Repenting in the good

In the wake of Jeremiah’s ministry and the sad downfall of the southern kingdom of Judah; Ezekiel calls out to the exiled Israelite community that they should, “repent and live”!  His prophetic appeal is that they can still turn from their evil ways and choose the right path of God’s promises.

This is of course and good thing, and part of what it means to repent.  The emphasis place on repentance in western Christian communities is usually around this theme: Turn from your worldly ways.  However, there is another part to repentance that is at least overlooked and at most, under-appreciated.  Israel is challenged to repent in tumultuous times, ultimately because of poor behavior and sinful attitudes of the heart.  However, repentance also has a role to play in the good parts of our lives; the joyous and victorious parts as well as the bad.

The greek word for repent literally means to change one’s mind.  Change your mind.  See things differently; but not just differently, see things the way God sees them.  Allow your thinking to be transformed in a manner that is so profound that your are literally changed on the inside so that the outside follows.  As Paul so eloquently states it in Romans, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  In this light it isn’t so hard to see why this leads us to the confirmation of God’s will.

A new job.  A new church plant.  That well deserved vacation.  The wedding of a loved one.  Christmas.  Even a simple weekend BBQ.  These are just some examples of the good moments that life may offer us.  It does seem unusual to suggest that we might repent in these times.  Or does it?

When life throws us a curve ball or when we’ve done something stupid, the drama itself is enough to send us reeling and seeking God’s face.  Yet when things are going well; when we’ve experienced any one example of life’s favorable moments, we tend to go on autopilot.  This could prove to be the missing link in our personal journey of sanctification.  What if, when we went through good times, we continued to ask God how it was that he wanted to change our minds and lives?

It may be yet another peril of our consumer culture that we assume our joys have no grander purpose than our consumption.  While we can safely conclude that God does in fact want us to enjoy these moments, it is even safer to conclude that he is always at work.  If he speaks in our pain, why wouldn’t he also speak in our victories?  The life that constantly seeks God is one which constantly takes the position of learner (aka disciple).  To humble ourselves in all seasons of life is to delve that much deeper into the fullness that God has promised us.

We’ll always emphasize the need to repent of/from the bad; but it may be time to also explore what it means to repent in/during the good!

 

Preaching to Multiple Generations

As we explore what it means to be an intergenerational family of God, there are legitimate questions about how to communicate the Gospel.  Unfortunately our recent structures have allowed us the inconvenience of separation; which has ultimately rendered us unable to adequately communicate to various generations.  This problem is only exacerbated when you get multiple generations in the same room.  Here’s an offering of my thoughts on how to best preach in a context where multiple generations are present.

Target1.  Choose a target age group and aim for that.  In other words, think through which of the generations has something in common with both those above and below them.  Preach in a way that will connect with them so that you might potentially connect with everybody.  Don’t stress perfection; but only do what is possible.  In my experience, this target is still a fairly young age group.  I’ve often aimed for high school seniors/college freshman.

2.   Tell lots of stories.  If the story can be followed by everyone and helps to illustrate the scriptures in some way: use it.  Stories will always engage an audience and done properly can interest both the intellect and emotions of our listeners.  In addition, personal stories carry even greater weight.  The vulnerability of sharing your life with the audience is powerful tool which can effectively cross the generational gaps.

3.  Avoid obscure cultural references that will alienate any generation.  This can be hard when we find that perfect illustration/story/reference to illustrate our points. However, our illustrations are meant to illuminate the scriptures to our audience rather than alienate them.  Keeping this in mind will help us avoid the temptation to use something which ultimately will not bear the fruit which it is iWindowLight_1ntended to bear.  In Lectures to My Students, C.H. Spurgeon observes that illustrations are meant to shed light into the Gospel, much like a window is meant to shed light into a room.  To carry Spurgeon’s illustration further, we should avoid using windows that will not let light in.

4.  Be intentional about the application for all generations.  If we are accustomed to preaching to young people our tendency will be to forget the later life stages.  The opposite is also true; potentially causing others to forget the life stage of our youth.  Generally speaking, we must consider where and how each generation lives as we prepare to speak from the Word into their lives.  For example; avoid only drawing applications for marriage and family or student life.

