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    Elders' Blog - Entries from September 2016

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    WedWednesdaySepSeptember28th2016 Spiritual but Not Religious?
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Doctrine Spirituality 0 comments Add comment

    If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times. It’s a beloved Americanism, an unquestioned cultural refrain, a true motto of the modern age, and it goes something like this: “I’m spiritual. I’m just not very religious.”

    Rough translation: “I believe in something beyond the physical substance that makes up my body and the material world around me. I just don’t like to constrain that belief or force it to conform to the established dogma or practice of a particular religious structure.”

    Think of the person who experiences something transcendent while enjoying nature. Or the person who feels an otherworldly connection with deceased loved ones. Or the person who suspects that some karmic force is keeping the world in order. These spiritual-but-not-religious folks probably don’t go to a church (or a mosque or a temple). But they’re not ready to let go of the idea that there’s something more than meets the eye—something beyond mere matter and molecules.

    Having spent my whole life in the church, I’ll admit that this sentiment can be compelling. I’ve seen the rigidity and monotony of “religion” first-hand. I’ve known how hollow it can feel to jump through the hoops and go through the motions, just because it’s what you’re supposed to do. On such days, the idea of liberating one’s spirituality from the prison of religion is an attractive proposition.

    But as appealing as it might be to jettison the forms and the structures and the traditions, I can’t bring myself to do it. Sure, these things can be easily distorted and abused (and as a result, I suspect there’s a whole lot of dead religion out there that’s hardly worth preserving). But at the end of the day, naked spirituality is entirely insufficient and unfulfilling. It can wonder and inquire and speculate all day long. But it can never seem to get to a place of meaningful belief. The kind of belief you can sink your teeth into. The kind of belief you can form your whole life around. Spirituality without religion is all questions and no answers.

    I love how John Carmichael describes the insufficiency of religion-less spirituality in his provocative memoir Drunks and Monks:

    Declaring oneself spiritual is of the same character as declaring oneself corporeal. So what you’re spiritual? You’ve got a spirit as sure as you’ve got a body and a mind so of course you’re spiritual. And corporeal. And intellectual. Now what about it? It would seem that’s where religion just begins to speak—at the acknowledgement of spirit—just as medicine and nutrition and fitness begin to speak about the body as a necessity merely of its welfare. One doesn’t end the discussion of the body by declaring that they have one. So what? And neither should someone declare themselves spiritual without considering the implications of just what it is the spirit may need.

    Carmichael is a Roman Catholic, so his understanding of “religion” is certainly different than mine. But on this point, he hits the nail squarely on the head. Spirituality isn’t the destination; it’s the starting point. To identify yourself as spiritual is to recognize that you were made for something more. And that’s good. But wouldn’t you want to know what that “something” actually is? Wouldn’t you want to find the answers to the questions that your spirituality asks?

    This is precisely where religion comes into play. It’s within the doctrinal concreteness of religion that spirituality finds its proper place. And not just any religion, but the cross-shaped religion of biblical Christianity. Whereas mere spirituality leaves us grasping in the dark for we know not what, the gospel puts something tangible in front of us. We may not like it. We may find it too old and rugged for our tastes. But there it stands nonetheless, inviting us to cling to it with all of its bloodstains and splinters.

    If it’s vibrant spirituality we want, we won’t find it by shedding our religion. We’ll find it within our religion—or rather, behind our religion—where Jesus stands as our eternally sufficient Savior and Lord. It’s only in union with him and fellowship with his church that human spirituality can truly flourish.

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember22nd2016 Evangelism and Empathy
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Church Evangelism Love 1 comments Add comment

    Perhaps you’ve seen the comedy sketch where Bob Newhart plays the part of a painfully direct psychologist. When a woman comes into his office with a debilitating phobia, he cuts right to the chase with two simple words of advice:

    If you think about it, the psychologist has a point. There’s a sense in which the woman truly does need to “stop it.” Her fears and destructive behaviors need to be put behind her if she is to have a healthy life.

    But at the same time, what makes the sketch so cringe-inducing (and hilarious) is the callous, naïve, unhelpful way in which the psychologist goes about trying to achieve this goal. From his comfortable seat behind the desk, he shows no understanding, no compassion, and certainly no appreciation for the complex nature of the human psyche. (This is why he dismisses any mention of childhood influences with the warning, “We don’t go there!”) Simply put, this psychologist just doesn’t get it.

    Although we may laugh (and rightly so) at this silly little sketch, I find it to be quite sobering, as well.

    As Christians, we are called to bear witness to Jesus wherever we go. We are ambassadors, sent into the world to share the good news and make disciples. We know the problem (sin), and we know the solution (Jesus). But it can be all too easy to forget that there’s more to evangelism than that. And when we forget this, we often end up just like the psychologist, shouting the gospel equivalent of “stop it” at those we come in contact with.

