Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Therefore, We Will Not Fear

fear is a liar

“Therefore, we will not fear.”

These are the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 46.

Fear is standard protocol today. Politicians leverage fear in order to gain support. Pastors preach fear through the impending doom of hell. Fear mongering has become an artform, easily disguised in our age of individual expression where nothing seems to be a surprise or a shock.

North Korean satellites, ISIS invading another town, Christians murdered, stock market crashing, homicide rates rising. Just imagine how awful it will be in 5 more years? Or so the line goes. All these headlines and more, stoke the fires of fear. And this fear compounds upon itself when another issue arises.

Too often Christians buy into this fear, creating their own Doomsday Theology, “everything is going to hell in a hand basket,” they say. When Christian faith gets sandwiched between political ideology or business pursuits or family affairs, the Christian gets lost in the drama of unrealized hope.

This fear mongering is never worse than in the lead up to an election. Each supposed side pointing to the other, “just think of the horror that will ensue for the next 4 years if the fearful comes true?!?! Vote me.”

In times where fear is used as a weapon to attack, and when fear causes you to wonder whether life is a slow trickle down into hell on earth, Christians need to read Psalm 46. And so here it is, the NIV translation, to remind yourself that fear has nothing to do with the God of the Bible, and should not be part of the Christian’s countenance. Fear is a liar.

—Psalm 46—

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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What I’ve Been Reading

I could easily name a myriad of reasons as to why my posts have been infrequent on here, but it would be a waste of your time to read that list. In the stead of my own pontifications, I wanted to share a few separate long-form essays, and blog posts that have been on my radar on several occasions in recent weeks and months.

Trump

ct-republican-debateLet’s start with the headline news-man of the past few months, Donald Trump. I already shared some brief thoughts on the Christian Manifest Destiny line he’s run his campaign on. Then last week I wrote something for Facebook on why Christians who support Donald Trump have a politics that dictate their faith.

But maybe the best thing to consider in all this is how we got to the point where Donald Trump could be leading polls for a majority political party in the US, as bizarre as it sounds to write that. Alan Noble nailed it with his article honing in on that question.

GQ Church

I’ve had numerous conversations on GQ’s article on Carl Lentz, Hillsong NYC, and Justin Bieber since it was published in December. Aside from the article being genuinely excellent, it raises some helpful questions about what church is and where Hillsong NYC fits. If you’re a Belieber don’t miss this, but if you’re not this might be even better for you to read.

God’s Word Trump Card

This actually has nothing to do with The Donald, trump card. If you’ve spent any time in churches in your lifetime, undoubtedly you have run into the person whose answer to the struggles within the church is “but we preach God’s Word.” While is might be an acceptable answer in a vacuum, it misses the larger picture.

David Prince said this on the subject: “When our commitment to the primacy of the Word and gospel does not trickle-down to every aspect of congregational life, we are like the obese person lecturing on the primacy of personal fitness or someone living opulent lifestyle lecturing about frugality.”

Making a Murderer

The hype on this show is real. No other way to explain the entire thing than utterly horrifying on level upon level. My friend Karen had this to say after seeing the 10-part documentary: “Sometimes it’s not clear which side of the bars the bad guys are on.” 

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The Problem With Millennials

millennials narcissism

Amidst an awful season full of failed expectations, the owner of the Phoenix Suns had some disparaging remarks for one of the team’s best, yet struggling, players.

“My whole view of the millennial culture is that they have a tough time dealing with setbacks, and Markieff Morris is the perfect example. He had a setback with his brother in the offseason and he can’t seem to recover from it.”

In the interview, this owner named Robert Sarver went on the explain much of his opinion has to do with social media because millennials spend too much time on those “fantasy” lands, as he called them.

Aside from whether Sarver is actually a good basketball team owner, and aside from whether Markieff Morris does indeed deserve some flack for his play this season, I want to discuss millennials as a punching bag for older generations.

As a matter of definition, millennials are understood to be those born between the years 1980 and 2000. They make up the majority of the American workforce, as of 2015. No doubt, you haven’t been able to ignore the numerous studies and reports explaining how lazy and narcissistic millennials are. I’m sure they have upheld your suspicions about this arriving-at-adulthood generation.

