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.

You Do You: Expressive Individualism, Part 1

By: Brad Rogers

 

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“You be you.”

“Be true to yourself.”

“Follow your heart.”

“Find yourself.”

 

“You do you.” That’s the one I hear most frequently these days.

 

I’m sure you’ve heard one of these slogans, or one like them, because they are ubiquitous in American culture today.

 

There are certain situations where I hear these sentiments voiced and I think they are quite fitting, and I am glad somebody said them. These mantras have certainly been on my lips.

 

Sometimes, though, I wish they had not been said. Occasionally, I hear someone make a “You do you” type statement and I think to myself:

 

  • “I don’t want him to be himself right now. Somebody needs to tell him he needs to change.”

  • “How am I going to find myself? What does that even mean? I have been looking a long time and I am still right here.”

  •  “I don’t want to ‘do me’ right now because I am trying to help someone else and be what they need me to be.” 

  • “Isn’t it best to conform for the good of others sometimes?” 

  •  “Sure, you feel better after giving full vent to your feelings about how I have ruined your life, but did it occur to you that it might feel terrible for me? Do my feelings matter when ‘you do you’?”

 

Feel free to judge whether or not I am judgmental much of the time, (of course, I am), but is it possible I am on the right track in certain instances? Is “you do you” really an all-encompassing lens through which we should be viewing all of life?

 

Trevin Wax, a professor at Wheaton College, recently wrote a compelling series of articles on the “You do you” mentality, otherwise known as expressive individualism, which is a powerful movement sweeping Western culture.

 

You Be the Judge

Wax defines expressive individualism as making the purpose of one’s life “to find one’s deepest self and then express that to the world” while disregarding the input of “family, friends, political affiliations, previous generations, or religious authorities . . .” It means that you alone are the judge of who you are, what you should do, what is best for you, and how you should interact in society.

 

This isn’t about being genuine, though. “Authenticity,” is one of the highest values in a culture of expressive individualism, according Charles Taylor, a Roman Catholic philosopher. Yet, authenticity isn’t being used as a synonym for honesty, integrity, credibility, and purity. Instead, as Taylor writes, “it pits authenticity against conformity” – including conformity to parental, political, and religious authority.

 

Western countries are especially vulnerable to fall into expressive individualism due to their historical roots in individual freedom, personal autonomy, self-definition, and self-expression. In the West, we have a great deal of individual freedom and personal autonomy with respect to others, and this is a great thing. In fact, I think it’s worth fighting to keep. However, it is problematic to make individual freedom and autonomy the ultimate value. As an ultimate value, it runs counter to the call of Jesus to seek him and his righteousness first. He says the greatest of all is the one who serves rather than the one who expresses whatever one feels the loudest and longest. I do hope you can see the contrast.

 

I am a Christian minister, but I still live and breathe the cultural air. If I am to follow Jesus, I must consider how our particular cultural moment may pull me away, even unwittingly, from Jesus. If following Jesus matters to you (and even if it doesn’t), I invite you to consider the possible impact of expressive individualism in your own life and in the lives of those you love through this series of posts. Let me leave you with one more nugget that I hope will help you better understand expressive individualism and set the stage for a more detailed critique in my next post.

 

Expressive Individualism and Identity

Expressive individualism is all about forging and expressing a personal identity.

 

American journalist Yuval Levin describes expressive individualism as more than picking your own path in life. It is also “a yearning for fulfillment through the definition and articulation of one’s own identity… and to live in society by fully asserting who you are.” It isn’t just about self-direction in life, but the drive for public self-pronouncement to advance your self-ness.

 

Is this a problem? What could possibly go wrong?

 

In part two of this series, Expressive Individualism and Identity, we explore the problems that occur when expressive individualism influences identity formation.

 

 

One Who is Faithful in Little is Also Faithful in Much

By: Brad Rogers

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We can feel a lot of pressure to get all of the big things in life right.  We can be deceived into thinking that it’s mostly the biggest moments that really make us and our children (if we have them) who we are.  Big moments can certainly shape us powerfully, but the everyday moments shape us powerfully too.  In fact, it’s those little moments that shape how we respond to the big moments.  The everyday moments by definition are not flashy, easily remembered in their specific details, or spectacular, but they do leave a lasting mark on who we are over our lifetimes.  In this article, Ed Drew gives a helpful reminder and encouragement not merely to parents, but to all of us who are walking daily with the Lord is what powerfully changes our lives over time. 

"One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.." Luke 16:10a

It Takes a Church to Raise Our Children

By: Dan Seale

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As Debbi and I boarded the airplane for China we knew our children were in good hands, they were with our church family. We had entrusted our three daughters to our church family so we could meet and bring home our 4th daughter, AnGrace from China. This is one of thousands of times our church family has loved and cared for us and our daughters over the years. I am forever grateful to Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Knollwood Presbyterian Church and Crossroads Community Church for pointing my children to Jesus. Thank you.

