“Why does God allow stuff like the Japanese earthquake?”

That was a question I received on facebook recently from a student in our college ministry. I waited a week to answer, intimidated to answer, because I’m afraid that my answers isn’t going to make the listener says “Oh, I get it now.” There’s no silver bullet that I can give.  Sorry.

Why does God allow thousands to die in an earthquake/tsunami?  Heck, why does God allow one person to die in an earthquake?  Frankly, the quantity makes the problem just more visible, not more real – If God is all-loving and all-powerful and all-knowing, why would it require a large number of people to die for Him to notice?
So then there are two questions you could ask: Why does God not intervene to stop people from dying? Or, why does God not intervene to stop people from experiencing pain?

To the second question (about pain), there are a few possible answers:

1. God values the free-will of people, and (in some cases) the free-will of various people (either the injured or the attacker) would be violated if God intervened.

2. God values more highly the character qualities that are created in response to pain: forgiveness, faith, mercy, grace, etc. If we did not experience pain at the hands of others, how would we learn to forgive?

3. Pain and conflict are a necessary part of any compelling story (this is somewhat overlapping with answer 2).  While we think we would want a life free of all pain, in reality it would make life supremely dull.  For us to experience adventure, there must be danger. This is explored in a brilliant way in the C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy books, especially the first book Out of the Silent Planet.

4. Biblically, there is kept open the possibility that God has a purpose that we neither know nor understand, as in the story of Job.  He was tested for his faithfulness, but did not know why. It is possible that some suffering we experience is of the same variety, and the only response to it is to say “God, you are God and I am not, and I will trust you.”  This is maybe the least popular option among people, but the most intimacy producing between us and God.

5. Finally, there is the possibility that suffering comes as a result of God’s judgment. I put this last because it is the least popular in our culture, and the least helpful to suggest to people in their pain (yeah, don’t do that).  But, biblically it does happen, and intuitively we know that we want God to judge people at times, so it shouldn’t be ruled out that he has done just that (as long as it’s not us).

But pain is temporary. Why does God allow death?

According to Genesis, it was man and woman’s choice to die when Adam and Eve fell, and every time we sin we reiterate their desire to live out of proper relationship to God, who is the source of life.  We brought death into the world through sin, and we live in their shadow.  All of us, whether as a child or at a “ripe old age” will die as a result of sin.  We are tempted to accept the latter as “normal,” because we don’t know better, that we are not made to die, but to live with God.

Now, that might not sound fulfilling to a skeptic, but it is central to the biblical understanding of death because, as Romans 5 says, just as death came through one man, life comes through one man, Jesus Christ.  God invaded death, dying himself, that we might not continue to live under the curse of death.  The skeptic says that he wants God to do something about suffering, about death.  Jesus’ death on the cross is that “something.” He solved the problem of death, but it is not the problem we were looking to be solved. We wanted someone to make everyone live to 85 and die in their sleep.  We are far too simply pleased.  The cross solved death in its entirety.

Hope that helps/makes sense.  I appreciate your heart in asking in it. Let me know if you’d like to talk about it.

– Bob

So that’s how I responded. What would you have said that I didn’t?

Two ways to live

This Sunday I’m going to be speaking on the closing section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Each week in this series Jesus has challenged my concept of what it means to be good, and has shown me how far I fall short of that.  The close of this passage makes clear that these words were not merely suggestions, but the dividing line of life: are you going to live Jesus’ way or not?

I came across this quote from Dietrich Bonhoffer this week, and thought it was worth sharing in full:

To give witness to and confess the truth of Jesus, but to love the enemy of this truth, who is his enemy and our enemy, with the unconditional love of Jesus Christ – that is the narrow road.  To believe in Jesus’ promise that those who follow shall possess the earth, but to encounter the enemy unarmed, to prefer suffering injustice to doing ill – that is the narrow road.  To perceive other people as being weak and wrong, but to never judge them; to proclaim the good news to them, but never to throw pearls before swine – that is the narrow road.  It is an unbearable road.  We are only able to walk such a road because we can see Jesus walking ahead of us and with us.

