Dear DC Talk fans,

I get it. You’ve looked forward to this moment for years. And then, a cryptic post from a long dormant account. You were all hopeful they’d come to your town, if not your own church. Maybe, they’d STAY AT YOUR HOUSE, and put on a personal show in your backyard.

Nope.

Instead, they announced a cruise.

And, while this may come as a shock to you, “They don’t owe you anything”.

Sincerely,

John

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This is NOT all there is

Reading through Mark 5 this morning for our Family Life Small Group- Jesus casts demons out of a man and the demons are allowed to go into a herd of nearby pigs; a woman who had been bleeding for years simply touches Jesus’ clothing and she is healed, and a young girl is raised from the dead. The notes from my Jesus-Centered Bible:
Mark 5:1-17–Essential Question: Is this all there is?
If you study what Jesus does most often in his ministry, you can come away startled by how often he’s dealing with demonic presences in people. Here’s a typical encounter, with a man who is possessed by so many demons that it takes a whole herd of pigs to ‘re-house’ them once Jesus casts them out. If the ‘natural world’ is our only reality, then Jesus must be delusional, because he spends a lot of his time and energy interacting with supernatural beings. It’s actually a heresy to believe that ‘this is all there is,’ because Jesus clearly tells us by his words and actions that there is an ‘unseen’ world that is just as real as the ‘seen’ world.
As I read through this text and those notes today, I come to the reality that there is indeed a shadow world. The evidence of this is the constant evil that men do, driven by a force beyond themselves so much and so often that they’ve simply given themselves over to it- they have become synonymous with this evil. This is heart-destroying for those who live in the midst of their foolishness and destruction. But…
In Luke 6:17-23, we see people coming to Jesus- to hear him, to be healed by him, to have their demons excised- and these same people, because they are poor receive God’s kingdom, because they are hungry will be satisfied, because they weep now, will find joy. Why? How?
Jesus is in charge of that world, too. He proves this by removing the Legion of demons from a man tormented by them for years, tormented so hard and often that he’d cut himself. He proves this when even his clothing has the power to heal a woman who’d been bleeding for years. Even death is no match for him- he looks at the mocking of those brought in to mourn and raises a girl from the dead.
Jesus is in charge. Not only of this seen world, but of the unseen one. As this unseen world seemingly racks up win after win, know that a reckoning is coming. This reckoning is found in Christ alone.

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The 5 Best Habits of a Spiritually Present Parent

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled, The 4 Worst Habits of a Spiritually Absent Parent. Yesterday, we had a Family Dedication at our church, and I shared The 5 Best Habits of a Spiritually Present Parent.  I thought I’d post them here:

  1. Spiritually present parents are responsible. They know that their meaning and purpose is to make disciples of their kids and families and everything that they do is oriented around this goal. Everything does not have the same level of importance and they’ll make choices to sacrifice the minor things for the major one.
  2. Spiritually present parents are responsive. They know that what they to today matters. They commit to the things that matter most. They know the old adage, “There are two great times to plant an oak tree…20 years ago and today.” They drive a stake in the ground and maintain it.
  3. Spiritually present parents are concerned. They do not sit idly by and watch things happen as King David did in 1 Kings 1:5 & 6. They take action because they know that there are bigger things at stake than the immediate moment. They place their role as “parent” before “friend”.
  4. Spiritually present parents are intentional. These parents know that every moment counts. They take the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 seriously and seek to be faithful to making the most out of every moment.
  5. Spiritually present parents are imperfect. These parents make mistakes. They know that they will fail, and when they do, they count on God’s mercy, grace and strength instead of their own wisdom. They don’t let the imperfections of what happened today stop them from trying tomorrow.

Be present!

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A Lament for Thursday

I am frustrated with so-called Christians who’ve essentially replaced the God of the Bible with the god of American sub-cultural christianity. They long for the good old days when the church had positional authority: power & prestige; when they had a place at the table. But, because they were more interested in political power, they failed to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Christians are absolutely allowed to interject themselves into the conversation. But…how? And, for what purpose?

When Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen, it was for the furtherance of the gospel. It seems to me that America’s Christians often exercise their rights as “their rights”, forgetting that they were bought with a price- this means for all intents and purposes, they have no rights in light of the Gospel. We are to give up what is “ours” for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of the “other”. This is why Paul wrote, “consider others better than yourselves.”