    Recently I got to interact with my friend Aaron about John Stott’s book Christian Mission in the Modern World. And in the course of our conversation, I was reminded of this great excerpt from the book:

    "It is surely one of the most characteristic failures of us Christians, not least of us who are called evangelical Christians, that we seldom seem to take seriously this principle of the incarnation... It comes more natural to us to shout the gospel at people from a distance than to involve ourselves deeply in their lives, to think ourselves into their culture and their problems, and to feel with them in their pains."

    Simply bludgeoning others with cold, hard facts may feel like faithful gospel proclamation. But if we’re doing this without taking the time to get to know them or understand their unique doubts, dreams, and fears, it’s merely a cheap substitute for what Jesus has called us to do.

    This is why Michael Frost, in his book Incarnate, exhorts Christians to go meet people where they are:

    "We need to get out of the house. We need to move into the neighborhood and rub shoulders with those who don't yet share our faith. We need to develop joint practices or habits with like-minded followers of Jesus that bind us more deeply to God, to each other, and which propel us outward into the lives of others, especially the poor, the lost and the lonely."

    The world doesn’t need a bunch of Christians huddled together in church buildings shouting, “Stop it!” at everyone who happens to walk by. What the world needs is evangelism and empathy—a loving band of Christ-followers who will patiently listen, seek to understand, show that we care, and then faithfully bring the gospel to bear in the lives of those who are lost.

    The good news is that Jesus has already paved the way for us. In his incarnation, he took on our nature, lived among us, and shared in our suffering. So as we follow him and pursue his likeness, let us also reflect his empathy. We have a Savior who cared for others; let’s be Christians who do the same. 

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember15th2016 Brotherhood

    A few days ago I heard some dogs yelping in our cul-de-sac area. It sounded like a fight by what I heard. I looked out the window from our upstairs bedroom but couldn’t see anything. I heard another commotion within a few more minutes, but shrugged it off. Later, I learned the commotion involved my neighbor, a fellow Christian. He had been bit by one of the dogs while mowing his lawn.

    He and his wife texted us while at the emergency room and gave us some of the details, picture and all. I felt awful. Why didn’t I go out to see what was going on, in case someone needed help? Would my neighbor have been spared those jaws had I been there with him?

    I expressed this to my wife. I told her, chest puffed as full as could be, “I should have gone out, it’s what brothers do! We get one another’s backs.”

    Now, that’s easy to say on this end of the cul-de-sac ambush of 2016. And yes, I’m glorifying the moment a bit much. But it does speak to a camaraderie that we men do share in.

    God has designed men differently from women (thank you Captain Obvious). And this leads to a number of shared similarities that, as a result, bring a connectedness in many great ways.

    Yet it seems that, as Christian men, we could depend on that far more. I know I could.

    Let me ask you a few questions…

    1. Do you have a strong (or growing) friendship with Christian men at Kossuth?
    2. If so, do they know personal details about your life (dreams, disappointments, struggles, goals, etc.)?
    3. Do you have a list of men from our church whom you know on a personal level and whom you pray for regularly?
    4. Are there Christian men in your life whom you laugh with, joke with, and enjoy time with, even when there is no agenda that brings you together?
    5. Do you share a sense of missional impact with other men from our church family?

    This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list. Nor do I mean to suggest that once you answer yes to all five of these questions that you have arrived as a Christian male.

    No, but I do think that matters like these are important for us men to pursue.

    For me it comes down to a fundamental fact that God has not designed us to walk with him alone, but to walk with him together. That doesn’t exclude women, but it does mean that there are unique aspects of the Christian walk where men need other men.

    This year’s Men’s Summit has been tailored to help us grow in these very areas. We will play a lot together. There is too much camp space and free time budgeted for us to fail to come up with all sorts of ways to interact and have fun together. We will worship and pray together. We will discuss mission and Christian growth together. We will encounter God together and in a way that outlasts our 24 hours in a lodge.

    So, come, be a part. Register at ksbc.net/ms16.

    WedWednesdaySepSeptember7th2016 A Proud Father

    In the midst of so many news stories about crime and injustice and nasty politics, it’s nice to come across something every now and then that lifts your spirits and gives you reason for hope.

    Anticipating the upcoming fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, CNN published an article this week that does just that, profiling a group of ten young people who lost their fathers as a result of the terrorist attacks that day. Ranging from age 14 to 29, half of the group had no memories of their fathers when they died. In fact, two weren’t even born at the time. But together, these young people represent the 3,051 children under the age of 18 who lost a parent on 9/11—people whose lives will forever be shaped by tragedy and loss.

    Alfred Vukosa was a 37-year-old information technology specialist at Cantor Fitzgerald who worked in the World Trade Center. When the attacks happened, Vukosa was one of 658 other Cantor Fitzgerald employees who were unable to make it out alive. He left behind a devastated 6-year-old son named Austin, who was so grief-stricken that he told his mom he wanted to slit his wrists so he could be with his dad.

