On Sunday I had the chance to preach at the ministry I served at for years. Here’s my message on Luke 19:1-10.
My wife and I have a beautiful 16 month old daughter. She loves to play around and she really loves to read. Given my profession, the fact that she loves books brings joy to my heart! Although she loves books, probably more than any other form of entertainment, her mother and I still have the difficult task of figuring out how much technology we want to let her have access to at this early stage of her life. Should she have access to our phones? Should she be able to look at photos on them? Play games on them? Use the camera? Or what about the computer, she gravitates towards it! She hits the keys like she’s typing up something really important. And then, there is the ever important question, how much TV is too much TV? These are all questions that we as young parents are trying to figure out. Thankfully, Andy Crouch, author of some of my favorite books including Culture Making and Strong and Weak, has written a new book titled The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.
One of the most helpful features of this book are his 10 commandments:
- We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
- We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
- We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
- We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
- We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
- We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
- Car time is conversation time.
- Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
- We learn to sing together, rather than let recoreded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
- We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.
As a parent I found commandment #2 and the chapter about it especially interesting. He stresses that children are driven to create – if we nudge them in that direction. However too often, cheap technology squelches that drive to create. “For a child’s creative development, the inexpenseive, deep, organic thing is far better than the expensive, broad, electronic thing. And yet we are constantly tempted to give them toys that work on their own – that buzz and beep and light up without developing any skill.” (80) Chapter 6 – which treats the topic of boredom was also especially helpful. Apparently the English word for boredom does not appear until the 1850’s and its root word “bore” appears only a century earlier. Crouch argues that the technology that promises to free us from boredom actually makes it worse, it makes us more prone to seek distraction. Its even worse for kids! Crouch concludes that “the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.” (141) That is powerful stuff! A short-term solution can actually become a long term problem. In this chapter he takes aim at the practice of sitting kids in front of videos in order to entertain them, or keep them busy while mom and dad try to get some work done around the house. Talk about convicting! Videos he says, are designed to fill a screen with a level of vividness and velocity that does not exist in the real world – or only very rarely. Some entertainment is created to never require too much concentration or contemplation, it grabs our attention and constantly stimulates our desire and delight with novelty. It desensitizes us. In light of all of this it gets harder and harder to stay entertained. The ordinary, in turn, becomes boring. Dirt, grass, trees, fields, birds, all the things that require attention, the things that you see more of when you slow down and look closer, become boring. I certainly don’t want that for my daughter! I want her to delight in the magic that is God’s creation! I don’t want to stifle her creativity with quick solutions, and I don’t want her to lose her awe of the ordinary. This book serves as a fine warning to me, which will keep me from ignorantly falling into practices which counteract my desires for her.
As you can probably tell, this book has made a significant impact on the way I think about technology and parenting. If you are a parent, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are not, this book might help you bring some discipline into your technology filled life.
Note: I received this book in exchange for an impartial review.
Its actually a plausibility problem…
What the bible teaches about same sex relationships sounds implausible to most people nowadays. It sounds totally implausible to ask people to turn their backs on same sex relationships and live a lonely life as a perpetually single person. Not only does it sound implausible, it sounds unhealthy. Listen to what Melinda Selmys, a Roman Catholic who experiences same sex attraction says:
“Though shall not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness.
She’s right, it in our world the idea that someone should say yes to the single life is absolute madness. And this is exactly where the problem lies, the church has unintentionally perpetuated the implausibility of a same-sex, single, celibate Christian life through a number of misteps. Ed Shaw, a pastor and the author of Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, seeks to address this plausibility problem by making what the Bible clearly commands seem plausible again.
Shaw’s thesis is that,
The reason that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality sounds so unreasonable is because of a whole number of misteps that the church ahs taken over the years; a whole host of ways in which evangelicals have become too shaped by the world around us. (22)
What Shaw does throughout the book is highlight 9 misteps that the church has made, unwittingly making the same sex celibate life implausible. He begins the book with a very personal chapter, describing what life has been like pursuing a life of sexual holiness as a pastor who has same sex attractions. This is an important chapter because the plausibility problem is a deeply personal and emotional issue for him, not only as a pastor but as a same-sex attracted Christian. This chapter really sets the context.
