Family Gatherings, Graduation Parties, and Graduation Plans

By: Sean Scott

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This past Sunday we acknowledged quite a few graduating seniors at Redeemer. That means a lot of graduation plans, finding tickets for family, planning parties, and not to mention, remembering to not trip on stage as they receive their diploma. It is also a big time of transition for parents. I can only imagine what it must be like for our seniors’ parents seeing their child standing tall on graduation day while simultaneously having the images of their baby in their arms for the first time after they were born.

 

I am a brand new parent, and maybe that’s why I have paid such close attention to our families as they have approached and are navigating through this season of change. It’s hard not to dream and imagine what our daughter will be like, what she would have accomplished by the time she graduated high school. I have prayed for our families with graduates, that they would hold on to the promises of God that he has them in their hands, that his plans for their lives are far better than anything they could have come up with themselves.

 

As I was doing some reading on the subject, I stumbled across an article from Melissa Kruger on The Gospel Coalition. I had to stop reading after the first paragraph my first time around, unable to make out the computer screen through tears. But I came back to the article because I realized Kruger wasn’t simply attempting to make the reader cry. She has processed her feelings and opened herself up in vulnerability to write about this stage of life. The article is titled “Graduation: Grief and Gratitude,” and she captures her experience in a succinct yet helpful way.

 

Even if you are not a parent, your children are too young to say the word diploma, or have grandkids, give this article a read. There is good wisdom about not only philosophy of parenting, but how to process bittersweet transitions in life. I feel encouraged having read this article, that the Lord uses such transitional periods to bring himself glory because often, we find ourselves with no options but to run to him for comfort in the face of our grief, as well as overflow with joy as we express our gratitude for the ways he has shaped and molded these precious children.

 

Here is just a sample of Kruger’s words:

 

“I haven’t just lost my cuddly baby with chunky thighs and infectious laughter. I’ve gained a daughter taller than myself with a heart for Jesus that overflows to every person she meets. While we used to look at her in wonderment of what she’d become, we now look at her in amazement of who she is—which happens to be a much kinder person in every way than either of her parents. We fully recognize that what her genetic code didn’t offer her, the Spirit produced in beautiful ways.”

Read the rest of the article here

 

 

Christian Universalism

By: Brad Rogers

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Christian Universalism has been on the rise in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles for the last Century and a half.  There are many today who now hold that this is what the Bible teaches.  Universalism is a doctrine that asserts that all men will eventually be reconciled to God.[1] It certainly has its appeal.  The idea that God would punish people for their sins in an eternal Hell is, at minimum, difficult for any person with any semblance of empathy; and, at worst, utterly repulsive and unthinkable for a God that is gracious, kind and loving. Many believe that the doctrines like sin, judgment, and Hell are keeping many out of the church today. In the linked article, you will find an interview with Michael McClymond who published a 1,300-page book on the history and interpretation of Christian Universalism complete with over 2,500 sources.   In this interview, Dr. McClymond discusses the history of those churches who embrace universalism as well as the main biblical arguments against Christian Universalism.  When asked about his motivation for investing so much of his scholarly life to this topic, he asks what could matter more than the scope of final salvation.  He then adds

“…if there is truth in the New Testament contrast between ‘momentary, light affliction’ and the ‘eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison’ (2 Cor. 4:17), then should not all Christian believers be deeply concerned with getting it right regarding these final outcomes”? 

I will warn you that this interview is somewhat thick and heavy reading but given the landscape of our culture today, I think it is well worth your investment (at least the interview is far, far less than 1,300 pages). As a Christ follower, I want to be one who speaks of the hope of Christ, and the last thing I want to offer is false hope.  The themes of this interview are important for anyone who wants to explore the topic of the afterlife.  As an interesting aside, he also discusses the term “metaphysical rebel” that he discovered reading French atheist Albert Camus and applies it in a way that I (Brad) find most fascinating. I commend this interview to you for your thoughtful consideration.

 Read the article here.


[1] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition, page 1232.

