Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Teen Brain. . . Figuring It Out. . .

I love this TED talk. . . really about the glory of God in terms of how we've been made. . . although she never says it directly. It's amazing to think about the complexity of the human body. . . every system. . . every organ. . . every cell. . . all working together in harmony and growing and maturing according to God's grand design.

This is a video worth watching. . . .

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hey Death. . . You Don't Win. . .

It's a week to think about death. . . . but that's not all. Thanks to the reality of Christ's sacrifice, the resurrection is ours as well! Death is not the end of the story! Charles Spurgeon captured the essence of the fallout from the Good News that we celebrate this week when he wrote, "When the time comes for you to die, you need not be afraid, because death cannot separate you from God's love." C.S. Lewis reminds us of the perspective we must embrace as followers of Christ: "Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." That might be the greatest understatement Lewis ever penned.

I need the reminders of this week. You see, for many years I thought little about death. I never attended a funeral until I was an adult. In terms of my family members, I've only experienced the deaths of three grandparents who had lived very long lives. I've had several youth group kids die young over the years, but somehow the ease of my own life always allowed me to find solace in moving on and forgetting, more so than in grappling with the reality of death and the wonderful gift of the reality of the resurrection.

To be honest, I knew of the resurrection and I proclaimed it, but I don't think I was embracing it as I should. My own sense of youthful invulnerability eclipsed the reality of my own mortality. Then, God gave me the gifts of a speeding car through my office wall along with a trip over my bicycle handlebars to seriously consider the fact that yes. . . someday, I too was going to die.

In recent years I have worked hard to slow down during this week that we commemorate God's undoing of death and all the other things resulting from our sin and selfishness. I don't want to miss being amazed by the most amazing historical event ever. This year, the pondering is running deep for me. Tomorrow I will be attending the funeral for a 32-year-old we know who died suddenly last week. We hurt for his family. . . his wife, four-year-old son, dad, mom, and brother. We hurt for his unborn son who is due to arrive June. This is not the way things are supposed to be. This morning, I went back and read the text exchange that I was having with Pete's brother after Pete had died. Pete's brother wrote, "He is with the Lord. Praise God. The hope we look to in faith is now his reality." I'm sure that Pete's family members are enduring days filled with the ups and downs that come with grieving a great loss in the context of hope. But they have hope.

As I was texting back and forth last night with Pete's brother, this little note from a Facebook friend popped up:  Lowell's dad died suddenly on Saturday evening in a farm accident. He was out in the woods doing what he loved to do-- cutting and hauling in fire wood. It was a shock to all of us to hear the news of his death. Please pray for the family as they gather from around the globe. Pray especially for Lowell's mom. She is doing remarkably well--- full of faith and hope. 

Full of faith and hope. . . how do people get through their grief without the hope of the resurrection?

And then just a few minutes later I watched the report (embedded below) on the NBC news about the shooting at the Kansas Jewish Community Center. Again, I was pounded with the hope of the resurrection as Mindy Corcoran, just hours after losing both her father and her son in the shooting, gave testimony to the faith she has in Christ. . . not just through her words, but through her willingness and ability to stand and speak about the tragedy. Just watch. . . .

If the message of Easter has become an old, old story to you, think about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the hope that exists for those who are in Christ. Ponder the very real and unexplainable hope that is transcending the very real grief that is visiting the families of Pete, Lowell, and Mindy Corcoran.

The Psalmist wrote these amazing, truth-filled words : "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sexuality, Cultural Change, and How We Read Scripture. . . .

Every now and then I have a day that's marked by thought-provoking and anything-but-coincidental convergence. You know. . . you hear something, see something, read something . . . and it all seems to come together to spark thoughts on things that matter. Yesterday was one of those days.