In fact, I’ve yet to speak to anyone outside of the millennial generation who referred to this generation first in positive terms. “Millennials are so authentic,” or “I love that your generation values life satisfaction over making hordes of money.” Those words have never been spoken to me, even though studies and reports show them to be generally true as well.

It would never be appropriate or charitable to approach anyone by saying, “well your generation is shown to think more highly of themselves them they ought to, so you’re clearly arrogant.” Yet, it seems this is typical of how people think of and approach millennials.

With this is mind I have a charge to you, if you are outside the millennial generation in age (with a short note to millennials at the bottom):

  • Studies might be helpful in understanding wide-ranging generational differences, but they are not helpful in getting to know an individual, so give the millennials you know the benefit of the doubt rather than an assumption.
  • Get to know a millennial for who they are, rather than what the studies may say. Generalizing an individual based on a study is never helpful.
  • Instead of reading studies about a generation, invite someone from that generation over for dinner. Serve them. Value them. Give them the benefit of your time and conversation.

Short note to millennials: prove the stupid studies wrong.

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The United States of America: God’s Chosen People?

It wouldn’t take a prophet to see one of the biggest stories of 2016 being the lead-up to the Presidential election in November. The headlines, the banter, and the opinion pieces, all will overwhelm news organizations over the next 11 months, as if the last 11 months weren’t bad enough.

make America great againWithin this lead up will be plenty of rhetoric surrounding making “America great again,” as Donald Trump has said over and over. This rhetoric is fine enough, but it often goes deeper than this, into “God bless America,” which every President has said.

Once the language goes a step further than “God bless America,” it becomes a Manifest Destiny perspective, where candidates are essentially saying “God will bless America again…if you choose me.”

Manifest Destiny, though often attributed to the 1800s, is an American attitude alive and well, and typically connected to voters with religious commitments. Currently this is seen in a backwards way, where many Republican voters believe that God has lifted his hand of blessing off Americans, but once America votes correctly, America will be great again, due in part to God’s support.

Think is an exaggeration? Just earlier this week, Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz coupled religious commitment to his own nationalist perspective, in order to drum up support.

Reading between the lines here, Cruz is essentially saying that Christians need to unite behind him in order for God to bless America again. This isn’t unique to Cruz, because Donald Trump has used this kind of language to soar to the top of the polls.

Why use this kind of language? Because people eat it up. Anyone with religious commitments, who sees America as struggling, begins to believe a specific candidate is needed for God’s blessing to come again. “America can once again be God’s chosen people, if you vote for ________.”

But this is dangerous because it ignores the realities of the kind of nation God chooses to align himself with. God’s chosen people within the Scripture story is a family that becomes the nation of Israel.

A Chosen Nation

Throughout much of its history Israel is the weakling, constantly pushed aside by the empires of their day. At the point in history when Israel becomes the empire, God empowers the lesser empires to take them over, sending the nation of Israel into exile.

In Joshua Ryan Butler’s book The Skeletons in God’s Closet, he dives into Israel’s conquering of Canaan, and what kind of nation God chooses to reach out to (I would highly recommend the book for his discussion on this topic and the larger discussion of God’s wrath, it’s a great book). The same language surrounding Israel’s victories are used of America and her future, but what I would like to highlight is the kind of people God desires to aid.

“Israel is not the bully, pirate, or dictator invoking the gods to justify her conquest of the weak. Israel is the opposite: the weakling who’s been getting her lunch money taken every day by the playground bullies. She is the little nation whose vessel’s been under constant attack by the pirates while lost at sea…Israel is the weak.

Canaan is not just a little bit stronger, not just overwhelmingly stronger—they are in a different league altogether. Their firepower puts them in a whole other category…

Israel is a nation of fearful, intimidated slaves facing off with the mightiest imperial powerhouses of the ancient world, the extreme antithesis of who fights mainstream holy wars” (pgs 212-213).

Why was Israel victorious in the face of impossible odds? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). Though weak and vulnerable, Israel is victorious, thanks to God’s gracious hand.

