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NYC Mission Trip

2 Aug

Last week about 30 teens and adults from my church went on a week-long mission trip to NYC to work with Operation Exodus Inner City, Inc.  The mission of Operation Exodus Inner City is to promote personal growth, high educational achievement, and leadership to underserved children, with an emphasis on the Latino community in Washington Heights, through quality out-of-school education, caring mentoring relationships, school placement and parent workshops, all guided by the transforming power and values of Jesus Christ.

Our week was a mix of intense emotions.  Some days we were very excited about what God was doing in and through us, and other days we just asked ourselves why we were even there.  Some of us had a more difficult week than others.  I would say that I had one of the better experiences, although there were a couple of mornings I woke up absolutely dreading the day.  There’s no doubt we were all pushed completely out of our comfort zones.  Most of us had little or no experience working with kids, and the ones who did were not used to working with kids from different cultures.  Also, most of the females on the trip did not enjoy the tiny showers we had to use, or climbing 5 flights of stairs to get to our rooms, and having to go down one flight just to use the restroom.

While we were there we did have a fair amount of time for sightseeing and just hanging out on the weekends and in the evenings, so that was really fun – getting to spend time with some incredible people in one of the most incredible cities in the world.  One night a few of us even sat down right in middle of Times Sqaure and played Catch Phrase.  (Kudos to the coolest pastor ever, Scott Stewart, for the idea). 

Although we got to do some fun things (not to say working with the kids wasn’t fun), here is how our day went 8-5:30, Monday-Friday: Leave the hostel we were staying at by 7:20 every morning, take the subway to Washington Heights (or Inwood, depending on which site you were at), walk to your site, hang out for a few minutes and pray before the kids started to arrive, play games with the kids for about 30 minutes, have a morning assembly, and then go to our classrooms for reading time.

At 10:00 we got to leave our classrooms and take a break until 11:50, when we would start lining the kids up for lunch.  We walked them to a nearby school to have lunch at 12, and when they were done we took them to the park for 2 hours.  After park time we would head back to Exodus, let the kids change their clothes if they got wet at the park, have snack time, and then head back to the classroom for creative (craft) time.  After crafts we went to praise and worship to end the day where we would sing some songs, have a drama/skit, and have a talk/Bible study.

Wednesday was a little different than the rest of the week, though.  People with grades K-3 took their students to Columbia University for the day, while grades 4-8 went to The New School and to Wall Street.  Friday, our last day working with the kids, I gave a talk to the elementary school kids about how Jesus is the true and better Joseph (our theme for the week was forgiveness, so we were studying the life of Joseph), which I really enjoyed.

My partner and I worked with the kindergarten class all week.  Before going on the trip, I was hoping to work with the middle schoolers, but knowing what I know now, I am extremely thankful for getting to work with my awesome group of kindergarteners.  Probably my least favorite thing about working with that age group though is that it is much more difficult to communicate with them on a deeper level than it is with older kids. 

During the week our pastor encouraged us to make an effort to really get to know at least one kid and to have a meaningful conversation with them about Jesus.  I don’t know how much God used me to minister to the kids in the city, but I do know how much God used the kids and the city to minister to me. 

After arriving at JFK airport on Saturday, we took a bus to the hostel we were staying at.  It was about an hour ride and I sat by myself listening to my iPod, looking out the window at the city and praying.  As I looked out down at the streets full homeless people, moms with children, and teenagers, I suddenly realized how much Jesus loved and cared about these people and about the city.  It was like I was actually seeing people the way God sees them.  This was pretty amazing to me, because I had been to NYC and seen all of these things before, but it didn’t mean anything to me then – my heart didn’t break for the people, but this time it did.