Raising Teenage Girls

By: Brad Rogers

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I distinctly remember trying to read our ultrasound technician’s face to know the moment she could tell the gender of our baby.  Rachel and I knew we would be happy with a boy or a girl; and in all of our conversations, Rachel never indicated a preference one way or the other – at least not that I can remember. However, for me, I knew deep down I had a slight leaning towards a boy because I envisioned playing catch in the back yard with him and coaching his sports teams.  I have no idea if I have ever admitted this before now.  Then, I saw just the slightest change of expression on the face of our technician and quickly confirmed, once again, that we indeed wanted to know our baby’s gender.  She then let us know that “It’s a girl.”  I was excited, hoping that this girl would wrap me around her finger. But, all of our previous conversations had not prepared me for Rachel’s clear, yet not drastic disappointment.  Seeing I wanted an explanation from her she said, “She’s going to be a teenager.”  I was dumbfounded.  Our daughter was 19 weeks away from bursting forth into our world and I was concerned about changing diapers. Rachel was concerned about walking with her daughter through the troubled times of teenage life.  We had just gotten matching cell phones from Cingular wireless so there is no way we could anticipate just how complicated the teenage years might be for our daughter. Fifteen years have passed, and I now have the experience of several years of ministry working with teens.  These are trying times, but God and His truth about how we are to live still applies.  In this linked article, seasoned mom and biblically astute, Jen Wilkin offers much wisdom about entering into the lives of our teenage girls that we might help them navigate the drama that so often circles them.  She writes to help us lead our daughters into speaking the truth, owning sin, and asking for forgiveness. Whether you have teenage daughters, minister to them, love those who do, or are just looking to grow in these character traits and skills we should all seek to obtain and practice, this article is for you.

 

Read the article here.

 

Rookie Mistake on Proverbs 3 & the Rest of the Story

By: Dan Seale

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Sunday morning as I was preaching at the 8:30 am service, I realized I made a rookie mistake.  I had too much material. So, while I was preaching my mind was also considering what changes I needed to make which impacted both the content and the delivery of the sermon.  Thankfully, I know God uses His Word by His Spirit no matter what, so while frustrated, I was not too discouraged.  That has not always been the case.  It can be very difficult to wrestle with feeling that you not only failed your people but that you also failed God in handling a passage of Scripture.  I had one pastor friend who would just disappear into the basement of the church after he preached a bad sermon.  By God’s grace, the Lord has taught me to be resilient after many perceived failures and trust Him more.  However, I used the time between the two services to reorganize and adjust my sermon for the 11 am service.  I also texted a few people to pray for my rewrites, for my heart and for the second service. I think my second sermon was greatly improved in organization and delivery, but again, the effectiveness of the sermon is ultimately up to the Lord not me. 

 

So why share that experience?  For the small number of people who heard both sermons, it will explain the changes I made – assuming anyone but me noticed.    Also, we all fall short of our own and others’ expectations at times in our work; and how we deal with that can help us or hurt us.  We need to learn to be resilient and lean into the Lord in our failures and be humble and grateful for any wins we experience. 

 

And here is the rest of the story of Proverbs 3 that never made it to either sermon.

 

First, a quick review.  In verses 1-12 we saw that if we want to experience life to its fullest, we must trust the Lord, with our whole heart and our whole life.

 

These  poetic couplets of commands for us followed by the benefits of wisdom lay out for us a compelling call to pursue wisdom and obey God’s commands.

 

v. 1 - Keep my commandments                                 v. 2 - Life & peace (shalom)

v. 3 - Don’t let go of steadfast love and faithfulness           v. 4 – Favor & success before God & people

v. 5 - Trust the Lord                                                   v. 6 - straight paths – get you to your goal

v. 7 -Fear the Lord                                                      v. 8 - healing and refreshment

v. 9 - Honor the Lord                                                 v. 10 - more wealth to use for Him

Don’t despise discipline                                            v. 12 - It’s a sign of His love

 

We are commanded to know God’s Word, to know His love, to trust Him, to know ourselves, and to worship him with our best.  When we fail to do that, he will lovingly discipline us to bring us back to him (Hebrews 12:1-11).

 

The next section, Proverbs 3:13-20, speaks of the beauty and value of wisdom.  The person who finds wisdom and gets understanding about how life works has greater wealth than all the gold, silver or jewels they could own.  Wisdom creates a culture of life in this world that is filled with so much death.  Wisdom enriches all who find it, not just in their length of days but also in the quality of those days (3:16). 

 

The reference in verse 18 to the tree of life is very provocative.  This causes us to think of the tree of life in the garden of Eden.  This image suggests more than long life but eternal life, being in the presence of God.  As long as you embrace the tree of life you live.  In order to prevent Adam and Eve from extending their lives in judgment in perpetuity, they had to be ejected from the garden. This removal provided the opportunity for God’s plan of redemption to be fulfilled ultimately in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the promised seed of Eve (Genesis 3:15).  Now through Jesus, who is our wisdom, we have contact with the tree of life, and can look forward to a future day where we will be with God again in a glorious garden in the new heavens and the new earth.

