Snapshot Christianity

I love analogies. So do many in the Christian faith, as it is a good way to communicate spiritual truth in ways that we can understand. Jesus used them to teach about the kingdom of God and communicate God’s Truth to those around Him. However, any analogies we use must be founded on the Truth, otherwise they will leave us with a distortion of God’s word. And the reality is, these snapshot stories and phrases CANNOT give us a full picture of the truth.

Mark Bates, of Village7 PCA church gives a great example in his sermon from 9/5/10. When sharing the salvation message, we have an affinity to use the picture drowning and God throwing out the life line and all we have to do is grab hold of it and we will be saved. Preaching from Ephesians 2, Pastor Bates revealed how wrong this picture is. Paul clearly states that we were NOT drowning in our sins; we were DEAD! We have swallowed the waters of sin, died and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. God, in His mercy and love, dove to the depths, raised us up, and made us alive in Christ. A dead man can’t do anything. We can’t save ourselves, even one bit. It is ALL God’s work.

While I could go on with this topic, I feel there is a greater, general lesson to apply. It is all too easy to take the rough, tough Truth of God and reduce it down to little analogies, stories and sayings that sound good but lose their connection of the Truth. Another way we do this is quoting scripture out of context. Except for the most of the Proverbs, verses were not written to stand alone. This is also easy to do with some topical Bible studies.

All of these methods of understanding Christianity are simply snapshots. They are stand alone pictures, viewing the Truth in one way, distorting it. Remember, the Bible claims to be “living and active.” Snapshots are far from that. (Pardon the Harry Potter reference- I’m reading them right now) In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, pictures are not action-less; the subjects in them move in a repetitive cycle. While this is a step in the right direction, it still does not capture the living aspect of the Truth. The Truth is like real life compared to these two. It is living, active and real. Snapshots just won’t do.

What snapshot do you have of God? Christ? Christianity? What truth do you believe in? Is it one founded on sayings and those few verses you have memorized? Seek for yourself the Truth of God and you may just find your eyes opened.

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Transformation

I want to say up front that almost all of this is “stolen” from Scott Larson. If you stumble across this, I hope you won’t mind. Also, this has my thoughts thrown in. Don’t judge Scott Larson by this post!

I recently braved the Denver snow storm and went to Denver Seminary for their Denver Youth Ministry Symposium. Scott Larson from Gordon College and Straight Ahead Ministries spoke about youth ministry and the importance of transformational interventions, not rehabilitation.

The idea of transformation has been in my mind since my former employer updated their mission statement: “It is the mission of New Horizons Youth Ministry to help struggling youth transform into healthy Christian adults. I have to admit, I didn’t like the word transform. It sounded to me like nothing of who they were was good and they needed to be transformed, from simple cars to amazingly strong machines (sorry, had to use that reference 🙂 ). I was so thankful for Scott Larson who came to Denver and spoke about transformation. He allowed me to see it in a better light. The key was something I already knew, found in Romans 12.

“…be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” The issue is a failure to think correctly, not something at the core personality of the student. They are not bad, their thinking is off which leads them to poor behaviors. That being said, the key for change is not to focus on doing- the behaviors of the students. Our society tells us that the things we DO effect the things we HAVE which totals up to who we ARE. But this mentality with students- with anyone- leaves us with nothing until we can do and have things. It ties who we are at the moment to our past behaviors until we can somehow behave differently.

How we need to think, for our students and ourselves, is that who we ARE effects the things we DO and that results in the things we HAVE. Who we are, both as God has made us and His promises about us, are unchanging. Knowing the promises gives us hope and strength to do the right thing. Knowing how God made us gives insight into the things we will be good at as we step forward and live.

Not only does a shift need to occur in the order in which we think and act, but a shift needs to occur in the vision we set in front of our students. As Scott Larson said “transformational change requires vision greater than the pain to take you through the transformation.” We need stretch the student’s mind to think about a positive vision that they want for their life. This cannot be something placed on the student by leaders, but come from the student themselves. Otherwise the student will not mind failing and the leaders will be trying so for this student who is apathetic.

Once there is a vision, the student needs to see their currently reality and push themselves to raise that reality to the vision. Too often there are excuses as to why the vision cannot be reached. Here the relationship with the student and constant reminder of the vision must overcome the pain that will inevitably come from transformation.

