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    Elders' Blog - Entries from January 2016

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    ThuThursdayJanJanuary28th2016 Going Gray, Staying Green
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Aging Righteousness 1 comments Add comment

    Here’s a little quiz for you. Read the following of song excerpts and see if you can identify what they all have in common:

    Forever young, I want to be forever young. (Alphaville, 1984)

    I don’t wanna grow up. (The Ramones, 1995)

    I wanna live while we’re young
    We wanna live while we’re young. (One Direction, 2012)

    Tonight we are young
    So let’s set the world on fire
    We can burn brighter than the sun. (Fun, 2012)

    I don’t think it takes too much studious reflection to figure out the common theme here. These songs may span various genres (and eras!), but they each joyously celebrate one of our most beloved idols: youth. And, perhaps more importantly, they each defiantly scorn one of our most dreaded fears: old age.

    Songs like these are shaped by a cultural narrative that incessantly tells us, “Younger is better”—a narrative that many of us unthinkingly adopt. We naturally associate youthfulness with health, beauty, freedom, and fun, while at the same time thinking of old age in terms of decline, limitation, senility, and boredom. Given such an outlook, is it any wonder that we’re all in such a hurry to “live while we’re young”? After all, the clock is ticking, and our best years will soon be behind us. We might as well do what we can while we can.

    But what if this cultural narrative didn’t tell the whole story? What if our pessimism at the prospect of growing older turned out to be unfounded?

    In Psalm 92, we find some song lyrics that strike an entirely different note than the ones above. And they call into question our default assumption that old age is something to despise:

    The righteous flourish like the palm tree
      and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
    They are planted in the house of the Lord;
      they flourish in the courts of our God.
    They still bear fruit in old age;
      they are ever full of sap and green,
    To declare that the Lord is upright;
      he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

    Let’s be clear here: any way you slice it, aging is a decline—a slow and steady march toward the inevitable fate that awaits us all. You can try to postpone it, and you can try to hide it. But eventually the wrinkles will prevail and the creaky joints will be too loud to be ignored.

    But according to Psalm 92, the quality of your life and the significance of your contribution are not measured solely by the health of your body or the sharpness of your mind. Even when the candles on your birthday cake are multiplying, your spiritual fruitfulness can be multiplied, as well. This is what a lifestyle of righteousness does: it allows you to stay green, even when you’re turning gray.

    In a culture that tells us to stay young as long as we can, the church should be a community where we sing a different song. Physically, our best years may be past. But spiritually, there is still much to look forward to. As the proverb says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31).

    Maybe you’re still fairly young, and old age feels a long way off. Maybe you thought you were young, but you looked in the mirror recently, and the evidence suggested otherwise. Or maybe you’re someone who crossed the old age threshold years ago, and your AARP card is already well worn. Regardless of where you are in your journey, if you pursue righteousness, a few bad knees won’t be able to slow you down. Your old age will simply provide you with new opportunities to enjoy and declare God’s goodness.

    ThuThursdayJanJanuary21st2016 Bridging the Gap

    I ran a race with a friend a few years ago. The race was in Indy and we determined to meet downtown, near the race’s location. The problem with our plan was that we did not have one. We failed to designate a meeting place, and it was a large part of the city to meet in. Thankfully I had been recently introduced to a smart phone, and at the last minute, we both downloaded an app that allowed us to see each other’s locations via GPS.

    As we walked among the sea of people, we saw ourselves coming nearer to each other (represented by a blinking, blue dot). Eventually, our dots bled together and, “Hi, Jed!”

    That’s how our calendars work, too. Among the people of faith, there is regularity to our calendar that forces us together (in a good way). Every Sunday we meet up as we all descend on our building at 2901 Kossuth Street. But on a much larger scale, annual events draw us together, too. We just celebrated Christmas. Soon we will come upon Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Events like these, among others, draw Christians together. They are hardwired into our calendar and create a time of pause and celebration. They serve as uniting points for people throughout the world.

    This can also be taken outside of the community of faith. Our secular culture also has a “religious” calendar. These “stop-and-celebrate” moments bring people together throughout our country, and sometimes even the whole world. What is unique about this kind of calendar is that it bridges the gap between the secular and the sacred in many cases. For instance, New Year’s Eve impacts the Christians and the non-Christians alike. Memorial Day and Labor Day do the same (who doesn’t love a good grill out?). The Fourth of July, Halloween, March Madness, the World Series, and Thanksgiving bring the metaphorical dots on the GPS all together, regardless of who we are.

    So, shouldn’t we, the church, be on the front lines of utilizing these days for the glory of God?

    The next key event on the calendar grid is the beloved Super Bowl. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Super Bowl doesn’t need any help becoming any more super. But, imagine using such a day with two purposes in mind. First, enjoy it. Eat those chips and queso. All of them (you know who you are). But, second, help bring those multiple dots on the GPS together, dots that cross the sacred and the secular.

    You see, that day creates far too common of a ground for us not to bridge the gap to our neighbors, coworkers, and friends who don’t know Christ. Imagine using your living room in such a way as to spend hours and hours with someone very different from you, yet brought together nearly perfectly through a common love for a sport. Don’t waste the day.

    Now, here is the play. It’s very easy.

    1. Sit down with your spouse or friends with a blank piece of paper.
    2. Write down the names of all human beings that you know, who don’t know Christ.
    3. Contact each person via email or phone, and ask, “What is your plan for the Super Bowl?” Remember, this is one of those moments in the year where you won’t hear a confused response. They may not have plans, but the game is on their mind.
    4. Offer your home, or invite yourselves to theirs.
    5. Throw the biggest party you can (and leave some queso for them).

