Youth Ministers: Don’t Move Around So Much!

From Mark DeVries’ Family-Based Youth Ministry, Rev. Ed., p. 87 (emphasis added):

“When a student makes it to mature Christian adulthood, he or she can almost always point to either the influence of godly parents or that of at least one available, durable, nonexploitive Christian adult who modeled for them what being an adult Christian was all about. Sometimes twenty-something youth directors can make this kind of long-term, ongoing investment in a handful of students, but by and large, their age-driven transience severely limits their long-term availability.”
Youth ministers: try to put down roots and invest in the lives of a congregation’s kids for a number of years. If you have to go sooner, keep yourself available to those students with whom you have forged relationships.

This is important stuff we do; it’s not to be entered (or exited) lightly.


Jesus: God In Our Neighborhood

Who is God? What is He like? What does He want from me? What does He expect of me? 

These are ancient questions, asked by countless people over thousands of years. But they are also modern questions which people still wrestle with today. We can get answers to those questions and can learn things about God by looking at nature, and by reading about Him in Scripture, but the fullest and clearest expression of what God is like was made available to us through the Incarnation of Jesus. 

The word “incarnation” comes from Latin and literally means “to make into flesh” or “to be made flesh”. The Incarnation is one of the central teachings regarding Jesus, and says that Jesus was the Son of God, but that he “became flesh” and lived life as a man. Jesus was both God and human. 

For many of us, that’s an idea that is pretty straightforward because it’s what we’ve been taught for a long time, but it’s an idea that was debated and argued about for a long time in the early church, and a lot of false teachings came up to try and explain who Jesus really was: 
  • Adoptionism said that Jesus was an ordinary man who followed and obeyed the Law so carefully that he became the Messiah and that God “adopted” Jesus as His Son at baptism. So basically this view says that Jesus was a man, but was not really God—it stressed His humanity, but not His divinity. 
  • Docetism said that Jesus was a divine being that took on human appearance but not flesh. It comes from a Greek word which means “to seem”, so basically this view says that Jesus seemed like a man but really wasn’t one. Docetism stresses the divinity of Jesus, but not His humanity. 
  • Arianism said that Jesus was divine in some sense, but that He was created by the Father, so that He wasn’t an eternal being—He wasn’t God in the same sense that the Father was. 
  • Nestorianism said that the Son of God and the man Jesus shared the same body, but were two separate beings within that body with different natures. Almost like Jesus had a split personality. 
That all might start to sound somewhat confusing, and that’s okay, because it is confusing, and I think it illustrates an important point—sometimes we get ourselves into trouble by trying to explain things that we really can’t explain. The Bible really doesn’t try to explain in detail how the Incarnation ‘worked’—how it was that Jesus was both God and human at the same time—it just affirms that that’s who He was. He wasn’t part human and part God, he was completely human and completely God at the same time. So while I can’t fully explain how the Incarnation worked, I can say that the ‘isms’ that we mentioned before are not true, because they deny that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. 

What I think is more important than completely understanding how the Incarnation worked is understanding what the Incarnation means to us as Christians—how Jesus living as a human shows us what God is like and what He expects from us.

The classic passage on the Incarnation is in John 1. There in v. 14 it says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” 

A lot of times when speaking about the Incarnation, we talk about that first part, “The Word becoming flesh” and that’s an important concept (all of arguments and debates and ‘isms’ mentioned above are based on the first part of the verse), but I want to focus on the second clause, “The Word made his dwelling among us”. 

Here John is using Old Testament language from the time when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and God dwelt in the tabernacle to explain how God, through Jesus, came down to be among His people in a new way. A more literal translation of the end of John 1.14 would be something like, “he put up his tent among us.” 

The Message, which is a paraphrase translation of Scripture in modern language, says in John 1.14 that the Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhood, and I love that idea—through Jesus, God is no longer Someone who is unknowable or impossible to figure out, because He lives right down the street from us—we can see what God is like for ourselves! 

Shah Abbas the Great of Persia
There’s an old story about Shah Abbas, the great king of Persia who came to the throne in the late 1500s. Shah Abbas was beloved by his people, and he loved them in return, and in order to understand them better, historically we know that he would often disguise himself as a common man and mingle among them. 