449780dbc6412b05b6a9326a3587c4cc0a9d9c71_large5.  Speak well of all generations and life stages.  It seems that if we’re to be whole communities, we all need to maintain accurate and positive perspectives of other life stages.  We must avoid the temptation to dismiss and/or stereotype an entire generation of people.  They will eventually become discouraged by our lack of concern for them which can also deter from the fruit we intend to bear.

No one said that this is or would be easy.  It’s not something that can be taken lightly and cannot be done perfectly; certainly not all the time.  However, the desired fruit is worth both the risk and the learning curve!

 

“Supplements to Themselves”

I stumbled into a small art studio recently, and though I appreciate art, I was admittedly interested in something else.   But, as it seems, it was art that I found and one artist in particular that grabbed my attention.  

Grayber_Cavity-Mechanism-12_webObjects are invented in order to satisfy particular needs, specifically, human needs.  With my sculpture I investigate the concept of need when the human is removed from this equation.  I do this by replacing the human with the object itself.  My sculptures are invented only to sustain themselves, functioning as self-resolving problems.  The result is an object that has been invented only to compensate for the complications created by its own existence. The piece alone represents the need and the resolution.

Many of my pieces are small, spring loaded, mechanical objects.  They are intricately designed and fabricated to accomplish one of the most simple, yet most essential tasks that an autonomous object can.  This task, this need, is that of holding itself up.  In most cases, my pieces accomplish this by actively attaching themselves to specific architectural features and individual objects.

-Dan Grayber from DanGrayber.com

Grayber’s work was, to say the least, an unexpected treat. The pictures may give you an idea, but ultimately they cannot do justice to what is truly a blend of philosophy, engineering and art.  I found myself mesmerized as I closely evaluated each piece, then on display at Johansson Projects in Oakland.  Some stirred in me a sense of intrigue, while others outright baffled me!

Grayber has gotten some attention.  The following quote was taken from an article done about him in Wired Magazine.

dan-grayberMost inventions that come into the world, Grayber says, can be understood as extensions or supplements of our bodies in one way or another. By designing objects that deliberately have no user, Grayber succeeds at inventing things that are “solely supplements to themselves.” Each work is a perfectly self-contained specimen–an idea that’s reinforced by their glass-jar presentation. But as Grayber is well aware, the idea of perfect, hermetically sealed functionality can only keep us so rapt. What’s really compelling is fragility–the possibility that things can go wrong. So while Grayber might have started with the simple aim of inventing things that held themselves up, lately he’s been more interested in building things that hold themselves up but just barely. These days, he says, “I really want the work to exist in a delicate equilibrium–just beyond the point of failure.

-Kyle VanHemert, Wired Magazine/Wired.com

Art, as we know, often stands prophetically against the popular culture.  Grayber’s art in particular potentially stands against the myriad of human institutions that exist, whether by design or by default, only to support themselves.  Eccelesiologically (which I’m not sure is a real word), we want to hold that the Church exists for many things other than itself.  However, one of my first thoughts in reflecting on Grayber’s work was not against the church, but against the structures that we’ve confused with the church.  It seems that we at times, create structures and/or programs within the life our communities that again, either by design or by default, end up existing only to exist; only to support themselves.

If anything, let this be food for thought; what structures in the life of our communities are guilty of this?

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This one I happened to see in person. For most, I could figure out how the pressure was transferred mechanically to hold the piece up. This one intrigued me not only because I couldn’t figure it out, but also because it reminded me of something out of Star Wars.

Disillusionment

Noun: A feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be.  

-Oxford Dictionaries (oxforddictionaries.com)

I didn’t discover the saving grace of Christ until late in high school.  Though I’d been to church, I wasn’t a church goer and certainly didn’t grow up in the Christian faith.  For me, coming to Christ was exciting.  I loved church and was almost recklessly drawn to all things Christian.  If there was a Bible study or youth meeting, I was there.