So what are the missteps? Here are the 9 incorrect beliefs that the church has adopted, thus perpetuating the implausibility of a single-celibate same-sex life:
- Your identity is your sexuality
- A family is Mom, Dad and 2.4 children
- If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
- If it makes you happy, it must be right
- Sex is where true intimacy is found
- Men and women are equal and interchangeable
- Godliness is heterosexuality
- Celibacy is bad for you
- Suffering is to be avoided
Although these 9 topics have certainly influenced how the church processes issues of same sex attraction in the church, they have wide ranging implications. Personally, I have an ax to grind against belief 4 and 9. Even apart from issues of sexuality, the beliefs that “if it makes you happy, it must be right” and “suffering is to be avoided” have done so much to harm the mission of the church. Because the church has imbibed these values (especially the American church) people are slow to sacrifice for the sake of God’s mission. And perhaps even worse, students tend to abandon their faith in college precisely because they have bought into “happiness” as the goal of life, and hence their faith as well. I’ve seen it time and time again, people following Jesus because of the “happiness” and “blessings”
he has to offer them instead of simply following him because he is the Messiah. It’s a consumeristic view of faith. All this to say, the issues Shaw addresses have major implications even beyond the topic of same-sex attraction.
I highly recommend this book to those in ministry. I wish all my pastor friends would take the time to read it simply because I know that some of them unknowingly are perpetuating these harmful beliefs in their churches (2 and 5 seem to be especially common in the circles I find myself in.) This would also be a helpful book for all sorts of leaders in Christian ministry to read. We would really benefit from being more careful about how we address issues of family life and relationships, as elevating certain topics in sermons or bible studies can unwittingly alienate a large segment of our Christian brothers and sisters.
Even though you may not agree with the details of Shaw’s proposal, this is an invaluable resource for those seeking to disciple their flock in the areas of sexuality and beyond.
NOTE: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.
Now – if you know me, you know that I am not John MacArthur’s biggest fan. (Surprise surprise!) However, this short video by him about leadership development is so good, I can’t help but share it. MacArthur is absolutely right, strong churches will have a huge influence for God in this world, but strong churches begin with strong leaders…
This seems to be the perennial question for most leaders, especially those who are trying to be missional – where should I spend the majority of my time and energy?
Should I focus on discipleship or evangelism?
Andreas Kostenberger addresses this question in an essay in a new book titled Shepherding God’s Flock. Here is what he has to say (regarding the themes of Luke 15):
The figure of the “seeking shepherd” also makes clear that the dichotomy between pastoring God’s flock of those already saved and evangelizing those who are still lost is an unfortunate and unbiblical one. The seeking shepherd combines both functions in one He cares for the sheep who are already in the flock and provides for them spiritually (and if need be physically) and keeps them safe, but he is also concerned for those in the world who are lost in their sin. Not only does he lead by example in reaching out to the lost, he also seeks to mobilize the church to be moved with compassion for the lost and to take the gospel to them. This calls for wisdom and discernment, and wise shepherd guided by the Holy Spirit, will strike the right balance between caring for the saved and seeking to reach the lost.
So there you have it!
Discipleship vs. evangelism is a false dichotomy!
I really didn’t expect things to be like this – but its simply the way things turned out. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing – it was just unexpected.
You see – this weekend is my friend’s birthday, and every year he plans a snowboarding/ski trip to either Big Bear or Mammoth. I really look forward to these trips. However this year I was coming off a really bad flu; so I figured that it was probably wise if I didn’t spend two whole days doing intense activity in freezing cold weather. So the whole crew went up the mountain and I walked (a few mile) over to one of my favorite coffee shops in the world, Looney Bean.
I started out doing my morning scripture reading and moved into reading some stuff on the Trinity by Stephen Holmes, then I made my way back to reading scripture. I was reading Psalm 23, sitting in a quaint little coffee shop, staring out the window at the beautiful Eastern Sierra Nevadas. And then I realized – I have just entered a 3 day period of forced sabbatical.
For the next 4 days I have no responsibilities at church. I have no real agenda. I get to hike, work out, read, spend time with God, and just relax. Its a time to recharge!
I started journaling about this – how the Lord has given me a few days to just be and not do. My tendency is to always do – in fact I originally brought my computer with me in order to get ahead on some work. But no – the Lord had other plans. He gave me time to rest and time to stoke the fire within me for Jesus. Those are two crucial habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate if they are going to make it for the long haul. I admit I’m really bad at stopping and doing those things – I tend to do them on the go. Anyway, there are many habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate in order to maintain a healthy walk with God in ministry.