I ventured out on a walk while thinking about today's "Day of Silence" and what that means for our kids, our culture, and the church. I'm still processing thoughts that I blogged the other day. Specifically, I was thinking about the complex issues related to same-sex attraction and how our views on such are emerging, morphing, and changing in both the culture and the church. I was thinking about the temptation we all face to change with the times, which leads us to believe that somehow all cultural change is a mark of progression that should be celebrated and affirmed. This creates very real tensions for those of us who follow Christ.

I reminded myself of the principles of faithful and careful Biblical interpretation and exegesis that I've learned over the years, particularly during my time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. We begin not by asking "What does this mean to me?", but "What did this mean at the time it was written?". Once we've done our interpretive exegetical work, then. . . and only then. . . can we work to make applications to our culture and our own personal lives.

While cultural change might tempt us to jettison those interpretive principles, we must always go back to our need to faithfully and responsibly interpret Scripture. . . with Scripture as our starting point for all matters of faith and life. While it's becoming more and more commonplace for Christians to view and interpret Scripture through the eyes of our culture, we need to be doing the opposite as we view, interpret, and respond to culture through the eyes of Scripture.

During my walk, I stumbled upon a podcast that I had never been aware of before, thanks to my handy TuneIn Radio app. "Issues, Etc." is a production of Lutheran Public Radio. I scrolled through some options and settled on an interview with Shane Rosenthal on "Me-Centered Bible Interpretation."  It's worth listening to. Having talked for years about how narcissism and the postmodern ethos have combined to create a way of interpreting the Bible that is more about eisogesis than exegesis, I was thrilled to hear Rosenthal's remarks. It wasn't difficult at all to connect that dots between reading the Scriptures incorrectly, and how we apply an incorrect understanding of Scripture in ways that support and encourage changing moral standards when, in fact, they should be challenged.

Then, my day continued with some reading on a flight to Wichita. I finally got around to reading a Rolling Stone magazine piece on changing sexual standards. "Tales From the Millennials' Sexual Revolution" serves as a reminder of just how much our moral standards have morphed in recent years. I found myself asking, "Will the church process and address these changing standards through the lens of Scripture? Or, will the church adjust Scripture to accommodate these changing sexual standards?"

Finally, I pulled John Stott's Balanced Christianity out of my bag and began reading. I find in Stott a balanced wisdom and maturity that is lacking in so many corners of the church today. His teaching and writing have served to shape me and keep me anchored, especially as it relates to the relationship between faith, Scripture, and culture. The fact that this book was first penned in 1975 might put some younger folks off.  After all, Stott was writing in a different time and culture. Could what he wrote then be even remotely relevant to us today? Without a doubt, yes.

I thought I would pass on some of the more provocative words from Stott's chapter on "Conservative and Radical." Stott defines "conservative" in this case as "people who are determined to conserve of preserve the past and are therefore resistant to change." "Radicals" are "people who are in rebellion against what is inherited from the past and therefore are agitating for change." Stott argues that every balanced Christian "should have a foot in both camps."

Some random, thought-provoking words from Stott. . . .

"Every Christian should be conservative because the whole church is called by God to conserve his revelation, to 'guard the deposit' . . . The church's task is not to keep inventing new gospels, new theologies, new moralities and new Christianities, but rather to be a faithful guardian of the on and only eternal Gospel. . . . The self-revelation of God is. . . . changeless in truth and authority."

"Jesus refused to be bound by human custom; his mind and conscience were bound by God's Word alone. Thus, Jesus was a unique combination of conservative and the radical, conservative toward Scripture and radical in his scrutiny (his biblical scrutiny) of everything else."

"Culture changes from age to age, and from place to place. Moreover, we Christians, who say we desire to live under the authority of God's Word, should subject our own contemporary culture to continuous biblical scrutiny. Far from resenting or resisting cultural change, we should be in the forefront of those who propose and work for its progressive modification in order to make it more truly expressive of the dignity of humanity and more pleasing to the God who created us."

