Sunday School: Slow Transformation

By: Rachel Rogers

In a culture of over-scheduled families, it is hard to think of squeezing in one more activity, especially when it happens on a day that feels like a day “off.”  I will let someone more qualified than me tackle the Sabbath topic, but I would love to challenge us to think seriously for a minute about Sunday School.  Is it an activity worth considering adding to the schedule?

Russell Moore, author and president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, makes the bold statement: “Sunday School transformed my life.” What comes to mind when you think of Sunday School? Was it life transforming? Do you think of flannel boards? (memorable maybe, but hardly transforming!)  The taste of those lick-&-stick stickers? Your taste buds may never be the same, but I don’t think that is the transformation he is talking about. When I walk the halls of my church on a Sunday morning and peek into the rooms I see good friends sharing time studying the Bible and faithful teachers who show up every week. I see lives being transformed.

A quick Google search will tell you that many consider Sunday School a thing of the past.  Call me old-fashioned, but I love Sunday School.  Ultimately, it’s one of the main ways a church can come alongside families to teach children God’s word. Sometimes the lessons are less than flashy, sometimes the teachers talk too long, and sometimes it’s even boring. But what if repetition and faithful teaching are just what we need?

In a culture of crazy busy families, I think it’s still worth our time and I am not the only one. In his article, “The Cosmic Importance of Children’s Sunday School,” Russell Moore makes the strong assertion that “…Sunday school is not just another program. It can be a matter of life and death.”  Read it here

Loneliness

By: Sean Scott

If you read the claim below, how would you react?

“Loneliness has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

When I read that, my initial reaction was “that seems like a stretch, who said that?!”, only to learn that it was a former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

How do we think about loneliness? While we know it is an issue for those close to us, and even may realize we struggle with it ourselves, what can we do? The article that follows highlights information about this epidemic we are facing in Western culture. It will speak to our relational nature as intended by God, how neuroscience supports such theology, and how the church can respond to loneliness.

Read the article here

Walking Faithfully with Jesus Through 50 Years of Pain and Suffering

By: Brad Rogers

The idea of living a fruitful and pleasing life before the Lord in the midst of debilitating suffering is not something most of us in our success-driven culture think is possible much less desirable.   I have never met Joni Erickson Tada, but she is a hero to me because she has walked with the Lord for over 50 years through trials so severe, they are almost unimaginable.  Yet, her faith and walk with the Lord are a vibrant testimony to His goodness.  Whenever I read anything she writes or says, I find I have a better grip on reality, and I find myself desiring to know Jesus the way that she does – just without the pain.  Her theology is rich and practical. If you don’t know of Joni or have never read any of her writing, this interview (published last year in Christianity Today on the 50th anniversary of her diving accident that left her quadriplegic for life) is a great place to start.  If you do know of her and have read much of her writing, I am sure you will be glad to hear from her again.  Read the article here

First Day Tears

By: Rachel Rogers

Watching my babies grow up into the school-aged children they are now has been both my greatest joy and my sorrow. I’ve often wondered at the squeezing in my heart every time a new milestone is reached. These milestones are times to celebrate, but why does my heart ache and why do my tears come? Babies crawl and then run, teeth fall out and braces go on, training wheels come off and backpacks go on…this is the way it is supposed to go, so why does my heart resist? Why do I long for those chubby cheeked toddler years while simultaneously declaring I would never go back? Why do I cry on the first day of school every year?

I am not sure what first drew me to Jen Wilken’s article, “The Truth About Pain in Childbearing.” My days of giving birth have come and gone and I don’t need to read someone else’s article to remember the pain!  But I love this article. She put words to feelings and ideas my heart has had but could not express.  “As the years unfold,” Jen says, “we begin to understand that we have been introduced to the great truth of pain in childbearing, a pain we naively believed would be confined to labor and delivery, but that visits us at every transition we nurture our children toward: the measured inhale, the steady exhale, the mighty push. And separation.” Apparently, I was one of the naive!