 

3:19-20 shows us again that wisdom matters to God and was used in creation (Proverbs 8, John 1).  Creation is ordered.  It is not random.  The fact that God created all things is why we are able to discover the logic and wisdom of how things work in the world in the realm of science and medicine. Recognizing wisdom in creation should make us want to pursue this wisdom and to study creation.  In the past Christians were often leaders in medical and scientific discoveries, and I believe we need to encourage believers to pursue being the best scientists and researchers.

 

The last section, Proverbs 3:21-35, unpacks what it looks like to trust God with all your life.  God’s wisdom provides personal safety (3:21-26).  Ray Ortlund writes, “As we grow in wisdom God protects us from the land mines that sin has hidden in the world.”  In addition, v. 26 reminds us the Lord will be our confidence and companion protecting us.  This idea is throughout the Bible and culminates in the incarnation of Jesus who is with us no matter what we face (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5).

 

In Proverbs 3:28-35, we see the marriage of worship and ethics. How we treat others is a prime indicator of how we view God and of who/what we truly worship. 1 John 4:20 says,

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brothers, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” 

This proverb calls us to love our neighbor.  Ray Ortlund has a helpful summary: We are to help our needy neighbor, protect our innocent neighbor, and avoid our violent neighbor.  In a culture of life where wisdom is valued people will help each other as much as possible.  We will protect and trust our neighbors. Trust is the glue that holds relationships and communities together.  When trust is broken it can take a long time to rebuild the trust that was lost. Lastly, wise people steer clear of trouble makers and violent people.  It can often seem like violent or evil people are getting ahead in the world which can tempt us to follow their behavior. The psalmist often cried out about this apparent success.  But 3:34 is translated this way in the Septuagint (the Old Testament written in Greek and quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5):

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

 

Wisdom fosters an abiding trust in the Lord that emboldens us to love others.

Wisdom fosters a proper humility as we know and fear the Lord in all his beauty and holiness and understand our own limitations and tendency to self-trust and self-reliance.  

 

If we want to experience life to its fullest, we must trust the Lord, with our whole heart and our whole life and only the wise will do so.

 

 

If only we had a GPS for our spiritual life…well maybe not.

By: Dan Seale

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Before GPS, if you were driving and became lost you would be faced with the decision to try to drive your way out of your lostness or to stop and ask directions.  More often than not trying to drive your way out of your lostness ended up in becoming more lost.  With the advent of GPS, we are told when and where to turn and also warned of accidents and traffic jams so that we can arrive at our destination faster.  It seems the worst-case scenario is we miss a turn or start heading in the wrong direction and GPS tell us to make a U-turn and get back on the right path. There is no such device for our walk with God. 

There is a sense in which God does provide a road map through His law and wisdom and leading by the Spirit but we are not given second by second directions to navigate life nor would most of us truly want that.  Too often through our own folly or rebellion we end up lost and headed away from God and His design for us. Too often pride, guilt, shame, and fear of rejection and fear of consequences keep us from asking for help from God or from others who love us. And if we are honest there are times when we love our sin more than we desire to return to following God. 

What do we do when we find ourselves in trouble having ignored God and His wisdom?

We need to return to God which in biblical terms is faith and repentance.  We may also need to ask for help from friends and experts if we find ourselves really lost and disabled on the side of the road due to our sin or others – but that’s a topic for another day.

Today I want to share some insights on repentance that I gathered in my studies preparing for the sermon on Proverbs 1 &2 that didn’t make it into the sermon. 

If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

Proverbs 1:23

We have a choice (If you turn). We can turn back to the Lord and get back on the right path and he will guide and direct us or we can choose to stay on the path of folly and reject God’s wisdom, thus rejecting God himself.  The heart of repentance is returning to God.

We are faced with a choice and Proverbs often helps clarify those choices.

You can choose to experience the pain of change or live with the pain of regret.

Which will you choose?

In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul distinguishes between worldly sorrow and godly grief which leads to repentance.  How can you tell which is which?  Both tend to produce tears.  Both seem to have sadness for the damage that has taken place. Only time can help you distinguish the difference between the two. Initially they can look the same.  We can mistake being sorry for being repentant.

Let’s say Adam sins against me.  How can I tell if Adam is repentant or just sorry he got caught?  With just worldly sorrow Adam will feel sadness and regret for the harm that he caused and for the consequences and fall out, but his focus will be more on himself than on me and how his actions harmed me.

Worldly sorrow sheds tears over the pain I am feeling more than crying over the pain I have inflicted.