Judgment and the Christian Life

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.” Jesus, in Matthew 7:1

“True disciples, who have been impacted by the mercy of God in the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, will exhibit mercy toward one another, not judgment. Because true disciples have received forgiveness, they will forgive one another. In other words, to fall into a pattern of life in which we judge others is to show that we are not true members of the kingdom of heaven. Absolute judgment is a categorical pronouncement of the guilt of another person as though this is the final world on a matter. At fault is a person who makes himself and his way of doing things and his opinion the absolute standard. He or she has usurped the place of God because only God can judge in this way.” Michael Wilkins, Matthew, p 309

Jesus’ Radical View of Women and Sexuality (Matthew 5:27-32)

This week we’re continuing Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount, and we’re picking it up in v. 27.  Last week Don showed us how Jesus is getting at the heart of the famous commands of the Old Testament, and this week Jesus is going to show the true hear behind, “You shall not commit adultery.”

I. The commandment against adultery is fundamentally an issue of the heart.  (v. 27-28)

–          We can all agree that adultery is a bad thing, right?

  • But why is it bad?
    • Our knee jerk reaction might be to point out that it’s a violation of our marriage vows.  And it certainly is.  But if I were to confess to you that I do not always cherish my wife as I ought, would you react in the same way as if I told you I sometimes commit adultery?  Now, of course, I never do either of those.  I’m a pastor… 🙂

–          The popular conception of adultery at the time was that it was a matter of theft – stealing another man’s wife.

  • This is correct, as far as it goes, but it misses a huge part of what sexuality is, and who women are.
  • In the biblical concept, sex is the uniting of two human beings into one flesh.
    • Matthew 19:4-6 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,  5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’?  6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
  • Jesus highlights the true nature of sexuality: not about possession, but intimacy.
    • This is why, when Jesus gets at the heart of the command about adultery, the core that he gets at is the heart of both the man and the woman: whether they were lusting after being with someone else.

–          Jesus focuses instead on what is happening inside the heart of each person.

  • What is “lust”?
    • Lust is not the same as physical arousal or attraction.
      • These are normal parts of being human, and there’s nothing biblical against them.
      • Jesus’ warning against lust is often disparaged and dismissed as anti-physical, and that’s missing the point of his command entirely.
        • In fact, you could make the case that lust is not pro, but anti-sexual.  It takes the person out of reality, out of the real sexual relationship with their spouse, and into the realm of the fake, of fantasy.
  • A deep desire to use another for our own ends.
    • As with many sins, it is the corruption of something good and right – beauty and sexuality.
      • Sexuality is meant to be intimate, celebratory, and generous – two becoming one, and staying one.
      • Lust is taking. It’s guarded, petty, and snide.
  • It is a corruption of the biblical command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • One form of lust is when men “ogle” women.  In this process the men don’t see women, sisters in Christ who are loved by God.  They don’t see bright, funny, and wonderful people.  They see bodies, and in lust men consider what they can take from those bodies.
  • By the way, notice how many ads you see this week where the woman’s face isn’t showing, just her body. What does that say about how we value her?
  • Who is responsible for this form of lust?
    • Men – Scripture says that we ought not blame God when we are tempted, but that we’re each tempted when our own evil desires drag us away and entice us. (James 1:13)
      • No matter what women in front of me wear, or do, it’s my choice about what to do with those images and opportunities, and, basically, whether I respond to those women as people or as objects.
      • There have been times when people have misapplied the biblical concept of lust to make women feel ashamed of their bodies, and assumed that their mere presence inevitably led to leering men, and that’s not right.
  • Women – Before you think that means that next week will be bikini week here at Grace, consider that the Bible is also very clear about the responsibility all Christians have to one another, to not provide a stumbling block to one another.
    • Let me challenge you with something, ladies: When you dress for worship next week, instead of asking the default question you normally ask (whether that’s “Is this cute?” or “What will people think if I wear this?” or “Will anyone notice that I wore this three weeks in a row?” ask this question,
      • “Is my wearing this outfit loving to the other people in our church?”