Jen goes on to describe simply and beautifully the profound sanctification process that every mother’s heart goes through as we welcome little ones and shepherd them through life’s transitions.  If, like me, you have ever swallowed tears at what should be happy moments, like the first day of school, this article is for you.  Read it here.

Handling Disagreement with Grace

By: Brad Rogers

As a Christian, I think we who claim Christ as our Lord sometimes can get in our heads the very false notion that those of us who follow Jesus should never have differences with one another.  As if somehow Jesus promised us, that if we follow him, we would not ever sin against each other again, and we would all think the same way about everything.  The former won’t end until heaven and the latter would make us all boring people who never really grow.  I have oversimplified things with only these two possibilities, but Christians clearly will have strong differences with one another in this life just like everyone else.  So how do we maintain the deep and abiding unity God calls us to as Christians in the midst of our disagreements?  John Piper, while pastoring a large church, gave advice to his staff that displays the knowledge of a biblical scholar as well as the wisdom of a grace-filled, seasoned pastor as he humbly shares key principles to guide them in the midst of differences. Much of the wisdom he shares with his staff linked here is surely helpful both inside and outside the walls of the church. Read the article here.

Talking with Singles in the Church

By: Brad Rogers

Have you ever known someone who is single that you would like to see married off for some reason or another (most likely your desire to see them happy or happier than they are currently)?  This commonly happens in the church, but it’s certainly not limited to the church.  Unfortunately, those of us who have ever felt this way often say things to these friends of ours that are less than helpful even though we may have the best of intentions. Attached, you will find a blog post from Kevin DeYoung’s blog, which was mainly written by an unmarried woman in a church he formerly pastored.  I would wish to nuance 1 or 2 of the things she says, but it is well done and provides helpful corrective to many of us who need to think a little more before we speak.  The blog is titled, “What Not to Say to Single Women in Your Church,” but I think much of it applies to how one speaks to unmarried men as well. To read the blog, click here

Series on Rest (pt. 3): The Gift of Rest

By: Brad Rogers

Between two remarkably tall trees in the peaceful natural area of my back yard hangs a beautiful, multicolored piece of fabric with cotton cords at its ends.  Our children told me, when we first moved into our newly rented home two years ago, that as great as our backyard was there was not anything to do in it.  I asked them for a list of things they might like in their back yard.  I don’t remember what all the list included, but I do remember a “swingset” (I don’t think that is the term they used), a trampoline, and a hammock.  My eyes landed on the hammock as I was attracted to its low cost, safety, and its facility in granting rest.  It taunts me.  It mocks me.  It haunts me ….   The idea of it was so grand in my eyes, but now it does nothing but taunt me.  I can almost hear it mockingly snicker and then cackle an evil laugh in my direction when I peer at it off my deck.   

“Brad, how are you doing? With Dan gone on Sabbatical?” “What’s it like being the one in charge? How does it feel?”  It’s some variation of these questions that our crowd at Redeemer have been lovingly asking me all summer, and my basic answer to all such questions is some variation of, “It’s busy…. I’m busy.” Sometimes I have joked, with a touch of sinful pride and defensiveness, “it’s not his job or mine, it’s doing both.” This is what I feel, there is so much to do, so much to keep track of, so many things I am not getting done.  But, that hammock has been mocking for more than a year, not one month.

Wayne Muller writes, “I have visited the large offices of wealthy donors, the crowded rooms of social service agencies, and the small houses of the poorest families.  Remarkably, within this mosaic, there is a universal refrain: ‘I am so busy.’  It does not seem to matter if the people I speak with are doctors or day-care workers, shopkeepers or social workers, parents or teachers, nurses or lawyers, students or therapists, community activists or cooks. Whether they are Hispanic or Native American, Caucasian or Black, it becomes the standard greeting everywhere: I am so busy.”

