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    Elders' Blog - Entries from January 2017

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    ThuThursdayJanJanuary26th2017 Love Learns the Language
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Gospel Love Outreach 3 comments Add comment

    Take a moment and think about your favorite song. Maybe it’s a song from your youth that holds a nostalgic sway over you whenever you hear it. Maybe it’s a song from your wedding that kindles feelings of romance and love. Maybe it’s a song that helped you get through a particularly tough season of life.

    Now that you have a song in mind, I want you to think about this: How would you go about introducing that song to a friend who was deaf? How would you help that person appreciate the crescendos, the rhythms, the harmonies? How would you share the beauty of your favorite song with someone whose ears couldn’t hear it?

    Recently the technology company HP explored this very theme in an advertisement for a new laptop computer. The commercial features two brothers who overcome the obstacle of deafness to bond through music. Take a moment to watch it:

    Now let me assure you that I have no vested interest in your next computer purchase. I’m not trying to sell you HP products here. But I do have a vested interest in how the church engages the world with the gospel, and I happen to think that this commercial has something profound to teach us in that regard.

    Could you see how the deaf brother (I’m going to call him Zeke) felt at the concert? His face said it all. He felt alienated and disconnected. Although his brother (I’ll call him Miles) had extended an invitation to him as a gesture of love, in the end, it left Zeke feeling like an outsider, hopelessly distanced from his brother and the dancing crowds surrounding him.

    But then Miles changed his tactic. Instead of inviting Zeke to enter his world, Miles found a way to enter Zeke’s world. He translated an auditory language into a visual language. He allowed his brother to engage the music in a way he could understand. And in the end, it was this creative commitment to contextualized love that made all the difference.

    As Christians, we have a song to sing to the world. It’s the gospel song—a song of hope, redemption, and joy—a song that faithful Christians have been singing exuberantly throughout the centuries.

    But all too often, it’s possible for us to sing this song in a way that makes sense to us, without considering the world’s ability to actually hear it. While we’re sitting up in our (literal or metaphorical) choir lofts, carefully perfecting every note, we fail to notice that the world is staring at us with a look of bewildered confusion. We’re like Miles rocking out at the concert, while the Zekes around us look on, perplexed by what they can’t hear.

    In practical terms, we might call this a “come to us” mentality of church outreach. We truly are trying to love our neighbors. But we’re assuming that a big enough event or an impressive enough program will convey that love and draw them into the faith. In other words, it’s simply a matter of us singing loudly enough. But when we ask the world to engage with the gospel on our terms and in our language, we always run the risk of alienating them. And when that happens, we’ll find that as beautiful as our song may be, we’re really only singing it to ourselves.

    On the other hand, if we really love our song—and if we really love the world around us—then we should be eager to do what Miles did. We should look for creative, faithful ways to translate our song into a language that is intelligible to others. We should stop expecting people to come to us; instead, we should go to them. Enter their worlds. Learn their languages. Understand their objections. Speak to their hearts.

    It’s easy to sing and invite people to come listen. But to be a church that truly loves the world, that’s not enough. We need Spirit-empowered creativity to learn a new language, to sing in a new way. The song will never change. But we should never stop exploring new ways to help others hear it.

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary18th2017 What Contentment Is Not

    Contentment is not stuffing your feelings.

    There, I’ve said it. It has become sort of a vent of mine, I admit. It all began almost ten years ago when talking with a friend. He was unmarried and nearing the age of thirty (my story is similar). His lack of a companion was not his own choice. Rather, he longed for it. But a comment he made has stuck with me all of these years.

    “My friends at church keep telling me to just be content.”

    Ouch. I’m sure they meant well. But, as I’ve kept his comments in the back of my mind through the years, I hear that same sort of message from time to time (also its sister comment, “The moment you stop worrying about it, God will give it to you”). Our English translation of the Bible has approximately 750,000 words in it, and that is the best comfort and counsel we can give when it comes to the deep longings of the heart?

    A Christian ought to pursue contentment. And yes, brothers and sisters in Christ should help one another grow in godly contentment. But contentment is not stuffing your feelings.

    True, contentment is looking at all my desires and longings square in the face and recognizing that God is enough. He is sufficient. He is better. And even the best that this world has to offer serves as a pointer to the one who is better than the best. However, this doesn’t exclude all other desires and longings.

    Consider the longing to be married. God gave us marriage. He designed that a man and woman could become one and multiply. God also confirms that he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord (Prov. 18:22). So, does being content mean I shut off that longing and all the emotions associated with it? I don’t think so. Contentment is not stuffing your feelings. Contentment does not mean that I stop wanting something that I, and God, value.

    God designed us to enjoy many gifts on this earth: marriage, children, productive work, friendship, grandchildren, and the list goes on. It is okay to long for those things. It is not wrong to want God and a spouse. It is not wrong to want God and grandchildren.

    I would like to propose a different path than stuffing your feelings. There is no doubt that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6). But contentment includes processing my feelings with God rather than stuffing them. It means that rather than wishing those desires were gone (or worse, seeing them as evil), sanctifying them by laying them on the table of prayer and allowing God to comfort you in the midst of them. And such a process can last a lifetime.

    It’s the difference between praying, “God, please take away my intense longing for children and make me content with you,” and praying, “God, thank you for the desire for children. As I look to you as being enough, I choose also to express my hurt, pain, and grief to you.”

    The latter prayer is more Christ-like than the former. Jesus himself said as much. “Father, please take this cup away from me. But not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

    Contentment is not stuffing your feelings. So, stop. Be honest with God. Openly acknowledge your longings and desires. Allow God to speak deep into your soul as you process them with him.