"The greater danger (at least among evangelicals) is to mistake culture for Scripture, to be too conservative and traditionalist, to be blind to those things in church and society which displease God and should therefore displease us, to dig our heels and our toes deep into the status quo and to resist firmly that most uncomfortable of all experiences, change.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Youth Workers, Parents, and This Week's Day of Silence. . . .

A few years ago I was speaking on youth culture at a church in the Midwest that sits directly across the street from the local high school. I had challenged those in attendance to reach out to the large population of broken and confused kids who walked the halls of that school each and every day. Afterwards, a woman shared a concern and asked a question. She explained that she was part of a group of Christians who were working to get the school to ban the upcoming “Day of Silence.” “What can we do to stop it?” she asked.

If you’re in the dark regarding the “Day of Silence,” here’s an explanation: Founded in 1996 at the University of Virginia, the “Day of Silence” is billed by organizers as the largest student-led event towards creating safer schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The national event has been growing in recent years, and is intended to bring attention to "anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools." Students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges take a vow of silence for the day in an effort to encourage schools and classmates "to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT." 

Scheduled to be held this year on Friday, April 11, hundreds of thousands of students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across America will participate. The event is officially sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). According to research from GLSEN, nearly nine out of ten LGBT students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school, and more than 30 percent report missing at least a day of school in the past month out of fear for their personal safety.

Students participating in the “Day of Silence” are encouraged to download and hand out “speaking cards” which say: “Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-calling, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.”

After pondering the woman’s question for a few moments, I offered a response that I think surprised her. My response was rooted in a couple of realities. First, but not foremost, there’s my own experience of harassing people during my high school years, something rooted in my own adolescent insecurities. You know – putting others down to feel better about myself. While I’m ashamed to admit it, my behavior included harassment of a small number of peers who were rumored to be homosexuals. Second, and foremost, is my understanding of who God is, who He’s made people to be, and who He’s called His followers to be. . . especially in response to those who - like you and me - are sinners desperately in need of God’s saving grace.

And so I told her this. . . First, I believe that God has established sexuality as a good and wonderful gift that is to be experienced and celebrated with great freedom within the bounds of His order and design. That design is clearly articulated in the Scriptures as being a good and wonderful gift of God to be experienced and indulged within the context of an exclusive, covenantal, monogamous, and committed marriage between one man and one woman. Because our world is fallen and broken, there will be sinful distortions of that plan that we are to avoid (even "flee from") including adultery, fornication, pornography, sexual abuse, sexual lust, and same-sex sexual activity. . . among other things. All are equally sinful distortions of God's good and perfect design for our sexuality. We are to teach these truths to our children without hesitation in a cultural climate that increasingly teaches and celebrates otherwise.

Second, banning the “Day of Silence” only deals with symptoms of deeper issues and really accomplishes nothing. Shouldn’t we be concerned about the hearts where those deeper issues live and from which the symptoms rise to the surface? And while we’re talking about hearts from which the issues come, what about the hearts from which hate and ignorance flow. . . . especially when those hearts belong to those who claim to follow Christ? What about hearts that find it so easy to rank and categorize sexual sin, even to the point of ignoring, diminishing, or justifying one's own sexual sin by focusing on the sexual sin of another?

Third, we can’t force anyone to follow Jesus. Only God’s Spirit is able to draw people to Himself. While we can’t strong-arm people into the Kingdom of God, we can and must choose to follow Jesus ourselves. Following Jesus means facing our Pharisaical tendencies/sins head-on, while loving sinners as Jesus has loved them (and us! . . . because we’re in that group too). Loving, caring for, and ministering to sinners is our calling, just as our calling is to hate and avoid sin. As I remember John White once saying, "As Christ is to me, so must I be to others."

Finally, I asked her this question: “Have you ever thought about acting on your concern by sitting down and spending some time getting to know and listening to the kids who are planning the ‘Day of Silence’ at your school?” She paused. . . as I guess most of us would. . . and said “no.” I then challenged her to find out the names of the kids, invite them out to Starbucks, and then sit with no other agenda than to listen, learn, build a relationship, love, and begin a conversation.