I have been in that hammock a few times.  Once I get myself nice and balanced, I look up at the tops of those trees with only small flecks of sunlight peeking through, dancing leaves and the brush around me, and I am lost in wonder for a few seconds.  Then my mind starts.  There are a lot of things that start flying around in my head, but I start thinking of other things I could be doing, other things I need to be doing, things I need to write down so I don’t forget, things that I did, in fact, forget.  I think about how I don’t get as much quality time with the kids as I think I should, and I should do that now.  I think about how my wife, Rachel, never gets a break from work around the house or from the kids.  I start thinking of all I would, could, and possibly should be doing; but if I stay there long enough (something like 2 minutes), I start hearing something else.  Maybe you already heard it.  The chief feeling I begin to have is an overwhelming sense that I don’t deserve this, I feel guilty for lying there on a hammock and relaxing.  It just can’t be right for me to ever be there. 

In one of the books Dan invited our Redeemer congregation to read with him this Summer, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes, “I am a touch on the lazy side and disguise this with busyness.  There is a crowd of people disappointed with me, who find me, by turn, indecisive, despotic, timid, rash, evasive, blunt, foolhardy, wise in my own eyes, foot-dragging, impulsive.  I do procrastinate overmuch and at the same time make too many snap decisions.  Most of my life is unfinished.  Many of my efforts are slapdash and slipshod.”  Boom.  Right there, at least for me, nails what I feel even if some of the details are not exactly the same.  Because all of this is true, I don’t deserve to rest; I have no right to rest.  Buchanan goes on to write that the lie many of us believe is that we can’t rest until our work is all done, and done better than we are doing it right now.  The hammock taunts me from the back yard, “You have not worked hard enough yet; you have not done enough things well enough yet; you better go make up for all you lack as a father, as a pastor, as a husband; you better go get to work; but even if you don’t go to work, you don’t deserve this kind of rest.”  Yet, we all know that our work is never all done, and it’s never done completely right.  Rest is not something God gives us because we have successfully accomplished our task lists or because we have finished things perfectly or as a bonus for a job well done.  Rest is a gift. Rest is a gift in that it is not something we deserve or earn, though it is certainly something we need.  It comes from the heart of our gracious God; and it’s a gift, a sheer gift to use the words of Mark Buchanan. 

So much of why I can’t enjoy the hammock is because I can’t accept the gift on a breezy Sunday afternoon. Why can’t I receive the gift?  All too often it’s because I am not resting in who God is for me, but rather I am resting in myself. I can’t believe that He would be that good to me.  In the vows new members take when joining Redeemer, we ask, “Do you know, receive, and rest on Christ alone as He is offered to you in the gospel?”  Here, rest means something like, “rely upon,” or “trust in.”  To rest in the way that God commands, to take Sabbath rest, to take his yoke upon us that is “easy” and find his burden light (Matt 11:29-30). We have to, with deep conviction, trust that God is sovereign, good and gracious. Again, Mark Buchanan penetrates right to the heart of the matter:

            “If God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose, you can relax.  If he doesn’t, start worrying.  If God can take any mess, any mishap, any wastage, any wreckage, any anything, and choreograph beauty and meaning from it, then you can take a day off.  If he can’t, get busy.  Either God’s always at work, watching the city, building the house, or you need to try harder… Either God is good and in control or it all depends on you.”

Prov. 3:5            Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

                              and do not lean on your own understanding.

6             In all your ways acknowledge him,

                              and he will make straight your paths.

7             Be not wise in your own eyes;

                              fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

8             It will be healing to your flesh

                              and refreshment to your bones.

 The way we work, the way we love, the way we play can all be restful when we are confident our lives depend not on us, but rather on a good, gracious and Sovereign Lord.  How do we do this?  We train ourselves, we rehearse to ourselves and remind each other of these things that are true as King David did of old,

Psa. 62:5         For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

                        for my hope is from him.

6          He only is my rock and my salvation,

                        my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7          On God rests my salvation and my glory;

                        my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psa. 62:8         Trust in him at all times, O people;

                        pour out your heart before him;

                        God is a refuge for us.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief, that I might take a long Summer nap in my hammock….tomorrow. 

