One of the greatest concerns I have for the emerging generation is the growing pervasiveness of “mircro-communication” in their lives. I recently saw a 15 year old girl featured on “Nightline” who sends 30,000 text messages on her phone each month. Do the math: that’s 1,000 per day, 62 per waking hour, or one message each minute with no breaks. This issue raises many other concerns about healthy communication, relational boundaries, tendinitus in the thumbs(!), and so on, but I see a larger cultural pattern at work that really seems to threaten the spiritual health of Christians. Our understanding of the world, of God, one another, culture, truth, spirituality and faith are all being formed shaped by a society of short soundbites. “Just give me the headline, the facts, the bottom line, the application, the gist of it. Don’t bother me with all the details, the full explanation, the whole story. I don’t have time for all that. I’m busy. I’ll just secure the info I want or need when I want it or need it.”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF COMMUNICATION
Here’s a quick history of interpersonal communication in the past century: Meet John and Jane. John loves Jane. John travels by horse and buggy two days to spend the weekend with Jane. The two spend hours exchanging life stories and getting to know each other deeply. John returns home. Jane takes an hour to write a love letter to John expressing her gratitude for a great weekend together. John calls Jane on the telephone and the two exchange laughs and loving words for 30 minutes. It is good to hear each other’s voice; but they miss each other’s face and touch. Jane text messages John on her new cell phone: “I luv U.” John texts back: “Diddo.” Jane is fascinated with John so she decides to read his personal blog weekly. John is equally as fascinated with Jane, but would rather get a shorter summary of her thoughts and so she follows his Twitter. Now he can eaves drop on what Jane is thinking, doing or feeling (in 200 words or less) whenever he wants – without even communicating directly with her. She does the same.
How does this communication trend relate to the church in America? For starters:
- The early church met in homes and share their lives, possession, worries and a meal; today if we’re lucky we might share a 25 minute sermon (but not a minute more!).
- The life of Christian discipleship and spiritual formation used to be embraced as a lifelong process; now it’s viewed as a weekend long seminar.
- We want spiritual insight and a deep understanding of God’s Word; but we want it distilled into powerpoint bullet points.
- We want to be like Jesus but we don’t follow his example of regularly withdrawing to lonely places for solitude, prayer and fellowship with God.
I am concerned for a generation of young Christians who never sit still, can’t bear a moment’s silence, constantly avoid face-to-face conversations, pick-and-choose what to listen to when, constantly send messages but have largely forgotten how to listen. At the root of the problem is the foundational fact that God has chosen to reveal himself most powerfully through a very long story (Bible) and in the face-to-face encounter with a human being (Jesus). And we have lost the patience and appreciation for a good story; and have no time for a good conversation with a friend over coffee.
The future health of the evangelical church depends on the health of the individuals who make up the church. We must recapture the ability to sit still under the instruction of the Lord, to plant ourselves like a tree by His streams of living water so we can, over the long haul, sink down deep roots and thereby grow healthy, fruit-bearing branches for God. If we refuse to be immerse ourselves in the whole story of God and insist on living off our momentary sips — or soundbites — of Christian inspiration, we will become like the chaff that the winds of our fast-paced, spiritually-deprived culture blows away.
“Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away” (Psalm 1).
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jer 17:7-8).
Discussion Questions: Do we view our life as swept up in the larger story of God? Or, do we merely apply nuggets of Christian truth (i.e., soundbites) to our life? As we minister, do we dispense Christian soundbites or invite others into God’s Story? How do we avoid the messy, face-to-face relationships the church should be about? How well do we embrace God’s invitation to “Be still and know I am God?” How often do we “withdraw to lonely places” like Jesus to pray and fellowship with God? How can we model a Christian spirituality that is planted by the stream for our teenagers bombarded by a society of soundbites?
This is a DI Classic post from 2007 when we were spearheading the Revolution youth movement in Mound. This relative short-lived effort ultimately gave me the vision and burden that would several years come to fruition in the planting of MainStreet. But these were lonely, uncertain times of discerning the will of God. -JB
“Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ,the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me. But still I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.”
(2Co 2:12-13 NET)
As many of you know, Keri and I are engaged in launching a new ministry in Mound. I am convinced that God clearly called me to settle down in this particular community and use my influence and gifts to reach the youth culture with the Gospel. This is a sacrifice and great test of faith for both of us. There have been many highs and lows, some great steps forward and several discouraging set backs along the way. Quite recently I received a verse at just the right time. It is one of those incidental facts mentioned in a letter of Paul to his Christian community back in Corinth that we usually skim right over as we look for the real “meaty” teaching of the letter. However, I discovered something quite interesting.