–          Objections:

  • “But that’s just how guys are wired!  It’s part of being human!”
  • Let me make something clear: lust is not manly.  Lust is pathetic.  Lust is a loner, hiding in his office after everyone left, ogling women on his screen with the lights off, hoping no one will expose him.  That’s manly?  That’s your picture of masculinity?
  • Jesus was the ideal man.  He lived a perfectly masculine life.  He had the same hormones, same testosterone as you or me.  And he did so without lust.
  • Men, brothers, we’re living in a time when masculine sexuality is being degraded, taken from what is most manly and truncated, a lifetime of intimacy with our wife, and we’re trading it for the safe, anonymous, culturally acceptable lie that is lust.
  • Now, lust is not always expressed in pornography, but considering how prevalent pornography use is in the United States, we’ve got to talk briefly about it her.
    • Naomi Wolf, New York Magazine
      • “Pornography is not making men into raving beasts.  On the contrary: the onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention… Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” Hol, 143
  • You want to show how manly you are?  Love your wife.  Be fascinated by her body. Celebrate and honor her. Lust doesn’t show you’re a real man anymore than playing Madden on Xbox proves you could play for the Packers.
  • “This is sexually repressive.  You’re just intimidated by my sexuality!”
    • “These commands of Jesus come from a regressive, pathriarchal culture that ignored the sexuality of women.  We are much more enlightened now, and know that sexuality should not be confined to marriage.  That’s bad enough, but the idea of attempting to block fantasy and imagination is close-minded and foolish behavior that smacks of self-delusion.”
  • Lust is not only wrong, it is harmful.

“The National Health and Social Life Survey…. found the following: ‘Having one sex partner is more rewarding in terms of physical pleasure and emotional satisfaction than having more than one partner, and it is particularly rewarding if that partner is a marriage partner.’ The groups most conservative on moral issues (Roman Catholics and evangelicals) fared very well in the frequency of sex and physical and emotional satisfaction data, recurrently higher than other religious and non-religious groups. In fact, Catholic men and evangelical women had the highest rate for always having an orgasm.” Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex, p 136.

(Transition: Why does Jesus warn so strongly against lust/adultery of the heart?)

II. Since sexual intimacy binds two people together, a legal action does not absolve the husband or wife of their bond or responsibilities to one another (v. 31-32)

–          The radical idea is that sexuality and marriage are inseparably linked.

  • This may sound obvious to you, and it’s certainly our shared religious/cultural heritage to tie them together, but its not how most Americans live today.
    • Sex is regularly practiced outside of marriage.
    • Marriage, especially in difficult periods, is often sexless.

–          Jesus is saying, if you think that merely writing out a piece of paper can erase the bond of sex, you’ll not fooling anyone.  Sex bonds you to the other person, and you can’t abdicate that responsibility or bond simply because you decide you want to.

–          Something worth noting: The Jewish community at the time wrestled, as we do today, with whether to allow divorce, and it what circumstances.

  • The debate in the culture was around Deuteronomy 24:1 – what is “something indecent”?
    • The school of Hillel saw “something indecent” as a loophole, that they could push any excuse through.
      • Bad cook? Indecent! Find someone hotter? Indecent!
      • An intensely selfish approach to marriage, and one that put the woman at the total mercy of the man.
  • The school of Shimei disagreed, holding to a similar view to the one Jesus advocates here.

–          Why does Jesus care about divorce?

  • Bad answer: Jesus was just being a typical single guy, pretending like he knew something about marriage.
  • Mediocre answer: Divorce is destructive to society, so Jesus made an absolute command about it to try to preserve the family.
  • Slightly better: Jesus was a feminist, and he wanted to make sure women in the culture were protected.
  • Best answer: According to Ephesians 5, the marriage relationship between two spouses reflects the relationship between Christ and the church – a relationship of complete, absolute commitment, rooted in unconditional and unfailing love.
    • Just as the idea of Jesus divorcing the church seems unthinkable, so the idea of human divorce ought to seem unthinkable.

–          Jesus is laying out a principle about the nature of marriage, but not necessarily limiting any other possible reasons for divorce (see 1 Corinthians 7:11-13)

III. Jesus considers sexual sin to be a serious danger, and worthy of dramatic action in response (v. 29-30)

–          How would you respond differently to sexual sin in your life if you saw it as truly dangerous?