 

 

 

Series on Rest (pt. 2): Busyness

By: Brad Rogers

“I’m in a hurry to get things done, 

I rush and rush until life’s no fun

All I’ve got to do is live and die,

But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why”

This is the chorus to a song by one of my favorite bands from my younger years.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been frustrated by the slow driving of someone out for a Sunday drive on Thursday afternoon.  I also can’t tell you the number of times I have found myself apoplectic about a driver in the turn lane three cars ahead of me who doesn’t see the green turn arrow for the first 25 seconds after it turns green and only begins to turn as the light turns yellow.  I can recall many times after such incidences when after I have murdered their phone in my heart (I am certain they were checking Instagram), and I have started driving again, thanks to the following green arrow, I have thought, “now what was I in a hurry to get to?  Oh snap, I am not actually in a hurry.” The sad thing is that I am in a hurry so much that the times I am not in a hurry I am still in a hurry.  I can remember, more than once, something like the above scenario happening while the aforementioned song from Alabama was playing on the radio; and yet, I never seem to fully learn the lesson. All that anger and hate for no real reason.   

“Too much work, the British used to say, makes Jack a dull boy.  But it’s worse than that.  It numbs Jack, parches Jack, hardens Jack. It kills his heart. When we get too busy…We get bored with the familiar, threatened by the unfamiliar.  Our capacity for both steadfastness and adventure shrinks,” writes Mark Buchanan in his book, The Rest of God.  “The heart,” says Buchanan, “is the place the busy life exacts its steepest toll.”

When I was studying to be a pastor, I had the privilege of working in a cardiac rehab facility as an exercise physiologist in St. Louis, MO.  It was a place where any stereotypes you might have about driven, “type A” personalities, being the people most likely to have heart attacks, would find safe haven.  I remember one lady in her late 40’s who would zip into our facility, dance impatiently back and forth from her right foot to her left foot as we put her EKG leads in place, then erect a mobile office right on one of our treadmills. She worked on our laptop, loudly sorted through details of her next big deal on her phone and showed obvious disgust when we asked for one of her arms to take a required blood pressure as she walked on the treadmill. I often wondered if she realized that it’s difficult enough to take someone’s blood pressure while they are exercising even without them being on the phone.  Did it bother her that she was making my work harder?  More than one veteran cardiac rehab patient said of her, “Does she not realize that is how she got here in the first place?” To which we would reply, “Does it look like that would matter to her?” 

While acknowledging the effects of busyness on that which pumps out oxygen and vital nutrients to our bodies, Buchanan has much more in mind when he says that busyness exacts its steepest toll on our hearts.  He gives a helpful diagnostic question we can ask ourselves to discover if we are too busy.  “How much do we care about the things we care about?”  In this section of his book he goes on to describe a slew of possible scenarios which slay me. So, never being one who likes to metaphorically die alone, please allow me to pass them on to you here.

“When we lose concern for people, both the lost and the found, for the bride of Christ, for friendship, for truth and beauty and goodness; when we cease to laugh when our children laugh (and instead yell at them to quiet down) or weep when our spouses weep (and instead wish they didn’t get so emotional); when we hear news of trouble among our neighbors and our first thought is that we hope it isn’t going to involve us – when we stop caring about the things we care about -that’s a signal we’re too busy.”

How much time do you spend with the friends you care about? (Time spent arranging taxi services and checking on event times via text messaging not included.)  How touchy and irritable have you become in your state of busyness? 

Oh, but if this isn’t bad enough, for those who follow Christ, the affect busyness has on our relationship with God is truly devastating, yet we can hardly feel it for all the clutter and numbness shielding us from Him.  Mark Buchanan reminded me that while there are some aspects of God that we can only know through motion, there are other facets that come only in stillness.  The Bible tells us that when we wait on the Lord we will renew our strength (Isaiah 40:31).  It is when we slow down and we call to mind the steadfast love of the Lord that we find his mercies never come to an end and that they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). The apostle Paul commands us to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2).  The apostle Peter tells us that because our adversary, the devil, prowls around liking a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, we ought to be sober-minded and watchful.   This kind of watchfulness calls for us to find ways to slow down amidst our busyness, to attend that which impacts our hearts before the Lord.  This we must do, we must keep our hearts with all vigilance for from it flows the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).  Is your busyness deadening your heart to that which matters most?  Is it keeping you from the Lord? If so, it is no small problem - your heart needs to find rest in God. 