It takes a church to raise our children to know and follow Jesus. No parent should be alone in this holy calling. The church can and should play a significant role in the spiritual formation of our children. Rachel Rogers shared this article with the staff and I want to share it with you because it so closely mirrors our personal experience. I hope this article will encourage those of you who are parents to be sure to welcome other adults into the lives of your children. I hope this article will encourage all of us to find a way to show and tell the children of Redeemer, Jesus is the one true Savior and He is worth loving, trusting, and following all the days of our lives. Remember, you are making an eternal impact through the way you love and serve our children at Redeemer. Keep up the good work and excel still more.

You can read the article here: The Church Loved My Daughter to Jesus by Scott Slayton

In Defense of Noises Perpetrated by the Youngest Members of the Congregation

By: Michael Bowser

When I moved to Chattanooga for college, I attended a church that had a high percentage of young children. It also had hard wood floors, wooden pews, hard walls, and big glass windows. All of that together made it loud . . . really loud. Every sound was amplified. And with lots of kids came constant sounds of Bibles or pens or feet hitting the floor, and sounds of kids whispering—you know, the voice kids use that is maybe technically a whisper but can be heard outside in a thunderstorm without much difficulty.

Would You Spend $10 to Strengthen Your Marriage or Relationship?

By: Dan Seale

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 Valentines day is one day away, and advertisers are pushing chocolate and candy.  While I enjoy flowers and chocolate, they can get quite expensive; and the lasting impact on your relationship is questionable.   What if I told you about a $10 gift that could actually help strengthen your relationship? Would you be willing to spend that $10?  .

Have I piqued your interest yet?  Let me make it even more interesting. What if I told you that research has proven that this gift has had a significant impact on relationships, reducing the risk of divorce. Not only that but it has proven to be equally or more effective than some early marriage counseling programs in lowering divorce rates.  Are you ready to buy into this inexpensive gift idea?

What is this gift that has such an impact?  

5 Movie rentals from Redbox - $10 – or better yet, free, if you have a streaming subscription.

I’m guessing half of you reading this are shaking your head in disappointment thinking flowers and chocolate sound better than this.   The rest of you are pleased because you love watching movies. 

Will the Avengers or Black Panther strengthen your marriage? Probably not. 

To be clear, it’s not just watching movies together that helps your relationship but how you talk about the movie afterwards. Now, the other half of you are disappointed and reconsidering chocolate and flowers…Anything but talking.

Research has shown that couples who watch relationship-centered movies and then discuss them afterwards benefit significantly.   In the study, couples were asked to watch five movies in a month and discuss them with their partner answering these types of questions:

·        What main problems did this couple face?

·        Are any of these similar to the problems that the two of you have faced?

·        How did the couple handle arguments or differences of opinion?

·        How did the couple in the movie handle hurt feelings?

" We don’t think it’s just about watching movies. There are lots of couples who watch movies and end up divorcing. Taking time to sit down and take an objective look at your relationship with your partner is going to be helpful for any couple at any stage.”

Lead author Ronald Rogge

 

The power of movie therapy seems to be that it gets couples to think about and talk about their marriage relationship, almost as though they are taking on the role of a counselor. Simply paying attention to, and then discussing relationship tips/advice/skills can work wonders for a marriage. 

Another plus to this movie therapy thing is that it is a practical place you can start working on your marriage - this very weekend. 

Are you ready to try movie therapy?  I know you are.

Here are some concrete tips from Aaron and April Jacob:


A. Talk to your spouse about the idea and get him or her on board. Some spouses may love the idea of watching a movie, but may not be that excited about talking about their relationship for 45 minutes afterwards. Make sure they know that you are going to do both. 

B. Take turns picking the movies you want to watch.  Make a list of 5 movies you want to watch this month, and print out the worksheet with questions. (**Note, we are pretty particular about the movies we watch, so we aren't personally recommending every movie on this list.) 

C. Start the movie early enough in the evening that you aren't too tired to talk about it after! (The study suggests discussing the movie for 45 minutes.)

D. Cuddle up, snuggle, and have snacks and blanket close by.

E. Go through all of the questions after the movie and discuss, talk, and listen. Oh, and be humble. Don't take things too personally. Pretend you are marriage counselors and look for what you can learn and apply in your own marriage.

F. Do it again. Try and make a ritual out of movie therapy. (We can see the meme's now - Movie therapy, "It will be fun," they said.)

At least three good things may come from trying movie therapy:


1. You will spend at least two hours together.
Hopefully, and ideally, cuddling close together on the couch. That is good for a marriage.