While there are certainly cultural things that we may stand up and speak against, it is time that we, as Christians, understand that our country has moved on. We’ve lost the cultural battle. And because for so long we were used to getting our way, we are now facing exile. And exilic believers act differently- read Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29.

What’s more, Jeremiah 49:1 says, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Has Israel no sons? Has Israel no heir? Why them has Molech taken possession of Gad? Why do his people live in its towns?'”

People can lament about the “loss of our nation” all they want. I read the words of boomers and builders as they lament about what’s happened to “their country”. And the answer is so simple.

They were more interested in securing for themselves financial blessings and success in post-war America than they were in passing on the faith. The church, especially the conservative Christians, became enamored with political power- in short, they “gained the whole world and forfeited their souls.”

And now, far too many of those who call themselves “Christian” support a bully politically who doesn’t even believe what they claim to support. And, it’s possible that this person will win.

What needs to happen is not a return to the good old days when evangelicals reigned and the church was listened to.

What needs to happen is for people within the church to remember that God changes hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit and that we are to be heralds of that Gospel.

 

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(No) Savior on Capitol Hill

Today is “Super Tuesday”, a time when millions of people will have the opportunity afforded them by our Constitution to participate in the process by which we elect a leader for the next 4 years. Elections in our country have often been about promises- whether “a chicken in every pot” or “staying out of European wars” or this year…”make America great”. But, here’s the thing…(and, if you are a Christian, I suggest you read this next sentence very, very, carefully)…

There is no man (or woman) that we can elect that will “save” us.

Jesus has done that.

In light of that truth, what are we to do?

– Pray (this should not be the first time you’ve done this about the election year).

– Spend time in your Bible. I suggest Deuteronomy 17:14-20, followed by 1 Samuel 8:11-17, Mark 12:17, John 19:11, Romans 13:1-7, and Ephesians 6:12. For starters.

– Remember that Paul used his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:22-23:11) as a means to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and NOT as a means to political gain.

– Take a look at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and compare the candidates and their positions to the words of Jesus and remember that Jesus is proclaiming a new Kingdom.

– Keep in mind that the right to vote is just that. A “right”. We are not under compulsion to do so. There will be some, perhaps many, who will not like this. They’ll bring up those who have sacrificed for country so that we may have this right. They may talk about how we “dishonor” their sacrifice. But voting is a matter of conscience, as is speech, or any of my other rights. Just because I have the right to free speech, does not mean that I have to right to be un-Christlike in my speech.

– We’re not electing a “Pastor-in-Chief”.

– Whomever we elect is not our Savior. She (or he) will not right all of the wrongs of our political pet interests. They will not, and cannot, bring true justice because they, like those who elect them, are sinners.

This is indeed a crucial election. We are a nation fraught with tension; the economic divide, the racial divide, the educational divide…these things are real. Which is why I recommend doing each of the things above BEFORE you vote. This is too important to just go in there a pull a tab, punch a ticket, or press a button for whomever is warming your heart, promising the most or easing your fears.

For the Christian, Christ is supreme.

To quote songwriter Derek Webb, “we’ll never have a savior on Capitol Hill” because we already have one. And…He ain’t on the ballot.

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The 4 Worst Habits of a Spiritually Absent Parent

I’ve been in the workforce for about 30 years now- my first job was at Hardee’s in Peachtree City Georgia and now I’m an Associate Minister in Worthington Minnesota. I’ve worked for several companies in various roles and in that 30+ years, I’ve worked for “absent bosses”. Some of those bosses were literally physically absent- never in the store (when I worked at Best Buy) or the office, while others were physically present, they were practically gone- holed up in some corner or always “too busy” to engage those they worked for or even customers. This presents all sorts of issues for both those they work with and for, as well as those they are called to lead.

A few months ago, I stumbled across an article from LinkedIn called, The 4 Worst Habits of an Absent Boss that really put some words to what I’ve felt over the years. About a week ago, my wife was telling me that she had been thinking about that article and how it applied to parenting, especially the role of parents as it relates to passing on the Christian faith to their children. Here’s our take- The 4 Worst Habits of a Spiritually Absent Parent:

  1. Spiritually Absent Parents are Irresponsible. Because these parents are unaware of the most important thing to find meaning in, they chase meaning in every other thing. Without a definitive and guiding principle (make disciples) they try anything and everything and are always convinced that they’re not doing enough. There are literally dozens of balls in the air, with each having the same level of importance and each requiring the same level of commitment.
  2. Spiritually Absent Parents are Unresponsive. Because of everything taking place and going on around them, they can’t make a commitment beyond the short term. Like author Barry Schwartz states in his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, the sheer amount of things to choose from paralyzes parents, so they choose what they think is best, regardless of whether or not it is actually best. Often, what proves to be “best” is what gives them (or their kids) accolades, so they continue in that “best”.

