Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Donkey, the Stallion, and the Strategy of the Hills

In 1983, for Palm Sunday, John Piper preached a sermon on Matthew 21:33-46. His sermon was basically a parable, following and unpacking the storyline of Jesus' parable. I read it years ago and it hit me like a freight train!

I was reminded of it yesterday and I re-read it. I was overwhelmed again. I plan to read it to our family on Christmas Eve. Perhaps you'll want to incorporate it into your personal or family reading this Christmas.

You can listen to it or read it here.

Christmas Music Round-Up

If you love good Christmas music, you probably have your favorites and go-to's. If you're looking to expand your playlist, here are a few suggestions.

  • Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb" is excellent. You can listen here.
  • Austin Stone Worship has a good album called, "A Day of Glory" that you can listen to here.
  • I love the song "Baby Son" by John Mark McMillan.
  • Page CXVI has a great album called "Advent to Christmas" that you can listen to here (and you can buy it here). We studied Isaiah 40:1-11 last Sunday. Their "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" (track 3) is basically that passage to song! All the songs are good, but I really like their rendition of Silent Night (track 7 - be sure you listen to the end).
  • Sojourn Music has two Christmas albums. You can listen to "Advent Songs" here and "A Child is Born" here.
  • Sovereign Grace Music has two Christmas albums. "Savior" can be found here. And "Prepare Him Room," which is brand new, can be found here.

And I love this rendition of "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day":

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Reading Others Through the Lens of Your Strengths or Your Weaknesses

We all have strengths. We all have weaknesses. We interact all the time with those whose strengths line up with our weaknesses and whose weaknesses line up with our strengths. This is the wisdom of God to guard us from the myopia and foibles our weaknesses produce.

This is also God's wisdom to kick up quite a bit of interpersonal criticism and conflict. When another has strengths where I am weak, they can help and warn and come alongside me and be a great blessing. Constructive criticism and cooperation is necessary and good. But our criticism can be (and often is) bad. And destructive.

For example, when you are working with someone like this, it's very easy to "read them" through the lens of your strengths. You are a good leader. They are a good servant. You are organized and a good planner. They are disorganized but will flexibly meet any need at the drop of a hat.

If you read them through the lens of your strengths, you will see only their weaknesses. In fact, their weaknesses will be magnified by your lens. And you will judge and criticize and become impatient and irritated with them on account of their poor leadership or organizational inferiority. Might there be reason to challenge or encourage them to growth? Of course! But not before you do it with the right lenses on.

The right lenses come from taking a honest look at yourself. You may be a good leader, but you may not be the most willing servant. You may be organized and a good planner, but you may not be the most flexible or patient person you've ever met. If you view others through the filter of your weaknesses, then you're ready to dialogue about their growth edges, with the right disposition and approach.

Or, flip it around. You may be a good servant. You may be willing to give people the shirt off your back. You'll drop everything to help someone in need. You end up working with someone who doesn't seem to have the same level of willing concern for others. They seem to say 'no' way too easily. If you read them through the lens of your strengths, their weaknesses will be magnified. You will judge and criticize and become impatient and irritated with them on account of their "lack of love" and "comfortably organized life." Might there be reason to challenge or encourage them to growth? Of course! But not before you do it with the right lenses on.

The right lenses come from taking a honest look at yourself. You may be flexible and responsive to needs, but you are given to people pleasing and not good at saying the hard thing when it needs to be said. You may be willing to give people the shirt off your back, but you don't plan or manage your own life very well, often frustrating people by your forgetfulness or disorganization. If you view others through the filter of your weaknesses, then you're ready to dialogue about growth edges, with the right disposition and approach.

We all have weaknesses. We all tend to downplay them. We also tend to up-play the weaknesses of others. We need to SEE our tendency to do this. And we need to see and be reminded of our weaknesses. None of us is omni-competent. None of us is without sin. Once we have that clearly in view, we're in the right place to address another's weaknesses. We will look at their weaknesses through the lens of our weaknesses, not through the lens of our strengths. We will be ready to treat them with the same understanding and honor and benefit-of-the-doubt that we want (and need!) to be given.