Pastors, missionaries, and apostles often live by faith and pray urgently for “OPEN DOORS” of opportunity for advancing the Gospel. This is biblical language. I, too, believe God opened a door at Bethel Methodist Church in Mound just a week or so after I received a very real, convincing “calling” from God to reach the youth of Mound. The doors that open are not always what we expected, but they are nevertheless thought to be “a God thing” and we walk through them with great anticipation. Usually, when God opens a door we think we must BE EXACTLY WHERE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE. This must be God’s place for us, and we find ourselves experiencing “a certain peace.” Have you heard this?
Well, this assumption is what makes the above passage so peculiar. Here is Paul describing how God opened a great door of opportunity to share the Gospel in Troas, and yet he found no peace in his spirit! Furthermore, HE LEAVES immediately and goes to Macedonia! Was Paul leaving God’s calling? Did he wimp out? Why did he not stay? Well, the passage indicates that He was looking for his fellow missionary brother, Titus. He was restless without his partner in ministry.
This makes me wonder a bit. Personally, I can think of nothing more important that being obedient to God’s calling in life, and when one receives a particular assignment and God opens a door for them they should walk through it. However, having experienced the wear and tear ministry takes on one’s life as one attempts to follow the vision, I am also realizing that a faithful and effective minister will be surrounded by a solid support network. Paul knew that he would be ineffective without Titus with him. God’s open door was not enough. He needed a healthy community of fellow believers to walk through the doors alongside him.
So, I have discovered that even the great Apostle Paul was no lone ranger Christian. We need each other! Who is your Titus? Will you pack up and leave God’s open door of opportunity for the sake of maintaining your most precious relationships (especially marriages). These are questions I’m asking myself these days.
It was no accident that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. I am fortunate to have a few Tituses. I am so grateful.
This post comes from Jeremy’s “Philippians” devotional series. Read more of that series HERE.
The greatest tragedy is not to die but to have lived a long life with no real sense of purpose. Twenty-first century life in the West boasts of more freedoms, opportunities, modern comforts, and vocational choices than ever before. Yet, we are also more depressed than ever before.
We go-go-go nonstop, working longer hours and involving ourselves in more activities. Exhausted from an unsustainable pace of life, many collapse on the couch and medicate themselves with heavy doses of TV, mindless internet browsing or video games. Many slave away at unfulfilling jobs in order to make ends meet and pay all the bills. We then try to fill this empty longing for greater meaning, mission and purpose with cheap, momentary thrills that never satisfy.
If one were ever stop moving long enough to listen to their heart’s deeper cries, they might have to face the fact that they might be running the race of life in vain, living a life filled to the brim with what in the end is according to Paul “useless work.” Continue reading
FROM ‘WORD STUDIES’ TO ‘THE STUDY OF THE WORD’: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
It is often said that it is impossible to find a needle in a haystack. Yet it also could be said that if, once found, one focuses too narrowly upon the small needle so as not to lose it again, they may very well loose peripheral sight of the haystack all together.
A glance through some commentaries on Mark 10:45 will reveal a similar tendency of scholars to get so focused on detailed word studies that they lose sight of the larger idea which clearly shines through if one would only step back and see the broader scope of Mark’s narrative. They have let the tiny needle eclipse the larger haystack.
Many have concluded that since there are not direct quotations from or exact word parallels to Isaiah 52-53, Jesus was not therefore influenced by or identifying himself with the vocation of the Servant of YHWH in Isaiah 52-53. N.T. Wright is correct to invite a more fluid and subtle reference to such themes:
We catch echoes of this, rather than direct statements…It is a matter of understanding Jesus’ whole kingdom-announcement in the light of several major themes from the Jewish scriptures, and showing that it is absurd, granted the whole picture, to disallow reference, allusion and echo to Isaiah 40-55 in general, and to 52:13-53:12 in particular. Continue reading
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ISAIAH: MARK’S STRUCTURE AND JESUS’ IDENTITY
Joel Marcus has shed considerable light on the OT background to Mark’s gospel, noting especially the Isaianic influences in the words and actions of Jesus. Mark uses strategic Isaianic passages to show the reader that God is finally initiating the new exodus and ushering in the New Age through his servant Jesus. The entire gospel hangs on the initial thematic marker of 1:3, where Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
By reading the broader context of Isaiah 40, one finds that Mark sees Jesus’ entire life and ministry as the embodiment of YHWH’s glorious return to Jerusalem as conquering king.