What would happen if we would stop working so hard to “protect” our kids by legislating morality, and start “providing spiritually” for our kids by modeling how to take the Gospel to those who are hungry for Heaven? I’m learning that while it might seem easier to wish and work away differences I might not like, Jesus is calling me to go as His ambassador to people He’s called me to love. Then, He’ll take care of the rest.

I highly recommend this helpful guide from Harvest USA on how to respond to the Day of Silence. You can access the guide here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kurt Cobain, CPYU, and Remembering. . .

Sleeping last night was a bit difficult. My mind was racing with thoughts about both the future and the past. The future is the immediate future. . . specifically the next twenty-four hours as old and new friends from near and far gather today to join us to celebrate God's faithfulness to us over the last quarter-decade. Tonight we're having our 25th Anniversary Celebration Banquet for CPYU. Really??? Twenty-five years??? So hard to believe. The past is those 25 years and all that has happened in that brief yet very full span of time. It's been amazing.

But in the months, weeks, and days leading up to today's celebration, I've been reminded of another more bitter anniversary being remembered this weekend. It's an anniversary of a broken life and too-early death that I've been thinking about and been reminded of almost every day for these last twenty years. Tomorrow, it will be 20 years since Nirvana's Kurt Cobain took his own life at the age of 27. Just like the launch of CPYU, it seems like yesterday. 

Over the course of the last two weeks I've been re-reading the Charles Cross biopic of Cobain, Heavier Than Heaven. It's been part of my commitment to what theologian John Stott calls "dual listening," a task Stott says is the responsibility of every Christian who wants to represent and serve Christ well in the world. Stott says we must listen to both Word and world. When we listen to both, we are better equipped to know how to bring the light of the Word to illuminate the darkness of a horribly broken world. Heavier Than Heaven has been a journey into some very dark darkness.

I've been reminded almost every day of Cobain's death because I made a decision years ago to walk past and look at his picture every time I'm in our office. It was one of many conscious efforts I've made to look at youthful brokenness to serve as a reminder of why it is that I do what I do. On our office wall hang three pictures of Cobain. The first is a picture of a smiling young first-grader. It's one of those school pictures we're all so familiar with. His eyes are bright and there's a smile on his face. This is the Kurt Cobain who was described as a happy-go-lucky kid who loved life. Then, when he was eight-years-old, his parents divorced. That's when the smile became scarce and eventually disappeared. 

Cobain's music was a reflection and expression of his broken life, and his yearning for healing and wholeness. It resonated with a generation that found in Cobain a mouthpiece for their own difficulties. One of the most significant conversations I've ever had with a kid took place when he introduced me to Cobain and the music of Nirvana back in 1991. When I asked him what it was that he liked about the music, he said, "This guy sings what I feel." The kid was in middle school at the time. 

After Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994, both Spin and Rolling Stone ran covers and lead stories on Cobain's life, music, and death. Both issues arrived in my mailbox on the same day. When I pulled them out of the mailbox, I stood on the driveway staring at the covers. They were piercing. In a way, they spoke a loud and clear message to me: "This is why you do what you do." I brought them into the house and set them down on the table. Lisa and I looked at them both and she perceptively remarked, "Look at his eyes." I knew just what she meant. They are eyes that are hungry for heaven. 

Today, both of those covers hang framed on our office wall. Between them is the photo of the smiling young boy. They are hung in that order so that I'm reminded of the fact that something happened in the time between when those photos were taken. And that is why we do what we do.

This morning, my listening to the Word took me into the forty-second chapter of Isaiah. There, I read God's descriptor of His chosen servant who was yet to come into the world to release it from the choke-hold of sin: "I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness." 

While there is unmistakable permeating brokenness in the world, there is a hope that because that brokenness is being undone and will be finally and completely undone. And that. . . well. . . that's why we do what we do. 

All thanks and glory to God for sending His Son into the world. . . and for the last 25 years.