Over time godly sorrow leads to repentance so that Adam takes full responsibility for his words or actions.  He doesn’t try to blame me or circumstances, or rationalize and defend himself, or lie, minimize or deny what he did.  Godly repentance leads Adam to make amends not just in words but in new obedience.  Adam will endure the appropriate consequences of his actions without complaint having been humbled before God enabling him to keep his mouth shut and not defend or minimize his sinful actions.

Words do not immediately restore broken relationships. New behaviors restore trust.

However, this is still not a full orbed repentance.  True repentance recognizes the pardon of God. We must turn away from looking at our sin to looking at Christ, so that His grace can enable us to repent and believe.  True repentance is a gift of God as he melts our heart and draws us back to him. Repentance is a return to God and life marked by the light of God in our lives.

Here are several marks of repentance from 2 Cor. 7:8-11

1.     Earnestness – serious attitude about sin– before indifferent & careless to sin

2.     Eagerness to clear themselves – not self-defense – BUT rectifying their faults – deal with the cause of their sin lest they be found guilty again

3.     Indignation – vexation/frustration with themselves

4.     Alarm / fear – fear – awakened conscience and seeing they are under the discipline of God

5.     Longing – longing for things to be right with God and others –

6.     Concern / zeal – restoration to Christ and the body of Christ – zealous to obey Paul and God’s commands

Repentance is comprehensive. It impacts our emotions but extends to every aspect of our being.  Repentance means the whole of life returning to the purpose of God.

The paradox – as faith deepens and brings new levels of joy and assurance, so also repentance deepens, bringing ever more profound an awareness of our need of Christ.

We may not have a spiritual GPS but we have something greater, a living vital union and communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  May God by his grace and mercy continue to work deep faith and repentance in us for His glory and our good.

Wise Living: A study of the book of Proverbs

By: Dan Seale

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This week we began our journey through the Book of Proverbs.  We will be working our way through this book from now through the summer.  While we may be familiar with a few of the pithy sayings, few of us know the purpose of the book of Proverbs or are skilled in how to properly use it in our pursuit of God. 

Proverbs is not about a little self-improvement to have a better life.  Proverbs is about your ultimate choices that are revealed in your small choices.  Proverbs is about life and death.

The big question is, “Will you pursue and listen to God’s words to you and find security and peace, or will you refuse to listen to Him, chart your own course and ultimately find calamity?”

These topical sermons could be a great opportunity to invite believing and non-believing friends to church to find wisdom for living with regard to parenting, words, anger, laziness, forgiveness, family, work, sex, finances and much more.

Here are some helpful resources to help orient you to literary genre of wisdom literature as well as how to read the book of Proverbs and how it can serve as a mini-guide to life.

Wisdom Literature – a 5 minute video

How to read Proverbs – an 8 minute video

A mini-guide to life – a 5 minute read from Tim Keller 

I am looking forward to our journey to seek wisdom together as a family of faith.

Pastor Dan

 

1 Corinthians 1:26-34

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

 

 

 

We Can Learn from the College Admissions Scandal

By: Brad Rogers

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While it would be easy to decry “those people” involved in the current college admissions, for those of us with children, it’s a good time to reflect on our own parenting.  What are our goals for children?  In what ways are we working towards those goals?  In what ways might we be sabotaging our own goals?  For Christians, it’s always good to ask what heart idols (things I love more than God) might be submarining my parenting?  Might I have some of the same loves (idols) that those involved in the college admissions scandal are displaying?  Kara Powell clearly articulates what should be the goal of Christian parenting. In the linked article, which appeared in Christianity Today, she helps us answer some of the above questions and could help many of us set a new direction in our parenting or re-set a direction that has steered off course.  

You can read the article here.

Expressive Individualism (EI) and Identity: Part 3

By: Brad Rogers

 

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Several years ago, Rachel, my wife, was the matron of honor in a Macedonian wedding steeped in the Greek Orthodox tradition. She had the time of her life even though she hardly knew what was being said during all of the beautiful and elaborate rites in such a wedding.

 

One part of the ceremony was abundantly clear to her; the husband and wife were crowned as king and queen. No, despite what it might look like they were not crowned as King and Queen of Macedonia – it is a democracy after all.

 

In Greek and Eastern Orthodox wedding ceremonies, the husband and wife are crowned to symbolize that they are made in God’s image and that they are to take dominion on this earth as image-bearers. The act of crowning the bride and groom communicates who God made them to be as well as their responsibility to fulfill their calling together as God’s vice-regents in creation.

 

The beauty of this rite is that it signifies who they are before they have yet achieved anything. It demonstrates their God-given identity, and it certainly carries with it a great degree of responsibility while conveying a wealth of freedom in carrying out that responsibility.

