This is the answer to eternity apart from him, so that he could be near to us. Jesus became our sin so that the Father could look upon us (2 Cor 5:21). With the hammer of the gospel he destroyed sin and saved us from ourselves.

Calvin and Hobbes remind us that there is treasure everywhere. In seeing the reality of the grubs and rocks, we can see the greatness of God and the powerful hammer of his intervention in this world. We just have to dig in.

Truth with Handles: Practically Applying Biblical Wisdom in Our Lives and Marriages

 

In the last few years, my wife Cindy and I have experienced an ever-deepening passion for helping people marry well and for helping them cultivate a heart- and soul-satisfying marital joy; a oneness that lasts all the way to “death do us part.” 

For many years our counseling pattern had been to offer advice and encouragement using a biblical "truth-and-principle"-based approach to the marriage relationship. Asking and seeking biblical answers to primary identity and purpose questions like, “Who am I,” “Why am I here,” and “What exactly is God looking for from me/us/our marriage?”

Personally, these questions have formed the backbone of our family’s mission statement and have given clarity to our life focus and direction, at both the macro and micro levels. There are a myriad of very specific decisions we have made in regard to our relationship and every part of our life using this truth grid. My personality and gifting have been a good fit for this kind of big idea, 10,000-foot level, truth-and-principle framework, on which we have hung our lives and family.  Because of my imbalanced “truth alone” frame of mind, I have strongly resisted the idea that people should need structured, “how-to” application steps. 

For many years we have experienced mixed result as we have sought to equip couples and parents with the right “questions” to seek the Lord on His specific answers. The reality of our ministry was that the governing truth was not providing enough practical structure and application for people to walk in success.

A few years ago, mostly through conversation with Aaron Ritter, I became convinced that people really did need specific practical application. They are truly served and blessed by systems and defined action steps to experience the truth in their lives. I came to realize that a very needed and legitimate job of leadership – whether in family, church or business – is to contextualize the goals and values of an organization into pragmatic practices that help the members live out the values successfully.

Often in our western Christian worldview, we elevate the raw truth and minimize the vital leadership function of providing workable structures and systems to lead our flock to success. “Just preach the word”, is an oft-heard refrain. Without question, preaching the word is the foundation of our understanding of everything related to life and godliness. But it does not lead us specifically into many of the vital specific details needed to actually walk out our faith with a deep love from the heart.

The truth is not magic. It comes alive when we obey it and apply it. And the reality is that there are a host of practical life and ministry questions that are not answered directly by Scripture:

  • What does it look like to spend time with Jesus?
  • How do you develop leaders?
  • What is an appropriate budget process?
  • How does plurality work?
  • How do you conduct a wedding? Or a funeral? Or a small group? Or a weekly church gathering? How long should they last?
  • What does “faith expressing itself in love” look like in our context?

So many things require us to know the truth of Scripture, and to seek to apply it appropriately in our culture. God leaves us with the job of skillfully applying His revealed truth:

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” (Proverbs 25:2)

 

Truth must have some handles. I have come to believe that the essence of these handles is biblical wisdom: Taking the truth and skillfully applying it so our lives reflect Scriptural principles in observable and experiential ways.

This concept has now become the cornerstone of our marriage ministry. We are working on developing real tools that will help couples (and anyone, really) skillfully express biblical love in their relationships.

People need practical handles. Wisdom takes sacrifice and work to develop them. May God grant you that kind of wisdom in your life to embrace “handles” for the truth.

Breaking News: Ultimate Reality Exists Outside Yourself

 

I am so thankful for a reality I do not create. If my issues, my problems and my feelings were the ultimate measure of the world, what a sad thing existence would be. Frightening, capricious and hopeless.

Yet I have to admit, I live as if that is reality much of the time. It certainly is how my flesh measures reality. But, thanks be to God, I have another anchor. I know that there is a solid, certain reality outside of myself, and it is the one that really matters. There is a God who exists, who has always existed, and who always will exist. And everything that really matters is wrapped up in His existence, not mine. 

Even if my feelings are hurt or my dreams are smashed, what really matters is not at risk. Goodness is safe and secure because God has it safely in His hands. God is a good God, and a powerful God. And God will always see that good prevails. And though I don't like experiencing hurt or loss or failure, I am so thankful for an anchor beyond those things. What is really good resides somewhere beyond my existence, and it can exist regardless of what my experience of the moment might be.

Now, “good” may include me experiencing what is happy or fun or pleasant and, of course, each day I hope it does. But it may not include that. And if in the end I want what is truly good and right to win, then the focus of my thinking must leave the center of myself and center on something else. My experience and my life is no longer the measure of all things. And that is so freeing! Thank you, God, that your will, your purposes and your plans are the true and right boundaries of reality. Thank you that those plans are good and perfect. Thank you that they include me. 