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary12th2017 Rogue Hope
    byMikel Berger Tagged Gospel Hope 0 comments Add comment


    Have you ever bought a new car, and then it seems like you see the same model everywhere you look when you never noticed it before? My family hasn’t bought a new car recently, but a similar thing has happened to me with the word “hope”.

    Drew kicked off the new year by preaching from Ephesians 1:17-21. He talked about the hope, inheritance, and power given to us by God. The middle of verse 18 is:


    ...that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you...


    I thought the passage and Drew’s preaching of it showed not only the hope that individual Christians have, but more importantly the hope that we as the unified body of Christ have. We don’t just possess that hope. That hope spurs us to love one another as we have been loved by God in giving us hope. It allows us to sacrifice much time, talent, and treasure in this life because we know that none of these earthly good things will ever be as good as the treasures and oneness with our Creator that we hope for.


    But Drew’s sermon wasn’t the only place I bumped into hope recently.


    I’m one of the teachers in the Connection Hour class that is studying from Romans 12-16, and in a few weeks I’ll be teaching from Romans 15. One big theme of the passage is the hope that Christians have in Jesus. Paul explains how Christ is the hope not only of the Jew but also of the Gentile. God is ever increasing the ways in which he provides us hope. Just from this chapter we are told how we are given the Scriptures to encourage our hope. Paul quotes Isaiah to remind us of how Israel had the hope of the coming Messiah to carry them through difficult times. Then with the coming of the Messiah that hope has been extended to the Gentiles. And after Christ’s resurrection, God gave the early church and continues to give us today the Holy Spirit so that we will have an abundance of hope.


    Consider this just a trailer or preview of the Romans lessons on January 29 and February 5. Speaking of trailers, the last place that hope showed up for me was at the movie theaters.


    I like the Star Wars movies. I’ve seen Rogue One twice already. For those that haven’t seen it yet I don’t think there are any spoilers ahead. (But seriously, if you haven’t seen it, yet stop reading, go to the theater, and then come back. I’ll be here.) One of the key lines in the movie is “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.” It even made it into the trailer.

     

    I am pretty sure the writers of the movie have no idea both how true and theologically sound those statements are. Rebellions are built on hope. The key though is not the hope itself, but the object of the hope. Hope in hope is no hope at all. In Star Wars they hope in fighter pilots and Jedi knights and in The Force that is somehow both their hope and the cause of all they hope against (don’t ask, I’m not that big of a fan that I can explain it).


    We of course, hope in the Creator of the universe. The Creator who became part of the creation. And in doing so for all those who believe in him, completely removed the curse and its effects that we hope against. That is a hope that really changes things. That is a hope that causes me and all of us to join the “rebellion.”


    Just like you’re mostly likely to see a car in your garage that looks like yours (because it is), you’re most likely to find theological truth by reading the Bible and attending Kossuth on Sunday mornings. But if you keep your eyes open, you might just catch some truth in a place like the movie theater.

     

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary5th2017 The End of Spiritual Disciplines

    Somewhere in the world there’s a company that manufactures prayer journals. And they’re probably working overtime right now.

    With the arrival of the new year comes an opportunity for improvement. And as Christians, there is perhaps no area we see more need for improvement than our practice of the spiritual disciplines. So with the arrival of a new year, we resolve to do better, looking for anything that will give us a boost or an edge. Like Bible reading plans. Or Scripture memory apps. Or really fancy, leather-bound, decorative prayer journals with inspirational verses on each page.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with Bible reading plans. Or Scripture memory apps. Or decorative prayer journals—no matter how fancy they are. In fact, I think all of these items can be wonderful gifts from God to cultivate a life of discipline. But my question is this: Why is it so easy for our reading plans to fizzle out after two weeks? Why do we end up deleting the unused Scripture memory app to make room for a new music download? Why does our prayer journal get dusty on the shelf—with 99 percent of its pages still blank?

    Perhaps it has to do with the fact that too often we’re prone to look at the spiritual disciplines all wrong.

    Tim Morey, in his book Embodying Our Faith, writes: “Am I engaged in the spiritual disciplines? is an important question to ask, but an even more telling question is, Am I growing in love with God and people?” (p. 114). Morey goes on to say, “We must avoid the temptation to measure our spiritual maturity merely by the practice of the disciplines themselves rather than by the fruit that they produce in our lives” (p. 115).

    It dawns on me that every year I get discouraged by my lack of discipline, and then I get even more discouraged when my plans for improvement fall apart. But perhaps I’ve been caught up in a self-defeating cycle of trying to succeed in the spiritual disciplines, simply so I can have succeeded in the spiritual disciplines. In other words, I’ve isolated these practices from the rest of my life, keeping them in their own self-contained little bubble.

    But the truth is that my reading and my praying and my meditating all have an end (or a goal) that is outside of reading and praying and meditating. And that end is love. Tangible, visible love for God and others. Love that actually makes a difference in the world.

    Eugene Peterson writes:

    Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son. (Eat This Book, p.  18).

    Perhaps that’s what we’ve been missing. We’ve desired to do better, but we’ve not really understood why we need to be better. We’ve not seen that a quiet moment of prayer or meditation isn’t for the purpose of achieving a private, isolated sense of personal piety (and thus merely generating more moments of prayer and meditation). Rather, these quiet moments are shaping us to be able to engage a lost and hurting world in need of grounded, mature, disciplined ambassadors of Jesus. We’ve failed to see that spiritual disciplines are only worthwhile insofar as they produce fruit.

    So if you want to join me in cultivating a lifestyle of spiritual discipline this year, then don’t make it your goal to read the Bible or to pray more. Make it your goal to grow in loving God and others. Only then will you understand what’s really at stake, allowing your spiritual disciplines to truly flourish. Perhaps together we can become people whose lives are marked by a rich spirituality, not just people who keep the prayer journal manufacturers in business.

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