 

This picture paints for us a sharp contrast between the way personal identity is understood in a culture dominated by expressive individualism, where one must forge one’s own identity, and a Christian’s understanding of identity as something received as a gift from God.

 

Selfie or True Self?

In my previous posts on expressive individualism (part 1 & part 2) I noted that the mindset of “You do you” involves forging one’s identity by being true to one’s deepest desires and, purportedly, without input from or regard for others. Using thoughts from Tim Keller’s book Making Sense of God, I noted some problems with expressive individualism and identity. Today, I want to focus on how a Christian is to understand her identity from a biblical vantage point.

 

In contrast to expressive individualism, a Christian’s identity is not found deep within oneself with all of the problems and stress this brings, but the Christian’s identity is found outside of oneself. As Soren Kierkegaard put it, who one is before God is who one really is.

 

In the Christian worldview, all of us are created by God in his image. As image bearers, we are to reflect in this world something of who God is and it speaks to how we are to take care of this world. This worldview considers every person, regardless of race, class, or even creed, as having profound dignity and significance regardless of the good or evil acts they have done in life. Every person has significance and worth in the eyes of God because of how God made us and who he made us to be.

 

For the Christ follower, there is an extra dimension to our identity as both redeemed people and adopted children by our heavenly father through faith in Christ. A follower of Christ never has to wonder if he has done enough or if he is enough. She never has to wonder if she is accepted. He never has to wonder if he is significant, because God already declared his significance. She can know that she has been made in the image of God for the glory of God and is loved so much that God, the father, sent his only son to die for her, that she might be adopted into God’s family.

 

If expressive individualism states that you are what you make of yourself, then the Christian view states that you discover your true self in relation to the God who made you. This means that my identity is not merely, nor chiefly, a construct of my own preferences, choices, accomplishments, and affiliations.[1] Rather, I am who I am according to the God who made me. And this is a glorious identity.

 

A Christian who is truly grasps her identity through Christ can love and serve others freely without the need to make a name for herself or prove her own worth. You don’t need to work for approval, but you can work knowing that God approves of you and you can enjoy the security and freedom of knowing you can’t lose it. In stark contrast to the age of the selfie, a Christian doesn’t need to forge an identity for himself, he must only seek to further understand his God given identity.

 

Lost and Found

The specific commands in the Bible that God gives to us specifically as his image bearers are there to help us live out our true identity. As creator and designer, God has the absolute right to direct us in how he made us to live. The fish can yearn for a free life outside of the fishbowl, but he will quickly find that life without water doesn’t bring him the freedom to be himself it seems to promise. Tim Keller writes, “. . . those things he (God) prohibits are the intrusions of the foreign matter of sin and not part of the person I was made to be. . . ”[2]  

 

Accepting our God given identity and following Christ means we have to quit trying to “find ourselves” and allow ourselves to be found in Christ. It means we must humbly deny ourselves, giving up our right to self-determination, and follow Jesus. It is in losing our identity that we truly find ourselves, for Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”[3] He also says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

 

Uniqueness in Conformity

Some people interpret the notion of denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Jesus to mean that we must leave behind the traits that make us uniquely us and that Christians are supposed to have a uniformity that is boring, bland, and devoid of individual difference and taste. Yet, this fails to account for the jaw-dropping diversity of our great creator God.

 

Have you ever seen a lionfish? Or a duckbilled platypus? Are any two snowflakes exactly the same? As Rankin Wilbourne wrote, God never runs out of ideas: “He is the master artist, an infinite creator, not a factory. We can see from looking around us in the world that his goal is not uniformity.”[4] As Christians become more like Christ, we also become more like the unique individual God created us to be. We are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10); that is, we are his works of art.  

 

Please don’t think I am saying it is easy to step away from expressive individualism and our cultural views or to take up one’s cross. It’s not easy to swim upstream in culture like this. However, following Christ is far from enslaving. It’s also far from boring. We are God’s crowning achievement, and he calls us to live like it. In reality, it’s quite a freeing and a glorious privilege.

 

 


References:

[1] Rankin Wilbourne, “Union with Christ,” 145.

[2] Timothy Keller, “Making Sense of God,” 141.

[3] Matthew 10:39 (ESV).

[4] Rankin Wilbourne, “Union with Christ,” , 162-163.

Some Thoughts on Expanding our Facilities

By: Brad Rogers 

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I was against it.

When we first started talking about building a bigger facility for Redeemer, I didn’t want to do it.

I know as well as anyone that our current building is inadequate. However, by nature I am risk averse; I am grateful that Redeemer has not struggled with finances, and I don’t want that to change. I’ve questioned if the money we’d spend on a building might better serve the Kingdom of God elsewhere. And, I wondered how important facilities really are in helping people know and follow Jesus.