Ok, that’s all I have. If you like the topic and want Scott’s actually words on it, he has many books you can check out. Or if you want more of my thoughts, let me know in the comments!

Control Freak, part 2

Nearly a year and a half ago I wrote about control in my old blog. It seems to have been a theme in my life, as I am sitting down the write the second part. Last time I wrote something along the lines of free will existing withing God’s control. But this time I want to focus on our control versus God’s control of our lives. Most of this has been sparked from the sermon series highlighting the principles of our church’s program called “Celebrate Recovery.” Many of their principles talk about control- in fact, 3 of the 5 mention control, and one other eludes to it. Number 3 and number 5 caught my attention and started an argument of sorts in my mind.

“Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.”
“Voluntarily submit to every change God want to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.”

I won’t go into these in detail, but I was stuck by the simpleness of those statements and the complexity of the real issue. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big proponent of stating the simple sounding truth because it is the truth. But when it comes to working with real people on real issues, the simplicity becomes much more complex. Here is the complexity as I see it.

We all have been given a desire to be in control; it may even be part of the “image of God” in us. In Genesis, God gave man control over the animals and nature. But He did not give us control over each other or our own lives. The plan was for Him to be in control us.

But when Eve took the fruit, she was exercising control over her own life rather than trusting God’s control. Ever since, we seek to control our own lives, desiring the same things Eve did: food (basic necessities), enjoyment in beauty and good things, and wisdom (and fortune and fame, etc). We desire to live fuller lives by following our control for our lives.

If you know anything about controlling your own life, you should know that you can’t truly reach that fuller life you are seeking. When the desire for a full life is unmet, we cling to what we have, which is the control. We still desire to control our lives, even if we aren’t getting the life we want.

The irony is when you give up that control to God’s plan and love, then you will find that full life you desire. And why should we give the control over to God? The verse to quote is Jesus saying He comes to bring life to the fullest. The facts to consider are these: God made you and knows you better than you do. God made the world, and while it has fallen short of His plan, He still knows it better than you could ever. He is perfect- never making mistakes or doing wrong. He loves you, and therefore wants to best for you, according to how He made you, which may not always line up with what you want.

He is more than qualified to control your life and that control will bring you the life you desire. Once this is wrestled with and accepted, then and only then will the principles of the “Celebrate Recovery” be beneficial. Life and change and growth are so much more complex than the simple truths we state.

The control of my life is Not My Own.

Christian Community

I have been a part of many Christian communities in my life: my extended family, various churches I have attended, college, my first job at a Christian boarding school. Until recently, I haven’t put much thought into them: what they mean, what makes them “good” or how they work. But I have always been able to criticize the ones I was in and desire something more. Yesterday I came to one realization on the positive side of Christian communities.

The message at church couldn’t have been better timing to frame my first interaction with a Life Group at the church I attend. Simple Community was the title and it highlighted three things from Hebrews that define a Christian community. Then, later that evening when I attended the Life Group with a recently made friend, I found those three things. After reflecting on it, it was those three things that made that group inviting and just what I have been looking for for a long time.

  • Living out a mission together- the first order of the meeting was to work out the plan for the summer of service the church is putting on and the specific involvement of our life group. Everyone contributed to how we should go about meeting up with the elderly lady whose house were are going to help fix up. There was a mission to serve and everyone was involved.
  • Pursuing Jesus together- there was no formal Bible study due to two member’s birthdays in the previous and upcoming week. They shared about their past years and their prayer requests for the year to come. There was encouragement from the other members and then a time of pray for both of the girls. Together, we were seeking Jesus and pursuing His likeness, both in planning service and uplifting the birthday girls.
  • Sharing a common reality- as the pastor put it, we share the reality of being beloved and broken. Those were clearly seen with this group. They were honest and did not avoid the real issues in their lives. And just because there was a new person in the group, it didn’t mean they tried to sugar coat things. It was a reality of being broken and incomplete overcome by the reality of being loved by God.

I don’t remember all of their names, I don’t know what they do for work, how old they are, where they went to school or their major. But I know a little of their hearts: hearts which are struggling with life and growing and sin. And hearts that are seeking God through it all. And personalities which are full of fun and life.

That was Christian community- preached about on Sunday and evidenced that evening for me, for the first time in a while.