Yet, can this theme be understood in light of the humiliating death that ultimately awaits the returning king when he arrives? Continue reading
We closed on our new house today (8/25/14) and will begin the move later this week. So, we’re wrapping up this series of posts sharing some favorite memories from our house on Cedar Lane.
When we bought our cute old house in 2006 we anticipated living here for 4-5 years until we decided to start a family and then upsize. It’s not exactly the perfect house for toddlers (e.g., steep stairs). But now after bringing two newborns home from the hospital and all the “firsts” we’ve experienced here, it’s hard to imagine this house without Peter Bjorn and Isaak David leaving their mark (and toys!) everywhere.
So, let me share some favorite daddy moments.
1. Stroller rides around town. We will miss living a couple blocks from the bike trail and downtown Mound. We have spent so many hours in the stroller hitting all our favorite spots. Our Saturday morning family ritual is to walk to the Farmer’s Market, stop by the bank for a sucker, pretend we’re shopping at True Value to get free popcorn, browse the record store, and say hi to the fish at the public docks at Lost Lake Pier.
2. Asleep in a Drawer. We’ll never forget the day we went to check on Peter who often played himself to sleep in his room and found his bed
empty and his clothes all over the floor. Where was Peter? Asleep in the bottom drawer. Classic moment that I’m glad we captured on video and photo.
3. Baby Powder Incident. But the most memorable daddy moment by far began on a typical weekday morning. I jumped in the shower for 5 minutes with Peter playing in his room and Isaak still in his crib. A couple minutes later I heard giggling coming from the nursery and knew Peter was up to something. I ran to the room and walked into a white cloud of baby powder. Peter had dumped the entire first container out all over every surface, and even worse we had a space heater running and blowing it around like a snowmaker. He was holding the second container and dumping it all over his
little brother’s head. Peter said something like, “I make Isaak a snowman.” Isaak was covered…but didn’t seem to mind at all! I’ll leave you to imagine how fun and easy the clean-up process was. (Oh, and to make matters worse, Peter was standing there with poop in his underwear (no diaper on)). We got the best video that I still hope to submit to America’s Funniest Home Videos someday.
4. Down the stairs. More recently our greatest fear happened. Again, I was taking a quick morning shower when I heard Peter trying to open the safety gate at the top of our steep stairway. He had never attempted this before, and the gate pulled off the hinges and I heard a fall, a thump-thump-thump, shattering glass and then the crying from the bottom of the stairs. My heart jumped into my throat, and I ran expecting broken bones, bloody lips, bumps and bruises, and a trip to the ER. By God’s grace, Peter was fine – completely fine! He went down head first, with the gate tumbling end over end ahead of him and shattering the window at the bottom. Oh, and this shattered window happened just as our house went on the market and an hour before a showing.
I could go on and on about first steps, first Christmases, the amazing themed birthday parties in the backyard (that Keri should write about), and so much more. But we’ll forever cherish this house as our first nest for our growing family.
Few studies have been more timely and pin-point accurate in it’s findings than the research of Christian Smith in “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers” concerning the religious beliefs of American teenagers. I would argue that many of these teens have learned their faith from parents with similar Christian convictions and level of commitment. Thus, his findings are not limited to teenagers by any stretch of the imagination.
Smith’s definition and description of what he calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” will long be used as the best description of what goes for typical civil religion in America. Here’s an excerpt from Albert Mohler’s commentary on this ground-breaking study:
As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.” Continue reading
“EITHER-OR” vs. “BOTH-AND”: HARMONIZING OLD TESTAMENT EXPECTATIONS
Mark’s narrative paints a Jesus who is intentionally identifying himself with two OT figures—the Danielic Son of Man and the Isaianic Servant of YHWH; and describes his mission as the fulfillment of their drastically different destinies—the glorious triumph of the Son of Man over Israel’s enemy (“the fourth beast” in Dan. 7) and the despicable suffering and atoning death of the Servant of YHWH (Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12). Mark’s gospel goes to great lengths to show that Jesus’ puzzling pathway to glory is the way of the cross. The triumph of Dan. 7 comes only through the suffering of Isaiah 52-53.