I bet some of you have the same or similar questions.

At Redeemer, our desire is to build up the body of Christ, and I hope you can tell from our recent sermon series and the church-wide desserts that this is the goal for the proposed new building. Expanding our facility must help us accomplish this or we should not build.

What does that mean, to build up the body of Christ? It means two things. First, we want Redeemer to be a place where we mature as disciples who grow in knowledge of Christ and follow him more closely. Second, we want more people in Raleigh to know the love of Christ that brings perfect freedom and lasting peace.

As I was thinking and praying about the new building, I came across a few ideas that changed my perspective and I’d like share them with you.

 

God’s First Sanctuary

In Genesis 2, the Lord God planted a garden for Adam and Eve - our first parents. The name Eden indicates delight, pleasure, luxury, and lushness – it was a place of beauty. God put trees in the garden that not only produced good food but were also beautiful to the eyes. In the garden, there was a great river that branched out into four smaller rivers that nurtured the entire garden and it helped Adam and Eve, and all living things, thrive. We are told that God decorated the garden with gold and onyx, which shows that the garden was abundant in resources.

In Eden, we see that God intentionally made a beautiful space for his people, and this says something about God: God cares about beauty. It also says something about what God wants for his people: God cares to create a beautiful space for his people. As the ESV study Bible notes, “the overall picture of Eden presented… suggests that the park-like garden is part of a divine sanctuary.” The garden is a beautiful space created for Adam and Eve to meet with and know the Lord.

In his Genesis commentary, Bruce Waltke writes that Eden “represents territorial space in the created order where God invites human beings to enjoy bliss and harmony between themselves and God, one another, animals and the land. God is uniquely present here, the garden of Eden is a temple-garden, represented later in the tabernacle… It is the archetypal sanctuary.”


Is it just a building?

I think it is entirely possible that some churches think way too much of their buildings. Certainly Israel turned the temple into more than God meant for it to be. But, it is also possible for churches to think too little of the space that they dedicate to meeting with the Lord and to learning what God’s word teaches us and our children.

I think many Christians fail to consider what the people who don’t yet follow Christ make of our church buildings. Isn’t it important for church buildings to be both helpful and beautiful so that unbelievers are inspired to hear about our Lord? Do we care enough about others, our neighbors, to create inviting spaces for them?

I love that Redeemer has been able to accomplish so much in our current facility. However, I think we have to admit that our building is crowded and sometimes less than inviting. It can be difficult to have a conversation between services much less meet new people. If I talk with someone in the hallway right after the service for only three minutes, we will need to move out of the way two or three times to let people pass through. This is not exactly the welcoming environment that we would like to foster.

 

Is It Consumerism?

Raleigh dwellers place a high value on quality and distinction. When Rachel and I moved to North Raleigh from Kentucky, we noticed that the businesses, shopping centers, parks, and neighborhoods were well thought out and inviting. I thought to myself, if a business is going to make it in this neck of the woods then they are going to have to do things with excellence.

One may argue that this is just caving into the consumerism of our culture, and perhaps the desire to create a beautiful and useful sanctuary and education space is a reflection of our consumer culture. As you might imagine from my reflections on Genesis 2, I don’t agree.  But if you do think this way, I would like to invite you to consider that this is the culture that God has placed us in that we would like to hear the good news about Jesus.

Thom Rainer interviewed hundreds of formerly unchurched unbelievers who came to Christ through the ministry of local churches. He found that after biblical preaching and true friendliness of the congregation, the condition of the facilities can determine whether the unchurched and unbelieving will return. Rainer found that 90% of the formerly unchurched named some factor about people or the facilities that impacted their decision to return for another visit. As he plowed more deeply into their reasoning he discovered that the issue was more about excellence than pleasing insatiable consumer appetites. One woman commented to Thom, “I have no doubt that God used the preaching of his Word and the witnessing of his people to bring me to Jesus. But I never would have heard the message if I had not been thoroughly impressed with the quality of their facilities. I showed up at the church one Sunday to be there for my nephew’s baptism. One of the reasons I came back on my own was a sense that the church did everything with excellence, and it showed from the parking lot to the restrooms.”

I recognize that the onus is on us, the congregation, not the building, to make people feel important and cared for when they come to worship with us. But when we invest in our facility, it indicates to people the importance of what happens when we join together to worship the living God. Our goal is for someone to walk into Redeemer, look around and meet some people and realize that “something of significance is happening here.”