The story goes that one day, while visiting a bathhouse, Shah Abbas went down into the cellar and sat down next to the poor man whose job was to keep the furnaces burning to heat the baths. The king quickly struck up a friendship with this lowly laborer, who welcomed his company without having any idea who he was. They became friends and the king returned often to visit the furnace keeper. When mealtime came, the peasant would share his meager food with the king, and the two came to be close.

At last, one day the king revealed his true identity to the man. Shah Abbas expected the keeper of the fire to ask him for a special gift or some favor. Instead, when the man recovered from his shock, his request of the king was for neither wealth nor favors. He simply said: 
“You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat of my coarse food, to care whether my heart is glad or sorry. To others you may give rich presents, but to me you have given yourself, and all I can ask is that you never withdraw the gift of your friendship.” 
Like the Shah of the story, God put on a lowly disguise and through Jesus, moved into our neighborhood. From there, right down the street, He offers the gift of friendship and as our friend, we are never left to wonder what He is like, or what He wants from us. 

You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. You want to know how God wants you to live? Look at Jesus.

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Planning Ahead Is A Good Thing, Except When It Isn’t

Last week, in what was an entirely unplanned and spectacular display of clumsiness, I managed to spill a cup of water on my MacBook.

Most likely, this will result either in the death of said MacBook or a significant “doctor’s” bill to replace  the water-logged and destroyed components (the MacBook is currently drying out in a bag of kitty litter. It’s theoretically possible that it will turn back on when I try it in a few days…that would be nice). 

I was frustrated when this happened, but ultimately, it was more of a major annoyance than a tragedy because I had planned ahead. It was an annoyance because it disrupted my week and forced me to devote a lot of time I didn’t really have to retrieving files and ordering and setting up a new laptop. It was not a tragedy because I had been faithfully saving up money for over a year to get a new MacBook anyway (and let’s be real: it’s a computer, a thing. Losing it wouldn’t actually be a tragedy, but it would be tough considering how integral a computer is to my life in 2013). 

Some people are better planners than others, but in general, planning ahead is a good thing. It is a form of good stewardship of our resources to plan for the future, and planning ahead was what downgraded my water-spilling escapades from a tragedy to an annoyance. 

But a word of caution: planning can be a dangerous thing as well, because it can give us the illusion that we are in control when we really aren’t. Consider James 4.13-16:
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
So while planning is a good thing, it is essential that we recognize its limitations: it can help us better respond to situations that arise, but it doesn’t give us control over those situations.


How Do You Read?

I enjoy reading and write about books quite a bit. Growing up I read a lot, but that slowed when I went to college and got busy with a lot of other things. After college I settled into adult life, and picked up the habit again. 

When I started graduate school in 2010, I knew I would have a ton of school-related reading to do and I was afraid that this would cause me to dislike reading, but instead, the opposite happened: I now want to read all the time, and I have a long list of books to read in addition to my required reading for school. 

For most of my life, I have been a guy who read one book at a time. This trend changed in grad school where time constraints required me to overlap the books I was reading, and gradually I have come to enjoy reading multiple books at once. That being said, I realized last week that this Reading Multiple Books At Once thing has really gotten out of hand. 

Concurrently, I was reading:
  • Two books on ministry in small churches
  • Two books on youth ministry (actually I finished one and then immediately started and quickly finished another)
  • One book on the history of Churches of Christ in the 20th century
  • One book on biblical exegesis
  • One book on Genesis
  • One book of daily devotionals
  • One book based on the sermons and writings of Archbishop Oscar Romero
  • A lesson book on Ephesians for my Sunday morning Bible class
  • The Bible (specifically, I am in Psalms right now)
Let me just say: this is a terrible way to read. My attention is so split that it is particularly difficult to remember exactly where I read something. I am also completely out of bookmarks (which are very necessary, since I have no way of remembering my place in 11 different books).

Furthermore, reading this many books simultaneously is not a sign that I am smart for being able to balance them; it is a sign that I am dumb for trying to do so in the first place!

By nature, a few of these books are part of my daily or weekly routine (Bible, devotionals, Bible class), but other than these, I’d like to get back to just reading 1-3 other books at a time.