2. You will talk about your relationship in a positive way.
In an almost fun way. That is really good for your relationship. Plus, that kind of deep-level communicating is a good way to connect emotionally and help you two feel closer together. 

3. You will go away thinking about the things you learned and being more aware of your relationship.
As life marches on, you will recognize the next time either of you does something that you learned you should or shouldn't do from participating in movie therapy. In fact, you may develop a few inside jokes, or a few "names" that remind you of what not to do. For example, say your wife rolls her eyes at you a lot, just like "Joan," from that movie. Just call her "Joan," every time she does it and she will laugh and remember not to do it! 

Yes, movie therapy is definitely worth trying. It's a simple way to strengthen, protect, and nurture your marriage. So, go pick a movie and see if it doesn't help nurture your marriage this week!

Download the packet with a list of possible movies and the questions to ask here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allowing Scripture to Drive our Prayer Requests for Growth

By: Brad Rogers

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I have participated and led many Bible study small groups that end with the question, “How can we pray for you tonight?”  When I ask this question, people often mishear my question. They begin to share prayer requests that they have for other people. I think it’s good to pray for those who are not in the room, but I also want to pray for the people in the room.  When people struggle to come up with things to pray for themselves, I gently press on by asking them where they think it will be difficult for them to follow Jesus in the coming week. I usually joke that if they can’t think of any, they may be much closer to Jesus than I am.  Now, to be fair, this is a personal question. Depending on the small group, it may not be appropriate to share certain sin struggles you will face in the coming week. 

However, there is another problem here.  Not only do I not know the future, but it is the very nature of sin to deceive, which means that I don’t always know the sin in my heart.  Scripture reveals God’s heart and God’s will to me in such a way that it exposes sin in my heart that I did not know I had.  I long for the applications discussed when we are studying the Bible in small groups to drive the personal requests people make during prayer time. 

I think this is also a great practice to incorporate into our personal Bible reading time as well. As the Holy Spirit works by and with God’s Word, we see sin in ourselves we may not have realized was there.  We should confess newly revealed sin and ask God to transform us so we might become a person who continues to say “no” to this sin. We may have many other specific things in our lives for which we make requests to God. This is a great thing, and God desires us to do so. However, if we want our time of reading in God’s Word to help us grow to be more like Christ, it only makes sense that we ask God to help us change in such a way so as to live out what the Scriptures say.  

If you have been following along in our series, you will know that I have been writing about a particular way of meeting with God that seeks to wed Scripture reading and prayer. It utilizes what is called the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) not only as a means of prayer but also as a means of reading God’s Word.  Using a journal as I read a passage of Scripture devotionally, I note attributes of God, sins I need to confess, things I can thank God for, and any prayer requests I want to make to God as a result of this reading. I will then pray these things back to God when I am done reading my passage (or passages) for the day.  I have previously written about adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. This week, I am focusing on supplication - making requests known to God in prayer.

Supplication from the Word helps us apply the Scriptures in our lives

For me, the supplication section of my journal focuses on the applications I think I need to make in my life based on the Bible reading for the day.  Most often, they flow directly from the things I have written down in the confession of sin section of my journal.  Largely because I want the Holy Spirit to help me put the sin I confessed to death.  Here are some questions from Tim Keller, New York City pastor and author, which think through prayer requests based on Scripture reading:

  • What do I need from God to obey what he reveals here?

  • What specific problems result when this quality of God or this teaching is forgotten or denied?

  • Does my life demonstrate that I am practicing this teaching?

  • How will I be different if I begin to do so?

  • Where will I next need this teaching?

  • What kind of love toward God do I most lack and need --love of appreciation (praise and joy), love of complacency (rest and peace), or love of benevolence (zeal and boldness)? What “put on” will I need to practice in order to “put off’ this sin?

It may be that you want to make yourself a little cheat sheet of these questions that you keep with you in your journal.  The more you use these questions, though, the more you can use them instinctively. They are really helpful when you can’t immediately think of any to apply from the day’s reading.

Getting Practical

Here is a small sampling from my journal that could help you get started.  

“Show me where my hypocrisy lies and help me repent.  Help me not presume but rather rely on your grace.  May I not tempt others to sin with the attitude of my heart.  May I love sinners like you do.  Help me recognize that what I most want is found in your Word, may I have Christ-like character.  Help me believe your Word. May I be a person who turns at your rebuke and repents. May I never forget that my sins are forgiven. Help me seek the lost until they are found.  Clean my heart from the inside out.  Help me be gracious with others like you.  Help me serve others like Jesus served me.  Help me not to despise your discipline.  Lord, may I actually heed your warnings and not just merely read them with agreement. Help me walk as one who is wise making the best use of the time.  May I fear you above all others. Help me not grow weary and doing good. Lord, lift the veil from my eyes that I might live as one who is fully yours.” 