Justin Buzzard recently wrote a blog in which he listed out 15 of these life saving habits – here are a few:
Most church planters are lonely, and it’s most often their fault! Don’t settle for superficial relationships or building a church where everyone has deep friendships and you sit alone at the top. If Jesus needed close friends, then so do you. It’s how God made us. So make pursuing and enjoying real friendships a normal part of your week. Perhaps you should put it in your job description. I think planters/pastors should be men who have incredible friendships, there’s just no way to navigate this calling well without great friends.
➔ Action Question: Who are your friends?
Jesus invested his life in a handful of men and changed the world. As the lead guy, investing your life in a handful of guys will set the culture of your church. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a few guys who will invest in others and invest yourself them (2 Tim 2:2).
➔ Action Question: Who are your guys?
Church planting is a creative profession. If you do not rest and refill yourself along the way, you will burn out. Find your own rhythms to rest daily (unplug/play for some portion of each day), rest weekly (sabbath), rest monthly (I take a monthly headspace day where I get away to fill up), and rest annually (my family gets out of town for the entire month of July). For more: See my interview on Sabbath/rest here.
➔ Action Question: How are you resting?
Too many church planters settle for a ministry that can be explained by their own resources and abilities. Jesus loves your church/city more than you do (Matt 16:18). Push into the impossible and trust God to show up. This is the kind of ministry worth giving your life for.
➔ Action Question: Does your current ministry require a supernatural explanation?
Resist the devil
Satan hates you, and he is tricky. He will seek to breed disunity in your church, discouragement in you, speak lies, and seek to get at you through your family, etc. You have to be a fighter (1 Peter 5:8-9). Church planting will always feel like a fight. Embrace this reality, and fight.
➔ Action Question: Where do you need to resist the work of the devil?
Get your sermon done earlier
I have found it works much better for me to aim to get my sermon done by Wednesday afternoon, giving me the rest of the week to be with people, handle other responsibilities, and not have my sermon hanging over my head all week. Discover what works best for you, your family, and your church and do it.
➔ Action Question: What’s a good time of the week to finish your sermon by, a new deadline to aim for that would free you up?
Let God wreck you
Shortly before planting Garden City Church, I had my idolatry exposed and crushed as a result of some very difficult circumstances in my life. The Lord used that to build me into the man who is leading my church today. Church planting can be the best education/sanctifier of your life. Embrace what God is doing and you will be a better leader as a result.
➔ Action Question: What is God teaching you in your pain and weakness?
You can find the rest of these 15 Life-Giving Habits on Justin’s Blog.
We have all been designed by God to make an impact – both on our community and the world around us. He has given each one of us specific gifts and life experiences that are unique to us. Nobody else has those same combinations of gifts that you do. Nobody else has ever had, nor will ever have, the same life experiences that you have had. Your design and your life story are unique. However, the truth is that we don’t often take time to reflect upon how God has uniquely designed us and orchestrated our life story. Sometimes its helpful to step back and prayerfully think through the things that have shaped us to become who we are today. In the following video we are going to see a Christian Rapper – Propaganda – reflect upon different circumstances in his life that have shaped him to be who he is, and have prepared him for the type of ministry that God has called him to.
I am Second® – Propaganda
In the video, the rapper Propaganda shared some of the experiences that shaped his life. He shared about what it was like growing up as the only African-American kid in a Mexican culture, what it was like feeling alone at church, as well as what it was like to be a male in his particular culture with artistic passions and desires. As he reflected upon these things he noticed that “all this was on purpose – everything you are – your whole goulash of experiences and gifts – all the scars, every hurt every failure…. Its on purpose, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are exactly who I want you to be.”
Exercise – Writing Your Spiritual Biography
Take 20 minutes to prayerfully reflect on how God has shaped you over the years through various means such as:
- Life experiences – Think about the various phases of your life: childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Which experiences during those years have shaped you the most to be who you are today?
- Spiritual experiences – i.e. experiences of God’s presence and guidance through Scripture, church, mission trips, camps, nature, or some spiritual experience. List out at least 3 experiences that have significantly shaped you.
- Spiritual mentors including historical figures.
- Your context—i.e. cultural, family, ethnic, socio-economic, geographical & historical factors.
After you have done this, take some time to craft a “spiritual biography” (using Propaganda’s testimony as an example) around these four categories. How might God want to use your experiences to make an impact for his Kingdom on this world?