I have a place in that reality: I am invited in as a son. But I don't define it. It's greater than I am.

I need to remember that more. I assume most of us do. According to a recent poll, 91% of evangelical Christians don't believe there is a reality outside of themselves. And the percentage among teenagers was even higher. I have to admit, if that perspective was actually my "final answer" belief, I couldn't survive. My escape hatch to sanity is the knowledge that I am not the measure of all things.  And I don't understand how a Christian could hold that as their "official" view.

But I do recognize how much our culture pulls me into myself, into selfishness, into seeing life through the lens of what is, or isn't, working for me. I can get pretty far down that road sometimes. But the Bible and God’s creation have given me a conviction of a real God, beyond myself, who can be trusted to do what is good, with a measurement of good that goes beyond me. Again, I am called into it, but I have nothing to do with defining it. It was, is and always will be – with or without me. 

And it is that Good, greater than ourselves, that the world needs to know about. The Good News is that Reality is a Person who is not us but who actually cares for us. The Good News opens with the truth that we, and our stuff, are not the measure of reality, but Someone else is. And that Someone is good and has invited us into that good. His name given to us under heaven is Jesus. And because He is reality, I can be saved. 

Thank you, God, that you are beyond me, but that you are reaching out to me. Thank you that what is truly good will prevail in You, and it's reference point is not me. Thank you that this good is my hope, because the Person who holds it always expresses that Goodness toward me.

Exchange Zone Promises

 

Every four years, political hopefuls make a multitude of promises. The unacquainted are easily drawn in, the seasoned are cynical. Rather than focusing on potential promises that the government can dish out every four years, what if we took a look at the life-long promises God has made for us as we follow Christ?

The Exchange Zone is the season of life in Summitview that consists of families with children in middle school and high school. This is a season of excitement, growth and developing potential. For the last year I’ve gotten to be a mentor in the Exchange Zone, and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, though not having any teenage children of my own.

There is a lot of energy and busy schedules, and in the midst of all this, we can begin to take our eyes off of the goal: being and making disciples of Jesus together. Our performance or achievement in life can become preeminent to trusting in Christ and seeking His will, and as with all times in life, we can become dependent on no one except ourselves. Christ calls both parents and teens to place their trust in him for all that they need, and as such, there is a commonality among families: our need for Jesus.  

Here are some promises from the only One ever found to be faithful enough to keep each one, and how they bring hope and direction for both parents and young adults.

 

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

 

 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

 

The promise for parents:

The temptation to impatience, giving up or being short tempered because of a teen’s behavior is real and ever-present. God’s faithfulness and grace help us to see the way of escape in realizing his grace towards us, his patience towards our wandering hearts, and his Fatherly gentleness to correct our desire to control our surroundings. He can be trusted and is just as ever-present to help, and instead of coming dejected and defeated, we can come confidently in his name.

The promise for teens:

Instead of being ruled by my immediate reaction, the feeling inside me, or what others are doing and saying, I can see that God is good in giving me exactly the amount that I can handle. It’s never too much. I am not a unique example of being hard-pressed and defeated and victimized, but rather these temptations are a way for me to grow my dependency on the solid foundation, and look not to myself, but Jesus Christ. I have confidence to draw near to Christ, regardless of my experience in life or age because it is based on Christ’s sacrifice, not my ability or inability.

 

“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:32-34)

 

The promise for parents:

Approaching empty-nester-hood and the prospect of retirement, as well as moving up the career ladder for the last 20 years, we can be duped into seeking after the world’s things: bigger, faster, better. Jesus is calling our hearts homeward, to him, his Kingdom, his righteousness and likeness. He knows that we need clothes, food and housing for years to come. And he hasn’t let us down thus far, but has proven his faithfulness countless times over. What we need in the future is not to be worried about. An active seeking of His kingdom growth and righteous likeness in our lives is all that counts for eternity.

The promise for teens:

That cool hoodie or those amazing new shoes are not what define your worth or beauty. Our young culture says that you are what you look like – your image, your impression you make on others, and the ability to stick out. Being all the rage is a never-ending cycle of comparison that no one has ever won. Rather than constantly comparing to others, we can look to Jesus and realize that cotton fibers and the material world don’t make a person. The soul of a person is lost or gained only through Jesus, and he is worth living for a million times over the cool crowd.

These promises are given by the Father of us all, whether parent or teen, and are needed daily in our walks with Jesus. 

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