Friday’s Fantastic Five! 6.7

FridayFantasticFive

Yes, Marriage Will Change – and Here’s How – Mark Regnerus
A startling article grounded in solid social science that predicts gay marriage’s effect on the institution of marriage as a whole. Sexual permissiveness may be the shape of marriage norms in the future.

Ex-Feminists: Do marriage and parenthood make people more conservative about women and families? – William Saletan
Saletan dissects the recent Pew Research data on America’s views of marriage, parenthood, and working moms. While it may appear that cultural trends make the difference in people’s views, it may be actual experience with family that is driving the data.

Listening to Young Atheists, Lessons for a Stronger Christianity – Larry Taunton
Taunton’s Fixed Point organization interviewed active college atheists across the country to find out what led them to their unbelief. The results are surprising as many came to atheism out of a weak, nominal Christianity. A must read for the church.

Reaching Muslims with the Gospel of God: An Interview with Abdul Saleeb
A great interview with a Muslim who came to Christ and now reaches out to other Muslims. This short interview will be helpful to Christians who are reaching out to or know very little about their Muslim neighbors.

The Graduation Song – Rhett & Link
A hilarious wake up call for all those graduates out there…

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An Unexpected Journey: Bilbo, Jesus, and Us

the-hobbitBefore the epic and wildly popular Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote its prequel, The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey. The first of three films retelling this beautiful tale was released in December 2012. The reviews of critics, LOTR fans and casual movie goers are conflicting and varied. No matter what one might think of The Hobbit as a film or novel, there is more than a bit of wisdom to be gained from this story.

Hobbits live in a beautiful little country called the Shire; they build cozy homes in the sides of hills called “hobbit holes,” complete with fire places, large pantries and rooms just for sitting. They grow vegetables and flowers, eat more than five meals a day and enjoy each other’s company under fireworks with music and ale in hand. Hobbits don’t venture outside the Shire. Hobbits don’t go on adventures. They are content to live their quiet lives eating, gardening and laughing.

Generations before, the home and wealth of the Dwarf people (a race separate from Hobbits) was stolen by a monstrous and merciless dragon, leaving them to aimlessly wander the earth. A company of 12 Dwarves decide to reclaim what is rightfully theirs and reestablish the Dwarf kingdom. However, they cannot do it alone. They need a spy, a burglar…a Hobbit. One morning, a wizard appears on the doorstep of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. This wizard invites Bilbo on an adventure.

That night, an obnoxious, bearded bunch of Dwarves invades Bilbo’s tiny Hobbit hole, inhale every last bit of his food and offer him a place in the company. They explain the dangers and rewards of their quest. They show him a map, detailing the length and difficulty of the journey. They give him a job description. Bilbo quickly and firmly refuses, leaving the Dwarves feeling defeated. But, as morning dawns, the curious call of adventure gets the best of Bilbo and he takes off to join the Dwarves!

As days turn to weeks and months, the journey proves more than Bilbo bargained for. The dangers are far worse than he imagined. The food and drink is never enough. Rain and wind are colder and crueler than in the Shire. There is always a dark, evil creature they must escape or outwit. The Dwarves are less than pleasant company and ungrateful for Bilbo’s help.  On more than one occasion, Bilbo’s small size and inexperience gets him into trouble, making him no help at all and saddling the Dwarves with an extra burden. He quietly mourns the loss of his pleasant life in the Shire and earnestly believes he will lose his life before returning there.

At one point, the entire company is taken captive and Bilbo is separated from all the Dwarves in captivity. They escape, but Bilbo is nowhere to be found. With a stroke of luck, Bilbo also escapes and has a chance to abandon this awful journey and head home to his warm, dry hobbit hole. The Dwarves would never know. He emerges from a cave, just in time to overhear the Dwarves discussing him, wondering if he had left them and some claiming it was probably for the best since Bilbo had not proven useful. He appears, startles the Dwarves and is asked why he returned to the company. This is his answer:

I know you doubt me, I know you always have, and you’re right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that’s where I belong; that’s home, and that’s why I came, because you don’t have one… a home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can.”

The inborn need for and love of home almost kept Bilbo from the journey: the confidence of belonging somewhere, the luxury of owning things and the satisfaction of building a meaningful life. He already enjoyed all of these benefits. Journeying with the homeless Dwarves awakened Bilbo to things he took for granted. His new affection for home stirred him to spend himself completely so a group of large, rude, inconvenient and uninvited guests who did not fully appreciate or believe in him could have a home of their own.