How do we SEE like this? Jesus showed us.
Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
At the bottom of all of this is the need for gospel grace to saturate our souls. We need that grace down deep, for deep-seated personal security. We're totally accepted by God through Christ. Warts and weaknesses and all. Without that gospel governing our daily perspective, we will inevitably seek to establish a standard of relative righteousness for our own (self) justification. We will need to vindicate ourselves by means of our sacrifice or service or success. We will look to our own performance and then look around to compare ourselves with others. And we will look down on and condemn those who don't measure up to our standards.
"I'm working so hard, why can't they...?" 
"I've had to make so many sacrifices, he hasn't even...!" 
"What is so hard about...?!"
We will necessarily be focused on our strengths and successes, because we have to be. We won't be honest about our weaknesses and failures, because we dare not be. We will necessarily be focused on the weaknesses and failures of others, because the strengths of others magnify to us our weaknesses. In our pride, that bugs us. And so we want the spotlight to stay on their weaknesses, rather than thanking God for their strengths. If the grace of the gospel isn't saturating your soul, you'll necessarily be insecure and on the lookout for inferiors to prop up your fragile self-worth.

But when the gospel of grace saturates us to the core...everything changes.

We've embraced the fact that we're sinful and we've failed and we're broken and weak. We've received the acceptance and approval of God through Christ. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There's nothing to hide. There's no need to hide. We are loved and accepted not based on our performance or success, but on the basis of Jesus' victorious life and in-my-place death.

We know who we are -- more sinful than we ever dared admit; more loved than we ever dared dream.
We know we are still imperfect. We know we are not omni-competent. Only Jesus is. And so we graciously, patiently work with other imperfect people (like us!), looking humbly through eyes that are so often filled with "logs."

And we begin thanking God for the strengths of others, even when they magnify our weaknesses. And we view the weaknesses of others through the lens of our weaknesses. "I'm so glad she is strong where I am weak! Thank you, Lord, for how you've made us all with different strengths and weaknesses. We need you. We need each other. We are not you. You alone are perfect. And you are so gracious and patient with us imperfect people!"

Lord, have mercy and help us see!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Urban Promise at BBC (and, hopefully, vice versa)

If you missed this past Sunday's presentation by Urban Promise, you missed out (not to mention that you missed the Skype call with the Kirks!)! It was so encouraging to hear about this ministry's vision and mission, and to hear testimonies of their impact in the city of Wilmington.

We even ended up hearing of how Brett Wharton's witness while at UD was used by God to lead Jeff Thompson to faith in Christ, and God then used Jeff Thompson to lead David to Christ. David is now a street leader at UP, and the guy in the middle in the video below. David is actively passing on the love of Christ to kids younger than him in his neighborhood!

They did a little demonstration of their excellent drum line skills (and this is only a representation of their full line)! You can listen to a brief portion of it below. That's Kenny on the left, David in the middle, and Ty on the right.

I'm very excited about the prospect of our involvement with Urban Promise. Our student ministry has already begun to plug in. Let's pray about how we should be involved beyond that. As you do, here are a few of the needs and opportunities they have:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

How Healthy is Your Marriage?

Kevin DeYoung provides 10 excellent diagnostic questions. I've edited and abbreviated them slightly.
1. Do you pray together? While I do know of good marriages where the husband and wife don’t pray together nearly as much as they would like, I don’t know any bad marriages where the husband and wife pray together all the time.
2. Do you still notice each other? Is there any chance anyone would ever catch you noticing your spouse as attractive?
3. Do you ever hold hands? In the movies? On the couch? Walking around the block? During prayer at church? In the car? We all love to see old couples holding hands. It always made me feel good as a kid to see my dad reach for my mom’s hand while driving. If this simple act of affection is missing, more may be missing than you realize.
4. When is the last time you said “I’m sorry”? Not as an excuse. Not with a snarl. But a sincere, tender, broken-hearted apology.
5. When is the last time you said, “Thank you”? I’m not talking about politeness when passing the salt. I’m talking about a specific expression of gratitude for doing the dishes, for letting you sleep in, for working hard to provide for the family, for watching the kids all day, or for making your favorite meal.
6. When is the last time you planned a surprise? Do you still surprise each other with gifts, with special outings, with a kiss out of the blue, with coming home early?
7. When is the last time you embarrassed the kids together? Children should roll their eyes from time to time because of how silly mom and dad can get. They should see you dancing, see you kissing, see you acting utterly goofy. The kids will hate it, but deep down probably love it too.
8. When is the last time you went out and talked about something other than the kids? You don’t have to spend money. You can go on a walk...
9. What would others think about your spouse just by listening to you speak about him or her? 
10. Do you think more about what you aren’t giving or about what you aren’t getting? We all get hurt in marriage. We all get disappointed. ... But as you think about what needs [work] in your marriage, are you fixated on your spouse’s deficiencies or your room for improvement?