Marriage is Humanity’s “Restoration to Wholeness”

Dr. Dwight Small on marriage:
“When a man and a woman unite in marriage, humanity experiences a restoration to wholeness. The glory of the man is the acknowledgment that woman was created from him; the glory of the woman is the acknowledgment that man is incomplete without her. The humility of the woman is the acknowledgement that she was made for man; the humility of the man is the acknowledgement that he is incomplete without her. 
Both share an equal dignity, honor, and worth. Yes, and each shares a humility before the other, also, Each is necessarily the completion of the other; each is necessarily dependent upon the other.”


Daring and Determination in the Christian Walk

As any regular readers of The Doc File know, I am a huge fan of Jackie Robinson. In addition to being a world-class athlete, Hall of Fame baseball player, and, behind Martin Luther King Jr., the most influential player in the American Civil Rights Movement, he was also a man of great personal character.

I recently came across the photo at the top of the page of Jackie on the base paths. It’s a picture I love because I think it so well captures two of Jackie’s characteristics which were integral to his success and are also necessary in the daily life of the Christian: daring and determination.

Integrating Major League Baseball left Robinson open to constant torment and abuse. Racist fans heckled and berated him constantly, opposing managers would threaten not to play the Dodgers if Jackie was in the lineup, and baserunners from other teams would try to spike him with their cleats. None of that was a surprise—Dodgers GM Branch Rickey had warned Robinson in detail of the kind of abuse he would face if decided to take part in the “Great Experiment” and become the player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball—but Jackie Robinson was willing to take the risk.

In addition to his daring in integrating the big leagues in the first place, Robinson was also daring in the way he played he game. Bringing the style of the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball, Robinson was a terror on the basepaths, stealing bases, distracting pitchers, and stealing signs.

Christians need to be daring as well. To a large degree, I believe a Christian’s influence in the world is nullified when she or he refuses to be daring. Doing things that make you feel uncomfortable like sharing your faith with a friend or co-worker or taking an unpopular moral stand when others refuse to requires daring. Being willing to attempt great things that you’re not sure you are capable of doing like adopting a child or teaching a Bible class also requires daring. Attempting to fulfill the mission given to us by Christ of seeking and saving the lost requires a great deal of daring!

Author John Augustus Shedd once famously said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” It is a great quotation! Too often, I think that Christians look at the church as a safe harbor, and because they like the safety, they fail to venture outside of its (figurative) walls. Certainly the church is a safe place, but it should be a place where Christians are equipped to engage, change, and save the world, not where they can hide from it.

It’s not “safe” out in the world, but it is where our light is most needed. Christians must be daring!

In the picture above, the look in Jackie’s eyes oozes focus and determination. On the basepaths, he was completely locked in to his psychological and physical battle with the pitcher, and was determined to defeat him.

It’s interesting—baseball really wasn’t Robinson’s best sport. In college at UCLA, Jackie lettered in four different sports. In track and field, he won the national championship in the broad jump in 1940. In football, he led the nation in punt return average in 1939 and 1940 and led UCLA in rushing, passing, total offense, scoring, and punt returns in 1940. In basketball, Robinson led the Southern Division of the Pacific Coast Conference in scoring in both 1940 and 1941. Baseball was his fourth best sport! 

Later on, after spending some time in the military during WWII, Robinson honed his baseball skills playing in the Negro Leagues, but here’s the point I’m getting at: I’m really not sure that Jackie Robinson should’ve been a Hall of Fame caliber baseball player, but he was just so determined to succeed! Robinson knew that he carried the weight of the hopes of Black America on his shoulders, and he was determined that he would not let them down. So his determination led to great success.

Christians also need to be people of determination. You can’t accidentally live a faithful Christian life—it requires the determination on a daily basis to live a life of discipleship regardless of cost or consequence.

That’s counter-intuitive for us today (especially the part about cost or consequence) because we live in a consumer culture where different products are constantly vying for our attention and loyalty—if you’re not losing enough weight on your diet, quit it and try a new one. If you don’t like your cell phone plan, drop it and switch over to a competitor. If going to church doesn’t seem to be improving the quality of your life, cut it out and try something else…when taken to the extreme, we become people devoid of commitment or determination, and, quite simply, people who give up too easily. 

It is not easy to be a Christian, but Jesus never promised that it would be. Faithful discipleship requires determination!

Jackie Robinson’s ability to change the world certainly involved his natural talents and abilities, but equally if not more important were his character traits of daring and determination. If Christians, as citizens of the Kingdom of God are going to engage the world and change it for good, then we have to possess those same characteristics in abundance.

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