We often don’t contemplate what it meant for Jesus to leave heaven and come to earth. We might assume because He is God, it was part of His plan and He willingly came, it wasn’t a big deal.  From eternity past, Jesus had enjoyed perfect fellowship with His Father, ruling at His right hand. He never suffered hunger, rejection, loneliness or pain. Coming to earth was no vacation. It was a dark, lonely journey where Jesus forfeited the praise, privileges and position of heaven to save us. Even on earth, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Our home, the one God intended for us, was stolen by sin. The only way to guide an ungrateful, rebellious race to the home they would tirelessly search for and never find was to send One who had a home and desired to share it. This is Scripture’s grand narrative: God steering His creatures home through Jesus.

C. S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Every human being has the desire for another home that cannot be satiated or explained away. Christians know this home; Paul (someone else familiar with homelessness for the gospel’s sake, 1 Corinthians 4:11) reminded the church in Philippi of our true citizenship (3:20). Today, we are far too easily satisfied with our earthly homes. Jesus said “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[a]and will inherit eternal life.”(Matthew 19:29)

Have you written off the prospect of God calling you to leave your dream house, the highly rated schools, your BFFs, the convenient shopping, family and abundance of weekend activity options to proclaim the One who offers a heavenly home to the spiritually homeless? Foreign missionaries will tell you they miss their house with a roof, friends who speak their language and familiar restaurants. In the same breath they will tell you they have lost nothing compared to the home God is preparing for them in glory.

Which home are you more in love with?

-Emily

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Let Go of Your Dreams: Reflections from Africa

While in Port Shepstone, South Africa I came across a book by Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America titled: It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor. In the first chapter, he writes:

God promises your payday is on its way. If you’ll learn to be a prisoner of hope and get up every day expecting God’s favor, you’ll see God do amazing things. You’ll overcome every obstacle. You’ll defeat every enemy. And I believe and declare you’ll see every dream, every promise God has put in your heart, come to pass.

While many can spot the flaws in Osteen’s message, I think he captures a hidden conviction of American Christianity – God is all about us and our dreams.

Those of us in the United States have more resources, more opportunities, and more encouragement to achieve our dreams than almost anyone else in the world. “Achieve your dreams” is preached to us from the television, the classroom, the magazine rack, the sports field, the internet, the family, and even the church. We watch people achieve their dreams every night on Sportscenter, American Idol, the Biggest Loser, or America’s Got Talent. Updated every second on Facebook we watch everyone we’ve known in life succeed at achieving marriage, children, jobs, promotions, awards, vacations, bigger homes, newer vehicles, and smarter phones. We achieve pieces of our dreams as we graduate from school, buy that thing we always wanted, and find relationships that satisfy us.

Everything we see and our own desires tell us life is about achieving our dreams. We see those around us achieve their dreams, feel the potential within us to do the same, and experience frustration and even depression when we don’t.

Many of us wouldn’t articulate it as boldly as Osteen does in It’s Your Time, but when we subtly accept the idea that life is about our dreams we come to believe it is God’s job to help us achieve them. Successful people will buy the book and work hard to earn their dreams from God. They are convinced they have what it takes and that God will respond by giving them what they desire. Struggling people will become frustrated and even angry with God because He is impossible to please and seems to be withholding their dreams from them. Whether we are working to earn our dreams from God or are frustrated with Him because our dreams have failed, we are believing in a small, imaginary god.

The idea of God existing to help us achieve our dreams seemed incredibly empty to me as I browsed through that book in South Africa. While in Africa, I had the opportunity to preach the gospel in one of the schools. According to the missionary we worked with, the unemployment rate in the area was about 70% and the HIV infection rate was around 50%. As I looked out over the 930 students who had walked miles to attend school that morning, I realized most of them would never come close to achieving their dreams. While many of them studied, worked hard and were very intelligent and talented the best their reality could offer was to be one of the few with any job and to not die before the age of 45 with AIDS. Believing in a god who was about them achieving their dreams would be about as useful as belief in the Easter bunny.

The true God is not about us and our dreams, but about Himself and His glory. God does what He wants and accomplishes His purposes, not ours. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” In John 17:4 Jesus prays, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work You gave me to do.” The goal of Jesus’ life was the glory of God which should be the dream of our life as well (1 Cor. 10:31). Jesus said even His death, while beneficial to sinners, was ultimately for the glory of God in John 12:27-28, “For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Our lives should result in glory for God, not in dreams achieved for ourselves, as seen in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father.”