 

Sadly Short on Space

On any Sunday morning, if you peek into the children’s Sunday school classes you’ll see that they are all overcrowded. Our restrooms, too, are overcrowded, and the women’s restroom spills into the nursery drop off areas.

I would love for Redeemer to offer smaller adult Sunday school classes that encourage engagement and discussion. Actually, we would like to offer a variety of adult classes, but we had to re-purpose our one adult classroom for our 5th and 6th graders. We simply can’t cram them into one of our smaller classrooms, which are filled with children too.

Our youth meeting space in the modular unit (aka “junior”) is already too small for the whole group. Some of our youth have to step outside occasionally because the room can feel tight and stuffy and lead them to feel anxious.

These are just a few examples, but the point is that our current building is just too small to be welcoming.

 

From Nay to Yea

After thinking through these things, I now support expanding our building.

Here’s why:

·       Bigger facilities will enable us to help each other know and follow Jesus and love our neighbors, as we are commanded.

·       The proposed building plans are a great fit to our setting in North Raleigh, and when we invest in our facility, people see that we are investing in what God is doing among us. It also shows that we care to make room for more people to come join with us.

·       The proposed building will be a more inviting place where Christ followers can come to worship the Lord, where others can come investigate the claims of Christ, and where all can taste and see the beauty and excellence of our gracious God.

I have come to believe that giving towards the expansion of our facilities is a wise way to steward the resources God has given us. Yet, I don’t want anyone to give toward the building expansion who doesn’t agree. I certainly don’t want anyone to violate their conscience.

I have no intention to pressure you into giving, but I have written these things with the hope that it will help you think through your own involvement with Redeemer’s proposed building expansion.

 

 

Expressive Individualism and Identity, Part 2

By: Brad Rogers

 

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Check out part one of this series, You Do You, my attempt at a brief introduction to expressive individualism (EI).

In part one, we examined the “You do you” mindset, called expressive individualism. EI is the idea that finding and being true to one’s deepest self and then articulating that self out in the world is the key to life. In its strictest forms this mentality doesn’t invite input from anyone else, including family, friends, or church for fear of not being true to one’s self. Thus, it is an unapologetically self-focused method of identity formation that is pervasive in Western culture today.

 

Today, in part two, I’m going to summarize in my own words a section from Making Sense of God, written by Tim Keller, who ministers in New York City. In chapter six of Making Sense of God Keller looks at the notion of identity formation and some of the issues we face today.[1]

 

In the segment we are considering here, Keller writes about how the foundation of our sense of self has changed recently in Western society.

 

He says that in ancient cultures and many non-Western cultures today the hero’s story is of self-sacrifice, and his self-worth was grounded in the honor bestowed upon him by his community. By contrast, today in the modern West the hero’s story is about self-assertion, and the hero’s sense of self-worth is rooted in the honor he bestows upon himself.[2]

 

Keller pinpoints a few problems with the ways that Western people today define and create their identity. He describes these problems as incoherent desires, the illusion of self-identification, crushing pressure and how he sees modern identity fracturing today.  I will seek only seek to summarize and discuss the first three here.  

 

Incoherent Desire

EI based identity is rooted in a person’s particular wants and desires. For example, we ask ourselves “What do I want to do with my life?”

 

Here’s the problem: when I look into my heart, I see all kinds of desires in there. There are some that I wouldn’t mind sharing with you and others I will keep to myself lest you never again take me seriously. When I look closely, I find that many of my desires are contradictory. For instance, I want to spend more time preparing sermons (at the office) and I want to spend more time investing in my kids playing ball. I want to be svelte and ripped, but I also want to eat a box a cereal with whole milk every night right before I go to bed.  If I’m going to ground my identity in my desire, how do I decide which desires to pursue?

 

What if I locate my deepest desire and follow it?  Keller writes that this solution has its flaws because it assumes that our desires are ordered and that they always remain the same. I can tell you that, at least for me, desires aren’t static. When I was twelve years old I wanted to be Navy Fighter Pilot. From time to time, I catch myself daydreaming about going to medical school and becoming a doctor, but tomorrow I might be dreaming of earning a Ph.D in historical theology.  When I was in high school I wanted to be 6’4”, bench press 350 lbs., run 4.3 40 yard dash, and play Quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.  Oh wait, I still want that and still think it could happen, but I am afraid that is another category altogether, sorry.  I have had quite a number of competing occupational desires in my lifetime and I can’t begin to number the competing desires I have had in other significant areas of my life.

 

Our desires are apt to change, and they are also elusive. Has anyone ever asked you what you want and you find that you really don’t know? Identity formation grounded on desire assumes that I have a deep understanding of myself, and if it what I want isn’t readily apparent, it can be found with a little effort. Given the chaotic nature of our souls, this seems like unstable ground stand on. Identity rooted in elusive desire is inarguably incoherent. 