About a week before the trip I had been reading a chapter in Mark Driscoll’s book Vintage Church called “How Could the Church Help Transform the World?”  Here are a couple of paragraphs from it that I want to share:

Sadly, most Christians associate the city with vice, not virtue.  In truth, cities have long been seen as a haven for violent crime, sexual sin, and drug abuse.  But sin is often most clearly seen in the city simply because it is more concentrated in the city than in suburban and rural areas.  As a result, the correlated need for God is most clearly seen in the city.  The rawness of the city makes it exactly the kind of place that God would use to convince people of their need for him.  Furthermore, by revealing the unveiling of a city upon his return, Jesus intends for Christians to love cities in the meantime…. Plainly stated, cities are the most strategic place for Christians and the gospel.  Because government, law, education, healthcare, information, media, arts, sports, entertainment, trade, travel, population, and industry are concentrated most in a city, cities are the foundations from which culture flows.  Therefore, Christians who flee from cities only to complain about the kind of culture that is flowing into the culture from the cities are both foolish and hypocritical.  The answer is for Christians to love the city, move to the city, pray for the city, and serve the city until Jesus returns with his city, from which all culture will emanate throughout the new earth.

Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, pg. 297-299

So during this trip, there were a few main things that God showed me about himself, and about myself as well.  One thing I became more confident about was the fact that God WILL give us more than we can handle.  Despite the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle” (which you will never find in the Bible, by the way) that many Christians like to throw around, I sincerely believe that God will “give you more than you can handle” so that you depend solely on him – not on yourself, or anyone or anything else.  I do realize that 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but that is a little different.  I also learned how much God really does love the city and the people in it, and I think it’s pretty sad that the majority of Christians would never want to live in a city because of its “sinfulness.”  And I learned that when you start to see people the way God sees them – not through the corrupted lens of your culture – that it will change your life.

Here are some more cool pics from the trip…


  

 

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Do not love the world?

10 Jul

The warning not to love the world means not to be infatuated with the values and lifestyles of the dominion of darkness and not to long after or indulge in its sinful pleasures and passions.  We are vulnerable to the enticing allure of sinful values and activities of the world.  We must recognize that the world is not a neutral place, but one that worships and serves other gods.

Some Christians interpret the command not to love the world to mean that we must draw away from evil and separate ourselves from non-Christians, their evil culture, and their evil government in all aspects of life—physically, geographically, socially, and spiritually.  But if we do this, we refuse to emulate the lifestyle of Jesus, who regularly ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:10-11; 11:19; Luke 5:30; 15:1-2; 19:7).

The bottom-line question is, “Do we as Christians influence sinners toward Jesus or do they influence us toward their sinful values and practices?”

Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, pg. 214

Familiarity Might Compel You to Reject Jesus

2 Mar

Mark Driscoll, co-founder and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, recently preached a sermon called Jesus the Prophet, on Luke 4:22-30.  In it he points out eight things that might compel you to reject Jesus.  They are: theology, control, greed, selfishness, familiarity, comfort, embarrassment, and religion.  While he made excellent points about each, the one that I liked the most had to be familiarity.  Here’s what he said:

Familiarity. They say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? He says he’s God, Lord, Savior, Christ, King, and Prophet, but we saw him grow up. We know who he is. That’s not who he is. We know who he is.”

The truth is, you can become so familiar with Jesus that you don’t even know who he is. You can grow up in church, be around Bible teaching, go to camp, go to Christian school, have Christian family, friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors. You can even go to Bible college and get some goofy, dinky Bible college professor that gives you some weird, funky new liberal insight on Jesus and all of a sudden, you feel like you got it all nailed down and covered, and you reject him and move on and get into spiritism, demonism, and false teaching. Why? Because you’re like, “I know Jesus. I know the stories. I know the doctrine. I got it all nailed down, you know. But I’ve kind of moved on to some other things as well, in addition to or in place of him. Because I know him really well.”

And the truth is, you don’t. You don’t know him at all. You’re like the people in Nazareth. They’ve become so familiar of him that they’re really not aware of his true identity as God among them. I really worry about this with the church kids. See, I’m a fired-up, full-tank-of-gas kind of guy when it comes to Jesus. And part of that is, I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about Jesus and reading the Bible. We were marginal Catholic, but I wasn’t paying any attention. And I would have said, “Oh, I know who Jesus is. Yeah, he did something with fishes and loaves and, yeah, he can water-ski without a boat and stuff. Yeah, I know a few things about him.” But I didn’t really know much about Jesus and I wasn’t that familiar with him.