When I slow down, I find a bigger problem….  I struggle to be alone with my thoughts. Worse than that, I struggle to be alone with God.  I find I actually want to be busy so I can avoid these realities about myself.  These are not things I like thinking about, so I go back to finding something to do, anything will do.  I am finding that I don’t want to stop and reflect and know who I am before God. This is the deeper problem with my busyness.  Some of us are in stages of life (I am thinking of you mothers of small children) where it is extremely difficult to slow down.  I get that.  Yet, I also know, you still need to find times before the Lord, however small they are and however creative you have to be. If we are not careful, our super busy times set patterns for us away from the Lord that take over the times when we are only mostly busy.  In such times we may find God to be a stranger and the uncomfortableness of these moments can lead us to find something else to busy ourselves whether it be a game online, reading about the perfect lives of others on social media, or just adding another activity (almost without realizing it) so we don’t have to contemplate our awkwardness with the Lord. 

Is. 30:15       This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:

                  “In repentance and rest is your salvation,

                    in quietness and trust is your strength,

                    but you would have none of it. 

Is. 30:16       You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’

                    Therefore you will flee!

Is this where the rat race started?  Some of us may need to ask ourselves if our busyness is about fleeing from the Lord. Others of us may just need to find how to rest in the Lord while we go about the business of our lives. Most of us will find something in our busyness for which we need to repent (something to turn away from) and trust in the Lord to accomplish what He wants with the time He has given us.  In repentance, in rest, in quietness, and trust.  If you are a follower of Christ, has your busyness eroded your trust and confidence in the Lord?  If so, why not make some time with the Lord to evaluate all that you are “gaining” from your busyness.  Then, in the words of Mark Buchanan’s book, you may find time for The Rest of God.* 

*Dan Seale, our Sr. Pastor here at Redeemer, is currently taking a Sabbatical.  Before he left, he invited us to read 3 books with him that he is planning to read this Summer. One of these books is The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan. It can be purchased here.

 

 

 

Series on Rest (pt. 1): Summer is no Vacation

By: Rachel Rogers

I love summer time!  It’s the promise of a break: from gray, colorless days and lifeless trees, from heavy winter clothes and chasing mittens on cold mornings.  Every kid knows that “summer” is equal to replacing homework and lunchboxes with swimming pools and popsicles. Many of us even change up our normal routine for a trip or a vacation along the way. Isn’t that the lure of summer?  A rest, a vacation, or at least a break from the normal? Does your heart long for a deep rest like mine? Are you disappointed, like me, when summer schedules and trips start to feel hectic and overwhelming?

Kathryn Butler’s article “Summer Vacation is No Sabbath” reminded me recently that it is not summer vacation my heart is actually longing for.  No, we were created for a different, deeper rest than any season or trip can offer. It’s actually when my soul learns to rest in the finished work of Christ that I find the shalom I seek.  It was a timely and helpful article; I hope it will encourage you too.  I’ll still be enjoying my homework-free evenings while the popsicles drip and my kids splash in the pool; and if you see me there, please remind me to keep searching deeper, for real soul rest in Jesus.  (Read the article here)

Racial Differences, Our Culture, and the Church

By: Brad Rogers

To say that the issues revolving around race is a hot button topic here in the US runs the risk of describing the situation too mildly.  Unfortunately, our inability to talk about racial concerns perpetuates and, at times, exasperates the problem in our culture. Misunderstandings are all too easy to come by and many of us respond by saying nothing as that can seem like the safest course. Sadly, for those of us who seek to take the Bible seriously, racial strife is not just a problem “out there” in culture, it exists in our churches as well.  How do we pursue racial reconciliation in the church when we don’t all agree on the extent of our racial divides or the best ways to address them? In this article, Kevin DeYoung seeks to isolate the real agreements and disagreements many Christians have regarding race with the hopes of helping to stimulate more constructive dialogue that leads to better possible solutions.  I commend this to you not because I think we will all agree on everything here, but because I think Kevin brings forward many of the issues we need to be thinking about in the body of Christ with respect to race.

Read the article here.