 

Sigmund Freud believed that our innermost being is filled with a chaos of desire for power, love, comfort, and control and that these desires compete and would trample each other to win out if they could. He wrote, “We are not happy because we are frustrated….we are frustrated because we are, first of all, unhappy combinations of conflicting desires.”[3] Indeed.

 

Reflecting on more of Freud’s body of work, Keller writes that “Freud would have shaken his head at many of his descendants in modern psychotherapy who have lost his realism about the inner darkness, incoherence, and destructiveness of the inmost desires.”[4] While Freud would give another name to our inner darkness, the bible calls it sin and says that it invades all aspects of our being, which makes basing our identity on our deepest desires problematic and to Keller’s point, incoherent.

 

Illusion of Self-Identification

One of the components of current identity formation is that you alone set the standard and norm for yourself. You declare your significance to yourself.  The problem is, this is impossible to do. And we know it instinctively.

 

Keller writes of a young man whose parents never said to him, “‘I would be proud of you if you did this or that.’” When he asked them for guidance they replied, “We just want you to do what you truly want to do -whatever that is, it will be all right with us.” The young man complained  that their lack of guidance and input made him “feel unloved and rudderless.”[5]

 

We all want to be admired by those we admire, and we want to be respected by those we respect. It is when we find the approval of someone that we love or care about that we find a sense of worth. Keller writes that even though people act like, and even think that, they are “validating themselves,” they (we) are adapting our words and behaviors to fit into a new community of people – the kind of people from whom we crave approval.[6] For me, when certain people complement or criticize a sermon I preached it means more to me than when I hear it from others.

 

Have you ever seen a social media post where someone states an opinion and then says “that is just who I am and I don’t care what other people think,” and yet it has 57 “likes”? The poster may have rejected what some people think, but he apparently cares what some crowd of people think, otherwise why would he have posted in a public forum at all?

 

The irony is that, “I don’t care what others think” is exactly the sentiment that our current culture applauds. We think we have set our minds free, when really we are trapped by the beliefs of our age or tribe. On this, Keller quotes sociologist Robert Bellah who calls this idea a “cultural fiction” that we can “make up our deepest beliefs in the isolation of our private selves.”[7]

 

It is an illusion that we have the capacity to form an identity without being influenced by outside factors and other people.

 

Crushing Pressure of Identity

Everywhere I look I see articles on how much anxiety people are experiencing today in comparison with days gone by. What is going on? Why is this the case?

 

There are multiple factors, I think, but the pressure of “being ones’ self” and “forging one’s own identity” must be near the top of the list. Imagine the pressure of trying to be myself and to forge my identity without others’ help while I struggle to know what my deep desires are only to discover that they are in conflict.

 

Keller points out that when self-definition of identity is the norm, it leads to a society that idolizes winners and looks down on losers, with tangible contempt for weakness. He writes, “success or failure is now seen as the individual’s responsibility alone,” in part because “our culture tells us that we have the power to create ourselves.”[8] So if what we create fails, we alone are to blame and “failure” becomes a defining characteristic of our identity.

 

So many of us today feel the pressure to decide on our own where we go to college, our career, and our mate along with our ethos, our stances and our style, and these decisions are the expression of who we “really” are. And we drink this ideology in the air we breathe without recognizing the pressure it brings.

 

Do you see the irony here? Expressive individualism leaves us more dependent on what others think of us than ever, because, as Keller writes, we feel the pressure to be brilliant, beautiful, hip, and accomplished and we need others to agree to make it true.[9] This overdependence on others enslaves us, e.g. posting “the perfect” picture at just the right time in the evening on social media to maximize our “likes”.

 

To the extent that this is true in our culture and in our own lives, what are we to do? Anxiety and despair are not aspects of the abundant life that we are promised, so what is the answer?

 

The third and final part of this series, The Christian Identity and EI, will be posted next week.

 


Resources

[1] Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, An Invitation to the Skeptical, (Viking, 2016), 118-132.

[2] It should be noted that Keller acknowledges that there are problems associated with the ancient and non-Western methods of identity formation as well as important positive aspects of identity formation in the West today by comparison with the ancient and non-Western methods. We will consider a biblical way to look at identity formation in part 3.

[3] Phillip Reiff, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, 35.

[4] Keller, Making Sense of God, 124.

[5] Ibid., 126.

[6] Ibid., 125.

[7] Ibid., 128.

[8] Ibid., 129.

[9] Ibid., 129.