When I start meeting Jesus and reading the Bible and being with God’s people, I’m fired up because it’s all pretty fresh and new to me. For those of you who are like my wife and now like my kids, and you’re going to hear the name of Jesus and you’re going to hear Bible teaching and Bible reading and be around God’s people for a long time, don’t get too familiar with Jesus. Still be amazed and shocked and continue to be astonished by this man.

To quote Matt Chandler, another awesome pastor, “[in the South] the bulk of people have some understanding of who Jesus is… the bulk of people have enough of Jesus to feel like they don’t need him, or that they understand him enough.”  I think that is a problem.

Leaders of Emergent Liberals: Rob Bell

8 Nov

Here’s what Mark Driscoll has to say about Rob Bell in his book “Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions.” 


The NOOMA Videos

Bell is perhaps best known for his widely popular NOOMA videos. Each of the videos is roughly ten to fourteen minutes in length and shows Bell teaching a spiritual concept. To be fair, the production quality of the videos is phenomenal, the concept of packing big ideas into small videos that are visually appealing so as to reach young people is really smart, and Bell himself is a very gifted communicator. The problem concerns what is actually taught, or not taught, on the videos. Greg Gilbert, who serves as director of theological research for the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has made some poignant points about this problem, points that well-known pastors such as Mark Dever and C. J. Mahaney have supported. After watching nearly all of the NOOMA videos, Gilbert writes: 

The gospel as Bell communicates it in NOOMA runs something like this: All of us are broken, sinful, selfish, and prideful people. We carry around baggage of our hurts, our resentments, and our jealousies. As a result we are just a shell of the kind of people God intends us to be. But our God is a loving God who accepts us and loves us just as we are. He can comfort us, heal us, and make us whole, real, authentic, living, laughing people. Not only that, but Jesus came to show us how to live revolutionary lives of love, compassion, and acceptance. By learning from his teachings and following him, we can live the full and complete lives that God intended.
 
And that’s about it. That’s just not the introduction that leads to an explanation of the cross, atonement, the resurrection and salvation, either. So far, at least, that’s what NOOMA holds out as “The Gospel.”
 
First, Bell tells lost people that they are already connected to God and not separated from him by sin. In his NOOMA video Rhythm, Bell likens God to a song playing everywhere in the heart of everyone: “The song is playing all around us all the time. . . . May you come to see that the song is written on your heart, and as you live in tune with the song, in tune with the Creator of the universe, may you realize that you are in relationship with the living God.” 

In another NOOMA video called Luggage, Bell says that everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike, has their sin forgiven: 

It’s like right at the heart of [Jesus’] message is the simple claim that God has forgiven us all of our sins, doesn’t hold any of our past against us—because none of us have clean hands, do we? . . . So when I forgive somebody, I’m giving them what God has given to me. . . . May you forgive as you’ve been forgiven. May you give to others what’s been given to you.
 
Second, Bell is incredibly unclear about the meaning, purpose, and accomplishments of Jesus on the cross. 

Third, Bell turns Christianity into a moral way of life patterned after Jesus’ example. For Bell, Christianity is not repenting of sin, believing in Jesus, and being filled by the power of the Holy Spirit for new life. Rather, we can live a good life like Jesus by believing in ourselves. In his NOOMA video Dust, Bell explains Peter’s failure to walk on water in this way: 

He [Peter] sees his rabbi [Jesus] walking on water, and what’s the first thing he wants to do? “I wanna walk on water, too. I wanna be like my rabbi.” And so Peter gets out of the boat, and he starts walking on water, and he yells out, “Jesus save me!” And the text reads that Jesus immediately caught him and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Now, I always assumed that Peter doubts Jesus. But Jesus isn’t sinking. Who does Peter doubt? He doubts himself; he loses faith in himself, that he can actually be like his rabbi. . . . I mean, all my life, I’ve heard people talk about believing in God. But God believes in us, in you, in me. I mean faith in Jesus is important. But what about Jesus’ faith in us?
 
Christianity is about having faith in Jesus, but in Bell’s gospel, Jesus has faith in us; salvation, or a new way of life, requires not just having faith in Jesus but also having faith in ourselves. 