  • For some of us, we’re absurdly comfortable with sexual sin in your life.  Because it’s the behavior we saw in our family, or because it’s normal in movies or TV, or because we just want to do it, we’ve convinced ourselves that there’s no real reason to sweat it.  Jesus forgives, right?  He wants us to be happy, right?
  • For others of us, we are in a cycle of shame with our sexual sin.  It’s not that we’re comfortable with it.  We legitimately hate ourselves that we hook up with someone, or watch porn, or fantasize about being married to someone else, or whatever it is.  But the more we hate ourselves, the more we want an escape, and the more compelling the escape of lust.
  • The story of Aron Ralston, the climber who was stuck for 127 hours and needed to cut off his own arm to escape.
  • In this passage, Jesus is saying that you need that sort of desperation and courage.
  • We are all addicts to sin, and addictions are not overcome easily.
  • You need to see the severity of this sin, and be willing to cut off whatever you need to cut off.
  • What body part do you lop off that frees you from being self-indulgent?  What body part can I remove that will make me unconditionally loving?

Next Steps:

Reflection: Through discussions with trusted friends and in prayer, consider the “what,” “when,” and “why” of your struggle with lust.  What triggers your temptation towards lust?  When are you prone towards falling into lust?  Why is lust appealing? What do you think (even if you know it’s not true) that lust will accomplish?

PrayerJesus, I know I have not treated intimacy and sexuality as the good gift that is.  I have given it your place, Lord, as that thing that makes me feel alive, worthwhile, and wanted.  Forgive me.  Thank you for showing me what is true of my heart, and for your unconditional love towards me.

How do you pray? (Matthew 6:7-15)

When I was 15, I was sure I knew how to drive.  I don’t know why I thought I knew how to drive.  I had no experience, training, or practice.  But I was sure I knew how.  When it was time to start drivers ed, I figured that this would be simple.  No drinking and driving, stay in your lane, don’t speed… got it.  After passing a few written tests, I earned my permit, and the roads would never be the same.  My parents (mostly my dad, as my mom developed a King’s Speech-esq stutter riding with me) took me around the streets of Salinas, and things went pretty well.  So, after a couple months, it was time to go to the big city of San Jose, and a real freeway.

I almost made it, too.  We were only a few miles from Fry’s Electronics.  I was driving the Ford Aerostar minivan, cruising along at exactly 55 miles an hour in the carpool lane, being passed by angry motorists on the right, and my dad suggested that I find a slower lane to drive in or speed up.  Thinking this was a test, to see if I’d break the speed limit, I get ready to change lanes.  Gotta check my blind spot….. still checking…. Gotta be sure…. “Look out!” my dad yells, and I’m looking at the BART train, as the freeway has headed right, while I’ve kept going straight.  No problem, I’m a pro, I’ll just turn a little right (*swings the car way too far to the right*), oops gotta go back left (*swings way too far left*), and now the vans going backwards across four lanes of San Jose traffic.  (I’ve always wondered what the other motorists thought was happening – a swarm of angry bees in the car? A drunk driver?) A couple seconds later, the car comes to rest, only after running (backwards, of course) into a retaining brick wall.

When the CHP officer came by a few minutes later, ready to write up a report, he was a bit confused: “No other cars were involved? You’re not drunk? Then why did you crash?”

Here’s why I share that story: Just because you think you know how to do something, it does not mean you know how to do it well. This is a whole genre of comedy: people who think they know how to sing, think they know how to water-ski, think they know how to pick-up people of the opposite sex, think they know how to cook, etc.

There’s a temptation to say this doesn’t apply to prayer, that any prayer said from the heart is a valid prayer.  Since the fourth century, the axiom has been around the church, “Prayer is simply talking to God.”  While this is certainly true, we must not mistake it to mean that any way that we choose to talk to God is good.

When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray (Luke 11:1), he answers their question, rather than simply telling them to ‘follow their hearts.’  How does he tell them to pray?

I. Christian prayer is not an attempt to manipulate God (v. 7-8)

The Pew Research Center found that 81% of Americans report prayer is an important part of their daily life. The same was true for the Greek and Roman culture Jesus was living in.

He critiques the “pagans” (people who didn’t believe in God) in verses 7 and 8 specifically for how they prayed.

Why did people “think they will be heard for their many words”?

The belief of the majority culture of the time was that gods were difficult and angry, and that they need to be cajoled and manipulated into do what you wanted. If you could say the right name (the secret name), you could grab the god by the tail, so to speak, and force him or her to give you want you wanted. I know, it sounds silly, but is it that far off from how we approach God now?  Have you ever tried to bargain with God? Offer to serve in a church, or be kind to your siblings, or give money to the poor, if only he’ll do something for you?