Much theological confusion and significant hermeneutical damage has come from the failure of interpreters to harmonize these two OT figures/themes (Son of Man/ triumph and Servant of YHWH/suffering) within the mind and mission of Jesus. In fact, this was the very blunder Jesus’ original audience made: they were unable to grasp Jesus’ redefinitions of prominent OT expectations. Continue reading
Next summer I will be officially ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church (10 years after I graduated from seminary — its about time!). I’m reminded of a poignant lengthy quotation from Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. It’s a good reminder that we are weak and can, like Odysseus, be lured away by the sirens of people pleasing. We need God’s grace in seeing that pastors can fall as fast and hard as the latest tabloid headline. We are all one stupid second away from utter ruin. We also need to resolve of brothers and sisters to hold us to the commitment we made when we first set out on the stormy sea. When your men are about to mutiny and the waves are about to consume you, will you be fixed on your Star of direction?
We are going to ordain you [Jeremy] to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick with to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are. We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you. We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you. And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it. It doesn’t matter. Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.
There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you. You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.
Pull up a slab of rock, light a candle and grab a quill, ink and a scrap of papyrus to take notes. We’re journeying together back to the year AD 58 to a Roman prison cell to listen in as Paul pens his letter to the Philippians. What can his letter speak to us some 2,000 years later? Read full series here.
“For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the splagchnon of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8).
Few words more powerfully, and graphically, express the deeply rooted love and compassion Jesus showed toward others than the Greek word splagchnizomai. Try saying that a few times. You should have spit coming out, and it should have sort of a rough, deep German ring to it. “Splagchnizomai!” Read Luke 7:13, where Jesus encounters a funeral procession for the only son of a poor widow. My translation says, “When the Lord saw her, his heart was filled with pity for her.” The actual Greek language conveys a deeper, more graphic emotion being experienced by Jesus here. It literally reads, “When the Lord saw [the mother of the deceased], his bowels yearned for her.” Jesus’ stomach churned, his bowels moved, he was sick to his stomach, he was moved with pity from his deepest parts! Now THAT is true “gut-wrenching” love and compassion! Jesus was touched at the core of his being, and overcome with an intensely felt compassion.
Now, back to Philippians. In today’s verse, Paul uses this same word, splagchnon, to describe the deep, heartfelt affection he feels toward his Christian brothers and sisters in the city of Philippi. Paul calls God as his witness (He really means it!) as he declares how deeply he cares or “longs for” them with “the bowels of Christ Jesus.” With what?! Yes, Paul does not just care for them from his deepest place—his bowels. That would be amazing enough; but rather, Paul boldly declares that he loves them with the intense, deep, unconditional, sacrificial love of Christ himself—“with the deep affection (“splagchnon”) of Christ Jesus! Paul has Jesus-like compassion and love for these people!
What does all this “bowel talk” mean for us today? Three thoughts:
1. I marvel at the strong love Paul communicates to his Christian brothers and sisters! Man, if we believe his words, Paul’s actually beginning to feel the same kind of deep love and compassion for others that Jesus himself felt–the kind of love we usually only dream of. We say, “Sure Jesus loves everyone—even his enemies—because he was God; but we are only human.” Well, apparently Paul was beginning to grow in his character to a point where he could actually declare with confidence—God as his witness—that he loved others “with the very love of Christ.” Believe it or not, that means we can too by the power of the Spirit!
2. I think of the cheap and shallow way we have with words. We love God. We love cheesecake. We love our new Ipod. We love our best friend. We use the same word—“love”—for all of these things. How much meaning can that word really carry anymore if we can use it to describe our affection for our mom or boyfriend in one breath and our craving for cookies in the next? I think we should all seek more creative, meaningful ways to communicate our affections in life. Let’s not just say “I love you” anymore; but instead follow Paul and tell our closest family and friends what they really DO TO US, or how deeply they touch us. For example, when I got down on one knee and asked Keri to marry me, I can say with complete honesty that “I thought my heart was going to stop beating” and that “time stood still” for that ten seconds before she said “Yes.” I could have just said “that moment was amazing”, but that just doesn’t describe it.
3. This challenges me to seek a deeper, more powerful kind of love for God. Knowing that Christ’s love for me comes from such a deep, bone-rattling, heart-yearning, gut-wrenching place, I am challenged to respond with an equally as passionate, heartfelt love for my Savior. It’s so easy to sing, “I could sing of Your love forever” over and over again, but never really feel it in my bowels. I want a faith that moves me to the core of my being.
Let us continue to grow in our love for God until we begin to love God and others with all our “splagchnon.”