Fourth, Bell’s Jesus is mainly just a really interesting teacher, kind of like Bell himself. Gilbert says: “[Bell] doesn’t call him Savior, or Redeemer, or Son of God, and only very occasionally does he call him Lord. Instead, he very much seems to prefer calling Jesus ‘teacher’ or ‘rabbi.’ I’m sure part of that is that he wants to be fresh and edgy. But I think it also points to just how far these videos lower the meaning of Christianity. 

Bell’s NOOMA videos are simply tired old moralisms where Jesus is a good person, and we are good people too who can live like him if we try hard enough and believe in ourselves. Sure, they’re really uber-hip videos with trendy names and a title that even sounds like a Greek word, but that’s simply a fresh coat of paint on a broken-down, rusty old car going nowhere. 

Bell’s Position Analyzed

Bell’s teaching on hell is vague and slippery. In his book Velvet Elvis, Bell says: 

The fact that we are loved and accepted and forgiven in spite of everything we have done is simply too good to be true. Our choice becomes this: We can trust his [God’s] retelling of the story, or we can trust our telling of the story. It is a choice we make every day about the reality we are going to live in. And this reality extends beyond life. Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.
 
This kind of peculiar universalism asserts that everyone has their sins forgiven by God,but some wind up in hell nonetheless. For lost people this kind of teaching is simply confusing because it teaches that their sins are already forgiven, and rather than repenting of their sin, which separates them from God, and trusting in Jesus’ atoning death in their place for their sins, all they need to do to experience eternity in heaven is to live a good life. 

Bell and the Virgin Birth
 

Regarding the virgin conception of Jesus, Rob Bell speculates that if “Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time,” we would essentially not lose any significant part of our faith because it is more about how we live. 

To be fair, Bell does not deny the virgin conception of Jesus, but he does deny that it is of any notable theological importance. This, however, is a dangerous move for four reasons. 

First, the only alternative to the virgin conception of Jesus is that Mary was a sexually sinful woman who conceived Jesus illegitimately. Second, if the virgin conception were untrue, then the story of Jesus would change dramatically; we would have a sexually promiscuous young woman lying about God’s miraculous hand in the birth of her son, raising that son to declare he is God, and then joining his religion. Third, if we are willing to disbelieve the virgin conception, we are flatly and plainly stating that Scripture may contain mistakes, or even outright lies. Fourth, in the early days of the Christian church, there was, in fact, a group who rejected the virgin conception of Jesus, the heretical Ebionites, and it is both unwise and unfaithful for a prominent pastor to accept a doctrine that the church has condemned as false.

Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions,  pg. 228-234

Why should we evangelize if people are predestined?

31 Oct

In his book Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions, Mark Driscoll answers the question “Why should we evangelize if people are predestined?” I had actually wondered the same thing before myself. Here is his answer, in a nutshell: 

By believing that God elects people, we are relieved of the burden to manipulate and guilt people into becoming Christians and can work more honestly, lovingly, patiently, truthfully, compassionately, and sincerely. Thus, belief in predestination should not quench evangelistic zeal but rather fuel it. After all, no matter how dark people’s hearts might be, knowing that there are elect people and that God the Holy Spirit has chosen to work through the proclamation of the gospel, we can evangelize in hope, eagerly expecting that some will be saved, and not feel guilty when others reject Jesus.
(pg. 96-97)

Experiencing Sanctifying Grace

8 Oct
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. – Romans 6:14
 

In his book Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions, Mark Driscoll outlines thirteen ways in which saving grace is experienced in the life of a Christian:

1. Electing grace
2. Preached grace
3. Regenerating grace
4. Converting grace
5. Justifying grace
6. Adopting grace
7. Ministry grace
8. Sanctifying grace
9. Empowering grace
10. Provisional grace
11. Miraculous grace
12. Persevering grace
13. Glorifying grace

It seems that over the past six months or so, I have really been experiencing God’s sanctifying grace. Driscoll defines sanctifying grace as “the ongoing grace that God gives us in abundance and without limit to say no to sin and yes to God so that we can continually grow to be more and more holy like Jesus.” He goes on to say, “sanctifying grace allows us to mature increasingly as Christians and to be transformed more and more to the perfect character of Jesus by God’s power.”