What is significant about what Jesus is saying about God in this section?

Jesus is saying something incredible about God here: He cares about you. You don’t have to trick him into being on your side, to doing what you want.  He’s for you, the way that a father is for his children.

Since we are sons and daughters of God through Christ, we don’t recite a prayer as magic.  We take Jesus’ instruction on how to pray to learn how to have a full relationship with the Father.

Should we avoid reciting the Lord’s Prayer by memory, then?

(Illustration) Imagine I came into our kitchen one evening and said to Becca, “Sweetie, I’d like to do something to help strengthen our marriage by showing you how much I love you.  What can I do?” Startled by the request and my pure romanticism, she offers, “Well, I hate doing the dishes.  Could you scrub the crock-pot that we made chili in?”  No problem, I say.   Go, have a seat in the other room, relax, I’ll take care of the crock-pot. And I do.  Then, proud of myself, I go watch some TV, leaving the rest of the dishes there.  A week later, Becca finds me in the kitchen, washing the crock-pot again.  The same the next week.  The following week, we don’t actually cook anything in the crock-pot, but I take it out of the cupboard, and wash it anyways.  At this point, Becca’s just confused.  The following week, pushing the rest of the dirty dishes out of the way, I take the crock-pot out of the drying rack (I never put it away last time) and start to wash it again.  Becca stops me this time: “Sweetie, you’re sort of missing the point.  I wanted you to help me around the kitchen, not just wash one specific dish over and over again.”  I know, I say (trying to save face), but I get a lot of peace by washing the crock-pot.  It reminds me of how I washed crock-pots growing up.

Is it possible to miss the point of the Lord’s Prayer?  Absolutely.

II. Christian prayer involves:

a. Coming to God as our Father (v. 9) Our Father in heaven,

The title of this prayer depends which tradition you come from.  Most Protestants call it “The Lord’s Prayer,” while many Catholics call it the “Our Father” (or Pater Noster, if you’re feeling nostalgic for the Latin). I’m going with the Catholics on this one.  These two words “Our Father” sum up the prayer in a remarkably simple way:

–          Our – Jesus’ way of praying is corporate.  Unlike the Greeks, who used prayer as a means of getting a leg up on others, we pray together. As the prayer goes on, you’ll find a disturbing lack of “I” or “me” language.

–          Father – Celebrates the relationship that we have with God, as people brought into the family of God through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Moreover, the “our” reminds us that we never come to the Father alone.  Galatians 4:6 says that it is by the Holy Spirit groaning within us that we cry out “Abba, Father!”  And it is through the Son, according to Hebrews 4:14-16, that we come before the Father at all.

God, you care for me as Father.  Not only me, but those throughout the world.  We come to you, the powerful one who is above all, because of Christ and through the Spirit, as sons and daughters.  Thank you.

Why is it significant that God is the “father in heaven”

Matthew uses “father in heaven” 13x times, to remind the reader of God’s power and control over all human affairs.

b. Worshiping God (v. 9) hallowed be your name

It’s in the passive voice, meaning (grammar alert!) that the subject of the verb is not stated.  Quick grammar reminder: Active voice is “Bob baked a cake.” Passive voice is “A cake was baked.”  The question for the passive voice is, “Who did it?”

The antiquated word “hallowed” is there because we don’t really have a word in English for it.  The best I could come up with was “may your name be holy-fied,” but that sounds like a boxer.

The idea, though, is that we’re praying that God’s name (that is, his reputation) would be accurately understand as holy (pure and powerful).

Whose responsibility is it for God’s name to be holy?

Is it God’s or ours?  Or both?  We are praying that God would work in us to make us the sort of people who lift up God’s name.

God, make us the sort of people who point accurately to who you are, who never do anything to diminish your name. Remind me afresh of what it means to worship you. Show me your goodness and greatness again through creation, through people, and ultimately through Christ, and cause me to well up in worship.

c. A yearning for God’s kingdom (v. 10) your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In what ways is this prayer answered?

Whenever God’s rule is extended on earth.

A. Evangelistically – When we see someone repent of living for themselves, and begin to follow Jesus as their master and savior, we’ve seen a sign of the kingdom come.

B. Values – When we see the poor fed, the lonely comforted, the oppressed freed, and justice done, we’ve seen a sign of the kingdom.