This is a God worth believing in. He is not pacing heaven desperately trying to give his children all of their dreams in a broken world. He is confidently ruling and guiding all of history for the display of His glory. He is not an idolater, exalting His human creation above Himself. Instead He loves us enough to exalt Himself above us so we might hope in Him. What those students at the school in rural Africa needed wasn’t the promise of a god who was going to give them a payday and make all of their dreams come to pass. That god would have sounded good in a sermon but would have failed them. We need the God who came to earth and died for us so our lives and all of history, good and bad, may point to Him and His glory.

Is it wrong to have dreams? No! It is wrong to let them control your life, your attitude, and your view of God. Are you blessed with the achievement of your dreams? Hold onto them loosely and hold onto the glorious God of the Bible tightly. Dreams may fade, but His glory and His endless love for you remain.

Are you frustrated by unrealized dreams? Have you remained single longer than you hoped? Did the children fail to turn out the way they were supposed to? Are you stuck in a miserable, dead end job? Are you struggling to make ends meet instead of flourishing? Are you tired of watching peers succeed while you remain mediocre? Then let go of your dreams and live for the glory of God. We are not promised we will achieve our dreams and most of humanity, like those students in Africa, will never have the luxury of dreaming.  Let’s stop worrying about our small, insignificant dreams and embrace the God whose love for us goes beyond our failures and whose glory endures forever.

-Brian

Warning: Safety Is an Illusion

If you’re looking to stir up neighborhood gossip, try this: at dusk on a cold day, turn your kids loose on their bikes without helmets or jackets. Give them 2 Blo-Pops to eat at one time while they pop wheelies in the dark, playing with kids you’ve never met. Better yet, leave your doors unlocked, forego your yearly physical, undo your Facebook privacy settings and don’t shred those credit card applications in your mailbox.

America is obsessed with safety. Some believe knowledge, effort and character can create a bubble-wrapped, pad-locked, hypoallergenic world where no one experiences pain, loss or inconvenience. Disbelief and panic ensue when safeguards fail because people invest in total prevention; they end up reacting rather than responding.

Many pride themselves on their knowledge, believing their collection of facts and statistics will help them navigate the world unscathed. They read international news, follow the experts and smirk at those who are ignorant. Some couple their knowledge with effort. They buy weapons, pet insurance and cases of bottled water. Their CPR certification is always up-to-date and their children ride in a carpool (not the bus) to school, armed with an ID bracelet and gallons of hand sanitizer. When these fail, the cushion of karma comforts some.  Commendable morality and citizenship will keep hardships at bay, hitting only the irresponsible.

Unfortunately, the tragedies of a broken world discriminate against no one, regardless of beliefs or deeds. There is a view of God circulating campuses, cafes and churches that His chief responsibility is to shield humanity from hurt; if He doesn’t, He is guilty of failing to love. Since this is not the view of Scripture, it is the view of sinners: God exists to keep me safe.  This idea is quickly squashed by the biblical narrative.

Esther, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Job and Paul weathered experiences that would rattle our lives beyond repair, yet were not shaken.

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” – Esther 4:15-16

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” – Job 2:10

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” – Job 13:15

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” – Philippians 1:12-13

Their words testify about what they worship: it’s not their comfort, success or preservation. They worship the holy and living God of Scripture and lived for His kingdom purposes. Hyper-safety is a very new, American idea sadly adopted by Christians that is completely foreign to many other generations and cultures.

Years ago I was listening to John Piper preach on missions. He lamented that many applicants for staff positions at his church ask the same first question in the interview: “Will my family be safe?” With eyes down and arms outstretched, he pleaded, “Could you ask that tenth?”  Safety should not be the first priority for the Christian. A Christian’s response to tragedy can clarify or confuse the gospel of Jesus. While God can shield every human being from paper cuts, car wrecks and cancer, He doesn’t. Until He returns to establish the new heaven and earth, life is an indiscriminate blend of God’s grace and sin’s effects. If I view my life as a finite amount of time and live only for the here and now, of course pain and tragedy will destroy me.

At the beginning of his letter, James wrote to Christians:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (1:2-4).”

Even more stunning than asking us to consider our trials as joy is the next part. Rather than wishing and praying our pain away, we are to sit in it until God has used it to complete an area where we are lacking. Tim Keller observes: “Sometimes God appears to be killing us when actually He’s saving us.”

Knowing that would be difficult to swallow, James wrote verse five: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” He is talking about the specific wisdom needed when life is no longer safe. We are not called to seek delivery from trials but the wisdom to navigate them.

Wearing a seatbelt and purchase identity theft protection is a fine thing, but when those fail, what will you do? The safest place for anyone is to rest in the trust and hope of an unchanging, ever faithful God Who has the grace to use trials to conform us to His Son’s image.

-Emily

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