In the story of Scripture the United States is more comparable to Egypt, Canaan, and Rome, capable of wiping a nation off the map simply because it wants to. The USA comparisons toward Old Testament Israel, a nation of God’s people, are simply put, unfounded.

As the political rhetoric takes off in the coming months, do not get swept up in the calls toward “taking America back” or making America great again. Be involved in the political process. Vote with your convictions. But don’t look for the candidate who will bring God’s blessing, because the Lord comes to the weak and vulnerable, and last time I checked weak and vulnerable was political suicide.

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A Season of Giving?

seasonofgiving

This Christmas slogan is overused by organizations around the world in order to increase their end of year donations: “a season for giving.” That’s quite often the summation of Christmas—simply a season of giving. With this in mind, you can likely think of similar slogans such as “it is better to give than receive.” That one is actually from the Bible (Acts 20:35).

This is universally accepted, at all times of the year, but especially so around Christmas. My church has emphasized Advent Conspiracy for several years, and two of their areas of focus are to “spend less” in order to be able to “give more.”

But what if Christmas isn’t actually about giving? I would argue, that, in fact, Christmas is about receiving.

The opportunity to give is a privilege, because you can only give if you have first received. What do you have that was not given to you (1 Cor. 4:7)?

In our culture today I think we much prefer to give instead of receiving. Receiving is humbling. It means you aren’t in control. It means you can’t be self-sufficient.

Christmas is first and foremost about receiving, not giving, though our self-sufficient and capable selves prefer to flip this around. Christmas is a story of grace—God’s presence given in the most unlikely way. It also, therefore, a story of receiving. John Wesley said, “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace.”

Please, give all you have this Christmas. But make sure you are a receiver of grace first.

From Tyler: I hope you have a wonderful Christmas celebration with friends and family. God’s blessing to you and yours as 2015 comes to a close. 

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The Two Christmas Responses

annunciation

The Gospel of Luke juxtaposes two different responses to God’s deliverance. In being pitted against each other we quickly see how God’s coming pushes people in two directions. The question left for you is simply, which response is yours?

The Doubting One

Luke 1:5-25 recounts the story of Zechariah being told by the angel Gabriel about the birth of his son. This was not just any pregnancy. Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth had not been able to become pregnant for many years (“they were both very old” v.7).

In receiving this phenomenal news, Zechariah’s response was, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” It’s a questioning response. It’s a doubting response. It’s a give-me-little-more-proof response, because that couldn’t actual happen.

To this the angel told Zechariah he would be silent during the pregnancy, saying, “you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” For 9 months Zechariah could not speak, something we might see as punishment or as God’s grace.

The Astounded One

Later in Luke 1 the angel Gabriel visited a young woman named Mary, telling her the news: “you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” This was not just any pregnancy. Mary became pregnant as a virgin.

Mary’s response was to say, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” In a sense, she knew it was not physically possible. But this is a different response than Zechariah, because later she says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” It’s a response of astonishment. It’s a response of faith.

Christmas easily produces these two responses. It’s either the “bah-humbug” attitude minimizing wonder, or the astonishment found in being awestruck. The God who makes possible the impossible prompts us to willingly serve Him, or quickly doubt Him.

But there is space for doubt within faith. The angel does not send Zechariah to hell. No, in God’s grace Zechariah is given time to learn faith. Out of faith, true words are spoken. Not many people would believe the impossible when they are first told. God, in his grace, provides Zechariah with a physical struggle that produces a spiritual faith.

In various ways we are all Zechariah. Lacking the truest of words, being unable to speak out of faith. Faith is the process of learning to believe, and none of us have arrived. Doubt is often connected to the faith of those who continue to press in, instead of running away.

Mary’s response of astonishment is one of open hands. While the text can’t reveal tone of voice, Gabriel’s response to Mary is far different than that toward Zechariah.

Christmas is the opportunity to develop a desire for God to be born in you.

Christmas is the opportunity to develop a Mary-like approach to God, knowing we all have some Zechariah in us.

(Image: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation)

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