    Today, Austin is a 21-year-old who just graduated from Notre Dame and is one month into his new career. By all accounts, he seems to be on a very successful trajectory. But what’s most significant is where this recent college graduate has started working: none other than Cantor Fitzgerald. “Just to follow [my father’s] footsteps at the same company has been a big sense of accomplishment for me,” Austin said. “It drew me a little closer to him.”

    This sort of attitude is not unique to Austin Vukosa. Woven through all ten of the stories is a common thread: these young people are driven by a constant desire to honor their dads. This excerpt from the latter part of the article sums it up well:

    If they could ask their fathers one last question, what would it be?

    Nicole Pila immediately pipes up: "Are you proud of me?"

    "I would say the same thing," adds Austin Vukosa. "I would want to know if he's proud."

    Jessica Waring: "Yeah, I think I'd want to know the same thing, too."

    For these kids, the quest to please their fathers is fueled by grief. In the physical absence of their dads, they are all the more eager to do something of which their dads would be proud.

    But although the circumstances of these ten young people are unique, their desire is universal. In his little book, You Have What It Takes, John Eldredge tells of a man who had reached a high point of financial success, yet still seemed to be lacking something. After losing his father to cancer, he finally was able to admit, “All these years, knocking myself out to get ahead … I wasn’t even enjoying myself. What was it for? I see now … I was trying to win my father’s approval.”

    Many of us have heard this same voice within, telling us that we need to make our fathers proud—whether it’s through athletic accomplishment or financial prosperity or physical beauty or career success. And although I hope you’ve had a father who has generously expressed his pride in you, I realize that many don’t. The quest for approval is ongoing. The jury is still out.

    But for the Christian, there is good news. Although your relationship with your earthly father may be uncertain (or worse), your relationship with your heavenly Father is secure. Not because you have made him proud, but because someone else made him proud for you

    When the Father openly declared, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," he was speaking of Jesus Christ's perfect obedience. But insofar as you are united to Christ in saving faith, the Father's delight in the Son can be enjoyed by you, as well. On your own, you could never earn the Father's approval. But as a result of your union with Christ, everything you desire from your earthly father this heavenly Father provides.

    You might find this notion hard to believe, but it's true. As Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord…will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” 

    Do you long to make your Father proud? In Christ, he already is.

    ThuThursdaySepSeptember1st2016 Go and Make Friends

    Go and make friends.

    That was what I told myself. It had been a long day and the last thing I wanted to do was get back on the road after only a few minutes at home. But I knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.

    I was on my way to an event where I was probably a minority Christian in the group of twenty or so. As an introvert, twenty people are a lot of people. Not to mention the fact that I always feel like the odd ball in the group.

    As I drove alone in my car, I thought about the interactions ahead and wondered if I would hit any spiritual topics at all. I hadn’t yet. What would be different tonight? However, that was the wrong goal, at least at this point in the relationships that were forming.

    I recently had read through some of The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson. In it he placed a priority on relationships and question-asking in the endeavors of evangelism:

    “Christians are often proficient at rehearsing the information of the gospel, but we often lack the ability to relate the gospel to the lives of others…evangelism doesn’t have to be mechanical; it can be intuitive and relational. It doesn’t have to be pressure-driven and event-oriented. Listening to people’s stories, we can discern how to best share the gospel with them in a natural, relatable way. We don’t have to fit an evangelistic mold.”

    I was struck by what I read from Dodson. I needed to shift in my witness from treating it as a lecture to functioning more as a physician. At its extreme, in a lecture I relay information and trust the hearer to connect the dots as needed. But as a physician, I get to know the individual, ask several questions to diagnose the problem, and then relay the cure to the specific area of need. This is not to mention that giving a lecture comes with a lot of pressure. How do I begin? What if I forget to say the right thing, or come off as “preachy”?

    I want to be a wise physician, like our Great Physician. I want to build friendships and weave the gospel into our conversations over time, at the right times, and watch healing take place.

    As I drove my car and prepared for the evening ahead, I told myself, “Go and make friends.” The pressure was off. Anyone can make friends. You don’t need a seminary degree or ten years of pastoral experience to make friends. I had the privilege of simply asking questions and getting to know people. I got to make friends. And I had fun doing it.

    This was very encouraging to me since I’d currently give myself a D- in evangelistic ministry. However, I am motivated by the idea of meeting people, getting to know them, and slowly relating the gospel to their lives over a period of time. In fact, that sounds fun to me.

    I have a long way to go with this growing group of friends. Our relationship is very superficial at the present. But I’m working at it. I know the relationship will deepen, and as I pray and ask God for opportunity, I look forward to Christ entering our conversations. I’m excited.

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