Looking back over the past year, I can see how God has seriously been working in my heart and in my life, but especially within about the past six months. It really is startling how much I have matured as a Christian, thanks to God’s sanctifying grace. I now want to say no to sin and yes to God. I want to grow to be more and more like Jesus. I want to mature as a Christian. And the great news about that is His grace gives me the ability to do so.

Celebrity Culture and Worshipping False Idols

7 Oct

Last night Mark Driscoll, the co-founder and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, was on Nightline talking about idolatry and the Second Commandment. As was mentioned in the show, “… the second commandment, the one that might look like it doesn’t have a lot of relevance to modern life, does. As Driscoll says, ‘[It] might be the most relevant commandment of all.'”

Here is the full article about the episode, found on abc.com:

In America these days, idols are everywhere. Music idols like Britney and Madonna. Sports idols like Jeter or Manning. Fashion idols like Gucci, Armani or Prada. We even have television shows to make our own “American Idol.” It’s as if there is a need, a hunger in America to idolize.

But wait a minute. Isn’t that just pop culture? Modern life? Isn’t the second commandment about worshipping the golden calf and graven images?

Just what is an idol?

Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle has a clear answer. “An idol is someone or something that occupies the place of God in your life,” he said. “[It] gives you identity, meaning, value, purpose, love, significance, security. When the Bible uses the word ‘idol’, that’s what it’s getting at.”

In Driscoll’s theology, every person has a deep inner need to worship something. That’s how people are made. “If you worship alcohol you become an alcoholic. If you worship food, you become a glutton. If you worship pleasure you become a sex addict,” Driscoll warned. “All the modern vernacular is really not dealing with the root issue of idolatry: Something or someone is preeminent other than God.”

Driscoll points to the reaction millions of people had in the wake of the death of Michael Jackson. “When his face is on your T-shirt and when you listen to his music for hours, when you give large sums of money to him personally, when his death causes you to go into a steep depression and you have a collection of memorabilia — I think if you walked in from another culture, you would say that’s a very curious god they’ve chosen,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll also warns of the dangers misplaced worship can have on the people others idolized. “It destroys them. Because they invariably disappoint. People can’t do what God does,” Driscoll said. “They aren’t perfect. They aren’t continually faithful. They don’t’ endure forever. That’s why we live in a culture that when heroes fall we’re devastated.”

A drive around downtown Seattle provided plenty of proof for what Driscoll preaches.

In the Old Testament they’d offer human sacrifices. You’d say that’s unbelievable,” Driscoll said as he drives by the tall office towers of downtown. “How many people right now are sacrificing their health, they’re shortening their lives. I mean heart attacks, stress, obesity. Why? Because they go to their job every day and they are literally offering themselves as a human sacrifice for this company or this position or this income or lifestyle. I see it as a religious activity.”

He drove by a sports stadium rising like a modern-day coliseum. “I think if a sporting event was going on and somebody was dropped in from Israel 2000 years ago they would definitely think they were at a religious event.”

Driscoll argues that this quasi-religious worship of pop stars and swimsuit models is unhealthy. Many of the young members of his fast-growing church seem to agree. Like their peers across America they face ferocious pressures of the culture to succeed, to worship what everybody else does.

Church member Devin Deuell said he encounters it when he goes to the gym. “It’s basically a temple that [people] go to and they get to give their time and devote their time to their idol of their body image,” he said.

Monica Grimland, another church member, said it’s the pressure to look just so. “If you’re not this skinny and you don’t have blond hair and if you don’t look however, whatever the way it is that the culture is saying at that time, then you don’t have as much worth. And it’s just a lie.”

For these young people, following the false idols of body image, academic success or athletic achievement leads to dissatisfaction. The heavily marketed American lifestyle is false. For them God is a truth, and the Christian faith a way to a happier life.

And so the lesson the may be that the second commandment, the one that might look like it doesn’t have a lot of relevance to modern life, does. As Driscoll says, “[It] might be the most relevant commandment of all.”

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