C. Return of Jesus – Ultimately, this prayer is fulfilled by the return of Jesus, when he rules as Lord and King.

God, we pray that we would see things be the way they’re meant to be, like in heaven.  We want people to know you, and to live under your leadership as their master.  We want to see justice done for the poor, so that all men and women and children would be treated as made in your image, like in heaven.  We long for the day when heaven will come down, when you will return, and your kingdom will be here.

d. Dependence on God for our provision (v. 11) Give us our daily bread

Why is there an emphasis on daily bread?

Proverbs 30:8-9 Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

When we pray for our daily bread, we are praying for God to fill our needs in a way that engenders relationship between us.

God, thank you for bringing me to today. You have provided enough health, enough food, enough shelter, enough warmth, and enough security to bring me to today.  Thank you. God, I pray for those for today, too.

e. Our confession and forgiveness (v. 12; 14-15) Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

If you’ve ever tried to recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory in a group, this is the line that’s a train wreck.  Some people are saying “debts”, others “sins” and others “trespasses.” What gives?

Literally, the Greek word is “debts” and “debtors” – It’s what you’ll find in the NIV, ESV, KJV, and NASB.

Does that solve it?  Not really, because people might (understandably) wonder what on earth we’re talking about.  Is Jesus really saying that we owe money to God, and we’re asking for him to forgive our loan, and in return we will forgive the loans of people who owe us money?

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, tried to help smooth this out by saying “trespass” and “trespasses,” though it seems like that only replaces one metaphor with another.

So some translations (NLT) just translate the metaphor for you: your debt to God is because of sins, so let’s just say, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sinned against us.”

Whatever translation you prefer, the idea is the same: Jesus is tying our forgiveness of others to our forgiveness from God.  And, in case you miss the point, he brings it up again in verses 14-15:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Confession is a normal part of prayer in the Old Testament, and we’re not surprised to find it here.  Confession is agreeing with God about what you did.  It’s bringing into the light what you’d rather keep under the bed.  But Jesus isn’t only concerned with our confessing, but our forgiveness of others.

Why is mutual forgiveness such a big deal to Jesus?

–          See also Matthew 9:5,6; 12:31-32; 18:21,35

Forgiving others is a non-negotiable part of being a disciple of Jesus.  It is required.  Why? Because it is a reflection of the way that we are forgiven by God.

Is there anyone you’re not on speaking terms with?  Is there anyone you need to reconcile to, as far as it depends on you?

God, show me where I have sinned today.  Show me how I have wounded others for my sake.  Show me how I have failed to honor you in my thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  Thank you for the cross.  Thank you that you have forgiven me, God. Where do I need to extend that forgiveness to others?  Who do I need to forgive and reconcile with?

f. Our need for protection from temptation and the evil one (v. 13) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

What happens if God doesn’t do these things?

Do you think it matters whether you pray this or not?  After all, God does not lead you into temptation anyways, according to James 1. And isn’t Christ the victor of Satan anyways? So, what are we actually praying for?

1. We’re praying that we would fall to temptation when it comes. When our sinful nature, or the people around us, or the enemy, provide a reason why we should prioritize the temporary over the important, the now over the real, may we be the sort of people who stand up tall, rather than get knocked over.

2. We’re praying towards the day when there will be no more death or sin, when we will be rid of the both the results and causes of sin.

God, when I am tempted today, bring me through it whole.  Through your Spirit make me the sort of man who does not wilt before temptation, but who is brought out the other-side complete.

Prayer Project

With at least one other person this week, pray through the categories of the Lord’s prayer daily.

Our Father in heaven,
may your name always be kept holy.
May your kingdom come and what you want be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us the food we need for each day.
Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us.
And do not cause us to be tempted, but save us from the Evil One.

Who do you ask to help?

Every 7 days, our church needs over 70 different people to volunteer to serve, in everything from teaching Sunday school to stacking chairs to setting out the coffee to praying with people after the services.  Finding “enough” volunteers is a perpetual problem in churches. While it’s great to have people offer to help, I would estimate that over half of the roles need to be filled through staff-initiated asks.

How do you know who to ask?