    That’s what it looks like to scatter.

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary13th2016 Mistakes and Missed Field Goals

    If you’re a football fan, you probably know about the surprising ending to this weekend’s playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. With less than a minute remaining, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a short 27-yard field goal that would have won the game for his team. As a general rule of thumb, NFL kickers don’t miss 27-yard field goals. But on this occasion, Walsh did just that, and it brought the Vikings’ season to a swift and disappointing end.

    In the post-game interviews, the devastated kicker shouldered the blame for the mistake, admitting that he should have done better. It was freezing cold and the holder didn’t have the ball positioned properly, but that made no difference to Walsh. “It’s my fault,” he maintained. “I don’t care whether you give me a watermelon whole, I should be able to put that one through.”

    All of this was an admirable display of humility, to be sure. But there was one thing Walsh said that stood out more than anything else. Realizing that with one swing of the leg he had immediately become one of the most despised men in Minnesota, he promised, “I’ll be working hard to erase that from my career, but it’ll take a while.”

    In a results-driven industry built on winning and losing, Walsh’s resolve is understandable. He knows that the standards are high and the margin for error is slim. And as I reflect on his promise to atone for his mistake, I can’t help but wonder how many of us approach our Christian lives with the same attitude.

    Most of us know all too well what it feels like to fall flat on our faces. We speak carelessly. We jump to conclusions. We get angry. We break promises. And yet as proficient as we are at making mistakes, I fear that often we don’t know how to bounce back from them.

    When I stumble or fall, the default response of my own heart tends to sound a lot like Blair Walsh’s post-game interview: I promise to work hard and erase the mistake. “If God is displeased with me,” I tell myself, “then I’ll have to earn back his pleasure with lots and lots of virtuous activity.”

    Yet this mindset couldn’t be more opposed to the gospel of grace. Most high-profile athletes have learned to resign themselves to the reality that sporting salvation is always a works-based endeavor. Fans are a relentlessly unforgiving bunch, and if there is to be any redemption for a pivotal mistake (like a missed field goal in the final minute), then it will have to be earned. Only a sufficiently long string of successes can make up for such a devastating mishap.

    But the good news of Jesus does not require us to make up for past mistakes with future successes. It does not demand that we dig our way out of the holes we have fallen into before we can be accepted. Instead, it announces the liberating truth that our sins are forgiven, our penance has been paid, and our mistakes have been removed as far as the east is from the west. There is indeed a long road to redemption, but it has already been traveled by our perfect substitute, Jesus Christ.

    We should never be content with our mistakes, nor should we desire to repeat them. But instead of responding to them with feverish efforts to appease God with our works, we can rest in the once-for-all effort put forth by Christ on our behalf.

    This is what the gospel does. It allows us to vicariously enjoy Christ’s victory, reminding us that regardless of how many field goals we miss, Jesus has already won the game.

    WedWednesdayJanJanuary6th2016 Jesus Loves the Little Children
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Encouragement Love 2 comments Add comment

    When you’re a teenager, few things are as humiliating as being treated like a little kid. You want to be thought of as independent and responsible. You want people to respect you. You want to establish your own identity. In other words, you want to stop being a child—which is precisely why it’s so frustrating when you’re treated like one.

    Even though I’m in my 30’s, I still find that my inner teenager comes out from time to time when I sense that I’m being talked down to. “I’m an adult, for goodness sake, and the least I should be able to get is a little respect!” Or so I think.

    Perhaps that’s why I feel uneasy whenever I read the book of 1 John. Time and time again throughout that letter, John addresses his readers as children. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 Jn. 2:1). “And now, little children, abide in him” (1 Jn. 2:28). “Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 Jn. 3:7). “Little children, let us love not in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18). “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). There are many more examples, but I think you get the point.

    All of it throws me off balance and makes me ask: What’s John’s deal? Does he think I’m some snotty-nosed little kid running around eating Happy Meals? Does he think he’s writing to a first-grade Sunday school class?

    Yet if I silence my self-justifying tendencies for a moment, I’ll see that John isn’t talking down to me or making me feel insignificant. Instead, he’s helping me see a deep mystery of discipleship, namely that following Jesus is in many ways analogous to the experience of childhood.

    Think about it. When you’re a child, do you meet your own needs? Do you have extensive knowledge of how the world works? Do you make your own rules and call your own shots? Well, unless you were a remarkably prodigious child, probably not. Children don’t do any of those things, and neither do we when we follow Jesus.

    Do we meet our own needs? Nope. We depend daily on grace that we receive from our Father. Nothing good in our lives is ever brought about by our own strength or piety.

    Do we know how the world works? Hardly. We’re profoundly ignorant. We don’t see the path of wisdom clearly. We misjudge at every turn. We have to learn the same lesson hundreds of times.

    Do we make our own rules and call our own shots? I sure hope not. Following Jesus means giving up the reins. It means submitting to authority. It means taking all of our cues from the word of God.

    John wants us to see that every Christian is a child: dependent, naïve, subservient. And lest we find that too upsetting or demeaning, he makes sure that we comprehend another aspect of childhood that coincides with the Christian life: love. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1).

    Sure, being a child means having limitations. Lots of them. But being a child also means being loved. Lavishly.

    John wasn’t the only person in the Bible to call us children. Jesus did the same thing. But his intention was not to dress us down or put us in our place. His intention was to invite us to himself: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).

    In the end, maybe we shouldn’t resent being called little children. After all, that’s who Jesus loves. And whether you’re nineteen or ninety, you’re never too old for his embrace.

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