In my new faith, I was actually surprised to find out that so many “church kids” were bored, if not altogether disillusioned with the Church.  In some cases this sense of disappointment went beyond the particular faith community and was applied to either the larger church universal, or even the whole Christian faith.  While this was once news to me, it isn’t news to us now, especially for those of you that have fought this battle in your own life.  Though I was once easily frustrated by Church kids who seemed to so easily overlook the good things of their Christian faith, I have now become much more sensitive to their journey.

sad_man1One of the callings of college/young adult ministry is dealing with disillusioned youth.  If you’re going love these kids, this is an inevitable factor in the stages of late adolescence.  Some are still reeling from the consequences of their parents’ divorce.  Some have seen moral failures of Christian leadership.  Some have sat under the leadership of an older generation that makes no effort to cross the generational-culture gap.  

Obviously this list could be longer, and is made up of things which are unfortunate realities in our churches.  We could talk about how to solve those things, which would be a worth while conversation.  However, I’d like to just remind us that the church will always be made up of people, and though we must strive to deal with our issues, there will never be perfection.  We simply can’t solve all of the causes of disillusionment in young people.

A better strategy is to simply not give up on them.  Our job is to remain available for relationship and conversation.  Though their disillusionment will at times be growing into bitterness, we need to remain patient and loving.  It seems that for many students the anger must run its course.  This is especially true when their criticisms are legitimate and well founded (admittedly, some are not).  Yet these criticisms are often unable to cast out all sensitivity to Christ and the Good News.  Thus we need to help them process their disillusionment and once again reveal to them the love of Christ in the midst of human brokenness.  In fact, maturity will hopefully reveal that the reality of Christ’s redeeming Grace amidst the foolishness of human institutions becomes is not only viable, but necessary.

Suddenly, disillusionment may become a path to maturity.  It may just be that for many students the inherent processing of disappointment and anger are a necessary byproduct of the world we live in.  Furthermore, if they must go through it, we can trust that the Holy Spirit can use it for long term transformation and maturity.  However, if that is the faith that we proclaim, we must accept our (the Church’s) role in sanctification.  Trusting that they’ll be better on the other side doesn’t mean waiting passively for it to happen; in fact, it may just prove to be the impetus for our diligent involvement in their lives.

We’re Not Called to Have a Youth Ministry

Our churches are not called to have a youth ministry, but to be a youth ministry.

While I’m not one of those folks who’s ready to abolish youth ministry across the board, I do share some of their basic premises.  In many cases Youth Ministries have become disconnected from the Body of Christ in a way that has fostered, at least in my estimation, some unhealthy circumstances in western evangelical circles.  

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The reaction to this however, usually includes an amalgamation of youth into the larger church in a way that overlooks the fundamental cultural differences which exist between generations; said differences being why youth ministry exists in the first place.  I am in favor of rethinking our ministries to students and how we can connect them to other generations.  I’m totally in favor of rediscovering what it means for the church to be family, rather than just subsets.  What I am not in favor of though, is moving forward in any of these endeavors without addressing the original problem; the generational cultural gap.

To suggest that our churches should be a youth ministry rather than just have one, is merely to suggest that the discipleship and maturation of young people must be owned corporately by the larger church.  Youth ministry should still be a “thing” in our culture, though it will inevitably look different if we take this seriously.  For many churches this probably means different things as different people have varying levels of cross-cultural and/or cross-generational competencies.   

Here are three things that I’m willing to offer as guiding truths in this discussion:

  1. We must be guided by a genuine concern for their discipleship and spiritual well being, rather than just a concern for our institution(s). Ask yourself this question- do you want your students either failing spiritually or thriving spiritually apart from the Body?  How we answer that question could be very telling.  
  2. However, we are also naturally and correctly concerned for the institution.  So we need to remember and communicate that when students are maturing, this adds to the maturity of the Body.  If our young people are not growing as an integrated part of the church, there are natural consequences for the overall spiritual vitality of our communities.  
  3. No matter what level our competencies, the church (we) must learn to engage across these generational and cultural lines.  At some point we need to not only put in effort, but we must do so with the intention of creating something that will meet the needs of all generations.