1. The one who’ll say “yes” -Having been on both sides of these calls, it’s no fun for anyone.  I tell myself that I’m giving people an opportunity to serve, and that it shouldn’t be awkward.  It still is. Weak excuses, half-truths, and awkward pauses… and that’s just my side of it.  I usually want to just get it over with as soon as possible. But, if you only use this criteria, here are the negative consequences: cliquish (only the staff person’s friends serve), homogeneous (only people like the staff person serve), and closed-minded (only people who have done it before serve).

2. Someone different – I want to find as much diversity as I can (age, gender, race, etc), especially in positions of influence in a worship service. If I know I already have five white guys in their thirty’s on the platform, the last thing I want is another white guy in his thirties to read Scripture or greet at the door.  Finding “different” requires intentionality, and is often at odds with speed (criteria #1), since it’s easier to find “someone like you” who’ll say yes.

How do you do this? If you’re in a multiple-staff church, find a staff person unlike you to give you some referrals.  Just don’t ask him/her to find you your volunteers.

3. Someone outside – If involvement breeds commitment, then I want to find outsiders to fill roles as much as possible. But, this will again be at odds with #1.

How do you do this? Figure out who the new people are, whether in a new members event, through attendance cards, or just tracking them down on the patio, and rope them in early.  They’ll get in their routine after a few months, and getting them to break it in two years (you know, when you know them), won’t happen.

Who are you when no one’s looking? (Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18)

One of the strongest pulls in my life is to care more about what people think of me than what God thinks of me.  When I fall into this, I become a hallow person with a hypocritical faith.  Jesus knew knew people like this in his day, and had strong words for them (and us), found in Matthew 6:1-8 and 6:16-18. My notes from the sermon I gave on Sunday on the same text (podcast here) are after the jump.

Continue reading “Who are you when no one’s looking? (Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18)”

In Praise of… Student Retention

Every semester students drop out of our classes.  That’s okay.  Some of them should drop.  They have had health or family problems beyond their control, and they are better off starting fresh the next semester.  Others have put themselves so far behind the curve in our class (and probably other’s classes as well) that they should cut their losses and try to pass one or two classes, instead of failing four.  I can live with drops like this.

What hurts are the students who drop because they have developed an unrealistic picture of what is happening in the course during the semester.  They could have passed, maybe even with a strong grade, but at some point became convinced that they were irreparably behind their classmates, and gave up on keeping pace.

How can we encourage these students to keep going in the course?

1. Have a lowly weighted test early in the semester (HT: McKeachie) – By giving a test after the first or second week of courses, the students need to start their studying early, and it gives the instructor a chance to correct problems before they mushroom.

2. Have students grade the work of other students – This gives students a chance to see what their peers are turning in, which usually encourages students, who assume their friends are writing at a peer-reviewed journal level, rather than just like them. To keep your headaches to a minimum, have this be a rough draft that is graded and worth only a couple percentage points of the final grade, then grade the final draft yourself (or via TA), so as to minimize complaints about uneven grading.

3. Have a group project later in the semester – If students feel like they are abandoning their group, they will be less likely to drop out.

In Praise of…. Incarnational Appointments

I love social media.  Blogs, email, podcasts, facebook, YouTube, Skype, even Twitter (in moderation, of course).  With all these tools at our disposal, is there any reason to maintain traditional concepts of office hours?  Wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply create a knowledge base or FAQ section of our course website, as is standard practice in corporate customer support?  While these aren’t bad ideas, there are distinct things that only incarnational meetings can accomplish.

1. Encouragement – While supportive notes on an email can be meaningful, there is simply no replacement for having a mentor look you in the eye and being told you have what it takes to make it.  When I met with Mick Boersma recently to discuss new media and Talbot alumni, his concern was rooted in the irreplaceable role face-to-face meetings play in encouraging students and alumni.  Wise man.

2. Real-life training – While it is helpful to offer shy students some non-intimidating opportunities to express themselves, at some point we are coddling, rather than protecting, students.  If students graduate from our school unable to speak while looking an authority figure in the eye, they will fail in the marketplace.

3. Small group discussions – Often, the best office hour discussions are with two or three students at once.  While there are chat-rooms and forums that can replicate some of this experience online, the digital communication lacks the feeling of reality at times, without the excitement that can build in real-time.  Further, incarnational office hours helps students learn to disagree without being disagreeable, another important real-world learning need, and one that rarely develops on message boards.