As I read Scripture, I see various ways that I fall short of loving God and loving people as God has called me to do; and these are the areas where I ask God to help me grow. May God bless your reading and praying of God’s word so that you grow closer to him and become more like him.   

 

Giving Thanks

By: Brad Rogers 

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The Bible commands us to give thanks throughout its many pages. If you’re like me, you read that command but struggle to want to give thanks which is ultimately a heart problem. When I do give thanks, I find my prayers of thanksgiving in general are boring and redundant. If this latter problem resonates with you, I want to commend a method of Bible reading that can bring needed variety and specificity to your prayers of thanksgiving, keeping them fresh and genuine (I offer thoughts on the former problem below as well). In our last two blog posts, I have been writing about a particular way of meeting with God that seeks to wed Scripture reading (God speaking to us through His Word) and prayer (we speak to God in prayer).  It is certainly by no means the only way to meet with God, but it’s a way that has been very helpful to many. It utilizes what is called the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) not only as a means of prayer but also as a means of reading God’s Word.  In this model, we read God’s Word and take note of how we can adore God, sin we should confess, thanksgiving we can offer, and requests we should make to God. When we finish reading the Scripture, we take our notes on the passage and pray them back to God.  At Redeemer Presbyterian church in Raleigh, we are utilizing the Community Bible Reading (CBR) Journal which uses this method. But you can try this method out and put it into practice whether you are following the CBR reading plan or not.  Two weeks ago, I wrote about praise; last week, I wrote about confessing our sins; so this week, I am writing about thanksgiving.

The Importance of Giving Thanks

Romans 1:21 is a verse that has always fascinated me for the way it describes what happens to people when we do not offer thanks to God. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  A lack of honoring God (praise) and giving God thanks compromises one’s ability to think well about ultimate matters.  The rest of Romans 1 shows a cesspool of “branch” sins whose roots stem from the heart of a person that fails to honor and give thanks to the God who made us all. It could be said that if you really want to get serious about putting sin to death in your life and becoming more like Jesus, you cannot do so without regularly offering prayers of thanksgiving to God.  We struggle to do this because it reveals to us what we don’t naturally want to admit – that we are not spiritually sufficient on our own and are dependent on God for everything.  When we suppress thoughts of our dependence on God, we are delusional about reality which ultimately leads to all kinds of wrong thinking and sin. We must offer thanks to God as Scripture commands, or we risk losing our grasp on reality, living in the darkness of maturing sin, and wandering (or running) away from God.    

Distinguishing between Thanksgiving and Praise

Thanksgiving is really a sub-category of praise.  Distinguishing between the two helps ensure that we follow the many commands in the Bible that ask us to give praise as well as the commands to offer thanksgiving to God.  Often when a people distinguish between praise and thanksgiving, they are distinguishing between praising God for His attributes as we see them in Scripture and thanking God for what He has done for us as His people.  Praise proper is adoring God for who He is in Himself; for His attributes, His nature, and His person, which leads Him to action in and for this world HE has made.  Thanksgiving is giving thanks for all of His loving action towards us and this world. It is good to keep in mind that God is always about redeeming us and this world through Christ, so it’s important to be looking out for how God is working out His plan of redemption in any given passage for which you can offer thanks.    

Getting Practical

Here are a couple of questions to help you as you note things in Scripture in your reading for the day for which you can thank God.  What in this passage leads me to thank God for His goodness to me? What does this passage say about God’s character or work that provides redemption? I like to write down specific things to thank God for as I read a passage of Scripture, but you may want to read the passage as a whole and then write down things for which you can thank God.  Sometimes, when I get to the end, I notice I don’t have much in my thanksgiving section and so I go back and skim the passage. I am almost always able to find more things for which to thank God. Since my journal is not big, but my handwriting is, I try to write something short that I can then expand upon when I actually pray these thanksgivings back to God.  However, it can help write those few words in ways that help you remember where it came from in the passage you read.  Here is a sampling of things I write in the thanksgiving section of my Bible reading journal: “Thank you for saving Abraham in spite of his flaw (so that salvation might ultimately come to me as well). Thank you for preserving Noah; thank you for teaching your disciples about the Kingdom of God. Thank you for choosing and making disciples. Jesus, thank you for taking away my reproach. Thank you for this earth you have made. Thank you for desiring our good when we did not desire yours. Thank you for seeking genuine justice. Thank you for your presence through Jesus. Thank you for defeating Satan. Thank you for providing witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.”  As you can see, these notes are a little unfiltered and unedited for publication, but they are notes that I am using to commune with God in prayer. May your thanksgiving lead you to sweeter fellowship with God and a more realistic view of life in this world.