In times of significant cultural upheaval, it’s common and eminently understandable to seek whatever stability and calm we can find within our lives and to do some good soul searching about the way we’ve chosen to structure them. Are we contributing or perhaps even capitulating to the nervous, noisy way of life we see all around us? In a cultural moment tyrannized by all things digital and overloaded with a constant bombardment of information, so much of it shallow-minded if not salacious, have we neglected a simpler, more richly satisfying and God-honoring way of life? Have we unknowingly – or perhaps knowingly! – imbibed the fuss and fury of a fallen world put on fast forward? These are important questions to consider, and I’m afraid certain trends among Christians are offering overly simplistic answers in their worthy quest for a simple life filled with spiritual substance.
In my undergrad days, I along with a team of other students made weekly visits to a juvenile detention center in order to talk about the Lord with the incarcerated young men and women. It was there that I met a young man who had openly and eagerly aligned himself with the malevolent being whom Scripture refers to as Satan. Like most people, this young man was a lot bigger than I was (and am). We were sitting across from each other, and he kindly leaned his hulking torso toward me so we could look eye to eye. He was politely disinterested in what I and the other Christian college students had to say about Jesus and the Bible, but I was utterly fascinated with his story.
Geneva College was privileged to host on February 8th Dr. D.A. Carson, who spent the day on campus in various venues enriching our understanding of God’s Holy Word and by God’s grace helping us to grow in our love for the one true and living God. Carson is easily and without hyperbole described as one of the most significant Evangelical scholars of the past century. What I love most about his work is that when I’m done reading his publications or hearing him lecture or preach, I’m certainly impressed by his learning; but I’m more impressed by the Savior about whom he’s teaching us, and the Scriptures he’s expounding to tell us of that Savior. Here’s some of what happened during his visit –
Have you ever met a mature Christian? That question’s not meant to be snarky, no matter how many smirks it may inspire. It’s meant to call attention to the truly special experience of interacting with people who sincerely (and sometimes unknowingly) exude from the core of their being what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5). Their demeanor is calm and calming. Ordinary conversations with them feel holy, and when you leave, you feel understood, taken seriously, and loved. These people scare the stuff out of me.
Christians call Jesus the Redeemer, and he is, but we sometimes forget that biblically, to be redeemed means to be ruled. To be redeemed means more than being brought back from bad circumstances; it means being bought back, transferred from one allegiance to another. There’s no redemption through Jesus without a renunciation of our deepest craving since humankind’s collapse in the Garden of Eden: autonomy. Watch for this pattern in society – and in your own heart! So much of what popular culture demands in the name of freedom is better understood as autonomy, literally, self-law. We want autonomy so bad that we even fantasize about extraordinary beings who can provide and protect it.
The following is an adapted version of a message I preached during the chapel service at Geneva College, just hours after our nation elected our new President. In God’s kindness, the message seemed to strengthen some stricken hearts. Whatever your emotional state after an exhausting election season, I hope it’s a blessing to you, too. It was written to be spoken, but hopefully comes across clearly enough in this format. Or, click here for an audio link if you like.
A loss can be very hard to take; but sometimes, so can a win.
We have a new President of the United States. He won in dramatic fashion, in the early morning hours, and like the campaign season itself, the angst-ridden process left the American public emotionally and physically exhausted, and for so many of us, feeling profoundly sick. One of the saddest parts of this sick feeling is that had the election gone the opposite way, it likely would have left us feeling much the same, though for different reasons. Either way this race would have concluded, there was no way for a victory at the top of the ticket which was not also a reason to weep. We’ve seen so much […]
Need a break from election-season stress? How about embracing the break God built into creation from the beginning? The Sabbath day is such a beautiful gift from God. Through it, the giver of every good and perfect gift calls us to “cease”, to step away from life as we live it Monday through Saturday, to rest our souls in our Savior through public and private worship, and to rest our bodies through laying aside the work and recreation appropriate to the rest of the week. This election season especially, more than any I can remember, maybe more than any in our nation’s history – that’s for historians to decide – we are a stressed electorate. We need a break.
I love questions. Want to know why? Partly because of their power to reveal hearts. The question I just asked revealed your heart toward me and this article. Though I and others may never know what it revealed, the question forced you to see things within you – good, kind, patient things, I hope! Sometimes, questions are so powerful that they become heart-revealing statements. For instance, “What’s your problem?” That’s not so much a question as a statement indicating irritation. Yes, the sentence ends with a question mark, but the meaning often requires a period or an exclamation point to be properly understood. Questions can reveal the hearts of those being interrogated, and they can reveal the hearts of the interrogators, too. Scripture is full of heart-revealing questions, including some of the most powerful questions ever stated. Let’s look at a few of them to see what’s going on in our souls.
I’m very happy to highly recommend the “for such a time as this” work and artistry of this sister in Christ. Pastors and other Christian counselors take note: If you want an experienced, empathetic, incisive, eye-opening and heart-enriching understanding of the broken, aimless hearts abounding in our culture, read Lacey Sturm’s The Reason It’s quietly iconoclastic in tearing down the shallow cultural assessments and pseudo-spiritual advice offered up by pop-Christianity’s baptized agnosticism, which glorifies brokenness and uncertainty (so long as they’re experienced in community) as the marks of authentic, honest faith. And its heartfelt substance fleshes out answers so often left as stillborn theological theory by writing efforts which rightly promote truth and our ability to know it with certainty, but which present it dry and cold to the reader, giving the unintended impression that God has nothing full of life to say to generations reared on the belief that he’s dead.
Imagine that you’re severely stressed. Maybe that’s not too much of a stretch for you right now. If you’re anything like me in tense times, then in addition to stress-pounding Skittles to cope, you develop an irrational suspicion of other people’s motives when they encounter you in your turmoil. Someone asks “How are you?” But the inquirer seems afraid, and you interpret the nervous eyes to say: “The answer to my question is any number of positive words, followed by your grateful acknowledgement of my asking.” If you do give an upbeat answer, no matter how dishonest, and you follow it up with your thanks, no matter how insincere, you think you spy in their smiling response not only happiness, but relief. And that makes you boil. Or, someone just looks at you in your stress but doesn’t ask how you’re doing, and you get mad about what seems to be an obvious lack of concern and you suspect that they’re silently condemning you. Either way, they can’t win. Stress and the charitable judgement of others are not natural friends.