    “Failure’s hard, but success is more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever”- Po Bronson.

  3. Spiritually Absent Parents are Indifferent. Because they are not connected spiritually with their kids, they have no way to offer true feedback (or give scriptural advice) to them. If they are not growing spiritually, this is a double-whammy because they would then have no basis to speak into the lives of their kids from a credibility standpoint. There is an assumption of “I’m ok, you’re ok” which is NOT the Christian way.
  4. Spiritually Absent Parents are Spontaneous. One week they’ll go to church, the next they won’t. A parent might offer up an attempt to disciple, but because there is not consistent framework or context for these random bits of whimsical advice (see point 1), they just make no sense. Beyond that, these spontaneous sayings reduce the Bible, or Jesus, to that of a sage, with scripture verses being a Christian version of “no pain, no gain.”

Is this you? Romans 12:3 tells the believer, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given you.”

To paraphrase RC Sproul Jr- the key to happy parenting is the key to a happy anything- repent and believe the Gospel.

Don’t be like the rich young ruler- he was convicted by Jesus and then simply went away sad, “because he had great wealth.” Sadness and repentance are NOT the same thing.

Perhaps you’ve got a great deal of “investment” in the wrong things. I’m on a mission to equip, teach and lead parents to take greater ownership of the spiritual development of their children and families. Because of this, I’d love to talk with you and share what it looks like to be a “Spiritually Present Parent.” It won’t be easy, and it may not be fun.

But, you know what they say…

“No pain, no gain.”

 

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The Gospel According to Groundhog Day, 2

I love the movie Groundhog Day. For the longest time, I simply viewed it as a Bill Murray classic, but as I’ve watched and re-watched it, I’ve discovered that it is filled with meaning.

The gist: Phil Connors (Murray) is a television weatherman sent yearly to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to participate in their annual Groundhog Day festivities. An unexpected storm comes in and Phil and his news crew are forced to stay overnight, and by stay overnight, Phil is forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over and over and (you get the picture). Throughout the course of the film, Phil is on an existential journey and is forced to deal with real questions about meaning, purpose, relationships, joy and pleasure.

Tuesday night, I again watched a portion of the film- just about 30 minutes of it. It was towards the end, when Phil was elaborately constructing his day- asking questions and memorizing answers in the attempt to manipulate the perfect day so that he might escape. With the passing of every “day” and as each day got longer and longer, Phil had more to fake and orchestrate in order to get to the next point.

There’s a scene where Phil and Rita make a snowman and are “attacked” by kids throwing snowballs, as they fight back, Phil and Rita fall to the ground and they kiss. Like the other “days” that day also fails and Phil again finds himself back at that same moment- building the snowman and again falling with Rita but this time, it’s canned and Phil is clearly setting the moment up. Rita (and we) notice. Phil becomes more and more frantic, completely anxiety-ridden as he seeks “the perfect day” so that he might escape the mess that he has both found himself in and created.

As I lay in bed that night, I realized that I am often like Phil Connors:

  • I spend time trying to orchestrate my relationship with God and others. I think, “If I can just do ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’, then ‘d’ will happen.
  • I frequently move from thing to experience and back again as I try to make sense of what is happening around me.
  • As things don’t go my way, as they don’t go the way I think they ought to, my anxiety simply rises and I become frantic, unreasonable, and unrealistic. My expectation set goes out of control.

According to the article that I linked to at the beginning, we see Phil endure just 34 days, but the original script had him enduring 10,000 years worth of Groundhog Days.

Spoiler Alert: Phil eventually comes to the end of himself, and it is in this end that he finds both meaning and redemption.

While I can manipulate people (and try to manipulate God), I cannot orchestrate true and godly meaning from false relationships with man or God.

While I can find temporary meaning in things and experiences, I will eventually be let down by them.

While I can be frantic and anxious, Jesus says, “Peace. Be Still.”

In the same way, it is only by coming to the end of myself, what Jesus calls, “death to self”, that I find meaning and redemption.

Paradoxically, this death leads to life. May I die, and soon.

 

Here’s my original “Gospel According to Groundhog Day” post.

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